Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 31, 2006

Young America

Filed under: third parties — louisproyect @ 1:18 pm

Mark Lause’s Young America
Land, Labor and the Republican Community
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Lause, Mark A.: Young America: Land, Labor and the Republican Community, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2005 ISBN 0-252-07230-8 (paper), ISBN 0-252-02980-1 (cloth), 240 pages

(Swans – July 31, 2006) There is a tendency to look at American working people as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. This was especially pronounced after the 2004 elections, when despairing liberals felt that “red state” voters chose George W. Bush against their own class interests. Oddly enough, their disgust with the American blue collar worker was reflected in Bertolt Brecht’s poem The Selection, with the substitution of the word “liberals” for “government”:

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts.
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Against this understandable tendency to blame the people, labor and left historians in the U.S. have worked hard to correct the record. Following the example of Howard Zinn, the dean of this school, they uncover instances of working people acting on their own class interests and for the interests of humanity as a whole.

The latest addition to this very necessary literature is Mark Lause’s Young America: Land, Labor and Republican Community. This is a study of an obscure political party from the 1840s that was in the vanguard of the fight against the concentration of land ownership, slavery, and for a kind of utopian socialism that predated the more orthodox Marxism of later years. If it is obscure, it is no fault of the actors who deserve a more prominent place in the historical panorama. We have to thank Mark Lause for rescuing them from obscurity and demonstrating our kinship with them. As we struggle against the rich and powerful in the 21st century, we can draw inspiration from our forerunners in the struggle.

The “Young America” in Lause’s title refers to the newspaper of the National Reform Association (NRA), whose initials ironically are the same as the arch-reactionary National Rifle Association of today. Although, as one begins to familiarize oneself with the earlier NRA, little doubt will remain about how distinct they were from each other!

Unlike the political parties of today (with the exception of the Greens and smaller socialist groups), the NRA was made up of and led by ordinary working people and small businessmen. In the winter of 1843-44, three men in the printing trades came together to launch the new group.

Born in Great Britain, George Henry Evans was a veteran labor editor who had once published Free Enquirer, a paper strongly influenced by the Owenites in Great Britain. Robert Owen had pioneered communes in Great Britain and even inspired followers in New Harmony, Indiana to begin work to realize their ideals. Even Friedrich Engels understood Owen’s importance, despite his disagreement with the utopian underpinnings:

His advance in the direction of Communism was the turning-point in Owen’s life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honor, and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his Communist theories that was quite another thing. Three great obstacles seemed to him especially to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the present form of marriage.

Evans sought out John Windt, a blacklisted union organizer, who he collaborated with for fifteen years, and Thomas Ainge Devyr, a veteran of the Chartist movement in Great Britain. Devyr was also an advocate for tenant farmers in the United States. One of the lessons of Lause’s study is that land hunger in the U.S. at this time was as pronounced as it was in Latin America. Despite the reputation that it has for providing ample and cheap land for immigrants, the U.S. was plagued by the sort of landlordism that kept people in poverty. The main goal of the NRA was to achieve a sweeping land reform that would establish the material basis for true democracy. It was the age-old Jeffersonian hope mixed with the yearnings of utopian socialism.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy39.html


July 28, 2006

August in the Empire State

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

“August in the Empire State” is a deceptively understated documentary about the protests that took place in New York City at the Republican Party convention in 2004.

It is focused on two characters who symbolize the class divide in Bush’s America. One is Cheri Honkala, the National Spokesperson for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. Looking and sounding like a younger version of Lily Tomlin, she leads a delegation that is determined to force the realities of homelessness and hunger on the well-fed minions of George W. Bush attending the convention. They are even willing to risk arrest by marching without a permit.

Cheri Honkala

One of these delegates, her opposite number in the film, is Paul Rodriguez, a young Puerto Rican running for Congress on the GOP ticket in New York City. As the son of a single mother and a member of an oppressed nationality, he is not the typical Republican, however. It is to the film-maker’s credit that they chose somebody like Rodriguez since his affiliation with a party that has a racist record against Latinos makes one wonder what makes him tick. Documentaries that have this effect always tend to be more interesting than those that deal in pat explanations and stereotypes.

Paul Rodriguez

Serving as a Greek chorus on the proceedings is the journalist Michelle Goldberg, who will be well-known to anybody who reads www.salon.com. Goldberg has a bemused attitude toward the omnipresent police force that trails Ms. Honkala and her band about the city. Periodically she strolls up to some behemoth undercover cop to ask them about the need to protect New York City from an unarmed group of poor women. As should be obvious from this excerpt on her article on these protestors written around that time, Goldberg is an exceptionally sensitive reporter:

The crowd hardly needed to be convinced of the importance of nonviolence. Though a few black bloc types hung around the back, the gathering was largely composed of reluctant protesters — people who hate confrontation but who took to the streets because they felt they had no other choice. Patricia Lewis, a large 54-year-old woman in a wheelchair, has been unable to use her legs since a car accident in 1985. A retired bookkeeper, she depends on Section 8, the affordable-housing program, for her one-bedroom Harlem apartment. In November, her building will be auctioned, and the new owner might convert the building into nonsubsidized housing. “I cannot afford to pay $1,600 for a one-bedroom,” she said. “That’s why I have Section 8 — because I’m poor!” She’d never taken part in a march before, but the desire to defeat President Bush had inspired her. “This is something I really, really want to get involved in,” she said. “We have got to get rid of this man!”

Rodriguez is the president of the Young Republican Club in New York City. If there is any logic in this political choice, it is probably that of a smart career move. Rodriguez states that he checked out the political clubs on campus when he arrived as a freshman. The Republican’s ideas seemed closest to his own and he joined. At a family gathering in Staten Island, we learn that everybody there except Rodriguez is a Democrat, including an uncle who vociferously denounces the war on the poor in New York. His grandmother shushes them up, urging them to eat or to play music.

On the website of his failed Congressional campaign, we get a sense of the Horatio Alger ascent of Paul Rodriguez:

As the only child of single mother, I have worked since I was about 10 years old. As a result, I worked my way through school and also made a significant contribution to the finances of our household.

Upon graduation, I began my Wall Street career working in the US equity research department of Salomon Brothers, covering food and beverage companies in the US, Europe and Latin America. In 1994, I transferred to the emerging markets side of the business and began covering the cement and construction sectors in Latin America. Over the next four years, I worked for one of the top-ranked infrastructure research teams at Merrill Lynch, and then at Caspian Securities, an emerging markets boutique founded by Christopher Heath, former CEO of the renowned Barings. While at Caspian, I added research coverage of the real estate sector, an opportunity that allowed me to expand my work beyond my traditional Latin American universe and unto Turkey. Moreover, I worked on various investment banking transactions, raising several hundreds of millions of dollars for Latin American and Eastern European firms.

Throughout the film, Directors Gabriel Rhodes, Keefe J. Murren and Michael Galinsky sustain our interest about these characters and the complex reality that is the U.S. today. Galinsky’s last film was “Horns and Halos,” a documentary about James Hatfield, the author of a controversial book on George W. Bush, and Sander Hicks, his editor at Soft Skull press at the time. Sander–an old cyberfriend–and Hatfield (who died of a self-inflicted drug overdose) are two memorable characters, just as are Honkala and Rodriguez.

As the social contradictions in the U.S. deepen, we will undoubtedly find two camps arrayed against each other with the two principals of this film serving as representative figures. As is the case in all of the best documentaries, the film succeeds as it makes us think about the dilemmas we face today.

“August in the Empire State” website: http://www.rncfilmproject.com/gabe_keefe2.html

July 25, 2006

My Country, My Country

Filed under: Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

“My Country, My Country” makes an interesting companion piece to the documentary “Blood of My Brother” that I reviewed recently. The first focuses on a Sunni family in today’s Iraq, while the latter focuses on a Shi’ite family. In keeping with the fragmented nature of politics in Iraq today, neither family–with one notable exception discussed below–has any contacts with fellow Muslims across the divide.

Working completely on her own in Iraq (a courageous act for an artist, leaving aside the merits of her film) for 8 months, Laurie Poitras focused on the family of Riyadh N. al-Adhadh, who is a physician in a free medical clinic in Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. He is also a father of six and a candidate in the January 2005 elections. Poitras also spends some time with a group of Australian mercenaries hired to defend the voting against insurgent attacks, as well as with Kurds who end up supplying the Australians with AK-47’s.

It is difficult to imagine a more representative figure than Dr. Riyadh. A bitter opponent of U.S. occupation who Poitras first encountered on a fact-finding expedition to Abu Ghraib, he only decides to run–despite a Sunni boycott–because he considers his bid as a form of nonviolent resistance. As he chats with potential voters, he stresses that they should vote for him because they know him from the neighborhood. One gets the strong sense that even in this urban setting that tribal loyalties would remain strong.

The film begins shortly after the U.S. has destroyed Fallujah. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, we see Dr. Riyadh and a group of Sunni leaders meeting with American military officers who are being told of the strong ties between Fallujah and Baghdad. It is simply amazing that Poitras was allowed into the meeting and we can only be grateful for her persistence.

