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Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Louis Proyect

What's so contrarian about Norm Geras? He is about as contrarian as Thomas Friedman or Todd Gitlin. It doesn't take a lot of guts to bash Ramsey Clark when the NY Times and the Washington Post do it routinely. From reading Cooper's blog entry, you'd get the impression that this was the late 1930s when the NY Times was cozying up to Stalin and movies like "Mission to Moscow" were being made. It doesn't take a lot of guts to say that Kim Jong Il is not the kind of person you'd want to invite on a Nation Magazine Caribbean cruise. When aspiring Norm Geras wannabes in the academy fail to get tenure because they redbait A.N.S.W.E.R, then I'll call them contrarian.


Here are some pungent excerpts beginning with Cohen’s repulsion over Michael Moore’s portrayal of Saddam’s pre-war Iraq as some sort of bucolic haven for kite-flyers and winsome lovers and his horror at watching British anti-war organizers embrace a certain reactionary but anti-Yankee Islamic homophobe:

--wow, this guy really makes stuff up to support his heigtened state of anxiety about left critics of US foreign policy. British anti-war activists embraced Saddam? Very interesting, I don't remember Tariq Ali rushing to defend Saddam...perhaps you could point out where he does that in his book *Clash of the Fundamentalisms*? There was Doug Henwood a while back interviewing Carlos Mejilla on why he quit the war in Iraq

Could this guy be thinking of that? Or maybe there were lots of articles in The Nation calling for an all out defense of Saddam's use of political repression to defeat internal dissent. I must have missed something.
But the nobler traditions of the social-democratic left are also under enormous strain.

--and the resolution is to support the invasion of Iraq and the current US occupation? oh yeah, power to the workers democratically elected participatory congresses that Viceroy Negroponte and Mayor Allawi are fighting with every ounce of energy left to construct in in Iraq.

Marc Cooper

Wonderful! All you need to do is look at the above two comments to see, precisely, the inability of some leftists to engage the issues and to wallow in intellectual bankruptcy. No, friends, I did NOT pay these two guys to make these posts so they would re-inforce some of Geras' points. They did it all on their own! Fabulous!
So,yes, Mr. Proyect.. of course.. next time out, The Nation folks ought to indeed overcome their endemic red-baiting and invite Comrade Kim along on a fund-raising cruise. I think you're right.. that would be a real sign of determined leftism (now excuse me while I howl out loud!!)

And,alas... the ubiquitous and inimitable commentator "steve" who reminds us that anyone who dissents from the ossified left MUST be a supporter of the US ANbassador in Iraq. But, of course!

I rest my case.

Michael Turner

I'm opposed in principle to elective surgery paid out of tax monies, but I'm willing to make an exception: a last-ditch treatment currently used for epilepsy involving slicing through the corpus collossum, resulting in a person with two completely separate (but functioning) brain hemispheres.

I think this treatment would come in really handy when leftists have formed into splinter factions so small as to each consist of one individual. It would make it possible for each leftist to embody TWO splinter factions in a single brain. Of course, what comes out of their mouths would then be doubly incoherent. But if it's already so incoherent as to sound like ideological glossolalia to your average voter, that's no big loss, is it? Plus, they'd never feel lonely.

Sincerely Yours,
Michael Turner's Right Hemisphere

P.S. I forgot to call somebody an "intellectual thug" today, so here it is: Oprah Winfrey is an intellectual thug.

P.P.S Ignore that last, it's from Michael Turner's Left Hemisphere, which isn't supposed to write anything on Wednesdays. Those are the rules, crypto-fascist though they may be. -MTRH


I have to say that the Cohen article and the Harry's Place discussion (Norman Geras' discussion was a cut or two above) struck me as a massive example of what can only be called "Carly Simon Syndrome By Proxy". Everything is about Iraq, and in particular about whether one agrees with Cohen's analysis of what was the correct response to the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq. Large chunks of the left did not agree that the proposal for war in March of 2003 would make things much better in Iraq without having adverse unintended consequences, therefore the left is dead because everything is about Iraq and specifically, Cohen's views on Iraq.

