All posts by Eric Walberg

The Military-Industrial-Governmental Complex

Christian Sorensen’s ambitious Understanding the War Industry documents the US war economy with zest. It’s a dull, monotonous topic but vitally important, and he manages to make it interesting. You see the military-industrial-political complex as a vast, complex hive, embedded in the larger economic monster called the United States.

That union has always been tenuous, from the revolution to the civil war and today, requiring enemies to keep very different groups in line. Ironically, since it kicked the British out, the US (i.e., the colonial settler regime) is the one country in the world that has never been threatened by external enemies, making enemy-production the driving force behind the military (always on guard).

The US is not at all like, say, Russia or Iran, countries that have experienced horrible invasions more than once. Another irony here: compare Russian and Iranian military spending, indeed add up all the world’s military spending, and you will see that the enemy-less US outspends them all added together.

How best to understand why a country with no enemies is constantly preparing for and fighting wars, wasting untold trillions, with only negative results (death, maiming, environmental degradation, pollution, etc). Name me just one positive outcome from just the past two decades, the past half-century?

Sicko

Clearly the patient is sick. But is the war industry to blame? And is the illness an addiction, like heroin? Yes, heroin is produced in record quantities and distributed with the help of the war machine. But addictions can be controlled, and they only affect a small minority of the population. It’s possible to ‘just say no,’ though when a patient is sick with a real disease, heroin is at least some comfort.

Banksy’s gift to corona’s frontline troops

Sorensen compares the war industry to a cancer. Given the current viral pandemic, I think a virus is a better metaphor, and it is not the war industry per se that is the virus, but capitalism. It is capitalism’s logic of expansion, conquest, exploitation that drives the war machine.

Cancer isn’t contagious, like capitalism with its profit and consumerism fetishes. There is no pandemic of cancer, like the coronavirus now spreading uncontrolled around the world. The virus, very tiny and not even ‘alive’, replicating exponentially and mutating as needed, is the perfect analogue for capitalism, which is unseen, inhuman, and infects people without their knowing.

So don’t blame the war machine or think of it as a mysterious, spontaneous, malignant growth. Capitalism is a kind of deus ex machina, highly contagious, infecting and debilitating and even killing the victim. War and the war industry are merely the most horrible symptoms of the virus.

What is the nature of the virus? Where did it come from? How does it replicate? These are the questions driving scientists and politicians with respect to corona, and inspired Marx and are driving Sorensen and me in analysis of our ills.

Marx diagnosed the industrial world of the 19th century. He identified the new disease as capitalism, exploitation of man by man, and prescribed a radical cure: revolt and the control of the means of production by the 99% of society who are the working people that make up society. The cure was/is not easy, but the broad outlines included an end to war and exploitation.

How the virus works

Here are a few examples from Sorensen of how it replicates. Federal departments are encouraged to allocate 25% of procurement funds to small business. How thoughtful. Isn’t that Adam Smith at work: help small business against the big monopolies, keep capitalism healthy? The War Department (note: not ‘defense’ or ‘peace’) spends more for small business contracts than any other government department.  But these contracts by definition don’t need to be competitive. So the military is from the start padded at the cellular level.

But worse, ‘small’ is often not at all small. Corporations hold on to ‘small business’ classification long after they become large. Furthermore, a large corporation can use a smaller subsidiary to enable contracting as a small business, even though the parent company is a behemoth. Large corporations can sign up for the Pentagon’s Mentor Protege Program to help small businesses, giving the big fish the chance to partner or swallow (merge with) the little fish. Let’s not even bother mentioning contracts with universities, and how that poisons the well of applied knowledge. A failing grade from Adam Smith.

Or the co-optation of Indigenous peoples, although theirs is somewhat of a success story. The war machine is actually communism-in-action (for the military). You join, get fed and clothed, excel, and get respect for being a brave soldier. Natives have shone in the military ever since they were virtually wiped out and left destitute. They (and blacks and hispanics) join up at twice the proportion of the population. They see a glimmer of communism and like it.

Their tribal traditions of valour and battle were harnessed to the beast. Like small businesses, native companies get preferential treatment. But just as the virus of capitalism turns sh*t into gold, it turns gold into sh*t too. The tribes can sell services to the military, but often just farm them out to others, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to earn a ‘profit’, like the notorious health maintenance organizations (HMOs) fleecing the country ‘for a good cause’.

Or like the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, the bane of any attempt to replace capitalism. Plagued by bureaucratic inertia, the final period in the Soviet Union from Brezhnev to Gorbachev, was called ‘real existing socialism’, which was derided as neither ‘real’ nor ‘existing’. This is exactly where communism-for-the-War-Department is today in the US. There is no ‘war’, but there is no lack of bureaucracy.

Another irony: the War Department has never submitted annual audits (any audits) as all federal departments are supposed to. Congress finally passed the Chief Financial Officers Act in 1990, just as the Soviet Union was bureaucracy run mad, teetering on the edge of collapse, not a threat to anyone but itself.

The coast was clear, but would this timid step be a signal that the beast’s days were numbered, that it would finally be brought to account? Though the results were only of a small sampling of the monster’s activities, the grade was a failure, even though the auditors were all clients of the war machine and did their best to dot the i’s. Auditors didn’t find any evidence of fraud in a system inherently fraudulent, wasteful and abusive. Pigs really do fly.

As with the end of WWII, the collapse of communism was supposed to lead to a peace dividend. In both cases, within less than a year, war budgets of the beast were increasing. (For the Soviet Union in 1945, and for Russia in 1991, there was a peace dividend, as it was devastated in both cases, and had no help from the beast to rebuild its shattered economy.)

Sorensen served in the military and explains that ‘veteran’ is as loose a term as ‘small business’. Many (most?) ‘vets’ never leave the US, or just hang out in Europe, Korea or Japan for a few years. ‘Disabled’ is equally loose, as all vets-to-be are encouraged to bargain for some level of ‘disability’ to maximize their pensions and other perks upon retirement. You can retire after 10 years and run a small business as ‘disabled, veteran-owned’.

The disease affects different people differently. If you are really big and control lots of resources (US, Germany), you tend to become a bully, stealing from others or enslaving them to give you even more goodies. If you get lazy, you can farm out the work to willing servant-slaves (China, Bangladesh, etc.).

What holds the lesser mortals in toe is of course a big fist. And the longer you dominate, the more you have to exercise that fist as a warning. If someone defies you, your fist has to be ready to come down hard on him to stop others from getting any ideas.

Personal battle with virus

When I studied at Cambridge (1973-75), I was swept up in the excitement of Vietnam resistance to the US bully, rejoicing as we watched the last helicopter airlift the last US officials from the embassy in Saigon. My friends were the handful of British communists who studied there. My adviser told me about a professor friend at a sherry party asking, ‘How is Walberg doing? I hear he’s caught the bug.’ What he meant was I had joined in the Cambridge communist tradition, intellectuals enamored with the Soviet Union.

I was a bit offended, but dismissed that jibe and carried on. Eventually, of course, the Soviet Union collapsed, so by analogy, my worldview, the ‘bug’ I caught at Cambridge, should have died too. Indeed, for much of the world, faith in the final victory of socialism/communism died in 1991, just as many lost faith during earlier bouts of illness the Soviet Union suffered (collectivization, repression). But many of us remained alive and holding true to the faith. There Is No Alternative.

I think I understand all this now. It is capitalism that holds the world in thrall, a virus that infects the entire world, and can only be fought by those immune to its blandishments. The Soviet Union was building an alternative to capitalism, but that is hard work, kind of boring at times.

The virus, like corona, is well adapted to human instincts (aggression, sex, hunger, self protection). Scientists have discovered there is genetic make-up in humans that promotes selflessness, altruism, love, spirituality, but these are secondary traits, luxuries that are only available to nurture when man doesn’t have to worry about survival.

I continue to marvel that despite the constant invasions and sabotage the Soviet Union faced, confronted by a powerful capitalist world, it survived at all. That it saved the world from fascism alone should have earned it our eternal respect, but the sick patient was not interested in a cure. It was able to survive over the centuries by embracing total war as a less demanding cure for any symptoms of dysfunction.

Fighting virus = just war = socialism

That is not to promote pacifism. WWII was a just war, fighting a real enemy that gloried in genocide and slavery for no purpose but further world conquest. But that war was for socialism, and the West quickly adopted socialism for the duration of the war, since that was the way to motivate the people to make mortal sacrifices. Capitalism, benefiting only a small elite, was not enough incentive.

Our governments were forced then by necessity to made a social contract with citizens, so that citizens (not ‘consumers’) would be willing to put their lives on the line, knowing their government would guarantee work, unemployment insurance, pensions and a post-war equitable social order.

Churchill and FDR signed the Atlantic Charter in August 1941 and the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942, the basis for the modern United Nations. That was what united us as one nation, and let us win WWII, rather than just churning out a lot of bombs. The war industry per se is neither good nor bad.

The (Liberal) Canadian government quickly set up Crown corporations, 28 of them by the end of the war, producing arms, tanks, whatever. But in 1945 the implicit contract with the Soviet Union, that the world was now anti-imperialist, socialist, not fascist, was torn up, and private capital reasserted its dominance in politics and economics.

Late stage symptom

Thus, the virus took hold again in 1945, a ‘second wave’. Like corona, capitalism mutates to meet any challenge. Faced with Hitler, it mutated into state socialism. Faced with a world in 1945 eager for real socialism, it mutated into the poisonous witchhunts of the 1950s. It laid America low morally, and finally infected the Soviet Union and killed it.

1947 comic and 2020 reissue

Douglas Valentine’s TDY (2000), a battle between the CIA, DEA, Pentagon and a hapless GI caught in the middle, depicts how ‘a generation lost faith in the ideal that all Americans are united in a common cause.’ In hindsight though, it was not Vietnam, but WWII that was the last common cause.

But fighting is what makes America America. The soldierly culture runs deep. I can’t seem to meet an American without some relative or friend in the armed forces. And the wars, from the 19th century and the slaughter of the native peoples, till WWI and today, have been mercenary, immoral wars.

WWII is the one exception. Where the US didn’t face the usual unending ‘insurgencies’, as the people welcomed the troops who delivered them from the Nazi scourge. Another irony: though the US toots itself (and Israel) as a force for peace, if you look at the ‘real, existing’ peace it provides, it’s one of instability, violence and death, the peace of the dead. We can only conclude that this is the intended result: chaos abroad requires the US war machine to pacify. This benefits the war machine, with some trickle-down to US workers and soldiers.

Real real peace would mean dismantling the machine. Sorensen’s mass of evidence points to this as the ultimate goal. Just contemplate with him the hundreds of bases in the US alone, ’employing’ tens of millions, sucking up the nation’s food, dumping countless tons of CO2 and NO2 into the air, sea, land.

Doing what? The US has NO enemies except the ones it makes. It could easily just stop bullying and dissolve the whole works, like Costa Rica. Imagine all those $X,000,000,000,000 used to, say, pay people a basic income, make university education free, provide a bicycle for everyone, free public transit. You get the picture. But instead, millions of men (and, as a nod to feminists and lgbtqa) women, gays and transsexuals spend their time thinking and looking tough, devoted to the US war machine terrorizing the world.

But, as Sorensen points out, except for WWII, nothing has changed at all since the US invaded the Philippines in 1898 (‘clear, hold and build’), Vietnam ‘strategic hamlets’, Afghanistan ‘provincial reconstruction teams’. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction concluded that ‘successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians.’ By forcing American power onto helpless natives, the US replicates the insurgencies that have always plagued its imperial moves. And the natives today react much as the Filipinos did in 1898. Bottom line: Destroy the village to save it.

The peace movement then was vocal, mainstream, and upfront anti-imperialist (Anti-Imperialist League), led by Mark Twain and many other prominent cultural figures. To no avail. And when ‘our bastards’, like Batista in Cuba, Chavez in Venezuela, or Duterte in Philippines, tell the Yankees ‘out!’, it is like a cold chill, making the beast feel feverish, hatching ever new mutations, plans to thwart this latest challenge.

Strength through peace

There is no vaccine, we must fight to achieve that illusive ‘herd immunity’. Once enough countries wake up and attack the virus resolutely, that should keep us safe, though socialism doesn’t mean stagnation. To keep it healthy requires cultivating grassroots. When the roots die, the virus can creep back into our lives.

Johnstone brings her Moral Compass to our Dantesque World

First, Diana Johnstone’s memoir is a classic, and will be read and quoted as long as we keep struggling for peace and justice. It is one of the great personal accounts of the anguished decline of our uncivilization, both a riveting eye-witness account of many of the horrors and perfidies, and a primer for students of history and all those struggling to not only dismantle the beast, but to prepare us for what follows it.

Read it and weep. And smile at the follies. And shout ‘Yes!’ as light bulbs flash in your mind.

Johnstone’s concern in Circle in the Darkness is not so much ‘the lived experience of the transitory nature’ of things but ‘especially of the moral environment.’ She was blessed to to begin at the beginning of the end. At the empire’s undisputed zenith under FDR. And though not a card-carrying anything religious or left wing, she grabbed that blessing and stoked and nurtured it, creating her life, her jobs, a single mother raising a daughter in Minnesota and then France, seeing through the cant everywhere and using her only weapon, the pen, to expose it.

