Category Archives: History

The dark side of “democracy”

Recently, “Alternative Radio” rebroadcast “The JFK Assassination & the Gangster State,” a talk given by Michael Parenti, in Berkeley, CA on 11-22-93. You have to listen to Parenti (alternativeradio.org) to get the full effect of his sarcastic (and funny) delivery, but here are some key elements of what he said (edited, as always for brevity and clarity – also, for those of you who groan at my long, dry, mostly quoted blogposts, this is pretty important, and I make some comments of my own at the end)…

“I’ve been looking at history, and I’ve been impressed and depressed by the fact that it’s a chronicle of immense atrocities. Whenever there’s more than a subsistence economy, some portion of the population does everything it can to enslave and expropriate the labor of the rest of the people – whether it’s a slave society, as in ancient Greece and Rome, or a feudal society, with people reduced to serfs, or a capitalist society, where people are driven to the edge of insecurity and made to work faster and harder. One of the things that’s used in that arrangement is a very conscious instrument of control: the state, ‘an organization,’ as Max Weber, who wasn’t a Marxist, called it, that has a ‘monopoly of the legitimate use of force.’

Even in democratic France, democratic England, or democratic U.S.A., all countries have instruments and agencies that act like a bunch of gangsters, repressively, using surveillance and every dirty trick in the book – unequal enforcement of tax laws, bringing drugs into neighborhoods and communities, trumped-up murder charges, and assassination. In the middle of even a so-called democracy you have the state-within-the-state known as the national security state that’s capable of the most unspeakable crimes that you can think of, perpetrated against its own people and people all around the world.

Not long ago I got a letter from a woman who was a community organizer in Chicago. She said, with grief in her heart, ‘I remember the tremendous democratic organization and leadership that was developing in Latino and African American communities during the 1960s. And every one of those leaders is either dead, shot by the police, or in Marion Prison on trumped-up charges. I also remember the demoralization that took place with the shattering of those organizations, including the coming in of drug traffickers, aided and abetted by federal agents.’ This is a state engaged in domestic counterinsurgency, preferring an unorganized and demoralized population than one effectively fighting for its democratic rights. Because if it’s organized and it’s effective, it will start cutting in on the interests that those police and undercover people are dedicated to protecting – protecting the status quo, protecting those with property against those who don’t have it.

By the way, for the last thousand years we’ve had theorists who have proudly made that point. Adam Smith said, ‘As the divisions of property become increasingly unequal, it is more and more necessary to have a state to defend those who have property from those who do not.’ John Locke: ‘The purpose of the state is to defend those who have property from those who do not.’ James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and others said similar things.

Throughout the world, dominant economic interests have enlisted the efforts of assassins and torturers. The CIA and other such agencies in this country and others have sponsored violence, torture, death squads, and drugs in scores of countries, from Zaire to Angola to Mozambique to El Salvador to Guatemala to Indonesia, and to western Europe, the U.S.A., Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. They’ve systematically targeted the clergy; peasant, student, and labor-union leaders; intellectuals; journalists; workers; and community activists. Tens of thousands have been murdered and assassinated to prevent social change, to destroy any kind of redistributive politics, any kind of government, or any kind of social movement not willing to reduce its people to economic fodder.”

Having made these points, Parenti goes on to the JFK assassination in which “the gangster nature of the state is revealed. To know the truth about the JFK assassination is to call into question the entire state system and the entire social order it represents. This is why for 30 years the mainstream press has suppressed or dismissed out of the hand the findings about JFK’s death by independent investigators like Peter Dale Scott, Harold Weisberg, Carl Oglesby, Mark Lane, Anthony Summers, Philip Melanson, Jim Garrison, Cyril Wecht, and dozens of others. They’re called “assassination buffs,” a limiting and marginalizing and diminishing term. Would you talk about “Holocaust buffs”? No – they are serious investigators of a serious crime, which leads to serious understandings about the state. This is why the mainstream media and the opinion leaders and the political leaders of this country relentlessly attack or ignore this literature. This is why they give fulsome, gushing, ready publicity to the likes of Gerald Posner, with his book Case Closed, which got put into every major magazine. I couldn’t put the TV on all week without seeing this guy’s face and hearing him blather these kinds of cliché statements whose credibility is dependent on your being totally ignorant of what the investigators for 30 years have been uncovering and the questions they’ve been raising.

This is why they savaged Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK,” a movie that was very accurate about the specifics of the murder, a movie that reached millions of people, and that was attacked six months before it was released in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, and for a year after it was released. This is also why in this past week, for the 30th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, they kept up the relentless propaganda campaign to show that Oswald was the lone assassin. All the serious investigators have a different question, and Oswald wasn’t one of the people who shot Kennedy – he was just a fall guy.

If you want to know why they do this, just listen to what they say. The propagandists of the right and the center know why they’ve got to trash and contain this issue. Tom Wicker of the New York Times has never written a movie review in his life. But when “JFK” came out, this Washington columnist for the Times suddenly became a movie reviewer, and instead of getting the usual movie-review length of 800 words, he got 2,000 words, a whole page. He tells us that ‘if the wild assertions in Oliver Stone’s movie are taken at face value, Americans will have to accept the idea that most of the nation’s major institutions conspired together to carry out Kennedy’s murder. In an era when mistrust of government and loss of confidence in institutions, the press not the least, are widespread and virulent, such a suggestion seems a dubious public service.’ So truth has nothing to do with it – the question is institutional legitimacy.

In 1978 the House Select Committee reported after an investigation that there was more than one assassin shooting at Kennedy and therefore there was a conspiracy. In response, the Washington Post immediately editorialized, ‘Could it

have been some other malcontent whom Mr. Oswald met casually?’ [Laughter] ‘Couldn’t as many as three or four societal outcasts, with no ties to any one organization, have developed in some spontaneous way a common determination to express their alienation in the killing of President Kennedy? It’s possible that two people acting independently attempted to shoot the president at the same time.’ Possible, but not at all likely. Sometimes those who deny conspiracies create the most convoluted fantasies of all. David Garrow, for example, who wrote a biography of Martin Luther King, benignly, patronizingly looks at you, the public, and says that ‘a large majority of the American people believe in assassination conspiracies, allowing events to have large, mysterious causes instead of small, idiosyncratic ones.’

But the question of conspiracy has to be decided by an investigation of evidence, not by unscientific and patronizing presumptions about the public mind. In any case, the evidence in King’s assassination doesn’t involve large, mysterious causes but very immediate actualities. And investigators like Peter Dale Scott, Harold Weisberg, and Mark Lane weren’t impelled by some yearnings; they were impelled by questions of evidence, by things that didn’t seem to make sense, by immediate, empirical things. These independent investigators demolished the Warren Commission.

If you watched television this week you heard, for the 78th time, that Oswald was a ‘loner,’ an incompetent, not very bright. You heard he was emotionally disturbed. Gerald Posner got on TV, turning instant psychiatrist, and said Lee Harvey Oswald ‘had a disturbed childhood,’ and was ‘passive- aggressive.’ Passive-aggressive? A passive-aggressive assassin? That explains why he used a rifle that couldn’t shoot straight. He was also ‘a leftist,’ according to Alexander Cockburn. The truth is something else. All of Lee Harvey Oswald’s IQ tests show that he was of above-average intelligence, a bright guy, a quick learner. Lee Harvey Oswald also spent most of his adult life not as a lonely drifter but directly linked to the U.S. intelligence community. In the U.S. Marines at the age of 18, he had secret security clearance and was working at Marine Air Control in Atsugi, Japan, a top-secret base from which the CIA launched some of its U2 flights and did other kinds of covert operations in China. The next year, at the age of 19, he was assigned to El Toro Air Station in California with a security clearance to work radar. Here Oswald started playing Russian-language records at blast level in his barracks, addressing his ‘comrades’ in Russian, and touting Soviet communism as ‘the best system in the world.’