Debates over populism in Latin America, capital controls in Southeast Asia, intellectual property rights in South Africa, privatisation of essential services in Eastern Europe, working hours in France and Germany, health care in the USA, access to education in the UK ... naah, balls to all that, because the only proper purpose of the Left is to provide uncritical political support for poorly planned military exercises launched by the Right, and any ex-post criticism of the planning assumptions made can only be evidence of a deep-seated love of dictators. Talk about "you prob'ly think this song is about you".

Just out of interest, if the USA had a left-wing government which sent troops into Argentina to defend workers' co-operatives against the IMF, would we say that the Right was dead if they didn't support us?


the ubiquitous and inimitable commentator "steve" who reminds us that anyone who dissents from the ossified left MUST be a supporter of the US ANbassador in Iraq. But, of course!

--let me get this clear, you're saying that Geras did not support the invasion of Iraq by Bush? That's news to me.
I'd be curious to know how the New Statesman fellow would classify people like Doug Henwood on the Iraq question.
In any event, it's difficult to take serious persons who make up stuff about the British left 'supporting' Saddam. If anything, that people have to resort to such tactics to support their 'criticisms' of the 'left' reveals their desparation in the aftermath of supporting a failed occupation of a weak and broke country.
Dsquared wrote: Just out of interest, if the USA had a left-wing government which sent troops into Argentina to defend workers' co-operatives against the IMF, would we say that the Right was dead if they didn't support us?

--good point. in Geras' formula, somehow we are supporting workers cooperatives by invading Iraq and replacing Saddam with Negroponte and Mayor Allawi...And shame on us for not supporting that!


The left is dead because its very nature is to cannibalize itself.
The far left blames America for everything and apologises for dictators while dreaming of a world that will never exist. Democratic leftists(former memebrs of SDS, Green Party, etc.) hate the far left and liberal democrats because they(liberal democrats) never have and never will meet their lofty standards. Liberal democrats resent the former, becuase of their unwillingness to compromise unrealistic ideals and spoil it for their party in close elections.
The interesting aspect of this is that the left is obsessed with and jealous of Michael Moore. A left-wing liberal populist(whatever) whose books are read and films are actually seen by large numbers of people.
Praha, Czech Republic

Rus Steel


I'm no left-leaner, not much of a right-banner-waiver, either, but I think you just summed the most powerful anti-Bush argument I've heard all year.


marc cooper

Thanks Rus..love ur website.


The far left blames America for everything and apologises for dictators while dreaming of a world that will never exist.

--hmm. i remember hearing things about, if I read a far leftist like Marc's hero Marcuse, capitalism, inequality, militarism, even imperialism stand out as the unit of analysis. if i read a modern day far leftist like Doug Henwood (say Doug's recent book "After the New Economy", i read about similar issues) but when michael reads the 'far left', all he sees is "America this, America that". Obviously Michael reads little of the left, aside from pamphleteers?

Rus Steel

Thanks, Marc. Feel the same way about yours-- not to turn this into a love fest or anything. Seems like Steve's pretty hot to argue.

Marc Cooper

Steve... the above post is your LAST one on this thread as you are not making any new points. Any further comment will be excised. Allow some others to get it, wouldya?

Michael Turner writes: "Sincerely Yours,
Michael Turner's Right Hemisphere"

Mr. Turner, gotta tell you, I howled... funniest thing I've read in a while.