It is a frightening, unremittingly gruesome, Dantesque journey, but Johnstone’s steady moral compass sees us through and is uplifting.

One of her first memories is seeing the Minerva of Peace mosaic by Elihu Vedder (1896) in the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, DC, with its very unpeaceful message: Minerva’s peace and prosperity is attained only through warfare. Nike, a representation of Victory, similar to those erected by ancient Greeks to commemorate their success in battle, stands next to Minerva. I doubt that 3-yr-old Diana would have been able to articulate this message, but it hit me: this was a sign from beyond, be it from God or whatever. This little lady was fated to wrestle with the forces of war and peace till the day she dies.

So I thought: And what was happening in America in the 1890s to inspire Vedder (and Diana)?

1890: Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho join the Union.

1893: severe economic depression, as well as several strikes in the industrial workforce.

The decade saw much of the development of the automobile.This decade was also part of the Gilded Age, a phrase coined by Mark Twain, when the super rich were even more super, and the rest were super poor.

The Philippine Revolution began in 1896, ceded to US in 1898. The Provisional Government of Hawaii sent armed militia against the lepers in the Leprosy Colony of Kalawao. The template for Minerva’s  ‘peace through war’.

Hey, isn’t that today’s empire? Just more of the same?

History comes to life in Johnstone’s  reflections, which cover almost a century, from  the depths of the Depression and the rise of FDR to the sputtering loose canon of Trump, with America looking in many ways like the mess it was when Johnstone was born.

But it is not mass unemployment that is the chief cause of the malaise today. Keynes and a massive state sector combine with Eisenhower’s ‘military industrial complex’ more or less ‘solved’ that. The problem is deeper. It is the same uneducated nation, steeped in ‘enemies’, for the past century, anti-communism, writ large despite the demise of communism. The fear of yet another world war, environmental armaggedon, capitalism blind to its fatal flaws. And Americans too, blind and ignorant of foreign affairs, always fearful of the ‘other’, willing to leave world affairs in the hands of officials, who presumably know better.

Johnstone has spent most of her life abroad, in France, the rare foreign correspondent (she created a job as foreign correspondent for In These Times) who has free rein to explore a story, and a mission from the left wing ITT, to cover socialist/ communist politics in Europe, bringing her to meet with and cover the careers of remarkable people such as Olaf Palme and Willy Brandt, and to reflect on the demise of the old guard communists such as Marchais and Berlinguer and the embrace of social democracy by the heirs of Lenin and Stalin, so-called Eurocommunism, which abandons any thought of revolution, relegating it to oblivion.

Circle in the Darkness is almost an encyclopedia of the landmark events, which Johnstone covered as both journalist, participant, friend and enemy. Her calm passion for justice motivates her throughout her very ‘lived life’, someone for Socrates to admire, like Johnstone, crucified for his unflinching honesty. Though she may not have stopped the Vietnam war (‘the Viet Cong did that’), she created ways to help, inventing first a Community Contact outreach program to knock on doors to talk about Vietnam with the Minnesotan public.

Then she invented ‘people’s diplomacy’, organizing a group of 30 widely diverse Americans to go with her to her already beloved Paris in 1970 to meet with the South Vietnamese provisional government and the North Vietnamese, hoping to take the message of peace back to the US.

Johnstone loves her subject, whatever it may be, and her description of some of the colourful participants (and some tragic fates) is delightful and arresting.

The vegetable farmer George Panayotoff was especially active in speaking to every meeting he could find, often together with Robert Nienkerk, a private detective. Nienkerk was truly amazing. He could speak to the most conservative groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and with his Mr. America necktie, short haircut and straightforward manner, win them over.1

But, like most genuine efforts in the quest for peace, they were met by a deafening silence from the mainstream media (International Herald Tribune: It’s only a local story. Go to your home town for a human interest piece.) The Cold War Deep State had taken the US empire’s foreign affairs off the table, made it ‘bipartisan’, which, with the rise of the powerful Israeli lobby, made the empire a US-Israeli empire, even more a captive of Eisenhower’s nemesis, the military industrial complex.

Speaking of arresting, her own arrest in Paris at a Vietnam rally during the chaotic summer of ‘68 was the essence of civilization. She explained to the French policeman when they reached the police station that she had to pick up her daughter from school, and he let her go. She realized he was against the Vietnam war, as were virtually all the French, and admired her courage.

There is much of interest both to historians and activists. Johnstone is a master of cutting to the quick, Occam’s razor. Most world events are so complex, assassinations in particular, that they remain a matter of conjecture. But she was on the spot for such events as the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, and the ‘successful’ one of Olaf Palme, and followed the ‘investigations’.

Agca, a truly crazy Turk, was already in the sites of authorities, a ‘grey wolf’ fascist, who reveled in his act, claiming first he was ordered to kill the Pope by the Turkish mafia, then by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, even by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Secretary of State of the Vatican. Nobody took any of that seriously. But almost a year and a half later, in his Italian cell, he came up with a new story, which unlike all the others, was widely welcomed as a “confession” of the truth: he had shot the Pope on instructions from Bulgarian agents, acting on orders from the Kremlin … later proclaiming himself to be Jesus Christ. But he had every reason to go along with the Bulgarian Connection story. He could be assured that it would guarantee comfortable prison conditions. It made him a media star. And shifting the blame to the communist Warsaw Pact enemy.

Perfect for the US and its ‘NATO allies who had internalized the need for US protection, whether from Russia or from their own domestic left.’

Useful to Agca, keeping him amused and famous. It was useful to the Italian right in its relentless effort to destroy the Italian Communist Party. It was useful to the American war party, … useful to the Vatican, not only as anti-communist propaganda, but also as the occasion to enact a characteristically Christian morality play, in which the Pope pardons a repentant Agca in his cell. Nor could leaders of Turkey, a NATO ally, mind having blame shifted to Bulgarians. The one who had no reward was the hapless Bulgarian travel agent, Sergei Antonov, who spent over three years in prison before being acquitted, a broken man. It illustrated how easy it was to build a major international political scandal out of a “confession” methodically extracted by intelligence agents from a convicted pathological killer and sold to the public by mass media. It is all too easy to tell the American public wild tales about “the rest of the world,” about which their school system has taught them little.2

I’m ashamed to say, if you had asked me before Circle about JPII’s almost assassination, I would have said, ‘Supposedly a Bulgarian assassin.’ Our brains work ‘Last in, first out.’ It is sooo hard to stay ahead of the game.

This legacy of the Nazis was also behind the assassination of Palme. The pompous New York Times investigation took months (and lots of moola), and turned up nothing. But plucky Diana, on a shoestring, went to Lund University to learn of the independent investigation by historian Wilhelm Agrell, who dismissed attempts to pin it on Kurds or South Africa. ‘He settled on the ‘patriotic’ motive: the explanation that Palme was eliminated by elements within Swedish security or armed forces that considered him a threat to the nation.’

In the 1930s, Swedish fascists in the military supported Hitler, Sweden remained neutral, useful to Germany in its occupation of anti-fascist Norway, and that legacy remained. The Germans were replaced by the Americans after the war, with the common enemy, the Soviet Union, still in place.

Palme was hated by the right, especially the military, who were becoming irrelevant to Palme’s vision of Sweden as a haven of peace, a friend to (peace loving) Soviet Union. His assassination, done from within, could be kept under raps, unsolved, but attributable to nasty apartheid South Africa, which certainly loathed Palme too. Agrell, a prominent expert on Swedish military doctrine and (from 1990) a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, and his claim disappeared from view, mentioned, it seems, only by Diana at ITT. Agrell’s Wikipedia page makes no mention of what surely is his ‘finest moment’. How the mighty have fallen.

I could go on with many more beautifully written, barbed Occam’s razors, but I will end on some morsels of inspiration of my own, courtesy of Johnstone. Diana disclaims labels, but her analysis is Marxist in the best sense of the word, not the eurocommunist, ‘cultural Marxist’ which neoliberalism produced as a distraction from the remorseless destruction of all that’s good, which capitalism thrives on.

This is the subtext of Star Wars ‘Doomsday Machine (1967), where Kirk destroys the alien robot planet-eater, left behind by warring civilizations but still roaming the universe in search of planets to destroy and eat, long after its ‘masters’ have killed each other and the machine has eaten up their planet. To kill the beast, Kirk feeds it a tasty H-bomb, a version of Earth’s very own quaint 20th century doomsday bomb, ‘the first time it has been used constructively.’ The Doomsday Machine, of course, is capitalism/ imperialism, and its avatar today US-Israel, seizing whole nations, eating up the Earth’s treasures, a doomsday machine to kill us all.

My other ‘morsel’ recalls The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State (1993), where author Benjamin Ginsberg, concerned with an Israel already out of control in 1990, argued that for their own purposes, rulers often  were happy to accommodate Jews in exchange for their services, resulting in “the rise to great power by Jewish elites, but creating conditions for their subsequent fall.” They made alliances “responsible for the construction of some of the most powerful states of the Mediterranean and European worlds, including the Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, and Ottoman empires.” This led to the paradoxical situation where some Jews were ministers or viziers while the majority of them were oppressed and rebels, a foretaste of the twentieth century Great Games.2

Johnstone witnessed three examples of these latter day ‘viziers’ during the 1980s:

Benny Lévy

*adviser to Sartre (Benny Lévy, a Maoist in ‘68),

*adviser to Mitterand (Attali),

*destroyer from within of the Green Party of France (Cohn-Bendit).

Sartre’s friends were appalled when an attractive young Svengali (Levy) mesmerized him as he lay dying, inducting him into Kabbalah mysteries. Levy himself had shifted from Maoism to Judaism, or ‘from Mao to Moses’; i.e., fill the spiritual gap of dying atheist Sartre with harmless Jewish mysticism, ignoring the Zionist monster at work in the real world.

Unelected Attali wormed his way into President Mitterand’s private circle and convinced him to abandon his socialism and quest for detente, for neoliberalism and more anticommunism.

In December 2014 the daily Libération opened its article on Attali with the rhetorical question, “And what if it turns out that Jacques Attali, 71, is the real President of France?” This thought was inspired by the fact that at that very time, Attali was guiding his protégé, Emmanuel Macron, through his first big political job as Minister of Economy in the Socialist Government of François Hollande, designing laws to reduce worker rights.3

Gadfly Cohn-Bendit (with his fellow traitor Fischer of the German Greens) gutted the Greens of their quest for peace and disarmament, so dear to Johnstone’s (and my) heart, in favour of R2P, their crowning achievement, the 1990s the destruction of Yugoslavia.

Johnstone’s crowning achievement is undoubtedly Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions (2003), which sifts through the bombed-out rubble of poor Yugoslavia, revealing the real story, the real culprits. In the fine tradition of western media, she faced screaming silence, unable to get the message into the mainstream. I wondered at her passionate devotion to this particular cause, but after reading Circle, I understand. At the tender age of 19, she was able to join a pre-Peace Corps (SPAN, the Student Project for Amity among Nations) visit to Belgrade, just months after the death of Stalin in 1953. Serbia circa 1953 was simple but civilized, full of spirit, building a new society.

My own such experience, studying Russian in Moscow in 1979, had the same impact on me, and accounts for my own struggle to save at least the ‘memory of memories’ of that lived reality so different, faulty but in many ways, far superior, to what US-Israel has left behind after our Doomsday Machine ate up that tasty morsel.

  1. Johnstone, Circle in the Darkness: Memoir of a World Watcher, Clarity Press, 2020, 94, 191.
  2. Eric Walberg, Canada Israel Nexus, Clarity Press, 2017, 66.
  3. Johnstone, op.cit., 160.

Toronto Wet’suwet’en Solidarity March

February 22, 2020. The sun was brilliant, the slogans and posters striking, the round dance in the heart of Canada’s financial district, the 6 concentric circles of the real Canadians, those who honour Canada’s First Nations, made February 22, 2020 a historic occasion. The largest show of native solidarity in Canada’s history, the day was celebrated across the country. Here are a few memories courtesy of my cell phone.

And here’s my take on Presstv. I’m on at 3:30.

Not only is it obscene to dig up and export our precious natural resources, but this particular pipeline is doubly odious. It is to export FRACKED gas. That means pounding the priceless lands in the Rockies, effectively bludgeoning Mother Nature, raping her to squeeze the last gasp of poisonous gas, so we can heat up her up even faster.

Passing around the burning sage at Queens Park

The demonstrators were/are young, newly ‘energized’, using our renewable ‘energy’ without any pollution. We sense that time is short, that Mother Earth’s human children look evil these days, that we have a moral duty to protest, to stop this ‘Coastal GasLink’ pipeline, to stop all pipelines.

Passing the memorial to Canadians who died in the Boer War; i.e. , for Apartheid

 

 

GasLink snake in the grass

 

I love the homemade, heartfelt cardboard posters best.

Passing our halls of justice

 

Dancing round East, South, West, and North (black, red, yellow, white)

Long live Mother Earth! Long live the Wet’suwet’en!