Dr. Riyadh is a pillar of patience and understanding. When he is not out politicking, he is seen caring for an endless stream of patients. One of them is a Shi’ite woman and her son who have recently moved up from Basra. When he asks her what her husband is up to, she informs him that he has joined the Mahdi army, which at that point was coming to the aid of the besieged Sunni fighters in Fallujah. When Dr. Riyadh asks her how much money she needs to help her with a financial emergency, she asks for some thousands of dinars. He reaches into his desk drawer and gives her twice as much as she was asking for. Today her husband might be involved in the Mahdi army death squads that are making life hell for people like Dr. Riyadh.

Urban clashes continued for a second day in a volatile Sunni Arab neighborhood of northern Baghdad, leaving at least five Iraqis dead and 20 wounded in fighting Tuesday between gunmen and Iraqi security forces.

Witnesses described the hostilities as sectarian gun battles between Sunni Muslim residents and the Shiite Muslim-led security forces. But Iraqi officials said outside insurgents had infiltrated the capital’s Adhamiya quarter and provoked clashes with police and the army. Fighting in the district Monday left at least three people dead.

By late Tuesday morning, Iraqi army troops had moved in and a measure of calm had returned. Authorities had sealed off main roads into the neighborhood, and U.S. helicopters scanned the area from above.

“Now the situation is good and calm,” Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Jawad Rumi Daini said in a telephone interview. “Armed men from outside Adhamiya wanted to make trouble inside, and we eliminated them.”

But the district’s mostly Sunni residents blamed elements of the security forces. They said specialized units of the Interior Ministry had been acting as sectarian death squads and terrorizing their community.

“The young people of Adhamiya picked up their personal weapons to defend their neighborhoods,” said a man emerging on foot from an area near one of the checkpoints at the district’s edge. “I will not go back home today because the situation is unbearable. Every night when I sleep, I put my gun under the pillow with a bullet in the chamber.”

–Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2006

In a director’s statement in the press notes for this film, Laurie Poitras states that “this film was motivated by a sense of despair about the contradictions of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and its project to implement democracy through the use of military force. I wanted to understand these contradictions from the perspective of the people living them, on the ground.”

Despite the sense of despair that the director felt coming into this project, and one that the audience might feel after watching the film, this is an indispensable eyewitness report on the epochal struggle of our age. Along with “Blood of My Brother” and “The War Tapes“, a documentary made by G.I’s themselves, Poitras’s film serves to piece together the puzzle that is Iraq today. If there is any consolation to be found, it is that individuals like Dr. Riyadh exist and that there are principled and dedicated artists like Laurie Poitras who are willing to risk their lives to bring them to the attention of the wider public.

(Schedule information is at the film’s website.)


July 24, 2006


Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 3:09 pm

Newt Gingrich: Look what you’ve been covering: North Korea firing missiles. We say there’ll be consequences, there are none. The North Koreans fire seven missiles on our Fourth of July; bombs going off in Mumbai, India; a war in Afghanistan with sanctuaries in Pakistan. As I said a minute ago, the, the Iran/Syria/Hamas/Hezbollah alliance. A war in Iraq funded largely from Saudi Arabia and supplied largely from Syria and Iran. The British home secretary saying that there are 20 terrorist groups with 1200 terrorists in Britain. Seven people in Miami videotaped pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda, and 18 people in Canada being picked up with twice the explosives that were used in Oklahoma City, with an explicit threat to bomb the Canadian parliament, and saying they’d like to behead the Canadian prime minister. And finally, in New York City, reports that in three different countries people were plotting to destroy the tunnels of New York.

I mean, we, we are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war….

Tim Russert: This is World War III?

Newt Gingrich: I, I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you’ve been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you’d have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III.


Although this is probably just an exercise in hyperbole, it does tend to concentrate one’s attention on the dynamics of a third world war, if did occur some time in the future. As was the case in WWI, events tend to spiral out of control very rapidly. Of course, unlike WWI, a new war that is truly global in character will very likely involve the use of nuclear weapons and destroy civilization as we know it.

There is a tendency to downplay such dangers because the threat of “mutually assured destruction” during the Cold War meant that using nuclear weapons was virtually unimaginable. With the capitalist transformation of the USSR, however, there is no longer a counter-balance to the U.S. and the world’s number one super-power surely must feel the temptation to use its advantage against weaker adversaries.

The Pentagon began reviewing its options in 2001 and decided that the old rules no longer applied. A white paper signed by Rumsfeld said, “nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bioweapon facilities).” There was a genuine worry that such weapons might have been used against the Iraqi military in the run-up to the invasion.

One wonders if the top brass in the Israeli army might be thinking along similar lines in light of the fact that a 20 tons of explosives was not sufficient to penetrate Hezbollah’s bunkers in south Beirut and kill its leader Hassan Nasrallah, who commented after the abortive strike: “I can confirm, without exaggerating or using psychological warfare, that we have not been harmed.” If anything, the Hezbollah missiles might even be harder to destroy based on the conclusions of a former Lebanese army officer cited in a July 21 FT report. He said the longest range rockets were buried in the south and in the eastern Bekaa valley, “so deep that bombs cannot reach them and guarded by suicide commandos”.

If Hezbollah can withstand 20 tons of explosives, perhaps they can be destroyed with a tactical nuclear weapon rated at 100 tons. Nuclear weapons experts define such bombs as having a range between 100 tons and one million tons. Hiroshima was destroyed by a 120,000 ton device. But that would be overkill. A nicely placed junior bomb of a mere 100 tons would be more than up to the task.

The Israel nuclear program grew out of a conviction that anything was justified to guarantee its survival, including nuclear weapons. It is of course ironic that the term nuclear holocaust gained currency in the 1950s. As is frequently the case with the Zionist state, threats and outright demonstrations of inhumanity are legitimized by past injustices.

The Federation of Atomic Scientists estimates that Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. Israel developed the bomb over 30 years ago but never referred to it publicly until the year 2000 when Knesset member Issam Mahoul–a member of the predominantly Arab communist party Hadash–filed a motion to debate the nuclear issue. The motion was prompted by selections from the first-ever publication of the transcript of the trial of Mordechai Vanunu, imprisoned in 1986 for revealing the existence of Israel’s bomb program.

Vanunu, as opposed to the gangsters running Israel, demonstrates a commitment to true Jewish values as these remarks to a 2005 press conference after his release from prison demonstrate:

“I have no more secrets to tell and have not set foot in Dimona for more than 18 years. I have been out of prison, although not free, for one year. Despite the illegal restrictions on my speech, I have again and again spoken out against the use of nuclear weapons anywhere and by any nation. I have given away no sensitive secrets because I have none. I have not acted against the interests of Israel nor do I wish to. I have been investigated by the police again and again, and re-arrested twice, but they have found nothing. I have done nothing but speak for peace and world safety from a nuclear disaster… I did not seek to harm Israel, but rather to warn of an enormous danger. I do not seek to harm Israel now. I want to work for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. I want the human race to survive.”

From http://www.vanunu.freeserve.co.uk/

In 1959, Hollywood released “On the Beach,” a film about WWIII based on Neville Shute’s best-seller. It was a memorable film that detailed the last days on earth of a group of survivors who are driven to the Arctic Circle to escape the radiation that has engulfed the planet. All of them die. The war began after Egypt bombed Great Britain using Russian-made planes, which the British interpreted as a Soviet attack. It was surely plausible then, as it is now, that the Middle East would spawn a nuclear war.

In the year 70 AD, there was a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire led by the “Zealots” who objected to Roman rule just as Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank object to Jewish rule today. Under the leadership of Elazar ben Ya’ir, the Zealots seized control of Masada from the Roman garrison stationed there.

In the fight to defend Masada from Roman assault, the Jews decided to kill themselves rather than relinquish control. Today Masada is used by the Israel Defense Forces and youth movements for swearing-in ceremonies, where participants swear the oath that “Masada shall never fall again.”


The following appeared in an article by Jorge Hirsch on Commondreams on July 25th:

In 1941, a vast military effort was started by the United States to create nuclear weapons, culminating in the Trinity test and subsequent bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The effort was shrouded in secrecy and any moral qualms were set aside. When it succeeded, it was argued that many American and Japanese lives had been saved by nuking Japan into surrender.
Any speculation during the period 1941-1945 that the United States had 100,000 people devoted to create a secret weapon million-fold more powerful than any known weapon would have been dismissed as the ultimate “conspiracy theory”.

Similarly, much evidence indicates that a deliberate project, shrouded in secrecy, exists today that will culminate in the nuking of Iran, to “save lives”. Many are privy to parts of the plan, as Seymour Hersh revealed, only a few know the plan in its entirety. Low-yield nuclear bunker busters will be used, untested but as reliable as the untested “Little Boy” that leveled Hiroshima. Americans will buy the “military necessity” argument because it will be true: American troops in Iraq will be sitting ducks facing Iranian missiles, with or without WMD warheads.

After the US uses nuclear weapons again, it will have established the usability of its nuclear arsenal against non-nuclear countries. It will be possible to wage war “on the cheap”, saving many American lives in future conflicts. “Support the troops” is the one thing all Americans, no matter how diverse their views are, agree on.