Here's some inspiration for the 'dead left'...have been sitting on these pictures for a long time and I guess the time is now. Never thought I would have to use them for anything, mainly because I figured we would pull back from the nose dive of the past year and a half. We haven't though, and many people seem to be completely unaware that we are literally in a fight for our lives and way of life (or at least some mighty important people aren't acting like it - when I fight for my life I don't drag my ass on the ground and jump from every shadow or spurious allegation I see). Even 'our' "sympathetic" and or "representative" spokespeople and media reps walk around on egg shells like it's going to make a lick of difference whether we play nice with the people who are choking the shit out of us. Just as dysfunctional is this overwhelming self-consciousness / fear about what people who are on the sidelines picking their nose (the "undecideds") are thinking while they're watching us get the shit choked out of us. Given that Bush is a gawd-dang baby killer we seem to have a lot of leeway before we should really need to worry about how we look as we try to take the hand off our throats. Wake up JFK! There's 68 shopping days left and THESE PICTURES ARE THE REALITY OF WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON AND WHO WERE FACING!!!! THEY DID THIS TO KIDS - AND THEY DIDN'T BAT AN EYELASH! (from the very first bombing campaigns in Iraq) - http://blogs.salon.com/0001847/2004/08/26.html#a103 Take a look and judge for yourself how much more room for nuance and compromising on its convictions this campaign has left. I don't think the vaporous "middle" likes dead babies any more than anyone else, so what's the freakin problem with all anti-bush, pro-Kerry people calling fascist behavior for what it is - fascist behavior? "Naming the behavior" is THE way to get an abuser to stop!

Marc Cooper

Well.. roughly 50% of Americans give or take a few points support the current administration for whatever reasons. If you believe you can peel them off into your column by yelling "fascist" then I suggest you prepare yourself for another 4 years of you-know-who. Elections are not about making yourself feel better.. they are about winning.

Michael Pugliese

Trotskyism slips on the supposed anti-imperialism of the Taliban: (53K)
Introduction by Joseph Green
Sectarian propagandism by Bob Pitt (who, in the name of anti-imperialism, opposes denouncing both sides in the US-Taliban war )
Neither Taliban nor imperialism by Ian Donovan
The following letter from the British Trotskyist Bob Pitt, editor of the journal What Next?, appeared in Weekly Worker #404 ( Thursday, October 18, 2001), journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Pitt ended his letter with the claim that those socialists who failed to support the Taliban were engaged in "sectarian propagandism", and so his letter appeared under the title Sectarian propagandism: Bob Pitt argues that it is perfectly principled for socialists to defend the Taliban against imperialism.
. Ian Donovan utilises the thoroughly dubious concept of "reactionary anti-imperialism" in order to justify a 'plague on both your houses' attitude towards the current war being waged by US and British imperialism against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Weekly Worker October 4). His arguments are confused, incoherent and based on a sectarian method which renders him incapable of understanding what is going on in the world, let alone doing anything to change it.

. Ian quotes a section of the 'Preliminary draft theses on the national and the colonial questions' from the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, in which Lenin emphasises "the need to combat pan-islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the position of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc". It is hardly surprising that Lenin should propose such a policy for the Comintern, which aimed to build a worldwide organisation of workers' parties on a secular basis. But is Ian really asking us to conclude that, in the event of a pan-islamic movement taking power in a small, underdeveloped country and then coming under attack from a major imperialist state, Lenin would have advocated that revolutionaries should remain neutral in that conflict or called on communists in the small, undeveloped country to work for the defeat of their own government? In the immortal words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious.

. It is apparently OK for Ian to quote this passage from the revolutionary archives, along with another one from Lenin about "not supporting the struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism", in order to clinch his argument that "for communists there can be no question of 'defending' the Taliban". But those of us who might be inclined to cite contrary passages from the writings of prominent Marxists are condemned in advance as "quotation-mongers" and "biblicists". Ian predicts sneeringly that texts such as Trotsky's comments on the attitude socialists should have adopted towards the Italian attack on Abyssinia in 1935 will be "dusted off" in order to provide authority for an anti-imperialist, defencist line on the current war against Afghanistan. Well, let's oblige him.