• Photos by Eric Walberg

A Nation of Lonely People in Dysfunctional Situations

Denied entry to the US (who knows why, and welcome to the club),1 I must take solace as a writer, traveller, travel writer, in others’ experiences in the creaking monster to the south (of Canada, but, hey, of most of the exploited world). In the writings of those ‘lucky’ enough in live there or at least visit at will.

Gene Weingarten, One Day: The extraordinary story of an ordinary 24 hours in America, Blue Rider, 2019.

Denied entry to the US (who knows why, and welcome to the club),* I must take solace as a writer, traveller, travel writer, in others’ experiences in the creaking monster to the south (of Canada, but, hey, of most of the exploited world). In the writings of those ‘lucky’ enough in live there or at least visit at will.

Weingarten starts from literally scratch, pulling a year, month and date out of a hat with scribbled numbers on bits of paper. The only limit was in the year; between 1969 and 1989, ‘far enough in the past to feel like ‘history’ and have a future to explore, but not so far so witnesses would be hard to find.’

He landed on December 28, 1986, at first, in disappointment, as it was a Sunday (bad ‘news’ day) and worse yet, the news doldrums of post-Christmas. But he forged ahead, assuming fate had something to tell him. He started out interviewing a few HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) types he saw in 60 Minutes, but even they drew a blank (!)

But after 6 years of research and writing, it turns out Weingarten hit a winner, though his journalist talent alone could turn a pig skin into a gold mine.

He cleverly sketches out a full range of Americana: lots of murders, of course, but also a historic moment in medicine (longest surviving heart transplant), crazy politics of race (Koch blowing his chances at a fourth term as mayor of New York), miraculous escapes from death, a vicious lawyer turned nice transwoman, lots of ex-soldiers, corrupt police … A page-turner from start to finish.

You can’t help but love all his characters (okay, a couple murderers excepted). And be overwhelmed by the feeling of a huge (too huge) nation wildly careering into a dystopic future, full of half-digested bits of flotsam washed up on the shores of what was once the world’s last pristine continent, and is now … Read it and laugh and cry.

One Day starts with a Romeo and Juliet American-style drama (insanely jealous Mark shoots Karen then himself, but only his brain, so his body is kept alive to allow harvesting the still-beating heart). You witness the delicate, urgent dance with donor’s family, recipient, the logistics of the getting-the-live-heart-to-hospital, then the breathtaking operation itself, all the ifs and buts.

To top it off, a ‘white’ male heart going into a black female body, to the tune of a twangy country ballad, thanks to Lefrak, ‘a liberal northeastern Jewish urban Yankees fan who happened to have a taste for country music.’ 28 years later, Lefrak now retire, a country gentleman volunteering at a local clinic with his wife, and the new heart owner, Eva, once again a nurse, accepting and thankful for ‘Romeo’:

Someone loved someone so hard they couldn’t bear to live without them. [Such a crime] comes out of something good. And something good came out of that.

The creepy, lecherous episode was courtesy of patrolman Craig Peyer, who ambushed young blondes driving alone along a bit of highway near a disused exit, terrorizing them but not going the whole hog until the fateful encounter with Cara Knott, whose training in resisting a rapist ended up getting her strangled and dumped in a nearby canyon.

This was before the days of DNA testing, but there was tons of circumstantial evidence and he was convicted. Peyer insisted on his innocence, but when DNA testing was developed, he refused. A nice irony,

just as Nazis’ meticulous record-keeping created evidentiary problems for them when they faced tribunals of justice, Peyer’s hot pencil had given prosecutor Pfingst a gift. By stopping so many cars that night [for minor infractions, to issue tickets and suss out possible victims], Peyer allowed Pfingst to create a convincing timeline.

Instead of ‘finding a complement in each other,’Cynthia and Don-Paul’s midlife-crisis marriage became ‘an unnerving echo of the darker part of themselves.’ Cynthia was keeping a diary, providing a pre-internet trail of her brief attempt to find love again. 28 years later, she and Don-Paul are still single, her daughter happily married. A dismal but sort-of happy ending. ‘Life is essentially a fatal disease of indeterminate duration. You can either cry at the unfairness of this or laugh at its absurdity.

Ed and Ellie Krug

Ellie Krug is better looking than Ed. Ed’s weak chin is now Ellie’s dainty one. His ferrety beak became a perky nose.

At his center he was not, as he had initially assumed, a man who wanted sex with men. He was a woman who wanted sex with men. And maybe with women, too. It was a complicated landscape.

‘Killer Krug’ was notorious for defending the bad guy in injury cases, but depicted in a Cedar Rapids Gazette special feature on model families with his daughters and loving wife, despite his conflicted identity,

a stratagem, … the suicide bomber technique: You make a heroic video to forced your own hand, using the specter of shame as a threat to preempt cold feet.

9/11/01 was his Damascus moment. A Bostonian, it could have been him on one of those planes. As s/he transitioned (he eventually took the final step), s/he tried to continue his/her prosecution of a ‘victim in a wheelchair, the date of his accident tattooed large on a forearm.’ She no longer had the killer instinct, and Krug Law Firm was kaput. One daughter disowned him/her, but 18 years later was living with Ellie. Ellie has had three short romances, one with a man and two with women; now she is lonely.

Michael Green should have died in the home fire, but the blackened lump was scooped up and taken out, nursed back to ‘life’, though with stumps for hands, a horror-movie face, and a body covered in scars. Yet, 28 years later,

He’s adroit with a smart phone. Somehow he types 35 words a minute. The only thing he cannot do for himself, he informs you solemnly, is tie shoes with laces.

He plays soccer and teaches it at a a summer camp for burned kids. He came to Weingarten’s attention when he sued Six Flags Over Texas amusement park near Dallas, demanding the right to ride on the rollercoaster, a story which went viral in 2012. (He lost. He ‘is not big on vengeance, but he does figure that he managed to take Six Flags on a scary ride of its own, at least for a little while.’

Battle of Jenkins Ferry, Pine Bluff Arkansas

The enduring anti-black/native racism in America was starkly seen in a battle over a Confederate-era flag of the Jefferson Guard, seized during the Civil War by Illinois, which was returned to Clinton-era Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in a Confederate reenactment,

in full regalia with Civil War-era rifles,’ including a drummer boy. There was nothing official about this: Arkansas had not yet seceded, though the rebel sentiments of the citizenry were clear. This flag could have been absolutely anything, and basically it was a little bit of everything. It all meant what it meant, whatever that was.

‘Amidst all the hundreds of people crowding the courthouse Sunday afternoon, there was not a single black face,’ thought 40% of Pine Bluff was African American. Historian David Perdue told the nostalgia buffs ‘We are one nation now, and we are whole and healthy.’

A very sordid Romeo and Juliet was Teana and Dave, who together murdered Teana’s parents and then dumped the bodies over a retaining wall, leaving lots of evidence. The police used a nifty new chemical Luminol which glowed an electric blue under a black light where there were traces of blood, lighting up much of the tiny house.

The 2,800 page court transcript showed Teana trying to play crazy, but student friends related how she was trying to get help for the murder just a few months before, and was totally in control of Dave. Teana claimed she was molested by her father and leant out to orgies, but her devout parents belied this.

The town of Winslow was traumatized and rumors immediately circulated that the pentacostal pastor Kern Qualkenbush was having an affair with Teana’s mother, and he and his wife Velda were involved in Satanic rituals. Their little white house with picket fence was burned and they fled.

Teana was sentenced to only 8 years (she was 16) and Dave got two concurrent 60-year prison terms. Now lesbian, she is happily married to Annette with a step-grandson Malachi, and works at Veterans Affairs, a friend of dog shelters.

A wild, upside-down Romeo and Juliet is Bob Stevenson and a very pregnant Melody Marshall of Cherry Hill, NJ, married in Jamaica 12/28/86. Ten years later, Bob pulverized Melody in a drunken rage, after he eavesdropped to hear she was still an addict, ordering percocet, and at the same, contacting a divorce lawyer. He feared that an increasingly pro-feminist legal system would give her custody of their son Bobby.

They both knew his attack was terrible, and both wanted to stay together, but the court issued a lifetime restraining order. Bob jumped bail, fled and assumed a new identity. Melody followed with Bobby. But their son Bobby was turning into a hockey star, and team members in Redondo Beach CA (Bob moved to the second best center for kids’ hockey) soon identified him as Bobby Stevenson. ‘No,’ Bobby said. ‘I’m Bobby Ryan.’ No one squealed, but the jig was up in 2000 when Bob foolishly used an old credit card. American-style justice followed:

4:45am a SWAT raid when a 20-member team of federal marshals broke in the door. They had automatic weapons and riot shields.

Bob ‘Ryan’ got 5 years (‘Light or harsh? Maybe common sense.’) and was out on parole in 2005, when he took Bobby to Ottawa for the National Hockey League Entry Draft, where he was picked up. A news photo showed Bob and Bobby grinning together, a no-no, and Bob was put under house arrest for 18 months. In 2014 Bobby Ryan hit the hockey jackpot with a $50 million, 7-year contract with the Ottawa Senators. The restraining order was never formally rescinded but ‘love conquers all.’ Or maybe a child. ‘The one thing they shared with equal passion was love for their son and concern for his well-being.’

Gas Attack (Klever, 1968)

A cold shower on 12/28/86 was the much-hyped Aeroflot full of Russian Americans returning to the Soviet Union, in ‘the final momentous, pitiful last days of the Cold War.’ Weingaren highlights Valery Klever, his wife Lidiya and daughter Karina. Klever, a famous dissident artist, and family were expelled in 1977 and he/ they hated life in America. They returned to Moscow and he died shortly after. Weingarten captures the poignancy and nasty subtext of Valery’s art: like Bulgakov’s 1930s novel

Master and Margarita, where people aren’t ‘disappeared’, they literally disappear—poof!—in the middle of the street and no one seems to think there is anything unusual about it. Unsubtle but also plausibly deniable.

His wife and daughter returned to the US, where both Lidiya and Karina became high power IT businesswomen, loving and hating America.

Karina Klever: The Soviet Union infantilized people. You became entitled, compliant, complacent. On perpetual welfare, given the basics, but not well off. You learned to accept that.

Most of these vignettes show a fatally flawed country, with too much freedom, no responsibility, lives laced with tragedy — a son dying in a freak Jet Ski accident, Jerry Garcia destroying himself on crack etc, gruesome murders, guns and more guns. Lots of prison, but also with healing and the up side of prison — removal from the scene of ongoing crime, the chance to complete high school, even university, eventually building a new life — all starting from some seemingly chance event on 12/28/86.

A nation of lonely people in dysfunctional situations. Where there are often worse things than being alone, occasionally better ones.

  1. My fateful attempt to experience the underbelly of the beast firsthand was a bike trip along the south shore of Lake Erie to the legendary Chautauqua (of Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance fame) and on to the eastern Grand Canyon, Letchworth State Park. I recommend this bike trip to any Canadian (anyone) who doesn’t fear Homeland Security’s Guantanamo-style greeting at any Port of Entry (all passports are on DHS computers). I had ‘booked’ several couchsurfing nights; the locals are generous, if mostly poor, this backwater being one of the many post-industrial failures, where only skiers and wanderers thrive. I hope none of my ‘contacts’ suffered for knowing me.

    Other documentarists of America’s slow, fitful and often outrageously violent decline are Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America , Belen Fernandez, Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World, on native experience, works by Estes, Treuer.

Western Imperialism Stokes Resistance

Tim Anderson’s Axis of Resistance: Towards an Independent Middle East takes on the leftist position of ‘a plague on all your houses’. Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, ‘the intellectual voice of the Syrian revolution’ (for westerners), presents a bleak portrait of “three monsters … treading on Syria’s corpse”: (1) the Assad regime and its allies, (2) DAESH/ISIS and the other jihadists, and (3) the West (the USA, UK, France, etc). This is the general view from outside the Syrian cauldron, but leads nowhere.

I remember the view from Cairo, where I was writing for Al-Ahram Weekly as the ‘Arab Spring’ exploded. The first few months of 2011 in Egypt saw the collapse of the pro-western dictator Hosni Mubarak, and a wave of uprisings in the region, including Syria. Would protestors succeed there too, I asked myself. But the Syrian army was not behind the protests, as was the case in Egypt, where the army was angered by Mubarak’s embarrassing attempt to promote his younger son1 as heir. There was no such split in Syria, despite resentment of the Alawite dominance and persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I realized that any uprising was doomed, more so, since Assad was not Mubarak, and both domestically and internationally represented the broad interests of Syrians, seen by the West as the last of the Baath anti-imperialist socialists. Yes, quick to jail dissidents, but what else is new? If I were a Syrian eager for change, I would have bitten the bullet and done my best to calm the waters (and hopefully not have left a trail leading me to prison). There is no rose garden for anyone these days.