It should not be allowed to happen. The President has sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. We know from previous actions of this administration what Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are capable of. There have been radical changes in US nuclear weapons policies and in preemption “doctrine”, and the Bush announcement that the nuclear option is “on the table”. In response, there needs to be a strong groundswell call to restrict the absolute presidential authority of this President to order the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. By the general public, by “antinuclear” organizations, by scientific, political and professional organizations. To push Congress into action before it is too late. Without a “nuclear option”, the US will be more interested in negotiation than in confrontation with Iran.



July 21, 2006

Reflections on Iran

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Islam — louisproyect @ 7:08 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on July 21, 2006

In an MRZine attack on Akbar Ganji, a prominent Iranian dissident aligned with American imperialism, Rostam Pourzal writes that “like the ultra-right former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her guru Friedrich von Hayek, Ganji extols Karl Popper’s elitist philosophy of freedom throughout his writings…”

In a Logos Journal interview with jailed Iranian dissident Ramin Jahanbegloo conducted by Danny Postel, the Popper connection pops up again:

Danny Postel: You’ve talked about a “renaissance of liberalism” taking place in Iran. Can you talk about this “renaissance”? Where does liberalism stand in Iranian intellectual and political life today?

Ramin Jahanbegloo: Thanks to the recent discovery and translations of the schools of liberal thought dominant in the Anglo-American world, as found in the works of Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls and Karl Popper, and an appreciation of older traditions of liberalism (Kantian, Millian or Lockean), a new trend of liberalism has taken shape among the younger generation of Iranian intellectuals. Iranian liberals today do not deny that the liberties appropriate to a liberal society can be derived from a theory or stated in a system of principles, but their view of a liberal society is related to a view of humanity and truth as inherently unfinished, incomplete, and self-transforming. The principles of Iranian liberalism cannot be grounded in religious truth, because the very idea of free agency, as it is understood today by Iranian liberals, goes against any form of determinism (religious or historical).

For those who have been keeping an eye on “civil society” type interventions in countries whose development model does not pass muster with the U.S. State Department, the positive references to Karl Popper might be expected. George Soros’s Open Society, which habitually meddles in the internal affairs of such countries on four continents, operates on Popperian principles.

Danny Postel is a professional propagandist operating in the liberal imperialist thinktank/foundation world, largely under the auspices of www.opendemocracy.net, a well-funded website that is a focal point for defenders of all these “revolutions” that keep cropping in places like Lebanon, the Ukraine and Iran. Using phraseology about “democracy” and “civil society”, their real agenda is to create environments that are less hostile to Western multinational corporations.

Lately Iran has become the focal point of liberal imperialist outrage in much the same manner that Milosevic’s Yugoslavia was in the 1990s. A day does not go by without some website wringing its hands over the latest purported outrage of the Iranian government.

A couple of months ago, the cause célèbre were the bus drivers of Tehran whose strike was championed by AFL-CIO John Sweeney, who would not lift a finger to help the transit workers in NYC.

We are also aware of Doug Ireland’s nonstop crusade around gay rights in Iran, which mostly focuses on the hanging of two men who were being punished allegedly for simply being gay. Long-time gay rights activist Leslie Feinberg, a member of the Workers World Party, has a different take on the case. Human Rights Watch, no friend of the Iranian government by any stretch of the imagination, claims that the rape charge had been mistranslated from Farsi. According to Scott Long, the HRW’s LGBT Rights Project director, “There is no evidence that this was a consensual act. … A whole tissue of speculation has been woven around mistranslations and omissions and this has been solidified into a narrative that this is a gay rights case.”

The most recent incident in Iran that has attracted the attention of the liberal interventionists involved a woman’s liberation demonstration that was attacked by the police. About whether an attack took place, there seems to be little doubt, based on photos supplied by the circulators of an open letter who took exception to another article by Rostam Pourzal on MRZine minimizing the repression. Referring to published photos, a correspondent to Pourzal informed him “that some demonstrators were taken away by policewomen, but except in one case they were not physically abused.” Even if the demonstrators were carried away on velvet palanquins, there is no excuse for breaking up a demonstration for the right of women to dress as they like. Nobody should support the right of the French government to ban the wearing of scarves in school. By the same token, the Iranian government does not have the right to enforce wearing them.

The articles on MRZine have generated a lot of controversy. A frequent commenter on my blog named Poulod, an Iranian-American high school student, asked me to forward this to Marxmail a while ago:

“I’m not a Marxmail subscriber, but could you somehow convey this to the list? I’m a little sickened by the stuff Yoshie and others have been spouting about Ahmadinejad and ‘liberation theology’ the past few weeks. I don’t have time to put together a detailed response, but as an Iranian-American leftist and the child, friend and relative of a number of Iranian leftists, can I just emphatically say: Ahmadinejad is NOT ‘Iran’s Chavez’. Saying so is just embarrassing. He’s a fake populist standing at the head of an Islamist regime. If the Western Left gets as starry-eyed about liberation theology now as it did in 1979, it might not be forgiven altogether this time around. Supporting Khomeini was idiocy bordering on treason to the Iranian Left. I hope the same mistake doesn’t get made again. Iran has to be defended from imperialism, but that doesn’t mean embracing yet another venerable bearded ‘anti-colonial’ leader.”

In some ways, the debate over how to assess Ahmadinejad reminds me of those I have had over figures such as Robert Mugabe or some Eastern European politicians who have been dragging their feet on privatization. As a rule of thumb, I don’t automatically put a plus where the U.S. State Department puts a minus. I spent considerable time and effort researching the history of Yugoslavia in order to put Slobodan Milosevic into some kind of context. That was because I saw him as a link to the Titoist socialist legacy, no matter how flawed. Titoism *was* progressive and worth defending against the George Soros’s of the world. Mugabe is another story entirely. Throughout his political career, he has made deals with the IMF. When Great Britain decided that he had to go and imposed sanctions toward that end, he decided to stay in power by attacking the imperialist’s main social base in the country, the rich white farmers. This, of course, has nothing to do with our socialist agenda. But it does mean that we should have opposed British meddling. Something similar is required for Iran.

Understanding the Iranian revolution has been a real challenge for Marxists, including those in Iran. A range of opinion has existed, from characterizing it as a clerical counter-revolution to critically supporting the Shi’ite clerics as anti-imperialist populists.

For a useful introduction to these issues, I strongly recommend Val Moghadam’s “One Revolution or Two? The Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic” that appeared in the 1989 Socialist Register. She is a former professor of sociology and director of women’s studies at Illinois State University who currently works in Paris.

Val Moghadam

As the title of her article implies, the Iranian revolution combined clerical and secular components. Rather than trying to dismiss the clerical elements as some kind of illegitimate intrusion, Moghadam makes the case for their genuine but uneven radicalism. She also makes the case that at a certain point, the clerics destroyed the revolutionary fiber that was present at the outset and turned Iran into a rather backward-looking theocracy despite the government’s fitful efforts on behalf of social justice.

In her analysis of the class forces of the 1979 revolution, she points out that the ruling class that backed the Shah was effectively overthrown, and that a middle layer of ‘bazaaris’ and small-scale industrialists replaced it acting in an alliance with the Shi’ite clergy. Although resentment toward imperialist domination gave this layer an affinity with anti-imperialist politics, it also held Iran’s trade union movement with its strong socialist presence at arm’s length. Marxists tend to see the class struggle in terms of society’s dominant classes, but in Iran the petty-bourgeoisie was equally important and even gained hegemony after a fashion. As has been the case historically, middle layers are unstable and tend to gravitate to the classes beneath or above it. With the flight of the Iranian big bourgeoisie after 1979, it is inevitable that imperialism will fill that role as the overtures to it by the liberal intelligentsia including Ramin Jahanbegloo and Akbar Ganji makes clear. In the current period, it seems obvious that the clerics and their government allies (described as “conservatives” in the bourgeois press) are moving in the opposite direction, but as the Iran-Contra arms deal would point out, this is not necessarily a permanent condition.

Despite the temptation to look at the Iranian clerics in 1979 as a monolithic bloc, Moghadam identifies four different currents:

1. the ‘radical Islam’ of the young intelligentsia

2. Kohmaeini’s ‘militant Islam’

3. the ‘liberal Islam’ of Bazargan

4. the ‘traditionalist Islam’ of the ulama.

Not only were there divisions within the Shi’ites, the left was divided as well. There were two guerrilla groups, the Fedayeen and the Mojahedin. There was also Tudeh, the Communist Party that had been ousted in a CIA coup in 1953, and Paykar, a dogmatic split from the Mohahedin with as pronounced a hostility to the clerics as the Workers Communist Party. As should be obvious, the divisions on the left were exploited by the Shi’ites who picked them off one by one.

The Fedayeen were conciliatory to Khomeini and even displayed his portrait at their meetings. When the government demanded that they disarm, they declined to do so, saying that it was necessary to defend the revolution with gun in hand. They also were critical of the ‘pasdaran,’ or revolutionary guards that included the young Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The revolutionary guards proved adept at breaking up leftist meetings that were organized to protest attempts to create a new constitution for Iran that would effectively turn it into a theocracy.

Since the organized left had a strong presence on Iranian campuses, the government took the extraordinary measure of closing the universities for 9 months in 1980-1981. Led by the Mojahedin, who combined radical politics with Moslem piety and who supported the ‘moderate’ president Bani-Sadr, the left clashed with the pro-government revolutionary guard repeatedly. The uncritical support for Bani-Sadr was symptomatic of a certain myopic opportunism on the part of the Iranian left which could never effectively differentiate its enemies from its friends:

Iranian President Abol Bani-Sadr Tuesday declared a victory for government attempts to rid the campus of Tehran University of leftist groups and proclaimed a “great cultural revolution” designed to spread Islamic ideology through all spheres of Iranian life.

