Category Archives: Book Review

Greater Middle East Project of Chaos

Destination Afghanistan was known as the big easy back in the halcyon days of the late 1960s. Hippies from throughout the affluent West hitchhiked to the capital, Kabul, where crash pads and hashish were cheap, and the locals were tolerant. Life appeared to be mellow in the scenic shadow of the Hindu Kush Himalayans. That was then.

Now Afghanistan is engulfed in year 18 of the forever US war with no end in sight. The war has gotten so old – the longest in US history – that the Pentagon PR flacks changed the code name from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel to spruce up its image.

Half of Kabul is now in rubble. Music, education for girls, and cultivation of opium poppies are prohibited in areas controlled by the former US-allied Taliban. US-backed warlords in the rest of this devastated land supply the majority of the world’s illicit heroin, visiting a plague of drug addiction on nearby Iran, China, and Russia – official US enemies – and on the ghettos, rural wastelands, and hipster dens of the West. US attempts at “reconstruction” of Afghanistan have cost $117 billion, eclipsing the price tag of the entire Marshall Plan for Europe.

So why is the US still in Afghanistan? The official explanation has something vaguely to do with the arch villain Osama bin Laden from Saudi Arabia who was last holed up in Pakistan before reportedly being assassinated by US special forces and unceremoniously dumped into the sea eight years ago.

Max Blumenthal’s The Management of Savagery (Verso, 2019) provides a far more cogent explanation for the US wars in Afghanistan along with Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria with Iran on the to-do list (and may be on the war list by the time this article gets posted). Savagery reads like a real-life whodunit tracing the shadowy back channels of the CIA, FBI, DIA, and NSA piping jihadists around the greater Middle East to create chaos only to find their assets turning against them. Besides being well written, the analysis of the maturation of the neoliberal imperial project by the world’s sole remaining superpower illuminates the current bi-partisan consensus for militarism.

The politics of chaos

 The collapse of the Soviet Union left a geopolitical power vacuum and an opportunity for the US to more aggressively exert its imperial will. The ensuing politics of chaos produced some strange bedfellows: “human rights” thinktanks with Gulf monarchies, anti-Semites with Zionists, the US security state with jihadists, and neoconservatives with establishment liberals.

Bin Laden, according to Savagery, had a master plan to create “full chaos” in the greater Middle East, which he believed would precipitate the collapse of local regimes so that the culture of jihad could supersede them. Dovetailing this scenario was the neocon plan for regime change in regional states not subservient to US dictates and Israeli expansion. “In the global war bin Laden envisioned,” Blumenthal reports, “these [US] foreign policy fanatics would make the perfect partners.” Leading the charge were neocon Republicans like John Bolton and Elliot Abrams with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), later to be joined by liberal Clinton Democrats.

Both foreign jihadists and domestic militarists needed a precipitating incident, what the PNAC envisioned as a “catastrophic and catalyzing event.” That came with 9/11. Blumenthal finds credence that the US government likely had some foreknowledge of the attacks, but accuses some Truthers of inadvertently running interference “for the imperialist power they claimed to disdain” by “omitting any historical discussion of the American government’s relationship with the forces directly implicated in the attacks.”

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force was passed just five days after 9/11 as a joint resolution of Congress with only one dissenting vote. “Congress thus voluntarily abdicated its constitution authority and,” according to Blumenthal, “gave its blessing to America’s forever war.” The Patriot Act followed a month later, “granting the executive branch unprecedented wartime powers to investigate and prosecute Americans.”

The neocons and the alt-right have been able to mainstream anti-Muslim politics in the US. Meanwhile the liberal “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine has created popular support for forever war “by weaponizing the discourse of human rights to justify the use of force against governments that resisted the Washington consensus.” The R2P liberals achieved what the right could not.

“In the era of Russiagate, when so many liberals cling to institutions like the FBI and NATO as guardians of their survival,” Blumenthal explains, “the dastardly record of America’s national security mandarins has been wiped clean.” The forever wars are “marketed to the Western public as clinical exercises in freedom-spreading” with a “dual layer patina of patriotic hoopla [for the right] and humanitarian goodwill [for the liberals].”

The refugee crises coming out of the Middle East, generated by the forever wars and accompanying economic sanctions (more accurately, illegal unilateral coercive measures), have consequently fueled xenophobia both in the US and abroad. This, in turn, has fostered an ascendant wave of rightists. “Trump’s election,” Blumenthal contends, “would not have been possible without 9/11 and the subsequent military interventionism conceived by the national security state.”  The national security state did not arise with Trump, but “has maintained a steady continuity between successive administrations.”

Unwanted refugees are not the only inconvenient byproduct of the forever wars in the greater Middle East. The US security state’s alliance with jihadists to overthrow the Soviet-friendly government in Afghanistan – a pattern which is has been repeated in each subsequent Middle Eastern misadventure – has created a “disposal problem” of what to do with these US-armed combatants.

For Americans, the tragedy of 9/11 was just the most dramatic example of the “disposal problem.” “The plague of international jihadism that the United States helped to unleash through its covert interventionism in Cold War-era Afghanistan,” Blumenthal warns, “was to expand and metastasize…”

The neoliberal imperial project, a symbiotic association of liberal “military humanism” and right-wing straight-up militarism, is now showing signs of undoing according to Blumenthal:

Through covert operations and overt invasions, America’s national security state had destabilized entire regions, from the Levant to North Africa, unleashed a migration crisis of unprecedented proportions onto Europe and spurred an inevitable right-wing backlash that was unraveling the neoliberal consensus they sought to protect.

Critical reviews

In a critical review of Savagery, Louis Proyect finds himself “in agreement” on Afghanistan and Libya but not on Syria. Proyect rejects the analysis that the purpose of the US is or ever was regime change of the Assad government in Syria: “with the regime still intact, it might be obvious that this was never the goal.”  Proyect dismisses what otherwise the purpose of the US war effort might be with a “let’s leave that aside.” In contrast, regime change is the central thesis of Blumenthal’s book.

 Proyect accuses Blumenthal of being “one of Assad’s biggest supporters on the left,” though a reading of Savagery would suggest Blumenthal is not an apologist for the governments targeted by the US for regime change. In an interview after his recent visit to Syria, Blumenthal commented: “Whether or not Syria is a dictatorship or a police state; I would not dispute that at all.” Rather, the focus of Savagery is on the policies and actions of the US and its allies, the deleterious effects it has had on the people of the region, and the blowback it has had at home.

A critique in the Times Literary Supplement, from a liberal “humanitarian imperialism” point of view, kvetches:

It is easy to blame the United States for many of the world’s ills: easy because of the availability of evidence. It is also easy to overstate your case, with misleading or one-sided examples – the trap that Max Blumenthal falls into in The Management of Savagery.

Which raises the question of why, given “the availability of evidence,” the TLS and its co-conspirators in the corporate media unerringly fall into the opposite trap of being sycophants of the Empire? Why have they failed to connect the dots, as Blumenthal has, and shown “how America’s national security state fueled the rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump”?

Obama: the Greatest War President

Jeremy Kuzmarov has written a seminal book, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Clarity Press, August 2019), on the US Military Empire led for eight years by a black-faced president residing in the African slave-constructed White House.

The author peals the imperial white mask off the black skin in an analogy to Frantz Fanon’s classic work. Racism, colonization and contemporary neo-colonialization have distorted the psyches of many people of all colors. Barak Obama’s black Kenyan roots allowed him to do the white man’s bidding throughout Africa, and many other nations. While George Bush founded the US African Command (AFRICOM), in 2007, it was Obama, who set about implementing military (and economic) domination over African governments and lands.

Kuzmarov’s impeccable and extensive research reveals the reality of Obama’s eight presidential years favoring the rich class’ economic and military-warring interests. Like a few other seminal books about the US Military Empire—Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick The Untold History of the USA and Douglas Valentine The CIA & Organized Crime—this historian has read, skimmed through and compiled thousands of books and pertinent articles about his subject. One might dispute the author’s analysis or conclusions but an honest reader cannot dispute the facts with which he shows how jingoist, brutal and unjust US foreign policy is.

Obama, the drone president, stood for seven aggressive wars at once, more than any other US president. In my view, he was the worst president in US history, because he hypocritically offered hope to the downtrodden, the discriminated against and the general working population, all the while doing the rich white man’s dirty deeds. He beguiled these folks, and he could get away with it, namely, because he had black skin and a Harvard voice, which he used to cheat people of all colors and nations.1

Speaking to white and black readers sans condescension, Kuzmarov shows how many white progressives, who, in their anxiety to reject any racist appearance, embraced this warmongering president. Obama also convinced most African-Americans to give him leeway to do them justice, which he never did. Deluded African-American men joined the military in greater numbers than at any other time in history, and so they too fight for the weapons industry’s wars for profits.

Obama followed a traditional American Exceptionalism war-making approach with Woodrow Wilson as his principle idol. Wilson sent 13,000 US troops to invade Russia as the young revolution started, and set the tone for permanent bellicosity against this nation. Obama liked to be compared with him as he did with John F. Kennedy, who oversaw the Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba, in 1961, who brought the world close to a world war nuclear catastrophe the next year, and who backed multiple coups and right-wing regimes under the benign sounding Alliance for Progress.

Like Kennedy, Obama provided a liberal front for policies that exacerbated internal inequalities and setback movements for progressive change, keeping us locked in the Cold War, and setting the basis for a new Cold War. Kuzmarov points out that the ramping up of police training and other alleged security measures had a “disturbingly negative impact on public safety, human rights, violence against women and democratic institutions,” quoting from an NGO study.

Obama was also a terrible manager of tax monies. Kuzmarov wrote:

The Obama administration is estimated to have added as much as $10 trillion to the U.S. national debt, the largest total of any president in history, and oversaw an increase in the debt to GDP ratio from 64.8% to 104.7% and a balance of payments deficit of $463 billion in 2015. China’s ownership of over one trillion of the U.S. debt helped to shift the economic balance in its favor as the U.S. dollar began losing its appeal as a global currency exchange, further undercutting the claim that Obama was a deft manager of empire. His administration wasted taxpayer money on billion dollar boondoggles like Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, which military analyst Pierre Sprey called ‘an inherently terrible airplane,’ while adversaries like Russia began to develop greater electronic and cyberwarfare capabilities and long-range missiles capable of threatening U.S. military bases.

In chapter two, using lies to market Obama, Kuzmarov wrote:

Strategically casting himself in Dreams from My Father as an heir to the early 1960s organizing tradition, Obama underplays the significance of his employment for a Manhattan-based consulting house to multi-national corporations, Business International Corporation (BIC)… Headed by a close friend of former vice president Hubert Humphrey, BIC had functioned as a CIA front with a subspecialty in recruiting left-wing organizers to use as assets, and in infiltrating foreign labor unions with the goal of promoting disruptions in targeted economies.

Instead of real community organizing, he worked for the Gamaliel Foundation, a satellite of the Ford Foundation. Once Obama became president, he closed down the only child welfare office in Chicago’s south side ghetto, and cut funds to black colleges. He made political friendships with other major capitalists such as Henry Crown and his son Lester, billionaires who merged their Material Service Corporation with the world’s sixth largest weapons company, General Dynamics. The Crowns own one-fifth of GD. Throughout his presidency, General Dynamics always benefited from the wars Obama oversaw.

In “Black Skin, White Masks” chapter, we read Frantz Fanon’s warning that the deep psychological effects of colonialism,

would yield a breed of post-independence leaders in Africa, who were submissive to white Western interests, and willing to keep their own people subordinate not just because they were cynically out for themselves but, because they believed in their own inferiority.

[Obama] status as a civil rights icon was undercut by many of his policies and aloofness from the plight of the black underclass. Obama’s yearning for peace was also a mirage and only apparent when he thought it might benefit him politically.”

He convinced 53 of 54 African nations to accept this militarization for neo-colonial profiteering. Obama’s agricultural policy promoted genetic engineering and chemical intensive agriculture at the urging of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DuPont and Monsanto, whose former executives served in his administration.

Obama’s “Power Africa initiative” relied heavily on US-Europe-African private sector investment. Obama also aided oil and mineral corporations in taking natural resources through massive bloodshed in many countries. The U.S. had amassed over 60 military outposts and was running one and a half military missions per day. Obama “intervened” in Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, Niger, Rwanda & Congo, Sudan & South Sudan internal conflicts on the side of right-wing factions and governments. He sent them military equipment, bombs and specially trained killer Special Forces.

“The Libyan intervention in particular shows Obama to be the kind of leader Frantz Fanon warned about: a black who served the interests of the white masters and helped legitimize their exploitative practices. Muammar Gaddafi was a long-time foil of the American Empire,” Kuzmarov wrote.

Gaddafi led a bloodless revolution, in 1969, against the Sanussi King Idris, a corrupt U.S. and British ally who gave concessions to Western oil companies in return for military and technical aid. Under Gaddafi, no Libyan went to bed hungry. Every newly-weds received $50,000 to start a family. Full education and health care were paid for out of the national oil income and taxes.

A Pan-Arab and African supportive of the Palestinian cause, Gaddafi kicked out the U.S. military when he came to power in 1969 and placed Libya’s high quality, light sweet crude oil under national control, reinvesting profits in health and education. Life expectancy increased from fifty-four to seventy-one years under his rule, the literacy rate went from six to 88 percent, and homelessness was eliminated. Through its state-owned bank which did not charge interest, Libya also financed an African satellite that slashed communications costs and became a world leader in hydrological engineering due to development of a man-made river that won a major UNESCO award for ‘remarkable scientific research work on water usage in arid areas.’

Obama and NATO invaded Libya in 2011 to protect “innocent civilians”.

“The Obama administration spent about $1 billion on Libya’s ‘revolution,’ and helped NATO with everything from munitions to surveillance aircraft, carrying out roughly 20 percent of the over 26,000 bombing sorties in the seven-month NATO mission that included dropping cluster munitions, phosphorus and Fuel Air Explosives which are outlawed under international law.”

“Hillary Clinton jubilantly told a reporter. ‘We came, we saw, he died,’”. “CIA director John Brennan told speechwriter Ben Rhodes that Qaddafi’s death ‘marked a fitting end for one of the biggest rats of the 20th century.’” Brennan later became the architect for fake news “russiagate.”

The tremendous progress for the entire population that the Qaddafi government had accomplished was destroyed by various terrorist factions backed by US/NATO. Since their “human rights victory”, estimates run at 600,000 killed and more displaced. Today, Libya is a haven for Al Qaeda and Islam State torturous warriors (numbering upwards to 10,000). They traffic in arms and international terrorism, make slaves of workers, sex slaves of women, and force African refugees to flee to Europe on boats that sink, causing the deaths of many thousands of people.

Re-colonializing Africa entailed Obama’s personal delivery of drones to murder Africans, also people in the Middle Eastern, whom he and his buddy, CIA chief John Brennan, considered enemies. The pair poured over “mug shots and biographies of presumed terrorists that looked like they came from a ‘high school yearbook’… One official termed them the ‘macabre baseball cards of unconventional war.’”

Sensitive to macho critiques that he wasn’t tough enough to be a Real American President, Obama sent out a press release, May 29, 2012, to the effect that he was the best drone president killer. Eighty-three of American Exceptionalists polled loved him for it.

Behind the scenes, one of 17 US intelligence services, the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned that this droning of weddings and other public events would backfire, and would create more terrorists than it kills.

During his eight years at the helm, Obama ordered 563 drone strikes against Middle Eastern and African peoples plus more than 1000 in Afghanistan. Internal communications leaked by Wikileaks shows that at least 1100 civilians were killed, plus some US soldiers, and that 90% hit were not the intended target. Obama’s favorite capitalist, Lester Crown, owns large shares in drone technology, and Obama’s second Secretary of State John Kerry owns such stocks as well.

Obama increased the war in Afghanistan, in order, he claimed, to decrease the war. In two separate waves, he sent in 51,000 additional troops (plus 117,000 civilian mercenaries). Just as his predecessors’ wars against the Indo-Chinese people, this warmonger knew this war can’t be won. Yet there is the advantage of opium. When in power, Taliban wiped out most of the opium. Since the US took over, 90% of the world’s opium comes from there, and the CIA has control over much of it. Thus millions of its enemies who border Afghanistan—Iran, China, Russia—are introduced to opium-heroin and become addicted.

Eighteen years into this war, Obama’s weapons industry donor friends also have the advantage of getting many new weapons tested for future use.

The alleged murder of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, on Mayday 2011, by two dozen Navy Seal Team 6 raiders under the direct command of the CIA probably did not take place, Kuzmarov wrote.

US American and Pakistan officials, and US sailors, differ about what took place.

No photos of the body, and others allegedly killed in the house that day, were made public nor were DNA tests allegedly conducted by CIA/DOD and Homeland Security. No independent sources were allowed to see test results, which the government said proved bin Laden was killed that day. They also said they buried him within hours, according to Muslim custom. His body was supposedly thrown from the US warship carrier Carl Vinson. Sailors spoken with said they saw nothing.

Kuzmarov cites expert sources that believe bin Laden had long been dead from an incurable renal failure requiring constant dialyses. Furthermore, how could it be that 30 of these special killer Navy Seal Team 6 were killed three months later when Taliban forces shot down a transport helicopter in which they were traveling? Obama spokespersons said they had not been at bin Laden’s death, but family members asserted the US government turned this elite force into a target by revealing their role in the bin Laden raid. They might have talked?

I skip over the war against Iraq (space limits), which Obama continued from George Bush period, to come to the “Pivot to Asia”.

“The Asia Pivot was symbolically introduced by Hillary Clinton on a U.S. naval destroyer in Manila Bay, the location for America’s original pivot in the 1898 Spanish-American Philippines War. The carefully choreographed event implied a proud continuity from an era most historians consider to be shameful since U.S. soldiers committed heinous atrocities, and at least 200,000 Filipinos were killed,” Kuzmarov wrote.

Resistance against continued US interference in both domestic and foreign policies has increased in many Asian countries since the Asian Pivot began. Islanders on Guam and many other islands dominated by US military are weary of its war games and pollution and want the Yankees to Go Home. This is the case as well for many South Koreans and Japanese.

China is not any military threat but the US has 200 military bases and many other military facilities in the Asian area. China has one outside its own territory (in Djibouti Africa). Yet China, just as Russia, must now spend funds and time building more weapons of defense as the US encroaches closer and closer.

Obama’s pivot failed to get his Trans-Pacific Partnership passed. China’s constructive development projects, such as the “Great Wall of Sand” in the South China Seas, its “one belt, one road initiative,” a massive infrastructural development project aiming to connect the Pacific and Baltic Seas, helps bring it supporters and prestige while the US loses its.

As the United States and Western Europe were mired in growing debt, corruption, and economic and moral decline, China was gradually forging an effective counter-pole to Washington’s New World (dis-)order in conjunction with Putin’s Russia. In April 2015, China took a major step in their campaign to supplant the dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency when European members of the IMF embraced China’s demand to include the yuan as a unit of IMF currency.

Again, US foreign policy is all about oil/money/dominance. It is estimated that the South China Sea, which the US wants to control, contains 213 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubicle feet of natural gas.

Chapters eight and nine—too many lies, the new cold war with Russia, and Obama’s betrayal of his Cairo vision—are the most detailed-researched of the ten chapters. They cover the war in Syria, the US-neo-fascist coup in Ukraine, the referendum of the Crimean people to join with Russia, Saudi Arabia/Yemen, Zionist Israel and Palestinians.

Obama sent his emissaries to Ukraine to back the right-wing factions against the duly democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who sought to trade and partner with both sides: Russia and US/EU. He would not join EU or NATO, so neo-fascists brought about the violent Maidan crisis in February 2014.

Three Georgian mercenaries told Italian TV journalist Glan Micalessin they were the snipers at Maidan on February 20, 2014 when 80-90 people were killed. They were ordered by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and paid $1000 each by his military advisor Mamuka Mamulashvilli. Former US 101 Airborn Iraqi war paratrooper Brian Christopher Boyenger accompanied them over several days of the Maidan violence leading up to the coup.

The three Georgians are: Koba Nergadze, Kvarateskelia Zalogi and Alexcander Revazishvilli.

Obama’s special envoy to Ukraine Victoria Nuland told the US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who would lead the coup government, and that is what happened. The pro-fascist Svobada party’s hero, Stepan Bandera, became the new government national hero. He supported the Nazis and helped murder 900,000 of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews. Svobada got several seats in the coup government.

The US government, and one of its major capitalist partners, George Soros, spent several billion dollars to boost the coup, and even proudly announced this as evidence that “America’s taxes go to humanitarian causes”. The fact that hundreds of workers and demonstrators were killed by pro-fascist groupings was not worth considering.

Forcing a right-wing coup caused the March referendum in the Crimea, in which 96% of the 83% voting cast their ballot to join with Russia. One year later, the very capitalist Forbes magazine, wrote: “The US and European Union may want to save Crimeans from themselves, but the Crimeans are happy right where they are…mostly all [are] in agreement: life with Russia is better than life with Ukraine.” 93% said the referendum was legitimate, only 2% said it was not.

Obama sent money and arms for coup government and neo-fascist mercenary attacks on Eastern Ukraine. Russia offered some support to Donetsk insurgents, but would not bring them into the Russian Federation, which was their desire.

Vice-president Joe Biden, and his son, made big money from the coup government, and its rich associates. This fact is quite relevant today. As I write this review, the House of Representatives has just started an impeachment process against President Donald Trump for, namely, suggesting that Biden and son cheated.

Kuzmarov wrote:

The Biden family was one of the major beneficiaries of America’s interference in Ukraine. While the Vice-President was overseeing U.S. policy toward Ukraine, his son, Hunter joined the board of one of Ukraine’s most profitable and corrupt energy companies, Burisma, which gave the potential to the Bidens of becoming billionaires. Journalist Peter Schweizer points out that Biden regularly consulted with [President Petro] Poroshenko by telephone and made five trips to the Ukraine between 2014 and 2017 while his son’s business partners prepared to strike a profitable deal with controversial and reportedly violent oligarchs Kolomoisky and Zlochevsky, who would benefit from his actions. Schweizer’s investigation further pointed to the disappearance of $1.8 billion in U.S. taxpayer guaranteed money to Ukraine. The IMF loans disappeared after going through Kolomoisky’s private bank.2

Kuzmarov’s chapter nine deals primarily with the countries where the US backed Arab Spring protestors in those countries where the US sought regime change. These protestors rapidly became violent and received US armed support. Where the US backed the governments, protestors were not aided: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia.

The Arab Spring quickly turned into a long and dark winter, first in Libya, then in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria where America, promoting regime change, allied with jihadists who corrupted any hope of positive democratic transformation. Little progress was made in the Israeli-Palestine conflict as Obama increased arms shipments even as Israel pulverized Gaza in a murderous 51-day war. The double standards of U.S. foreign policy were vividly apparent in Obama’s copious arms sales to Saudi Arabia as it assaulted Yemen, and Obama’s support for other state sponsors of terrorism like Pakistan and Turkey under strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which no longer required a State Department license to import American weapons.

Supporting Zionism and apartheid against Palestinians in Israel and surrounding areas also led Obama to be tight with the six Sunni Muslim Gulf States.

Over eight years, he sanctioned a record $115 billion in arms sales to the Saudis in 42 separate deals and protected the kingdom by refusing to declassify 28 pages from the 9/11 report on Saudi Arabia, which could possibly detail their role in the terrorist attacks. Obama also vetoed legislation allowing 9/11 victims’ families to sue the Saudi government.

“The Obama administration further provided over $20 billion in new weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia after the Yemen war broke out and forty million pounds worth of jet fuel. Weapons included Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, F-15 jet fighters, cruise missiles, ‘smart bombs,’ white phosphorus, an incendiary that burns through the skin to the bone, and a $1.5 billion shipment of 152 Abrams battle tanks made by General Dynamics, twenty of which were destined to replenish vehicles from Yemen. Previously, the Obama administration sold cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia made by the Rhode Island Company, Textron, whose shell-casings were recovered at the site in Western Yemen.

Since Iran also demands to right to its sovereignty and is principally Shia, Zionist Israel and Sunni Gulf States attack it, the Shias in Yemen, and the multi-religious Baath government of Assad in Syria. Terrorist opponents to the Assad government attack Christians, while Assad’s government protect them. It is also a fact that the majority of Syrians living in Syria back the Assad government and view IS as backed by the US and its allies.3

US/NATO/Israel allowed terrorists IS and al Nursa to murder and expand its base until September 2014 when some effort to fight them began.

To cite one fact concerning such support, Kuzmarov wrote: “One group directly armed by the CIA, Nourredine al Zinki, formed a coalition with an outfit called ‘the bin Laden front.’ It was singled out by Amnesty International for carrying out gruesome atrocities in rebel-held Eastern Aleppo.”

That is why Russia had to come to Syria’s defense, to effectively crush these terrorists since enemy states of Syria would not. It was also Putin who convinced Assad to turn over whatever chemical weapons he had and did so to the world’s greatest producer and user of such horror weapons.

It was President Putin, again, who prevented a war against Iran by helping its government make a deal with the West not to develop atomic weapons, much to Obama’s surprise and perhaps chagrin.

“A key feature of the new Cold War has been the incessant demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and depiction of Russia as a neo-Soviet autocracy. Obama said that the main goal of U.S. policy was ‘to put him in a box to stop making mischief’. Such comments were part of Obama’s efforts to cast the new Cold War as a moral crusade against an evil dictator,” Kuzmarov wrote.

Obama began economic sanctions against the Russian government, in 2012, and expanded it many times—as has Donald Trump—to hurt the entire economy and population, all because President Vladimir Putin insists that Russia is sovereign and will not be dictated to. American Exceptionalism ideology will not accpt such rogue brashness.

I skip over the pathetic attempts to vilify Putin and Russia as responsible for the election of Donald Trump, russiagate, as there is so much information and evidence that it is a total lie. Kuzarmov covers it well using sources that know what they are talking about, including previous high-level NSA technicians and intelligence men who turned whistleblowers, William Binney and Edward Snowden.

The last chapter summarizes the many countries in Latin America that Obama “meddled” against, backing the far right and attempting to topple the progressive and pro-socialist oriented new governments, especially those in the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America) economic-political coalition.

This coalition began in 2004 on the initiative of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and Cuba President Fidel Castro. The conservative Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya saw benefits for the people in joining it, and because of that, right-wing generals, backed by Obama and his Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton, overthrew Zelaya in a coup, June 28, 2009. Obama-Clinton immediately recognized the coup government while the rest of the Americas did not.

Just half a year later, I accompanied Bolivian President Evo Morales to the COP15 climate summit held in Copenhagen as one of two PR workers. I helped him, and sometimes President Chavez, meet the media. These two giants for Latin American sovereignty did not hold their tongues concerning the American Exceptionalist President Par Excellence. Kuzmarov opens thusly:

In December 2009, Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez gave a speech at the Copenhagen climate summit mocking President Obama, whom he referred to as having won ‘the Nobel Prize of War.’ Chavez considered Obama a phony who had won the peace prize ‘almost the same time as he sent 30,000 soldiers off to kill innocent people in Afghanistan.’ Referencing his famous 2006 speech at the UN when he had held up Noam Chomsky’s book Hegemony or Survival and referred to George W. Bush as the ‘devil,’ Chavez said he ‘still smelled sulfur’ coming from Obama as he was perpetuating many of the same inhuman policies.

Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader in Bolivia’s history, followed Chavez by excoriating Obama for being the only leader to leave the summit’s stage from a concealed door. If Obama genuinely wanted to promote positive social change, Morales said that he should ‘use the money you are spending for wars against the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, for militarizing Colombia with seven military bases to save lives, to save the planet, our Mother Earth.’

It was exhilarating to see and hear these two real leaders tell it like it is!

Obama’s policies in Latin American were worse than Bush II, who concentrated on the Middle East. When Ecuador’s leftist president Rafael Correa closed U.S. military base at Manta, the rightist Colombian government granted the US five military bases on its territory, to help fight peasants, unionists, left-leaning organizations, political parties and progressive governments.

Obama continued the “war on drugs” in Mexico, which causes the killings of two dozen people daily—around 8000 a year—and an increase in drug and weapons trafficking.

In Paraguay, Obama supported a right-wing parliamentary coup against the progressive president and bishop, Fernando Lugo.

The one bright spot was Obama’s easing of the blockade against Cuba, and the release of the last three of five Cubans imprisoned for infiltrating Cuban exile terrorists groups in the US, in order to prevent their terrorist activities against Cuban people—also something the CIA was behind.

If opening up somewhat to Cuba can be judged as positive (bearing in mind that many major US capitalists such as the Rockefellers had been calling for an end of the blockade for decades), the only other one positive action he took (which I can recall anyway) was to release Chelsea Manning from prison. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that it was the Obama administration that put her in prison, and tortured her, in the first place.

Kuzmarov concludes:

Obama’s presidency in many ways shows how liberal-progressive politicians can be more dangerous than their conservative counterparts, who tend to be more truthful in their aspirations to dominate the world and earn profits in whatever ways, thus making them easier to mobilize against.

Journalist Glen Ford aptly described Obama and his wife Michelle as a ‘two cynical lawyers on hire to the wealthiest and the ghastliest’ who are ‘no nicer or nastier than the Romneys and the Ryans [opponents in 2012 election], although the man of the house bombs babies and keeps a kill list.’ He also had a Big Brother complex. Every day during Obama’s presidency, the NSA intercepted and stored more than 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other forms of communications.

Glen Ford is Black Agenda Report’s chief editor. He wrote an excellent foreword to this book. Ford opens his foreword thusly, and so I close my long review.

“Barack Obama may go down in presidential history as the most effective—and deceptive—imperialist of them all.”

  1. See: “Obama: The Worst US President Ever.”
  2. Peter Schweizer wrote, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends (New York: Harper Collins, 2018)55-65. The NYT reported that Joe Biden threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan if Ukraine did not fire its top prosecutor who was mounting a case against Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma. Kenneth P. Vogel and Iulia Mendel, “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump.”
  3. December 2015 poll taken by ORB, an affiliate of WIN/Gallup. The Guardian, 12/19/2015.

The Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan: Is Community Engagement the Key?

I have just read a superb book by Mark Isaacs, an Australian who has documented several years of effort by a group of incredibly committed young people in Afghanistan to build peace in that war-torn country the only way it can be built: by learning, living and sharing peace.

The book, titled The Kabul Peace House: How a Group of Young Afghans are Daring to Dream in a Land of War, records in considerable detail the struggle, both internal and external, to generate a peaceful future in Afghanistan. Some might consider this vision naive, others courageous, but few would doubt the simple reality: it is slow, daunting, incredibly difficult, often saddening, frightening, infuriating or painful, sometimes uplifting or hilarious and, just occasionally, utterly rewarding.

This is a human story written by a person who knows how to listen and to observe. And because the subject is about a group of ordinary Afghans and their mentor doing their best in the struggle to end one of the longest wars in human history, it is a story that is well worth reading.

This story is embedded in a combination of (brief) historical background on Afghanistan’s longstanding and central role in imperial geopolitics (including during ‘The Great Game’ of the 19th century) and more recent history on the progressive modernity of Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979 which was followed by an ongoing and multifaceted war in which the United States has played the most damaging role since its invasion of the country in 2001. But the background also includes a description of the ethnic diversity throughout the country, the role of religion and gender relations (and the challenges these social parameters present), as well as commentary on the social, economic and political regression as a result of the war’s many adverse impacts. So the book weaves a lot of strands into a compelling story of nonviolent resistance and regeneration against almost overwhelming odds.

However, that is not all. Given that all of the Afghans in this visionary community have each been traumatized by their unique experience of war, the book doesn’t shy away from describing the challenges this presents both to them personally and to the community, including its mentor and even some of the community’s many international visitors.

Most of the community members – whether Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Tajik, Sayyid, Pashai… – have suffered serious loss during the war, especially those members who have had family and other relatives killed, or worse. Worse? you might ask. What is worse than death? Well, after reading this book, you will better understand that the context and the manner of death mean a great deal psychologically. None of the victims of this war died peacefully in their sleep after long and meaningful lives and this is just one part of the psychological trauma suffered by so many in this particular community but also in wider Afghan society.

So what does this community in Kabul do? Well, throughout its evolution and many manifestations, the community has done many things including run a variety of projects intended to foster understanding, cooperation and learning: nurture mutual respect among the diversity of people that constitute its membership, teach some of its members to read and write and facilitate learning opportunities in other contexts, teach the meaning and practice of nonviolence, give street kids the chance to learn skills that will make them employable, make duvets to give to people who go cold in Afghanistan’s freezing winters, teach and practice permaculture, organize protests against the war (including by flying kites instead of drones), and generally working to create a world that is green, equal and nonviolent.

If you think this sounds all good and straightforward, given slowly spreading acceptance of such ideas elsewhere (in some circles at least), then you might have underestimated their radical nature in a society in which ideas about nonviolence, equality and sustainability have, for the most part, not been previously encountered and have certainly not taken root. Isaacs records the observations of the group’s mentor on these subjects:

Over the years I have seen how the volunteers have changed within their personal lives, even if it means distancing themselves from the traditions of their own family…. But on a public level it’s much slower.

This is understandable. As Isaacs notes, even in ordinary conversation and group discussions, ‘the weight of resistance, the taboos and the self-censorship’ made an impact on him. In a culture in which, in 2015, a woman in her twenties was stoned, her body run over by a car and then dumped in a river and set on fire because a mullah falsely accused her of burning the Quran, there is a long way to go.

One of the things that I found most compelling about the book is the occasional ‘biography’ of one of the community’s main characters. Given pseudonyms to avoid possible adverse repercussions, these stories provide real insight into the lives of certain community members and their struggle to leave home (in some cases), to join the community, to find their place within it and gain acceptance by the other members.

Some, like Hojar, are more outspoken and this, for a woman, is unusual in itself. Hojar is deeply aware of the gender inequality and violence against women in Afghanistan and will talk about it. This inspires other women, like Tara, who have not experienced this outspokenness before.

But Hojar’s life had started differently, in the mountains where, as a teenager, she was getting up at 3am to start baking bread for her four snoring brothers before milking the goats and sheep. ‘I am not a woman’, she thought, ‘I am a slave’. Fortunately and unusually, Hojar’s parents supported her desire to not marry at 13 or 15, but to continue her education and follow her dreams. It’s a long, painful, terrifying and fascinating journey but Hojar ended up in this novel community experiment in Kabul where her now college-educated talent was highly valued and put to wonderful use. She has my utmost admiration.

Unlike Hojar, other community members, like Horse, originally a shepherd in the mountains, are more circumspect on gender equality and other issues. But this doesn’t mean that Horse is not active, at times playing roles in the networking team, the accounts team and, particularly, as coordinator of the food cooperative which provided monthly gifts of food to the impoverished families of one hundred children who studied at the community’s street kids school. If you think raising donations to pay for this food was easy, particularly given the community decision to avoid the international aid sector to try to encourage Afghans to help their fellow Afghans, when more than half of the population lived below the poverty line and unemployment was at 40%, you will find it compelling to read how the teenaged Horse struggled with the monumental range of challenges he faced in that particular role. He has my admiration too.

Insaan, a doctor who mentors the community, provides a compelling story as well. Originally from another country, in 2002 a consultation with a patient at his successful medical practice inspired him to depart some time later. After spending more than two years in Pakistan, working with refugees from Afghanistan, he went to Afghanistan in 2004 to work for an international NGO in public health education in its central mountainous region.

His ongoing experience in this role, however, taught him that every problem the villagers faced had its origins in the war. And this underpinned his gradual transformation from health professional to peace activist. He discovered Thoreau, Gandhi and King, among others, and ‘became convinced of the power of love’. By 2008, Insaan had initiated his first multi-ethnic live-in community (although he did not live in it himself) in the mountains but in 2011, when his house was deliberately burned down, he departed for Kabul determined to restart the peace work he had begun in the mountains.

Starting with three young people who accompanied him from the mountains, the first manifestation of a live-in peace community in Kabul was soon underway. Endlessly paying attention, trying to provide guidance, reconcile those in conflict, and even withstanding threats of violence, Insaan’s love has undoubtedly been the glue that has held the growing and evolving community together. But not without cost. At times, Insaan has struggled, emotionally and otherwise, to survive in this perpetual war zone as the key figure holding this loving experiment together. He is a truly remarkable human being.

And it is because of the trauma that he and each of the other community members has suffered, that I hope that, in future, they can somehow dedicate time to their own personal, emotional healing. There is no better investment for any human being than to spend time consciously focusing on feeling the fear, pain, anger and sadness that we are taught and terrorized into suppressing during childhood (so that we become the obedient slaves that our society wants). Given the extraordinary violence that the people of Afghanistan have suffered and are still suffering, the value of making this investment would be even greater.

Anyway, if you want to read an account of the deeply personal human costs of war, and what one community is doing about it, read this book. It isn’t all pretty but, somehow, this remarkable community, through all of its manifestations over many years, its successes and failures, manages to inspire one with the sense that while those insane humans who spend their time planning, justifying, fighting and profiting from wars against people in other countries, those people on the receiving end of their violence are capable of visioning a better tomorrow and working to achieve it. No matter how difficult or how long it takes. Moreover, we can help too.

So allow yourself to be inspired by a group of young people, each of whom has lived their entire life in a country at war both with itself and with foreign countries, but has refused to submit to the predominant delusion that violence is the way out.

The Danger of Inspiration

Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, has one crippling flaw—it’s inspiring. At this moment in history, inspiring talk about solutions to multiple, cascading ecological crises is dangerous.

At the conclusion of these 18 essays that bluntly outline the crises and explain a Green New Deal response, Klein bolsters readers searching for hope: “[W]hen the future of life is at stake, there is nothing we cannot achieve.” It is tempting to embrace that claim, especially after nearly 300 pages of Klein’s eloquent writing that weaves insightful analysis together with honest personal reflection.

The problem, of course, is that the statement is not even close to being true. With nearly 8 billion people living within a severely degraded ecosphere, there are many things we cannot, and will not, achieve. A decent human future—perhaps any human future at all—depends on our ability to come to terms with these limits. That is not a celebration of cynicism or a rationalization for nihilism, but rather the starting point for rational planning that takes seriously not only our potential but also the planet’s biophysical constraints.

Klein’s essays in this volume make it clear that she is well aware of those limits, but the book’s subtitle suggests that she is writing not only to inform but also to mobilize support for Green New Deal proposals. This tension runs throughout the book—when Klein reports on and analyzes the state of the world, the prose challenges readers to face difficult realities, but when making the case for those policy proposals, she sounds more like an organizer rallying supporters.

That’s not a dig—Klein is a writer who doesn’t sit on the sidelines but gets involved with movements and political projects. Her commitment to activism and organizing is admirable, but it can pull a writer in conflicting directions.

This critique should not lead anyone to ignore On Fire, which is an excellent book that should be read cover to cover, without skipping chapters that had been previously published. Collections of essays can fall flat because of faded timeliness or unnecessary repetition, but neither is a problem here. As always, Klein’s sharp eye for detail makes her reporting on events compelling, whether she’s describing disasters (natural and unnatural) or assessing political trends. And, despite the grim realities we face, the book is a pleasure to read.

Before explaining concerns with the book’s inspirational tone, I want to emphasize key points Klein makes that I agree are essential to a left/progressive analysis of the ecological crises:

  • First-World levels of consumption are unsustainable;
  • capitalism is incompatible with a livable human future;
  • the modern industrial world has undermined people’s connections to each other and the non-human world; and
  • we face not only climate disruption but a host of other crises, including, but not limited to, species extinction, chemical contamination, and soil erosion and degradation.

In other words, business-as-usual is a dead end, which Klein states forthrightly:

I feel confident in saying that a climate-disrupted future is a bleak and an austere future, one capable of turning all our material possessions into rubble or ash with terrifying speed. We can pretend that extending the status quo into the future, unchanged, is one of the options available to us. But that is a fantasy. Change is coming one way or another. Our choice is whether we try to shape that change to the maximum benefit of all or wait passively as the forces of climate disaster, scarcity, and fear of the “other” fundamentally reshape us.

On Fire focuses primarily on the climate crisis and the Green New Deal’s vision, which is widely assailed as too radical by the two different kinds of climate-change deniers in the United States today—one that denies the conclusions of climate science and another that denies the implications of that science. The first, based in the Republican Party, is committed to a full-throated defense of our pathological economic system. The second, articulated by the few remaining moderate Republicans and most mainstream Democrats, imagines that market-based tinkering to mitigate the pathology is adequate.

Thankfully, other approaches exist. The most prominent in the United States is the Green New Deal’s call for legislation that recognizes the severity of the ecological crises while advocating economic equality and social justice. Supporters come from varied backgrounds, but all are happy to critique and modify, or even scrap, capitalism. Avoiding dogmatic slogans or revolutionary rhetoric, Klein writes realistically about moving toward a socialist (or, perhaps, socialist-like) future, using available tools involving “public infrastructure, economic planning, corporate regulation, international trade, consumption, and taxation” to steer out of the existing debacle.

One of the strengths of Klein’s blunt talk about the social and ecological problems in the context of real-world policy proposals is that she speaks of motion forward in a long struggle rather than pretending the Green New Deal is the solution for all our problems. On Fire makes it clear that there are no magic wands to wave, no magic bullets to fire.

The problem is that the Green New Deal does rely on one bit of magical thinking—the techno-optimism that emerges from the modern world’s underlying technological fundamentalism, defined as the faith that the use of evermore advanced technology is always a good thing. Extreme technological fundamentalists argue that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. (If anyone thinks this definition a caricature, read “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.”)

Klein does not advocate such fundamentalism, but that faith hides just below the surface of the Green New Deal, jumping out in “A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” which Klein champions in On Fire. Written by U.S. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (the most prominent legislator advancing the Green New Deal) and Avi Lewis (Klein’s husband and collaborator), the seven-and-a-half minute video elegantly combines political analysis with engaging storytelling and beautiful visuals. But one sentence in that video reveals the fatal flaw of the analysis: “We knew that we needed to save the planet and that we had all the technology to do it [in 2019].”

First, talk of saving the planet is misguided. As many have pointed out in response to that rhetoric, the Earth will continue with or without humans. Charitably, we can interpret that phrase to mean, “reducing the damage that humans do to the ecosphere and creating a livable future for humans.” The problem is, we don’t have all technology to do that, and if we insist that better gadgets can accomplish that, we are guaranteed to fail.

Reasonable people can, and do, disagree about this claim. (For example, “The science is in,” proclaims the Nature Conservancy, and we can have a “future in which catastrophic climate change is kept at bay while we still power our developing world” and “feed 10 billion people.”) But even accepting overly optimistic assessments of renewable energy and energy-saving technologies, we have to face that we don’t have the means to maintain the lifestyle that “A Message from the Future” promises for the United States, let alone the entire world. The problem is not just that the concentration of wealth leads to so much wasteful consumption and wasted resources, but that the infrastructure of our world was built by the dense energy of fossil fuels that renewables cannot replace. Without that dense energy, a smaller human population is going to live in dramatically different fashion.

Welcome to the third rail of contemporary political life. The question that the multiple, cascading ecological crises put squarely in front of us is, “What is a sustainable human population?” That question has to be split in two: “How many people? Consuming how much?”

It’s no surprise that political candidates ignore these questions, but progressive writers and activists should not back away. Honestly engaging these issues takes us well beyond the Green New Deal.

On the second of those questions—“consuming how much?”—Klein frequently highlights the problem, but with a focus on “profligate consumption.” She stresses the need to:

  • “scale back overconsumption”;
  • identify categories in which we must contract, “including air travel, meat consumption, and profligate energy use”;
  • end “the high-carbon lifestyle of suburban sprawl and disposable consumption”;
  • reject capitalism’s faith in “limitless consumption” that locks us in “the endless consumption cycle”; and
  • make deep changes “not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our economic system.”

No argument with any of those statements, especially because Klein rejects the notion that simply improving efficiency will solve our problems, a common assumption of the techno-optimists. But challenging “overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy” focuses on the easy target: “The bottom line is that an ecological crisis that has its roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be addressed not just by improving the efficiency of our economies, but also by reducing the amount of material stuff that the wealthiest 20 percent of people on the planet consume.”

My goal is not to defend rich people or their consumption habits. However, constraining the lifestyles of the rich and famous is a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustainability. Here we have to deal with the sticky question of human nature. Klein rightly rejects capitalism’s ideological claim that people’s capacity to act out of greed and short-term self-interest (which all of us certainly are capable of doing) is the dominant human trait. Human nature also includes the capacity to act out of compassion in solidarity with others, of course, and different systems reward different parts of our nature. Capitalism encourages the greed and discourages the compassion, to the detriment of people and planet.

But we are organic creatures, and that means there is a human nature, or what we might more accurately call our human-carbon nature. As Wes Jackson of The Land Institute puts it, life on Earth is “the scramble for energy-rich carbon,” and humans have gotten exceedingly good at grabbing lots of carbon. Not all cultures go after it with the same intensity, of course, but that scramble predates capitalism and will continue after capitalism. This doesn’t mean we are condemned to make the planet unlivable for ourselves and other creatures, but public policy has to recognize that we not only need carbon to survive but that most people—including most environmentalists—like the work that carbon can do for us when we burn those fossil fuels. And once we get a taste of what that carbon can do, it’s not easy to give it up.

As Klein points out, curbing our carbon-seeking is not merely a test of will power and matter of individual virtue; collective action through public policy is needed. I believe that requires a hard cap on carbon—limits that we can encourage people to accept through cultural advocacy but in the end must be imposed through law. A sensible approach, called “cap and adapt,” has been proposed by Larry Edwards and Stan Cox. In a forthcoming book, Cox will expand on a cap-and-ration strategy that could help in “drawing the human economy back within necessary ecological limits,” a follow-up to, and expansion of, his earlier book that made a compelling case for a rationing.

There’s no simple answer to how much energy and material resources we can consume without undermining the ecosystems on which our own lives depend, but I’m confident in saying that it’s dramatically less that we consume today, and that reducing aggregate consumption—even if we could create equitable societies—will be difficult. But that’s the easy part. Much more difficult is the first question—“how many people?”

On the question of population, On Fire is silent, and it’s not hard to understand, for several reasons. First, the Earth has a carrying capacity for any species but it’s impossible to predict when we will reach it (or did reach it), and failed attempts at prediction in the past have made people wary. Second, some of the most vocal supporters of population control also espouse white supremacy, which has tainted even asking the question. Third, while we know that raising the status of women and educating girls reduces birth rates, it’s difficult to imagine a non-coercive strategy for serious population reduction on the scale necessary. Still, we should acknowledge ecological carrying capacity while pursuing social justice and rejecting anti-immigration projects. Progressives’ unwillingness to address the issue cedes the terrain to “eco-fascists,” those who want to use ecological crises to pursue a reactionary agenda.

There’s no specific number to offer for a sustainable human population, but I’m confident in saying that it’s fewer than 8 billion and that finding a humane and democratic path to that lower number is difficult to imagine.

The fact that these questions are troubling and/or impossible to answer does not mean the questions do not matter. For now, my answer—a lot fewer people and a lot less stuff—is adequate to start a conversation: “A sustainable human presence on the planet will mean fewer people consuming less.” Agree or disagree? Why or why not?

Two responses are possible from Green New Deal supporters: (1) I’m nuts, or (2) I’m not nuts, but what I’m suggesting is politically impossible because people can’t handle all this bad news.

If I am nuts, critics have to demonstrate what is unsound about the argument, without resorting to the cliché that “necessity is the mother of invention” and the faith-based claims of the technological fundamentalists.

If I am not, then those Green supporters face a quandary. When mainstream Democrats tell progressive folks that the Green New Deal is doomed to fail because it is not politically viable at this moment, supporters counter, appropriately, by saying that anything less is inadequate in the face of the crises. Those supporters argue, appropriately, that the real failure is supporting policies that don’t do enough to create sustainable human societies and that we need to build a movement for the needed change. I agree, but by that logic, if the Green New Deal itself is inadequate to create sustainability, then we must push further.

The Green New Deal is a start, insufficiently radical but with the potential to move the conversation forward—if we can be clear about the initiative’s limitations. That presents a problem for organizers, who seek to rally support without uncomfortable caveats—“Support this plan! But remember that it’s just a start, and it gets a lot rougher up ahead, and whatever we do may not be enough to stave off unimaginable suffering” is, admittedly, not a winning slogan.

Back to what I think Klein is right about, and eloquent in expressing:

Because while it is true that climate change is a crisis produced by an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is also, in a more profound sense, a crisis produced by an extractive mind-set, by a way of viewing both the natural world and the majority of its inhabitants as resources to use up and then discard. I call it the “gig and dig” economy and firmly believe that we will not emerge from this crisis without a shift in worldview at every level, a transformation to an ethos of care and repair.

The domination/subordination dynamic that creates so much suffering within the human family also defines the modern world’s destructive relationship to the larger living world. Throughout the book, Klein presses the importance of telling a new story about all those relationships. Scientific data and policy proposals matter, but they don’t get us far without a story for people to embrace. Klein is right, and On Fire helps us imagine a new story for a human future.

I offer a friendly amendment to the story she is constructing: Our challenge is to highlight not only what we can but also what we cannot accomplish, to build our moral capacity to face a frightening future but continue to fight for what can be achieved, even when we know that won’t be enough.

One story I would tell is of the growing gatherings of people, admittedly small in number today, who take comfort in saying forthrightly what they believe, no matter how painful—people who do not want to suppress their grief, yet do not let their grief overwhelm them.

What kind of person wants to live like that? I can offer a real-life example, my late friend Jim Koplin. He once told me, in a conversation about those multiple, cascading ecological crises (a term I stole from him, with his blessing), “I wake up every morning in a state of profound grief.” He was neither depressed nor irrational but simply honest. Jim, a Depression-era farm boy who had been permanently radicalized in the 1960s, felt that grief more deeply than anyone I have known, yet every day he got up to work in his garden and then offer his time and energy to a variety of political, community, and arts groups that were fighting for a better world.

Klein speaks of this grief in On Fire, in what for me were the most moving passages, often involving her young son’s future in the face of this “planetary death spiral”:

There is no question that the strongest emotions I have about the climate crisis have to do with [Toma] and his generation—the tremendous intergenerational theft under way. I have flashes of sheer panic about the extreme weather we have already locked in for these kids. Even more intense than this fear is the sadness about what they won’t ever know. They are growing up in a mass extinction, robbed of the cacophonous company of so many fast-disappearing life forms. It feels so desperately lonely.

The escape from loneliness, for me, starts with recognizing that Jim’s “state of profound grief” was not only wholly rational but also emotionally healthy. When told that even if this harsh assessment is correct, people can’t handle it, I agree. No one can handle all this. Jim couldn’t handle it every waking minute. I don’t handle it as well as he did. At best, we struggle to come to terms with a “bleak and austere” future.

But that’s exactly why we need to engage rather than avoid the distressing realities of our time. If we are afraid to speak honestly, we suffer alone. Better that we tell the truth and accept the consequences, together.

Don’t Mourn, Organize

We live in a paradoxical time. On the one hand, workers and organized labor are in their worst state since the early 1930s. Only 6.4 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions; average hourly pay is below what it was in 1973; 40 percent of adults lack the savings to pay for a $400 emergency expense. On the other hand, there is more excitement and organizing potential on the left, and among many workers, than there has been in generations. The Fight for $15 has been remarkably successful; hundreds of thousands of teachers have gone on strike illegally and won; innovative new forms of organizing are reinvigorating both labor and the left.

Steven Greenhouse, longtime labor correspondent for the New York Times, surveys this extraordinary terrain in his new book Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor. While he doesn’t provide a detailed history of labor, he does cover some of its most dramatic moments and significant phases from the early twentieth century to the present, with a journalistic flair for personal stories often absent from academic accounts. Much of the narrative, particularly of the neoliberal attack on unions, is bleak, but in the end Greenhouse’s argument is compelling: labor’s present weakness is not engraved in stone. A renaissance is possible.

The most interesting parts of the book are those that lend support to this argument. Too few people are aware, for example, of the spectacular successes of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 of Las Vegas. “Its membership has more than tripled since the late 1980s,” Greenhouse writes, “soaring from eighteen thousand to sixty thousand today, making it one of the most powerful and fastest-growing union locals in the nation.” Dishwashers, waiters, and hotel housekeepers—immigrants, blacks, refugees—have been raised to the middle class.

The trick has been to reject the union’s old “business unionism” model and make it a rank-and-file union, starting in the 1980s. With the help of large and long-lasting strikes at casino-hotels—one lasted over six years—the Culinary forced one hotel after another to accept “card check” neutrality (meaning it would recognize the union after a majority of workers signed cards supporting it). Even the very anti-union MGM finally changed its tune, after public demonstrations were held and the union distributed reports to MGM’s investors warning them that a Culinary strike could damage the company’s precarious finances.

Other unions could also learn from the Culinary’s dedication to politically mobilizing its members. In 2016, it was decisive in switching Nevada from ‘red’ to ‘blue’: its members knocked on 350,000 doors, got thousands of people to register to vote, and brought tens of thousands of early voters to the polls. In 2018, similarly, the union was instrumental in flipping a U.S. Senate seat from red to blue, along with the governor’s mansion and two House seats.

Greenhouse is especially interested in how activists and a “militant minority” of workers have adapted to the adverse conditions of neoliberalism. In chapters on app-based work (Uber, TaskRabbit, Mechanical Turk, etc.), the Fight for $15, viciously exploited farmworkers in Florida, the teacher strikes of 2018, and “how Los Angeles became pro-labor,” he explores the novel strategies and tactics that have been used—in some cases outside the framework of any traditional union at all.

For tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, for instance, conditions have approximated slavery. In 1993, activists founded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to educate and entertain workers by means of leadership training sessions, a low-power radio station, weekly skits about farmwork and social justice (with the immigrants as actors), and other programs. By the mid-90s the Coalition was organizing strikes to press growers for higher pay and better working conditions. But the strategy wasn’t working.

So they switched their focus: they began to pressure tomato-buying chains like Taco Bell and later McDonald’s and Burger King. They had two demands: that these companies require their suppliers to adopt a code of conduct, and that they pay their suppliers a penny more per pound, money that would be passed on to the pickers. With the help of university and high school students, the National Council of Churches and other religious organizations, federal prosecutions of forced labor on Florida farms, and highly visible tactics like a hunger strike outside Taco Bell’s headquarters, the CIW organized a boycott of Taco Bell until the corporation would agree to its demands. In 2005, it finally did. A few years later, other companies followed.

As a result, 35,000 farmworkers have had their wages and working conditions significantly improved. A workplace-monitoring program, which experts have called the best in the U.S., ensures that violations are investigated and punished. “[T]he tomato fields in Immokalee,” one researcher says, “are [now] probably the best working environment in American agriculture.”

Such stories as these make Beaten Down, Worked Up an inspiring read. The final chapter is particularly interesting, for Greenhouse gives concrete advice on “how workers can regain their power.” Perhaps there could be a major national workers’ group comparable to AARP, called something like the American Association of Working People, to which members would pay dues and which would advocate for their interests. Activists could champion a system of worker representation on company boards, similar to Germany’s. Union leaders should be incentivized to do more organizing. If the federal government won’t act, states could implement new laws Greenhouse outlines.

Readers familiar with labor history and the recent corporate attacks on unions might find the book’s treatment of these subjects a little superficial, but Greenhouse’s purpose, in any case, is to contribute practically to the struggle for workers’ rights. And at this he will surely succeed admirably.

The Bomb and the End of Sanity

Sometimes a poet can grasp the human significance of a technological failure better than a scientist. We are fortunate to have these poetic voices from Japan collected here. May we hear them and, more importantly,may we heed them.

— John Pearson, MD, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

I’m thinking hard about ecosocialism and retrenchment and revolution against the capitalist state — this old neofascism for/by/because of the state, governments, and their paymasters, oligarchs and unfettered robber barons, of old and new.

See the source image

How the realities shaping humanity are not humanity’s realities, and the power of shifting baselines and spreading myopia and growing fear inside the capitalist prison creates not only self-defeating behavior from the masses but complicity with the Point Zero Zero One Percent, the One Percent and the Dream and Opportunity Hoarders — the 19 percent.

Hiroshima 74 years ago, August 6, and August 9 for Nagasaki.

This milestone is as powerfully illustrative of the power in the inhumane drive of technocrats, scientists, militarists and corporatists to throw civilization into what has amounted to be tailspin of economic, ecological, educational, equity, energy schizophrenia.

The so-called greenies, those not only plain liars and greenwashers, but also green porn peddlers, many of them actually shooting for a world powered by nuke energy. Imagine that, 400 of them on earth now, and to replace fossil fuel with that devil product, nuclear powered energy, we’d need 60,000 of them peppered all around major metropolitan areas.

Kate Brown, on Democracy Now:

 You know, if we’re going to fully replace fossil fuels, we will have to build 12,000 new reactors around the globe. There are about 400 now. So that’s a big upscale in nuclear power. There will have to be nuclear power stations outside of every major population point. Now, there’s all kinds of problems with cost, versus renewables.

But the thing that most keeps me up at night is the health effects. We really don’t know what the health effects are for sure. This is heavily disputed. There has been no big study. The Chernobyl records show that health effects at low doses of radioactivity are severe and that they run through a population, causing people to feel — before they die, before they get cancers, before they’re reported as acute effects, the subacute effects cause people have a sort of a full bouquet of health problems, that make life just miserable on a daily level,  makes their work productivity quite low, makes the joy of living exist.

I’m afraid that not only could it happen here, but, in fact, it already has happened here. Our biggest nuclear power plant, in Hanford, power plant in western — eastern Ukraine — I mean, I’m sorry, in eastern Washington state, spilled 350 million curies of radioactive waste into the surrounding environment during the Cold War production of nuclear arms. We tested — we’re the only country in the world that tested nuclear bombs in our heartland, in Nevada. Those hundred nuclear weapons that were blown up on the American continent spread billions — not millions like in Chernobyl, but billions — of curies of radioactive waste around the American country. And so, we have had spots of radioactivity in Tennessee and Chicago area that were as high as near Nevada. And what we have is a public health crisis that we have yet not yet fully addressed. We have rising rates of thyroid cancer, rising rates of pediatric cancers, which used to be, in the 1930s, a medical rarity.  Whether there is a connection between these troubling health statistics and the kind of contaminants, including radioactive contaminants in the environment, is something that we need to address.

Thanks to Dissident Voice, we featured the mind and spirit of not only Kate Brown, but others tied to the crimes of our government and technocrats and bureaucrats against Hanford, the Tri-Cities, Washington, Oregon, the Japanese, the entire world — the place that seeded the nuclear isotopes for one of those bombs used to murder people vis-a-vis Oppenheimer:

Hanford — From Nagasaki to Fourth-Generation Spokanites: As They Get Sick, Age, and Die, Will Downwinders Tell The Story of Nuclear Dread?

Nuclear Narratives – When Cold War Starts, the Hot Milk Gets Poured: Survivors downwind from radioactive releases push through complacency, amnesia, and secrets

In an Age of Millisecond and Nanosecond Info, Poetry Really Counts

The Heart of where we go from here is really the path back, to a place of reconciliation, regrouping and re-appropriating the power of collective action, collectivism and stopping the monsters of greed running the world.

Helen Keller, on a return trip to Japan in 1948,
visited Hiroshima.

She directly touched the A-bomb survivors’ keloid scars
and came to understand the horror of the Atomic Bomb.

[…]

If Helen were to visit Fukushima now
and touch the ground with her fingertips,
what kind of scream would pierce her skin
and shake her soul?

—Masanori Shida, “Helen Keller’s Fingertips”

This gift of a poem comes to me through a very two or three degrees of separation story in my life: I was at a Cirque Journal reading in Portland last week. I and 12 others reading our work from a just published new edition of Cirque Journal.

I was at a pre-reading publisher event, where I was there with my veteran buddy, Danny, and my friend, Larry, meeting as buddies but also part of my rendezvous with Sandra with Cirque, and another writer, Leah Stenson. Leah and I both have very different books coming out in 2020 through Cirque Press (my short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, and hers is a memoir, Life, Revised)  and, well, after talking, meeting, reading at a Lutheran Church, and then, meeting for libations and food at the Rose City Book Pub, she gifted me her edited book, Reverberations from Fukushima: 50 Japanese Poets Speak Out. 

This book, like a Santa Ana of wind on a cool summer night, ties into so many issues I have been journeying with:

  • the military industrial complex now embedded in almost all things Capitalism
  • the lies of corporations and lobbies tied to EVERYTHING I have studied that has caused physical, mental, and spiritual despair in humanity and all of Gaia’s nature
  • the masculine madness of genuflecting to industry, to chemicals, to industrial logging, ag, mining, harvesting of resources
  • the flagrant psychological manipulation of entire groups and societies by the oppressors — capitalists and their battalions of little Eichmann’s

Leah’s co-editor, Asao Sarukawa Aroldi, was part of the growing anti-nuclear movement in Japan following the disaster at Fukushima. Leah credits Asao for getting Japanese poets to be part of this book, by Inkwater Press. Much of the discovery took place from a book edited by Hisao Suzuki: Farewell to Nuclear, Welcome Renewable Energy: A Collection of Poems by 218 Poets (Coal Sack Publishing, 2012).

This book is a virtual goldmine of powerful poets, many of who reside(resided) in these areas directly or near the Fukushima disaster. Five authors in this collection are residents of Fukushima Prefecture — Masayuki Nemoto, Hiroshi Suzuki, Takao Ota, Tamiko Kido, Jotaro Wakamatsu. Three were born in Fukushima Prefecture — Setsuko Okubo, Chihiro Uozumi, Shonai Haga — and one, Makoto Yoshida, is deceased.

Someday nuclear power
will certainly turn its fangs on people.
………………………
To forever reject this monster —
therein lies our raison d’etre.
…………………….
If we should be negligent in this
then surely our grandchildren will someday ask:
“What did your generation do?”

— “Heavy Days and Years,” Makoto Yoshida

Today, we are at the juncture where very little attention is paid to Japan and other places attempting to disseminate all the suffering the people of Fukushima underwent at the time of the meltdown and what continues today as a vast cover up by governments, the so-called nuclear energy industry, the military, and the sciences wedded to this ghastly form of boiling water for electricity.

That earthquake that struck at 2:46 pm March 11, 2011 was the most powerful in Japan’s history. The tsunami (Japanese word for harbor wave) hit the plant one hour after the quake. Water hit the basement of the plant’s off-site batteries which were designed for the generator to keep the cores cool. This is a violation of nuclear safety principles, and the plant’s cooling system went off, causing the meltdown of the fuel and explosion of excess hydrogen.

There is no absolute safety with nuclear energy, but the nuclear industry purports this all the time: “clean safe renewable energy.”

In the poem, “To Give Birth,” Rumiko Kora looks at the element in the Chinese character to give birth as depiction of a baby being born.

In the olden days, when a woman left the hut after childbirth, she ducked under the waves and swam through the waves at day on the shore of the Japan Sea to return from death.

For the Japanese, women needed to be cleansed by the waves because giving birth also meant going to the after-world in order to give birth to a new life — in the cycle of life and death.

Women have given birth in this way,
have kept on giving birth, but the birth canal has eventually led to the nuclear power plant, has it not?

In the poem, “A Land of Sorrow: A City Spirited Away by God,” Jotaro Wakamatsu looks at Pripyat City, a town near Chernobyl. Eight years after the accident weeds push up sidewalks, and from some appearances things look normal with flying swallows and swarms of mosquitoes and butterflies on flowers. However. . . .

Yet,
it is a city with no human voices.
It is a city where not human walks.
It is a city where 45,000 people are hiding.

[…]

Everything is headed for ruin,
competing with human lives
and the city build by humans in the race to ruin are:
strontium 90 with its half-life of  27.7 years
cesium 137 with its half-life of 30 years
plutonium 239 with its half-life of 24,400 years.

The madness of humanity post Fertile Crescent ascension, post bronze age, into the industrial age/revolution is exponentially ramped up year after year with more and more systems, tools, products, and consumables of death, and oppression. How many do we grieve just for World War Two? Seventy million? How many countries has the USA bombed just in the 20th century? How many millions killed by USA?

See the source image

Every turn, we see the results of the inhumane, the rampant reliance on the takers, as those of us in leaver society find it more difficult each day to be a human being.

The problem is that man’s conquest of the world has itself devastated the world. And in spite of all the mastery we’ve attained, we don’t have enough mastery to stop devastating the world – or to repair the devastation we’ve already wrought. We’ve poured our poisons into the world as though it were a bottomless pit – and we go on pouring our poisons into the world. We’ve gobbled up irreplaceable resources as though they could never run out – and we go on gobbling them up. It’s hard to imagine how the world could survive another century of this abuse, but nobody’s really doing anything about it… “Only one thing can save us. We have to increase our mastery of the world. All this damage has come about through our conquest of the world, but we have to go on conquering it until our rule is absolute. Then, when we’re in complete control, everything will be fine. We’ll have fusion power. No pollution. We’ll turn the rain on and off. We’ll grow a bushel of wheat in a square centimeter…And that’s where it stands right now. We have to carry the conquest forward. And carrying it forward is either going to destroy the world or turn it into a paradise.

— Gorilla, talking to journalist, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn

As I have repeated many times, poetry can bring meaning to individual experiences with the power of perception and words, bringing that personal view to a universal understanding. That despoiled land or war-torn city, any of those harrowing human travails can be the conduit of enlightenment and healing. We are basically living in a house of mirrors, a carnival of horrors, and a nightmare of deep proportions invented by the overlords — throughout human history from around 12,000 before the present era.

Yet that catharsis we see in these poems in the book, Reverberations from Fukushima, are deeper than personal trauma healing and more about recounting what is human universal truth and strength — memory, and remembering the sorrow. We are part of a great collective consciousness if we as individuals are capable of releasing the ego and moving toward the collective view.

These poets come to Fukushima and live inside the disaster crumbling  their air, soil, sea and water and they seethe with a sense of desiring answers and reclaiming truth.

Einstein’s Voice

“Bamboo poles for sale!
Bamboo poles for sale!”

While I am reading the newspaper, reclining
in the afternoon on a summer’s day,
I hear the sing-song cry of a man selling laundry poles.*

The atomic bomb, Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima
at 15 minutes and 17 seconds past 9:00 a.m.
August 6, Tinian Time.
It is said
when the news reached Einstein,
who had contributed to the Manhattan Project,
he just uttered a groan:

Oy vey!

And
in similar words in a will
he wrote five months before his death:
If I had my life to live over again,
I would like to be a tinsmith or a traveling salesman,
not a scientist or a teacher.

Bamboo poles for sale!
Bamboo poles for sale!
Bamboo poles for sale!

No one seems to be buying any bamboo poles.
Outside the windows
the sky is clear, like in Hiroshima.

Oy vey!

Did he turn at the street corner?
The voice of the traveling salesman, Einstein,
is fading further away.

— Hiroyoshi Komatsu

This book is both clarion call and dirge, a recollection and a plea for future generations to bear witness and move to action. And that action is clear — stop the nuclear madness, in both the boiling water to turn turbines to give electricity, and those nuclear-tipped weapons of genocide.

There’s an amazing poem, “You’re Gonna Get It!” by Ken Yamaguchi.

He starts — “The Japanese archipelago
completely surrounded with fifty-four nuclear plants,
is like a prison in the ocean
isolating the prisoners.”

He ends — “August 15, 1945, we lost the war.
The Myth of Invincibility of the totalitarian emperor system collapsed.
You, who are trying to follow a fallen path,
You’re gonna get it!”

We all relish the moments when the masters of this calamity and chaos are ‘gonna get it,’ for sure. We all have lost that war, those tumbling Fat Man and Little Boy. And we are losing the war now as perverted politicians laugh at their power to drop MOAB’s — mother of all bombs.

This collection edited by Stenson and Sarukawa Aroldi give the world shadows from which to peel away the false dramas coming out of that house of mirrors.

See the source image

We are here, on the Pacific, eating the dredges of Fukushima, each radioactive ion encapsulated in the very flesh of the fish we so desire as benediction and nutrition. We can dine with the poet, as we perish, and suffer, and wonder why humanity has turned against itself.

See the source image

 

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.

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

Decolonization Displaces Neoliberalism in Bolivia

In the central interior of the Canadian province of British Columbia is the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. A corporate entity, Coastal GasLink (CGL), abetted by colonial-government structures, is preparing to lay a pipeline in this territory. The Dinï ze’ and Ts’akë ze’ (hereditary chiefs) did not grant consent for this; in fact, the proposal from CGL was unanimously rejected.

On 22 July, the Gidimt’en (Wolf and Bear) Clan of the Wet’suwet’en filed a lawsuit against CGL in the BC Supreme Court connected to the enforcement on 7 January when 14 people were arrested resisting a BC Supreme Court injunction granting CGL access to the pipeline right-of-way through Wet’suwet’en territory.1

Given the state of siege and corporate Canada’s unwelcome intrusion onto Wet’suwet’en territory, what is crystal clear is that colonialism continues unabated.

Ongoing colonialism and ongoing genocide remain a reprehensible and undeniable fact in “British Columbia.”2

Overcoming Colonialism and Genocide: The Bolivian Template

To combat the insidious effects of colonialism the colonialism must be undone. South of Turtle Island is the landlocked nation of Bolivia where decolonization has been underway. Author Benjamin Dangl chronicles this in The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia (AK Press, 2019). The brilliance of The Five Hundred Year Rebellion is that it lays out one actionable template for reclaiming what settler-colonists robbed from Indigenous peoples.

There are 38 different Indigenous groups in Bolivia; populous among them are the Aymara, Quechua, and Gurani. Indigenous peoples in Bolivia have mobilized en masse to reclaim their history and empower themselves through grassroots activism. The movements were labor-, union-, academic-, and politic-oriented.

Dangl writes that after the Spanish destroyed Incan society, the Indigenous-led National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ) sought to reconstitute and solidify Bolivian ayllus (a centuries old community structure in the Andes). The Andean Oral History Workshop (THOA) reconstructed the historical narrative of Indigenous Bolivians.

Bartolina Sisa and Túpac Katari © Hugo Quispe

Important in restoring the historical Indigenous narrative was Katarismo organized by campesino movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Kararismo is named after the Aymara martyr Túpac Katari. In 1781, Katari with his wife Bartolina Sisa (women were an important part of the movement; p 71-78) and thousands of campesinos used road blocks (an effective tactic often used by the Indigenous resistance movements) to lay siege to La Paz, the seat of government in Bolivia. However, this uprising failed and Katari was brutally quartered by the Spanish. Katari, subsequently, has been used as a icon of the resistance against the police state and military regimes. (p 49, 61)

Out of Katarismo arose the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers in Bolivia (CSUTCB). The Kataristas resisted the military governments in Bolivia and the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) that overthrew a military government in 1951. While the MNR brought in some land reforms, it sought to erase Indigenous identity. (p 25-28) The Kataristas, however, reinvoked Indigenous memory.

The CSUTCB indigenized the Bolivian Workers’ Central by, for example, recognizing Indigenous sartorial. (p 65) The solidarity was important in overthrowing military regimes.

Dangl details the importance of THOA in bringing Indigenous history to the forefront after years of being suppressed by colonialism, academia — and even Marxism (p 93). After the ayllu network was reconstructed by CONAMAQ, Indigenous surnames were retained, Indigenous narratives were incorporated into education, and Indigenous languages and culture were promoted. (p 94-104)

One particular history recovered by THOA was of the Indigenous resistance leader Santos Marka T’ula: “T’ula’s life is the vehicle of the narrative, positioned as a crucial step in a much longer journey toward justice.” (p 126)

Notable in the history of the Indigenous peoples has been a strong socialist component from the days of the Incan empire, Tawantinsuyu, to the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) governing Bolivia today. The ayllus are communal, featuring sharing and mutual aid (p 139- 140) — and even anarchistic in that leadership is rotational and decision-making consensus-based. (p 153)

Dangl describes the election of an Indigenous leader, Evo Morales, as a “watershed moment” in Bolivia. (p 163) Morales is currently standing for election to a fourth term as president of Bolivia. This is hardly rotational, but his MAS governments have made great strides for the people of Bolivia while continuing to face challenges and criticisms.

The Five Hundred Year Rebellion traces the historical path of colonial repression, historiographical and cultural destruction which was met with Indigenous resistance and the struggle for decolonization.

Solidarity is a key, and the Wet’suwet’en have reached out in their fight against colonialism.

Bolivia offers a template that might be useful in Indigenous contexts elsewhere. As such, Dangl’s book is an important source to consider for carrying out a successful resistance and achieving justice.

  1. .See Unist’ot’en.
  2. See Kerry Coast, author of The Colonial Present: The Rule of Ignorance and the Role of Law in British Columbia (Clarity Press and International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, 2013). Review; Tamara Starblanket, Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018). Review; Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus The Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Burnaby, BC: Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). Review; James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (University of Regina Press, 2013); Robert Davis and Mark Zannis, The Genocide Machine in Canada (Black Rose, 1973).