Erdogan vs Putin

Erdogan’s stab in Assad’s back was the final straw, revealing the metastasizing Syrian debacle as a western-Turkish effort, Turkey waiting for the chance to reassert its Ottoman muscles, with NATO hovering in the background. Anderson documents the gory details of what followed, where Putin shines as the knight in shining armour, also stabbed by Erdogan (shooting down Russian plane in 2015), but resolute enough to move forward, the goal to defeat ISIS and stabilize Syria, not letting it fall to the imperialists. Some key observations Anderson makes about Turkey2:

  • ‘Direct Russian air power engagement in Syria not only degraded DAESH and Jabhat al Nusra, it exposed Turkish President Erdogan’s backing for DAESH. In late 2015 Russia’s Defence Ministry presented photographic evidence of convoys of trucks stealing Syrian oil and taking it for sale in Turkey.’
  • Erdogan’s government had worked ‘hand in glove with ISIS’, in particular through Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency, to develop a relationship in which ‘both sides benefit.’
  • ‘Russia’s relations with Israel are a major difference, but that does not destroy the common interests that made Russia an ally of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah.
    *Having backed the al-Qaeda armies against Damascus, Erdoğan claimed the Syrian refugees were fleeing the ‘cruelty, oppression and violence’ of the Assad government (Daily Sabah 2018), as he pressured Europe with sustained political demands.
  • Over 2018-19 Erdoğan maintained this refugee threat in an attempt to stall off the looming Syrian-Iranian-Russian operation against his ‘jihadist’ proxies in Idlib. He was holding that province as a bargaining chip, using what had become a Turkish protectorate within Syria as a ‘security zone’. In April 2016 Syria’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun, told this writer: ‘Tell [the Europeans] to stop the war on Syria. The refugees will stop within one day. Within one month they will return.’
  • All along, refugees have been returning, though what should be encouraged by the West (where refugees of all kinds are desperately fleeing), i.e., working with Assad to bring this about, was rejected. Instead, Assad was pilloried ceaselessly in western media, and the Syrian government suffered (still suffers!) under the US-Israel strategy of siege/ subversion of ‘enemies’. The West’s lust for regime change meant tragedy for countless millions of Syrians.

    US-Israeli strategy in the Middle East has always been to subjugate independent peoples and dominate the entire region. By this logic, resistance forces must be kept fragmented. Regardless of any specific pretext for each conflict, the wave of bloody aggression has a single aim: to secure privileged access to the region’s resources and so dictate terms of access to Russia, China and any other outside power.

    US-Israel is so confident of itself and its privilege to control the world, that anything that interferes with this is considered terrorism/evil/whatever. This is why Iran is so crucial in preventing US-Israel from succeeding. We are treated to ‘news’ couched in US-Israel doublespeak: a ‘shia crescent’ is haunting Europe, to paraphrase the opening words of the Communist Manifesto.

    Axis: Shia Arc or Band of Brothers?

    We are fed conspiracy stories about a subversive corridor for Iran to the Mediterranean, to threaten US-Israel. What Anderson calls ‘the axis of resistance’, which Lebanese analyst Marwa Osman argues ‘was pushed into existence by continuous western hegemony and has less to do with its religious identity and more to do with its principled independence, great capacity and independent political will.’

    It is amusing to note those who lauded Trump for assassinating Soleimani, the key figure in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq, revered at home, visiting neighbouring Iraq on official business, putting the US on an equally notorious par with Israel, which assassinates Palestinians, officials and non-officials, men, women, and children alike, on an almost daily basis. A House of Representatives War Powers non-binding resolution that was all theater and did nothing to limit the president’s unilateral ability to go to war with the Islamic Republic. It was non-binding, because the House knows ahead of time that Trump would veto anything binding if the Senate had the nerve to pass it.

    Various US politicians (Lindsey Graham first off the mark) lauded Trump, agreeing with him that Soleimani is a terrorist responsible for thousands of deaths of US citizens. No US politician questioned that narrative, just criticizing Trump for acting without notifying Congress. Italy’s Salvini and the US lobbyists for both sides in Libya, and ISIS, which issued a personal thanks to Trump. Boris Johnson (‘we will not lament his death’), a nod and wink at Trump.

    Johnson was right that ‘Soleimani posed a threat to all our interests.’ That makes him a bad guy, so we are fed by mainstream media, whose ‘actions led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and western personnel.’ Note lumping ‘western personnel’ (i.e., US soldier-occupiers) with poor ‘innocent civilians’.

    No room for ‘deaths of thousands of unwanted occupiers who, we might remind BoJo, are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths of ‘innocent civilians’ and resistance fighters. The deaths of occupier soldiers are all accepted by international law, since they are aimed at liberating their countries from unwanted, illegal occupiers. (Same goes in Palestine.) Any US soldier in both Iraq and Syria is fair game for resistance fighters, as they are there as occupiers, where both governments demand their withdrawal.

    Anderson looks at the various wars which US-Israel wage, and at the axis of resistance (Shia or otherwise) coalescing to confront the aggressors. ‘The resistance in particular countries can and should be studied, but their integration into the regional resistance remains critical to their success.’ These forces include the Syrian regime, Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemenis, Iraq and Iran. At some point, Afghanistan should become part of this alliance.

    This new ‘arc’ will feature China in the background, after Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi’s visit to China in November, where he signed a huge deal putting China in control of reconstruction. Trump et al were furious and threatened to destabilize Iraq. What happened? A few weeks later, riots broke out against the government and Iran. Trump insists on Iraq paying half of oil revenues to the US for assistance in reconstruction, i.e., in rebuilding what the US occupiers destroyed, or Iraq would face worse sanctions than Iran.

    When the Iraqi parliament called for the immediate departure of US troops last week, Alsumaria TV reported the warning by US State Department First Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hood that, “If we withdraw from Iraq, the investors will exit and ISIS will return.” What he openly threatens is that the US will cook up more action from ISIS, (remember, ISIS openly thanked Trump for assassinating Soleimani, the real brains behind the defeat of ISIS). When will Americans wake up to the reality that the US and Israel support ISIS, use ISIS, to further their own intrigues? Time to call the terrorists by their real name — US-Israel-ISIS?

    China is finally coming out of its hermetic shell. It is the world’s biggest ‘investor’, and will be happy to fill the ‘vacuum’ in Iraq. But it will be the axis of resistance, with Russia in the key position, that will fight US-Israel-ISIS. Cuba’s national hero Jose Marti said of the independent nations of Latin America in the late 19th century, facing both the Spanish and the rising North American empire: The trees must form ranks to keep the giant with seven-league boots from passing!

    Slings and arrows at resistance

    Anderson has faced the same barrage of attacks from the mainstream media that all critics of imperialism through the ages have had to bear.3 My own forging process as anti-imperialist was in Soviet days, when the same distorted, often lying propaganda was aimed there. It’s as if there is a propaganda machine perfected over the generations, which is merely tweaked to fit the latest enemy. Of course, neither the Soviet Union nor Syria, Libya, Iran, are/were paradises. But their essential worth as buttresses against lies and wars is dismissed, the narrative crafted to fit the imperialist agenda of divide-and-conquer.

    This century’s military, economic and propaganda wars against Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Libya and Syria have successfully conscripted western liberals, leftists, NGOs and of course the corporate and state media. Very few question the war narratives; and those who do are abused.

    The entire world is in thrall to US-Israel now. Iran, the only country standing up to this imperialist monster is abandoned by even anti-imperialist Russia and fairweather friend China. We are all imperialists’ is the new slogan etched in our minds as our unwanted credo in a world on the brink.

    As Anderson concludes, ‘support and respect is due to all independent peoples. It is not about whether we agree with everything they do. It is about respect for other peoples. Commitment to support their self-determination is our human responsibility.’

    1. Gamal (‘Jimmy’) and brother Alaa were jailed on embezzlement and then again in 2018 for stock market manipulation.
    2. Anderson, Axis, p 77, 213.
    3. He was suspended from his post at the University of Sydney in early December 2018 for ‘serious misconduct’ (showing students an image of a Nazi swastika superimposed over the Israeli flag) and subsequently terminated.

    Israel-Palestine: Time for Russia to Step up to the Plate

    Is Israel US property? In many ways, yes. Despite its willful ways, Israel is always pushing the envelope with the US. It has been getting away with murder since it was founded, abetted and funded by the US. But the US has failed, and Jared Kushner is the perfect envoy for this latest ultimatum, crafted by Netanyahu for his buddy Donald and his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law.

    The Arab puppet regimes are either silent (UAE, Bahrain, Oman) or more ‘urging to negotiate’ (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar). The Palestinians are being told: take this or lose the farm. West Bank settlements will proceed apace, the latest pending, with or without a ‘deal’.

    Only Turkey, Tunisia and Jordan dismissed it out of hand. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi of Jordan warned against the “dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures that aim to impose new realities on the ground.”

    The deal builds on the Oslo time bomb, which essentially accepted the occupation by creating Area A (under full Palestinian control), and Areas B and C (under Israeli military control), as already part of the State of Israel. The plan also

    1. immediately annexes territories in the West Bank, newly built and under construction, the first stage in the annexation of the Jordan Valley and all the settlements.
    2. redraws Israel’s borders.
    3. proposes a tunnel from Gaza to the West Bank.
    4. cuts off ‘Palestine’ from Jordan.

    Israel as Soviet-Russian invention

    But Israel is actually beholden to the Soviet Union for its survival in 1948, before its founders turned right and joined the US-led Cold War. Putin is very friendly with Israeli leaders. 20% of Israelis are Russian-speaking immigrants. The founders of Israel, Ben Gurion and Begin, were communists. Ben Gurion wrote an ode to Lenin, and Begin was an NKVD agent. Russian is almost a lingua franca in Israel.

    Russia’s intervention in Syria, though problematic and far from peaceful, is considered a success in defeating ISIS, in alliance with Iran. This is actually a revival of Soviet foreign policy, as Syria was an ally of the Soviet Union and modeled itself on the ‘real existing socialism’ of the 1960s-70s. Israel abandoned its socialist roots long ago, and Russia is both feared and respected by Israelis. Putin is no one’s puppet.

    The battle for Syria is not over and is not in Israel’s imperial, hegemonic interests. Russia is an ally of Iran there, in opposition to Israel. Both Russia and Israel have lost planes due to Israel’s meddling. Israel acts with relative impunity against Iranian troops. Russian-Israeli relations are complicated.

    Reviving Soviet peace policy

    Russia is playing a mediating, balancing role, as opposed to the US, Israel and Turkey, all pursuing their own warlike agendas. It looks now as if the Assad regime will survive and Syria will be able to rebuild (China is ready and willing), despite Turkey, Israel and the US. The next step is bringing some semblance of peace to Palestine. Why not a Putin-Netanyahu-Abbas ‘deal of the century’, though it won’t be written by Netanyahu or Gantz, and it will lack Trump’s preening ego.

    A Russian solution would be based on UN Security Council resolutions and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, and should/ would include

    1. an end of settlements and negotiations over what to do with existing settlements.
    2. some form of federation allowing for
    3. Jerusalem as a shared city of peace
    4. open borders.

    This will require disarming settlers and removing them if necessary, or at least a trade in lands. It will probably be a one-state solution, feasible when Israel has been confronted with its sins, and is finally accepted as part of the geopolitical region on terms of equality, not terror and war.

    Whether or not it is called Jewish is a moot point, as long as all citizens are treated equally. Birobaidjan is a Jewish Autonomous Region in the Russian Federation, though only 4% of citizens there are Jewish. Whether Israel-Palestine is 40% or 60% Jewish is not a problem. Muslim states have always been tolerant, believing there is ‘no force in religion’.

    Putin is in a unique historical moment. A strong, respected leader, very sympathetic to the plight of Jews in WWII, and respectful of Israel as a powerful, disciplined state (just as Stalin respected Hitler’s powerful German state in the 1930s). But more important, he also has the Soviet legacy of support for third world revolution against imperialism, the same spirit that inspires Palestinians and their supporters today.

    Roots of Russian-Palestinian friendship

    Reading Ramzy Baroud’s These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian stories of struggle and defiance in Israeli prisons (2019) is like reading a rousing account of Russian communist partisans in WWII or revolutionaries in Tsarist Russian before 1917.

    The passion in Dareen Tatour’s Resist, my people, resist them, that Israel considered so dangerous that she was imprisoned for 3 months then placed under house arrest in Tel Aviv, away from her family for 2 years 8 months. Then hounded by the Nazareth district court for another 5 months behind bars. She was told if she wrote any more political poetry, she would be immediately given even more prison time.

    In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows
    And carried the soul in my palm
    Of an Arab Palestine.
    I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution’
    Never lower my flags
    Until I evict them from my land. …

    Russians are unapologetic romantics, proud of their leading role in defeating fascism. Alexey Maresyev, a military pilot who became a Soviet fighter ace during World War II despite becoming a double amputee, was portrayed in Boris Polevoy’s bestselling novel, The Story of a Real Man, and inspired Sergei Prokofiev’s last opera. Such heroes remind Russians today of their heroic, tragic past, their responsibility before history. His valour and devotion to the liberation of then-occupied Russia is like a page out of Baroud’s touching testimonials.

    The Palestinians see Russia as an ally of sorts, supportive of Hamas, criticizing Israel for its settlements and persecution. Meanwhile, Israel eagerly courts Russia, as was seen at the Auschwitz commemoration in Jerusalem in January, where Russian foreign minister Lavrov wept, and Putin’s address was given the highest respect.