The U.S. Marine Corps in 1958 wasn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberal tolerance and freethinking. It constantly surveils anyone who acts the way Oswald did. But in this instance his commanders didn’t mind. He kept his security clearance, and had a wealth of sensitive information from black operations, as they were called. If Oswald was a Soviet spy or a Cuban spy, as some people now claim, he certainly had a novel way of building a cover. In February 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald failed the Marine Corps proficiency test in Russian. Six months later he was practically fluent in Russian. In 1974, a document was released that showed that Oswald had attended the U.S. Army Monterey School of Languages. Now, Monterey is not open to anyone who just happens to have a language hobby. You go only for serious training and you are sent by the government. And it must be related to government work in a language picked by the government which is related to specific assignments. Oswald was also given an early discharge from the Marines because his mother injured her foot. A jar had fallen on her toe. He put in the request and got it within a week. His fellow Marines were astonished at the velocity of the release. The jar fell on her foot a year before the discharge, but she was unhappy: it wasn’t healing right. This was only one of a number of very strangely favorable treatments that the U.S. government gave Lee Harvey Oswald. He then defected to the USSR. To get to Russia in those days it would have cost $1,500. Lee Harvey Oswald’s bank account showed a deposit of only $203. He arrived in Helsinki from London on a day when there were no available commercial flights that would have allowed him to make it in one day. He had some kind of private transportation. In Russia, he announced – in the U.S. embassy – that he was renouncing his U.S. citizenship and that he had secrets he was going to give to the Soviets. The Soviets didn’t bite. They let him stay but at no time thought he could be an agent of any use to them. He worked in a factory, and belonged to the factory’s gun club, though he showed no particular interest in guns. He used to join in rabbit shoots, and could never hit the rabbit. He was a miserable marksman, as he had been in the U.S. Marines. Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t hit the side of a barn.

What’s done in all defections, definitely those connected with government and military, is that there’s a damage assessment. No damage assessment was ever made on Oswald’s defection. Why? After two and a half years, he applied to return to the U.S. Instead of being grabbed when he came out and tried as a traitor, the U.S. accepted him back. He says he was never debriefed, but in fact, he was debriefed in Amsterdam, though the CIA has no record of this. Their explanation before the Warren Commission was that there were so many tourists coming in and out that there was nothing about him that would catch our attention. After the assassination, the CIA claimed that they suspected he was a Soviet spy. The State Department at this point gave Oswald money to travel back to the U.S. and get set up. They paid all his and his wife’s travel and moving expenses, and he was given back his passport with full rights to travel anywhere. His wife was exempted from the usual immigration quotas – no waiting, no exclusion for having belonged to the Soviet Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, a violation of U.S. immigration laws.

Once back in Dallas, Oswald settled in under the wing of George de Mohrenschildt, a right- wing Russian with CIA ties. Based in Dallas and New Orleans, he then made short-lived forays into the public eye as a leftist. He started a one-person Fair Play for Cuba organization in New Orleans, but in all this time never once contacted anyone in the Communist Party or any other left organization, though he wrote lots of letters to the Communist Party USA and the Socialist Workers Party, two groups which at that time weren’t even talking together. Dear Comrades, How are you? We fight. Forward. What should I do? Send me instructions. He blazed a trail: local TV, fistfights, inflammatory incidents, leaflets. One of the leaflets shows that his organization was on Camp Street in the same building that Guy Banister, an FBI agent, had his office. A number of right-wing Cuban émigré groups were also there. Oswald’s personal relations were with right-wing anti-Communist Cubans, right-wing crypto-fascists, and CIA types like Robert Morrow, a right-wing businessman who worked for the CIA, and David Ferrie, the same. So while he supposedly was this leftist – and if you ever heard any of the tapes of him speaking and explaining what communism was or socialism was, it’s laughable – all his personal associations were with right-wing people linked to the intelligence community, including Jack Ruby.

Now, they would have us believe that this man who couldn’t hit the side of a barn took a Mannlicher Carcano rifle, whose sights weren’t even set – an Italian weapon, which the Italians said had never killed anyone on purpose – fired it, and killed the president of the United States. That he got a job just at that time at the Texas Book Depository, three weeks before, when nobody knew that Kennedy’s limousine was going to pass right in front of the depository, and fortuitously happened to be up there that day. That he would forego shooting President Kennedy when the latter was coming right at him down Houston Street, but waited till the car turned down Elm Street. And as Kennedy went by and had only his head and a little portion of his shoulders visible, firing through the trees, he rapidly got off three shots in a few seconds, something which the best marksmen in the country weren’t able to emulate until after much practice and after the sights on the Mannlicher- Carcano were reset, brought into a laboratory and fixed. Right through a tree that was later cut down. We’re asked to believe that a bullet would go through John Kennedy, pause in midair for 2 seconds, change direction, wound Governor Connally in two places, and then reappear intact on a stretcher, having fallen out of Connally’s body. By the way, this magic bullet didn’t reappear on the stretcher as if it had fallen out of someone’s body – it was apparently intentionally wedged into the side of the stretcher. We’re asked to believe that a treasure trove of physical evidence, the interior of the presidential limousine itself, which should have all sorts of evidence, bits of shrapnel, blood, and lines of fire, was just accidentally taken, instantly torn out, destroyed, and totally rebuilt, and that this wasn’t a deliberate cover-up. We’re asked to believe that Kennedy’s brain just disappeared, that the X-ray, which now shows a reconstructed head with no exit wound is, oddly, taken with no jaw, so it could be anybody’s – you can’t do any kind of dental identification. That the autopsy was just botched innocently.

We’re also asked to believe that Jack Ruby, a gambler and gangster with links to right-wing Cuban exiles, who once worked for Congressman Richard Nixon for the House Un-American Activities Committee in Chicago when his name was still Jack Rubenstein, took it upon himself to kill Oswald because he was so moved by the suffering that Oswald had caused the Kennedy family. Ruby a year later in jail repeatedly kept alluding to the fact that, ‘You don’t know the whole story,’ and, indeed, there is much more behind all of this. We’re asked to believe that the 21 witnesses, persons or persons otherwise related to the case in some close way, with some information, privy to some conversations, all of whom met violent deaths, were part of a colossal coincidence, like the one the Washington Post was talking about. That later on, in 1978, a second round of killings started after the House Select Committee investigation, sixteen more dying violently. One of those sixteen was George de Mohrenschildt, killed by a gun blast to the head 3 hours after a House Assassinations Committee investigator tried to contact him to set up an interview. George de Mohrenschildt was not only close to Oswald, but in his telephone book there was found an insert to George ‘Pappy’ Bush; he was a close friend of George Bush and there was a correspondence between them. The sheriff’s office in Palm County, Florida, found that his shooting was ‘very strange,’ and it was ruled a suicide. William Sullivan, a third guy in the FBI, who was supposed to appear before the House committee, was shot outside his home by a man who claimed to have mistaken him for a deer and was charged with a misdemeanor. Sam Giancana died from natural causes when his heart stopped beating after a bullet went through it, one day before he was to testify about mob and CIA connections, while under government protection. There are linkages between the CIA and mob families. After all, the mob can do the kind of dirty things that the CIA may sometimes want them to do…I have a whole bunch of other things. And I find I’ve run out of time.”

“Keep going! keep going!” the audience shouts.