. The example of Italy's invasion of Abyssinia is far from irrelevant, given that the regime in that country -- a feudal monarchy headed by the emperor Haile Selassie -- was just about as "reactionary" as you could get. The leaders of the Independent Labour Party in Britain, arguing that socialists could not be for the victory of such a government, took a neutral position on the war. Trotsky's response was withering: "If Mussolini triumphs, it means . . . the strengthening of imperialism and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. A victory of the Negus [Haile Selassie], however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed people. One must really be completely blind not to see this" (emphasis added).

. This position, of seeing the victory of oppressed countries over their imperialist oppressors as progressive, irrespective of the political character of the political leadership in the oppressed country, was an elementary principle for Trotsky. Writing in 1938, he remarked in passing: "We shall not even dwell on the fact that in the event of a national war waged by the bey of Tunis against France, progress would be on the side of the barbarian monarch and not that of the imperialist republic. " Not for him the formalistic notion of "reactionary anti-imperialism".

. One would expect Ian to argue that Trotsky was fundamentally mistaken on this point, and that his position amounted to "supporting the struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism". However, Ian doesn't do this. Rather, he shifts his ground and argues that, since the world has changed and the leading capitalist powers no longer possess formal colonial empires, such old-style anti-imperialism is no longer appropriate.

. This seems to me to be a pretty flimsy argument. As Ian himself concedes, imperialism has not ceased to exist -- the major capitalist states continue to dominate the world, even if they pursue their economic, political and military-strategic objectives by means other than direct colonial conquest. By such methods -- which include financing and arming brutal dictatorships, systematically bombing countries whose governments defy the will of the US, imposing economic sanctions in an attempt to bring recalcitrant regimes to their knees -- the US ruling class has devastated the lives of millions across the globe. Why then should it be that a victory by "reactionary" anti-imperialist forces over the world's major oppressor power has lost all progressive content?

. It might seem unlikely that the mighty US military machine could possibly suffer defeat at the hands of the ill-equipped Taliban. However, remembering the fate of the Soviet armed forces in the 1980s, if the US sends ground troops into Afghanistan such an outcome can by no means be excluded. Millions of people throughout the 'third world', and in the Arab and muslim countries in particular, would celebrate such a defeat. It would inspire all of those opposing imperialist oppression throughout the world and have a salutary effect on the US ruling class, making it less ready to attack small, apparently vulnerable countries in the future. One must really be completely blind not to see this.

. Ian's attitude towards the September 11 attacks in the US is coloured by the same contemptuous dismissal of anti-imperialism. It is because they recognise the existence of a mass anti-imperialist sentiment across the third world, and the need for socialists to get a hearing among those holding such views, that groupings such as the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Labour Party, while making it clear that they oppose terrorism and deplore the loss of civilian lives, have avoided using the word 'condemn' in relation to the September 11 events. Ian denounces this as a "liberal [sic] tendency to simply tail third world nationalism".

. He should read the article by Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan, 'Why Pakistan peasants won't condemn New York carnage', in the Socialist Outlook 'Stop the war' supplement [an edited version of this article was also carried in Weekly Worker September 20 -- WW]:
. "Six days after the Tuesday attacks on American cities," the writer recounts, "it seems that generally many are happy and feel pride that at last someone has done the job they should be doing. It shows an utter hatred of American imperialism among the general masses . . .
. "One villager told me that the incident of America is like a peasant getting up in a village to fight against the feudal lord with no weapons. No one in the village ever thought of fighting against the feudal lords before. But when this peasant wins the fight, peasants in the whole village will be very happy. America is a big feudal lord of the world which has lost the fight at the hands of someone without any resources, and we must celebrate. Whenever I raised the issue of innocent Americans losing their lives, the normal reaction was: yes, we sympathise, but what about those millions of Palestinians, Sudanese, Vietnamese and others who have lost their lives at their hands?"(1)

. Because this sort of mass anti-imperialism fails to condemn terrorism when it is directed against an oppressor state, because it is sometimes influenced by militant islamic fundamentalism, in short because it lacks commitment to the sort of 'civilised' values upheld by western self-styled Marxists like Ian, he believes that it lacks any progressive features. According to this view, the masses will be permitted to enter into struggle against imperialism only once they have abandoned their 'backwardness' and adopted a socialist ideology which measures up to Ian's own rigorous standards. He would call this principled revolutionary politics; I would call it racist arrogance.

. Does this mean that socialists should attempt to organise an anti-war movement around slogans such as 'Victory to the Taliban' or even 'Defend Afghanistan, defeat US imperialism'? No, it doesn't. The best contribution that Marxists in Britain can make to the defeat of imperialism is to build a mass movement with the aim of mobilising public opinion against our own government's participation in the assault on Afghanistan. This means working with trade unionists, Labour Party members, CND supporters, Greens and others, few of whom will agree with a defencist position in relation to the Taliban forces fighting against the US. The most appropriate slogan for such a movement is 'Stop the war'.

. But Ian will have none of it. He accuses anti-imperialists of trying to build a movement against the war "on the political foundations provided by pacifists and reformists, to whose politics they generally defer in practice". Of course, Ian may well be rushing around his area of south London energetically building a mass anti-war movement on firm revolutionary foundations -- on the basis of "preparations for the overthrow of capitalism itself", as the October 11 issue of the Weekly Worker recommends. Then again, it could just be that his idea of contributing to the building of an anti-war movement is to write lengthy articles polemicising against other sections of the far left and perhaps appear on the occasional demonstration selling his organisation's newspaper.

. Ian's method may be a travesty of revolutionary politics, but it does at least have the merit of consistency. Just as he refuses to take sides in a bloody war waged by the world's leading imperialist power and its allies against a small oppressed country, so he abstains from the task of building an effective movement against that war in his own country. Ian would call this method Marxism; I would call it sectarian propagandism. <>


(1) Pitt omits the conclusion of Farooq Tariq's article, thatas carried by Socialist Outlookgoes "It is very clear that we, the progressive forces, are among the very few who see we have to condemn terrorism, whether at individual or state level. "


Mark, what is your point then. Other than seeming to negate everything I said, you didn't put out any actionable ideas of your own. Would like to follow up and see exactly which part(s) of the main points I made that you disagree with: a) that what the Kerry campaign is doing, isn't working or WINNING anything right now, b) that the Kerry campaign has neutered itself to the point that Bush and Co. don't have to worry about defending ANYTHING, and instead gets to steal all of the news cycles with their own attacks, and c) that focusing strategy on enigmatic "undecided" voters is a fools game ( http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/column.php?id=730 ) The bottom line is, if a campaign wants to be defensive minded, that's fine, but at some point it has to score SOME points somewhere, somehow if it wants to actually win. I don't see how that happens without a change in direction of some substantial type. Should for any reason your answer back include anything close to, 'we'll win it on policy', I leave you with the words of Adlai Stevenson, who in response to one of his supporters who assured him that "all intelligent people in this country will vote for you," answered back, "That's not good enough. I need a majority".

Louis Proyect

Cooper: "So,yes, Mr. Proyect.. of course.. next time out, The Nation folks ought to indeed overcome their endemic red-baiting and invite Comrade Kim along on a fund-raising cruise. I think you're right.. that would be a real sign of determined leftism (now excuse me while I howl out loud!!)"

I don't know. From what I read in the tabloid press, Kim knows how to throw a helluva party. He has $1000 cognac flown in from France and has his sushi chef serve up his favorite speciality: roast Swan stuffed with Donkey. And all the while, nubile men and women perform very sexy dances accompanied by North Korea's hottest Dixieland band. That sounds like a lot more fun than a Nation cruise with its octagenarian passengers falling asleep in their vichyssoise, while somebody like Bill Greider rambles on about the need to reform the Fed.

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