    Liberating Berlin photo by (Jewish) Soviet Yevgeny Khaldei


    Russia was acknowledged there as the real liberator of Jews in WWII, unlike commemorations in the West that play up the US and Britain as the liberators of Europe, scandalously rewriting history to their liking. Netanyahu is smart, pressing the right buttons, not fearing to slight Poland, which has never owned up to the murder of Jews by Poles under the approving eye of the German occupiers. Ask many Poles who liberated them, and you will see steam coming out their ears.

    A firm hand in wrestling a deal with Israel is possible. Putin has respect from both sides, does not have the baggage of condoning and financing settlements, and is not so beholden to an Israel lobby, such as it exists in Russia (though Russian media is uniformly pro-Israel).

    Of course, with Trump in office, no Russian proposal will fly. The Middle East Quartet (UN, US, EU, Russia, founded 2002), intended to mediate the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, could be resuscitated under anyone-but-Trump. Just as serious Russian involvement in Syria brought about the defeat of ISIS and stabilization of the state of Syria, Russia spearheading a realistic plan, willing to face down the handful of settler fanatics, could reset the stage for progress.

    Ex-prisoner Khalida Jarrar’s words emphasize that the Palestinian struggle is universal.

    Someday, the walls of every prison may come tumbling down, ushering in the age of Palestinian freedom.

    A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind. The last racist, apartheid state kaput. The was the dream from Soviet days and stands today as the goal of all humanity, with Russia the key player.

    Whittaker Chambers or Alger Hiss: Who’s the Real Traitor?

    Though #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for 13 weeks in 1952, beloved of William Buckley and Ronald Reagan (“As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire.”), despite being hailed as “one of the dozen or so indispensable books of the century” (George Will), Witness quickly disappeared from our collective consciousness. We remember its most famous victim, Alger Hiss, as a nice guy who was mercilessly hounded, the prelude to the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, a gruesome stain on US history.

    Chambers was a talented writer, penning popular short stories in the New Masses in 1931, a full time editor and journalist at Time. His autobiography is full of details of both sides of the so-called treachery of the times, and Chambers’ own ruminations about love and death and the whole damn thing. It swings from over-the-top self-righteousness to self-abnegation, maniacal zeal as a communist, then as a spy, then as self-proclaimed Mr Right, and woe to anyone standing in the way of his mission to Save the World from Communism.

    Like his closeted father, his uncle and brother, all of whom committed suicide, he was possessed by a demon, which drove him to an early grave, working 36-hour days at Time in the 1940s, first doing book reviews, then editing the foreign news page (till he had his second heart attack), then back to books. His fellow journalists resented his new-found conservative attacks on their liberal New Dealer mindset, seeing them all as commie dupes. He immortalized himself destroying the careers of ‘good guys’, Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White among many others, for their idealistic sins. He became a born-again Quaker, though, like fellow Quaker Richard Nixon, he still believed in ‘just wars’ against commies.

    Victims

    His worldview was apocalyptic, first through pink lenses, then puritan. Evil is the central problem of human life. The two opposing worldviews: man as flawed/ sinful (Christianity) vs man as good/ perfectable (enlightenment, liberalism -> communism).

    Alger Hiss

    Alger Hiss

    We remember only Alger Hiss as Chambers’ victim, but Hiss got off lucky. Chambers exposed Harry Dexter White (1892–1948), the senior American official at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that established the postwar economic order, as a spy. White died of a heart attack shortly after HUAC hearings in 1948.

    White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

    Hiss was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 1950 (for perjury, as his ‘crimes’ were from 1938) serving only three years and eight months. While in prison, Hiss acted as a volunteer attorney, adviser, and tutor for many of his fellow inmates. Disbarred, he served as a lowly clerk until in 1975, he was readmitted to the Massachusetts bar, the first time a convicted felon was reinstated. The contents of the ‘pumpkin papers’ were finally revealed as of no importance to state security.

    White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

    Hiss insisted to the end he was innocent. Witness certainly reveals Chambers and Hiss as close friends for as long as Chambers remained in the party. What kind of spy was White? “The economics White advocated were hardly Marxist. They were by this time what would be described as thoroughly Keynesian … As for White’s domestic politics, these were mainstream New Deal progressive, and there is no evidence that he admired communism as a political ideology. White’s daughters still strongly maintain his innocence.1 Chambers crucified Hiss and White merely for wanting to treat the Soviets as what they were — allies, friends.

    Revenge

    Despite his protestations of fighting evil, what Chambers really was after was personal revenge. He had believed and found his faith was betrayed by Stalin’s crimes, which he now believed included wanting WWIII and world conquest, though we must take his word, as there is no evidence of this in Chambers’ Witness (or anywhere else, to my knowledge, beyond rhetorical flourishes). He quotes his own draft Time editorial ‘Ghosts on the roof’ about the Yalta conference in 1945, where he portrayed the Soviet Union and US as ‘jet planes’ flying towards each other, where one has to destroy other. This virtual declaration of war was removed before it was published, though the new Cold War theme remained.

    His new Christian faith armed him for his heretical/ saintly battle against communists, despite his Time colleagues, who were all New Dealers riding high on the crest of WWII, when the Soviets were our friends. He made the transition from communist militant to communist heretic to Christian saint, always the mantra: ‘how could one man be right when so many say he’s wrong?’. Always the self-proclaimed martyr, forced to resign from Time, driving himself to an early death.

    His original name was Vivian, his father an artist, a father in name only, so, of course, he was bullied, a lonely child. He ran away from home and found work tearing up street car tracks for a few months, his stint with the proletariat. Born in 1901, he was 16 when the Russian revolution electrified the capitalist world, and like idealistic youth at the time, he searched out those allied with it. He tried the Webbs, Fabian socialism,  but ‘there was no life there. The reek of life was missing.’ To remake the world, socialism involved violent struggle to get and keep power.

    If you just read the first 300 pages of Witness, you can come away believing, like he did (but in his case, later with horror), that communism will triumph, despite the many horrors perpetrated in the name of the revolution under Stalin.

    He explains three influences on him in his testimony to the grand jury’s question ‘what does it mean to be a communist’: the Cheka founder Dzerzhinsky, who cleaned latrines in his Warsaw prison as an example to those less developed, the German Jew Eugene Levine, leader of the 1918-9 Bavarian Soviet Republic, when sentenced to death, who told his executioner a communist is ‘always under sentence of death’, and the Russian Narodnik Kalyaev/ Sazonov, who burned himself alive as protest against flogging.2

    Witness is an indictment of both great faiths of our times, capitalism (sorry, ‘freedom’) and communism. Both are doomed. WWI led to the Russian revolution. WWII has led to the last stage of the crisis with the rise of communism as a world power. Here, war led to revolution. Now it’s the reverse: revolution will lead to WWIII, launched by the communists to take control of the world. Wait a minute. Presumably capitalism/ freedom led to WWI and WWII. So now it’s communism leading to WWIII? Chambers sketched out the dubious scenario that would dominate the US zeitgeist for the next half century, and which continues today in the ‘war on terror’, now expanded to include Islam. It seems war is alive and well, sans communism, and is the result of capitalism/ freedom.

    We must always be on guard, as it is easy ‘to fall into the communist trap: The vision inspires, the crisis impels.’ Communism offers two powerful certainties: a reason to live and die. But this belies ‘a shallowness of thought, and leads to incalculable mischief in action.’ Though his argument is a pox on both houses, he retreats to the protection of the devil he knew first as the lesser of two evils, and exhorts us to seek salvation in religion, as the mistake was ‘man without god.’ One could never be a complete man without god. This is the fatal deficiency at the root of all the troubles of modern man.

    Chambers literally thanks the Lord for delivering him from evil. He saw the light. Breaking with communism was a religious experience, as indeed it was for other renegades like him. Elizabeth Bentley went through a similar life journey, becoming even more central to HUAC’s work, to the point that she became a full-time paid informer for the FBI. In 1948, like Chambers and Soviet defector Krivitsky, she has a spiritual awakening, becoming a Roman Catholic. She was frequently invited to lecture on the Communist threat by Catholic groups happy to pay her $300 fee. Krivitsky suddenly was (presumably) murdered in 1939 before he could be baptized Episcopalian.

    Chambers was convinced communism would triumph, explaining to his wife: we are leaving the winning world for the losing one. It is hard to take this seriously, given his litany of bungling, both petty and epic, of communists throughout the period. He heard about the Ukrainian famine in the early 30s, he knew first hand of the devastating purges, the Spanish civil war (i.e., the uncivil war of the Stalinists against the Trotskyists there), the rejection by the Comintern of a common front with social democrats in Germany in 1929, allowing Hitler to move easily into power.

    This movement was poised to conquer the world? He told Hiss of his doubts a few days before Christmas in 1938, just before breaking with the party. Hiss told him this was just ‘mental masturbation’. Hiss knew where the real danger to the world lay.

    Hiss forgave Chambers his doubts (he no doubt shared them) and wanted to stay friends, giving Chambers a present for his daughter even as Chambers was telling him he was finished with communism. As Chambers was preparing to rat on someone who appeared to be his closest friend at the time, this sweet gesture brought tears to his eyes. Chambers was a hopeless romantic who fell out of love, lost his faith, sought revenge for its betrayal of him, and subconsciously drove himself to an early grave, a long drawn out suicide, a family trait.

    Chambers’ accusations do have the ring of truth, but it is a personal vindictive truth, which ran roughshod over others’ lives in the cause of Chambers’ personal mission to save the world. He understands that communism is the logical conclusion of the enlightenment, liberalism, ‘Edwardian gluttonous pursuit of pleasure, secular good works, and progress,’3 but prefers staying at the level of gluttonous pursuit.

    The pumpkin legacy

    Chambers and his acolyte McCarthy did their best to destroy the best of American life, the New Dealers with their ideals and openness to ‘secular good works’ without the gluttony. I would hazard that he did just as much, no, more harm than Stalin’s very evil purging and hapless cat-and-mouse espionage. But Stalin’s purging was primarily of Russian communists or suspected Soviet plotters. I can’t think of one instance of real damage done to the West by Soviet spying. The Soviets were bound to crack the atom in any case, and, the sooner the better, given the anti-communist hysteria, when even Bertrand Russell toyed with the idea of a quick nuclear war before the Soviets had recovered from WWII.

    In fact, Soviet espionage was far more benign than that of the US. The CIA and others parachuted defectors behind ‘enemy lines’ to sabotage industry, later planted computer viruses into equipment the Soviets were importing, poisoned progressive thought through media control. Proof of this is found in the so-called Mitrokhin Archives. KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin was for 30 years KGB archivist in foreign intelligence, and brought every conceivable secret when he defected to Britain in 1992.

    Christopher Andrew’s Sword and the Shield (1992) and The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (2005), based on the archives show pathetically little in terms of subversion and no overarching plan to invade anywhere. Despite his anticommunist bias, Andrew shows that the KGB did little with the information it collected, which mostly involved technology acquisition, and which shows the reactive nature of Soviet undercover work—attempts to uncover sabotage by the West, use of blackmail to protect Soviet sources.

    Canada’s most celebrated Soviet spy was Fred Rose, Canada’s one and only communist MP. In 1945, when the Soviet Union was branded as Canada’s enemy, this led to the arrest of Rose and denial of his parliamentary immunity, when he was found guilty of conspiring to turn over information about the explosive RDX44 to the Soviets. The Soviet defector Gouzenko had stolen documents from the Soviet embassy, and alleged that Rose was leading a spy ring of up to 20 Soviet spies.

    He was never allowed to clear his name. Rose did not see sharing RDX information at the time as spying, as the Soviets were allies, doing most of the fighting against the Nazis, but he was quickly convicted. When released, his health broken, abandoned by his wife while in prison, he was unable to work, hounded by the RCMP, and finally emigrated to Poland. In later years, Rose admitted his error, saying, “I made one mistake in my life and I paid for it,” but he was denied the chance to clear his name of spying, as his Canadian citizenship was revoked in 1957, and his appeal was denied. Too late to matter, in 1958 Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Ellen Fairclough amended the Citizenship Act with the “Fred Rose amendment” so that such a removal of Canadian citizenship could never happen again.

    “The horror of treason is sin against the spirit,” Chambers wrote in reviewing Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason for Time in 1947 (which, he boasts was read by ‘a million more or less’). But isn’t that what Chambers did? Hiss (sort of) betrayed (in the interests of world peace). But Chambers too betrayed. He betrayed his friends, and for what? Imperialism?

    What about Forster’s “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”? Especially if ‘my country’ is doing nasty things.

    The muck of McCarthyism endures in our collective memory. Chambers’ recounting of his HUAC testimony is, as he puts it, comedy. The committee members (including Nixon who became his ‘valued friend’) were the uncouth, undignified, ungrammatical, rude and ruthless, as no decent members of congress wanted to serve on it. They were almost uniformly bigotted, emphasizing Jewish names when calling and interrogating witnesses. The images we remember, if any, are of Lauren Bacall and others marching in protest at the blacklisting and jailing of actors.

