Category Archives: Media Bias

The Conspiracy Against Nuclear Energy: How Big Oil Built the Ecology Movement to Demonize Nuclear Energy Competition

Some skeptical questions

Is nuclear energy safe? What can we do about the waste? What about Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima – don’t they prove that we can’t rely on nuclear reactors? Won’t a tiny amount of radiation kill you? Why are reactors so expensive to build with so many delays? Why don’t we just use renewables? Why don’t we just abandon dirty, wasteful industry and go back to the land?

These are some of the skeptical questions on the minds of progressives and even socialists. In this article I will try to answer them and make the case for a global program to replace fossil fuels with nuclear fuels in the interest of climate change mitigation and human well-being.

A promising start

Until the 1970s nuclear energy was generally recognized as the energy source of the future. Many industrial countries had started installing cheap, clean nuclear power plants to produce electricity. Although only 2% of electricity in the US was produced by nuclear power plants in 1970, they were already seen as an important alternative to the fossil fuel plants that dominated the market. In 1974, the far-sighted French government launched a program to diminish France’s reliance on imported petroleum by constructing nuclear power plants that today account for 75% of France’s electricity production. In the United States, President Eisenhower had in 1956 threatened King Saud of Saudi Arabia with disruption of oil markets by sharing nuclear technology with European countries.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: BIG OIL CREATES FRIENDS OF THE EARTH

The oil industry quickly acted to protect its market share. In 1969 Robert O. Anderson, CEO and founder of Atlantic Richfield Oil, made a gift of $200,000 (half a million today) to David Brower to create Friends of the Earth, which became the leading voice internationally in creating opposition to nuclear energy and spreading inaccurate information about it. Soon the Council on Foreign Relations and the mass media, both of which have ties to the petroleum industry, jumped on the band wagon. Rapidly, a propaganda campaign that exists to this day was put together to denigrate nuclear energy to Big Oil’s benefit. Even Hollywood helped out at a critical moment with the film “China Syndrome”.

The lesson from this bit of history is that we have been had by the same capitalists whose propaganda machine leads us into war, tells us every day that there is no alternative to their insanely anarchic economy, and lies systematically about all the socialist countries. Everything that you think you know about the dangers of nuclear energy is wrong. It is simply the outcome of an advertising campaign that trashes the competition.

WHAT DO NUCLEAR REACTORS DO BETTER THAN FOSSIL-FUELED POWER PLANTS?

Nuclear reactors provide clean electricity at a reasonable price. They do not pump pollutants into the air that kill millions of people every year. They do not produce greenhouse gases that aggravate climate change.

By replacing fossil-fueled electrical plants with nuclear, we can eliminate 27% of current US greenhouse gases. As I will explain later, we can’t do that with solar and wind, which require fossil-fueled or nuclear backup plants to cover their down times.

By converting to all electric vehicles, we can eliminate an additional 28% of US greenhouse gases.

By converting to all electric residential and commercial heat we can eliminate most of the 12% of US greenhouse gases from that source.

By satisfying industrial energy needs with nuclear-generated electricity we can eliminate a significant portion of the industry’s 22% contribution to US greenhouse gases.

HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS CONVERSION HAPPEN?

Capitalism cannot do the job

A conversion project of the magnitude described above is beyond the capabilities of the global capitalist economy in its current state of decay. A cut in petroleum product consumption in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the price of oil negative for a while, and it is currently selling below $40/barrel less than production costs for many producers. The first large victim of this relatively minor disturbance has been ExxonMobil, which Dow Jones no longer lists. Imagine the effect on the oil industry, in particular, and capitalist economies in general were a decision to replace petroleum with uranium to become policy. Every oil company would have to write down the value of its assets, oil in the ground and equipment, and rapidly declare bankruptcy. It would be necessary to artificially maintain oil production during the interim period until it is no longer needed.

Not only is private capitalist finance manifestly incapable of supporting projects on this scale, but nor do capitalist priorities – putting return on investment before all else – sufficiently value human well-being to put it before the scramble for profit. Although the US government was once able to launch a program to land a man on the moon, it is politically impossible to launch a similar program to massively convert to nuclear energy as the levers of power are completely compromised by the petroleum industry and the economy would face near certain ruin.

Nuclear power under socialism

However, a socialist economy has massively different priorities and is impervious to the capitalist drive for profits. The first and essential priority of a socialist economy is the betterment of living conditions for all humans. In practice, this means:

  • the elimination of poverty;
  • provide adequate food;
  • clothing;
  • shelter;
  • education;
  • healthcare;
  • transportation; and,
  • safety.

In a planned economy, the active population deliberates on what it needs to accomplish with the material and intellectual resources at hand. We have plenty of examples of this from socialist history.

From its beginning, the Soviet Union created a national healthcare system where none had previously existed. At the same time, its leadership recognized early on that it would be attacked and obliterated by the capitalist powers unless it could create a modern industrial economy and build the weaponry of modern warfare in time. As we know it made the necessary decisions and destroyed the invading German army in WWII.

Early after the revolution, poverty-stricken Cuba decided that literacy was a priority and with the help of its school children virtually eliminated illiteracy in the adult population. Cuba also made it a priority to create a first-class healthcare complex, not only for Cubans, but for any people in the world who need its help. We know what Cuba’s success in this area has done for the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In about 1980 the Chinese Communist Party decided to eliminate absolute poverty. Since then 800 million Chinese have been lifted from the lowest internationally recognized category of poverty, and the last few Chinese citizens will be raised from absolute poverty in 2020. Current projects that the Chinese people are working tt to include achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and evolving toward a totally socialist economy in 2049, the centenary of the Chinese Revolution. Nuclear energy looms large in the plan to achieve carbon neutrality. The current plan is to increase nuclear electricity production to six times the current level by 2050 – from about 70GW to 400GW.

Never, to my knowledge, has a capitalist economy been able to plan for national goals, nor achieve them, except in war. The best capitalists can do is to plan for individual enterprises, or perhaps even a few related enterprises. Even in a country like Germany, which was well on the way to conversion to full nuclear-generated electricity, opposition capitalists were able to sabotage the plan. Now, German nuclear installations are being shut down and replaced with coal-fired plants.

LET’S REFUTE SOME FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT NUCLEAR ENERGY

What is ?

Radioactivity is the emission, spontaneous or induced, of particles from decaying atomic nuclei. The particles can be electrons, protons, neutrons, ionized light atoms such as helium, photons, neutrinos, or antineutrinos. All these decay products together are called radiation. Some of them are ionizing radiation, since they carry enough energy to knock electrons off atoms as they pass near them. The neutrinos, however, can traverse the entire earth and touch nothing.

Radioactivity is not harmful in small doses

There is a lot of mystery, misunderstanding, and outright obfuscation about radiation. Let us be clear. Radiation, like many other things we encounter in nature — snakes, cyanide, some mushrooms and plants, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) – can kill. This is a good thing. Radiation therapy kills cancers and saves the patient. It can also kill microbes and sterilize surfaces and foods. In large doses it can kill human beings. In small doses it is harmless.

In fact, you are being continuously bombarded with cosmic radiation and you are totally unaware of it. Radiation doses are measured in Sieverts (Sv). At sea level, you absorb about 0.1 micro Sv every hour of every day. At higher altitudes and during air travel, doses can be significantly higher — 2, 4, or even 9 micro Sv/hour. Cosmic rays account for about one tenth of the radiation that you absorb from nature. The rest enter your body from things you breathe in or eat, or things just around where you are. For example, by entering Grand Central Station in New York City, which is made of granite, you increase your radiation dose from the naturally decaying materials in the granite.

In our evolutionary history we have built up a certain degree of immunity

So, why haven’t you already died from radiation poisoning? Every living thing since the beginning of life on Earth has been subjected to all this natural background radiation. Every living species has ancestors who evolved mechanisms to repair radiation damage. Those species that didn’t don’t exist. Our species did. Congratulations to us. As a gift from our evolutionary forebears, we have natural immunity to a certain level of radiation.

How does a nuclear reactor work?

Nuclear reactors cause atomic nuclei to split in a controlled environment. When the nuclei split, they release energy in the form of moving atomic particles (atomic nuclei, protons, neutrons, electrons, etc.). Some of the neutrons go on to induce other nuclei to split. This is called a chain reaction. The other particles dissipate their energy, generating heat as they ionize atoms in the reactor. This heat is used to produce steam to turn electrical turbines. In the future, reactors still in the design stage may be able to perform other tasks such as generating hydrogen, producing reactor fuel, and neutralizing nuclear reactor waste products.

Why nuclear waste is not an uncontrollable danger

The simple truth is that nuclear reactors do not produce very much waste. After some months of operation, the fuel in a reactor is consumed. In order to sustain the reaction, uranium, for example, must be treated so that its fissile isotope, U-235, is concentrated (usually to 3-5%) to provide a sufficient number of targets to sustain the chain reaction.

An isotope is a nucleus with a specific number of neutrons. For example, U-235 has 92 protons, like all the different isotopes of uranium, but has 235-92 or 143 neutrons. Saying that the fuel is consumed means that the concentration of U-235 has fallen below the level necessary to maintain a chain reaction. There are still significant quantities of U-235 in the spent fuel, just not enough to do the job.

Fortunately, the spent rods can be recycled as raw material to produce new fuel rods. Another one of the byproducts of nuclear fission is the element plutonium, which can also be used as fuel in a reactor. At present the United States does not recycle spent nuclear fuel. However, France, the UK, Russia, Japan, and India do. In fact, France recycles waste for several European countries in its facility at La Hague on the Normandy coast. There is a very informative film about the La Hague facility here.

Other byproducts are just waste at our current level of technology. At some future time, they may turn out to be useful. If not, there may one day be reactors that can break them down into harmless material. In the meantime, these byproducts are embedded in glass pellets and stored.

What about nuclear accidents?

Well, there was the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, PA. A minor malfunction led, through a series of operator errors, to the partial meltdown of the nuclear core. At one time during the recovery process a small amount of radioactivity, well within the range of background radiation in the region, was released. During 17 years of monitoring, the Pennsylvania Department of Health found no deleterious effects on the health of the 30,000 people who lived near the reactor at the time of the accident. A lot of money was spent cleaning up the damaged reactor, while the other one on the site is in operation, certified until 2034. There is a detailed description of the accident and the aftermath here.

Fukushima: On March 11, 2011, a tsunami damaged three of five nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan. The three damaged reactors are a write-off. High levels of radioactivity were released to the environs at the time of the accident, but only insignificant amounts have been released subsequently. The local population was immediately evacuated and has suffered no deleterious effects from the radioactivity. Currently, some residents are being allowed to return. No deaths or injuries occurred due to the accident. A detailed report can be found here.

A great deal of radioactive water, used to cool the damaged reactor cores, has accumulated since the accident. It is stored on site after radioactive contaminants have been removed. One contaminant, tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, remains in the water. the Japanese government plans to dump the water into the ocean at the site. This decision has led to a great deal of adverse press, largely due to ignorance about what the contaminated water contains and the significance of the contaminant.

As tritium spontaneously decays into helium-3, a stable isotope, it emits a low energy electron. This particle can barely penetrate matter, so its ability to ionize, for example, human tissues is nearly negligible. However, in concentrated doses, it can be dangerous. No concentrated doses of tritium are stored at Fukushima. When the water is eventually dumped into the ocean, the tritium will be diluted to the point that the radioactivity will be hardly detectable at exit from the plant’s harbor. Here is an article about the current situation.

Chernobyl: In 1986 a reactor with a flawed design suffered a steam explosion. The accident was exacerbated by the presence of poorly trained staff. Twenty-eight people working at the plant died of acute radiation syndrome (ARS). Nobody off site suffered from ARS; however, some thyroid cancer deaths in people who were children at the time may have occurred.

In the area around Chernobyl 350,000 people were evacuated. Resettlement is ongoing, and it is possible to make tourist visits to the reactor site. A detailed report of the accident and the aftermath can be found here. As a condition for entering the European Union a number of countries have closed their Chernobyl-style reactors.

Nuclear construction projects so often incur cost overruns and delays in the US and Europe, but not everywhere

It is true that nuclear reactor construction in the United States has been plagued for years with cost overruns and long delays. Until recently, I thought that this problem was primarily political. Anti-nuclear activists, I thought, had thrown enough impediments, legal and regulatory, in the way that utilities were hamstrung in their efforts to build new nuclear capacity.

I recently discovered, to my surprise, in an article from Forbes Magazine that my assumption is wrong. It turns out that delays and costs are a problem in the US and Europe, but not in Asia and the Middle East. The article indicates that, according to a MIT study, the problem stems from poor project management:

  • Construction is begun before site design is complete;
  • Insufficiently committed management teams cannot adapt to changing conditions; and,
  • Supplies are unreliable and trained workers are lacking.

This last problem is a direct result of western lack of commitment to installing nuclear power plants in recent decades.

Why regressing to pre-industrial times will not work

What are we trying to achieve as we abandon fossil fuels? Clearly, we want to halt the climate change associated with increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. That said, what kind of society do we want once we no longer depend on fossil fuels?

In advocating in favor of nuclear energy over several decades, I have been struck by a remarkably naïve line of argument. Radical environmentalists sometimes claim that humans are a blight or a cancer on the planet. Our industrial society, they say, is nothing but an assault on Nature, and we must return to a more natural, simple agrarian economy.

This cannot occur, and here is why. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1800, world population is estimated to have been between 800 million and 1.1 billion. Current world population is about 7.8 billion.

That increase in population is due, among other major achievements, to our success in defeating disease and hunger, increasing crop yields, providing safe drinking water, making possible moderately livable urban environments, creating a global division of labor, and neutralizing religious rejection of science and education. By continuing in this direction, world population will soon peak, and before the end of the century it will decrease to about 8.8 billion.

Were we to return to a pre-industrial life, the world population would have to decrease to a billion or fewer people. We cannot do that in a humane way. Furthermore, why would we want to?

Pre-industrial societies suffered from high infant mortality, for example. We would not be able to provide the energy-intense health environment to maintain current low infant mortality rates. We would not be able to maintain highly energy-intensive production of medications for otherwise mortal diseases for people of all ages. Life expectancy would severely decline. We would not be able to produce fertilizers and pesticides that protect crops and increase their quantity and quality. Famine would become commonplace, as it always has been in pre-industrial societies. We would have to abandon the use of electricity production, which depends on energy-intensive materials such as steel for both generation and transmission equipment. In any real and politically acceptable sense, there is no way to go back to a not so idyllic pre-industrial past. That leaves us the imperative to work out the political and technical means to achieve a sustainable industrial future.