Spearheaded by fundamentalist student groups, Bani-Sadr’s Moslem clerical rivals had made Iran’s universities a battlefield last week in their efforts to revamp Iranian society and undercut Western-educated leaders such as Bani-Sadr.

Revolutionary Guards and Moslem fundamentalist students succeeded during the night in ousting the last remaining leftists from Tehran University in fighting that left at least three persons dead and hundreds injured over several days.

In aligning himself and his government with the Islamic drive, Bani-Sadr appeared to be trying to take the issue away from his clerical rivals within the Revolutionary Council.

Washington Post, April 23, 1980

Iran’s Pasdaran, or revolutionary guard

In the initial years of the revolution, despite such repression, much of the left–with the exception of Paykar–was still willing to cut the clerics some slack. Using formulations drawn from Kautskyism, the Tudeh hailed a ‘democratic revolution’. For the Fedayeen, it was a “national, anti-imperialist” revolution. The left was torn between standing with the government against imperialism and pushing its own class demands. This contradiction was deepened when the clerics appeared to act resolutely, as was the case with the seizure of the American Embassy. It was of course possible that such a gesture was intended to burnish the government’s reputation than to really break with imperialism, as the arms deal with Reagan would serve to counter-indicate.

I must say that my initial reaction to the MRZine articles was a bit on the cool side if for no other reason that I was deeply involved in defending a far more deep-going revolution in Nicaragua at the time. The idea of Oliver North delivering a chocolate cake in the shape of a key (to unlock future relations) and a Bible to Ayatollah Khomeini was one of the most nauseating in a most nauseating period.

Whatever the foreign policy vagaries of the Islamic Republic and its repression of the left within its borders, there is no doubt about its willingness to attack class inequality. Moghadam points out:

Two crucial institutions created to alter economic relations and effect social justice were the Housing Foundation (created to provide housing for the poor, particularly in urban areas) and the Reconstruction Crusade (established to provide rural areas with electricity, water, feeder roads, schools, health clinics, housing, and other social and infrastructural services). Legislation was passed to reduce the gap among wage rates as a result of which the workers’ wages were raised by 60 percent. A policy of price support in the form of subsidies for basic needs items were instituted to protect the poorer groups from the rampant inflation that had followed the economic decline during the revolution. Modifications were proposed in the tax system to make it more progressive and prevent excessive concentration of wealth. Nationalization of major industries, banks, insurance companies, and foreign trade were meant to weaken further possibilities of emerging large-scale private accumulation.

With all of Ahmadinejad’s flaws, there can be no doubt that he is trying to keep these traditions alive. Against elements of the ‘bazaari’ and the clergy that adapt to it, he seeks to promote the interests of and gain the allegiance of the workers and the peasants who have become fed up in recent years with growing class distinctions. (For a film representation of these divisions, I strongly recommend Jafar Panahi’s “Crimson Gold” that I reviewed here.

However, in conclusion, we should never lose sight of the fact that our goals are different. I’ll let the ever-eloquent Val Moghadam have the last word on that:

On the Recent Elections in Iran

Val Moghadam

Iranian elections can be full of surprises – or can they? Was the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unpredictable or part of a pattern?

Mohammad Khatami’s landslide victories in 1997 and 2001 were won on a reformist campaign, and his presidency — along with a majority reformist parliament — raised expectations of social transformation and political change. But when the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Council of Guardians blocked reform, the movement lost its momentum and citizens became disillusioned or angry. Municipal elections brought in a conservative majority, as did the February 2004 parliamentary elections. In the run-up to the recent presidential elections, the reformists’ choice had been Mostafa Moin, but he did not receive enough votes in the first round. After that, everyone was sure that former president and “pragmatic conservative” Hashemi Rafsanjani would win. Indeed, many reformists decided to back Rafsanjani, leading to spirited debates among liberals and reformists in Iran and in the diaspora as to whether this was the correct tactic or not. But instead of a victory on the part of the rich and well-connected Rafsanjani with a daughter widely known as a feminist (former parliamentarian Faezeh Hashemi), it was Ahmadinejad who won in the run-off.

Voter turn-out was lower than in the past, and many citizens boycotted the elections altogether. Boycotting elections is one way that Iranian citizens show their lack of confidence in the system – and the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi announced that she too was joining the boycott. Perhaps close to 40% of eligible voters did not cast their ballots in the recent elections. The feeling for many is that as long as the Council of Guardians remains on the scene to vet candidates, the whole process is compromised, and “Islamic democracy” Iranian-style is either a pipe-dream or a highly managed form of democracy. In the run-off, the choice between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad seemed for many to be far too limited (rather like the choice between a Republican and a Democrat in the United States). And so many citizens who desperately want reform of the system did not vote. Those who did, voted for Ahmadinejad because he put the spotlight on something that both Rafsanjani and reformists have neglected: the country’s socio-economic problems, including high unemployment and an absurdly inflated housing market.

This underscores the main deficit in the reform movement: in classic liberal fashion, the emphasis has been placed on civil and political liberties while socio-economic conditions and rights have been marginalized. As important as it is to argue for removal of social restrictions on dress and recreation, these issues may be most pertinent to the well-off in northern Tehran rather than to those who struggle to find jobs and housing. Issues of social justice were never very important to the reform movement, and now they have been hijacked by Ahmadinejad.

In the past, women and youth were Khatami’s main constituents and indeed the major social base of the reform movement. They are now the main losers. Iran’s feminist movement may have recognized this threat when its leaders organized an historic demonstration outside the gates of Tehran University on 13 June. They were protesting the disqualification of women candidates from the election, but their fundamental grievance is with a constitution that limits their role to that of mothers — and not as workers or political actors — and rules out their self-determination. Ahmadinejad may not be the monster that some of the (largely U.S.) press makes him out to be, but he is a religious conservative and a moralist. Whether he can overturn the cultural liberalization of the Khatami era is unclear, but certainly he will not expand it. Whether he can succeed in addressing the country’s socio-economic problems is also doubtful, given that he is located squarely within the political establishment, if not its economic elite.

Marxists understand class conflict well (and some of the liberal reformists would have done well to draw on the insights of their past Marxism), but even so, cross-class alliances are possible and desirable, as well as very much part of Iran’s collective action repertoire. If Iran’s reform movement is to be revived, it needs to develop a platform that includes a holistic agenda for social transformation – one that will resonate with middle-class, working-class, rich and low-income women and men alike. This means that along with our insistence that mandatory hejab be rescinded and family law reformed, that young people be allowed to listen to music and dance, that all political prisoners be released and civil liberties established – we need to establish the concept of the socio-economic rights of citizens, and insist that the redistribution of the country’s wealth, through an economic policy based on social justice and human rights, should be the priority of any government

July 19, 2006

Samuel Farber Cuba article in the International Socialist Review

Filed under: cuba — louisproyect @ 5:15 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on July 19, 2006

Sam Farber is a Cuban-American professor at Brooklyn College who basically writes Sovietology and Cubanology type material in the name of socialism. For 3rd camp tendencies such as the British SWP, the American ISO and the journal New Politics, Farber is an indispensable expert–especially necessary in light of their general lack of knowledge and first-hand experience with the island.

Farber doesn’t always get a free pass in this neighborhood. John Rees, a British SWP theoretician, wrote a fine little book titled “In Defense of October,” which answers Farber’s “Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy,” alongside Sovietologists like Robert Conquest, Adam Ulam et al. Rees points out that Farber’s arguments and data echo those of the anti-Communists. Since the state capitalists feel defensive when it comes to attacks on the Soviet leadership before the counter-revolution (their term, not mine), Farber’s assault on the Soviet “golden age” has to be answered. No such quarter is given to the Cuban socialist revolution obviously, which in their eyes never occurred.

Farber has an article in the latest ISR, the magazine of the ISO, titled “Cuba’s likely transition and its politics.” It is one of those exercises you see all the time in the bourgeois press–speculating about a post-Castro Cuba. I want to take up some of his findings, but will precede that with some reflections on Farber’s previous utterances on Cuba.

In 2003, Farber was interviewed by New Politics. He spoke about the Varela Project and Oswaldo Payà (who just received an honorary degree from my employer) but did not once mention that the US financed them. He also made the startling comment that Cuban dissidents were put in mental hospitals, just like in the USSR. After doing some research on this question, I discovered that the sole reference to such a thing in Lexis-Nexis was Milagro Cruz Cano who had indeed spent some time in a psychiatric hospital.

At the risk of coming across like a hard-line Stalinist, from what I have seen Cano does seem a bit off. Cano was a guitar-playing religious zealot who hooked up with the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez after leaving Cuba.

A few blocks from where the cameras wait and the people chant, Milagros Cruz Cano, a blind 32-year-old exile, has been living in a tent on the street, existing on Gatorade and water.

Until the moment she was finally banished from Cuba 10 months ago, she believed her daughter, who is now 9 years old, would be allowed to come with her.