    It’s hard not to pity Chambers, who saw himself as testifying for something, rather than against people who were once his intimate friends, that is, he was blind to the harm he was doing to them. The HUAC media farce couldn’t help but portray him as the bad guy, even as the Cold War clouds were gathering. Those ‘witnessing’ the Hiss trials didn’t really care much about microfiche spools in pumpkins (though that was entertaining). They were fascinated, appalled by fat, pompous Whittaker’s tattling on, betraying his handsome, intellectual friend Alger, culminating in his sensational interview on Meet the Press in 1948, ‘a savage assault with little restraint or decency,’ ‘fun for the boys, death for the frogs.4 How could he stoop to this sordid business? To what end?

    He admits that he was ‘bringing ruin on the lives of so many people and … would never again really be able to live with myself.’ ‘The penalty is a kind of death, most deadly if a man must go on living. He admits his witnessing ‘destroyed himself to make his witness.’5 Hey, Whittaker, remember Stalin’s ‘you have to break eggs to make an omelette’?

    Bacall and Bogarte and other stars battle HUAC

    Bacall, Bogart and other stars battle HUAC

    He bemoans ‘the death of religious faith’, and takes shelter in Quakerism, but no one was listening. All they heard is the ugly HUAC clatter. Watched their beloved Hollywood stars like John Garfield, nice guys like White, dying of heart attacks as humiliated martyrs. My heroes are those brave enough to protest at the risk of their own careers (Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracey, Humphrey Bogart….). The list of wonderful Americans who stood up to the anti-communist hysterics like Whittaker Chambers is long, and will be remembered long after Chambers et al are consigned to the dustbin of history.

    Spydom’s legacy

    Ethel Rosenberg

    Whether or not Hiss et al were religious, whether or not they ‘sinned’ by breaking the law, they showed far more ‘spirit’ than newly christianized Chambers and Bentley. The victims have been slowly rehabilitated starting in the 1960s with Dalton Trumbo openly credited with the screenplay of Spartacus (1960). In 2015, New York City Council issued a proclamation stating that “the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg,” and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer officially recognized, “the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family,” and declared her birthday, September 28, “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.” In March 2016, Michael and Robert (via the Rosenberg Fund for Children) launched a petition campaign calling on President Obama to formally exonerate their mother. 60 Minutes presented the story of the Rosenberg children and their quest for justice.

    While Chambers was loudly lauded in his 1961 obits, Bentley (whose victims numbered 80) was passed over. Already by the 1960s, people were tired of the spy mania, and rightly, as the Soviet spies were (misguided?) idealists, each one a personal tragedy, shot down by traitors-to-the-cause. Few besides the Reagans and Buckleys remembers Chambers or Bentley et al as noble patriots, rightly, as they were (excuse me) rats escaping/ scuttling their ship, betraying their friends. It seems Hiss really was on Soviet spy lists, as revealed when archives were opened after 1991. Whether he was a ‘card-carrying communist’ and lied, I don’t know and don’t care.

    I do know that such spies as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Rudolph Abel and Kim Philby are now admired and increasingly honoured for their idealism and courage. They spied in the interests of humanity, against imperialism. I’m with them. Eat cake, Whittaker.

    Witness was dusted off for its 50th anniversary in 2002, with a foreword by William F Buckley, who recalls that only two years after its publication ‘almost total silence had closed in on him.’ In his foreword, Robert Novak, relying on Hungarian archives, harrumphs: So, the case is closed. Hiss was a liar, spy and traitor. But these inveterate Cold Warriors are wrong on all counts: communism was not the all-powerful ogre intent on war and conquest, it was wrong to betray you friends for believing what you did and then didn’t.

    Chambers’ ‘valued friend’, Nixon, made detente with the evil commies his greatest legacy. As communism mellowed, it turns out Christianity and communism are reconcilable after all.

    As the red scare and blacklist unravelled in the 1950s, the journalist who led the expose of Chambers in 1948, David Sentner, went on to arrange a visit by William Hearst Jr with Khrushchev in 1956, which won a Pulitzer Prize, leaving Chambers’ plans to orchestrate the destruction of the communist ‘jet plane’ in shambles.

    So where is Chambers/ Bentley’s legacy? Down there in Dante’s Ninth Circle—the “lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven”—with real American traitors like Jonathan Pollard (who gave away lots of genuine secrets) sentenced to life in 1987, granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, who despite Israeli pleas/ whining, is still under house arrest after 28 years in prison. Now there’s a real traitor — for all but the Israelis, who paint murals and name buildings (in east Jerusalem) in his honour.

    1. Benn Steil, The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (2013).
    2. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952), Foreword as a letter to my children, p. 38.
    3. Ibid., p. 499.
    4. Ibid., p. 702.
    5. Ibid., pp. 710, 693.

    Whittaker Chambers or Alger Hiss: Who’s the Real Traitor?

    Though #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for 13 weeks in 1952, beloved of William Buckley and Ronald Reagan (“As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire.”), despite being hailed as “one of the dozen or so indispensable books of the century” (George Will), Witness quickly disappeared from our collective consciousness. We remember its most famous victim, Alger Hiss, as a nice guy who was mercilessly hounded, the prelude to the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, a gruesome stain on US history.

    Chambers was a talented writer, penning popular short stories in the New Masses in 1931, a full time editor and journalist at Time. His autobiography is full of details of both sides of the so-called treachery of the times, and Chambers’ own ruminations about love and death and the whole damn thing. It swings from over-the-top self-righteousness to self-abnegation, maniacal zeal as a communist, then as a spy, then as self-proclaimed Mr Right, and woe to anyone standing in the way of his mission to Save the World from Communism.

    Like his closeted father, his uncle and brother, all of whom committed suicide, he was possessed by a demon, which drove him to an early grave, working 36-hour days at Time in the 1940s, first doing book reviews, then editing the foreign news page (till he had his second heart attack), then back to books. His fellow journalists resented his new-found conservative attacks on their liberal New Dealer mindset, seeing them all as commie dupes. He immortalized himself destroying the careers of ‘good guys’, Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White among many others, for their idealistic sins. He became a born-again Quaker, though, like fellow Quaker Richard Nixon, he still believed in ‘just wars’ against commies.

    Victims

    His worldview was apocalyptic, first through pink lenses, then puritan. Evil is the central problem of human life. The two opposing worldviews: man as flawed/ sinful (Christianity) vs man as good/ perfectable (enlightenment, liberalism -> communism).

    Alger Hiss

    Alger Hiss

    We remember only Alger Hiss as Chambers’ victim, but Hiss got off lucky. Chambers exposed Harry Dexter White (1892–1948), the senior American official at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that established the postwar economic order, as a spy. White died of a heart attack shortly after HUAC hearings in 1948.

    White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

    Hiss was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 1950 (for perjury, as his ‘crimes’ were from 1938) serving only three years and eight months. While in prison, Hiss acted as a volunteer attorney, adviser, and tutor for many of his fellow inmates. Disbarred, he served as a lowly clerk until in 1975, he was readmitted to the Massachusetts bar, the first time a convicted felon was reinstated. The contents of the ‘pumpkin papers’ were finally revealed as of no importance to state security.

    White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

    Hiss insisted to the end he was innocent. Witness certainly reveals Chambers and Hiss as close friends for as long as Chambers remained in the party. What kind of spy was White? “The economics White advocated were hardly Marxist. They were by this time what would be described as thoroughly Keynesian … As for White’s domestic politics, these were mainstream New Deal progressive, and there is no evidence that he admired communism as a political ideology. White’s daughters still strongly maintain his innocence.1 Chambers crucified Hiss and White merely for wanting to treat the Soviets as what they were — allies, friends.

    Revenge

    Despite his protestations of fighting evil, what Chambers really was after was personal revenge. He had believed and found his faith was betrayed by Stalin’s crimes, which he now believed included wanting WWIII and world conquest, though we must take his word, as there is no evidence of this in Chambers’ Witness (or anywhere else, to my knowledge, beyond rhetorical flourishes). He quotes his own draft Time editorial ‘Ghosts on the roof’ about the Yalta conference in 1945, where he portrayed the Soviet Union and US as ‘jet planes’ flying towards each other, where one has to destroy other. This virtual declaration of war was removed before it was published, though the new Cold War theme remained.

    His new Christian faith armed him for his heretical/ saintly battle against communists, despite his Time colleagues, who were all New Dealers riding high on the crest of WWII, when the Soviets were our friends. He made the transition from communist militant to communist heretic to Christian saint, always the mantra: ‘how could one man be right when so many say he’s wrong?’. Always the self-proclaimed martyr, forced to resign from Time, driving himself to an early death.

    His original name was Vivian, his father an artist, a father in name only, so, of course, he was bullied, a lonely child. He ran away from home and found work tearing up street car tracks for a few months, his stint with the proletariat. Born in 1901, he was 16 when the Russian revolution electrified the capitalist world, and like idealistic youth at the time, he searched out those allied with it. He tried the Webbs, Fabian socialism,  but ‘there was no life there. The reek of life was missing.’ To remake the world, socialism involved violent struggle to get and keep power.

    If you just read the first 300 pages of Witness, you can come away believing, like he did (but in his case, later with horror), that communism will triumph, despite the many horrors perpetrated in the name of the revolution under Stalin.

    He explains three influences on him in his testimony to the grand jury’s question ‘what does it mean to be a communist’: the Cheka founder Dzerzhinsky, who cleaned latrines in his Warsaw prison as an example to those less developed, the German Jew Eugene Levine, leader of the 1918-9 Bavarian Soviet Republic, when sentenced to death, who told his executioner a communist is ‘always under sentence of death’, and the Russian Narodnik Kalyaev/ Sazonov, who burned himself alive as protest against flogging.2

    Witness is an indictment of both great faiths of our times, capitalism (sorry, ‘freedom’) and communism. Both are doomed. WWI led to the Russian revolution. WWII has led to the last stage of the crisis with the rise of communism as a world power. Here, war led to revolution. Now it’s the reverse: revolution will lead to WWIII, launched by the communists to take control of the world. Wait a minute. Presumably capitalism/ freedom led to WWI and WWII. So now it’s communism leading to WWIII? Chambers sketched out the dubious scenario that would dominate the US zeitgeist for the next half century, and which continues today in the ‘war on terror’, now expanded to include Islam. It seems war is alive and well, sans communism, and is the result of capitalism/ freedom.

    We must always be on guard, as it is easy ‘to fall into the communist trap: The vision inspires, the crisis impels.’ Communism offers two powerful certainties: a reason to live and die. But this belies ‘a shallowness of thought, and leads to incalculable mischief in action.’ Though his argument is a pox on both houses, he retreats to the protection of the devil he knew first as the lesser of two evils, and exhorts us to seek salvation in religion, as the mistake was ‘man without god.’ One could never be a complete man without god. This is the fatal deficiency at the root of all the troubles of modern man.

    Chambers literally thanks the Lord for delivering him from evil. He saw the light. Breaking with communism was a religious experience, as indeed it was for other renegades like him. Elizabeth Bentley went through a similar life journey, becoming even more central to HUAC’s work, to the point that she became a full-time paid informer for the FBI. In 1948, like Chambers and Soviet defector Krivitsky, she has a spiritual awakening, becoming a Roman Catholic. She was frequently invited to lecture on the Communist threat by Catholic groups happy to pay her $300 fee. Krivitsky suddenly was (presumably) murdered in 1939 before he could be baptized Episcopalian.

    Chambers was convinced communism would triumph, explaining to his wife: we are leaving the winning world for the losing one. It is hard to take this seriously, given his litany of bungling, both petty and epic, of communists throughout the period. He heard about the Ukrainian famine in the early 30s, he knew first hand of the devastating purges, the Spanish civil war (i.e., the uncivil war of the Stalinists against the Trotskyists there), the rejection by the Comintern of a common front with social democrats in Germany in 1929, allowing Hitler to move easily into power.

    This movement was poised to conquer the world? He told Hiss of his doubts a few days before Christmas in 1938, just before breaking with the party. Hiss told him this was just ‘mental masturbation’. Hiss knew where the real danger to the world lay.

    Hiss forgave Chambers his doubts (he no doubt shared them) and wanted to stay friends, giving Chambers a present for his daughter even as Chambers was telling him he was finished with communism. As Chambers was preparing to rat on someone who appeared to be his closest friend at the time, this sweet gesture brought tears to his eyes. Chambers was a hopeless romantic who fell out of love, lost his faith, sought revenge for its betrayal of him, and subconsciously drove himself to an early grave, a long drawn out suicide, a family trait.

    Chambers’ accusations do have the ring of truth, but it is a personal vindictive truth, which ran roughshod over others’ lives in the cause of Chambers’ personal mission to save the world. He understands that communism is the logical conclusion of the enlightenment, liberalism, ‘Edwardian gluttonous pursuit of pleasure, secular good works, and progress,’3 but prefers staying at the level of gluttonous pursuit.

    The pumpkin legacy

    Chambers and his acolyte McCarthy did their best to destroy the best of American life, the New Dealers with their ideals and openness to ‘secular good works’ without the gluttony. I would hazard that he did just as much, no, more harm than Stalin’s very evil purging and hapless cat-and-mouse espionage. But Stalin’s purging was primarily of Russian communists or suspected Soviet plotters. I can’t think of one instance of real damage done to the West by Soviet spying. The Soviets were bound to crack the atom in any case, and, the sooner the better, given the anti-communist hysteria, when even Bertrand Russell toyed with the idea of a quick nuclear war before the Soviets had recovered from WWII.