Why wind and solar energy are not enough

In fact, there is not a single solar, wind, biomass or other “renewable” energy source capable of matching the power density that nuclear reactors provide. That means that any of these “green” options gobble up vast amounts of the earth’s surface simply for energy production, leaving less space available for, say, agriculture or natural habitats. What are the numbers? The best we can hope for is desert solar photovoltaic farms, which can produce electricity at the rate of up to 20W/m². By contrast, both nuclear and fossil fueled plants achieve outputs in excess of 1000W/m² — at least 50 times more power density than the best-case green solution. In practice, this means that some countries like Germany and the UK would need to cover half their area in wind turbines to supply energy at current consumption rates. Other industrial countries, Japan and South Korea, are too small to supply their own electricity needs. Both nuclear and fossil fuels can easily meet the density constraint, and nuclear energy meets it without greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no need to invoke the effects on the environment of massive electricity generation from low intensity solar and wind farms. Nor need we critique the short mean time between failures of these technologies, their short life span or the significant pollution problems caused by disposal of failed equipment.

CONCLUSION

In this article, I focus on the energy needs for a sustainable industrial future. Two criteria suffice to determine how to go forward:

  • We will need to be able to guarantee stable base-line electricity production for both home and industrial/commercial needs; and,
  • We will need to provide high temperature process heat for industry.

Today baseline electricity comes from a mix of fossil fueled generators (coal, oil, natural gas), hydroelectric facilities, and nuclear fueled reactors. To achieve sustainability, we will need to remove fossil fuels from this mix. Electricity generated by direct solar and wind energy cannot fill that gap. Quite simply, they are, and always will be, unreliable. When the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing, electricity production stops.

Process heat is today provided both by fossil fuels and electricity. For example, iron and steel production require high temperatures to purify and manipulate the final product. Both glass and ceramics require high temperature ovens. Production often continues around the clock and furnaces can be damaged or destroyed if the internal temperature drops. Because neither solar nor wind powered generators can meet this constraint, they are unsuitable.

In some cases, furnaces heated with fossil fuels can be replaced with electrical furnaces. Nuclear reactors are currently used as well. For information about this technology see this article.  In short, nuclear energy can replace fossil fuels both generating reliable base-line electricity and producing industrial process heat.

The upshot of our history of nuclear accidents is that they are uncommon, but can cost the utility owner a lot of money, and they rarely cause radiation injuries. The more we use nuclear reactors, learn from mistakes, and improve them, the fewer accidents will occur and the less significant they will be. That is the general history of the development of any technology. Consider, for example, what has occurred with automobiles and airplanes.

Remember Ford’s Model T? Probably not. You would likely have been terrified to ride in one. There were no seat belts or air bags. The windows were not shatter proof. There were hardly any paved roads. The steering wheel and front axle were held on with cotter pins! To complete the picture of how vehicle safety has improved as the technology evolved, look at the chart “Deaths and MV rates” here. The point is that for any technology, the same thing happens. As it is introduced, innovations make it work better with less danger to people who depend on it.

One word about airplane evolution: Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic with no navigation system other than the seat of his pants.

People often fear novelty and are easily manipulated to reject it. When I see the fear-mongering that the anti-nuclear movement carries out, I am reminded of an editorial in the New York Times. At the time of the debate about electrification in New York City, the Times ran a fear-mongering editorial claiming that power lines would collapse in the first storm, leaving electrocuted horses in the streets. No comment.

REFUTING FRIENDS OF THE EARTH PROPAGANDA ABOUT NUCLEAR ENERGY  

Now that we have explained what nuclear energy is all about, let’s see what Friends of the Earth says today, half a century after it was created to crush the nuclear power industry.

After 60 years, despite massive subsidies, the nuclear industry is dying of its own accord.

— Not true. It is flourishing in Asia and provides much of the electricity in Western Europe.

Because it’s too expensive, too dangerous and dirty, and takes too long to deploy. 

— Not true. If you have read this article diligently, you can refute Friends of the Earth and their friends.

Reactors are closing across the country, and major corporations have declared bankruptcy.

— Misleading. Despite efforts of the petroleum industry and its allies like Friends of the Earth who have done everything they could to sabotage the nuclear power industry, nuclear reactors have supplied about 20% of US electricity since the late 80s. In order to do so, more reactors have had to come online to maintain that level as electricity demand has increased. Without The petroleum industry’s sabotage, nuclear reactors would probably provide an even greater proportion electricity today.

Nuclear power simply cannot compete against safer, cleaner and cheaper renewable energy.

— Not true. Nuclear power doesn’t need a backup energy source for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. In fact, nuclear energy provides the backup, when it isn’t a fossil fuel burning plant.

Nuclear power is also expensive.

— Not true. Whole countries depend on nuclear energy to supply their electricity. Some even sell their excess electricity to their neighbors at competitive prices.

Nuclear’s subsidies have been buried in hundreds of spending bills, it’s [sic] costs externalized to the environment and future generations, and its bills literally unpaid, defaulted on or passed to taxpayers. Conservative estimates suggest that the nuclear industry has received more than $85 billion in subsidies. A centrist estimate might double that.

— So what? Go find out how much the petroleum industry receives in subsidies.  Spoiler alert: Lots. This is a feature of a capitalist economy that applies to every industry, even pork.

For 60 years, nuclear power has posed a serious risk to people and our planet.

— Not true. Friends of the Earth is confusing nuclear with the fossil fuel industries, whose pollution kills millions of people every year. Review the discussion of nuclear accidents.

It will be the same for the next 10,000 years. Our children and generations of their children will be forced to endure the radioactive pollution and fallout from devastating accidents like 3 Mile Island, Fukashima [sic] and Chernobyl, and the permanent waste that no one can safely store.

— Not true. Review the section on nuclear waste storage and recycling of nuclear fuel. Then take a guided tour to Chernobyl.

The risks of nuclear proliferation and the spread of dangerous weapons and technology only adds to this.

Partially true. Nuclear proliferation is a byproduct of capitalist warfare. Nuclear fuel cannot be used for nuclear weapons since the concentration of radioactive material is far too low. If capitalist nations want to build atomic bombs, they won’t use reactor fuel; they will directly enrich the materials they need.

This whole screed from the Friends of the Earth website reminds me of advertising. One soap manufacturer insinuates that his competitor’s product leaves a ring around your collar. If you are naïve enough to fall for it, you buy his product. At the beginning of this article, we reviewed the role of Robert O. Anderson, CEO of Atlantic Richfield Oil, in providing the money to create Friends of the Earth. He gave about half a million current dollars for this advertising campaign in 1969. Boy, has he gotten his money’s worth!

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post The Conspiracy Against Nuclear Energy: How Big Oil Built the Ecology Movement to Demonize Nuclear Energy Competition first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Robert Fisk: Death Of A “Controversial” Journalist

Robert Fisk, the Independent’s Middle East correspondent, died on 30 October aged 74. In reviewing his life and career, the newspaper for which he worked for more than two decades wrote of their star reporter:

‘Much of what Fisk wrote was controversial…’

As John Pilger noted, in describing Fisk’s journalism as ‘controversial’ the Independent was using a ‘weasel word’.

The Washington Post published a piece titled:

‘Robert Fisk, daring but controversial British war correspondent and author, dies at 74’

Al Jazeera’s piece was subtitled:

‘The Independent newspaper confirms its acclaimed and controversial journalist died following a short illness.’

A piece in Le Monde Diplomatique was titled:

‘La mort de Robert Fisk, grand reporter au Moyen-Orient et personnage controversé’ (Christophe Ayad, Le Monde Diplomatique Online, 4 November 2020)

The trend is clear. When The Times subjected Fisk to one of its full-on hit pieces in April 2018, it wrote: ‘Fisk is no stranger to controversy.’

So why do ‘mainstream’ commentators feel obliged to red-flag Fisk’s journalism with ‘controversial’ in this way, and why is it a ‘weasel word’?

Consider that the likes of the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov and The Times’ David Aaronovitch, and numerous others, will never be described as ‘controversial’, despite their highly controversial, in fact, outrageous, warmongering bias.

Marr is not labelled ‘controversial’ for supporting a ground invasion of Serbia in 1999:

I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we’re so steeped in blood we should go further. If we really believe Milosevic is this bad, dangerous and destabilising figure we must ratchet this up much further. We should now be saying that we intend to put in ground troops. (Marr, ‘Do we give war a chance?1

Was that ‘controversial’? How about this?

Was it ‘controversial’ for the Guardian to write this of the country that has relentlessly waged war and supported tyranny around the world since 1945:

‘Joe Biden looks to have done enough to win the White House… He will have to reassert America’s role as the global problem-solver.’ (Our emphasis)?

Was it ‘controversial’ for the supposedly impartial global news agency, Associated Press, to write this of the United States:

‘For decades, the U.S. has been an advocate for democracy abroad, using diplomatic pressure and even direct military intervention in the name of spreading the principles of a pluralistic system with a free and fair vote for political leaders’?

An awesome level of gullibility is required to believe that the direct military ‘interventions’ (wars) in oil-rich Iraq and Libya were about spreading pluralistic principles. Whether or not Iraqis have had ‘a free and fair vote’ since 2003 is a matter of complete indifference to Western politics and journalism.

It turns out that the term ‘controversial’ is only applied in corporate media to political writers and leaders deemed ‘controversial’ by elite interests.

This was unwittingly made clear by the big brains at the BBC who noted that Fisk ‘drew controversy for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’. If Fisk had drawn ‘controversy’ from China, Iran or North Korea, the ‘weasel word’ would not have appeared in the Beeb’s analysis.

A second piece in the Independent also allowed us to read between the letters that make up ‘controversial’:

‘Often writing and speaking of his pity for the people he saw being killed at the same time as becoming a forthright critic of the US and Israel. His writing could be controversial – such as his later reporting on Syria…’ (Our emphasis)

Fisk is not alone, of course. The BBC controversially echoed numerous other media in describing Hugo Chavez as ‘Venezuela’s… controversial president’.

If Chavez was ‘controversial’, which national leader is not? Should they all be described as ‘controversial’? By the way, Biden very controversially described Chavez’ successor Nicolas Maduro as a ‘tyrant’, adding:

‘I was among the first Democratic foreign policy voices to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and to call for Maduro to resign.’ (See here for more on Biden’s grim record.)

As we have discussed, these were deeply embarrassing propaganda claims in pursuit of regime change. Even the BBC was eventually forced to give up the pretence that Guaidó was ‘interim leader’, reverting to the title ‘opposition leader’.

Although Obama bombed seven Muslim countries from 2009 to 2017, all but destroying Libya, the BBC would, of course, never refer to ‘America’s controversial president, Barack Obama’, or even to ‘America’s controversial president, George W. Bush’. Specific Bush policies might be described as ‘controversial’, but the term would never be applied as a broad brush description of who he is.

In corporate media newspeak, ‘controversial’ can actually be translated as ‘offensive to power’. The term is intended as a scare word to warn readers that the labelled person is ‘dodgy’, ‘suspect’: ‘Handle with care!’ The journalist is also signalling to his or her editors and other colleagues: ‘I’m not one of “them”!’

The same effect can be achieved by praising establishment figures. Peter Oborne did not cover himself in glory by tweeting:

‘Tony Blair has emerged as probably the most authoritative and persuasive voice during the Covid crisis.’

As we noted:

‘If it was some other leader of some other country who had waged an illegal war of aggression killing one million people, Oborne might not have sent this.’

Journalists and leaders who serve power, including ‘Teflon Tony’, somehow retain fundamental ‘respectability’, are welcomed by elite media and the powers that be. (For completists interested in this subliminal misuse of language, the same use is made of the term ‘narcissist’: Julian Assange, Russell Brand, George Galloway, Glenn Greenwald, Seumas Milne, John Pilger, Edward Snowden, Hugo Chavez, and – alas! – us at Media Lens, have all been repeatedly accused of ‘narcissism’. Recently, Andrew Rawnsley wrote of the almost comically humble and selfless Jeremy Corbyn:

‘Many things have been said about his character over the years, but one thing has not been said enough: he is a narcissist.’

An unwitting, backhanded compliment from the Observer’s great warmonger. (See our book Propaganda Blitz for more discussion on ‘narcissism’, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.54-55)

‘How Do They Get Away With These Lies?

In 2004, at a time when all of US-UK journalism was celebrating the ‘transfer of sovereignty’ from the forces still occupying Iraq and stealing its oil, Fisk was a rare voice mocking the charade:

‘Alice in Wonderland could not have improved on this. The looking-glass reflects all the way from Baghdad to Washington… Those of us who put quotation marks around “liberation” in 2003 should now put quotation marks around “sovereignty”.’2

In 2014, after Tony Blair made one of his frequent attempts to exonerate himself in relation to Iraq while calling for more violence to bomb Syria better, the Guardian editors performed painful contortions in declaring Blair’s analysis ‘thoughtful’ if ‘wrong-headed’. Fisk’s response to Blair was different:

‘How do they get away with these lies?’

Fisk was also a virtual lone ‘mainstream’ voice contesting the US-UK’s audacious, well-funded attempts to re-run their Iraq ‘weapons of mass destruction’ scam in Syria:

‘Washington’s excuse for its new Middle East adventure – that it must arm Assad’s enemies because the Damascus regime has used sarin gas against them – convinces no-one in the Middle East. Final proof of the use of gas by either side in Syria remains almost as nebulous as President George W. Bush’s claim that Saddam’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.’

For this, as the obituaries make unsubtly clear, Fisk was never forgiven.

An obituary in The Times commented on Fisk:

‘While he was an outstandingly poetic writer, he developed an emotional obsession with the plight of the Palestinian people and a visceral dislike of the Israeli government and its allies, especially America. In the jargon of news reporting he “went native”, unable to provide a dispassionate account of events and their context.’3

Given the appalling racism and ethnic cleansing faced by the Palestinian people, the reference to Fisk ‘going native’ was a grotesque observation.

The Times’ noted, of course, that Fisk ‘remained no stranger to controversy’. It asked us to believe that ‘critics poured cold water on Fisk’s writing’, although ‘awards committees did not’. In translation: Fisk was subjected to exactly the kind of ugly propaganda smears from ‘critics’ contained in The Times’ obituary.

The comments are no great surprise, given the honesty with which Fisk described his departure from The Times to join the Independent in 1989:

‘The end came for me when I flew to Dubai in 1988 after the USS Vincennes [a US Navy guided missile cruiser] had shot down an Iranian passenger airliner over the Gulf. Within 24 hours, I had spoken to the British air traffic controllers at Dubai, discovered that US ships had routinely been threatening British Airways airliners, and that the crew of the Vincennes appeared to have panicked. The foreign desk told me the report was up for the page-one splash. I warned them that American “leaks” that the IranAir pilot was trying to suicide-crash his aircraft on to the Vincennes were rubbish. They agreed.

‘Next day, my report appeared with all criticism of the Americans deleted, with all my sources ignored. The Times even carried an editorial suggesting the pilot was indeed a suicider. A subsequent US official report and accounts by US naval officers subsequently proved my dispatch correct. Except that Times readers were not allowed to see it.’

Fisk said that he believed Murdoch did not personally intervene. However:

‘He didn’t need to. He had turned The Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper shorn of all editorial independence.’