“When I told my daughter that they allowed me to take my two dogs, but not her,” Milagros explained through a translator, my daughter, she say, “Mama, put me in the cage and dress me as a dog, so I can be with you. Please, Mama, do not leave me.”

(The Boston Herald April 6, 2000)

One wonders if Sam Farber ever felt the need to set up a Free Milagros Cruz Cano Committee to defend her right to play Christian hymns on the guitar and dress up her daughter like a dog. Probably not. More to the point, you will simply find no allegations of Cuba putting dissidents into mental hospitals from outfits like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Trust me, if there were such abuses, these groups would be all over them like white on rice.

Farber also doesn’t care for Che Guevara very much. In a New Politics article from the summer of 1998, he describes Che in terms usually reserved for somebody like Enver Hoxha:

By the time he left Guatemala in 1954 in the aftermath of the overthrow of the constitutional government of Jacobo Arbenz orchestrated by U.S. imperialism, Guevara was thoroughly politicized, accepting a Stalinist view of the world. This was true in both the generic sense that he had become a staunch supporter of the political model represented by the USSR of a repressive one-party state owning and controlling the economy without any democratic popular controls, independent unions, workers’ or civil liberties, as well as in the narrow literal sense of his great admiration for Joseph Stalin.

Oddly enough, despite his extreme Stalinophobia, Farber is more charitable to the Cuban Communist Party before the Cuban revolution than he is to the July 26th movement, which the Popular Socialist Party (as the Cuban CP named itself) held at arm’s length. In Farber’s eyes, the PSP was “more anticapitalist” than the Fidelistas in 1956-1958. (“The Cuban Communists in the Early Stages of the Cuban Revolution: Revolutionaries or Reformists?”, Latin American Research Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1983). Since so much of state capitalist and left social democratic politics is consumed with ideology, it is not surprising that Farber deems the PSP “more anticapitalist”. However, we should heed the words of Karl Marx, who advised Bracke that “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”

I can certainly understand why the grizzled old social democrats around New Politics would gravitate to Farber. Why young radicals in the ISO or the British SWP would not have an allergic reaction to such prose does puzzle me, however. I guess that’s the result of remaining steeped in ignorance about Cuba and having a steadfast objection to visiting the country.

Turning now to Farber’s piece in the ISR, one should not be surprised that he relies on Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Horst Fabian’s possible scenario for a post-Castro Cuba. For anybody who follows such things, Mesa-Lago and Fabian, frequent writing partners, are recognizable as top dogs in US Cubanology. One wonders if an article submitted to ISR that relied on Adam Ulam and Robert Conquest, their Sovietology counterparts, would also pass muster.

I myself would be hesitant to rely on Mesa-Lago in light of his 1998 projection that “the probability of a strong, steady recovery in Cuba appears to be very low, particularly after the poor performance of 1997-98.” In fact, just the opposite is true. The Cuban economy has done quite nicely over the past 10 years, enough to catapult it into the top tier of the UN Human Development Indicators along with Sweden, Canada, etc.

But who am I to advise Sam Farber. He is a tenured professor, after all.

Most of the ISR article is filled with empty speculation about the Cuban army spearheading a China type transformation and similar thumb-sucking conjectures. Frankly, this sort of exercise is a dime a dozen. You can find pretty much the same sort of thing in an article written by Miguel Angel Centeno, a Princeton professor, for a 1995 conference on “Toward a New Cuba?: Legacies of Revolution.” The paper also relies heavily on Mesa-Lago and includes such jewels as:

The Cuban leadership may be aware of the impossibility of maintaining the current status quo and may also be wary of the kind of chaos often associated with transitions (and described below). In that case, and in combination with some “healthy” self-interest, the so- called Chinese model may appear quite attractive.


Finally, Farber advises his readers that in the chaos following the death of Fidel Castro, it is necessary for genuine socialists as opposed to the Stalinist fakers in Cuba to take control of the situation:

In addition to having to confront the Right, the new democratic revolutionary Left will also face major obstacles and intense competition from the neo-Fidelista forces described above. The two will clash in terms of two entirely different conceptions of the Left and socialism, in theory and in social organizational practice. For many years, the Left has been associated with a critique of and opposition to capitalism. However, this conception retains a sometimes fatal ambiguity. Anticapitalism does not necessarily mean pro-socialism if we define socialism as a movement ‘from below’ attempting to establish the democratic rule of the workers and the majority of the population.

Such ambitions strike me as being vain in every sense of the word. It is a form of vanity to compare oneself favorably to men and women who have shaken the world to its foundations. It is also vain in the sense of being an exercise in futility.

The comrades in the state capitalist tradition have a major task in front of them. Capitalism is being challenged to one degree or another throughout Latin America. The political and spiritual roots of that challenge are in the island of Cuba. As long as one holds the leadership of the revolution that took place there in sectarian contempt, the more difficult it will be to align yourself with the real movement, as Karl Marx referred to it in the letter to Bracke.

The Associated Press Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Bolivian President Pays Tribute to Guevara

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales celebrated the birthday of Che Guevara Wednesday, the first time a top Bolivian leader has paid tribute to the revolutionary who was executed in the Andean nation four decades ago.

Surrounded by Cuban and Venezuelan officials, Morales observed the 78th anniversary of Guevara’s birth, using the occasion to praise his close allies President Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Guevara, an Argentine, launched an armed revolt in 1966 to bring communism to Bolivia after helping lead the 1959 Cuban Revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and thrust Castro into power.

He waged a guerrilla insurgency for 13 months in Bolivia but was captured and executed by the Bolivian army at age 39.

Morales flew in a helicopter loaned by Venezuela to the small town of La Higuera _ the site of Guevara’s execution _ 480 miles southeast of La Paz.

Local children and nearby residents blew out a birthday cake with 78 candles representing how old Guevara would be if were alive.

He said in a speech that a decade ago he had a dream that there would be other Cubas in Latin America.

“I wasn’t wrong,” he said. “Now we do have another commander, colleague Chavez.” He also praised Castro’s Cuba, and he said both leader have shown they unafraid of “the empire,” a reference to the United States.

Since taking office in January, Morales has forged close alliances with Cuba and Venezuela, which have flooded Bolivia _ South America’s poorest country _ with aid.

Morales thanked Venezuela and Cuba for their aid and said he would make Castro a cake for his next birthday made of coca _ the leaf from which cocaine is derived.

The coca leaf has traditional and legal uses in Bolivia although the U.S. has long backed its eradication.

July 13, 2006

Once again on Empire and imperialism

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Michael Hardt

In the latest issue of the Nation Magazine, Michael Hardt makes a valiant but doomed attempt to rescue his Empire thesis from the dustbin of history. This requires confronting recent literature on “imperialism” inspired by the last 4 years of assaults on Islamic peoples in the third world. Hardt grants that for some gullible souls, “The Bush doctrine of unilateralism was, in fact, nothing but a new name for US imperialism.” Even though certain bronto-Marxists were never invited on Charlie Rose’s talk show, they did come forward with “a flood of books… about the new (or not so new) US imperialism.”

I can certainly understand Michael Hardt’s frustration. Unlike him and Toni Negri, these “leftist intellectuals” were content to stick within the limits of Marxism and not try to supplant it with jazzy new theories. Dreaming up a brand-new theory takes at least 5 years or so, but writing those oh-so-boring Monthly Review books with the word “imperialism” in the title is no challenge at all. Contrary to the John Bellamy Fosters of the world, Hardt insists that “imperialism is no longer an adequate concept for understanding global power and domination, and clinging to it can blind us to the new forms of power emerging today.”

You see, if you have a proper dialectical handle on world affairs as Michael Hardt does, you’ll understand that U.S. power is really quite limited and that we are actually observing its “death throes”. Proof of that is America’s inability to stabilize a Quisling regime in either Afghanistan or Iraq. They are not just failing militarily; they have also “failed to create a stable market for profits.” In addition, the prestige and hegemonic capacities of Uncle Sam have diminished under daily revelations of civilian deaths, illegal imprisonment and torture. The USA is being challenged in global trade. Treaties that would insure its hegemony have been turned down, the FTAA rejection constituting the latest example. Things have gone downhill inside American borders as well. The failure to fix New Orleans is understood by Hardt as proof that it is not the superpower it once was. (However, some of us with bronto-Marxist leanings just might interpret this failure as old-fashioned racism.)

Now that he has effectively punctured musty old ideas about imperialism, surely as dated as last year’s car models, Hardt puts forward his counter-thesis, which was first elaborated in the pages of the July 2001 “Empire”.

My view is that the recent failures of US imperialist adventures are not simply the result of tactical errors or bad luck but of a profound shift in global power structures. One might say that the United States is not powerful enough today to be an imperialist power–and I think that is true, but it misses the deeper, more important point: that imperialism and its methods are losing their effectiveness and another form of global domination is emerging in its stead.

So if imperialism no longer exists, what has taken its place? The answer, of course, is Empire:

Antonio Negri and I proposed before 9/11 and the “war on terror” that the coming global order should be understood in terms not of imperialism but Empire, by which we understand a wide network of collaborating powers, including the dominant nation-states, supranational institutions like the IMF and World Bank, the major corporations, some of the major NGOs and others. This, we claim, is the emerging power that will maintain global hierarchies, keeping the rich rich and the poor poor, keeping power in the hands of the few. Such an Empire is the political form adequate to the interests of global capital rather than simply the capital of one nation or another. Partly for that reason, for being more purely capitalist, its forms of domination, social segregation and geographical divisions of the globe will be even more severe, its structures of poverty more brutal and its forms of exploitation more degrading.

In a possible retreat from the extreme anti-nationalism of “Empire,” Hardt now seems prepared to accept the possibility that the new assertiveness of the Latin American left might constitute a “progressive” alternative to the more powerful and more dangerous elements of the Empire that he analogizes to a monarchy. Opposed to the American state acting as a King, united, lesser “aristocrats” can mount a challenge:

Indeed, the “Bolivarian” strategy of the Venezuelan government seeks to capitalize on the election of progressive governments in so many countries in Latin America by forming partnerships from Uruguay and Argentina to Brazil and Bolivia, and perhaps in the future also with Ecuador or Mexico. Acting alone, of course, none of these nation-states has the power to confront the United States or the IMF and transform the imperial arrangement. Acting together, emphasizing their strategic interdependence, they clearly can.

Hardt even grants the possibility such states might act on behalf of the people even if they don’t achieve the elevated status of the ideals professed on behalf of the “multitude” in “Empire”:

Some governments that defy the neoliberal order and US command–Venezuela, again, is a good example–bring enormous benefits to their populations in literacy, healthcare, economic opportunity and other essential domains. In the short term these benefits may be the most important element.

Yet in the final analysis, it is better not to get your hands dirty by managing the affairs of state. Compared to the nasty business of wielding power, it is far better to emulate purer but less powerful phenomena such as the EZLN in Mexico, the landless movement in Brazil and the piqueteros in Argentina. In this, Hardt obviously sides with John Holloway, another new-fangled thinker.

So much of this is wrong that one hardly knows where to begin to correct it. It is an embarrassment of riches.

To start with, imperialism does not rest on the assumption that there is some kind of hegemon. If anything, WWI and WWII demonstrate that wars break out when rival groups of monopoly capital have insufficient power to impose their will on each other. The emerging ability of Russia and China, for example, to counter U.S. (and British) political, economic and military influence in certain places in the world does not mean that the concept of imperialism is obsolete, only that the specific dynamics have evolved. If China is about to build an automobile factory in the USA or if Russia uses its oil and gas as leverage against Western Europe, we can only understand this as signs that U.S. power is limited.

But there are precedents for this. During WWI, Germany the British intercepted German cables to Mexico promising return of their land back in the United States if they became an ally. According to some historians, this forced the U.S. to enter the war on April 2, 1917.

There has been jockeying for power among major capitalist rivals since the mid-19th century. Furthermore, Lenin never tried to identify a hegemonic “center” in his writings about imperialism. If anything, the decline of the USA (or Great Britain before it) has never been understood as “proof” by classical Marxists that Lenin’s theory was obsolete.

In 1926, Leon Trotsky–a most “classical” Marxist–wrote an essay titled “Europe and America” that summarized the difficulties facing powers in decline:

“This is revealed most graphically and incontestably in England’s situation. England’s trans-oceanic exports are cut into by America, Canada, Japan, and by the industrial development of her own colonies. Suffice it to point out that on the textile market of India, a British colony, Japan is squeezing out England. And on the European market, every increase of sales of English merchandise cuts into the sales of Germany, France and vice versa. Most often it is vice versa. The exports of Germany and France hit those of Great Britain. The European market is not expanding. Within its narrow limits, shifts occur now to one side, now to another. To hope that the situation will change radically in favor of Europe is to hope for miracles. Just as under the conditions of the domestic market, the bigger and more advanced enterprise is assured victory over the small or backward enterprise, so, in the conditions of the world market, the victory of the U.S. over Europe, that is, first and foremost over England, is inevitable.”

Although it would require nearly as much space as this article to explain, suffice it to say that the tensions that preceded WWI and WWII are mounting once again. In a desperate attempt to control oil, the U.S. is following an aggressive foreign policy that threatens to boil over into bloody conflagrations throughout Asia. While it seems unlikely–at this point, at least–that the highly industrialized nations will once again resort to all-out war, we are operating in a period characterized by imperialist war.

To confront this mounting menace, it is necessary to achieve laser-like clarity on the dominant questions of the past century, namely how to take power and to wield on behalf of the world’s overwhelming majority: those who are forced to sell their labor power. Any obfuscation about “multitudes” and “Empire” only gets in the way.

Guaranteed: they will not get the Ward Churchill treatment

Filed under: Academia — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

NY Times, July 13, 2006

Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality


This is how the 2005 edition of “A History of the United States,” a high school history textbook by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, relates the cataclysmic attacks of 9/11 for a new generation of young adults:

“In New York City, the impact of the fully fueled jets caused the twin towers to burst into flames. The fires led to the catastrophic collapse of both 110-story buildings as well as other buildings in the area. The numbers of people missing and presumed dead after this assault was estimated to be 2,750.”

The language is virtually identical to that in the 2005 edition of another textbook, “America: Pathways to the Present,” by different authors. The books use substantially identical language to cover other subjects as well, including the disputed presidential election of 2000, the Persian Gulf war, the war in Afghanistan and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers. And while it is rare that the same language is used in different books, it is common for noted scholars to give their names to elementary and high school texts, lending prestige and marketing power, while lesser known writers have a hand in the books and their frequent revisions.

As editions pass, the names on the spine of a book may have only a distant or dated relation to the words between the covers, diluted with each successive edition, people in the industry, and even authors, say.

In the case of the two history texts, the authors appeared mortified by the similarities and said they had had nothing to do with the changes.

“They were not my words,” said Allan Winkler, a historian at Miami University of Ohio, who wrote the “Pathways” book with Andrew Cayton, Elisabeth I. Perry and Linda Reed. “It’s embarrassing. It’s inexcusable.”

Wendy Spiegel, a spokeswoman for Pearson Prentice Hall, which published both books and is one of the nation’s largest textbook publishers, called the similarities “absolutely an aberration.”

She said that after Sept. 11, 2001, her company, like other publishers, hastily pulled textbooks that had already been revised and were lined up for printing so that the terror attacks could be accounted for. The material on the attacks, as well as on the other subjects, was added by in-house editors or outside writers, she said.

She added that it was “unfortunate” that the books had identical passages, but said that there were only “eight or nine” in volumes that each ran about 1,000 pages.

Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, a nonprofit group that monitors history textbooks, said he was not familiar with this particular incident. But Mr. Sewall said the publishing industry had a tendency to see authors’ names as marketing tools.

“The publishers have a brand name and that name sells textbooks,” he said. “That’s why you have well-established authorities who put their names on the spine, but really have nothing to do with the actual writing process, which is all done in-house or by hired writers.”

The industry is replete with examples of the phenomenon. One of the most frequently used high school history texts is “Holt the American Nation,” first published in 1950 as “Rise of the American Nation” and written by Lewis Paul Todd and Merle Curti. For each edition, the book appeared with new material, long after one author had died and the other was in a nursing home. Eventually, the text was reissued as the work of another historian, Paul S. Boyer.

Professor Boyer, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, acknowledged that the original authors had supplied the structure of the book that carries his name. But he said that as he revises the text, he adds new scholarship, themes and interpretations. He defended the disappearance of the original authors’ names from the book, saying it would be more misleading to carry their names when they had no say in current editions.

“Textbooks are hardly the same as the Iliad or Beowulf,” he added.

Richard Blake, a spokesman for Harcourt Education, a division of Holt, said none of the editors involved in the extended use of the Todd and Curti names were still with the company. But he said that now “all contributors and reviewers on each edition are listed in the front of the book,” and that naming new principal authors depended largely on the extent of their contributions.

The similarities in the Prentice Hall books were discovered by James W. Loewen, who is updating his 1995 best seller, “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.”

“Treatment of 9/11 and the two Iraq wars and the Florida election of 2000 are among the more important pieces of our past,” Mr. Loewen said. “I think that these authors should have actually written these passages they claim to write.”

But Ms. Spiegel defended the additions by other writers. “The authors who have their names on the books have written, reviewed and approved content that is submitted to them” she said. “Their level of participation is based on their particular interest or their contractual relationship with the publisher.”

Professor Winkler, one of the authors of “America: Pathways to the Present,” said he and his co-authors had written “every word” of the first edition, aiming to teach American history from a sociological perspective, from the grass roots up. But, he said, in updated editions, the authors reviewed passages written by freelancers or in-house writers or editors.

He said the authors collaborated on their last major revision before Sept. 11, 2001, working with editorial staff members in Boston. But he said that after the attacks, he was not asked to write updates and was not shown revisions.

“There was no reason in the world to think that we would not see material that was stuck in there at some point in the future,” Professor Winkler said. “Given the fact that similar material was used in another book, we are really profoundly upset and outraged.”

Ms. Spiegel said that the 9/11 revisions were made quickly and that authors were asked to update their texts after the attacks.

“In the deadline set before us, some authors elected to submit their copy for the coverage of those events; in other cases, a professional wrote those passages for the authors,” she said.

Mr. Boorstin, the former chief librarian at the Library of Congress and lead author of “A History of the United States,” died in 2004 as he was updating the book. Ms. Spiegel said his widow, Ruth Frankel Boorstin, had worked closely with him and had finished the revisions. Ms. Boorstin did not return several telephone calls to her residence.

Mr. Boorstin’s co-author, Mr. Kelley, said he was “outraged” by the identical passages, but he said he did not consider them plagiarism, because the authors never intended to lift another’s work.

“Frankly, many of these textbooks, unlike ours, were not written by the authors who were once involved with them,” he said.

“Years after some of the more famous textbook authors have died, they’re still coming out,” he added. “That is a long-term practice in publishing. I don’t know what to call that, but it’s certainly true.”

Susan Buckley, a longtime writer and editor of elementary and high school social studies textbooks who retired after 35 years in the business, said that “whole stables” of unnamed writers sometimes wrote the more important high school textbooks, although in other instances, named authors wrote the first editions. In elementary school textbooks, Ms. Buckley added, named authors almost never write their own text.

She said even if named authors did not write the text, they had an important role as scholars, shaping coverage and reviewing copy.

William Cronon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin who wrote the American Historical Association’s statement on ethics, said textbooks were usually corporate-driven collaborative efforts, in which the publisher had extensive rights to hire additional writers, researchers and editors and to make major revisions without the authors’ final approval. The books typically synthesize hundreds of works without using footnotes to credit sources.

“This is really about an awkward and embarrassing situation these authors have been put in because they’ve got involved in textbook publishing,” Professor Cronon said.

Professor Winkler said he understood the editorial perils of textbook writing, but wanted to reach a wider audience. He said he was not motivated by money. Named authors share royalties, generally 10 to 15 percent of the net profits, on each printing of the text, whether they write it or not.

“I want the respect of my peers,” Professor Winkler said. “I’ve written monographs, biographies,” but these reach a limited audience. “I want to be able to tell that story to other people, and that’s what textbooks do.”

July 8, 2006

The New York Press: dogshit on the sidewalk

Filed under: immigration,media — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

Although it would be difficult to prove, I have a strong feeling that the ability of rightwing millionaires to gain control over the media in New York City, a bastion of liberalism, has been a decisive factor in the election of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Not only have these Republicans been elected as mayor, the Democrats have moved to the right as well, adopting “law and order” and fiscal austerity rhetoric.

The centerpiece in this media grab is the NY Post, which under former publisher Dorothy Schiff, could be counted on for rock-ribbed New Deal liberalism. When Rupert Murdoch purchased the paper in 1976, it was transformed into a toxic dump of ultraright politics and tabloid sensationalism (“Headless Body in Topless Bar” was an infamous headline.)

Murdoch also bought the liberal Village Voice and although he promised never to interfere with its editorial direction, it began a marked decline both in terms of writing quality and political depth. It is marked by superficiality across the board. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

There was a brief respite from mediocrity when the Long Island based Newsday (owned by the LA Times) began publishing a Manhattan edition. They had very sharp reporters who were not afraid to go against the Reaganite grain. A memorable article focused on the Nicaragua solidarity movement in NYC. The LA Times eventually decided to stop publishing the Manhattan edition using the excuse that it was not profitable enough. Rupert Murdoch loses money with the NY Post, but gains political clout. So you can see what we are up against.

In 1988, a rival to the Village Voice premiered. Unlike the Voice, the New York Press was free and relied on advertising to stay in business, a strategy that the Village Voice was forced to adopt and something that probably has been a factor in its ongoing deterioration. A quick glance at the NY Press might lead to the conclusion that you were dealing with an “alternative” weekly with its edgy graphics, tabloid brashness and emphasis on the punk music scene. In addition, the paper had the occasional leftist writing for it, including Alexander Cockburn.

But editorially the paper was under the tight control of founder Russ Smith who wrote a prolix and narcissistic weekly column aptly titled “Mugger”. An April 23, 1996 NY Times article described the paper thusly:

The paper’s politics are not easily defined, either. But Mr. Smith describes himself as an economic conservative. There is a libertarian columnist and several writers were quite taken with the Republican candidacy of Steve Forbes.

Russ Smith

This really does not do the paper justice. It seems that the NY Times, with its own mix of conservatives and liberals, might have been projecting itself into the NY Press, However, despite the presence of Cockburn who also wrote for the Wall Street Journal at the time, the NY Press was top-heavy with rightwing ideologues, including the “edgy” rock critic J.R. Taylor whose outlook was epitomized in a profile on Alice Cooper:

Alice won’t stand by while some Aussie talk-show host gets some facts wrong, either. Glib douchebag Andrew Denton was frustrated earlier this summer when his guest eloquently defended the war in Iraq. Denton made the wrong assumptions about Alice–not that the rock star was offended.

Smith likes to represent himself as a Horatio Alger character climbing up from the streets to challenge the media establishment. But in reality he owes his success to the millions pumped into his paper by his brother Randall, a venture capitalist. Back in 1999, in a Village Voice profile on the 2 brothers and their wretched paper, Cynthia Cotts doubted that the paper–like Murdoch’s NY Post–was making a profit. So why would they bother, leaving aside the question of pushing public opinion to the right?

But in this buzz-driven world, does it matter whether the paper actually turns a profit, so long as it is perceived as a valuable commodity? One industry source says, “I think [Smith] could sell that paper tomorrow for triple or quadruple what he’s put into it.” Another claims Smith has attracted potential buyers and predicts the Press will be sold in two years. Smith confirms that he has been approached by “at least seven different investors.” Jim Larkin, CEO of the alternative chain New Times, says, “If I don’t get a chance to bid for it, I’ll be angry.”

Of course, as one might expect in this profit-driven world, the Voice itself was bought by the New Times last year, which has shown every sign of being determined to push the paper even further toward the center. Cott herself quit a year earlier, fed up with management attacks on journalistic freedom.

Smith sold the paper 4 years ago but continues to write his crappy column each week. Here’s something from the latest: “Apparently [Maureen] Dowd thinks Bush should’ve coddled Saddam–maybe inviting him to the White House as often as Clinton did Arafat–and shared non-alcoholic beers with the tyrant during all-nighters in either Baghdad or Crawford.”

I am sure that you get the picture by now. Rightwing crapola camouflaged as hard-hitting “alternative” journalism. If there’s any sign of political progress, it is that the paper is much thinner than it used to be. In the 80s, it was often 90 pages while the latest copy runs to 55.

For the past year or so, I’ve found it easy to ignore the NY Press, sidestepping it like a lump of dogshit on the sidewalk. But on Thursday, I did a double-take as I passed the paper in its dispensary on the way to work. The front page had a graphic of a gun, money and barbed wire superimposed on the American flag with a headline “The Rise of America’s Anti-Illegal Immigrant Movement.”

It featured two articles hailing the growth of closed borders. One was an excerpt from a new book titled “Minutemen: The Battle To Secure America’s Borders” by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi. According to Media Matters, Corsi is a long-time ultraright activist who co-authored “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.” In addition to his print “credits”, Corsi is a frequent contributor to the crypto-fascist Free Republic website. This is typical:

Islam is like a virus — it affects the mind — maybe even better as an analogy — it is a cancer that destroys the body it infects. A throwback, Medieval, anti-modern, anti-science, anti-knowledge doctrine. Then too, Islam is a peaceful religion only so long as the women are beaten, the boys buggered, and the infidels killed. Worthless. No doctor would hesitate to eliminate cancer cells from the body.

While the Village Voice, whatever its foibles, was covering the immigrant’s rights actions in NYC, the NY Press chose to highlight the opponents in this issue:


Anti-illegal immigrant activists in America’s oldest immigrant entry point

By Bret Liebendorfer

In recent days, massive rallies, like A Day Without an Immigrant, drew tens of thousands of flag-waving participants in New York and captured most of the city’s attention regarding the immigrant debate. Most New Yorkers tend to think of anti-illegal immigrant groups as Wild West-style vigilantes patrolling the Southwest border looking for brown-skin invaders. But it has now become clear that these groups are hardly limited to just the border, as the anti-illegal immigrant movement is now targeting New York and working persistently on what they describe as efforts to secure America. With overlapping memberships, it’s difficult to differentiate one group from another, but what their opponents fear most is that some of these incestuous relationships may be marginally linked to America’s white separatist groups. Nevertheless, this negative suspicion has done little to dampen the anti-illegal immigrant movement.

“We, as concerned New Yorkers, got brave enough to voice our anti-illegal immigrant position and are taking it to the streets,” said Joanna Mazullo, president of New York Immigration Control and Enforcement (I.C.E.) on why the group formed. NY I.C.E. mirrors many of the ideals of anti-illegal immigrant groups around the country: They are against the granting of amnesty and driver’s licenses to current illegal immigrants and believe the solution to solving the illegal immigrant problem is enforcement of existing laws.

Last year Bret Liebendorfer was writing for the student paper at Ohio State and included this tag at the bottom of his articles:

Bret Liebendorfer can be reached at liebendorfer.1@osu.edu and prefers booty calls to e-mails telling him how “bad of a writer he is.”

Such is the state of media in New York City that a rightwing pinhead like this can make a living as a journalist. If this is supposed to illustrate “freedom of the press,” I’ll take Pravda circa 1935.

July 5, 2006

Orhan Pamuk

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,repression — louisproyect @ 6:20 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on July 5, 2006

Many thanks to Gilles d’Aymery for calling my attention to the exceptionally well-written and interesting article (“Orhan Pamuk: A Novelist Where The Currents Cross”) by Peter Byrne in the latest Swans on Turkey’s most famous novelist and his arrest last year. It seems that defending Kurdish rights and for calling attention to the genocidal attack on the Armenians during WWI is a crime in Turkey.

When I was in Istanbul in December, I watched reports on the trial every night. I was a bit shocked to see the degree of open violence on display by the unruly nationalist crowds at the courthouse. Byrne refers to these incidents in biting prose:

A lawyer had punched the pink face of an elderly man who accompanied the accused. The same man, leaving the court, was kicked by an excited spectator who had been shouting “traitor.” The presumed criminal was then set upon by a woman who struck him with a rolled-up folder. The crowd surged as he stumbled toward a waiting car. But the police stood back. Some of their number in plainclothes were busy inciting the crowd. A banner called the accused “a missionary child,” an insult meaning foreign-bred, impure Turk. Shouts came of “Get out of Turkey.” Stones were thrown. Eggs splattered the car windows as it pulled away.

Just today, Turkish newspapers and the NY Times reported the arrest of Noam Chomsky’s Turkish publishers for the same charge:

NY Times, July 5, 2006

Turkey: Publisher Faces Prosecution

by Sebnem Arsu

A publisher who printed a book by the linguist Noam Chomsky was indicted on a charge of “insulting the Turkish identity,” which can carry up to six years in jail. The book, “Manufacturing Consent,” was written by Mr. Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in the 1980’s, but the indictment focused on a 2001 edition’s introduction that analyzed coverage of the Kurdish conflict.

This is not the first time that Turkish publishers have faced such a charge. In 2002, a publisher named Fatih Tas was acquitted by a court of promoting disunity after making Chomsky’s “American Interventionism” available in a Turkish language edition. The book was critical of Turkey’s efforts to suppress the Kurdish minority, and Washington’s role in backing the Turkish Government.

Despite Pamuk’s willingness to stand up to Turkish chauvinism, I found evidence that at least one educated and radical-minded Turk remained critical of him. In Izmir, a literature major at the local college who was a friend of the family, told me that he had little use for Pamuk, who he regarded as a postmodernist tool of the West.

My own exposure to Pamuk is somewhat limited. I tried to read his highly regarded (at least in the NY Times Book Review section) “My Name is Red” but found it unreadable. It is a historical novel with all the preciousness that you find in Tariq Ali’s well-intentioned but leaden historical novels, but with the added annoyance of postmodernist cleverness. On the other hand, I have his nonfiction “Istanbul: Memories and the City” at home and have skimmed through its pages. From what I have seen, it is difficult to imagine another work that captures Istanbul’s complex mixture of West and East. It is also utterly devoid of the kind of pretension that put me off in “My Name is Red.”

Although Pamuk tends to steer clear of making pronouncements on political issues not directly related to Turkish society, he did speak out on the looming war in Iraq in 2003. Whatever concessions this author has made to Western taste, he certainly shows no interest here in placating Washington or London’s war-makers:

The Guardian (London), March 14, 2003

Inside story: ‘I feel despair’: Turkey’s MPs surprised the world by voting ‘no’ to US troops being based in the country. Now it seems their new prime minister will overturn this – with the army’s help. Acclaimed Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk fears that once again his country will become a military dictatorship

by Orhan Pamuk

Before Turkey’s new prime minister Tayyip Erdoan won a landslide victory in the elections last November, he was constantly maligned and abused by most of the Turkish media. They said that the naive Turkish people should be aware of Erdoan’s pro-Islamist past before voting for him. Nevertheless, those like me, who were afraid Erdoan’s election would pave the way for a military coup, said that his new pro-western and pro-European Union “liberal” stance should be taken at its face value. But the establishment press accused Erdoan of being a fundamentalist in disguise who would strike a blow at secularism in Turkey once in power.

In Istanbul now, the joke is that we were mistaken and Erdoan was indeed hiding his true colours. What he was hiding, however, was not Islamic fundamentalism but commitment to American military interests. First, he made it clear that he was displeased with parliament’s rejection of US demands for a northern front against Iraq. This “no” to war reflected the fury of the Turkish people, 90% of whom are opposed to the war. I was amazed and delighted by this decision, which should make the Turkish parliament proud. Even the pro-state and pro-army Turkish press briefly paid it lip service, since everyone’s national sensibilities were hurt by the coverage of Turkey in the western media as a country that would engage in a war it did not believe in for the sake of American dollars. In particular, a cartoon in which Turkey was depicted as a belly dancer writhing in front of Uncle Sam in order to get more money broke many hearts in the country. The reaction to the cartoon was so exaggerated in the Turkish press, which is as highly sensitive to any coverage in the western media as the Turkish public, that I expected the Turkish Society of Belly Dancers to protest that belly dancing was not as dishonourable as portrayed.

Since the image of the nation as a carpet- dealer upset everyone, Erdoan produced a new trump card that would force Turkey into cooperation with Bush and convince the public: Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq and, God forbid, demands for an independent state. Since some nationalist male Turkish politicians consider bombing poor Kurds far more honourable than belly dancing, it may be that this new argument will carry more weight. Already many columnists are hinting at the possibility of “undesirable developments” in northern Iraq in an attempt to influence the public and bewildered members of parliament. The idea of a Kurdish state is such a fearsome prospect in Turkey, such an unmentionable taboo, that it can only be spoken of as “undesirable developments”.

Erdoan’s party asked the army to make an announcement in favour of war to influence the parliamentary decision before the rejection of the proposal, but the army did not wish to grasp this thorny issue before parliament. When parliament, too, evaded the thorny issue, the job fell on Erdoan and the Turkish press, which had called on the army for help. The majority of the Turkish press have no qualms about carrying on war propaganda, despite the anti-war fury of the people, because most of their financial clout comes not from newspaper sales but from bribes received from the state by various subterfuges. Many nationalist Turkish columnists, whose heart was broken by the representation in the west of Turkey as a nation fighting for money, are now busily engaged in war propaganda for their own bread and butter.

The truth that emerges from all this irony and comedy is this: the Bush government’s relentless desire to launch a war against Saddam has nothing to do with establishing democracy in the Middle East. On the contrary, American military ambitions are curtailing democracy in Turkey and leading to more army intervention in politics. After the government and the press, the task now is to intimidate members of parliament to obtain a reversal of its decision.

The world should know about the damage that has been done to Turkish democracy by the Bush government, which, has bypassed the sentiments of the Turkish people, preferring to cooperate with the army. Already, parliament’s “no” to war has been dismissed and the massing of American troops in Turkish harbours is continuing as if nothing had happened. In response to this scandalous disrespect for the parliament, its president bravely declared that it made his hair stand on end, while his fellow party member, prime minister Erdoan, seemed quite undisturbed. The justified complaint that there is not enough democracy in Turkey, which we have become accustomed to hearing from the US for years has, thanks to the Bush government, been transformed into a grumble that there is too much democracy in Turkey.

Unlike some, I am not opposed to this war because I am opposed to globalisation. I believe that globalisation can be beneficial, opening the way for the free circulation of capital, goods, ideas, and even people, and weaken local nationalistic states and dictatorships. But the Bush government’s idea of globalisation is not freedom of goods and thoughts but the unconditional freedom of the American army to bomb what it likes, when it likes. For this purpose, it has shown itself prepared to undermine local democracies and spurn parliamentary decisions.

This approach, which attaches little importance to the UN, makes no attempt to understand the reluctance and indecision of its allies, and is intent on having the cooperation of local national armies at any cost for the sake of its own military victory, is not much different from that of Saddam, who recognises nothing but his own will.

Like the leaders of many other countries, the Turkish prime minister is trapped between the pressures of the Bush government and the indignation of the people. What distinguishes Erdoan from Tony Blair is not only that he has spent and enjoyed most of his political life in an anti-western and anti-American culture and discourse. With a debt burden of Dollars 80bn to international western lenders, Turkey could be plunged overnight into an economic crisis similar to that of Argentina if deprived of IMF support. Unfortunately, Germany and France, who took a stand against Bush’s policies, did not come out in support of the Turkish parliament’s “no” vote. More importantly, in the years when Blair was making the most of the joys of being prime minister, Erdoan was counting the days in prison, where he had been thrown under pressure from the state and army, for reciting an Islamist poem. Now his cooperation with the same state and army for a war that people hate and are protesting against may have tragic consequences for him.

Another consequence of the aggressive policies of the Bush government is, sadly, to see that in many countries like Turkey now the art of politics, whether leftwing or political Islamist, has been reduced to the skill of winning the popular vote and combining it with American military interests. Finding himself in such a predicament, Erdoan is telling courageous journalists, who remind him of his former words, that he “was not then in power”. If we are to believe this pretext, which pro-state columnists find convincing, we must draw the pitiable conclusion that the words of a Turkish politician are not to be trusted if he is not in power. If he is in power, America can trust him.

If Erdoan compels the Turkish parliament to change its decision to say no to the war and enter it with the US, he will lose the trust of the people which he earned so patiently over the years by his diligence, talent, outspoken honesty and time spent in prison.

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