The politics of the House and of the City… New York, New York, So Good They Named it Twice…

‘… an ongoing commitment to revolutionary politics have pulled me up and enabled me to appreciate that 280 odd years ago Montesquieu identified what was vital and, in terms of social relations, revolutionary about the city. His heroes, were a couple of expat Sultans (what else), caught up in the thrall of the street where everybody is unveiled. “Here everything speaks out; everything can be seen; everything can be heard; the heart is as open as the face”. And it wasn’t long before the fact that “everything can be seen” exposed the Bourbons and the aristocracy in general as emperors with no clothes’.

Thanks to Tom Griffiths for this contribution.

* * * *

New York, New York, So Good They Named it Twice…

And the rest goes…

 

New York, New York, all the scandal and the vice …

I love it.

New York New York, now isn’t it a pity

What they say about New York City?

 

I loved this song when it came out, its cheek, irreverence and capacity to laugh at itself. And I couldn’t help being reminded of it as I was reading the late Marshall Berman’s On The Town, One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square. Both seemed to be singing from the same song sheet.

 

While this post has been prompted by my reading of Berman’s final book my point in doing so springs from my view of how important the city – urban life and experience – is in human development and how ‘missing the boat’ much of the left has been in accepting both the opportunities and challenges this development has thrown up.  The politics I will be drawing attention to (and where the left is, or should be in relation to it) can be summarised in the distinction to be made between the politics of the House and the politics of the Street. And let me be clear, I’m for the politics of the Street. I will give some space to the House further down, but first lets go for a walk because the modern city creates an essential link in providing individuals, in particular working class individuals, with opportunities for personal development and growth (they are individuals as well as members of a class, remember) opportunities for them to break free of the constraints imposed by the House.

 

What impressed me about Berman’s book – the spin Berman puts on the maelstrom that is the modern world generally and of which Times Square is a highly concentrated symbol – is its vitality and its liberating aspect. And in saying this I in no way wish to downplay or ignore the challenges that have accompanied this. Berman makes no claim to being the first to highlight this and makes reference to two French writers of past centuries to point out that the link between modernity and the Street, while an essential feature of modernity,  is not new. A key Enlightenment figure, Montesquieu wrote of it in his Persian Letters (1721), and over a century later the poet Baudelaire identified the modern urban centre as a space where old (pre modern) boundaries were broken down and new possibilities opened up, coining the term “the heroism of modern life’ in the process. Times Square, the flawed hero of Berman’s book has lived, or should I say enabled, Baudelaire’s heroism in concentrated form since the 1890’s.

 

Berman gets down to business straight away describing the modern city as a place that enables an individual to be both oneself and someone else. Being social animals we carry the seeds of curiosity, a desire for growth and an empathic sensibility within us and the possibilities described by Berman enables their germination and growth. What is made possible here is to expand beyond oneself, beyond formerly socially or family imposed boundaries and constraints, to be able to transcend these limits and grow.

 

In the early 21stC the Islamic fascists are acutely aware of and threatened by this possibility and this helps explain their violent hatred of modernizing influences that disrupt and transform social and family relations. Please note that social and family relations are not being spoken of here as abstract relations, but as relations that still have pre modern or medieval hooks embedded in the flesh of the men, women and children who are the real life players in those relations. Those who identify with the left should not be too smug about this because although what now passes for the left have never approached the loony killjoy levels of the Islamic fascists or Islamic fundamentalists generally, it  has historically contained a strong current of killjoyism of which the odd parallel can be drawn – that being the antipathy and mistrust felt about the unconstrained individual, let loose from the ‘safe’ bonds of the House where, historically, the teaching and maintenance of family and social hierarchy were enacted.

“One of the primary human rights is the right to the city” argues Berman, the right to a space and an opportunity for individual and social transformation. But how does the city enable this, what makes it happen? And, in any case, anticipating mutterings coming from the background, aren’t there casualties, I mean cities are hardly beds of thornless roses and many with progressive pretensions think thorns is about all they have or have come to have.

Enter Times square, what it represents and opens up.

Times Square as we know it – an entertainment and commercial centre – came into its own with electrification and by the 1890’s had already developed a ‘reputation’ that scandalized the morally precious of the day by giving them innumerable reasons to hyperventilate and complain about falling moral standards. It takes little imagination to write their script – the denunciation of public spaces like bars, theatres, dance halls, cafes and the like as “brothels” or to understand it as a voice belonging to the House.

Initially this group had, to rope in modern terminology, some diversity, being a collection of traditional moralists, including secular moralists and evangelicals. Low hanging fruit one might think. But by the early 20thC their number came to include secular intellectuals with left politics “who wanted the masses to be radical and militant and to struggle for their rights…” [just so long as these rights didn’t extend to expressions of individual and sexual freedom] “…who believed that commercial mass culture was corrupting their minds”. In spite of the cultural shift in social attitudes to sexual mores this whinge remains a very contemporary trope. And it wasn’t just (or even, if we are to be honest) commercial mass culture that was the main corrupting element, it was sex. No surprises here of course.

Both men and women had good reason to be drawn to the Square’s promise, to be able to break free of the rigid stereotypes and expectations of the House, stereotypes and expectations that had been particularly constraining on women. A good way of looking at the complaints of the moralists (of whatever hue) – the Mary Whitehouse set and the Iranian and Saudi  moral police being more contemporary equivalents – was that they were complaining about the breakdown between the rigid separation of the House and Street and the power relations between the sexes that were reflected in this. This distinction rang bells for me in two ways. Most importantly (and most recently) it summed up a lot of what I have seen in the work I have been doing in the family violence arena and the refugee/new settlers arena where individuals and families have come from regions where the transition from the traditional to the modern is unfinished business. Here women are supposed to belong in the House; it is not only their domain, it is where they belong and where they have been kept.

In western societies women have been on the Street and fighting for their right to be there for a considerable period as the examples of Montesquieu, Baudelaire, Jacques Brel (see below), amongst others and Times Square indicate, but for many coming from backward or relatively undeveloped regions this fight is in its early stages. By way of example a former colleague had recorded a series of interviews with three former refugees from Africa dealing with family based violence and “upside down families”. The female interviewee, entering middle age and with dependent children, had likened traditional marriage in Africa to “a prison” where she was obliged to obey her mother in law and submit to the overall authority of the men of her husband’s family. She initially found the situation in Australia so different and confusing that, she explained, “for two years we go mad”. She meant by this that the breakdown of the rigid and hierarchical boundaries between the House and the Street was so exhilarating and discombobulating that it took, in her experience, two years for the penny to drop that with this new freedom came the opportunity for personal growth and, contained in this package, personal responsibility. That being said, she was under no illusions that upside down was the right way up.

 

Baudelaire’s ‘heroism of the street’ spoke of this development in the mid 19th century, but over a century earlier Montesquieu had noticed that the cat was already coming out of the bag in his Persian Letters. Montesquieu and I go back a long way, to my first year at university and we parted company soon after (read almost immediately) and too soon for me to really get was he was on about when it came to urban life and modernity. Time, Berman and an ongoing commitment to revolutionary politics have pulled me up and enabled me to appreciate that 280 odd years ago Montesquieu identified what was vital and, in terms of social relations, revolutionary about the city. His heroes, were a couple of expat Sultans (what else), caught up in the thrall of the street where everybody is unveiled. “Here everything speaks out; everything can be seen; everything can be heard; the heart is as open as the face,”” And it wasn’t long before the fact that “everything can be seen” exposed the Bourbons and the aristocracy in general as emperors with no clothes.

And this brings me to the second bell ringing aspect of the distinction between the House and the Street and that is the overtly political aspect, that which should be the bread and butter of those holding revolutionary or radical pretensions. Here I found Berman’s take on Times Square (and by implication its equivalents elsewhere) refreshing, thought provoking and speaking directly to the synthesising sensibility that sits at the analytic heart of Marxism – or, rather, should sit at its heart. Above I had touched upon the modern cities transformative qualities, qualities that enable growth and that throw up new challenges. Berman describes Broadway street culture as being created by the sons of migrants, especially from the more backward areas of Europe, who had come to America seeking a better life. With them they not only brought aspirations that challenged the old ways, but constraints that contained them, a cultural drag from the old times, representing the mores of the traditional House. One of the aspirations of the sons was for this street culture to include women. Women also wanted that space and stepped in, although not yet as equals. It was a task of the daughters (and granddaughters …) to begin to renegotiate the rules of the dance.

But from the word go the daughters were part of the action and as early as 1892, a mere eight years before the formation of the International Ladies’ Garment Union in New York, a writer wrote of working class women, lonely after a working day venturing out of their hall bedroom, cold and lonely ”to lose herself in the unending procession on Broadway.” Berman points out that “there may never have been such a vast variety of women thrown together in any one place before.”

The square emerged as a place where men, women, kids from all over the world dreamed of ‘making spectacles of themselves’, of being unveiled. Picking up the same theme late Belgian singer/songwriter, Jacques Brel, in his song Timid Frieda picked up in the mid 20thC where Montesquieu and Baudelaire had left off in the preceding two. And in doing so he was able to highlight the tensions and challenges of the politics of the Street that had now fully matured. Timid Frieda:

Will they greet her

On the street where

Young strangers travel

On magic carpets

Floating lightly

In beaded caravans

Who can know if

They will free her

On the street where

She comes to join them

There she goes

With her valises

Held so tightly in her hands

Timid Frieda

Will life seize her

On the street where

The new dreams gather

Like fearless robins

Joined together

In high-flying bands

She feels taller

Troubles smaller

On the street where

She’s lost in wonder

There she goes

With her valises

Held so tightly in her hands

Timid Frieda

Won’t return now

To the home where

They do not need her

But always feed her

Little lessons

And platitudes from cans

She is free now

She will be now

On the street where

The beat’s electric

There she goes

With her valises

Held so tightly in her hands

Timid Frieda

Who will lead her

On the street where

The cops all perish

For they can’t break her

And she can take her

Brave new fuck you stand

Yet she’s frightened

Her senses heightened

On the street where

The darkness brightens

There she goes

With her valises

Held so tightly in her hands

Timid Frieda

If you see her

On the street where

The future gathers

Just let her be her

Let her play in

The broken times of sand

There she goes now

Down the sidewalk

On the street where

The world is bursting

There she goes

With her valises

Held so tightly in her hands.

 

It is a fabulous song. As one would anticipate after 200 plus years Brel’s lyrics picks up Montesquieu’s identification of early promise and Baudelaire’s more developed 19thC depiction and exposes a fully developed dialectic. The left I identify with walk with Timid Frieda offering encouragement if asked for – although she seems to be doing pretty well under her own steam. The square, the Street simultaneously liberated women and presented them (and the guys) with new challenges. But there was no turning back. If the rules of the dance were to be renegotiated you needed to be on the dance floor.

As touched upon above revolutionary parties or organisations (or those with pretensions), have a pretty chequered history when it comes to jumping onto the dance floor, letting their hair down and encouraging others to join in. And when it comes to understanding the transformative possibilities inherent in this they didn’t even make it onto the dance floor. The irony here is that the proverbial masses – and most were working class remember – were showing us the way and embracing “the street where the future gathers.” In doing so they ignored the cautionary, if not disapproving tones coming from comrade central about bourgeois frivolity and self indulgence undermining class solidarity and commitment to ‘the struggle’.

Breaking out and having fun, especially where sex is stirring the pot, has been more House than Street with communist parties and organisations stepping around the issue rather than embracing it. Class struggle and revolutionary politics were serious business (this aspect is true) and demanded a commitment that found the ‘letting one’s hair down’ side of things diversionary (read, with Russian Accent) petty bourgeois individualism. This aspect is not true and is a false antithesis; it is a voice coming from the House.

This is not to suggest that the tension between the serious aspect and being “on the street where the beats electric” is ever in abstract balance. Letting one’s hair down for those revolutionaries in occupied Europe during WW2 was not an option and needed to be put on ice while confusing right wing bourgeois democrats as ‘fascists’ and drawing parallels with Nazism is simply nutty and a sign of isolation. Please pass the bucket of cold water.

What the politics of the Street does, in effect, is ‘invite’ us to look forward, to grapple seriously with the contradictions inherent in its development, those affecting personal development, our place in the dance, in particular and to try and identify the synthesising processes that take us forward, that open up new possibilities and new challenges. But this remains an invitation; free will, choice and responsibility cannot be avoided whether we accept the invitation or not. While it would be drawing a long bow to say that the left’s collapse has been due to its inability to transcend the politics of the House and embrace that of the Street – its failure to get on top of economic challenges and present credible revolutionary alternatives having a bit to say about this collapse too – the left’s conflation of the development of individuality with bourgeois individualism has seen it trailing rather than leading.

This aspect has been a primary interest of mine since my work as a relational and group therapist has forced me to confront the place of choice and personal responsibility within the context of group and family dynamics and by implication social dynamics. This has taken a sharper form with the work I have done over the past 10-15 years with individuals and groups from within what is called new and emerging communities – primarily refugee communities – where the politics of the House, the traditional understandings or role and place, have been predominant. The link between this and the transformative possibilities of the Street became impossible to ignore. Nor was the link to the left’s ambivalence and its failure to confront and transcend its own assumptions regarding individual growth and development, especially as this related to the place of women. We need to get back onto the dance floor and formulate a few moves of our own.

* * * *

 

Daesh, the (pseudo) Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution

“The role of socialists is not to counterpose themselves to democratic revolutions, which gave rise (in Egypt) to the first democratic government, and (in Syria) to emancipatory projects such as networks of local councils against the existing state, but to take the democratic side against tyranny”.

My response: WHY for heaven’s sake does this even have to be stated?

The reason is because of the general failure to understand that ‘socialists’ who side with tyrants are not worthy of the name, and that the pseudo-left which has been dominant for decades needs to be called out. I wish the reviewer had used that term rather than seeming to accept that one can oppose democratic revolution and still be on the left.

9780992650964-cov-front-sml

 

The following book review is published with permission of Syria Solidarity UK.

* * * *

Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution, ed. Jules Alford and Andy Wilson, published by Unkant, London.

Review by Clara Connolly

This book should be required reading for every leftist, as an antidote to the growing mountain of ignorant comment on the subject of Syria. The title Khiyana (betrayal) is an accusing cry; the book is a trenchant denunciation of the Western Left for its abandonment of the principles of internationalism and solidarity in favour of an alignment with the ‘anti imperialist’ camp, a hangover from the geo-politics of the Cold War.

Assad An-Nar, like most of the authors, situates himself on the Marxist left, and his prefatory chapter could be considered a direct response to Tariq Ali’s infamous dismissal of the Arab Spring in What is a Revolution? (Guernica, Sept. 2013). He sets his critique in the context of the changing nature of revolution in an age of global neoliberalism, where post colonial states are collapsing because neoliberal policies have slashed the limited social protections they used to offer. In this world, he says, the principles of self emancipation and of collective and democratic struggle are ‘ideas in search of a subject.’ Ideas about democracy, socialism, and anti-imperialism used to run in the same direction, but now they are counterposed.

With the collapse of the progressive moment of secular Arab nationalism, Islamist organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood can rise beyond identity/sectarian politics in resistance to tyranny. Though not necessarily opposed to neoliberalism, they are the voice of those who are excluded from its benefits. Hezbollah’s current role in Syria shows that such movements can swing between revolution and counter revolution without moving in a socialist direction.

The role of socialists is not to counterpose themselves to democratic revolutions, which gave rise (in Egypt) to the first democratic government, and (in Syria) to emancipatory projects such as networks of local councils against the existing state, but to take the democratic side against tyranny. Instead the left has responded by either supporting their favourite dictatorships (the neo Stalinists) or by re-hashing theories of ‘permanent revolution,’ i.e. insisting that revolutions can only end in socialism or defeat (the Trotskyists). Yes, he says, a democratic revolution is possible in these countries, but the outcomes are uncertain; the socialist left, while recognising its marginal role, should not condemn itself to irrelevance by denouncing the struggles for democracy because they are not socialist. Instead he urges the left to make the ‘democratic wager,’ in hope that the outcomes lead to more collective forms of struggle. There is little to lose for socialists, he believes, since neoliberalism has led worldwide to the fatal weakening of working class self-organisation.

The subsequent chapters examine and demolish the standard left myths about the Syrian revolution: the ‘jihadist’ nature of the ‘rebels’; the selective anti imperialism which admires Rojava but has no time for similar experiments in local democracy elsewhere in Syria; the role of regional imperialisms like Iran and Russia in propping up a monstrous regime; and above all the lies and distortions peddled by the institutional left (Stop the War Coalition, and the éminence grise of left journalism like Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, and Seymour Hersh) who place the national interests of states they consider to be in the ‘axis of resistance’ above solidarity with the struggles of the oppressed in those countries.

In a short review I can refer only to two further articles in the core of the book; but I cannot resist a passing mention of the glorious satirical piece by M Idrees Ahmad, The Anti-Imperialist Guide to Inaction in Syria. Anyone familiar with debate on Syria will recognise the strategies he lists: ‘Don’t defend Assad, attack his opponents; sympathise selectively; functional doubt where straight denial is risky; defend peace and sovereignty; champion the minorities; talk about ISIS, not Assad; talk about refugees but not the cause of flight,’ etc. Most of these strategies are shared with the establishment and the extreme Right.

Mark Boothroyd describes the responses of Stop the War Coalition (STWC) to Syria, in a case study that echoes the critique in the preface. It has consistently viewed developments through its relation to the US and the UK. In a multi polar world system with competing imperialisms, it persists in viewing events through the prism of the Cold War. The agency of Syrians is erased altogether.

In 2013, STWC opposed the proposed intervention of the UK and when this proposal was defeated in Parliament, it claimed victory; but Boothroyd claims that if the West had really wanted to intervene in Syria it would have done so—its actual strategy is to let the country bleed. I think he underestimates the power of popular protest in democratic countries, and the degree to which STWC was able to tap into post Iraq war weariness. But he is right in pointing out that STWC has missed a trick in failing to expose the real cruelties of the Western role.

In its weaker response to the 2015 intervention against ISIS, STWC has consistently refused to allow oppositional Syrians on its platforms—who have opposed the Coalition campaign against ISIS as useless and counter-productive, but have also proposed more positive measures for the protection of Syrian civilians. Once again, its failure to listen to Syrians has weakened its moral stance even in its own terms—in opposing its own Government.

It could have been different, he believes: the anti war movement could have risen beyond its current ethnocentric, isolationist positions to meet the challenge of changing times, and been a movement to build solidarity with the revolutions in the Middle East.

In The Rise of Daesh in Syria, Sam Charles Hamad attacks the myth of Saudi funding and support for Daesh; instead, in a detailed study, he convincingly shows their deadly rivalry despite their similar ideologies. He demonstrates the origins of Daesh in post invasion Iraq, and its nurture by the sectarian regimes in Iraq and Syria. He shows, by tracing its sources of income, how it is self sustaining. Finally he argues that the current tactics of the west, in fighting Daesh from the air but hampering the oppositions in their fight against the sectarian regimes of Assad and Maliki, are counter-productive. And the left’s narrative is complicit in this.

The book, and particularly its opening chapter, is weakened by a failure to examine more closely such terms as ‘democracy’ and ‘emancipation,’ given their ambivalent history among Marxists; and to analyse the demands of the revolution—Freedom Justice and Dignity—in more detail. This is particularly the case since there is little discussion of class, and no accounts of the role of women in the Syrian revolution, nor of the role of Western women’s peace groups or feminists in relation to Syria. My own recent experience of organising solidarity events with Syrian women suggests that the hostility to, and silencing of, Syrian voices is much less prevalent among feminist organisations than in the left as a whole. The ‘democratic wager’ which is urged upon us might be weighted more favourably with the inclusion of women activists, within Syria and in the West.

When the impossible becomes the inevitable: my memory of the struggle against apartheid

I retired from work, at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra, Australia, last week. The following is my final blog post as an on-going Public Service employee.

Feel free to add a comment at the museum’s blog site.

imagesmandela

On reflecting on the campaign of solidarity in Australia with the South African oppressed people, it reinforced my view that identifying with, and supporting, the oppressed and those struggling for freedom, is a core left-wing value. It was not just on the issue of South African apartheid that we did this, but on Vietnam too. The left supported the Vietnamese people against US imperialism, just as we supported the South African people against the apartheid regime. Other examples are our solidarity with the Czech and Polish rebels.

It is incomprehensible to me that people and groups that do not support the Syrian people in their struggle against the Assad regime can be in any sense left-wing, no matter how they self-identify and no matter what ‘left’ sounding slogans they shout.

Anyway, here is my final blog post at work.

* * * *

The museum’s Memories of the Struggle exhibition highlights the part played by Australians in solidarity with South Africans against the apartheid regime. It resonates with scores of thousands of us who actively took part in the struggle as grass-roots activists.

From the late 1960s and for most of the 1970s, I was one such activist in Melbourne. I lived and breathed the kind of left-wing politics that opposed apartheid and supported regime change and democratic aspiration there. If I wasn’t printing out and handing out leaflets about it, and sometimes writing them, I was attending working-bees where people designed and made placards and banners for street protests. And, there was hardly a demonstration on the issue in Melbourne that I didn’t attend. To me, it was part of a global revolutionary struggle. (The same applies to the Vietnam War, which loomed larger because of the policy of conscription for the war, and the greater violence against the Vietnamese).

Of course, not all of the Australian opponents of apartheid identified with the left and only a small minority were communists like me. It’s worth noting that while nearly everyone opposed the apartheid system in principle back then, there was strong opposition to Nelson Mandela, who was seen as a communist and a terrorist. He was certainly close to the South African Communist Party and his Spear Movement struck terror into the hearts of the fascists running the regime. To be opposed to apartheid in principle was fine, but to want to do something about it in practical solidarity was ‘going too far’.


Fast forward several decades and in 1994 Mandela is the elected and acclaimed President of a new era in South Africa, one free of apartheid and one in which all people have equal voice in elections. Despite serving 27 years in prison, he properly urges reconciliation rather than revenge. What a man! Governments whose leaders were not forthcoming with solidarity when it was needed now applaud him. The Australian governments of Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke are among the proud exceptions. Celebrities like Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor pose for photos with him. How things change.

That’s what happens when you have History on your side. When the reactionaries, who can seem so powerful, are revealed as the paper tigers that they essentially are. If proof is needed of the maxims that ‘the people make history’, and that ‘wherever there is repression there is resistance’, then South Africa under apartheid provides it. At times, it seemed a hopeless uphill battle. But don’t they all? Until they are won. And then what once seemed impossible suddenly seems inevitable.

When Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, I was so thrilled and overwhelmed that, after my regular fitness run up Mount Ainslie, which rises 800 metres above Canberra, I wanted to repeat the run immediately. I was on such a ‘high’ and carried along by the adrenalin of Mandela’s release and the excitement of South Africa’s prospects as a democracy. Thereafter, running up and down Mount Ainslie twice without stopping became my ‘Mandela Run’.

Their victory was our victory – and my victory too.


Fast forward again, and around 2010 I find myself pondering Mandela’s future. He is now in his early 90s and I feel an urge to write to him, to let him hear from an Australian activist, rather than a leader or celebrity.

I want to share some anecdotes with him – things I experienced directly – and I want to ask him for an autographed photo as a memento.

Sorry, but I can’t find a copy of my letter to him. But from memory, it told him of the following.

At my university in the early 1970s, we had a Chancellor who was on the board of Imperial Chemical Industries which, among other things, manufactured explosives and munitions in South Africa. A mass meeting of a thousand students demanded his resignation. Eventually we won and the Chancellor resigned before his term expired. But what a struggle. We occupied the Administration Building, blockaded the Council members, held mass meetings at least twice a week. And the authorities cracked down severely on us for our lawlessness. Or was it for our effectiveness? John Gorton as Prime Minister had declared that “We shall tolerate dissent so long as it is ineffective”. The student ring-leaders were identified, arrested, fined, suspended from university, lost our Education Department studentships and three of us – yours truly included – gaoled at Pentridge, without sentence or rights of appeal – for contempt of court. (It’s not easy being red).

I wanted Nelson Mandela to know that, in the west, our movement was not just about ‘sex and drugs and rock music’, as it has been condescendingly displayed in popular culture, but about real struggle, repression and resistance. Just as we brought the Vietnam War home in our protests, so too we related the oppression of the apartheid system to our own local targets whenever possible.

I wanted Mandela to know of the police violence deployed by State governments against anti-apartheid protestors. The petite university student, a young girl with whom I was friendly, being thrown face first into a pole by a burly policeman three times her size. The blood pouring from her smashed nose. The State Secretary of the Labor Party in Victoria having a baton thrust into his eye and nearly losing the eye. We knew we were in for a hiding whenever the police started removing their identification badges from their uniforms. Some of the worst police violence I have witnessed took place on protests against apartheid. They were clearly on orders to intimidate us, and batons and boots were their main weapon. But it didn’t work. We knew that the repression we experienced was minor compared to that of our brothers and sisters in South Africa.

I was arrested on one of the demonstrations and convicted of assaulting police. My only regret is that I am unable to explain on official forms that ask whether one has any criminal convictions that my crime was to try to stop a policeman pulling down an anti-apartheid banner held by the front line of a street march. I pushed him with force from behind. Technically: guilty. C’est la vie: c’est la lutte.

I wanted Mandela to know of the funny things too. Like the way in which one of my mates in Brunswick, who worked with my dad in a factory, would come to my place before a demo and we’d listen to Eric Burdon’s album, ‘Every one of us’. It featured an interview with an African-American ex-serviceman talking about racism. It inspired us in our passion, reinforced the sense that we were part of an international movement, and lifted our morale as ‘soldiers’ in a struggle.

And there was the time we tried to stop the Springbok rugby team – when Bob Hawke to his great credit as President of the ACTU intervened against the team’s visit. The police were brutal that day in 1971 but the thousands of assembled protestors at Olympic Park were determined to run onto the field and stop the game. The police cordon around the oval was holding out until it was broken when a group of police moved together to arrest people. I was standing with a comrade who saw the opportunity and said to me, “Quick, Barry! We can jump the fence onto the oval!” We ran forward, together, but at the last moment I lost my nerve. My poor comrade leapt onto the oval only to be grabbed by police. That comrade, incidentally, was Ian MacDonald, later to become a Minister in the State Government of New South Wales.


So I told all this, and more, to Nelson Mandela – ‘Comrade Mandela’ – in my letter.

After a month or so, I received a reply. It was from his secretary, who said that Mandela was now too frail to keep up with such correspondence and no longer sent out autographed photos.

However, the letter had been read to him in full.

And he had liked it.

To me, that was all that mattered.

Draining the Swamps: Correspondence with Chomsky (lead up to, and during, the Iraq War).

I have long believed in the importance of engagement with ideas and the exchange of ideas and analyses through debate. Our political culture has changed greatly since my early experiences with this process in the late 1960s. Today, it seems to me that too many people shun debate and are happy to be reinforced by group-think and their own sense of righteousness rather than be open to challenge. It really boils down to individuals stopping thinking and finding comfort in a kind of religious satisfaction.

It is telling, I think, as to who seeks debate, who is willing to be open to challenge and follow it through, and who is not. In the following email correspondence between Arthur Dent (formerly Albert Langer) and Noam Chomsky in 2002 and 2003, it is very clear as to who fits which category.

– C21styork

* * * *

In September 2002, Noam Chomsky wrote an article entitled ‘Drain The Swamps And There Will Be No More Mosquitoes’. Subsequently the article ‘Mayday – It’s the Festival of the Distressed’ was published, which argued that the US is indeed following a policy of draining the swamps. This view was presented to Chomsky who refused to give it any serious consideration.

This document contains:

1. First message to Noam Chomsky
2. Noam Chomsky’s reply .
3. Long explanation of why he thinks that Bush has adopted a policy very close to the one Chomsky proposed in  his article  Drain The Swamps  And There Will Be No More Mosquitoes (September 2002)
4. Noam Chomsky’s very short response.
5. Full text of Chomsky’s  article.
6. Full text of article May Day – it’s the festival of the distressed

**********************************************

First message to Chomsky:

Hi,

Some comments comparing your article on “Draining the Swamps” with  the
position George W Bush switched to more recently, are in an article I
published in “The Australian” (national serious mainstream broadsheet) today
(2003-05-01):

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,6362012,00.html

(NB the above url no longer works. The article is included below (scroll down).  Alternatively you could open it in a separate window by right clicking here)

Apart from the courtesy notification, I was hoping you might be interested
in further discussion/debate.

Although you have clearly identified with the peace movement and, in my
view, adopted a very different position from your earlier article, it seems
to me that there is still a subtle difference between your analysis on Iraq
and many other articles I have seen on Znet.

Perhaps a debate could clarify the nature of those differences?

Finally, if you happen to know of any other “pro-war left” (as opposed to
pro-war liberal) web sites I would be grateful for any links.

Seeya


2. CHOMSKY’S RESPONSE

—–Original Message—–
From: Noam Chomsky [mailto:chomsky@MIT.EDU]
Sent: Sunday, May 04, 2003 12:12 AM
Subject: Re: Draining the swamp reply
Thanks for sending your article.  I’ve received 100s of letters in response to the article to which you refer, some of which misunderstood it, but nothing remotely like this.  I can only assume that you have not actually seen the article.  I’ll quote the relevant parts.

The quote from Harkabi is as follows:

Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. “To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism,” he said. “When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes.”

The reference to the campaign of hatred is as follows:

“The president is not the first to ask: “Why do they hate us?” In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described “the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people”. His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is “opposing political or economic progress” because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.  Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.”

The words you quote state — clearly and unambiguously — that the way to reduce the threat of terror is to change the policies that Eisenhower and his staff identified, and the subsequent policies that are identified.  That is, the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil, and should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories, and its murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.

I am sure you agree that the only relation between this and Bush’s policies is the relation of flat-out contradiction.

Once you look at the actual article to which you refer, I trust you will agree that a published retraction is in order.

I’m afraid I can’t answer your last question because of its assumptions, which are based on total misunderstanding.

Noam Chomsky


3. REPLY TO CHOMSKY:

Thanks for your prompt email response (May 4).
I had read your original article (“Drain the Swamps..”) before I wrote mine. My understanding when I read it agrees with the summary in your email quoted below. I agree that your article did “clearly and unambiguously” advocate that:
“…the way to reduce the threat of terror is to change the policies that Eisenhower and his staff identified, and the subsequent policies that are identified.  That is, the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil, and should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories, and its murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

If you believe readers of my article might gain some other impression of your views, you are welcome to include this email with the above acknowledgement in any request you make to ‘The Australian’ for a correction or clarification.
For my part I do not agree that a published retraction is in order as I do not believe my article would give any other impression. Further discussion/debate/clarification certainly is in order.
In my view the real disagreement between us is expressed by your statement:

“I am sure you agree that the only relation between this and Bush’s policies is the relation of flat-out contradiction.”
In fact I do not agree.
You must get a lot of email, and have reasonable defences against getting dragged into pointless disputes with random nutters. Before assuming I am one, I hope you will carefully consider the points below:

My position is that Bush has now switched to a policy very similar to the one you advocated both in your orginal article and as summarized by you above.  I  stated  this “clearly and unambiguously” in my article as follows:
“Stripped of the ‘God bless America’ stuff, the US President’s case now goes like this:
‘If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the “campaigns of hatred”, we can not only reduce the threats we face, but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.’
Actually, those words are from Noam Chomsky two days before Bush’s UN speech on September 10, 2002.”

I made it clear that I was asserting that it was not a case of you endorsing Bush’s policy, but of Bush switching to a policy similar to yours, as follows:
“But if Bush had adopted Chomsky’s position so early, that would have prevented congressional authorisation. Such a position threatens to destabilise despotic, reactionary regimes everywhere. But those in the US foreign policy establishment have devoted their entire careers to supporting the most corrupt tyrannies in the Middle East, in the name of ‘stability’.”

The above also explicitly highlights that I am saying that traditional US policy has been to support the corrupt tyrannies and that Bush’s policy reverses direction. Clearly you are entitled to disagree as to whether Bush has changed direction.

But only Bush could claim to be misrepresented and ask for a retraction. You cannot ask for a retraction while reaffirming that you do in fact, as is well known, advocate a policy opposed to the traditional US foreign policy line of supporting corrupt tyrannies, as I implied above.
Again, I made it clear that despite what I believe should follow logically from your analysis, you in fact opposed the war:
For Chomsky, ‘draining the swamps’ apparently didn’t include killing people and blowing things up. Fortunately, Bush is made of sterner stuff.”
“Both Bush and Chomsky know the US cannot be secure from medievalist terrorist mosquitoes while the Middle East remains a swamp. But Bush also knows that modernity grows out of the barrel of a gun.”


I emphasized the depth of the switch I claimed had occurred in Bush’s policy as follows:

“That is a genuinely Left case for a revolutionary war of liberation, such as has occurred in Iraq. The pseudo-Left replies: ‘That’s illegal.'”
“Well, of course revolutionary war is illegal. Legal systems are created by revolutions, not revolutions by legal systems.”


Finally I highlighted my view that Bush’s new policy includes acceptance that the US “should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories” as follows:
“The next logical step for the new policy is to establish a viable Palestinian state. Bush has put himself in a position where he can and must take that step. Naturally, he will not admit to the enormous strategic and policy retreat that such a step implies, so he has preceded it with enough triumphalist rhetoric to make even the Fox News team look queasy.”


Thus my position is that Bush’s actual policy now is the same as the policy you advocated in September last year – and which you summarized for me in your email. Namely Bush agrees that:
“the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil, and should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories, and its murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

Perhaps you find that view of Bush’s actual policy so bizarre that you cannot imagine I would be saying it?

Nevertheless, I am.

Of course I am not claiming that Bush admits that US policy was aimed at blocking political and economic progress because of US interest in controlling Near East oil, nor that he would endorse such terms as “Israeli terror” or “murderous sanctions”.
I am simply saying that Bush has changed policy, and done so for essentially the reasons you advocate. There should be nothing inconceivable about that. After all at one time US policy was to escalate the war in Vietnam until a US victory. Nixon changed that policy to withdrawing all troops and accepting defeat, but describing defeat as “peace with honour”. He did that by redefining the goal of the war as “return of all American Prisoners of War” and then rallying the American right to achieve that goal (which was won very simply by signing the peace agreement and withdrawing the troops).
I suggest something similar is going on now. Bush has redefined America’s goals in the middle east as being to promote democracy and has rallied the right by linking that to defeating terrorism. He doesn’t need to worry about the left because we’ve always been in favor of promoting democracy just as we were in favor of Vietnam defeating the US aggression.

He doesn’t need to worry about the pseudo-Left because they are just bizarre (the anti-war movement may have appeared to be a roaring flash flood that rose much faster and extended much wider than the Vietnam war movement but it was in fact also much more shallow and immediately turned into a puddle).

Even before September 11, Israeli goals were being redefined as an “end to Palestinian terrorism” rather than “Greater Israel”, as preparation for accepting defeat of the occupation and creation of a Palestinian state. That has now become mainstream. A victory against Palestinian terrorism can of course be achieved just as easily as the return of American POWs was achieved in Vietnam – by simply withdrawing from the occupied territories etc.
Instead of simply dismissing my view as inconceivable, you do need to consider and reply to it.

First, I’m not the only person on the left drawing similar conclusions about changes in US policy. It is also, less explicitly, part of the background to the collapse of the mass anti-war movement and the somewhat bizarre debates about whether it would be “irresponsible” to call for an immediate end to the occupation.

While you might be able to get away with simply brushing me off, the view of Bush’s policy that you seem to have just dismissed as inconceivable is going to keep coming up and will need to be debated eventually.

For example KADEK/PKK (the Kurdish Workers Party) has several thousand troops in Kurdistan, has been actively involved in armed struggle with the Turkish government and was originally opposed to the US attack on Iraq. Its May Day statement(same date as my article) included the following:

Middle East countries have been suffering from severe national and social problems but are now involved in a new process which started with the war on Iraq. Those severe problems are forcing the regimes to improve freedom and human rights. The prerequisites required for a solution are available now. The main characteristics of the new process are that the democratic unity issue involves both war and peaceful efforts. Although concrete results have not been achieved yet, as the Iraq case proves, if diplomatic and political methods, peaceful efforts, do not resolve the problem then the only option is war.”


Talking about peace, without offering a solution does not make any sense to people of the Middle East, who are suffering from severe problems. The collapse of the Iraqi regime will serve the interests of the society, and lead to social improvement.”


“The sovereign regimes in all Middle East countries have lost their capacities of solving the problems. In spite of colossally rich natural resources, making available opportunities to develop, those regimes could not solve the problems, but on the contrary have exacerbated them. This is the main reason for lack of developments in democracy, freedom, and human rights. The existing regimes reply to peoples’ demands for democracy, freedoms, and human rights by increasing pressures. Local people cannot benefit from their countries’ rich resources, but suffer from poverty, hunger and poor socio-economic living conditions. In spite of all this, the regimes refuse to change, do not reply the democratic change and transformation efforts and this will require their removal.”

[…]

“Whether the intervention in Iraq will succeed or not depends on the development of democracy, freedom, and human rights. The more improvements are achieved in these human values the more the US intervention in Iraq will succeed. Setting up the kind of regimes in continuity with the past will lead to chaos.”


“Therefore, the only option for the US should be to support democratic regimes. The wider dimension of the problem is the necessity of democratic change and transformation imposed upon the regimes within the region, which is the only option in order prevent war and conflict. Radical democratic reforms will prevent war.” […]



Note that KADEK/PKK is saying “The more improvements are achieved in these human values the more the US intervention in Iraq will succeed” – directly opposite to the line you have been taking. Of course they can be completely wrong, just as I can. But so can you be wrong and you certainly aren’t going to prove you are right just by saying “I am sure you agree”!
Next, note that your summary of your position is “clearly and unambiguously” advocated by former CIA Director James Woolsey, one of the leading proponents of the war in Iraq:
From his Washington Post article “Objective: Democracy“, Tuesday, November 27, 2001; Page A13:

[…] “This ought to be enough to make us call into question some of the European-generated ‘truths’ about another region, the Mideast, that have generally guided our conduct there for the past 80 years: that Arabs and Muslims have no aptitude for democracy, that we are well-advised to stay in bed with corrupt rulers — occasionally changing them if they seem to threaten, especially, our access to oil — and that the general rule should be: better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.”
“We have, on the whole, followed this European conceptual lead, and it has brought us Sept. 11, disdain and hatred. Only in Afghanistan, and in Iran, where we are perceived to be at odds with the repressive regime, do the demonstrating crowds chant ‘U-S-A.'”
“One of these days we’re going to get the picture. It has been the received wisdom at various times in the 20th century that Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Russians and Chinese would never be able to manage democracy. Yet from Berlin to Taipei, people seem to have figured out how to make it work. And no democracy threatens us, for the very good reason that, unlike dictators, democracies turn to war last, not first. And no democracy consciously harbors terrorists or encourages them to attack us.”
“The Mideast does present a special problem. Outside Israel and secular Turkey, the governments of the region comprise no democracies but rather vulnerable autocracies and pathological predators. Some of the autocracies have launched reforms and may evolve toward constitutional monarchies with parliaments and the rule of law — Jordan and Bahrain, for example — if a predator doesn’t get them first. Other autocracies, such as Saudi Arabia, seem mired in self-destructive behavior: spending vast sums to promote a whole set of domestic and foreign institutions, such as Saudi and Pakistani schools, that build hatred against both us and the modern world and that will, in time, undermine their own rule.”
“Many in the West see hatred and conclude that the people of the Muslim and Arab worlds are our enemies. They could not be more wrong. If we continue to follow the European paradigm — as, tragically, the first Bush administration did in the spring of 1991, when it failed to back the Iraqi resistance’s rebellion against Saddam — we will continue to be hated both by predator governments and by a vocal minority in the streets of the autocracies. Our only sound strategy is to take the side of the people against the predators and, albeit less urgently, the autocrats as well.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A19477-2001Nov26?language=printer

Woolsey describes existing US policy as “staying in bed” with, or “tolerating” corrupt tyrannies rather than actively “supporting” them.

Also he bizarrely describes this policy, as “European” instead of using your presumably tongue in cheek phrase “live up to ideals that we profess”.

The policy recommendation as to how to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks from the Middle East is however, utterly clear and entirely the same as yours – “take the side of the people against (their oppressors, whether anti-US or pro-US regimes)”.

The only difference is that “take the side of the people” is rather stronger than “stop supporting” the oppressors”, and leads directly to support for a revolutionary war.
Incidentally, as well as describing US policy in terms of access to oil, Woolsey also describes the Baath regime as “fascist” in the same way that I do:
From JINSA Online, June 04, 2002.
The following interview with James Woolsey appeared on Insight Magaizine’s website on May 13, 2002.

Mr. Woolsey is a member of JINSA’s Board of Advisors and was Director of Central Intelligence from 1993 until 1995.

[…]

Insight: If the United States topples Saddam, what kind of regime will replace him?”

JW: That’s the right question for those folks in the U.S. government who might sponsor coups! But for those of us who want democracy to flourish in Iraq, there’s only one answer: whomever the Iraqi people choose. Mideast scholar Bernard Lewis is absolutely right – Iraq is one of the Arab states most suited to democracy. It has a well-educated populace and is far less tribally diverse or divisive than a number of other nations. Iraq also possesses great oil wealth. But, first, we need to de-Ba’ath the country as the U.S. and her allies de-Nazified Germany. Our role as Americans should be to assist the Iraqi nation in establishing new democratic institutions. Then, as good partners, we should stand back and let the Iraqi people decide who will rule their nation.

Insight: What is the Ba’ath Party?”

JW: It is a despotic organization modeled after the fascist regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Essentially, Ba’athists are modern-day fascists. Indeed, among some circles in the Mideast, there is much admiration for German fascism of the 1930s.
Insight: How do you bring about regime change in the Mideast, yet avoid catastrophic upheaval?
JW: For the last 40 or 50 years we have tolerated Mideast tyrants because of the U.S. thirst for oil. Of the 22 Arab states in the region, not one is a democracy. The U.S. must rid the Mideast of its tyrants, beginning with the most horrible of predators, Saddam. As we stay the course in Afghanistan, eradicating the Taliban and al-Qaeda infrastructures, other autocrats in the region will realize the U.S. means business. In time, the region will progress toward democracy.

Insight: How do you dispel the notion that the West must coddle these regimes?”

JW: In 1945, a lot of people in the nation’s capital said Germany and Japan never would progress toward democracy. They also said nations like South Korea and even Russia would never become democracies. Yet these nations proved to be able to govern themselves. Spain, Portugal and Chile also were ruled by dictators. Today they are democracies. In 1914, there were not more than 10 democracies in the world; today there are more than 120.
The Mideast, however, remains a part of the world untouched by democracy, except for Israel and Turkey. The region systematically produces terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, autocrats and dictators.
Dictators start wars. They seek out external enemies. More often than not, they escalate conflict beyond their own borders to distract internal suspicions of the illegitimacy of their regimes. In the case of Iraq, Saddam invaded Iran in 1980, just one year after coming formally to power.
Democracies, on the other hand, use force as a last resort because they are responsive to the wishes of their citizens. If we make it clear that we are determined to bring democracy to this part of the world, it will encourage hundreds of millions of decent people in the Mideast. For us to win this war the entire face of the Mideast must change. But, first, all this hinges on our success in bringing down Saddam.
http://www.jinsa.org/articles/print.html/documentid/1494

Again, while it would be easy to wax sarcastic about the last paragraphs, and the role of the USA in escalating conflict beyond its borders, the fact remains that Woolsey has recognized the same policy imperatives that you pointed out and is simply presenting them in language that can appeal to fellow senior officials of US imperialism.
Would you agree that Woolsey is indeed seriously advocating a policy that “the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil“?
If so, an assertion that Bush has also accepted this policy, and that it is actual rather than merely declaratory, should be considered seriously rather than merely dismissed as inconceivable.
The point is of course that nobody familiar with the Middle East could possibly reach any other conclusions, when studying the question of how to respond to September 11, even though they might have an interest in presenting those conclusions in a more apologetic way than you do.

It is difficult to imagine how any US imperialist policy making group reviewing US policy in the light of September 11 could possibly avoid advising that supporting Islamist terrorism hadn’t been such a good idea, supporting Baath fascism hadn’t been such a good idea, supporting the House of Saud isn’t a good idea, supporting “Greater Israel” isn’t a good idea and it’s way past time to drain the swamps.
As you noted in “Wars of Terror” on 30 April:

In serious scholarship, at least, it is recognized that “Unless the social, political, and economic conditions that spawned Al Qaeda and other associated groups are addressed, the United States and its allies in Western Europe and elsewhere will continue to be targeted by Islamist terrorists.” 13″

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=11&ItemID=3543
Given that, why on earth should we assume the real, as opposed to the declared conclusions of US policy makers differ from those reached by serious scholarship?
(Incidentally, the copy at the above URL appears to be broken as it ends in mid-sentence. Please let me know when it is fixed. I noticed that almost every paragraph from “Draining the Swamps” is expanded in “Wars of Terror” and am curious to see what happened to the concluding paragraph I quoted in my article, in the light of recent shifts in US rhetoric.)
Finally, although Bush stuck rigidly to the “Saddam must disarm” line right up until the last minute, this has now taken a back seat to more or less open explanations of the new policy.

As mentioned in my article, Bush presents the new line with lots of “God bless America” rhetoric as a triumphant reaffirmation of American values rather than an admission of defeat and retreat. He is able to get away with that precisely because of the stand taken by the anti-war movement.

Instead of taking credit for having opposed the criminal and disasterous policy that brought “Sept. 11, disdain and hatred” long before Woolsey, you allow Bush to present the adoption of your views as a triumph for US imperialism!
Unlike Woolsey, Bush needs to present his declaratory policy less clearly and unambiguously than either Woolsey or your summary of it in your email to me.
Nevertheless, here’s an example (from February 26, 2003), to show that Bush is indeed saying things that sound very similar to the words I quoted from your article:
[…] A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq. (Applause.)
[…]

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. (Applause.) The nation of Iraq — with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people — is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.
(Applause.)

The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the “freedom gap” so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. (Applause.)
It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world — or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim — is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror. (Applause.)
[…]
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/iraq/20030226-11.html
Clearly Bush is deliberately linking the question of US security from terrorist attack (mosquitoes) to the question of liberating people from corrupt tyrannies (draining the swamps).

That is exactly the theme of the paragraph I quoted from your article. The context is support for a war that you oppose. But what is there in the words that Bush uses to make the case for linking US security from terrorist attack with freedom and democracy in the Middle East, that you would disagree with?
Of course the fact that Bush is making a (declaratory) “case” that includes quotes like the one above does not establish what his actual policy is.

Nevertheless, given such quotes it is necessary to seriously consider the question and argue the issue rather than simply dismiss it. Certainly raising expectations in this way is not going to be helpful to any US project for imposing a puppet dictatorship in Iraq.
In the summary of your views that I quoted above from your last email, you mentioned 3 policies that would have to be changed “in order to reduce the threat of terror”. These were the policies of:

1.    ”supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of the US interest in controlling Near East oil.”
2.    “supporting Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories.”
3.    “maintaining murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

I will look at each of these separately:

1. ”supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of the US interest in controlling Near East oil.”

That has certainly been actual US policy in the past (though of course never “declaratory policy”). If there has been a change, the onus is clearly on those saying so to demonstrate it. I have attempted to demonstrate above the plausability of such a shift and the adoption of a declaratory policy that would correspond to it.
It’s too early to conclusively demonstrate to what extent actual policy has changed. However nothing that has happened so far either in Iraq itself or in its neighbours Saudi Arabia and Turkey has conformed to the expectations of people in the anti-war movement claiming there would be no shift towards democracy.

Already political parties such as the Iraqi Communist Party are free to setup offices and publish newspapers in Baghdad when they cannot do that elsewhere and pictures of (anti-US) demonstrations are being beamed into other capitals where the people know they do not have the same freedom to protest.
The governments of neighbouring regimes are clearly petrified. Bush and Blair have done nothing to reassure them by talking about Saddam wasting oil revenues on “palaces” and by allowing the Shia to very openly celebrate. Likewise democratic forces have been heartened.

Even people opposed to the war (as is still almost obligatory throughout the region) are able to point to the impotence of the current regimes in the face of US intervention as grounds for modernizing and democratizing.

2. “supporting Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories.”

Again, that has clearly been US policy in the past and the onus is on me to demonstrate that actual US policy has changed, which I will attempt below.
Moreover Bush has gone out of his way to express unconditional declaratory support for Sharon’s stepped up Israeli terror against the Palestinians and has been very ostentatious about doing nothing to declare policies that hinder integration of the occupied territories. Declaratory policy in this case has been fairly close to actual policy (with the usual euphemisms instead of “Israeli terror”, and very minimal purely cosmetic reservations concerning the details of integration of the occupied territories).
First however, would you agree that your quote from Yehoshaphat Harkabi demonstrates that a former head of Israeli military intelligence advocates stopping “Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories”?
If so, an assertion that Bush has also accepted this policy, and that it is actual rather than merely declaratory, should again be considered seriously rather than merely dismissed as inconceivable.
According to your article:

“One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor and mutual border adjustments).”

Well, now the road map has been oficially released:

A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace, UNSCRs 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah — endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit — calling for acceptance of Israel as a neighbor living in peace and security, in the context of a comprehensive settlement.”
http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/summit/text2003/0430roadmap.htm

As well as the Palestine National Authority, this “road map” for ending the occupation of the territories that were occupied in 1967 has been endorsed by the Arab League, the UN, the EU and Russia. If that is not joining “the long-standing international consensus” what would be? Only Israel is complaining.

If Bush intends to persist with the previous policy, his recent moves to commit himself personally to major efforts for the achievement of a viable Palestinian state within a set time frame will be extremely damaging for him.
If on the other hand he intends to adopt your proposal, his reputation as a hard-line supporter of Israeli state terrorism against the Palestinians will make it much easier for him to do so. (“Only Nixon could go to Peking“).
Anyone attempting to defeat the Zionist lobby in the USA needs a plan and Bush’s plan for outflanking them seems like a good one.

Solidarity with the Palestinians is not expressed by endorsing defeatist propaganda that the Israeli position has been strengthened by the US occupation of Iraq. On the contrary we should be emphasizing that the Palestinian right of return is critical to the achievement of US goals in the Middle East as without it, even the establishment of a Palestinian state will not avoid an ongoing festering sense of grievance like that in Northern Ireland, which will continue to be exploited by terrorists.

3.“maintaining murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

Once again, sanctions have clearly been US policy in the past and the effect of those sanctions has clearly been murderous and devastating for the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam.
It seems obvious that US policy is now opposed to continued sanctions, so I will not discuss this third element further.
However it is worth commenting on some aspects of how the US carried out and presented that change in policy, for the light it sheds on how I suggest the US has carried out and presented the changes I claim have been made policy on the other two elements.
It seems unlikely that the intended effect of the US sanctions policy was to strengthen Saddam. The US has sincerely and genuinely wanted to get rid of Saddam, at least since shortly after the immediate aftermath of the Kuwait war, even though they did not wish to get rid of the Baath regime (presided over by some other, more manageable dictator) until much later. The intended effect of the sanctions was to weaken Saddam, not to strengthen him.
Given that a policy had an actual effect opposite to the intention, the question must have arisen as to how to change that policy without damaging other US imperialist interests.
It seems reasonable to suppose that a serious problem for US policy makers must have been that simply dropping the sanctions would have been widely perceived as a defeat for US imperialism.
More specifically it would have been presented by both Saddam and Osama bin Laden as a victory for them. Any US policy maker would have had to propose some measure to counteract the impact of that.
By carrying out the dropping of sanctions as a simple consequence of the occupation of Iraq and destruction of Saddam’s regime, the US has certainly avoided any perception that abandoning sanctions was a victory for either Saddam Hussain or Osama bin Laden or indeed that it involved any defeat for US imperialism whatever.
Nevertheless, the long term impact of that on the roots of the ‘campaigns of hatred’ is the same. The US is no longer perceived as continuing murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq. Therefore the cumulative effect of campaigns about that (for example from supporters of Osama bin Laden), will cease growing, even though there will be short term damage to US interests from hostility to the deaths and devastation caused by the war.

Likewise the US has now announced that it will meet two other demands exploited by Osama bin Laden – withdrawal from Saudi Arabia and reducing the oppression of Palestinians – without any risk of Islamist victory celebrations.
My position is that in a similar way as with the other 2 policies, US policy makers have been looking for, and have adopted, a method of carrying out and presenting a reversal of previous policy that is intended to avoid any perception of a defeat for US imperialism (and that both the war in Iraq and the position adopted by the anti-war movement has been central to enabling them to get away with that).
In your Guardian interview of February 4, 2003 you were asked:
Matthew Tempest: Will the propaganda rebound if democracy is not established in Iraq after ‘liberation’?”

You replied:

NC: You’re right to call it propaganda. If this is a war aim, why don’t they say so? Why are they lying to the rest of the world? What is the point of having the UN inspectors? According to this propaganda, everything we are saying in public is pure farce – we don’t care about the weapons of mass destruction, we don’t care about disarmament, we have another goal in mind, which we’re not telling you, and that is, all of a sudden, we’re going to bring democracy by war. Well, if that’s the goal, let’s stop lying about it and put an end to the whole farce of inspections and everything else and just say now we’re on a crusade to bring democracies to countries that are suffering under miserable leadership. Actually that is a traditional crusade, that’s what lies behind the horrors of colonial wars and their modern equivalents, and we have a very long rich record to show just how that worked out. It’s not something new in history.”
http://www.zmag.org/content/Activism/chomsky_antiwar.cfm

Well, Bush pretty much took you up on that proposal too!

My suggestion is that in February you treated your question “why don’t they say so?” as rhetorical with an assumed answer that they would say they were on a crusade for democracy instead of maintaining the inspections farce if that was actually the case. Now that they have abandoned the farce and are speaking openly of the crusade, one must conclude that your assumed answer to the rhetorical question was wrong.

You should have treated it as a non-rhetorical question and thought about what the reason for them not saying so at the time might actually have been. In fact there were good reasons why it was not in their interests to say so then, just as you have mentioned that the US has a policy of sometimes attempting to appear less rational and more vindictive than it is.
Instead of developing the idea about “colonial wars”, which would at least be consistent with continued reactionary opposition, you advanced several demonstrably wrong reasons why the US could not promote democracy in Iraq:
“The chances that they will allow anything approximating real democracy are pretty slight. There’s major problems in the way of that – problems that motivated Bush No 1 to oppose the rebellions in 1991 that could have overthrown Saddam Hussein. After all, he could have been overthrown then if the US had not authorised Saddam to crush the rebellions.”

“One major problem is that roughly 60% of the population is Shi’ite. If there’s any form of democratic government, they’re going to have a say, in fact a majority say, in what the government is. Well they are not pro-Iranian but the chances are that a Shi’ite majority would join the rest of the region in trying to improve relations with Iran and reduce the levels of tension generally in the region by re-integrating Iran within it. There have been moves in that direction among the Arab states and Shi’ite majority in Iraq is likely to do that. That’s the last thing the US wants. Iran is its next target.”
“It doesn’t want improved relations. Furthermore if the Shi’ite majority gets for the first time a real voice in the government, the Kurdish minority will want something similar. And they will want a realisation of their quite just demands for a degree of autonomy in the northern regions. Well Turkey is not going to tolerate that. Turkey already has thousands of troops in Northern Iraq basically to prevent any such development. If there’ s a  move towards Kirkuk, which they regard as their capital city, Turkey will move to block it, the US will surely back them, just as the United States has strongly supported Turkey in its massive atrocities against the Kurds in the 1990s in the south-eastern regions. What you’re going to be left with is either a military dictatorship with some kind of democratic façade, like maybe a parliament that votes while the military runs it behind the scenes – it’s not unfamiliar – or else putting power back into the hands of something like the Sunni minority which has been running it in the past.
“Nobody can predict any of this. What happens when you start a war is unknown. The CIA can’t predict it, Rumsfeld can’t predict it, nobody can. It could be anywhere over this range. That’s why sane people refrain from the use of violence unless there are overwhelming reasons to undertake it – the dangers are simply far too great. However it’s striking that neither Bush nor Blair present anything like this as their war aim. Have they gone to the security council and said let’s have a resolution for the use of force to bring democracy to Iraq? Of course not. Because they know they’d be laughed at.
Essentially you were insisting that the policies of the Bush Senior administration would prevail, despite the change in US perceptions since September 11, 2001. Not much of the above has stood the test of time – except for your tacit admission that you cannot predict what is happening.

So far Rumsfeld’s predictions have held up quite well. But after only 3 months your own speculations have proved completely irrelevant. I suggest that your acknowledged inability to make accurate predictions and your demonstrated inability to even make relevant speculations is not because there is nothing predictable about current events but because we are in a new situation and your assumptions based on an analysis of the previous situation no longer reflect reality.

Once it becomes clear to you that the US actually is introducing (bourgeois) democracy in Iraq, you can of course simply abandon your arguments about why that would be inconceivable and just shift to opposing the “imposition” of democracy as being a colonialist “crusade”.
But you have demonstrated an ability to analyse new situations in the past and should not be afraid to do so now.
Regards,
PS Your concluding paragraph was:

“I’m afraid I can’t answer your last question because of its assumptions, which are based on total misunderstanding.”
I am not sure what this was referring to.
My last paragraph was an implicit question as follows:

“Finally, if you happen to know of any other ‘pro-war left’ (as opposed to pro-war liberal) web sites I would be grateful for any links.”
Your concluding paragraph does not seem to be responsive unless perhaps you thought I was under the bizarre impression that Znet is a “pro-war left” web site.
I was of course referring to the web site URL given in my article, and mentioned in my final PPS, following the article text, as being “pro-war left” – http://www.lastsuperpower.net.
If you don’t know of any others. Please say so.
Alternatively, perhaps more likely, you were referring to the assumptions in an earlier paragraph that was followed by a question as to whether debate might clarify the nature of “a subtle difference” I had perceived to exist between your analysis and other Znet articles.
At any rate I accept that your response rejects my suggestion that there might be some difference between your previous and current positions or between your current position and that of other Znet contributors. Note that I did not make that suggestion in my published article but only directly to you.


4. CHOMSKY’S RESPONSE:

Original Message—–
From: Noam Chomsky [mailto:chomsky@MIT.EDU]
Sent: Friday, May 09, 2003 11:54 PM
Subject: RE: Draining the swamp reply

I’m rather surprised that you see no need for public retraction of the extreme falsification in your article, particularly where it is so transparent.  But to be frank, that’s no concern of mine.

I won’t discuss the fallacies in your message.  I’m sure we both have better things to do than to enter into discussion where we do not even share the most elementary assumptions about fact and logic.

Noam Chomsky


5. CHOMSKY’S ARTICLE:

Drain The Swamp And There Will Be No More Mosquitoes

by Noam Chomsky; September 10, 2002

September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better pay much closer attention to what the US government does in the world and how it is perceived. Many issues have been opened for discussion that were not on the agenda before. That’s all to the good.
It is also the merest sanity, if we hope to reduce the likelihood of future atrocities. It may be comforting to pretend that our enemies “hate our freedoms,” as President Bush stated, but it is hardly wise to ignore the real world, which conveys different lessons.
The president is not the first to ask: “Why do they hate us?” In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described “the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people”. His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is “opposing political or economic progress” because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.
Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.
To cite just one recent example: in the August 1 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review, the internationally recognised regional specialist Ahmed Rashid writes that in Pakistan “there is growing anger that US support is allowing [Musharraf’s] military regime to delay the promise of democracy”.
Today we do ourselves few favours by choosing to believe that “they hate us” and “hate our freedoms”. On the contrary, these are attitudes of people who like Americans and admire much about the US, including its freedoms. What they hate is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they too aspire.
For such reasons, the post-September 11 rantings of Osama bin Laden – for example, about US support for corrupt and brutal regimes, or about the US “invasion” of Saudi Arabia – have a certain resonance, even among those who despise and fear him. From resentment, anger and frustration, terrorist bands hope to draw support and recruits.
We should also be aware that much of the world regards Washington as a terrorist regime. In recent years, the US has taken or backed actions in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Sudan and Turkey, to name a few, that meet official US definitions of “terrorism” – that is, when Americans apply the term to enemies.
In the most sober establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington wrote in 1999: “While the US regularly denounces various countries as ‘rogue states,’ in the eyes of many countries it is becoming the rogue superpower … the single greatest external threat to their societies.”
Such perceptions are not changed by the fact that, on September 11, for the first time, a western country was subjected on home soil to a horrendous terrorist attack of a kind all too familiar to victims of western power. The attack goes far beyond what’s sometimes called the “retail terror” of the IRA, FLN or Red Brigades.
The September 11 terrorism elicited harsh condemnation throughout the world and an outpouring of sympathy for the innocent victims. But with qualifications.
An international Gallup poll in late September found little support for “a military attack” by the US in Afghanistan. In Latin America, the region with the most experience of US intervention, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama.
The current “campaign of hatred” in the Arab world is, of course, also fuelled by US policies toward Israel-Palestine and Iraq. The US has provided the crucial support for Israel’s harsh military occupation, now in its 35th year.
One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor and mutual border adjustments).
In Iraq, a decade of harsh sanctions under US pressure has strengthened Saddam Hussein while leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – perhaps more people “than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history”, military analysts John and Karl Mueller wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1999.
Washington’s present justifications to attack Iraq have far less credibility than when President Bush Sr was welcoming Saddam as an ally and a trading partner after he had committed his worst brutalities – as in Halabja, where Iraq attacked Kurds with poison gas in 1988. At the time, the murderer Saddam was more dangerous than he is today.
As for a US attack against Iraq, no one, including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country, providing recruits for terrorist actions.
They presumably also welcome the “Bush doctrine” that proclaims the right of attack against potential threats, which are virtually limitless. The president has announced: “There’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland.” That’s true.
Threats are everywhere, even at home. The prescription for endless war poses a far greater danger to Americans than perceived enemies do, for reasons the terrorist organisations understand very well.
Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. “To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism,” he said. “When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes.”
At the time, Israel enjoyed the virtual immunity from retaliation within the occupied territories that lasted until very recently. But Harkabi’s warning was apt, and the lesson applies more generally.
Well before September 11 it was understood that with modern technology, the rich and powerful will lose their near monopoly of the means of violence and can expect to suffer atrocities on home soil.
If we insist on creating more swamps, there will be more mosquitoes, with awesome capacity for destruction.
If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the “campaigns of hatred”, we can not only reduce the threats we face but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.


6. May Day article

May Day – it’s the festival of the distressed

THE Left tide that rose worldwide in the 1960s subsided in the ’70s, just as
the previous tides from the ’30s and ’40s subsided in the ’50s.

There was no significant Left upsurge in the ’80s or ’90s, partly because
reactionary forces were already on the retreat, with the liberation of
southern Africa, East Timor and Eastern Europe, the creation of the
Palestinian Authority and the shift from military to parliamentary rule
throughout Latin America, the Philippines and Indonesia.

When the left tide is rising, May Day provides an opportunity to sum up past
victories and preview the revolutionary “festival of the oppressed” to come.
When the tide is low or dropping, as now, Mayday is just the international
distress call – a cry for help.

For more than two decades, the genuine Left has been swamped by a
pseudo-Left whose hostility to capitalism is reactionary rather than
progressive. The pseudo-Left opposes modernity, development, globalisation,
technology and progress.

It embraces obscurantism, relativism, romanticism and even nature worship.
At May Day rallies, the pseudo-Left whines about how things aren’t what they
used to be.

The real Left has been marginalised, debating neither the neo-cons nor the
pseudo-Left, simply because there has been no audience for that debate.
Incoherent nonsense from complete imbeciles is published as “Left” comment
in newspapers just so right-wing commentators can pretend they have
something intelligent to say. In fact “Left” is used as a euphemism for
“pessimistic”, “unimaginative” and just plain “dull”.

But now there is an audience. The war in Iraq has woken people everywhere –
and the pseudo-Left has really blown its chance.

Millions who marched in mid February stopped marching two months later, as
soon as the argument shifted towards democratising and liberating the Iraqi
people. Those millions still agree that George W. Bush is an arrogant bully,
but they no longer believe the peacemongers have got it right. People want
to figure out what is going on and are joining the debate at websites such
as http://www.lastsuperpower.net.

For months, the argument was about weapons of mass destruction and the role
of the UN. If the demands of the US, and the UN, had been fully met, Saddam
Hussein could have lived happily, and the Iraqi people miserably, for ever
after.

But look at what happened next! Suddenly we were hearing a different song.
Bush has been making the argument not for disarming Iraq but for liberating
Iraq.

Stripped of the “God bless America” stuff, the US President’s case now goes
like this:

“If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of
the ‘campaigns of hatred’, we can not only reduce the threats we face, but
also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we
choose to take them seriously.”

Actually, those words are from Noam Chomsky two days before Bush’s UN speech
on September 10, 2002.

But if Bush had adopted Chomsky’s position so early, that would have pre
vented congressional authorisation. Such a position threatens to destabilise
despotic, reactionary regimes everywhere. But those in the US foreign policy
establishment have devoted their entire careers to supporting the most
corrupt tyrannies in the Middle East, in the name of “stability”.

For Chomsky, “draining the swamps” apparently didn’t include killing people
and blowing things up. Fortunately, Bush is made of sterner stuff.

Both Bush and Chomsky know the US cannot be secure from medievalist
terrorist mosquitoes while the Middle East remains a swamp. But Bush also
knows that modernity grows out of the barrel of a gun.

That is a genuinely Left case for a revolutionary war of liberation, such as
has occurred in Iraq. The pseudo-Left replies: “That’s illegal.”

Well, of course revolutionary war is illegal. Legal systems are created by
revolutions, not revolutions by legal systems.

The next logical step for the new policy is to establish a viable
Palestinian state. Bush has put himself in a position where he can and must
take that step. Naturally, he will not admit to the enormous strategic and
policy retreat that such a step implies, so he has preceded it with enough
triumphalist rhetoric to make even the Fox News team look queasy.

The revival of the Left in the ’60s only began once it was widely noticed
that the remnants of the previous movement were reactionaries obstructing
progress. After it tried so hard to preserve fascism in Iraq, even after
Bush Jr had wisely given up on Bush Sr’s policy of keeping the Iraqi
dictator in power, can anyone deny the pseudo-Left is reactionary?

End —

Are you progressive except for Syria? (republished with active links)

I recently republished this with permission of the author but without the active links. The links reveal the depth and breadth of research by the author and include valuable sources of information worth pursuing. So, here is the article with the links active.

* * * *

WRITTEN BY Mary Rizzo.
We have all already heard of the phenomenon of PEP (Progressive Except on Palestine), in which those who consider themselves progressives (liberals in the USA) or leftists are pretty liberal on every single issue except the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, their syndrome has been pointed out and diagnosed fully. A lot of them justify this position by saying that supporting the government of Israel is a liberal position. Their problems are not our problem… they need help that we surely can’t provide.

However, there is another phenomenon far more worrisome because it involves those who are Progressive ALSO for Palestine, and that is the case of PES (Progressive Except on Syria). Those who are afflicted by this malady feel safety in numbers, because they are in fact the majority of non-Palestinian supporters of Palestine. They will actually USE the argument of Palestine as justification of their support of Assad, even though his regime has a terrible record regarding Palestinians, (as did that of his father).  They will argue that support of Assad is a progressive (liberal) leftist value. Whether it’s called “selective humanitarianism” “double standards” or “hypocrisy”, it is a dangerous and insidious disease and should be cured. Here is a little test to discover if perhaps YOU are afflicted with this mental illness.
Do you perhaps suffer from PES without being aware of it? Fear no more! We’re happy to provide you a self-diagnosis test with simple YES / NO replies so that you can discover your own hypocritical stance, and hopefully, be on the path to the cure.

  1. Did you protest or complain about the unfairness of the USAelections for any reason but believe that Assad won a landslide victory in free and fair elections?
  2. Do you think that Assad is fighting terrorism?
  3. Do you think that the Palestinian cause is being defended by Assad?
  4. Do you believe that the war in Syria is all about foreign aggressiondue to their national and pan-Arab stances” and is not a people’s uprising? In fact, you think the whole Arab Spring has got to be “exposed” as an imperialist, western plot.
  5. Do you think that the Intifada in Palestine is legitimate and that the uprising in Syria is manufactured (while of course saying so having been paid guest to Assad’s presidential palace)?
  6. Do you think that the Palestinian cause is being defended by Hezbollah even when they target and kill Palestinian refugees and ignore the growing tensions between Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Hezbollah?
  7. Do you condemn religiously-inspired militias such as ISIS and Al Nusra when they commit murder and use violence against civilians but have not condemned Hezbollah when it commits murder and uses violence against civilians?
  8. Do you think that it was a good idea for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) to shoot on the Palestinians who mourned those killed on Naksa Day 2011?
  9. Have you called Gaza “the world’s largest open-air prison” but don’t agree with the UNHCR claim that Syria’s war “is more brutal and destructive than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has turned into the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.”?
  10. Have you endorsed or thought a No Fly Zone was a good idea for Gaza but reject it as Imperialist meddling or abid to save Al Qaeda if it’s done in Syria?
  11. Do you condemn the Palestinians tortured to death in Israeli prisons (since 1967, a total of 72 Palestinianshave been tortured to death) but have not condemned the 200 Palestinians tortured to death in Syrian prisons since 2011? You naturally probably don’t know about the at least 11.000 Syrians who were tortured to deathinside these prisons.
  12. Do the at least 10,000 bodies of prisoners in Syrian regime prisons that were ordered to be catalogued by the regime mean nothing to you since you don’t have details on what the reasons for their deaths could be?
  13. Do you call for release of political prisoners from Israeli jails but do not call for the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Syrian jails?
  14. Have you actually asked for money to bring Gazan children to make a protest for the NFZ but think that asking for a NFZ in Syria is a bid to help Al Qaeda?
  15. Do you think Al Qaeda and ISIS are Mossad / CIA inventions?
  16. Do you protest against the death penalty in the USA: Executions in 2014, 35, but don’t do the same for Iran: executions in 2014, Between 721 and 801 at least.
  17. Do you think it is wrong for the US to provide Israel with armaments because it engages in war crimes but at the same time, think it is justified for Russia to provide the Syrian regime with armaments and military expertsbecause “it’s war against NATO”?
  18. Do you condemn Israel’s “extra judicial killing” but claim that Assad must do everything he needs to maintain power because blocking his actions in any way, even by condemning them “… could end up ousting Assad. It would mean replacing him with pro-Western stooge governance. It would eliminate another Israeli rival. It would isolate Iran. It would be disastrous for ordinary Syrians.”
  19. Have you ever praised Assad’s government because it is secular, or “fighting the enemy of the West”: because after all, you only see the alternatives being Assad or the “Islamic Fundamentalists”?
  20. Did you support Haniyeh and Meshaal until they started waving the Syrian revolution flag?
  21. Do you erroneously refer to the Syrian revolution flag as the “French Mandate Flag” ignoring that even the Assad regime celebrated it as the Independence flag each “Evacuation (Independence) Day on 17 April to celebrate the resistance against the French colonialists?
  22. Do you know the names of at least one Palestinian dissident/political writer but don’t know any Syrian ones?
  23. Do you call the opposition to Assad “Western-backed rebels” either from a Pro-Israel or Pro-Iran standpoint?
  24. Did you protest for Palestinian detainees and even know their names but not do the same for Palestinian detainees in Syrian’s prisons?
  25. Do you know the name of at least one minor arrested or killed by Israel but don’t know the name of at least one minor arrested or killed by the Assad regime?
  26. You have protested against the racist and discriminatory Apartheid Wall and checkpoints in Israel/Palestine but you have nothing much to say about Syrian military checkpoints and sniper-lined checkpoints?
  27. Did you get angry when a US newspaper used a photo of Iraqi deaths, claiming they were Syrian, but when Palestinian supporters use Syrian ones, it’s “illustrating the suffering in Gaza”?
  28. You have protested against Israeli use of phosphorus bombs but you have nothing much to say about the unconventional weapons use by Assad against both opposition fighters and civilians such as barrel bombs andchemical weapons?
  29. Are you critical of the US for intervening in affairs of other countries but think it’s normal for Iran and Russia to be sending troops into Syria to help the regime?
  30. You would never consider Palestine compromising with Israel but you believe that the opposition must compromise with the regime in Syria.
  31. Do you condemn the Saudi monarchy and refer to them as Wahhabis, Salafis, etc., but refuse to recognise that Iran is a theocracy?
  32. Do you think that Assad is simply doing everything he can to protect the minorities in his country?
  33. Do you call the Israeli occupation of Palestine ethnic cleansing but do not speak out against the regime-driven massacres in Syria that are ethnically based?
  34. Do you refer to the Assad regime, Hezbollah and Iran as the “Axis of Resistance” even when they don’t react to Israeli attacks on them?
  35. Do you think the following two statements are both true?
    a. Dissent in the United States is patriotic.
    b. Protesting in Syria is an assault on the State and needs to be quelled.
  36. Do you think the following two statements are true?
    a. Pepper spraying protesters in the USA is a violation of human rights.
    b. The Syrian regime has to use whatever force it deems necessary against protesters, because they protesters have violent intentions.
  37. Do you think that Israel must be brought to the ICC for crimes against humanity but think that the Syrian regime should not?
  38. Do you condemn the USA vetoes on the UN Security Council in favour of Israel but praise the Russian and Chinese ones in favour of Assad both to stop sanctions and to prohibit ICC investigation including three Chinese vetoes on Syria alone out of eight total vetoes in their history?
  39. Do you think the following statements are both true?
    a.Calling a U.S. citizen anti-American or un-American for being critical of the US government is ridiculous, knee-jerk, unintelligent and actually incorrect.
    b.People who are critical of Assad are closet or overt imperialists and want US control over the region.
  40. You do not believe that Russia is an imperialist state while you are certain that Syria is an anti-imperialist state defending itself against imperialist onslaught.
  41. Do you think that Erdogan is seeking to dominate politics in the region in an attempt to restore what was once the Ottoman Empire or even think the US is trying to establish an Islamic State but support Iranian domination and the Shi’a Crescent?
  42. Have you signed petitions against companies such as Soda Stream and Coca-cola but not against weapons provider, the Russian monopoly Rosoboronexport or even the western companies providing the Syrian and Iranian regimes with surveillance equipment that they use against dissidents and opposition?
  43. Do you call innocent victims killed by American drones or victims of war crimes but consider the Syrians and Palestinians killed by Syrian bombs and chemical weapons collateral damage?
  44. Do you reject the USA/UK “War on Terror” but believe that Assad has a right to use whatever means possible tokill whoever he considers as a terrorist in Syria and that Syria is a sovereign nation fighting Al Qaeda?
  45. Have you mentioned the Blockade on Gaza in conversations and know it is illegal and a crime against humanity but don’t feel the same about the Blockade on Yarmouk?
  46. Do you respond to criticism of Assad by pointing out USA human rights violations?
  47. You know the name of USA civilians killed by cops or vigilantes, but you don’t know the name of a single Syrian victim of torture in the Assad prisons.
  48. You have protested for the closure of Gitmo, but you don’t raise your voice or even one eyebrow over theSyrian Torture Archipelago in which “The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture [in the 27 detention facilities run by Syrian Intelligence] that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity.” Moreover, you don’t want to notice that Syria’s government has been cooperating with the CIA extensively in renditions and the torture programme.
  49. You think that Israel should not have nuclear capacity but that Iran should have nuclear capacity. Extra pointsif you support Non-Proliferation. Super extra points if you participated in any No Nukes events in the West or signed any such petitions, super extra and mega extra points if you are against nuclear power.
  50. You believe that the Palestinian struggle is about human rights but the Syrian protests were sectarian and religious-oriented, driven by people who wanted to overthrow and overtake power illegitimately if not in factmanufactured by the West?
  51. Do you believe it’s normal for the Syrian constitution to be amended every time that it serves the Assad familybut the US Constitution is sacred and especially no amendments should be made to limit gun possessionwhether you detest the US government or think it should basically call all the shots around the world?
  52. Do you think that Jews protesting the Israel government are noble people who are fighting for human rights and justice while any Syrian protesting the Assad regime are in cahoots with the Israeli government.
  53. Do you believe that, “We must not in any way call for the removal of President Assad unless he commits acts of terror against us. Assad’s government has committed no such act, thus rendering it criminal for foreign governments to undermine the Syrian regime. You either stand for national sovereignty, or against it. The choice is yours.” While at the same time have supported efforts from the liberals or conservatives to have Obama impeached?
  54. Do you believe that foreign countries helping the Palestinians militarily to win against Israel is legitimate but helping Syrians win against Assad is meddling and think that “any further intervention in Syria would be for U.S. interests, like weakening an ally of Iran, and would encourage Assad’s allies to step up their armament shipments. The carnage would continue, and perhaps increase.”?
  55. Do you reject claims that the involvement of Iran and Russia in favour of Assad is meddling?
  56. Do you think that the entire Syrian war is for the purpose of the US weakening Syria so that it can pursue its own interests in the region but ignore the fact that Russia has enormous interests in Syria that are far more evident?
  57. Have you ever found yourself denying Assad had chemical weapons but also applauding the Syrian regime’s decision to hand them over to Russia as a strong gesture towards peace?