Echoing virtually every other obituary, the Guardian commented that Fisk ‘tended to absolve the Assad regime of some of the worst crimes credited to it’, which had ‘provoked a backlash, even among his anti-imperialist acolytes’.

It is ironic that the Guardian should highlight Fisk’s supposed tendency to ‘absolve’ Syria of ‘the worst crimes credited to it’. Whistleblowing revelations relating to OPCW and the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, while almost completely ignored by the ‘mainstream’, have overwhelmingly vindicated Fisk and made a nonsense of official claims. See recent comments here from Noam Chomsky, and excellent in-depth analysis here.

The Guardian naturally deployed the ‘weasel word’ in noting ‘all the controversy generated by his later commentary on the evils of western, and specifically US, involvement in the Middle East’. This was followed by a distorted version of ‘balance’:

‘Some of Fisk’s most ardent admirers have suggested that to describe his journalism as controversial is a vulgar slight.’

Some people might think so, but only ‘ardent admirers’, ‘acolytes’ – themselves controversial narcissists.

Who knows where this unsubtle red-flagging of Fisk’s journalism as ‘controversial’ would have ended? The intent behind ‘mainstream’ propaganda, particularly on Fisk’s Syria reporting, has increasingly been to suggest that Fisk was morally tainted; that he got it badly, shamefully wrong. Flitting like barely-glimpsed bats at the back of the readers mind are supposed to be terms like ‘Assad apologist’, ‘genocide denial’. Not Holocaust denial exactly, but a shameful mutation of the same moral blindness.

Another rare, excellent ‘mainstream’ journalist, Patrick Cockburn, dispensed with the herdthink, copycat smears, and captured the truth of a journalist who was ‘a meticulous and highly-informed reporter, one who responded sceptically – and rigorously investigated – the partisan claims of all parties, be they gunmen, army officers or government officials’. Cockburn added:

‘He took nothing for granted and was often openly contemptuous of those who did. He did not invent the old journalist saying “never believe anything until it is officially denied” but he was inclined to agree with its sceptical message. He was suspicious of journalists who cultivated diplomats and “official sources” that could not be named and whose veracity we are invited to take on trust.’

This explains exactly why Fisk was and is viewed as ‘controversial’; a word that did not appear in Cockburn’s summing up.

The Invisible Tweets

A storm had been made to brew around Fisk’s reputation in recent years. But it had not yet reached the Category 5 propaganda hurricane that engulfed Jeremy Corbyn who, like Fisk, ‘drew controversy for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’.

Corbyn was not just accused of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial; he was accused of being a de facto Nazi who ‘wants to reopen Auschwitz’. These claims were baseless and insane, but not ‘controversial’.

By contrast, we discovered what is deemed ‘controversial’ on Twitter on November 3. That day, we tried three times to tweet a link to a Red Pepper article by Lynne Segal as she ‘looks back on her experience of 40 years as a party member in [Corbyn’s] constituency’. We tweeted a screenshot of this important passage from Segal’s excellent piece:

‘Right now, along with the many other Jewish activists I know in Islington North, I am simply devastated that this process has climaxed in the suspension of our cherished MP, and former leader. It’s so hard to accept that I must repeat again what every Jewish member I know in Islington North has frequently confirmed and it is we who actually know and regularly meet with Jeremy Corbyn – unlike most of critics. What we can confirm is that as Jews in North Islington we have always felt more than safe, more than welcome, unfailingly supported, in everything we do in the borough, and the Party. As it happens, we often feel this all the more strongly as Jews, knowing that ­– unlike Corbyn – so many who choose to speak in our name completely disrespect our commitment to antisemitism and racism of all kinds in struggles for a better world, including the vital struggle for Palestinian rights.’

We also tweeted a screenshot of this passage:

‘So, let me provide a few pertinent facts. Over the years, Corbyn has had mutually supportive relations with the practising Jewish community in Islington, attending Shabbat dinners with the orthodox Chabad Rabbi, Mendy Korer, and attending numerous other official Jewish events in North London. Against some local resistance, Corbyn promoted the installation of a plaque on a demolished synagogue site in 2015 to celebrate Jewish life in the borough. Unlike most of his critics in Westminster, Corbyn unfailingly turned up to vote for motions addressing anti-Semitism in Parliament, just as he worked tirelessly against racism on every front.’

This is extremely powerful, credible evidence exposing the claims against Corbyn, not just as a sham, but as a monstrous reversal of the truth.

We know what our readers like and we know how they will likely react to our tweets, so we were surprised that the two tweeted screenshots did not immediately pick up a few likes and retweets. In fact, after four hours, they had not been liked or retweeted by anyone. We tried tweeting the screenshots again, and again they received no likes or retweets. We checked with friends and it became clear that while these tweets were visible to us, they had been secretly rendered invisible to everyone else by Twitter without us knowing. Unlike the smears unleashed on Corbyn for five years, our words had been banished because they were deemed ‘controversial’ by a giant, profit-maximising tech corporation. And we are not alone; we discovered that independent journalist Glenn Greenwald had earlier tweeted:

‘I posted this tweet 3 times and all 3 times it just won’t appear in my time-line, allowing nobody to see it. Genuinely confused. Is anyone else experiencing this problem?’

No surprise, Greenwald is also ‘controversial’, having, like Fisk, Corbyn and us, attracted ‘controversy’ ‘for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’.

On Twitter, in response to corporate media censoring Donald Trump, science writer Marcus Chown commented:

‘This is what we DESPERATELY need in the UK. We need our media to interrupt speeches by Johnson and others and point out to viewers their lies. Retweet if you would like to seee [sic] this happen.’

If giant, profit-maximising, advertiser-dependent corporate media decide it is their job and right to censor political leaders like Trump and Johnson, they will have no qualms at all about censoring you, us, and everyone else. Is that what we want? What on earth qualifies Big Business as an arbiter of Truth?

  1. The Observer, 18 April 1999.
  2. Fisk, ‘The handover: Restoration of Iraqi sovereignty – or Alice in Wonderland?’ The Independent, 29 June 2004.
  3. Robert Fisk: Obituaries – Trenchant yet lyrical foreign correspondent who interviewed Osama bin Laden three times and was often accused of “going native”, The Times, 3 November 2020.

The post Robert Fisk: Death Of A "Controversial" Journalist first appeared on Dissident Voice.

It is the Equalities Commission, not Labour, carrying out Political Interference

I recently published in Middle East Eye a long analysis of last week’s report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into the question of whether the UK Labour party had an especial antisemitism problem. (You can read a slightly fuller version of that article on my website.) In the piece, I reached two main conclusions.

First, the commission’s headline verdict – though you would never know it from reading the media’s coverage – was that no case was found that Labour suffered from “institutional antisemitism”.

That, however, was precisely the claim that had been made by groups like the Jewish Labour Movement, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Board of Deputies and prominent rabbis such as Ephraim Mirvis. Their claims were amplified by Jewish media outlets such as the Jewish Chronicle and individual journalists such as Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian. All are now shown to have been wrong, to have maligned the Labour party and to have irresponsibly inflamed the concerns of Britain’s wider Jewish community.

Not that any of these organisations or individuals will have to apologise. The corporate media – from the Mail to the Guardian – are continuing to mislead and misdirect on this issue, as they have been doing for the best part of five years. Neither Jewish leadership groups such as the Board of Deputies nor the corporate media have an interest in highlighting the embarrassing fact that the commission’s findings exposed their campaign against Corbyn as misinformation.

Breaches of procedure

What the report found instead were mainly breaches of party protocol and procedure: that complaints about antisemitism were not handled promptly and transparently.

But even here the issue was not really about antisemitism, as the report indicates, even if obliquely. Delays in resolving complaints were chiefly the responsibility not of Corbyn and his staff but of a party bureaucracy that he inherited and was deeply and explicitly hostile to him.

Senior officials stalled antisemitism complaints not because they were especially antisemitic but because they knew the delays would embarrass Corbyn and weaken him inside the party, as the leaked report of an Labour internal inquiry revealed in the spring.

But again, neither the media nor Jewish leadership groups have any interest in exposing their own culpability in this false narrative. And the new Labour leadership, under Keir Starmer, has absolutely no incentive to challenge this narrative either, particularly as doing so would be certain to revive exactly the same kind of antisemitism smears, but this time directed against Starmer himself.

Too hasty and aggressive

The corporate media long ago styled Labour staff who delayed the complaints procedure to harm Corbyn as antisemitism “whistleblowers”. Many of them starred in last year’s BBC Panorama programme on Labour in which they claimed they had been hampered from carrying out their work.

The equalities commission’s report subtly contradicts their claims, conceding that progress on handling complaints improved after senior Labour staff hostile to Corbyn – the “whistleblowers” very much among them – were removed from their posts.

Indeed, the report suggests the very opposite of the established media narrative. Corbyn’s team, far from permitting or encouraging delays in resolving antisemitism complaints, too often tried to step in to speed up the process to placate the corporate media and Jewish organisations.

In an example of having your cake and eating it, the commission castigates Corbyn’s staff for doing this, labelling it “political interference” and terming these actions unfair and discriminatory. But the unfairness chiefly relates to those being complained against – those accused of antisemitism – not those doing the complaining.

If Labour had an identifiable problem in relation to antisemitism complaints, according to the report, it seems to have occurred mostly in terms of the party being too hasty and aggressive in tackling antisemitism, in response to relentless criticism from the media and Jewish organisations, rather than being indulgent of it.

Again, no one in the media, Jewish leadership organisations, or the new Labour leadership wants this finding to be highlighted. So it is being ignored.

Flawed approach

The second conclusion, which I lacked the space to deal with properly in my Middle East Eye piece, relates more specifically to the commission’s own flawed approach in compiling the report rather than the media’s misrepresentation of the report.

As I explained in my earlier piece, the commission itself is very much an establishment body. Even had it wanted to, which it most certainly did not, it was never going to stick its neck out and rubbish the narrative presented by the establishment media.

On procedural matters, such as how the party handled antisemitism complaints, the equalities commission kept the report as vague as possible, obfuscating who was responsible for those failings and who was supposed to benefit from Corbyn staff’s interference. Both issues had the potential to fatally undermine the established media narrative.

Instead, the commission’s imprecision has allowed the media and Jewish organisations to interpret the report in self-serving ways – ways convenient to their existing narrative about “institutional antisemitism” in Labour.

Scouring social media

But the report misleads not only in its evasion and ambiguity. It does so more overtly in its seemingly desperate effort to find examples of Labour party “agents” who were responsible for the “problem” of antisemitism.

It is worth pondering what it would have looked like had the commission admitted it was unable to find anyone to hold to account for antisemitism in Labour. That would have risked blowing a very large hole in the established media narrative indeed.

So there must have been a great deal of pressure on the commission to find some examples. But extraordinarily – after five years of relentless claims of “institutional antisemitism” in Labour, and of organisations like the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement scouring through Labour members’ social media accounts – the commission is able to muster sufficient evidence against only two individuals.

Two!

Both are found responsible for “illegal harassment” of Jewish people.

In those circumstances, therefore, it is important to critically examine just what evidence exists that these two individuals exhibited antisemitic attitudes or harassed Jews. Presumably, this pair’s behaviour was so egregious, their antisemitism so unmistakable, that the commission felt it had no choice but to single them out and hold the party responsible for failing to punish them summarily (without, of course, exhibiting at the same time any “political interference”).

I won’t test readers’ patience by examining both examples. In any case, I have dealt with one of them, Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor, at length in previous blog posts. They can be read here and here, for example.

Outward appearances

Let us focus instead on the other person named: a minor Labour party figure named Pam Bromley, who was then a local councillor for the borough of Rossendale, near Bolton.

First, we should note that the “harassment” she was deemed to have carried out seems to have been limited to online comments posted to social media. The commission does not suggest she expressed any hatred of Jews, made threats against any Jews individually or collectively, or physically attacked anyone Jewish.

I don’t know anything about Bromley, apart from the handful of comments attributed to her in the report. I also don’t know what was going on inside her head when she wrote those posts. If the commission knows more, it does not care to share that information with us. We can only judge the outward appearance of what she says.

One social media post, it is true, does suggest a simplistic political outlook that may have indicated an openness to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories – or what the commission terms a “trope”. Bromley herself says she was making “general criticisms about capitalism”. Determining antisemitic conduct on the basis of that one post – let alone allowing an entire party of 500,000 members to be labelled “institutionally antisemitic” for it – might seem more than a little excessive.

But notably the problematic post was made in April 2018 – shortly after Corbyn’s staff wrestled back control of the complaints procedure from those hostile to his project. It was also the same month Bromley was suspended from the party. So if the post was indeed antisemitic, Corbyn’s Labour lost no time in dealing with it.

Did Bromley otherwise demonstrate a pattern of posting antisemitic material on social media that makes it hard to dispute that she harboured antisemitic motives? Were her comments so obviously antisemitic that the Labour party bureaucracy should have sanctioned her much sooner (even if at the time Corbyn’s staff had no control over the disciplinary process to do so)?

Let us examine the two comments highlighted by the commission in the main section of the report, which they deem to constitute the most clear-cut examples of Bromley’s antisemitism.

Raw emotions

The first was posted on Facebook, though strangely the commission appears not to know when:

Had Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party pulled up the drawbridge and nipped the bogus AS [antisemitism] accusations in the bud in the first place we would not be where we are now and the fifth column in the LP [Labour Party] would not have managed to get such a foothold … the Lobby has miscalculated … The witch hunt has created brand new fightback networks … The Lobby will then melt back into its own cesspit.

The strong language doubtless reflects the raw emotions the antisemitism claims against Corbyn’s supporters provoked. Many members understood only too well that the Labour party was riven by a civil war and that their socialist project was at stake. But where exactly is the antisemitism in Bromley’s tirade?

In the report, the commission says it considered the reference to a “fifth column” as code for Jews. But why? The equalities commission appears to have placed the worst possible interpretation on an ambiguous comment and then advanced it as an “antisemitic trope” – apparently a catch-all that needed no clarification.

But given what we now know – at least since the leaking of the internal Labour report in the spring – it seems far more likely Bromley, in referring to a “fifth column”, was talking about the party bureaucracy hostile to Corbyn. Most of those officials were not Jewish, but exploited the antisemitism claims because those claims were politically helpful.

Interpreted that way – and such an interpretation fits the facts presented in the leaked internal report – Bromley’s comment is better viewed as impolite, even hurtful, but probably not antisemitic.

Joan Ryan, an MP who was then head of Labour Friends of Israel – part of the lobby Bromley is presumably referring to – was not Jewish. But she was clearly very much part of the campaign to oust Corbyn using antisemitism as a stick to beat him and his supporters with, as an Al-Jazeera undercover documentary exposed in early 2017.

Ryan, we should remember, was instrumental in falsely accusing a Labour party member of an “antisemitic trope” – a deception that was only exposed because the exchange was secretly caught on film.