“The people have spoken. There are even some on the left, like Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, who argue that interest in the assassination comes from a ‘Kennedy revival,’ a ‘Camelot yearning for a lost messiah.’ Cockburn, Chomsky, and others challenge the notion that Kennedy was assassinated for intending to withdraw from Vietnam or undo the CIA or end the Cold War. These things couldn’t have led to his downfall because they weren’t true. Kennedy was a cold warrior, a counterinsurgent who wanted a military withdrawal from Vietnam only with victory. Chomsky, Cockburn, and others have also claimed that the change of administration that came with JFK’s assassination had no large-scale effect on policy, or even tactics. In other words, if Kennedy had lived, he likely would have fabricated a Tonkin Gulf casus belli; he would have introduced ground troops and a massive land war, as Lyndon Johnson did; he would have engaged in merciless B-52 carpet bombings of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as Richard Nixon did; and he would have risked destroying his own electoral base, proving himself a mass murderer as bad as Nixon. Chomsky and Cockburn don’t tell us how they know all this, but we do know is that Robert Kennedy became an antiwar critic, broke with the Johnson administration, and he said that his brother’s administration had made terrible mistakes. John Kennedy, in fact, observed Cambodian neutrality and negotiated a ceasefire and coalition government in Laos, which the CIA refused to honor. They preferred to back a right-wing faction that continued the war.

Chomsky says much about troop withdrawal. He just wrote a whole book on this, Rethinking Camelot. But he says very little about troop escalation other than to offer Roger Hilsman’s speculation that Kennedy might well have introduced U.S. ground troops in the South Vietnam. In fact, Hilsman noted in the New York Times not long ago that in 1963 Kennedy was the only person in his administration who opposed the introduction of U.S. ground troops. He was the only obstacle to an escalation of the war.

Whether or not there are certain left analysts who think Kennedy was or wasn’t a progressive or liberal and thinks that the CIA had no reason to kill him or other people had no reason to be dissatisfied with him, the fact is that entrenched interests are notorious for not seeing the world the same way that left analysts do. In 1963, people in right-wing circles, including elements in various intelligence organizations, didn’t believe Kennedy could be trusted with the nation’s future. Some months ago on a San Francisco talk show, I heard a guy come on who said, ‘I never said this before, it’s the first time I’m saying it. But I worked for Army intelligence, and in 1963 I was in Japan. The accepted word then was that Kennedy would be killed because he was messing too much with the intelligence community. And when word came of his death, all I could hear were delighted comments like “We got the bastard.”’ JFK’s enemies fixed on his refusal to provide air coverage to the Bay of Pigs, his refusal to go in with U.S. forces, his unwillingness to launch another invasion of Cuba, his no-invasion-of-Cuba guarantee to Khrushchev, his atmospheric test ban treaty with Moscow, his American University speech calling for re-examination of our Cold War attitudes towards the Soviet Union, his unwillingness to send ground forces in a massive form into Vietnam, his antitrust suit against General Electric, his fight with U.S. Steel over price increases, his challenge to the Federal Reserve Board, his warm reception at labor conventions, his call for racial equality and responsiveness to civil rights leaders, and his talk of moving forward to a ‘New Frontier.’

I disagree with people who say that the Warren Commission did a hasty, slipshod job. The Commission sat for 51 long sessions over a period of several months, and compiled 26 volumes of testimony and evidence, with the investigative resources of the FBI and CIA at its command. Far from being hasty and slipshod, it painstakingly crafted theories that moved toward its foreordained conclusion that Oswald was the lone assassin. It framed an argument and moved unfailingly to fulfill that argument. It failed to call witnesses who saw something different from what it wanted to hear, who saw – who not only heard but who saw – people on the grassy knoll shooting. It ignored or reinterpreted what little conflicting testimony crept into its proceedings. All this took deliberate and painstaking effort. But the American public hasn’t bought the official explanation: 78% say they believe there was a conspiracy. Chomsky and Cockburn tell us we mustn’t reduce great developments in history to conspiracy, for then we lose sight of institutions, class, and other systemic factors of American capitalism. I don’t need them to tell me about systemic factors in American capitalism – I use a structural analysis in all my writings. Besides, in investigating the JFK conspiracy we’re hitting upon the nature of state power in what’s supposed to be a democracy. Conspiracy isn’t something that’s in contradistinction to structural analysis; it’s part of it. The ruling elites will use conspiracy or legitimacy, they’ll finance elections, use publicity campaigns, set up liberal-ish organizations and alternative trade-union movements, and use assassins or death squads. They’ll use every conceivable thing there is. And this was one of the things they used. When they had someone who was giving them trouble, when they had someone who was standing in their path because he was too bright and too shiny, and when they had an agenda to save southeast Asia from communism, they killed one of their own.

That’s a tremendous and startling revelation, opening the eyes of the American public to the kind of a gangster government and national security state we really have in this country and what it does around the world. ‘The great continuities of corporate and class interest’ – Cockburn’s phrase – don’t happen of their own accord. There’s a conscious interest being pursued here, and these events are created by policymakers intentionally pursuing specific interests. It’s the essence of the state and the function of state institutions to act consciously to create and recreate the conditions of politico-economic hegemony. That’s what it’s there for. To achieve their goals, state leaders, especially those within the national security state, will resort to every necessary form of mass manipulation, deception, and violence, even against one of their own whom they’ve come to see as a liability.

Our interest in this is born of democratic struggle – a desire to know what’s going on, a desire to have rulers who are worthy of our name and the name of democracy. Thank you.”

I would add as an anarchist that we also have the alternative of self-rule – no “rulers.” ‘Cause that’s where the trouble starts.

I also want to add that all of this reminds me very strongly of the TV series “Homeland,” which I’ve been watching with a friend. The show also reveals, dramatically, the amorality of the CIA, which will do anything, including attacking one of its own, to maintain the bare power of the United States, domestically and around the world, and to maintain its own power, or the power of its current director, as well. Not an institution compatible with democracy. I assume the FBI is the same, along with all entities charged with “national security,” which of course involves lots of secrets.

 

Understanding what’s happening in the Middle East

Are you having trouble understanding what’s happening in Syria and the Middle East? You’re not alone – it’s complicated. I found a good analysis in an interview Ashley Smith of the Internationalist Socialist Review, did with Gilbert Achcar, a professor at the University of London (published in the Review’s Winter 2016-17 issue). Achcar is the author of numerous books including The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (2006); The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013); and, most recently, Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (2016). Smith asked him about the left’s understanding of, and approach to, Islamic fundamentalism.

Smith: One of the key developments in the Middle East over the last three decades has been the rise of what commentators variously call political Islam, Islamism, and Islamic fundamentalism. Why do you argue that this political current is better called Islamic fundamentalism?

Achcar: The term one uses is related, of course, to assessment and political judgment, each term having different implications. People use the term “Islamism” to refer to political movements that regard Islam as their fundamental ideology and program. But the term has also been used in the past to refer to Islam itself, so it gets mixed up with Islam as a religion in the minds of most people who hear it. And because “Islamism” has become almost synonymous with terrorism, it leads people to confuse terrorism and Islam per se, feeding already widespread Islamophobic bigotry.

The term “Islamic fundamentalism,” has two advantages. The most important is that there is fundamentalism in all religions. The second is that the notion of fundamentalism helps in fine-tuning the distinction between different currents and groups that give Islam a central place in their ideological identity. While the goal of an “Islamic state” based on sharia is, to various degrees, common to all the groups in the category of Islamic fundamentalism, these groups pursue different strategies and tactics. Thus, there are moderate fundamentalists who have a gradualist strategy of achieving their program within society first, and in the state thereafter, while others, like ISIS, resort to terrorism or state implementation by force. They’re all dogmatic and reactionary.

S: What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East? How and why did it arise as a political force?

A: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, born in the 1920s, was the first modern political organization based on an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. That was also the time when the theorization of the Islamic state, the core Islamic fundamentalist doctrine, took its modern shape, also in Egypt. There were, of course, earlier brands of fundamentalism and various sorts of puritan sects in the history of Islam like in other monotheistic religions, but the Brotherhood pioneered a brand of Islamic fundamentalism that was adapted to contemporary society in the form of a political movement.

The Brotherhood emerged at the conjunction of a number of events. The first was the proclamation of a secular Turkish republic and the abolition of the caliphate after the end of World War I. This came as a shock for those who rejected the separation of Islam and government. It was also contemporaneous with the foundation of the Saudi kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula, a state based on an Islamic fundamentalist premise, albeit one of an archaic tribal character.

Egypt at that time was ripe for revolution with an accumulation of social problems, terrible poverty in the countryside, a rotten monarchy, leaders despised or hated by the people, and British domination. The Egyptian left was weak, and the workers’ movement had come under repression in the 1920s. So you had a conjunction of factors, which enabled the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism as a political movement capitalizing on popular discontent.

From a historical materialist perspective, Islamic fundamentalism is a striking illustration of what Marx and Engels identified in their Communist Manifesto as one of the ideological orientations among the traditional middle classes. A fraction of the traditional petty bourgeoisie, the craftsmen, and the small and middle peasantry suffer from the crushing effects of capitalism, which develops at their expense turning a big section of them into proletariat, compelling them to shift from a status of small producers or merchants into one of wage earners obliged to sell their labor power in order to make their living. A fraction of these petty propertied classes oppose capitalist development by wanting to “turn back the wheel of history.” Modern Islamic fundamentalism stems from a revolt against the consequences of capitalist development fostered by foreign domination, wanting to go back to a mythical Islamic golden age.

S: What’s the relationship of Islamic fundamentalism to imperialism? Is it in opposition to it or in collusion with it?

A: Both, I would say. The troops of Islamic fundamentalism are people reacting in a reactionary manner to the consequences of capitalism as well as to imperialist domination and imperialist wars. Faced with capitalism and imperialism, they could opt for a progressive struggle, aiming at replacing unregulated capitalism with a socially just egalitarian society. [That’s considered Western, however, and many, at least in Egypt and Syria, think it was tried – and failed – with the Middle Eastern “socialism” of Nasser and Baathism. Both of those efforts centered around dictatorships, however.]

Since it is a reactionary response, Islamic fundamentalism ended up being used by all sorts of reactionary forces, including imperialism itself. From the time it was founded, the Muslim Brotherhood built a close connection with what was and still is the most reactionary, antidemocratic and anti-women state on earth, the Saudi kingdom. They established this link because of the affinity between their own perspective and what’s usually called Wahhabism, the ideology of the tribal force that founded the Saudi kingdom.

The Muslim Brotherhood worked in close alliance with the Saudi kingdom from its foundation until 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait leading to the first US war on Iraq. Till then, the Brotherhood was a major ally of the Saudi kingdom and of the United States, the kingdom’s overlord. Both used them in the fight against left-wing nationalism, particularly against Nasser in Egypt (1952–70), but also against the Communist movement and the Soviet Union’s influence in Muslim-majority countries. This unholy alliance of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Islamic fundamentalist movements was reactionary through and through.

The Saudis broke with the Muslim Brotherhood because the latter didn’t follow the kingdom in supporting the 1991 US onslaught on Iraq. That was because they found it difficult ideologically to condone a Western intervention against a Muslim country from the territory where Islam’s holy places are located. They also had to take into consideration the fact that their constituencies were very much opposed to that aggression, as was the overwhelming majority of public opinion in Arab countries. So, most regional branches of the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the US onslaught, leading the Saudi kingdom to break with them. They therefore sought out and found another sponsor: the emirate of Qatar, which has been their chief supporter ever since. Qatar, of course, is another close ally of the United States in the region, hosting the forward headquarters of the US military Central Command (CENTCOM), the most important platform for US air wars from Syria to Afghanistan.

When the Muslim Brotherhood held power in Egypt during the presidency of their member Mohamed Morsi, they earned the praise of Washington. Other more “radical” brands of Islamic fundamentalism have also collaborated in the past with the United States. Al-Qaeda, for example, originated in joining the US-Saudi-Pakistani-backed guerillas against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan before turning into violent foes of the United States and the Saudi royal family after 1990, for a reason similar to that which led to the Brotherhood’s break with the kingdom.

S: Has the class character of Islamic fundamentalism changed with the development of these state sponsors? Is it still the case that it’s an expression of the petty bourgeoisie or has it become “bourgeoisified?”

A: First of all, Islamic fundamentalism is not restricted to one movement. It’s a broad spectrum of forces and groups, as I emphasized, from the Muslim Brotherhood to jihadists to totalitarian fanatics like ISIS. Even the Muslim Brotherhood is a regional and global organization whose strategies and tactics vary from place to place. If we focus solely on Egypt, however, there has indeed been “bourgeoisification.” After Nasser repressed them, many of their members and leaders ended up in exile in the Saudi kingdom. Several of them became businessmen there and profited from the oil boom of the 1970s. The connection with the Saudi state and Gulf capital played an important role in developing a layer of “devout bourgeoisie” in Egypt – a section playing an increasingly important role inside the Brotherhood.

While this capitalist fraction grew considerably in importance within the Brotherhood, the bulk of its rank and file, its troops, remain among the petty bourgeoisie and poorer layers of society. The Brotherhood was never anti-capitalist anyway, beyond the general calling for social equity that you hear from even the most conservative parties. The Brotherhood talks about caring for the poor, in order to say that Islam provides the solution and that Islamic charity will alleviate poverty. All of this fits neatly with a neoliberal perspective that supports privatization of social care and its delegation to private charities. Unsurprisingly, when the Brotherhood came to power recently in Tunisia and Egypt, they continued the economic policies of the previous regimes. They adhered to IMF stipulations and did everything they could to please the capitalist class, including the old regime’s crony capitalists in both countries.

S: Why did Islamic fundamentalism become such a strong political trend in the Middle East? This is surprising given the rich history of secular nationalism and Communist organization in the region.

A: This is a very important issue. An impressionistic view prevails today, as a result of the media’s continuous reports on various strains of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, that religion, in general, and Islamic fundamentalism, in particular, has always dominated politics in the region. But that isn’t true. Except for Egypt, left-leaning secular nationalists and Communists were prevalent in the Middle East during the 1940s, and things began to change in Egypt with the Nasser’s 1952 coup. His regime passed land reform, nationalized foreign properties, including the Suez Canal in 1956, and Egyptian private assets. The leftwing radicalization of these nationalists – with the towering figure of Nasser central to the process – made them tremendously popular, not only in Egypt but in the whole region and in all the Third World. That was because of their social reforms and their opposition to imperialism and Zionism, which echoed the aspirations of the masses. Early on, after a brief period of cooperation, they clashed with the Muslim Brotherhood and repressed them. From then on, the Brothers became the bitterest enemies of the nationalists, and the Saudis and Washington used them as a weapon against Nasser. They’d lost their appeal, however, having no solutions to offer to the real social problems of the masses, whereas the nationalists addressed these issues in part.

The turnaround came with Israel’s 1967 victory over Nasserist Egypt and Baathist Syria. Like Egypt, Syria had undergone a leftwing nationalist radicalization led by a group that Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria from 1970 to 2000, would topple soon after. With the 1967 defeat, followed in 1970 by the crushing of the Palestinian guerillas in Jordan, Nasser’s death, and the overthrow of the leftwing faction of the Baath, radical Arab nationalism suffered a massive setback, which opened a space for the Muslim Brotherhood’s comeback.

Nasser’s successor, Sadat, reversed all the progressive policies of the Nasser era – agrarian, industrial, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist. He released the Muslim Brotherhood from jail and opened the door for its members in exile to return, needing them as allies in his reactionary enterprise. They happily played that role, becoming the shock troops of an anti-left backlash. Sadat allowed them to rebuild their organization into a mass movement, provided they didn’t challenge his rule, and they maintained this relationship with his successor, Mubarak. In the context of a weak organized left, whose most visible section was involved in a similarly ambiguous relation with the regime, the Brotherhood filled a vacuum, attracting disgruntled sections of the population. With funds brought by the new capitalists in their ranks and provided by their Saudi sponsor, the Brotherhood managed grew spectacularly. With their newfound power came ambitions of playing more of a political role than the regime would allow, leading at times to periods of temporary repression.

History shows that when there is a progressive current with some credibility, it can counter fundamentalism. In the Middle East, the left faces Islamic fundamentalism as one of two main poles of reactionary politics, the regimes constituting the other. The progressive forces expressing the aspirations of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising soon tumbled against the regimes, on the one hand, and the Islamic fundamentalist oppositions to the regimes on the other hand, both equally opposed to the aspirations of the revolutionary wave and, in some countries of the region, directly collaborating in thwarting its radicalization.

S: How should the left position itself in relation to Islamic fundamentalist forces fighting imperialism or Zionism? For example, how should the left approach Hamas and Hezbollah?

A: The left has developed a rich tradition that we should draw on in approaching this question. This consists in supporting just struggles against colonialism and imperialism, regardless of who is waging them, without turning this into uncritical support of those waging the struggles. For instance, when fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, it made complete sense for any anti-imperialist to oppose the invasion, even though Ethiopia was ruled by the extremely reactionary regime of Haile Selassie, who wasn’t supported uncritically. The same approach should be followed today. Hamas and Hezbollah have been engaged in struggles against Israeli occupation and aggression, and we support them in this. But Hamas isn’t the only group fighting Israel; there are other groups on the Palestinian scene, and we need to determine within that range of anti-Zionist groups which are closer to our political perspective. The same goes for Lebanon.

Hamas grew at the expense of the Palestinian left. At the time of the first Palestinian intifada in 1988, the left was the leading force in the 1967-occupied territories. But its groups ended up directly or indirectly condoning Yasser Arafat’s capitulation to the US and Israel, opening the door to Hamas. Hamas was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Palestine, which until then had been actually favored by the Israeli occupation as an antidote to the PLO.

Hezbollah emerged after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, but it was the Communist Party and leftwing nationalist forces that initiated the resistance to the invasion, drawing on a tradition of struggle against repeated Israeli invasions. Hezbollah built itself at the expense of these forces, especially the Communist Party. The latter had a strong influence in Shia-majority regions in Lebanon and was therefore seen as a major competitor by Hezbollah, which went so far as to assassinate prominent Shia figures in the Party. Although it became the dominant force in a just fight – the struggle against the Israeli occupation – it isn’t progressive force. It achieved its status while repressing and squeezing out progressive forces waging that same struggle. It’s dependent on Iran, and has gone along with the neoliberal reconstruction of Lebanon.

Similarly, if the US or Israel launched an attack on Iran, we wouldn’t hesitate in supporting that country, even though its ruling regime is reactionary, repressive, and capitalist – an enemy of the social cause for which we fight. This is important to grasp because, in recent years, Iran and Hezbollah have come to the rescue of the counterrevolutionary regime in Syria, supplying it with key shock troops that have joined its onslaught on the popular democratic movement.

In the Middle East in general, tragically, we’ve seen progressive forces align themselves with Islamic fundamentalists against the regimes – as happened in the first stages of the uprising in many countries, and is still happening in the Syria – while other sections of the left lined up with the regimes against the Islamic fundamentalists. It’s crucial for progressives to assert a third revolutionary pole, equally opposed to both counterrevolutionary poles now dominating the scene, if they are, at some point, to embody again the aspirations that inspired the Arab Spring in 2011. Short of that, we’ll see more of the ongoing disaster with the region overwhelmed by the clash between the two counterrevolutionary poles. The best scenario in the short term is a coalition between the two reactionary poles, as happened in Tunisia where the local equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood entered into a governmental coalition with the old regime forces, or in Morocco where the king coopted the local equivalent into government. Washington and its European allies are very much pushing for this scenario almost everywhere in the region. Such reconciliation would be beneficial from a progressive perspective, because it would compel progressive forces to oppose both counterrevolutionary poles and facilitate their emergence as the alternative to both of them. The future of the left in the Middle East hangs on getting this orientation right.

 

 

Chris Hedges on fighting fascism

In “Stopping Fascism,” his most recent podcast on “Alternative Radio,” writer and social critic Chris Hedges compares the declining Roman Empire with the US in 2017 – both “dominated by a bloated military and corrupt oligarchy.” He adds that just as getting rid of the vain and incompetent Emperor Commodus in 192 AD didn’t stop Rome’s decline, getting rid of Donald Trump won’t stop ours. “The choice is between inept fascists like Trump and competent fascists like Pence. Our republic and our democracy are dead,” as the result of a four-decade takeover by the conservative elite and the corporate state. Hedges goes on to describe what’s happening and detail the only way he sees to counter it.

“Idiots, seeing in such decay the chance for personal advancement and/or profit, take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor and falsely project economic growth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil, and the air, slash jobs, and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrowing of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. And idiot professors, experts, and specialists busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttress the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore, and fantasy.

There’s a familiar checklist for extinction, and we’re ticking off every item on it. The idiots know only one word: ‘more.’ They’re unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers can’t make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their own vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Hapsburg, Ottoman, Romanoff, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi, and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.

Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality, a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. This face in the past was hidden, at least to most white Americans, but with the destruction of democratic institutions and the disempowerment of the citizen, the oligarchs and the kleptocrats have become brazen. They no longer need to pretend. They steal and lie openly. They wield armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignore the looming catastrophe caused by global warming, and cannibalizing the nation. Forget the paralysis in Congress and the inanity of a press that covers our descent into tyranny as if it were a sports contest between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats or a reality show starring our maniacal president. The crisis we face isn’t embodied in the public images of the politicians that run our dysfunctional government. It’s a four-decade-long slow-motion corporate coup d’état that’s left corporations and the war machine omnipotent, turned our electoral system into legalized bribery, and elevated public figures who master the arts of entertainment and artifice. Trump is the symptom; he is not the disease.

Our descent into despotism began with the pardoning of Richard Nixon, all of whose impeachable crimes are now legal, and the extrajudicial assault, including targeted assassinations and imprisonment, carried out on dissidents and radicals, especially black radicals. This assault, done in the name of law and order, put the organs of internal security, from the FBI to Homeland Security, beyond the reach of the law. It began with the creation of corporate- funded foundations and organizations that took control of the press, the courts, the universities, scientific research, and the two major political parties. It began with empowering militarized police to kill unarmed citizens and the spread of a horrendous system of mass incarceration and the death penalty. It began with the stripping away of our most basic constitutional rights: privacy, due process, habeas corpus, fair elections, and dissent. It began when big money was employed by political operatives such as Roger Stone, a close adviser to Trump, who spread malicious gossip and false narratives, eagerly amplified by a media devoted to profits and ratings rather than truth, until political debate became burlesque.

The ruling elites, terrified by the mobilization of the left in the 1960s, built counter-institutions to delegitimize and marginalize critics of corporate capitalism and imperialism. They bought the allegiances of the two main political parties, and imposed obedience to the neoliberal ideology within academia and the press. This campaign, laid out by Lewis Powell in his 1971 memorandum titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” was the blueprint for the creeping coup d’état that 45 years later is complete.

Our failure to defend the rights of those who are demonized and persecuted leaves us all demonized and persecuted, and now we’re paying for our complacency, trapped like rats in a cage. A con artist may be turning the electric shocks on and off, but the problem is the corporate state. Until we dismantle that, we’re doomed.

Racist, violent, and despotic forces have always been part of the American landscape. They have often been tolerated and empowered by the state to persecute poor people of color and dissidents. These forces are denied absolute power as long as a majority of citizens have a say in their own governance. But once citizens are locked out of government and denied a voice, power shifts into the hands of the enemies of the open society. When democratic institutions cease to function, when the consent of the governed becomes a joke, despots fill the political void. They give vent to popular anger and frustration while arming the state to do to the majority what it has long done to the minority.