How many questions did you answer YES to?

Between 1 and 5? You are headed towards selective humanitarianism, or even are afflicted with Western Privilege Syndrome!

Between 6 and 10? You are dangerously using double standards and believe that human rights aren’t something universal, but allow your ideological or dogmatic prejudices to influence your ethical judgement!

Over 10? You are a dyed in the wool Hypocrite! Maybe you should avoid “current events” altogether, you have no understanding of what human rights and justice mean, you should wash your mouth out before you ever speak about human rights for Palestinians or anyone.

The Anti-War Left 100 Years Ago vs the Anti-War Left Today

Thanks to Ben Norton for permission to reprint his article. It’s spirit is spot on.

He concludes with the question: ” “Dialectics”? What’s that?”

One might also ask of today’s pseudo-left: “Internationalist solidarity”? What’s that?

* * * *

When confronted with the obscene violence of World War I 100 years ago, the strategy of the leaders of the internationalist Left was to oppose both bourgeois sides of the inter-imperialist conflict and instead advance the cause of proletarian internationalism.

Today, the strategy of much of the “internationalist” “Left” is to simply support the side that’s not the West in a kneejerk reaction and dub it “anti-imperialism.”

World War I caused a major split in the global Left. Many of the leading revolutionaries—those of whom are now some of the most celebrated figures in the history of socialism—opposed the war outright. Yet more than a few parties supported the war. This disagreement led to the dissolution of the Second International, and later to the failure of the German Revolution.

Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Clara Zetkin formed Die Internationale—which later became the Spartacus League (not to be confused with the absurd Sparticist League of today), which in turn later became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)—explicitly in order to oppose the pro-war Left, particularly the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which supported the war. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were imprisoned for their opposition to the war.

Lenin referred to the war as “the imperialist war” and condemned socialists who chose a side as “social-chauvinists.” US leftists steadfastly opposed the war, and Woodrow Wilson was even re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War”—although he reneged on his promises and plunged into the inter-imperialist violence.

If today’s “leftists” were alive then and endorsed the same logic they do now, they would have likely written off these leading leftist figures as “utopians” and “‘useful idiots’ of Western imperialism” and instead supported the Central Powers. After all, the Central Powers consisted of relatively eastern nations—the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Emirate of Jabal Shammar (in much of modern-day Saudi Arabia)—which were fighting the imperialist West—including the UK, France, the US, and more of the states in modern-day NATO.

Our day’s supposed anti-imperialists insist that we must defend the bourgeois, quasi-fascist regimes of Syria, Russia, and more against supposed “Western encroachment” (mimicking the “lesser evil” argument liberals love to wield to continuously re-elect neoliberal Democrats who were bought and sold on Wall Street on day one). Assad’s counterrevolutionary war of terrorism against his own population must be defended, they insist; Putin’s war in Ukraine must be supported, even though he himself is supported by and supports Europe’s neo-Nazi and other fascist groups.

This strange illogic leads to authoritarian “leftists” fighting in Ukraine literally side-by-side with Nazis, in defense of Russia. In 2015, a group of Spanish “communists” who returned from fighting on behalf of Russia in the war in Ukraine—which has left many thousands dead—were arrested. They had joined the pro-Russian so-called Donbass International Brigades (so named in a slanderous and ludicrous attempt to associate itself with the International Brigades from the Spanish Civil War). They received neither travel expenses nor a salary for their fighting. They proudly boasted that they fought aside both Nazis and “communists.”

“Half of them are communists and the other half are Nazis,” they explained. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike … We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

If today’s “leftists” are incapable of actually distinguishing leftists from fascists, one can only imagine their response to World War II. After all, the far-right, capitalist, racist tyranny of National “Socialism” presented itself as a “worker’s party.” Hitler exploited the popularity of socialism among the working class, in order to advance one of the most horrific campaigns of terror in human history. One can almost hear the same “leftists” today who claim “Actually, it was the rebels who gassed themselves, not Assad” saying, in the 1940s, “Actually, I think it was Jews who used the gas chambers against the Nazis.” “The allegations against the ‘legitimate government’ are just Western propaganda,” they would claim, in both cases.

Today’s “leftists” would have doubtless sided with the Ottoman Empire too in its crushing of the 1916-1918 Arab Revolt, disparaging it as a “Western-backed plot,” in the same manner in which they slander the Syrian Revolution now.

Just as many “leftists” today insist that Russia, Iran, and China are not actually imperialist powers because—although they are bourgeois capitalist nations engaging in imperial domination—their imperialism is not equivalent in magnitude to that of the world’s hegemon, the US, they would likely have supported the “lesser evil” of the Central Powers in WWI. (“Here’s a map of the world’s ubiquitous US military bases and here’s a map of Iran’s (lack of) military bases—see, proof Iran is not imperialist!” constitutes a common “anti-imperialist” argument today.)

Sure, the Central Powers may have been brutally oppressive bourgeois regimes—like those today of Assad, Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei, and more—but they were not the world’s leading imperialist powers, so they should have been defended. Muh “anti-imperialism”!

Today’s Left has absorbed the manichean, black-or-white Stalinist logic of the Cold War into their very beings.

“Dialectics”? What’s that?

Alarmism is the problem, not science

Alarmism: the excessive or exaggerated alarm about a real or imagined threat.

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Australia’s Chief Scientist says we’ve got five years to save the world from disastrous global warming. Who can argue with a Chief Scientist? Well, given that the Chief Scientist made that claim nearly five years ago, and there has not been disastrous warming but on the contrary no significant temperature increase for around 16 years, I’d say the answer is anyone who can read and think!

The then Chief Scientist, Prof Penny Sackett, made the remark in December 2009.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report says that the mean temperature of the planet has increased by 0.8 of a degree since the late nineteenth century. Therefore, the climate is warming. Moderately.

What then is with the continuation of exaggerated and alarmist claims and predictions? Why does the mainstream media generally give them so much publicity? (Rhetorical question, I know: the sensational headline sells papers and attracts viewers).

The IPCC’s most recent report accepts that there has been a pause or hiatus but does not see this as indicative of a reversal of the warming trend long-term.

The way to explain the pause is to allow scientific debate and argument, free of vilification. It may be that the increase of CO2 emissions to record levels and the lack of significant increase in warming do indeed point to a flaw in the original hypothesis that sees greenhouse gases caused by human industrial activity as the main driver of the warming since the 1880s. Or maybe not.

Perhaps there is something to be said for the new hypothesis that the heat is being absorbed by the oceans. This is plausible and testable; though according to a recent NASA study based on satellite observation and direct temperature measurement of the upper ocean (the deep ocean is difficult to measure, say the scientist authors): “The combination of satellite and direct temperature data gives us a glimpse of how much sea level rise is due to deep warming. The answer is – not much”.

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Al Gore’s sci-fi ‘documentary’ ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was screened in just about every primary school, high school and town hall in Australia – and in many other countries too. Counterpoints were rarely, if ever, offered. But his iconic portrayal of huge tidal waves swamping Manhattan was utterly unscientific, mere alarmism. They find no basis in the IPCC assessments, which put sea level rises at 0.26-0.55 meters (10-22 inches) by 2100 under a low emissions scenario and 0.52-0.98 meters (20-39 inches) under a high emissions scenario. Is this really headline grabbing and catastrophic? Why can’t policies of adaptation be effective and the most practicable response?

The former Chief Scientist should feel embarrassed at what she said nearly five years ago.

Having said that, fossil fuels really are so C19th and C20th. But that still makes them more up-to-date than medieval windmills.

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The left looks to the future. That’s what attracted me to it more than 40 years ago. You know, stuff like flying cars and holidays on the moon. Karl Marx meets the Jetsons. No, I mean it!

The problem is that pure research hardly happens any more because the needs of capital come first. There’s no profit in mucking around with ideas and experiments with no short- or medium-term marketable objective.

Change this system to one in which social need, fun and fantasy are the raison d’etre and who knows what humans will come up with?

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