Internecine feud

Here is the second comment by Bromley highlighted by the commission. It was posted in late 2019, shortly after Labour had lost the general election:

My major criticism of him [Corbyn] – his failure to repel the fake accusations of antisemitism in the LP [Labour Party] – may not be repeated as the accusations may probably now magically disappear, now capitalism has got what it wanted.

Again, it seems clear that Bromley is referring to the party’s long-standing internecine feud, which would become public knowledge a few months later with the leaking of the internal report.

Here Bromley was suggesting that the media and anti-Corbyn wing of the party would ease up on the antisemitism allegations – as they indeed largely have done – because the threat of Corbyn’s socialist project had been ended by a dismal election result that saw the Tories gain a commanding parliamentary majority.

It could be argued that her assessment is wrong, but how is it antisemitic – unless the commission believes “capitalism” is also code for “Jews”?

But even if Bromley’s comments are treated as indisputably antisemitic, they are hardly evidence of Corbyn’s Labour party indulging antisemitism, or being “institutionally antisemitic”. As noted, she was suspended by the party in April 2018, almost as soon Corbyn’s team managed to gain control of the party bureaucracy from the old guard. She was expelled last February, while Corbyn was still leader.

Boris Johnson’s racism

It is instructive to compare the certainty with which the commission treats Bromley’s ambiguous remarks as irrefutable proof of antisemitism with its complete disregard for unmistakably antisemitic comments from Boris Johnson, the man actually running the country. That lack of concern is shared, of course, by the establishment media and Jewish leadership organisations.

The commission has repeatedly rejected parallel demands from Muslim groups for an investigation into the ruling Conservative party for well-documented examples of Islamophobia. But no one seems to be calling for an investigation of Johnson’s party for antisemitism.

Johnson himself has a long history of making overtly racist remarks, from calling black people “piccanninies” with “watermelon smiles” to labelling Muslim women “letterboxes”.

Jews have not avoided being stigmatised either. In his novel 72 Virgins, Johnson uses his authorial voice to suggest that Jewish oligarchs run the media and are able to fix an election result.

In a letter to the Guardian, a group of Jewish Corbyn supporters noted Johnson’s main Jewish character in the novel, Sammy Katz, was described as having a “proud nose and curly hair”, and he was painted “as a malevolent, stingy, snake-like Jewish businessman who exploits immigrant workers for profit”.

Nothing in the equalities commission’s report on Labour comes even close to suggesting this level of antisemitism. But then again, Johnson has never argued that antisemitism has been politically weaponised. And why would he? No one, from the corporate media to conservative Jewish leadership organisations, seems to be taking any serious interest in the overt racism demonstrated by either him or his party.

The post It is the Equalities Commission, not Labour, carrying out Political Interference first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Corbyn was Never Going to get a Fair Hearing in the EHRC Antisemitism Report

• This is the full version of an article published in edited form by Middle East Eye

It was easy to miss the true significance of last week’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on the British Labour Party and antisemitism amid the furore over the party suspending its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The impression left on the public – aided by yet more frantic media spin – was that the EHRC’s 130-page report had confirmed the claims of Corbyn’s critics that on his watch the party had become “institutionally antisemitic”. In fact, the watchdog body reached no such conclusion. Its report was far more ambiguous. And its findings – deeply flawed, vague and glaringly inconsistent as they were – were nowhere near as dramatic as the headlines suggested.

The commission concluded that “there were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible”. Those failings, according to the commission, related to the handling of antisemitism complaints, interference by the leader’s office in the disciplinary procedure, and “unlawful harassment” by two Labour Party “agents”.

None of that seemed to amount to anything like the supposed claims of a “plague” and “tidal wave” of antisemitism that have dominated headlines for five years.

Missing the point

Paradoxically, the equalities commission’s conclusions sounded a lot like Corbyn’s statement that the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated”. That remark quickly became grounds for the party suspending him.

So sustained has the furore about “institutional antisemitism” been in Labour that, according to a recent survey by academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry, the British public estimated that on average a third of Labour members had been disciplined for antisemitism – more than 300 times the real figure.

But in the end, the commission could identify only two cases of unlawful antisemitism the party was responsible for. According to the report, there were 18 “borderline” cases, however, “there was not enough evidence to conclude that the Labour Party was legally responsible for the conduct of the individual”.

Nonetheless, in a comment published approvingly by the Guardian newspaper at the weekend, the commission’s executive director, Alastair Pringle, stated that the figures involved were irrelevant. “‘Was it 3% or 30% or 0.3%’ misses the point,” he said. In response to questions from MEE, the EHRC stated that the investigation “sought to determine whether the Labour Party committed a breach of the Equality Act related to Jewish ethnicity or Judaism, to look at what steps the Party had taken to implement the recommendations of previous reports, and to assess whether the party had handled antisemitism complaints lawfully, efficiently and effectively.”

The commission, however, confirmed Pringle’s observation that the investigation “did not focus on an assessment of the scale of antisemitism in the Party”. Members of the commission, it seems, were quite happy to acquiesce in the impression that Labour was riddled with antisemitism, however marginal they discovered the phenomenon to be in practice.

Complaints stalled

Notably, the EHRC avoided attributing responsibility to any named individuals for the party’s failings in handling antisemitism complaints – the most serious charge it levelled. That decision conveniently allowed the blame to be pinned on the former leader. In its statement to MEE, the commission conceded that “the failure of leadership extended across the Labour Party during the period [of] our investigation”.

But in practice, the report and commission have pinned the blame squarely on Corbyn. Alasdair Henderson, the commission’s lead investigator, has been quoted as saying “Jeremy Corbyn is ultimately accountable & responsible for what happened at that time.”

But Corbyn was not responsible for those flawed procedures.

They long predated his election as leader. And further, his ability to influence the complaints procedure for the better was highly limited by the fact that the party’s disciplinary unit was firmly in the hands of a centrist bureaucracy deeply hostile to him.

As an internal report leaked in the spring made clear, Labour’s senior officials were so opposed to Corbyn and his socialist agenda that they even tried to sabotage the 2017 general election to be rid of him. They soon found in antisemitism an ideal way to besmirch Corbyn. They took on dubious cases that – before he became leader – would never have been considered, including against Jewish members of the party strenuously critical of Israel. Then they impeded the resolution of complaints as a way to foster the impression that the party – and by implication, Corbyn himself – was not taking the issue of antisemitism seriously.

By the time most of these officials had left their posts by early 2018, the equalities commission concedes that the handling of antisemitism complaints had started to improve.

As Peter Oborne and Richard Sanders, my colleagues at Middle East Eye, have pointed out, there is a rich irony to the fact that these same officials have refashioned themselves as antisemitism “whistleblowers” when it is they who were primarily responsible for the biggest failings noted by the commission. It was these officials who helped create the politicised climate that made it possible for the EHRC to take on its 18-month investigation – the first into a major political party.

Unfair investigations

The watchdog body’s second finding against Labour follows from – and starkly contradicts – the first. Corbyn’s team are blamed for “political interference” in the complaints procedure, creating the risk of “indirect discrimination”.

Out of 70 complaints it studied, it found 23 instances over a three-year period where there was “political interference” by the leader’s office and other actors in the handling of antisemitism cases.

In most of these, Corbyn’s staff were seeking to expedite stalled antisemitism proceedings that were causing – and meant to cause – the party a great deal of embarrassment. They were trying to do exactly what critics like the Board of Deputies of British Jews demanded of them.

The EHRC report accepted that, in some cases, interference by Corbyn staff catalysed action.

Buried in the report is the astonishing admission by the commission that, among the 70 sampled cases, it found “concerns about fairness” towards 42 Labour Party members who had been investigated for antisemitism. In others words, it was those accused of antisemitism, rather than those making the accusations, who were being mistreated by Labour – either by the disciplinary unit hostile to Corbyn or by Corbyn’s own staff as they tried to speed up the resolution of cases.

Damned if you do, or don’t

In the report, the commission holds Corbyn’s team to an impossible standard. Labour was expected to demonstrate “zero tolerance” towards antisemitism, but Corbyn’s team is now accused of discriminatory actions for having tried to make good on that pledge.

Exemplifying this inconsistency, the equalities watchdog found that Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London, committed “unlawful harassment”. At the same time, the commission castigates Corbyn’s office for trying to get firmer action taken against him.

In another case, Corbyn’s inner circle expressed concern – after requests for advice by the disciplinary unit itself – that the complaints procedure risked being discredited if Jewish members continued to be investigated for antisemitism, typically after criticising Israel.

This looks like a classic example of “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.

When questioned on this point by MEE, the commission responded: “The inappropriateness of political interference in antisemitism complaints is not necessarily about the outcome that it led to, but rather the contamination of the fairness of the process.” This was a matter of “public confidence”.

But “public confidence” has been quietly repurposed: it no longer chiefly concerns a lack of seriousness from Labour about tackling antisemitism; it denotes instead Labour being too hasty and, in some cases, aggressive in tackling antisemitism.

Similarly, the use of the term “indirect discrimination” is deeply counter-intuitive in the context of the commission’s remit to investigate racism. “Discrimination” often appears to refer to efforts by Corbyn’s circle to ensure that Jewish party members, whether those accused of antisemitism or those doing the accusing, were treated sensitively – even if that came at the cost of fairness to non-Jewish members.

Hounded out of Labour

The elephant in the room ignored by the commission is that there was a “hostile environment” for everyone in the party, not just Jewish members, because of this civil war.

Did Jewish and non-Jewish members accused of being antisemites – often after criticising Israel or observing that there were efforts to rid the party of the left under cover of antisemitism allegations – feel welcomed in the Labour Party? Or did they feel hounded and stigmatised?

With this in mind, it is worth noting that the most high-profile case of former Labour MP Chris Williamson, is absent from the report’s major criticisms.

Williamson, a Corbyn ally, was forced out last year after suggesting that Labour had conceded too much ground to those critics claiming the party was beset by antisemitism. Labour, he argued, had thereby made those claims seem more plausible.

The commission repeatedly suggests in the report that comments of this kind constitute what it calls an “antisemitic trope”. Many party members have faced investigation and suspension or expulsion for making similar observations. Indeed, Williamson’s remark closely echoes last week’s comment by Corbyn that the scale of antisemitism in Labour had been “dramatically overstated”. That led to Corbyn’s suspension.

But unusually Williamson challenged his treatment by Labour in the high court last year and won. After he was sent a draft of the report, Williamson threatened legal action against the equalities commission for what he termed “an assortment of risible and offensive comments”.

Apparently as a consequence, he is not named alongside the two officials criticised in the report – Livingstone and Pam Bromley. In fact, again paradoxically, he is mentioned chiefly in relation to “political interference” in Labour’s complaints procedure – because, in scandalous fashion, he was suspended, then reinstated, then quickly suspended again.

The abuses suffered by Williamson serve to show once again just how perverse the media narrative about Labour’s treatment of antisemitism so often was. Rather than ignoring antisemitism, Labour too often hounded people like Williamson out of the party on the flimsiest of evidence.

It was exactly this kind of “political interference” against Williamson and others that suggests antisemitism was indeed weaponised in the Labour party.

Free speech ignored

The commission is legally required to weigh and balance competing rights – to free speech and to protection from racism. Such considerations are especially tricky when examining the conduct of a major political party.

The equalities watchdog has to take account of Article 10  of the European Convention of Human Rights – protecting freedom of speech – that is also enshrined in UK law. But the commission’s findings appear to clash fundamentally with respect for free speech. Any reasonable reading of the law suggests that a political party should be investigated only when it flagrantly and systematically breaks anti-racism laws. But the report itself shows that those conditions were nowhere near being met.

The commission itself makes this point inadvertently in the report. It states that Article 10 protections apply even if comments are offensive and provocative, and that this protection is further “enhanced” in the case of elected politicians.

It adds: “Article 10 will protect Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party.” It then proceeds to ignore that protection entirely in the report, as the Labour Party has done once again in its suspension of Corbyn.

A reasonable reading of Article 10 would suggest too that, in weighing the Labour Party’s approach to antisemitism, the commission was obligated to offer a clear, precise and non-controversial definition of antisemitism. That definition would then have set the bar for the commission to determine whether significant proof had been found of antisemitism in the party’s practices to justify placing limitations on free speech.

Contested language

But that bar could not be determined because the commission never properly set out what it meant by antisemitism. Instead the commission has shouldered its way into a factional war inside a major political party, and one in which language itself – with all its ambiguities – has become deeply contested.

In response to these criticisms, the commission observed that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition – widely criticised for conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism but forced on Corbyn when he was Labour leader – “is not legally binding”. It added: “We note the approach of the Home Affairs Select Committee, namely that it is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, to criticise the Israeli government, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

That definition, of course, leaves out in the cold many on the party’s left, including its Jewish left, who believe Israel is not a liberal democracy and does not even aspire to be one, as the passage of Israel’s Jewish Nation State Law made clear in 2018. That law excluded a fifth of Israel’s population who are not Jewish from the state’s self-definition. In imposing ideological assumptions of this kind on a political party, the commission itself appears to be the one most guilty of “political interference”.

Lack of evidence

Far from resolving tensions, the EHRC report accentuates the party’s festering, irreconcilable narratives about antisemitism. It adds considerable fire to the party’s simmering civil war.

The referral to the commission was made by two pro-Israel groups, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

Corbyn’s supporters argued that the claims of an especial antisemitism problem in Labour amounted to an ideologically motivated and evidence-free smear. When Corbyn tried to defend his record last week, arguing that the scale of the antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, he was suspended.

But he and his allies have solid evidence to justify that claim.

First, they note, surveys demonstrate that Labour supporters were less likely to express antisemitic attitudes than Conservative supporters or the general public. A poll by the Economist magazine last year showed that while those on the far-left in the UK had by far the most critical views of Israel, they were also the least likely to engage in antisemitism.

Second, Corbyn’s supporters can point to the party’s own statistics that show only a minuscule proportion of members were ever referred to the party’s disciplinary procedure for antisemitism. That was the case even after pro-Israel groups like the CAA and the JLM scoured social media accounts trying to find examples to discredit Corbyn and after they managed to browbeat the party into adopting the new IHRA definition of antisemitism that conflated hatred of Jews with criticism of Israel.

And third, of those who faced investigation for antisemitism, a significant proportion were Jewish members outspoken in their criticism of Israel. Many Jews vocally opposed to Israel are active in the Labour Party, including nowadays in a group called Jewish Voice for Labour. By obscuring the fact that many of Israel’s harshest critics in Labour were Jewish, the media and pro-Israel partisans handed Corbyn’s opponents a convenient whip to beat him with.

Again, questioned on the report’s failure to address the lack of evidence, the commission’s statement to MEE reiterated the point that the report “did not focus on an assessment of the scale of antisemitism in the Party”. And, seemingly confirming the criticisms of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour that there very few antisemitism cases among a membership of over 500,000, the statement added: “The complaints included more than 220 allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party, dating back to 2011.”