This tale is as old as civilization. It was played out in ancient Greece and Rome, the Soviet Union, fascist Germany, fascist Italy, and the former Yugoslavia. Once a tiny cabal seizes power – monarchist, Communist, fascist, or corporate – it creates a Mafia economy and a Mafia state.

Corporations are legally empowered to exploit and loot, and it’s impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or Exxon Mobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries are legally empowered to hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Banks are legally empowered to burden people with student loans that can’t be forgiven by declaring bankruptcy. The animal agriculture industry is legally empowered in many states to charge those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms, where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter, with a criminal offense. Corporations are legally empowered to carry out tax boycotts. Free-trade deals legally empower global corporations to destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water, and food and usurious creditors and lenders have been gutted. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as the right to petition the government and a form of free speech. The press, owned by corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold off to corporations that hike rates and deny services. The educational system is being privatized and turned into a species of rote vocational training. Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment, masked by falsified statistics, have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, food shortages, and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed citizens. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million people, few of whom ever got a trial. And a million prisoners now work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves paid pennies on the dollar without any rights or protection.

The amendments to the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads, ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts, and financial, judicial, and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded, and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks. The executive branch of government is empowered to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, overturning the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibited the military from acting as a domestic police force. The executive branch can order the military to seize US citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists in a process called extraordinary rendition. Those seized can be denied due process and habeas corpus and held indefinitely in military facilities. Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs, and associations are now criminalized. The state can detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last. The outward forms of democratic participation – voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight, and legislation – are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere, at any time, who can’t protect themselves from corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen is one of master and slave, and the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

The coup destroyed the two-party system, labor unions, education, the judiciary, the press, academia, consumer and environmental protection, our industrial base, communities and cities, and the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages. Perhaps even more ominously, this coup destroyed the credibility of liberal democracy itself. Self-identified liberals such as the Clintons and Barack Obama mouthed the words of liberal democratic values while making war on these values in the service of corporate power, thus rendering these values meaningless.

The acceleration of deindustrialization by the 1970s created a crisis that forced the ruling elites to adopt a new ideology, telling undergoing profound economic and political change that their suffering stemmed not from corporate greed but from a threat to national integrity. The old consensus that buttressed the programs of the New Deal and the welfare state was discredited as enabling criminal black youth, welfare queens, and social parasites, opening the door to an authoritarian populism begun by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher which supposedly championed family values, traditional morality, individual autonomy, law and order, the Christian faith, and the return of a mythical past. It turns out, 45 years later, that those who truly hate us for our freedoms are not the array of dehumanized enemies cooked up by the war machine: the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, even the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or ISIS. They are the financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists, and business people cultivated in the elite universities and business schools who sold us the utopian dream of neoliberalism.

We are entering the twilight phase of capitalism. Capitalists, unable to generate profits by expanding markets, have, as Karl Marx predicted, begun to cannibalize the state like ravenous parasites. Wealth is no longer created by producing or manufacturing, but by manipulating the prices of stocks and commodities and imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public. This casino capitalism is designed to prey on the desperate young men and women burdened by student loans, underpaid workers burdened by credit-card debt and mortgages, and towns and cities forced to borrow to maintain municipal services.

This seminal moment in human history marks the end of a long, tragic tale of plunder and murder by the white race. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting, and polluting the earth in the name of civilization and human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone or anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources, and believed their orgy of blood and gold would never end. Even now, as we stand on the cusp of extinction, we lack the ability to free ourselves from this myth of human progress. The taxes of corporations and the rich are cut, and public lands are opened up to the oil and gas industry.

The merging of the self with a capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self- reflection, and moral autonomy. We define our worth not by our independence or our character, but by the material standards set by capitalism: wealth, brands, status, and career advancement. We’ve been molded into a compliant and repressed collective, a conformity characteristic of totalitarian states. And when magical thinking doesn’t work, we’re told and often accept that we are the problem. We must have more faith, we must try harder.

What does resistance look like now? It won’t come by investing hope in the Democratic Party, which didn’t lose the election because of Comey or the Russians, but because it betrayed working men and women on behalf of corporate power and used its machinery to deny the one candidate, Bernie Sanders, who could have defeated Trump, from getting the nomination. Resistance will entail a personal commitment to refuse to cooperate in large and small ways with the machinery of corporate power.

In the conflicts I covered as a reporter in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans, I encountered singular individuals of varying creeds, religions, races, and nationalities who majestically rose up to defy the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed. Some of them are dead, some are forgotten, most are unknown. These individuals, despite their vast cultural differences, had common traits: a profound commitment to the truth, incorruptibility, courage, a distrust of power, a hatred of violence, and a deep empathy that was extended to people different from them, even to people defined by the dominant culture as the enemy. They are the most remarkable men and women I met in my 20 years as a foreign correspondent, and to this day I set my life by the standards they set.

You have heard of some, such as Václav Havel, whom I and other foreign reporters met during the Velvet Revolution in Prague in 1989. Others no less great you may not know, such as the Jesuit priest, Ignacio Ellacuría, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1989. And then there are those ordinary people – although, as the writer V.S. Pritchett said, ‘No people are ordinary’ – who risked their lives in wartime to shelter and protect those of an opposing religion or ethnicity who were being persecuted and hunted. To some of these ordinary people I owe my life.

To resist radical evil is to endure a life that by the standards of the wider society is a failure. It’s defying injustice at the cost of your career, your reputation, your financial solvency, and at times your life. It’s being a lifelong heretic, accepting that the dominant culture and perhaps, and maybe even especially, the liberal elites will push you to the margins and attempt to discredit not only what you do but your character. When I returned to the newsroom at the New York Times in 2003, after denouncing the invasion of Iraq and being publicly reprimanded for my stance against the war, reporters and editors I’d known and worked with for 15 years lowered their heads or turned away when I was nearby.

Ruling institutions – the state, the press, the church, the courts, and academia – mouth the language of morality, but they serve the structures of power, which provide them with money, status, and authority. Individuals who defy these institutions, as we saw with the thousands of academics who were fired from their jobs and blacklisted during the McCarthy era, are purged and turned into pariahs. All institutions, including the church, as Paul Tillich wrote, are inherently demonic. A life dedicated to resistance has to accept that a relationship with any institution is temporary, because sooner or later that institution is going to demand acts of silence or obedience your conscience won’t allow you to make. Reinhold Niebuhr labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression ‘a sublime madness in the soul,’ and wrote that ‘nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and spiritual wickedness in high places.’ This ‘sublime madness’ is the essential quality for a life of resistance. As Daniel Berrigan said, ‘We are called to do the good, insofar as we can determine it, and then let it go.’ As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, ‘The only morally reliable people are not those who say “This is wrong” or “This should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.”’ They know that, as Immanuel Kant wrote, ‘If justice perishes, human life has lost its meaning.’ This means that, like Socrates, we must come to a place where it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. We must at once see and act. And given what it means to see, this will require the surmounting of despair, not by reason but by faith.

I saw in the conflicts I covered the power of this faith that lies outside of any religious or philosophical creed – what Havel called ‘living in the truth,’ exposing the corruption, lies, and deceit of the state. It’s a refusal to be part of the charade. And it has a cost. ‘You do not become a dissident just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career,’ Havel wrote. ‘You’re thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You’re cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well and ends with being branded an enemy of society.’

The dissident doesn’t operate in the realm of power. He or she has no desire for office and doesn’t try to charm the public. His or her actions simply articulate their dignity as a citizen regardless of the cost.

The long, long road of sacrifice and defiance that led to the collapse of the Communist regime stretched back decades. Those who made change possible were those who had discarded all notions of the practical. They didn’t try to reform the Communist Party or work within the system; they didn’t even know what, if anything, their tiny protests, ignored by the state-controlled media, would accomplish. But through it all they held fast to moral imperatives, because these values were right and just. They expected no reward for their virtue, and they got none. They were marginalized and persecuted. And yet these rebels – the poets, playwrights, actors, singers, and writers – ultimately triumphed over state and military power, because, however cowed and broken the people around them appeared, their message did not go unheard or unseen.

We may feel powerless, but we are not. We have a power that terrifies the corporate state. Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up or how heavily it is censored, chips away at corporate power. Any act of rebellion keeps alive the embers for larger movements to follow. It passes on another narrative. And it will, as the state consumes itself, attract wider and wider numbers. Perhaps this will not happen in our lifetimes, but if we persist, we keep this possibility alive.

Dr. Rieux, in Albert Camus’s novel The Plague, isn’t driven by ideology, but by empathy – the duty to minister to the suffering of others no matter the cost. Empathy for human beings locked in cages, for undocumented mothers and fathers being torn from their children on the streets of our cities, for Muslims demonized and banned from our shores as they try to flee the wars and terror we created, for poor people of color gunned down by police in our streets, for girls and women trafficked into prostitution, and for the earth, which gives us life and which is being destroyed, is viewed as seditious by despots.

Accept sorrow, for who cannot be profoundly sorrowful at the state of our nation and world? But know that in resistance there is a balm that leads to wisdom, and if not joy, a strange transcendent happiness. Because as long as we resist, we keep hope alive.

The days ahead will be dark and frightening, but we must fight for the sacred, we must fight for life, we must fight the forces of death. We fight not only for ourselves, but for those who will come after us – our children. We must not be complicit. We must live in truth. The moment we defy power in any form, we are victorious – when we stand with the oppressed and accept being treated like the oppressed, when we hold up a flickering light in the darkness for others to see, when we thwart the building of a pipeline or a fracking site, when we keep a mother faced with deportation with her children, and when we mass in the streets to defy police violence. We must turn the tide of fear. We must, by taking the streets, make the ruling elites frightened of us.

To sit idle, to refuse to defy these forces, to be complicit will atrophy and wither our souls. This is not only a fight for life – it’s a fight that gives life. It’s the supreme expression of faith: the belief that no matter how great the power of evil, the power of love is greater. I do not, in the end, fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. Thank you.”

I highly recommend that you subscribe to the Alternative Radio podcast and look back in your feed so that you can listen to this incredibly eloquent speech. You can also get a CD, an MP3, or a transcript on www.alternativeradio.org.

The real reason for recent US wars

A guest editorial in the Eugene, OR Register-Guard newspaper today reveals that keeping the dollar the dominant global currency is even more important than oil in US foreign policy and war planning. According to “Crude Facts” by M. Reza Behnam, a political scientist specializing in the politics and governments of the Middle East and American foreign policy there, US wars in the Persian Gulf have been more about about stabilizing the oil currency policies that have fueled America’s expansive economy since 1945 than about securing actual oil supplies.

Behnam notes that when the victors in World War II “met at Bretton Woods, N.H., in 1944 to create a modern, stable global economic system, they agreed to inaugurate an international gold-backed monetary standard reliant on the U.S. dollar – a logical decision at the time, since the United States had the largest gold reserves at $35 per ounce of gold.” In 1971, however, “with gold stores dwindling, President Richard Nixon ended the gold standard.

Political and economic uncertainty characterized the 1970s. Inflation soared as the government freely printed dollars to cover the costs of the Vietnam War and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. The 1973 oil embargo by Arab nations that belonged to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – payback for U.S. military aid to Israel during the Yom Kippur War – quadrupled oil prices. With the U.S. economy in a nosedive, the Nixon administration, anxious to maintain the global demand for dollars, persuaded the hostile Saudi government to finance America’s debt with its petroleum wealth. Nixon convinced the Saudis that it was in their best interest to price their oil only in U.S. dollars, and to invest their surplus oil profits in U.S. Treasury bills. For its part, the United States agreed to provide weapons and protection to the House of Saud. The agreement ended the oil embargo and bound two disparate countries together for decades. By 1975, all OPEC countries had priced their oil in dollars.

For more than 40 years, global energy transactions and international trade have been conducted mainly in dollars, maintaining the United States’ status as an economic superpower. The petrodollar bargain of 1974 is why Washington staunchly backs the Saudi autocratic government that represses half its population [the Shia minority], funds extremist Sunni groups worldwide, and nurtured 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It also explains Washington’s support for Saudi Arabia’s devastating bombing campaign in Yemen and the two countries’ obsession with Iran as a regional threat.

America’s wars in the Middle East have everything to do with eliminating challenges to the petrodollar system. Such a challenge was central to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, a country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves, and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s fate was sealed when – encouraged by the French and eager to end crippling sanctions – he decided, in late 2000, to trade Iraqi oil in euros, the world’s second-largest reserve currency, and converted his $10 billion reserve fund at the United Nations to euros. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 finished off this threat to the petrodollar and sent a clear warning to other countries considering an alternative oil transaction currency.

The 2011 intervention in Libya and the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi can be seen through the same prism. For decades, a number of African countries, led by Qaddafi, had been attempting to establish a pan-African currency based on Libya’s gold-backed dinar. Qaddafi’s goal was to provide the continent with an alternative currency, and to replace the dollar with the Libyan dinar in future oil sales. E-mails from Hillary Clinton’s State Department reveal French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s fears about the threat Qaddafi’s pan-African currency posed to the established economic order. Qaddafi’s life, along with his plan for a united African currency, ended when NATO forces, spearheaded by France and Britain and with U.S. cooperation, invaded Libya.

The 2002 failed coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela – reportedly with the assistance of the CIA – also came shortly after the country considered switching to the euro for its oil sales.” Venezuela continues to be an enemy not because it’s a dictatorship under Chavez’s successor, Nicholas Maduro, but because “in 2007, Chavez instructed the state oil company to change its dollar investments to euros and other currencies.

Cracks appear to be emerging in America’s hegemony over the global financial system, and the United States’ impolitic conduct in the Middle East reflects its angst over these developments. The intensity of U.S. rancor toward Iran has increased as Tehran, along with Moscow, has led the effort to break free from the petrodollar monopoly. That Tehran has been pricing its oil in currencies other than the dollar and seeking to create a Middle East energy exchange market are viewed by Washington as provocative moves, and have placed Iran squarely on America’s target list. Since 2003, Iran has been shifting its foreign-held assets and the reserve funds in its central bank from dollars to euros, and it stopped accepting U.S. dollars for oil in 2007. Another circumvention of the dollar is the establishment of the Iranian Oil Bourse, also known as the Iran Crude Oil Exchange, opened in 2008. Its objective is to sell oil and gas in non-dollar currencies, primarily the euro, the Iranian rial, the Japanese yen, and/or a basket of other major currencies. Onerous Western sanctions have pushed Tehran and Moscow to abjure dollar-denominated trade, favoring euros, rubles, and rials instead. In 2012 Iran, which supplies 15% of China’s oil and natural gas, began conducting its energy deals with China in yuan (China dropped the dollar peg in 2005). India and Russia trade oil with China in rubles and yuan, and China and Japan have agreed to use their own currencies in their transactions. South Korea has also been slowly moving from dollars in its transactions, buying Iranian oil with the Korean won, and shifting its investments to other currencies. As the world’s leading consumer of oil and natural gas, China has enough leverage over Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf oil producers to pay for its oil imports in yuan. Increased trade with China has intensified the pressure on Saudi Arabia to forsake the dollar. The United Arab Emirates has already agreed to use the yuan in its petroleum trade with China.

Saudi petrodollars have financed Washington’s military adventures and spending sprees. As a major holder of U.S. Treasury bills and one of the United States’ largest creditors, the kingdom wields a potent political weapon. It attempted to use that weapon in 2016, threatening to sell as much as $750 billion in Treasuries and assets if Congress passed legislation allowing it to be held liable in U.S. courts for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Saudis have traditionally seen the United States as their chief regional partner, but the unusual visit to Moscow in early October by Saudi King Salman reveals fissures in the 1974 iron-clad agreement, and an acknowledgement of the changing balance of power in the region.

The world’s reliance on the dollar as the global reserve currency is beginning to erode. Demand for the dollar for global oil and gas transactions is lessening as countries have grown weary with America’s dominance of the world economy and use of military force to punish currency dissenters. The momentum toward non-dollar trading could severely undermine the U.S. economy, one of the most debt-ridden in the world. The house of cards built by the United States in the 1970s could easily collapse if the rest of the world abandons the dollar standard. Right now, the resulting massive economic disruption to the world economy isn’t something most developed nations want to try to live with.

The United States, with its economic imbalances and soaring deficits, has the most to gain by working cooperatively with the rest of the world to gradually reform the global monetary system. But that requires it to forego its imperious myths and trade its belligerent superpower role in favor of international mediation to achieve global economic stability and security.”

Black liberation as the model for the struggle against facism

William C. Anderson and Zoé Samudzi have an incisive article “The Anarchism of Blackness” in the current issue of “Roar” magazine (roarmag.org), headlined: “The Democratic Party has led Black America down a dead end. The sooner we begin to understand that, the more realistically we’ll be able to organize against fascism.” The authors believe that “in the coming months and years, left and left-leaning constituencies in the United States will need to make clear distinctions between actual and potentially counterproductive symbolic progress.” They also think the Black liberation struggle has and will provide “a blueprint for transformative social change,” thanks to “its positioning as an inherently radical social formation.”

Under the heading “The Failings of American Liberalism,” the authors write, “The United States’ self-ascribed democratic traits have long been filtered through oppressive forms deemed necessary by the state and a capitalist system benefiting only a few. For many years now, American liberalism has been a bitter disappointment to many who somehow maintained faith in the two-party system. The Democratic Party has seemingly been the only choice for those who consider themselves progressives working for a better society, but the notion that social inequities will be solved through the electoral process was always naïve at best. The entrails of this system are lined with the far-right fascism currently rising and long bubbling under the façade of liberal democracy at the expense of non-whites in a white supremacist society. A system predicated on the over-emphasis of ‘order’ and ‘security’ is primed for authoritarianism.

Over time, the genocide, enslavement, and other forms of violence present at this nation’s birth have been displaced and restructured by more insidious and invisible modalities of community destruction facilitated by liberalism like the reservation, the prison system, and austerity policies. Over the past few decades, the United States has seen a shift in liberal politics leaving the Democratic Party in a completely compromised position. Instead of moving left, the Democratic Party pandered to the right, facilitating a conservative shift. Liberal support for the Iraq War, post-9/11 domestic policy, and the foreign policy extensions of the War on Terror have led to the current administration led by a plutocratic tyrant hell-bent on the destruction of vulnerable populations. Despite the optics of change and the promises of a new day and the moral victories of ‘going high,’ an old sun is rising on a white horizon.

Societal fascism describes the process and political logic of state formation wherein entire populations are either excluded or ejected from the social contract. They’re excluded pre-contractually because they’ve never been part of the social contract and never will be; or they’re ejected from a contract they were previously a part of. Black Americans are the former: residents in a settler colony predicated on the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans; residents in the United States, as opposed to citizens of. Despite a constitution laden with European Enlightenment values and a document of independence declaring egalitarianism and inalienable rights as the law of the land, Black existence was that of private property. The Black American condition is perpetual relegation to the afterlife of slavery as long as the United States continues to exist as an ongoing settler project. Black exclusion from the social contract is existence within a heavily surveilled and heavily regulated state of subjection.

Whiteness has long sought to grapple with the existential threat posed by Black freedom. Black repatriation to Africa was the solution for slaveholders concerned that the presence of free Blacks would inspire enslaved Blacks to revolt and worried that Black families would burden state welfare systems and that interracial labor competition would ultimately compromise wages for white workers. The ‘Back to Africa’ project was subsequently taken up by Black thinkers like Marcus Garvey in the late-19th and early-20th centuries following the failures of Reconstruction in the South, the first attempt to meaningfully extend citizenship to newly emancipated Blacks and protect them from white supremacist violence, and also the social and political disillusionment of Blacks who had migrated to northern states.

Since then progress has been secured by Black people’s mobilization rather than by any political party. We’re the ones who have achieved much of the progress that’s changed the nation for the better for everyone. Our organization can be as effective now as it has been in the past, serving every locality and community based on their needs and determinations. This can be achieved through disassociating ourselves from party politics that fail to serve us.

While bound to the laws of the land, Black America can be understood as an extra-state entity because of Black exclusion from the liberal social contract. Due to this extra-state location, Blackness is in many ways anarchistic. African-Americans, as an ethno-social identity comprised of descendants from enslaved Africans, have innovated new cultures and social organizations and have engaged in anarchistic resistances since our very arrival in the Americas. From slave ship and plantation rebellions, to the creation of maroon societies in the American South, to Harriet Tubman’s removal of enslaved peoples from the custody of their owners, to post-Emancipation labor and prison camps, to combatting the historic (and present) collusion between state law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan, assertions of Black personhood, humanity and liberation have necessarily called into question both the foundations and legitimacy of the American state.

Liberalism can’t defeat fascism; it can only engage it through symbolic political rigmarole. The triteness of electoral politics that’s been superimposed onto Black life in the United States positions Black people as a mule for much of this nation’s social progression. Our hyper-visible struggle is a fight for all people’s freedom, and we die only to realize that everything gained can be reversed with the quick flick of a pen. While liberalism takes up the burden of protecting ‘free speech’ and the rights of those who would annihilate non-whites, Black people and other people of color assume all the risks and harms. The symbolic battles the Democratic Party and its liberal constituents engage in pose direct existential threats to Black people because they protect esteemed ideals of a constitution that has never guaranteed Black people safety or security. The current fascist moment is neither ideologically new nor temporally surprising; it’s an inevitability.

The mechanisms working against us deal death and destruction in countless numbers across the non-Western world while turning domestic Black and Brown neighborhoods into proxies for how to treat sub-citizen ‘others.’ The militarization of police, border regimes, stop-and-frisk, and ICE are clear examples of how the state regards the communities it targets and brutalizes. At the very least, a conversation on self-defense that doesn’t mistreat our survival as a form of violence is sorely needed. It would be even better if the conversation normalized anti-fascist organizing that prepared people for the possibility of a fight, instead of simply hoping that day never comes and respectably tut-tutting about those currently fighting in the streets.

Everyone has a stake in the fight against fascism. It can’t be defeated with bargaining, petitioning, pleading, ‘civilized’ dialogue, or any other mode of response we were taught was best. Fascists have no respect for ‘othered’ humanities. Regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, religion, physical ability, or nationality, there’s a place for each of us in this struggle. We’re always fighting against the odds because there’s no respite in a perpetually abusive state. It can only function through this abuse, so we can only prevail through organizing grounded in radical love and solidarity. This solidarity must prioritize accountability, and it must be authentic. Strategic organizing of this sort, organizing where we understand the inextricable linkedness of our respective struggles, is our means of bolstering the makings of a cohesive left in the United States. We no longer have time to waste on dogma, sectarianism, prejudice, and incoherence.

The sooner Black America in particular begins to understand our position as an inherently anarchistic element of the United States, the more realistically we’ll be able to organize. A better society has to be written through our inalienable self-determinations, and that will only happen when we realize that we are holding the pen.

 

William C. Anderson is a freelance writer, published by The Guardian, Pitchfork, Truthout, and at the Praxis Center for Kalamazoo College, where he’s a contributing editor covering race, class and immigration.

 

Zoé Samudzi is a Black feminist writer and PhD student in Medical Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. Her current research is focused on critical race theory and biomedicalization.