    In fact, Soviet espionage was far more benign than that of the US. The CIA and others parachuted defectors behind ‘enemy lines’ to sabotage industry, later planted computer viruses into equipment the Soviets were importing, poisoned progressive thought through media control. Proof of this is found in the so-called Mitrokhin Archives. KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin was for 30 years KGB archivist in foreign intelligence, and brought every conceivable secret when he defected to Britain in 1992.

    Christopher Andrew’s Sword and the Shield (1992) and The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (2005), based on the archives show pathetically little in terms of subversion and no overarching plan to invade anywhere. Despite his anticommunist bias, Andrew shows that the KGB did little with the information it collected, which mostly involved technology acquisition, and which shows the reactive nature of Soviet undercover work—attempts to uncover sabotage by the West, use of blackmail to protect Soviet sources.

    Canada’s most celebrated Soviet spy was Fred Rose, Canada’s one and only communist MP. In 1945, when the Soviet Union was branded as Canada’s enemy, this led to the arrest of Rose and denial of his parliamentary immunity, when he was found guilty of conspiring to turn over information about the explosive RDX44 to the Soviets. The Soviet defector Gouzenko had stolen documents from the Soviet embassy, and alleged that Rose was leading a spy ring of up to 20 Soviet spies.

    He was never allowed to clear his name. Rose did not see sharing RDX information at the time as spying, as the Soviets were allies, doing most of the fighting against the Nazis, but he was quickly convicted. When released, his health broken, abandoned by his wife while in prison, he was unable to work, hounded by the RCMP, and finally emigrated to Poland. In later years, Rose admitted his error, saying, “I made one mistake in my life and I paid for it,” but he was denied the chance to clear his name of spying, as his Canadian citizenship was revoked in 1957, and his appeal was denied. Too late to matter, in 1958 Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Ellen Fairclough amended the Citizenship Act with the “Fred Rose amendment” so that such a removal of Canadian citizenship could never happen again.

    “The horror of treason is sin against the spirit,” Chambers wrote in reviewing Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason for Time in 1947 (which, he boasts was read by ‘a million more or less’). But isn’t that what Chambers did? Hiss (sort of) betrayed (in the interests of world peace). But Chambers too betrayed. He betrayed his friends, and for what? Imperialism?

    What about Forster’s “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”? Especially if ‘my country’ is doing nasty things.

    The muck of McCarthyism endures in our collective memory. Chambers’ recounting of his HUAC testimony is, as he puts it, comedy. The committee members (including Nixon who became his ‘valued friend’) were the uncouth, undignified, ungrammatical, rude and ruthless, as no decent members of congress wanted to serve on it. They were almost uniformly bigotted, emphasizing Jewish names when calling and interrogating witnesses. The images we remember, if any, are of Lauren Bacall and others marching in protest at the blacklisting and jailing of actors.

    It’s hard not to pity Chambers, who saw himself as testifying for something, rather than against people who were once his intimate friends, that is, he was blind to the harm he was doing to them. The HUAC media farce couldn’t help but portray him as the bad guy, even as the Cold War clouds were gathering. Those ‘witnessing’ the Hiss trials didn’t really care much about microfiche spools in pumpkins (though that was entertaining). They were fascinated, appalled by fat, pompous Whittaker’s tattling on, betraying his handsome, intellectual friend Alger, culminating in his sensational interview on Meet the Press in 1948, ‘a savage assault with little restraint or decency,’ ‘fun for the boys, death for the frogs.4 How could he stoop to this sordid business? To what end?

    He admits that he was ‘bringing ruin on the lives of so many people and … would never again really be able to live with myself.’ ‘The penalty is a kind of death, most deadly if a man must go on living. He admits his witnessing ‘destroyed himself to make his witness.’5 Hey, Whittaker, remember Stalin’s ‘you have to break eggs to make an omelette’?

    Bacall and Bogarte and other stars battle HUAC

    Bacall, Bogart and other stars battle HUAC

    He bemoans ‘the death of religious faith’, and takes shelter in Quakerism, but no one was listening. All they heard is the ugly HUAC clatter. Watched their beloved Hollywood stars like John Garfield, nice guys like White, dying of heart attacks as humiliated martyrs. My heroes are those brave enough to protest at the risk of their own careers (Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracey, Humphrey Bogart….). The list of wonderful Americans who stood up to the anti-communist hysterics like Whittaker Chambers is long, and will be remembered long after Chambers et al are consigned to the dustbin of history.

    Spydom’s legacy

    Ethel Rosenberg

    Whether or not Hiss et al were religious, whether or not they ‘sinned’ by breaking the law, they showed far more ‘spirit’ than newly christianized Chambers and Bentley. The victims have been slowly rehabilitated starting in the 1960s with Dalton Trumbo openly credited with the screenplay of Spartacus (1960). In 2015, New York City Council issued a proclamation stating that “the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg,” and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer officially recognized, “the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family,” and declared her birthday, September 28, “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.” In March 2016, Michael and Robert (via the Rosenberg Fund for Children) launched a petition campaign calling on President Obama to formally exonerate their mother. 60 Minutes presented the story of the Rosenberg children and their quest for justice.

    While Chambers was loudly lauded in his 1961 obits, Bentley (whose victims numbered 80) was passed over. Already by the 1960s, people were tired of the spy mania, and rightly, as the Soviet spies were (misguided?) idealists, each one a personal tragedy, shot down by traitors-to-the-cause. Few besides the Reagans and Buckleys remembers Chambers or Bentley et al as noble patriots, rightly, as they were (excuse me) rats escaping/ scuttling their ship, betraying their friends. It seems Hiss really was on Soviet spy lists, as revealed when archives were opened after 1991. Whether he was a ‘card-carrying communist’ and lied, I don’t know and don’t care.

    I do know that such spies as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Rudolph Abel and Kim Philby are now admired and increasingly honoured for their idealism and courage. They spied in the interests of humanity, against imperialism. I’m with them. Eat cake, Whittaker.

    Witness was dusted off for its 50th anniversary in 2002, with a foreword by William F Buckley, who recalls that only two years after its publication ‘almost total silence had closed in on him.’ In his foreword, Robert Novak, relying on Hungarian archives, harrumphs: So, the case is closed. Hiss was a liar, spy and traitor. But these inveterate Cold Warriors are wrong on all counts: communism was not the all-powerful ogre intent on war and conquest, it was wrong to betray you friends for believing what you did and then didn’t.

    Chambers’ ‘valued friend’, Nixon, made detente with the evil commies his greatest legacy. As communism mellowed, it turns out Christianity and communism are reconcilable after all.

    As the red scare and blacklist unravelled in the 1950s, the journalist who led the expose of Chambers in 1948, David Sentner, went on to arrange a visit by William Hearst Jr with Khrushchev in 1956, which won a Pulitzer Prize, leaving Chambers’ plans to orchestrate the destruction of the communist ‘jet plane’ in shambles.

    So where is Chambers/ Bentley’s legacy? Down there in Dante’s Ninth Circle—the “lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven”—with real American traitors like Jonathan Pollard (who gave away lots of genuine secrets) sentenced to life in 1987, granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, who despite Israeli pleas/ whining, is still under house arrest after 28 years in prison. Now there’s a real traitor — for all but the Israelis, who paint murals and name buildings (in east Jerusalem) in his honour.

    1. Benn Steil, The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (2013).
    2. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952), Foreword as a letter to my children, p. 38.
    3. Ibid., p. 499.
    4. Ibid., p. 702.
    5. Ibid., pp. 710, 693.

    Putin and Russia, the World’s “Heartland”

    Russia has always fascinated me–the mystical orthodox faith brought to Kievan Rus in the ninth century, the stern heroes who defended Muscovy against the Golden Horde in the 13–15th centuries,  the vast spaces, the remarkable literature of Pushkin and Tolstoy, the Bolshevik Revolution against imperialism … The West has always been a bit jealous of its proud race of genius.

    I fell in love with Russia as a teen when I discovered Sergei Prokofiev and insisted–rebelling against my teacher–on playing his fiendishly difficult Toccata in D minor for my Conservatory diploma. I have no idea how I managed it now, but I did, and the piece and my performance proved to be a fine metaphor for the logical impossibility of 20th century Russia, which lived on war and revolution, dreams and nightmares. Prokofieff returned to Russia in 1933, at the peak of Stalin’s repressions, and produced his greatest works, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Cinderella,” “War and Peace,” his war sonatas (not to mention his Ode to Stalin). That hooked me.

    Today’s standoff between the Russian bear and the American eagle is yet another epic struggle in Russia’s history, at the heart of Eurasia–the world’s “heartland”. It had a narrow brush with complete collapse in 1985–98 under Gorbachev/Yeltsin, a weak, indecisive leadership, a metaphorical reenactment of Boris Godunov seizing the throne in the 16th century. 1985–98 was a repetition of Godunov and the legendary Time of Troubles.

    1998 saw a reenactment of the rallying of the nation to expel the Polish occupiers and reassert Russian power in 1613, just as Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power ended the western invasion in the form of NATO encirclement and western carpetbaggers. That is most certainly how Russians now assess their crippled society.

    Putin is despised in the West as a corrupt chauvinist, and Russia is boycotted (though Europe is happy to continue to buy Russian oil and gas), but the reality is very different. Just as in 1613, the first Romanov Tsar Mikihail was inexperienced (a 17-year-old  pious prince whose counselors were a mixed bag, some relatively honest and capable men like his father; some, corrupted and bigoted), Putin has fashioned an image of an incorruptible Russian patriot, above the fray, but all the time juggling with powerful oligarchs and complex political currents, both at home and abroad.

    Western media is a barometer not so much for who is a ‘bad guy’, but who is getting the imperial goat; who needs being brought into line. So in the West, the Nobel peace laureate Gorbachev and Yeltsin were both slavishly praised (both are despised by Russians, rating 1% in popularity) and Putin is relentlessly pilloried. Who’s the ‘bad guy’ and why is he ‘bad’?

    The American bully tries to taunt the Russian bear into doing something rash, as it moves NATO up to Russia’s borders, encircling it as it did in Cold War days, wooing and inciting noisy little neighbours from the Baltics to Georgia and further. But the Russian leader stands by his principles and his fellow Slavs, despite the provocations. The Time of Troubles is over. No one is going to destroy the Russian heartland, nor will they succeed in breaking up the ancient slavic federation into a chain of Walmarts.

    1991 sea change

    Whether Left or Right, all agree that the US was more cautious in foreign policy when the Soviet Union was alive and well. There have been lots of coups instigated or just abetted by Washington, but, other than Korea and Vietnam, very little use of US troops in the process–until 1991.

    1991 marked a sea change in world politics. Bush senior, US president at the time, professed the goal to be “a new world order–a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations … an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the UN’s founders.”

    The US and the EEC (newly incorporated as the European Union in 1993) would help the ex-socialist bloc, including the ex-Soviet Union and its energy-rich Central Asian republics, rebuild their economies and political structures along western capitalist, democratic lines, fashioning weak, “postmodern states”, independent in name only. This process began in Europe with the creation of the EU after WWII and accelerated in North America with the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, soon to be reinforced by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, creating a monster ‘rimland’ American empire-lite, surrounding the Eurasian heartland.

    Such alliances, with NATO under US guidance, are intended as the foundations for a united, peaceful world, a “postmodern imperialism”, devoid of messy competitive wars for colonies, neocolonies or the need for a life-or-death defense of ‘western civilization’. Russia was invited to join in the 1990s, but when it woke from its post-collapse hangover, it discovered that its dream of a nuclear free world had been pushed aside, and realized that the proposed peaceful postmodern imperial order was a sham. Events since have only confirmed this ‘sober’ assessment.

    Bush senior hit the ground running, invading Iraq in January, without so much as a ‘by your leave’ to Soviet President Gorbachev (who merely approved, after an offer to mediate was ignored).

    1991 was a doubly fateful year for Russians, who gained ‘freedom’, but most of whom lost everything after the August 1991 putsch, a few becoming fabulously wealthy overnight through blatant theft as the Soviet Union came crashing down. Mikhail Khodorkovsky epitomizes the change. A Young Communist League (YCL) functionary in the late 1980s, when no one was still joining, he and his ‘comrades’ opened businesses under the YCL stamp, positioned themselves to transfer them and YCL property to themselves as YCL functionaries, and then bought it for a song before their Soviet legal authority was canceled. At the same time, all state trade ground to a halt and the black market allowed them to add to their riches.

    This happened in 1989–91, when Putin was languishing as a minor KGB agent in East Germany. By the time he returned to Leningrad, resigned from the KGB and got his political feet on the ground, the cupboard was bare. Khodorkovsky and his new ‘oligarch’ friends then used their new wealth to privatize the privatization process. By the time Putin was rising as Yeltsin’s protege, Yeltsin was conned into giving the crown jewels (resource industries) to the oligarchs in the infamous “loans-for-shares” deals, sending their wealth into the stratosphere.