Establishment campaign

The commission’s report avoids addressing any of this evidence, which would have undermined the rationale for its investigation and suggested its political nature. But if Corbyn’s supporters are right and there was little tangible evidence for claiming Labour had an especial antisemitism problem – aside, inevitably, from a small number of antisemites in its ranks – how did the clamour grow so big?

Here the EHRC allies with Corbyn’s critics in advancing a self-rationalising theory. It appears to accept that anyone who denies Labour had a distinct antisemitism problem under Corbyn – or claims that Labour had no more of a problem than the rest of British society – thereby proves that they are an antisemite.

But in reality there are other, entirely credible reasons about why the antisemitism claims against Labour were, as Corbyn observed, “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, or were even outright smears.

Corbyn was indeed targeted by pro-Israel groups for very understandable reasons, from their partisan perspective. He was the first British party leader within reach of power to unapologetically support the Palestinian cause and threaten Israel with serious repercussions for its continuing oppression of the Palestinian people.

But the claims of pro-Israel lobbyists only gained traction politically because, in concert, he was being targeted by the neoliberal establishment. That included the media, the Conservative Party and, particularly damagingly, the still-dominant “Blairite” wing of his own party, which hankered for a return to Labour’s glory days under former leader Tony Blair.

They all wanted to keep Corbyn from reaching No 10. Ultimately, antisemitism proved the most effective of a range of smears they tried on Corbyn for size. The goal was to discredit him in the eyes of British voters to ensure he could never implement a socialist platform that would challenge establishment interests head-on.

‘Part of government machine’

Realistically, the EHRC was never going to side with Corbyn and his supporters against this establishment narrative. In its statement to MEE, the equalities watchdog insisted it was an “independent regulator” that took its “political impartiality incredibly seriously”.

The commission, however, gives every appearance of being the epitome of an establishment body, full of corporate business people and lawyers honoured by the Queen. It has been sharply criticised even by former insiders. Simon Woolley, a former commissioner, recently noted that none of the current commissioners is black or Muslim, after he and Meral Hussein-Ece were forced out because, they say, there were seen as “too loud and vocal” on the wrong kind of race issues.

Meanwhile, David Isaacs, its outgoing chair, was appointed by the Conservative government in 2016 even though his law firm carried out “significant work for the government”. Concerns were raised by a parliamentary committee at the time about a very obvious conflict of interest.

Back in June, Corbyn noted to Middle East Eye that Conservative governments had slashed the commission’s budget by nearly three-quarters over the past decade. There have been widespread concerns that the watchdog body might wish to curry favour with the government to avoid further cuts. The commission was, Corbyn observed, now “part of the government machine”.

That might explain why, after making the incendiary decision to investigate the opposition Labour Party, the commission refused to carry out a similar investigation of the Conservatives, even though the evidence suggests that both Islamophobia and antisemitism are far more prevalent in the ruling party than Labour.

A beginning, not an end

Some in Labour may hope that the report will draw to a close the party’s troubling antisemitism chapter. They could not be more wrong.

Armed now with the blessing of the equalities commission, and emboldened by Corbyn’s suspension, the Campaign Against Antisemitism immediately sent a letter to the Labour Party demanding the scalps of a dozen more MPs, including Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader.

The Jewish Chronicle, which has been pushing for years the claim that Labour is riddled with antisemitism, published a leading article that the commission report “marks not an end but a beginning”.

The commission itself recommends that undefined “Jewish community stakeholders” be put in charge of training Labour Party officials about antisemitism. In practice, those stakeholders are likely to be the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, both of which have been keen to conflate antisemitism with entirely unrelated criticism of Israel.

In a now-familiar authoritarian move, Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, has warned local parties not to discuss the report or question its findings. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has threatened that anyone suggesting that antisemitism in Labour has been “exaggerated” or used for factional purposes – as even the commission implies in its report – will be summarily punished by the party.

Labour officials are reported to be already preparing to investigate expressions of support for Corbyn on social media, while MPs sympathetic to Corbyn are reportedly considering whether to jump before they are pushed out of the party. Len McCluskey, head of Unite, the biggest union donating to Labour, has spoken of “chaos” ahead. He warned: “A split party will be doomed to defeat.”

He is likely right. The civil war in Labour is on course to get worse. And that – as Britain reels under the glaring mismanagement and corruption of a Conservative government – will make some very happy indeed.

The post Corbyn was Never Going to get a Fair Hearing in the EHRC Antisemitism Report first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Leveraging the Ruling Class’s Loss of Legitimacy

The polls closed with “no winner yet in cliffhanger presidential election,” as of Wednesday evening. Despite a period of uncertainty, which is typically the nemesis of Wall Street, the Dow climbed 0.9%, the S&P 500 opened 1.5% higher, and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 2.6%.

The explanation is that the financial elites know that they win regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, which is something that some leftists, who had advocated temporarily subordinating an independent working-class alternative to campaign for the leading neoliberal candidate, did not firmly grasp.

Trouncing the contender that Noam Chomsky hyperbolically called “worse than Hitler” would be a blow to overt white supremacy. But bedrock institutional racism, entombed in the US carceral state, will still endure and the tasks of the left will remain.

Legitimizing neoliberal rule

The left’s vote was not needed to ensure a Biden victory. But it was needed to justify voting for the “lesser evil” based on the false narrative of TINA – “there is no alternative.”

The Revolutionary Communist Party, normally marginalized by the corporate media, received banner headlines when it declared for Biden. The “paper of record” for the Democratic wing of the two-party duopoly, The New York Times, opportunistically posted an op-ed by a self-described socialist because it pleaded, “leftists should vote for Biden in droves.”

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) readily acknowledged “there is no choice at the top of the ticket that would advance our movement or constitute a ‘victory’ for democratic socialism.” But that did not deter them from jumping on the Biden bandwagon. DSA seemed more worried about Biden losing than about Sanders being excluded by the DNC.

It is not the left’s responsibility to strategize how the Democrats could have run this or future campaigns. Incidentally, a Biden/Harris victory would preclude a liberalish Democrat, such as a member of the Squad, making a run as the Democratic standard bearer for next 12 to 16 years.

The contribution of those parttime leftists who campaigned for Biden was not to put him into the White House – they didn’t have the numbers to do that – but to help legitimize neoliberal rule. Their preemptive political surrender obscured the failure of a political system incapable of addressing the critical issues of our times.

Politics of fear obscured critical issues

Fear was the operational motivator for apocalyptic fantasies of a fascist coup, which served to obviate a progressive agenda. A tanking economy, a still uncontained pandemic, and unprecedented protests against racialized police brutality were attributed solely to Trump’s watch, instead of being understood as also endemic to the neoliberal order.

Neither presidential candidate advocated comprehensive healthcare in a time of pandemic, with both in effect opting for triage of the most vulnerable – people of color and the elderly. The two wings of the duopoly mainly differ on this existential health issue over the advisability of wearing face masks.

Climate catastrophe remains an existential threat. Biden may throw a few more crumbs than Trump in the direction of the alternative energy industry. But both candidates contested to see who was more enthusiastic about fracking, while they agree that tax cuts and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry will be continued. Biden’s predecessor, whom he served as VP, boasted “we’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” The next four years portends a choice of someone who denies global warming or another who believes in the science but does not act on it.

The financial elites disproportionately lavished their support on the Democrats. The oligarchs understood more clearly than certain elements of the left where their class interests reside. “Wall Street,” Politico reported, grew “giddy about Biden,” because Uncle Joe would best help recover their legitimacy while carrying their water. The financiers also hedged their bets with contributions to Trump. Along with the DNC, they understood that another four years of the current occupant would be better than a Bernie Sanders presidency for the owning class.

Game of Thrones

While the outcome of the presidential election is uncertain, the legitimacy of the ruling class has surely been sullied by the arguably ugliest campaign in recent history. The elite club must now figure out how to anoint their new emperor without further damaging their image. The hiccups over their transfer of power is their dilemma and our good fortune.

It may be too early to tell, but the widely feared Trump coup has yet to be realized. The Proud Boys, with their mail-order munitions, have yet to replace the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Nervous leftists, apprehensive about a Trump coup, are calling upon labor to wage a general strike to install a neoliberal into the White House. Joe Hill would find that ironic at best.

While “President Donald Trump has cast doubt on whether he will commit to a peaceful transfer of power,” CNN revealed, “the secretive process to prepare a would-be Biden administration has been underway for months with help from top Trump officials (emphasis added).”

Biden may now be less unpalatable than Trump, but Uncle Joe had the advantage of not being in power for the last four years. He may not look so hot after another term of neoliberal rule, characterized by increasing austerity for working people, entrenched institutional racism, oppressive surveillance and security state measures, and an aggressive imperialism abroad. Substantial differences exist between Trump and Biden, but those differences do not extend to which class they serve.

Recovering the left alternative

With record turnout, never before have so many voted for so little. Now is auspicious for alternatives to the two-party duopoly.

As reported by Alan Mcleod, Trump’s abysmal approval rating of 42% is barely edged out by Biden’s of 46%. Two-thirds of prospective Democratic voters polled claim they would be voting against Trump rather than for Biden; only a quarter of the prospective Republicans are voting so much for Trump as against the Democrats. Biden way squeak through on the appeal of not being Trump, but that will wear thin quickly.

With both major parties continuing to abandon the interests of working people, the left must either take the initiative or surrender it to a growing right wing. Rather than this being the time when never before has there been a greater need to support the lesser-evil Democrats and give them an extraordinary mandate to rule, this is a time to leverage the ruling class’s loss of legitimacy to articulate a left alternative.

Taking a left initiative, despite the loss of legitimacy of the ruling elites, is challenging. With a Republican victory, the left has historically gotten absorbed into a resistance that devolves into an assistance – the graveyard of social movements that is the Democratic Party. With a Democratic victory, the illusion of hope and that anyone’s better than Trump are false excuses to “give Biden a chance.” After campaigning for the Democrat, it will be problematic for these same left forces to credibly do an about-face and fight him. As for an independent electoral left, more rigorous party registration rules targeting left alternatives, recently imposed by Democrats, foreshadow fewer left choices on future ballots.

However, the majority of working people support a progressive agenda, which has been ignored and suppressed by the duopoly:

  • Effectively addressing global warming
  • COVID safety over economic activity and economic relief
  • Ending forever wars and sanctions, while de-escalating the threat of nuclear conflagration
  • National healthcare program modelled after Medicare
  • Opposition to the militarization of the police and preservation of civil liberties
  • Reduction of income inequality, stronger anti-trust laws, and fairly taxing wealth

These were among the critical issues that were lost in the distracting political theatre of the 2020 campaign and the basis for a renewed left initiative.

The post Leveraging the Ruling Class’s Loss of Legitimacy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Totalitarian” Anti-Communism: Loaded Language Straight Out of CIA, Neo-Con Playbook

ORIENTATION

Forms of language manipulation

As most of us know, verbal language is both a tool and a weapon. Verbal language allows our species to talk about the past and the future. It allows us to label mental and physical illnesses and provides us with diagnosis and prognosis. It allows us to communicate more precisely than we can with non-verbal language, whether about the world or our internal states. But language can also be used to control and manipulate. There are at least nine forms of language manipulation:

  • Loading the language with “virtue and vice” words which narrows thinking.
  • Euphemisms mask the emotional content of an experience by sanitizing the language. For example, the military specializes in this by calling prisoners of war “detainees” or murdered soldiers “collateral damage” .
  • “Weasel” words are commonly used in advertising and “slanting” is a regular staple in newsrooms.
  • Reification is common in economic analysis when we hear that “money talks” “money walks”, and “economies grow”.
  • Other forms of language manipulation are “equivocation,” “jargon”, “vagueness” and “ambiguity”.

Vice and Virtue Political Words

The subject of this article is the use of the word “totalitarian” as a loaded vice word.  It is used mostly in international political contexts by liberals and conservatives in Yankeedom to distinguish their political system from those of their perceived enemies. Totalitarianism has been used to describe Nazism and Communism, both separately or together.

“Totalitarian” is trotted out by neocons and the CIA when they are presenting to the public their views on Russia, China, North Korea or Venezuela. This continues despite the fact that the term has been criticized by social scientists in the 1960s and is 60 years out of date. In a 1948 article, Arthur Hill listed the following characteristics of totalitarianism:

  • Abolition of the right to freedom of speech, assembly and religious worship;
  • Elimination of all political parties other than the ruling party;
  • Subordination of all economic and social life to structural control of the single party bureaucracy;
  • Liquidation of free enterprise;
  • Destruction of all independent trade unions and creation of labor organizations servile to the totalitarian state;
  • Establishment of concentration camps and the use of slave labor;
  • Utter disregard for an independent judicial system;
  • Social demagogy around race and class;
  • Expansion of the military;
  • Reduction of parliamentary bodies to rubber stamp status;
  • Establishment of a system of nationwide espionage and secret police, censorship of the press and media;
  • Disregard for the rights of other nations and desregard of treaties; and,
  • Maintenance and encouragement of fifth columns abroad.

Another vice word is “dictatorship” which is regularly attributed to the heads of socialist governments, even when these socialist leaders have been elected by democratic processes. Both “totalitarian” and ‘dictatorship” are emotionally loaded “vice” words designed to narrow political thinking into an “either – or” choice between a vice word (dictatorship, totalitarian) and a virtue word “democracy”. A vice word is one in which it is impossible to think or act neutrally. So, no intelligent political person would say they are for totalitarian government or dictatorship.

On the other hand, these days everybody loves the word “democracy”. This has certainly not been the case historically. Democracy had been associated with “mob rule” and among conservatives, behind closed doors, it still is. Liberals were not much better. They were dragged kicking and screaming into using the word democracy at the end of the 19th century when working class white men got the vote. Nevertheless, the word democracy today is a virtue word. It is tantamount to committing political suicide by publicly stating you are against democracy. The CIA even names one of its international programs to overthrow socialist governments “National Endowment for Democracy”. In this article I will focus on the history of the use of the word “totalitarianism”. In my next article I will write about the history of the use of the words “dictatorship” and “democracy”.

Why should you care?

Using loaded language in politics supports narrowing the thinking process to heroes and villains, gods and devils, dictators or democrats. Working-class people do not initiate what these words mean, or in what contexts they are used. However, working class people circulate these words unconsciously when they talk about politics to others. Working-class people also internalize these words and this narrows the span of how they think about political processes. The purpose of this article and the next one is to challenge you to try purging from your vocabulary the words totalitarian dictatorship or democracy. Chances are very good that you are being played by the Yankee anti-communist campaign.

Overview of the history of the use of the word “totalitarian”

Most of this article will be based on a book Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War by Abbott Gleason (1995). He tells the story of the use of totalitarianism from its use in the 1930s to the 1980s. The early years of its use was limited to fascism. After Stalin’s pact with Hitler it was used to describe both fascism and communism. Then there was a hiatus in the use of the term totalitarian when the USSR became an ally. However, after World War II through the 1980s, the term totalitarian was used by Yankees and Europeans to refer to the Soviet Union and any other socialist countries.

THEORIES OF TOTALITARIANISM IN THE 1930s

Early theories of totalitarianism were economic in origin and only about fascism. For Franz Neumann, the totalitarian phase of Nazism was strictly confined to the first two years of rule. He used the term totalitarian to describe the all-powerful state that he believed to be one of the two central elements of fascism. Besides the state, the other element of fascism was monopoly capitalism. Fascism was understood as a development that came out of political liberalism and decaying capitalism, not primarily an attack on them. Neumann thought that capitalism rather than racism and romanticism explained the rise of Hitler. For Max Lerner, fascism and Nazism derived from inflation and middle-class fears of proletarianization. Roosevelt used the term totalitarianism infrequently and when he did, he usually referred to Germany and Italy. For the Soviet Union, fascism was understood as a manifestation of capitalist society in its imperialistic stage. Nazism and Soviet Communism appeared in these theories as the most extreme opposites. However, by 1937-1938 many academics came to regard the similarities between Nazism and Stalinism as more striking than their differences.

The United States itself was not immune to the charge of being called totalitarian by conservatives who were against FDR. Emil Lengyel, in his book, The New Deal in Europe, (1934), included US economic policies as similar to Russia, Germany and Italy. For conservatives such as Herbert Hoover, FDR was a totalitarian liberal. American isolationists argued Roosevelt’s domestically aggressive policies contained the real danger of totalitarianism

Following his committee’s vindication of Trotsky, John Dewey accepted the term totalitarian to describe Russia, and for this he was subjected to a sustained campaign of vilification by communists. He stressed totalitarianism in his book Freedom and Culture, (1939) less than two months after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact. With the signing of the pact in August 1939, all but a few far-left activists accepted the new terminology and called both Russia and Germany totalitarian.

TOTALITARIANISM IN EARLY WORLD WAR II

From the time the United States entered World War II until the end of the war, the United States backed off its characterization of the Soviet Union as totalitarian. Why? Because if the US was allied with the Soviet Union, the war could not be described as a war against totalitarianism. The events of 1941 — Germany’s attack on the USSR — halted a great deal of the talk of totalitarianism being of both the left and right. The imagined confrontation of totalitarian dictators with western capitalism (called democracies) would be shattered. Almost overnight the term greatly diminished as the United States and the Soviet Union fought on the same side. After the war, with Germany defeated, totalitarianism was used to characterize only the Soviet Union.

TOTALITARIANISM IN THE LATE 1940s

Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, (1951)

Lack of specificity in what makes a totalitarian country

Hannah Arendt began to write Origins of Totalitarianism, in reaction to the realization of the scale of the death camps and the systemization of the killings of the Jews. Up until now, those writing on totalitarianism thought its roots were in the 20th century. There was some sense it was connected to nationalism, technology and racism. However, all these characteristics were also present in countries like the United States and Britain that were thought not to be totalitarian. Hannah Arendt’s book begins in 1945 and was the first book to suggest that the origins of totalitarianism originated in the 19th century.  Arendt’s own candidates for totalitarianism were the rise of mass society, psychological loneliness, Durkheim’s anomie and what she called the fanaticism of the marginalized. The “mob” for Arendt was a small section of the population, roughly equivalent to Marx’s lumpenproletariat. It consisted of declassed rootless, desperate individuals who could be recruited for criminal activity. This perception of masses was a conservative one, right out of the playbook of Le Bon and Tarde. Yet, all these conditions were also present in the US, England and France. There are no characteristics unique to Germany and Russia.

She also claimed there was a relationship between 19th century imperialism and racism. The problem was that countries that are considered non-totalitarian (US, Britain and to a lesser extent, France) were all imperialist or racist. Secondly, Russia at the time of the Tsar, was not an imperialist country, though anti-Semitism was very prevalent.

Arendt also thought that totalitarianism had a great deal to do with nationalism. The problem is she didn’t specify what kind of nationalism it was. Her attempt to link Pan Germanism with Pan Slavism breaks down because the 19th century Russian intelligentsia was not Pan-Slavic.  With a few exceptions, they were Western European modernizers. Even if Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism did provide the ideological roots of commonalities of Russia and Germany, it was a different kind of nationalism than in Western Europe. In Hans Kohn’s typology, Germany and Russia were ethnic, rather than civic nationalists. Arendt’s basic paradigm of the nation state was post-revolutionary France which qualifies as civic nationalism. When we consider that most of Europe, and particularly Germany and the Austro-Hungarian part of Germany (with which she is most concerned), had belonged to states that could not be thought of as civic nationalist.

Lastly, by 1948 she came to believe it was the systematic reliance of terror, institutionalized in the concentration camp that linked Russia to Germany. This ignores the concentration camps set up in United States for the Japanese.

The sloppiness of her study

There are many problems with Arendt’s study other than the fact she could name characteristics that were unique to Germany and Russia and not found in the West. In the first place, she had not studied Germany and Russia equally. This meant she was in no position to compare their similarities and differences systemically. She knew far more about Germany than Russia. She began her book with the Nazi’s and it was only three years into her writing that she tried to expand her book to include Russia. Secondly, her characterization of the Nazis and the USSR was confusing because it was not a strict comparison between fascism and communism. The term totalitarian did not even include other fascist countries such as Italy or Spain.

In addition, she failed to state the differences between Russia and Germany in terms of their politics and economic systems. Just because Hitler and Stalin were both heavy-handed leaders does not mean the political systems were the same. For one thing, Hitler was appointed whereas Stalin rose from within the Communist party. Furthermore, she failed to account for the differences in the economic system. Germany was a capitalist society; Russia was a state socialist society. Those differences are huge.

Lastly her definition of totalitarianism was too strident. Neither Germany or Russia came close to fulfilling all her criteria. Despite all these criticisms The  Origins of Totalitarianism is one of the first books that turns up in a search of the subject of totalitarianism. We can only wonder which Cold War critics keep this book in the educated public’s eye despite its many problems.

The Cold War Begins

In the summer of 1945, after the Allied victory in Europe, there was alarm over Soviet maneuvers in occupied Germany and Eastern Europe. It was then that the word totalitarianism resurfaced.  With the Communist coup of Czechoslovakia in 1948, there was a belief in a Communist blueprint or master plan for world conquest. The reinvigoration of totalitarian exclusively to the USSR served to switch powerful anti-German sentiments in the United States into the growing anti-communist movement. In 1950, the McCarran Internal Security Act barred totalitarians – Communists – from entering the United States.

Left-wing reaction

Burnham’s Managerial Revolution

Even before the end of World War II, left-wing criticism of the Soviet Union came from Trotskyist James Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution, (1941). In this book, Burnham claimed the Russian experience had demonstrated that the elimination of private property was not necessarily a step towards socialism. For Burnham, both the Soviet Union and the Western capitalists were both moving towards a managerial ruling class.

Orwell’s 1984, (1949)

As far back as 1943, Orwell realized that England was lacking in concentration camp literature, including secret police forces, censorship of opinion, torture and frame-up trials. He delivered all this in his book 1984. Orwell liked Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution and his depiction of permanent struggle between super states for world dominion. Orwell drew from and was influenced by the book We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a soviet novelist, in his writing of 1984. Orwell argued that his book was not an attack on socialism. In fact, Orwell says his intention was to show that totalitarianism was possible since the setting for his book was England.

In the magazine The New Leader, writers such Max Nomad, Victor Serge, Paul Goodman, John Dewey, and Sidney Hook argued that the Soviet Union had so dishonored socialism that it could be compared to Germany. In 1947 there was a split on the American Left over the Soviet Union that continued to deepen and become increasingly bitter. The split between the Popular Front left and the emerging Cold War left occurred roughly in the same year. Sidney Hook became one of the most fanatical and relentless opponents of totalitarianism. This is documented in Mary Sperling McAuliffe’s book Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals 1947-1954, (published 1978).

Conservative liberal reaction

Jacob Talmon’s Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, (1952)

Talmon takes aim at Soviet politics rather than Germany. He studied Jacobin dictatorships during the French Revolution at the same time the Moscow trials were reaching a climax in 1938. He then made a connection between the Jacobin and the Bolsheviks, taking the roots of totalitarianism to the end of the 18th century implicating the Enlightenment itself. Even Rousseau was seen as a precursor of totalitarianism. Talmon saw the French Revolution as a political, religious revival which covered Europe with its apostles, militants and martyrs. He was a supporter of de Tocqueville’s attempt to explain the threat of democratic despotism, as totalitarian liberalism. He contrasted that to his own pluralistic liberalism.

Right-wing reaction

Von Hayek, Lasky Niebuhr

The right-wingers were already moving towards demonizing the USSR before World War II ended. As far back as 1944, Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom (1944) placed totalitarianism front and center. For Von Hayek, economic planning leads to totalitarianism. All collectivism was totalitarian. Von Hayek was very ambitious historically, tracing the roots of totalitarianism through Marx to Auguste Comte. The appearance of Von Hayek’s book was a great help to Yankee conservatives in setting the political agenda of postwar intellectual debates. Hayek helped support the publication of Karl Popper’s Cold War liberal book, Open Society and Its Enemies, (1945).

Conservatives wanted to use totalitarianism to paint with broad brush-strokes, attacking not only communism, but even socialism and liberalism. Some questioned the status of the New Deal itself. Neo-cons such as Melvin Lasky and Irving Kristol were part of this wave. Anti-communists organized themselves as the Americans for Democratic Action. Notice the use of virtue word “democratic” in this title. Historically, conservatives equated democracy with “mob rule.” This new wave of conservative anti-communism included the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

Irving Kristol

Irving Kristol, writing in the New Leader at the end of WWII was Involved in Cold War liberal journals such as Commentary, the Reporter and Encounter. Neo-conservatives began to speculate about the origins of totalitarianism to a larger public, by-passing the academic totalitarian theorists. Kristol produced a typology even grander than Jacob Talmon’s indictment of the Enlightenment. He aimed to explain the difference geographically, between Anglo-American pragmatic liberalism and the continental tendency of fanaticism and revolutions.

TOTALITARIANISM IN THE 1950s

Schlesinger’s the Vital Center

In 1948 Arthur Schlesinger Jr. began his book, The Vital Center, (1949), one of the manifestos of Cold War liberalism. The book’s chief concern is communism, not Nazism. He claims that sentimental progressives have been duped by totalitarianism. For Schlesinger, totalitarianism arises when anxious 20th century human beings seeks to escape their anxiety (referring to Fromm’s Escape from Freedom) by throwing themselves into a totalitarian whole, a night in which all cows are black. Unlike previous tyrannies, which left much of the social structure intact, totalitarianism pulverizes the social structure. He stresses the importance of keeping social forms of voluntary groups from being atomized. A rich associative life can be had away from politics. He accepts a very passive version of democracy, a lack of appeal to those irrational sentiments once mobilized by religion and now by totalitarianism.

Why such a weak democracy? The notion of a popular, meaningful political life is totally illusory. Schlesinger’s totalitarian masses are plunged into a deep trance-like political apathy which he calls bureaucratic collectivism. He claims “we” must give the lonely masses a sense of individual human function away from politics. He accepts the separation between those engaged in political life and the great mass of society. His book marked a new kind of pessimism about human nature. He excluded all communist sympathizers.

Congress for Cultural Freedom

In 1950 the Congress for Cultural Freedom was constituted in Berlin to provide further organization and inspiration for the anti-Communist left in Europe. Its principle organizer was Melvin Lasky. The CIA funded their original meeting in Berlin and within three years, through Lasky, was supporting the Congress itself. The purpose of the founders was to combat the idea that respected, serious writers could be neutral in the Cold War. James Burnham, Sidney Hook and Arthur Koestler, all former leftists, went to the most extreme in depicting their own commitment to the West.

The Sovietologists in the United States

After 1945, “Russian Studies” departments developed. They were aided by Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller. The “sovietologists” had centers at Columbia University, Harvard, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington. There was both open and some secret collaboration among foundations, universities, the CIA, the FBI and the State Department to develop Soviet Studies and keep it free of pro-Soviet personnel.

Carl Friedrich — professor of government at Harvard — organized a conference on totalitarianism which included Adam Ulam, Erik Erikson, David Riesman, and former radicals like Bertram Wolfe. Following the conference, Friedrich recruited Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Soviet specialist from Harvard’s government department as a collaborator. One fruit of their collaboration was a book called Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, (1956). For a while it was the most influential and authoritative treatment of totalitarianism ever written, a careful scrutinization of Nazi and Soviet politics and economics. The concept of totalitarianism also became a staple of college textbooks and sometimes books for high school students, However, by the 1960s there began a rebellion in academia against the totalitarian model.

 TOTALITARIANISM IN THE 1960s

The tide began to change in 1960 when political scientist Robert Tucker pointed out three problems with the totalitarian model:

  • Cross-culturally the comparisons were too narrow. Besides Russia, Germany and Italy needed to be included.
  • Historically the comparisons were static. In the case of Russia, a distinction needs to be made between Russia under Stalin, Russia under Lenin and Russia under Khrushchev.
  • Brzezinski’s and Friedrich’s model could not explain change in the Soviet Union. Later, Chalmers Johnson edited a book called Change in Communist Systems which supported Tucker’s points.

Up until now political scientists were content to compare dictatorships with other dictatorships while treating industrial capitalist systems as if they were a different species. But political scientist Jerry Hough challenged the totalitarian model directly. Using a method he called “institutional pluralism” he provided a functional analysis of communist societies free from Cold War ideology. He asked what do communist and industrial capitalist societies have in common in terms of bureaucracies.

In summing up the attack on American sovietologists, comparative politics scholar Fainsod in his book How the Soviet Union is Governed (1979) he says:

The study of communism has become so pervaded with the values prevalent in the United States that we have not an objective and accurate knowledge of communism, but rather an ideologically distorted image. Not only our theories, but the concepts we employ – totalitarianism – are value laden. (p. 133)

TOTALITARIANISM IN THE 1970s

Leonard Shapiro

Meanwhile, on the right, neo-conservatives had been furious with what they felt was Nixon and Kissinger’s appeasement of the Soviet Union. Most neoconservatives hated Hough’s comparative politics because it neutralized the Soviet Union, presenting it as a state like any other state, instead of the demonical monster that it was imagined as being.

In his book The Origins of Soviet Autocracy British scholar, Leonard Shapiro argued that unlike Tucker’s claim, the origins of totalitarianism in Russia do not begin with Stalin, but with Lenin. Shapiro treated the Bolshevik seizure of power as a coup rather than a democratic revolution. He did not think that Trotsky or Bukharin offered any serious alternative.

Challenging Shapiro, based on his political biography of Bukharin, Steven Cohen argued that Bolshevism had a far greater evolutionary possibility that could have  been realized had Bukharin rather than Trotsky won the power struggle against Stalin after Lenin died, but whether one sided with Trotsky or Bukharin, Bolshevism and Stalinism were very different. The differences between Bukharin and Trotsky were minimal compared to their differences with Stalin. It was the fault of the totalitarian theorists that Bolshevism and Stalinism became blurred. The Bolshevik Party was more open and, in some ways, democratic than had been generally admitted. Cohen used the work of Alexander Rabinowitch’s Bolsheviks Come to Power (1976) to document his points.

Sheila Fitzpatrick

More conservative than Cohen, political scientist Sheila Fitzpatrick was not interested in saving Lenin from complicity in Stalin’s crimes. She thought that the Civil War gave the new regime a baptism by fire that the Bolsheviks wanted. She argued that what Cohen ignored is the terroristic aspect on the Russian population. Because of “The Terror” of Stalin’s reign, parents talked differently to their children, writers wrote differently, workers and managers talked to one another differently, and millions perished.

 Neocons

With the decline of the US economy after 1970, the ebbing of the left activism of the 1960s and the rise of religious fundamentalism in the late 70s, neo-conservatives saw their ship coming in. These neo-cons showed great respect for dissident intellectuals of Eastern Europe — Havel, Kolakowsky and Solzhenitsyn — and had significant ties to anti-Communist Western European intellectuals such as Karl Bracher, Jacob Talmon, and Raymond Aron. However, it wasn’t until the election of Reagan that the neoconservatives both inside and outside government began a sustained drive for hands-on political influence. It was these neo-cons who reintroduced “totalitarianism” into the US political vocabulary.

The Separation of “Authoritarian” from Totalitarianism as a way to justify cavorting with military dictatorships

The Soviet Union had to be understood as totalitarian for ideological purposes, but were all countries with centralized power, with limits on capitalists’ governments, “totalitarian”? That depends on the politics of the country. If the country has a victorious Leninist party in power, then the country is labeled totalitarian regardless of how democratic the political process was. But if the country has a right-wing military in power, no matter how many characteristics of totalitarian they have, they will be called something else, “authoritarian.”

Instrumental in the revised typology of totalitarianism was Jeanne Kirkpatrick. She accepted Friedrich and Brzezinski’s model and added Talmon’s stress on totalitarian liberalism. In her essay, Dictatorships and Double Standards, her most important innovation was to introduce a distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Her attitude towards traditional nondemocratic regimes was Burkean. This means that traditional autocrats, unlike totalitarians, leave in place existing allocations of wealth, power and status. The religious system and traditions are left alone. They do not disturb habitual rhythms of work and leisure, where people live or family dynamics. The totalitarian regime, on the other hand, draws on resources of modern technology and wipes out these traditions.  The authoritarian regime stems from a lack of political or economic development, not the presence of modern transport and communications systems that totalitarians possess.

Why the distinction between authoritarian vs totalitarian rule? As much as neocons want to think of the political world of nations in black and white systems of rule, the reality of international relations makes this impossible. The political world consists of a spectrum of rule going from more liberal to more authoritarian. It is inevitable that countries of industrial capitalist governments must form alliances with countries who have more heavy-handed rulers because they do not have complete control over world affairs. If the political world today requires alliances, how would it look if geopolitical alliances were with countries that were classified as totalitarian?

“Authoritarian” was a way to distinguish between right-wing dictatorships that for reasons of convenience or necessity the United States should support. These must be distinguished from left-wing ones that were dangerous to western capitalist interests and so are classified as totalitarian. So, the United States could classify alliances with theocracies like Saudi Arabia or Egypt as “authoritarian”, even though they may have more characteristics that are totalitarian. Conversely, Venezuela will be classified as totalitarian, even though in practice it has one of the highest rated democratic processes in the world.

Modernization theory as propaganda to deny core countries’ creation of right-wing states

Among other claims, World-Systems theory claims that there is one single world-capitalist system with a core, periphery and semi-periphery, and these differences are based on technology, economic, political and military power. In addition to the invisible hand of capitalism there is also an invisible fist. In order to make sure the labor and land markets in the peripheral countries remain cheap, international capitalists cannot afford to have political rulers in the periphery of the system in power who have their own ideas of how to organize their economy. This is one reason why Lumumba and Qaddafi were murdered. Therefore, it pays for capitalists to throw guns and money at dictators who will keep foreign markets open, continue to develop commercial crops, keep unions from forming and assassinating any leftist troublemakers.  It is these countries that are called “emerging democracies” at best, and “authoritarian” at worst.

Modernization theory is the systematic repression and denial of the notion that military dictatorships are a creature of oppressive international power plays on the part of core-capitalist countries to keep peripheral countries dependent on the international institutions like the World Bank or the IMF. Peripheral countries are treated as isolated specimens that are undergoing internal development. Instead of these states being largely the creatures of neo-colonialism, they are treated as pre-modern authoritarian societies that only need to be exposed to western European political institutions in order to straighten up and fly right toward the path of democracy which is already happily charted by Western Europe and the United States.

•  First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

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Doubt is a Treacherous Path: We must avoid being diverted towards terminal cynicism

What I think of as the cynical left are once again berating the progressive critical left, myself included, for failing to write what they want written about Covid-19. I take this as a kind of unintended compliment: that they think we can write about their concerns better than they can themselves.

But even if I wished to write someone else’s argument rather than my own, it would still be difficult to know for sure what the cynical left wants from progressive writers: that we pronounce the pandemic fake, or that we declare the danger from it overblown, or that we denounce mask-wearing as an infringement on personal liberty, or that we argue lockdown is a prelude to George Orwell’s 1984. Or maybe all of these.

No matter, the reproval has at least spurred me into setting down the following 15 points that, I suppose, amount to a mission statement to my readers, using Covid-19 as a template. I hope they clarify what I am trying to achieve with my blog and why I see the cynical left not only as misguided and ineffectual but as ultimately a brake on progressive change. They risk contributing to the worst trends in our increasingly polarised and dysfunctional societies.

1. Let me start with a brief comment about Covid-19. I have nothing unique, informed or interesting to say about the virus I haven’t already said in earlier pieces on my blog. I don’t write the same thing over and over – at least not intentionally.

Were I to write at the moment about the pandemic, all I would add are statements that I think are relatively obvious and have already been made in the “mainstream” media:

  • that most western governments have proved deeply incompetent or corrupt in handling the virus;
  • that, even during a pandemic, there must be a balance between public health needs and our need for a tangible sense of community, and daily I entertain doubts about where that balance should properly lie;
  • and that governments in trouble will try to exploit the pandemic as best they can to impose more repressive measures on their publics, exactly as is happening right now where I live, in Israel.

Attacks on our freedoms need to be identified and addressed as they occur. I don’t see a global conspiracy to lock us all into our homes. Those who do see such a conspiracy should be writing pieces to convince me and others that they are right, not whingeing that I have not written the piece for them.

2. The incompetence and corruption of our governments in handling Covid-19 are not specific to the virus. They are the symptoms of defective political systems that were long ago captured by corporate interests. Western, technocratic governments have no real solutions for the pandemic in exactly the same way that they have no real solutions for the collapse of eco-systems or for making our economic systems, based on endless growth on a finite planet, sustainable. The reason these challenges defeat them is because they have no values apart from ever greater concentration of wealth.

3. Even were I or others to narrowly focus on Covid-19, there are far more pressing things to talk about than the threat of masks and lockdowns. Such as how we have increased our exposure to new viruses like Covid through rampant colonisation and exploitation of the planet’s final wildernesses, depriving other species of their natural habitats. Such as how economic incentives in food production ensure we are deprived of proper nutrition and encouraged to stuff ourselves with empty calories, provoking an epidemic of obesity and chronic illness, that has weakened our natural defences to disease, especially a new one like Covid-19. I am less worried about lockdowns than I am about western lifestyles that make lockdowns our only way to prevent higher mortality rates.

4. More generally, my journalism strives to attack western power structures where they are most overtly aggressive, most unjust, most exposed and most vulnerable. I expend my very limited resources and energies on trying to persuade readers of the very real and very visible conspiracies – structural conspiracies – perpetrated by our elites to maintain and expand their power.

5. There are very explicit conspiracies that can be grasped with only a little critical thinking, such as the current efforts to lock away Julian Assange for life for exposing US crimes against humanity and the five-year campaign to destroy the Labour party’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, before he could reach a position where, it was feared, he would be able to disrupt the neoliberal status quo rapidly driving us towards extinction. That conspiracy embraced senior party officials, leaked documents have shown.

A similar conspiracy by the Democratic leadership in the US to prevent Bernie Sanders becoming the party’s presidential candidate in 2016 was exposed in a leak of the DNC’s emails, though that, of course, has been largely plunged down the memory hole and replaced with a straightforward narrative about “Russian” malfeasance.

6. There is a reason why overt conspiracies – like the ones against Assange and Corbyn – are not instantly evident to a larger proportion of western publics: the coordinated efforts of corporate media, from right-wing to so-called “liberal-left” outlets, to enforce narrative orthodoxy. That can be seen in the media’s blackout on what is happening in the current Assange extradition hearings, and in the media’s earlier, blanket disinformation campaign against Corbyn. I have focused on these cases because they can encourage readers to question whether the corporate media really are truth-seekers, as they claim, or are simply the public relations wing of the power establishment.

7. These political and media conspiracies are the Achilles’ heel of a grand narrative designed to relate the west’s moral superiority and global benevolence. Exposing these conspiracies is the best hope of getting people to raise questions in their own minds – questions that may put them on the path to understanding that our leaders and our political systems are now controlled by billionaire donors not even pursuing their own nation’s interests, let alone the interests of humankind and the planet. Rather, this billionaire class pursue narrow, self-destructive corporate interests, whether it is banks driving people into debt, oil companies fuelling systemic environmental crises, or arms manufacturers lobbying for endless wars against an intangible “terror”.

8. Covid-19 does not appear to be one of those weak points in the western narrative, not least because it is very hard to discern any meaningful western narrative about the virus other than an agreement that it is a dangerous disease for some sections of the population and that its rapid spread could overwhelm most countries’ health services.

To challenge and disrupt that narrative, one would need either to persuade the public that the disease is not dangerous at all or that health systems can easily cope with large numbers of people getting sick. Even if I believed that were true, which I don’t, my chances of persuading anyone – outside of the small circle of believers among the cynical left – that I should be listened to over a majority of epidemiologists would be close to zero. And even if I could persuade significant numbers of people, what would it suggest other than that our political leaders were fools to listen to the medical establishment? What kind of political awakening would that amount to?

9. If there really is a conspiracy about the virus, it does not need writers like me to expose it. This is not the equivalent of a journalist few of us have ever met being locked away out of sight, or a political leader few of us have ever met being uniformly pilloried in the media. It is a virus running wild through the population. If it is a hoax, if there is no danger, if lockdown is entirely unnecessary, the truth of that will eventually become evident to ordinary people without the intervention of pundits like me. People do not want to be locked up. Fear, for themselves or their loved ones, is what makes them compliant. If they reach the conclusion that the restrictions on their liberty are unnecessary, they will react – whatever I or others tell them.

10. While I am being berated yet again for not challenging the supposedly nefarious motives behind lockdown, I and my family are enduring a second one in Nazareth. From here it doesn’t look like Netanyahu is bringing the Israeli health system to the brink of collapse; it looks like the virus is. Most definitely, Netanyahu has been incompetent. And equally certain is that he hopes to shut down growing street protests against his rule by exploiting the public health crisis.

His abuses of the system do not mean that, as Israel grapples with what appears to be the worst per capita infection rate in the world, the renewed lockdown is necessarily the wrong policy. But it does mean the Netanyahu government’s motives are muddled and public dissatisfaction is growing. Other governments are surely watching to see how Netanyahu weathers this storm.

11. Fears about the threat posed by Covid to western health care systems do not look to me like a political or media conspiracy. Fears of that threat appear to be the consensus of the western medical establishment. It is possible that the medical establishment may eventually be proved wrong. But it is hard indeed to believe that they are saying what they are saying only because it is convenient for politicians – or even that what they are saying is what most politicians want to hear. Politicians are only too aware of the public’s mounting frustration at being repeatedly locked up, seeing their jobs disappear and local economies start to collapse. To me, western politicians look deeply uncertain, fearful of a potential popular backlash, not co-conspirators in a grand plot to lock us all up indefinitely.

12. We are on a knife edge, and I am not here referring to Covid-19.

On the one hand, we are in a race – if our societies are to survive – to arrive at a new consensus, a new social contract, recognising that we need urgent and fundamental change. That will first require a greater popular acceptance that our leaders are incapable of overseeing that change because they are trapped in defective political structures. Those structures are irredeemably defective because they were captured long ago by corporate interests driving us towards extinction. We have to increase the depth and extent of popular doubt because, without it, there will not be enough people thinking critically to push for wholesale change.

13. On the other hand, too much doubt – doubt simply for the sake of doubt, or cynical doubt – will not improve our chances of reorganising our societies and giving ourselves a shot at survival. The danger is that justified, educated, targeted scepticism morphs into knee-jerk, enervating, fatalistic cynicism. That is the very trend our leaders have been cultivating in us – mostly inadvertently – through their own nihilistic support for a neoliberal status quo that, it becomes clearer by the day, is hurtling us towards a desolate future.

14. Doubt is a treacherous path to navigate. It has a decisive fork along the way: one route could lead to salvation, whereas the other heads with absolute certainty towards ruin. If we become so filled with doubt that we are no longer prepared to believe anything, or we see everything as equally a conspiracy, we will be paralysed into inaction and hopelessness.

15. It is hard to live without hope. Humans need to foster hope, even when it seems clear there is no hope. If we lose a sense that we can create real change through our actions, we end up – as some are doing already – looking to authoritarians and father figures who can reassure us that, though our situation appears bleak, they can make everything better, they have the answers.

The cynical left wants to drag the critical left down a path that propels us towards this doomed future. It is not my path. I will continue to ignore the siren calls urging me away from constructive critical thought towards destructive cynicism.

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The Guardian’s Deceit-riddled New Statement betrays both Julian Assange and Journalism

In my recent post on the current hearings at the Old Bailey over Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States, where he would almost certainly be locked away for the rest of his life for the crime of doing journalism, I made two main criticisms of the Guardian.

A decade ago, remember, the newspaper worked closely in collaboration with Assange and Wikileaks to publish the Iraq and Afghan war diaries, which are now the grounds on which the US is basing its case to lock Assange behind bars in a super-max jail.

My first criticism was that the paper had barely bothered to cover the hearing, even though it is the most concerted attack on press freedom in living memory. That position is unconscionably irresponsible, given its own role in publishing the war diaries. But sadly it is not inexplicable. In fact, it is all too easily explained by my second criticism.

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Changing the Washington Guard: What a Democratic Sweep in November Portends

At the risk of counting chickens before they hatch, what would the return of Team Blue portend?

As is patently obvious, the US is in trouble. Climate driven heat waves and fires grip the nation. An already faltering economy with deep contradictions could only tank given the shock of the pandemic that has necessitated varying degrees of sequestering. In fact, the downturn had already started before COVID-19 hit. An already largely privatized healthcare system run for profit and a social ethic that rejects “socialized” public health measures could only have proven inadequate. Added to this mix, an historically racist nation was ripe for the righteous protests against overt injustices. These conditions pre-dated Trump’s presidency and predetermined the current calamity.

The designated chump is Trump

Trump is screwing up royally, but the root causes were unavoidable. Rather than owning up to the inherent nature of capitalism, which puts profits before people as its operating principle, elite opinion needs to point a finger at an offending scapegoat. Someone must take a fall and the designated chump is Trump. Witness Republican establishment figures defecting to the Biden camp.

Trump, under normal circumstances, would have a formidable advantage as the incumbent president. Of the thirteen US presidents since 1933, all ran for re-election except JFK who tragically did not have that choice. All but three won. These exceptions prove the rule that bad economic times doom the incumbent: Ford and Bush the Elder were defeated by recessions and Carter by “stagflation.”

Today’s circumstances are not normal. Trump’s incumbency may be a fatal flaw with conditions worse in many respects than the Great Depression.

Added to a collapsing economy and a nation aflame with racial justice protests, Mr. Trump has not improved his prospects by his mishandling of the COVID-19 contagion. A US passport was once the most accepted in the world. Now that the US leads the world in total pandemic deaths and ranks a high eleventh in deaths/population, only eight countries in the world are fully open to US tourists: Albania, Belarus, Brazil, Mexico, Serbia, Turkey, Zambia, and that most sought after destination of North Macedonia, whose national flower is the opium poppy.

The delusional fear that Trump will stage a coup to stay in power begs the question of what army and security apparatus would back him. Not the US military, nor the security state agencies – FBI, NSA, CIA and other spooks. Those institutions of the permanent state are no more in favor of Mr. Trump than most of the active US electorate, who will likely give him a boot this fall.

The next act comes with perils

In the midst of the pandemic, when health insurance claims would be expected to be out of control, health insurers have been garnering obscene profits benefiting from the public health emergency. Amongst the superrich, Jeff Bezos of Amazon added $87.1 billion to his net worth since the beginning of the year and Elon Musk of Tesla accrued another $73.6 billion.

Thanks in large part to the habitual intervention by the Federal Reserve for the owners of finance capital, Market Insider predicts “2021 could be a boom year for stocks,” while prospects for working people look grim and ever grimmer. Yes, Bernie Sanders was right that the “system is rigged” for the capitalist class.

Will a Democratic victory in November change any of this? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the current highest ranking Democrat, said it all: “we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.” Her net worth is $120 million.

Even major “liberal” Democrats, such as Elizabeth Warren, are doctrinaire “capitalist to the bone.” When asked to explain herself, the senator said: “I believe in markets and the benefits they can produce…for people.” True enough. The “people” who benefit from capitalism are the capitalists.

How about Democratic Party progressives like the “The Squad,” you ask? In the “graveyard of social movements” that is the Democratic Party, they are relegated to diversity window dressing with AOC getting only 90 seconds of fame at the Democratic National Convention.

Nominal independent Bernie Sanders tried an end-run for the presidential nomination but ran into the DNC’s “no progressives rule.” And if Biden wins in 2020 and Harris in 2024 and 2028, 2032 would be the first chance for a progressive Democrat to even try to run.

Speaking of the Democratic National Convention, Bernie Sanders praised Uncle Joe for – of all things – his health care policies. Michelle Obama carried chutzpah to new heights, criticizing Trump for immigration practices inherited from her husband. Can’t the best speech writers that money can buy come up with more convincing mendacities?

The enduring neoliberal project will continue with a likely change of guard from one party of capital to the other in January, though with a kinder face. We won’t have to contend with Prince of Darkness Pence and his buddy anymore.

The new feel-good Democratic couple will be spreading the love. And no one is feeling the “good” more than the capitalist class, rewarding the Democrats with donations of $48 million in the 48 hours after the announcement of Kamala Harris as the vice-presidential candidate. Just about every mainstream media article gushed about her amazing “qualifications,” the foremost being fund-raising. In plain English, her biggest asset is she is understood as serving the capitalist class.

The record of Democratic presidencies

It may be too soon to exhale with a Biden White House. If past performance is any indicator of future outcomes, a brief look at recently past Democratic presidencies is advised.

Under the watch of New Democrat Bill Clinton, the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, which was a factor leading to the Great Recession. NAFTA exported US union jobs while destroying small-scale Mexican agriculture. He dismantled Yugoslavia and bombed Iraq, contributing to the now perpetual destabilization of that part of the world. “Welfare as we know it” was abolished and mass incarceration instituted. Clinton was on a roll, with Social Security next on the chopping block, only to be stopped by the Monica Lewinski scandal.

While these were pet projects of the Republican wing of the US two-party duopoly, it took a Democrat to foist it on the populace. Notably, no major progressive legislation came out of Mr. Clinton’s watch. He adroitly felt “your pain” while inflicting it on the Democrat’s captured working class and minority constituencies, much to the pleasure of the class he served.

The next Democratic president, Barack Obama, had not even completed a term in the Senate before his meteoric rise to the Oval Office. Mr. Obama had the wiring, but part of his remarkable upward mobility came from being groomed and vetted by the ruling class to carry their water. He came out of the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project, which successfully sought to make the Democrats the favored party of Wall Street.

After promising peace, Obama led the US into wars in at least seven countries. Although no major progressive legislation came out of the Obama presidency, his many handouts to the ruling elites include bailing out the banks with no one prosecuted for wrongdoing. He gifted Obamacare to the insurance industry while killing single-payer. He more than doubled fossil fuel production for which he proudly took credit.

The lesson is that it is often more difficult to mount an organized resistance to regressive policies when promoted by Democrats than Republicans. Recall the massive resistance to Bush’s war in Iraq that instantly vanished the moment Obama inherited that war and brazenly took Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates into his cabinet. Similarly, we have seen Democrats sabotaging Medicare for All, with Biden already pledging to veto it if it came before him.

Campaign promises Biden will keep

The only thing preventing Trump from self-destructing come November 3 is none other than the Democratic Party. Of all the potential candidates that could have walked over Trump – particularly Sanders with universal healthcare in a time of pandemic or even Warren with taxing corporations in a time of  record profits amidst a recession – they chose the one candidate who could lose.

The former senator from Mastercard has already assured Wall Street that their privileged position will be protected on his watch. The war mongers have been assuaged with the promise that the military budget can only go up. The insurance parasites know that government imposed private health policies are set in stone. The Zionists needn’t fret about the US recognizing Palestinian rights or of reversing recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Worse than the climate deniers, Biden believes in the science of global warming and knows its catastrophic consequences. Yet he will do little about it and has already opposed a fracking ban. Fossil fuel subsidies will continue under the Democrats.

Note that these dubious promises were made on the campaign trail, while trying to attract votes.

A Biden presidency – austerity at home and imperialism abroad

Pelosi set the stage for a Biden presidency. The first thing the Democrats pushed through after “taking back” the House in 2018 was the “pay-go rule,” a fiscally conservative measure virtually guaranteeing that no progressive legislation can be funded. Then in March of this year the Democrats unanimously and without any debate helped pass the CARES Act, the largest single transfer of wealth from the workers to the wealthy in the history of the world.

Democrats, with the Obama/Biden administration and since, have leap-frogged the Republicans to the right on foreign policy issues in important respects regarding Afghanistan, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, etc. Democrats even oppose drawing down US troops abroad.

Trump has been all over the map, ineptly and inconsistently pursuing détente with Putin and while threatening Xi Jinping. With a Democratic administration, we can be assured of a more consistent, skillful, and lethal US imperialism, pursuing “full spectrum dominance” over the rest of the world.

Those who complain about Trump’s bungling should understand that the Biden alternative will be a more deadly and efficient rule of capital. We should be careful about what we wish for.

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How USA and Turkey Plunder and Loot Syria with Impunity

While President Trump lashes out at rioting and looting in Portland and Kenosha, half way around the world, the USA and Turkey are plundering and looting Syria on a vastly greater scale with impunity and little publicity.

Turkey Loots Syria, then Disrupts Safe Water Supply  

Turkey has been plundering the Syrian infrastructure for years.  Beginning in late 2012 and continuing through 2013 some 300 industrial factories were dismantled and taken to Turkey from Aleppo, the industrial capital of Syria. “Machinery and goods were loaded on trucks and carried off to Turkey through the Cilvegozu and Ceylanpinar crossings. Unfortunately, ‘plundering’ and ‘terror’ have become permanent parts of the Syrian lexicon when explaining their saga.”

In October 2019 Turkish forces invaded Syria and now occupy a strip of land in north east Syria. The area is controlled by the Turkish military and pro Turkish militia forces misnamed the “Syrian National Army”. Turkish President Erdogan dubbed the invasion “Peace Spring” and said the goal was to create a “safe zone”. The reality was that 200 thousand Syrians fled the invasion and over 100 thousand have been permanently displaced from their homes, farms, workplaces and livelihoods.

The industrial scale looting continues. As reported recently in the story headlined Turkish-backed factions take apart power pylons in rural Ras Al-Ain: “Reliable sources have informed SOHR that Turkish-backed factions steal electricity power towers and pylons in ‘Peace Spring’ areas in Ras Al-Ain countryside.”

Turkey now controls the border city of Ras al-Ain and the nearby Allouk water treatment and pumping station.  This is the water station supplying safe water to the city Hasaka and entire region. The Turkish forces are using water as a weapon of war, shutting down the station to pressure the population to be compliant.  For over two weeks in August, with daily temperatures of 100 F,  there was no running water for nearly one million people.

With no tap water, civilians were forced to queue up for hours to receive small amounts from water trucks. Unable to buy the water, other civilians took their chances by drinking water from unsafe wells. According to Judy Jacoub, a Syrian journalist originally from Hasaka, “The residents of Hasaka and its countryside have been pushed to rely on unsafe water sources ….Many residents have been suffering from the spread of fungi, germs and dirt in their hair and bodies as a result of using well water that is not suitable for drinking and personal hygiene. The people of Hasaka remain vulnerable to diseases and epidemics because of the high temperatures and spread of infectious diseases. If the situation is not controlled as soon as possible, the spread of Corona virus will undoubtedly be devastating.”  A hospital medical director says many people are getting sick from the contaminated water.

Judy Jacoub explains what has happened most recently: “After Syrian and international efforts exerted pressure on the Turkish regime, 17 wells and three pumps were started . The main reservoirs were filled and pumping was started toward the city neighborhoods.  However, despite the Turkish militia’s resumption of pumping water again, there is great fear among the citizens.”

USA Loots Syrian Oil and Plunders the Economy

The USA also has occupying troops and proxy/puppet military force in north east Syria. The proxy army is misnamed the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF). How they got that name is revealing. They took on this name as they came under the funding and control of the US military. As documented here, US Army General Ray Thomas told their leadership, “You have got to change your brand. What do you want to call yourselves besides the YPG?’  Then, he explained what happened: “With about a day’s notice they declared that they are the Syrian Democratic Forces. I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put democracy in there somewhere.”

There are numerous parties and trends within the Syrian Kurdish community. The US has been funding and promoting the secessionist element, pushing them to ally with Turkish backed  jihadists against the Damascus government.  The violation of Syrian sovereignty is extreme and grotesque.

Prior to the war, Syria was self-sufficient in oil and had enough to export and earn some foreign revenues. The primary oil sources are in eastern Syria, where the US troops and proxy forces have established bases. It is desert terrain with little population.

To finance their proxy army, the US has seized control of the major Syrian oil pumping wells. It is likely that President Trump thinks this is brilliant bold move – financing the invasion of Syria with Syrian oil.

In November 2019 President Trump said, “We’re keeping the oil… The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.”  Recently, it was revealed that a “Little known US firm secures deal for Syrian oil“. Delta Crescent Energy will manage and escalate the theft of Syrian oil.

What would Americans think if another country invaded the US via Mexico, set up bases in Texas, sponsored a secessionist militia, then seized Texas oil wells to finance it?  That is comparable to what the US is doing in Syria.

In addition to stealing Syria’s oil, the US is trying to prevent Syria from developing alternate sources. The “Caesar sanctions” on Syria threatens to punish any individual, company or country that invests or assists Syria to rebuild their war damaged country and especially in the oil and gas sector.

The US establishment seems to be doing everything it can to undermine the Syrian economy and damage the Syrian currency. Due to pressure on Lebanese banks, plus the Caesar sanctions, the Syrian pound has plummeted in value from 650 to 2150 to the US dollar in the past 10 months.

North east Syria is the breadbasket of the country with the richest wheat and grain fields. There are reports of US pressuring farmers to not sell their wheat crops to the Syrian government. One year ago, Nicholas Heras of the influential Center for New American Security argued “Assad needs access to cereal crops in northeast Syria to prevent a bread crisis in the areas of western Syria that he controls….Wheat is a weapon of great power in this next phase of the Syrian conflict.”   Now, it appears the US is following this strategy. Four months ago, in May 2020,  Syrian journalist Stephen Sahiounie reported, “Apache helicopters of the US occupation forces flew low Sunday morning, according to residents of the Adla village, in the Shaddadi countryside, south of Hasaka, as they dropped ‘thermal balloons, an incendiary weapon, causing the wheat fields to explode into flames while the hot dry winds fanned the raging fire.

After delivering their fiery pay-load, the helicopters flew close to homes in an aggressive manner, which caused residents and especially small children to fear for their lives.  The military maneuver was delivering a clear message: don’t sell your wheat to the Syrian government.”

To better loot the oil and plunder the Syria economy, in the past weeks the US is sending more heavy equipment and military hardware through the Kurdish region of Iraq.

In the south of Syria, the US has another base and occupation zone at the strategic Al Tanf border crossing. This is at the intersection of the borders of Syria, Iraq and Jordan. This is also the border crossing for the highway from Baghdad to Damascus. The US controls this border area to prevent Syrian reconstruction projects from Iraq or Iran. When Syrian troops have tried to get near there, they have been attacked on their own soil.

Meanwhile, international funds donated for “Syrian relief” are disproportionally sent to support and assist the last strong-hold of Al Qaeda terrorists in Idlib on the north west border with Turkey.  The US and its partners evidently want to sustain the armed opposition and prevent the Syrian government from reclaiming their territory.

Flouting International Law and the UN Charter

The USA and Turkey have shown how easy it is to violate international law. The occupation of Syrian land and attacks on its sovereignty are being done in broad daylight. But this is not just a legal issue. Stopping the supply of safe drinking water and burning wheat fields to create more hunger violate the most basic tenets of decency and morality.

With supreme hypocrisy, the US foreign policy establishment often complains about the decline in the “rule of law”. In actuality, there is no greater violator than the US itself.

In his speech to the UN Security Council,  Syrian Ambassador Ja’afari decried this situation saying “international law has become like the gentle lamb whose care is entrusted to a herd of wolves.”

• Author’s note: To see good political and military maps of Syria,  go to southfront.org

The post How USA and Turkey Plunder and Loot Syria with Impunity first appeared on Dissident Voice.