    Slaying the dragons

    Russia is “no longer a superpower”. Its deteriorating economy is ranked “somewhere behind Spain”, White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced in October 2015. It doesn’t come near the Soviet Union in power and prestige. This taunt followed US scrambling of Russian military planes which were deemed a tad too close to a US aircraft carrier off the Korea peninsula, and US hysterics over Russian subs seen too near an internet cable in the Atlantic. How dare this second-rate Spain tweak the US nose?

    Every day there is some gripe about the Russians. And don’t even mention the P word. Much like Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin is a strong, popular leader (83% approval) who dares defy the West, has been in power for over 15 years now (ok, as prime minister for a few years to requalify), accused of corruption.

    To Russians, it seems he can do nothing wrong, despite defying the West on pretty well everything, from gay marriage to bare-faced western infiltration (excuse me, democracy promotion NGOs). Or perhaps it’s because of this. Russians strongly disapprove of US threats, and miss the feeling of being a key international player, which they enjoyed in Soviet times.

    Western media loves to gossip about all political leaders, especially colourful ones who defy the empire. That puts Putin at the top of their list. Even a saint like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez got an unending stream of mud. The most damning attacks are on the corruption endemic in Russia after 1991. However, evidence of corruption points at most to Putin’s immediate circle, family and political friends, rather than Putin himself. His son-in-law Kiril Shamalov was already a rising star of Russian business when he married the president’s daughter Katerina in 2013, opening his own investment company and using his family contacts in business and banking (apparently all legit).

    Putin’s own background and way of thinking is revealed in a collection of interviews with Putin, his family and friends called First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russian President Vladimir Putin (2000), a snapshot of the Putin family just as they entered the bubble of power and anonymity. His early career witnessed two scandalous, dysfunctional political families–that of his first post-KGB boss, St Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and later that of Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s ex-wife and two daughters are kept out of the spotlight.

    Putin is one of those rare politicians who arise at moments of crisis, intelligent and committed. He quickly took control of the post-Soviet shambles, brought some order to the chaos and instilled a sense of pride in a defeated people. His own fate and that of his country became one and guided what is still his greatest victory: bringing the Yelstin-era oligarchs into line. This he did carefully, going after media moguls Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Guzinsky in 2000, forcing them to sell their TV stations ORT and NRT, ironically dubbed “shares for freedom” transactions, after which they went into exile. Guzinsky sold his shares to fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich who promptly gave editorial control to the Kremlin.

    Who really wants peace?

    Fast forward to 2007. Munich. Putin criticized the US monopolistic dominance in global relations, and its “almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations.” The result: “No one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.”

    2019: Putin is still number one to Russians, but losing ground because the economy is still a wreck and corruption is rife. He inherited a mess and the West has piled sanctions upon sanctions, interfered in Ukraine to keep the two great Slavic nations, Ukraine and Russia, apart, determined to turn all the ex-Soviet countries into postmodern basket cases, begging for scraps from the western banquet table.

    But Russians and those of us in the West interested in boring things like peace are as firm as Putin is in supporting Russia’s principled policies around the world. His Munich speech gave ‘Munich’ a new meaning as a historical signpost.

    In our age of instant media, this all seems like ancient history, but history often tells us more about today than the latest soundbyte out of the likes of Trump or BoJo. And cultural history even more so, revealing the swamp behind the glitz.

    I just watched the first episode of Years and Years, a British television drama series, a joint production by the BBC and HBO. It is primer on not only our moral decline, but it portrays Russia, a possible corrective, is portrayed as even worse.

    Businesswoman Vivienne “Viv” Rook (Emma Thompson) causes controversy by saying she “doesn’t give a fuck” about the Israel-Palestine conflict on an evening talk show. Daniel Lyons (Russell Tovey) works on immigration control and marries his ‘husband’ and then, when Trump launches an atom bomb on China, rushes to the refugee holding centre to have sex with a Ukrainian refugee Viktor, who complains that the now Russian-occupied Ukraine has made homosexuality illegal, as in Russia. (It is not!)

    That in a nutshell is our monstrous distortion of world politics, with nasty Putin-Russia even more threatening than the Soviet Union was depicted. It is impossible to deconstruct the morass that BBC and its US equivalent has created. It truly frightens me. My only solace is in genuine history, and I thank whoever or whatever that bequeathed me my quirky love of Russia and its noble and tragic history.

    Rather than being an active midwife of a new world order opposed to imperialism (Soviet policy), Russia is playing a waiting game — the age-old policy of retreat used against the Mongols, the French and the Nazis. “Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess.” At times, it is wise to sit back and wait for the straw that breaks the ogre’s (excuse me, camel’s) back. A fool’s mate comes about when your opponent is bankrupt, and it certainly looks like this is how the current game is shaping up.

    What really clinched my love affair with Russia is the fervent commitment of all Russians that I’ve ever met to peace. They were the arbiters of peace throughout the impossible 20th century, contrary to all the propaganda we were fed in the West. So I will end on a more upbeat note: The US and Russia have many common interests–an end to terrorism, an end to nuclear weapons, environmental rescue, an end to extreme poverty. They all require cooperation. They are not zero-sum games. It’s your move, Uncle Sam.

    Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity

    Our civilization is a top-down hierarchical one, as are most large-scale ones in the past, i.e., one-to-the-many, ‘top-down’, explains Kall in an interview with Tom Hartmann. Kall’s book, The Bottom-Up Revolution: Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity, is the distillation of his experience founding and running the  website Opednews, which started as a personal blog, i.e., one-to-the-many, ‘bottom-bottom’, and morphed into a many-to-the-many, with the potential of bottom-top, as a volunteer-based collective.

    Kall calls this ‘gayan’, as contributors and management are directly interconnected in a symbiotic, transparent relationship. Writers can ‘fan’ their favorite writers at Opednews and both comment, generating discussions of controversial topics, and contact other members directly.

    I have been a member since 2008 and can attest that it is a unique site, allowing would-be writers to submit, learning the ropes and getting feedback to hone their skills. It struggles with the tension between being open to new ideas, but constrained by the existing zeitgeist. Writers are warned on submitting to ‘think twice’ about using red-flag words (scatology, Hitler, Zionist), and the editors can just not publish something. Publishing progressive material which is highly critical of the powers-that-be (including PCness) is not easy.

    So I have bitten my share of bullets, but I understand the ‘why’ of censorship/restraint in the interests of social harmony. In Soviet days, I would warn Soviet dissenters ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ It is my mantra in face-off with Iran critics today. As a progressive, I experience (unjust) censorship every waking minute in our ‘land of freedom’.

    Kall’s baby is the only ‘open source’ publishing enterprise of a professional calibre, where intelligent newcomers to politics can cut their teeth. Like open source software (which I’m using to write this review), it is a great example of ‘bottom-bottom’, ‘bottom-up’ (screw the ‘up-up’ guys!).

    Kall uses his concept to look at the broader civilizational problems, especially economics, and The Bottom-Up Revolution is a thorough analysis of the Internet from an optimist’s point of view. He uses the classical depiction of the economy as generating a surplus, first in agriculture and then in industry, and who controls this surplus as technology evolves. Marx’s insight — ‘forces of production determine the relations of production’ — today, must grapple with the Internet. How does it change who we are, how we relate?

    Of course, it is the top, the 1%, who shape us and any technological advances which are deemed profitable, and thus incorporated into the economy. And interactions in the economy are in the first place top-down, until, that is, there is some kind of revolution which empowers the bottom.

    Bottom-up is democratic and should be our model. Are we living through such a revolution?

    Kall says yes. He points out that native cultures were first seen as savages living in a world of bare survival. As indigenous cultures were conquered and destroyed with the rise of modern-day (i.e., capitalist) imperialism, anthropologists  beginning in the 19th century began to study indigenous cultures (i.e., 3/4 of the world) ‘scientifically’, and they showed that this was not the case. Those cultures worked 2-3 hours a day to survive. They are the ‘wealthy’ civilizations. Their lives had just as much (more?) meaning as our 9-to-5 civilization, and they lived with mostly symbolic fighting, and generally in harmony with nature. Yes, there are Easter Islands of disaster and Genghis Khans, but WWII killed more people than Genghis Khan (40m), and our current environmental metal down and threat of nuclear holocaust mean the sky’s the limit these days.

    So is the Internet the silver bullet? Are the 99% learning the ropes, open to critical thinking, ready for action to overcome our flirtation with Armageddon?

    Kall’s hope is that revolution has been ‘catalyzed’ by the Internet and the web. He sees the turning point as the 1980s, and looks to those born after 1980 for the new society, which should be more democratic, more caring, because it’s “about connection”. “The brain’s functioning differently.”

    Kall makes an ambitious claim. Is the brain really functioning differently, i.e., better? My impression, returning to Canada from living abroad (the Soviet Union, Russia, Uzbekistan, Egypt) for two decades, is that most young people are shallow, mesmerized by iphones as they stumble down the street, oblivious to their real world surroundings. And the Internet is as much a swamp, full of dross, as it is a source of the ‘truth’.

    In The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business (2019), David T. Courtwright points with alarm to “limbic1 capitalism”, an age of mass addiction, “addiction by design”. The corporations controlling us engineer, produce and market potentially addictive products in ways calculated to increase demand and maximize profit. They devoted a share of their profits to buying off opposition. What results is “the inversion of the forces of reason and science that made it possible.”

    I personally know young guys who became addicted to video games, failing in high school and/or university. At the same time, softcore addictions (porn, alcohol, marijuana) are increasingly acceptable. While punishing users by law is wrong, encouraging such behavior is just as wrong. We need authority, structure in our lives, especially in the formative years.

    Kall’s optimism is uplifting, and we should definitely look to how we can mobilize people to use the Internet for the good. But it is clear to me that responsible government, removed from corporate control, is what is most vital.

    It is the chicken and egg problem. We must use the Internet to pursue responsible government. Without responsible government, the corporations will ruin this technology, just as it developed and used all previous technological advances to pursue profit and war.

    Not ‘bad’ or ‘good’

    Kall points to how mobile phones have already led to a ‘revolution’ in Africa, allowing a more user-friendly banking system to develop. Africans are at the forefront of this possibility of banking for the masses. There are only 5 bank branches per 100,000, vs 32 in the US, which means money sits under mattresses.

    “Every dollar of cash that is moved to a digital store of value will land on the balance sheet of a financial institution which can then be lent out multiple times over.” Vahid Monadjem, the founder of the South African-based payments platform Nomanini. And there is no need for ‘too big to fail’ banks which are always bailed out by the government (i.e, the poor).

    We must look for more bottom-up solutions while the ‘window of opportunity’ is still open to public use of the Internet. It’s happening in the US. 10m workers are employed in worker-owned companies, and the Internet facilitated this workers’ movement. In short, we must confront the powerful and take their place.

    ‘Small is Beautiful’ is Kall’s mantra, inherited from E.F. Schumacher, and many others, long before our magical computer age. I would say we’re just reinventing the wheel, though the Internet is a high-tech one which I hope can help us achieve Schumacher’s utopian vision.

    In the world of biology, ‘too big’ means death. Everything has an optimal size. For people, the optimal size — as anthropologists are discovering in analyzing ‘primitive’ societies — is 150 people as an organic whole. We should be optimizing size in the economy, which will vary from agriculture, industry, banking, the arts.

    This requires a new socio-anthropology, looking at our own ‘indigenous’ industrial civilization through scientific eyes and harnessing the potentially bottom-up technology of today. Can the Internet help?

    In The Revolution That Wasn’t (2019), Jen Schradie argues that technology is not only failing to level the playing field for activists, it’s actually making things worse by “creating a digital activism gap.” The differences in power and organization, she says, have undercut working-class movements and bolstered authoritarian groups, creating new cleavages and reinforcing the power structure at the same time.

    Countering that pessimism is the work of talented progressive individuals like Kall and a recent (Internet) acquaintance Zach Foster, whose witty Stephen Colbert-type rants are self-produced. Thank you Internet: let a hundred Colberts bloom! Sadly, such fine (progressive) efforts as Kall and Foster’s don’t ‘go viral’ like the Justin Biebers.

    Our Internet heroes Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, whose efforts did ‘go viral’, have just barely survived the reach of the global mass surveillance they were exposing. The ‘good guys’ are constantly under attack. The right thrives on hierarchy, which is much more effective in wartime, which is what we live in now with the military industrial complex getting more and more powerful with each international nightmare lurch.

    I hope Kall’s view is closer to the truth than my pessimism about the pluses and minuses of the Internet. Kudos to Kall for getting in on the action with Opednews. It and other progressive news and analysis sites (Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, New Cold War) and activist sites (Leadnow, Ceasefire, Avast) are my and millions of others’ bread and butter. They are only one of the means; the real work is still face-to-face, demonstrating, door-knocking, voting, board meetings …

    Connecting on the Internet is no substitute for life. The ‘casualties’ of the Internet — the tech-savvy alt-right, the video games addicts and just those who dissipate their creative energies by ‘surfing the net’ — are many. Who’s winning?

    The Internet can grease the wheels of society, but it is the inertial forces governing society that determine whether the Internet is used primarily for good or bad. I’m more of the Lem school of thought, his certainty that “technological development too often takes place only in service of our most primal urges, rewarding individual greed over the common good,” Courtwright’s limbic capitalism. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. The limbic system is involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory