Category Archives: Noam Chomsky

US Openly Pushes for Overthrow of Elected Government in Venezuela

In one concise statement, Dan Kovalik sums up the criminal — if self-serving and for now effective — foreign policy of the U.S. across the planet:

The US appears to be intentionally spreading chaos throughout strategic portions of the world, leaving virtually no independent state standing to protect their resources, especially oil, from Western exploitation. And, this goal is being achieved with resounding success, while also achieving the subsidiary goal of enriching the behemoth military-industrial complex.

A divided Korea, a decimated Vietnam, endless war in Afghanistan, a barely functional Iraq, a destroyed Libya, ongoing destruction of Syria and Venezuela, relentless attacks and incipient war on Iran, give us more than a glimpse into the awesome power of America’s military might, its malice and ruthlessness in projecting that power, its no-holds-barred no-moral-qualms no-body-count no-questions-asked ends-justify-the-means tactical use of genocide, its jaw-dropping hypocrisy in portraying itself as a force of good, its psychopathic exceptionalist world view which judges all other nations and their populations as dispensable, and its ultimate loyalty to a tiny autocratic ruling elite who use “democracy” as just another tool in their bag of tricks to promote absolute corporate tyranny — the framework of fascism Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism  and global hegemony. It’s for good reason that the U.S. is now often referred to as the Empire of Chaos.

The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela: How the US is Orchestrating a Coup for Oil, as the title suggests, more specifically focuses on the horrors inflicted by the U.S. government on Venezuela. This thorough, extremely well-researched, and fully supported exposé covers the current crises in and about Venezuela, intentionally and purposefully instigated by the U.S. to overthrow its current government and plunder the country’s rich oil reserves. Just as importantly it offers rich and revealing historical accounts of America’s past dealings with Venezuela and almost identical scenarios with other Latin American nations, detailing the darkness and corruption that lies at the heart of U.S. foreign policy, and how that has cast a pall of oppression over the entirety of South and Central America, the nations of which have the geographical misfortune of being in America’s self-declared hemisphere of influence — read that as hemisphere of total domination and ruthless exploitation.

From Chile to Haiti to Panama to Honduras to Nicaragua to El Salvador to Colombia, we see the brutal deployment of U.S. political and military assets leaving whole countries impoverished, the poor without hope — often deprived of even food and water — and piles of nameless corpses in escalating numbers, dismissed by the U.S. government and its lapdog media as collateral damage of the Great Imperial Project.  

By the end of Kovalik’s chilling indictment of U.S. malfeasance in its war on the people of Venezuela, what is astonishing and shocking is that the U.S. is again getting away with such overt and illegal aggression, by not only using the same play book, but by using the same players. With Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, John Bolton as National Security Advisor, and Elliot Abrams as Special Envoy to Venezuela, at the helm of the project to take Venezuela’s government apart and replace it with the puppet regime of the unelected Juan Guaido, we have three of the most notorious of the notorious  murderous, lying thugs  doing the dirty work. All three have sordid histories of inciting war and orchestrating regime changes. Abrams was indicted and convicted for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair.

The thought-provoking Plot to Overthrow Venezuela is very well-written, with a clarity, accessibility, and erudition which puts it in a class with the best works of Noam Chomsky. The Foreward by Oliver Stone is a worthy and deserving way to get things started. I give it six out of five stars, truly one of the most engaging and informative books I’ve read in ages.

Empire’s War under the Radar: Nicaragua

In April of 2018 armed and unarmed proxies of the US in collaboration with Nicaraguan elites launched a war against the Nicaraguan state, its government, its economy and its people. It disrupted transportation and communications throughout the country and sabotaged the economy. This was effected through acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, as well as the construction throughout the country of hundreds of violently enforced roadblocks, and the staging of political demonstrations peppered with violence. Through false and deceptive domestic, international and social media reports and posts, the aggressors in this war managed to enlist a number of Nicaraguans not part of the country’s politically reactionary elite.

The war proper began mid-April and ended mid-July with the removal of the opposition roadblocks. Over 250 people had been killed and many more injured.  More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000. (NB: This review calls the events of 2018 a “war,” though it may also be called a “regime-change operation,” “coup attempt,” and more.)

This 270-page ebook, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, which the editors call a “Reader,” is offered free by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), the leading anti-imperialist solidarity organization in the US. It includes essays, investigative journalism, interviews and first-hand accounts of the war. It is a thoughtful and multifaceted collection covering a highly significant event in modern revolutionary and anti-imperialist history. Contributors are Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Max Blumenthal, Michael Boudreau, S. Brian Willson, Jorge Capelán, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Chuck Kaufman, Dan Kovalik, Barbara Larcom, Coleen Littlejohn, Gabriela Luna, Nils McCune, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, John Perry, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese.

Live from Nicaragua exposes and refutes the biased and false accounts of the war presented in the corporate and even alternative media, along with Washington-aligned human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their narrative imagined a peaceful, progressive protest movement crushed by the brutal national police of a dictatorial regime. Even from the broad Left (however defined) this narrative has been disseminated by North American Congress on Latin America, Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, The Guardian, and iconic broadcasts like Democracy Now! (262-263) In the Orwellian world we inhabit it is certain this Reader, despite its importance, scope and quality, will never be acknowledged by the corporate media or most alternative media, much less reviewed or discussed there.

In addition to longer essays and articles, Live from Nicaragua includes news briefs.  From these we learn of the launch of the regime-change war, and that some days before the war began, a fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve was greeted with contrived protests against alleged government inaction. These protests tried but failed to initiate the war and they fizzled with the fire. We learn the details of the proposed social security reforms by which the government sought to avoid the neoliberal plans of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful Nicaraguan business association, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise. These proposed reforms were misrepresented in opposition media and met with pretextual protests with changing rationales. These were the protests that initiated the war.1

These news briefs report the burning of government offices in Masaya, with the fire spreading through much of the neighborhood; the teachers’ denunciation of the violence and the roadblocks; the kidnapping of a high school teacher in Managua who had marched in the protests; shootings in Carazo and Jinotepe; the burning of the pro-Sandinista radio station “Tu Nueva Radio Ya” in Managua; opposition calls for a coup; Mother’s Day violence which killed 16 and wounded 30 police and Sandinista supporters in Managua, Masaya, Chinandega and Estelí; the arrest of Christian Mendoza, “El Viper,” gang leader who carried out murder, car theft and other crimes, and who had been in charge of the initial April violence at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua; the burnings in Granada of the municipal building and vendor markets, destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of vendors and small business owners.

Elsewhere are vivid eyewitness accounts of the war, such as this from Maribel Baldizón, a self-employed Managuan fruit-seller and General Secretary of the Federation of Workers at Bus Stops and Traffic Lights (226):

[W]e couldn’t be in our streets; we couldn’t walk freely because we were worrying about those who might rape, kill or steal…I sell here in the sector of the [University of Central America]…they set my stand on fire…they shot mortars where I sell, and they burned down [Tu Nueva Radio Ya, pro-Sandinista radio station] across the street…

She rejected the media’s false narrative, saying of the opposition:

What they did was against the people, it was not a struggle in which the people rose up, no, it was a struggle against the poor.

In “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua” (115, 179), Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune analyze the regime-change operation, the violence committed by opposition forces, and opposition claims of government use of excessive force. They identify the class character of the conflict, aptly calling it “an upside-down class war.”

In “How Nicaragua Defeated a Right-wing US-backed Coup” (57), Max Blumenthal interviews Nils McCune. This especially compelling interview gives an overview of the war from its inception. Also discussed is the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-funded Felix Maradiaga and his criminal operatives in organizing and committing the violence, as well as the role of nominally Left parties of the opposition: Movement for Sandinista Renovation, and Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo (both parties known by the acronym MRS). McCune notes that these parties lack popular support and give a perpetually weak showing in elections, always in single digits and nearly always at the low end. “They’re very strong outside the country,” McCune notes, but “very weak within the country. There’s not one MRS member in Tipitapa [McCune’s town] because it’s a very working-class city.”

Previously AFGJ and the British organization, Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG), collaborated on Dismissing the Truth, a detailed refutation of two Amnesty International reports on the violence in Nicaragua. The 55-page analysis is excerpted in the Reader (195) and available free at afgj.org. Amnesty International has been a primary purveyor and ostensibly authoritative source of the false narrative embraced by the media, and this debunking by AFGJ and NSCAG makes plain AI’s subservience to the anti-government narrative promoted by the US and Nicaraguan opposition press.

In “The 15 Days of Protests without Deaths” (83), Enrique Hendrix references his own longer study, “Monopolizing Death,” which examined every death occurring during period of the war, from April 19 through September 23, 2018. Hendrix’s work refutes the myth of a popular peaceful opposition protest movement met with brutal police repression.

In “How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions,” (191), Max Blumenthal discusses the falsification of the death toll by partisan NGOs in the reporting of the regime-change war and the use of so-called human rights organizations in propagating false and misleading accounts. These organizations include the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, relied upon by the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Blumenthal also reports the close and unconcealed ties between leading young activists of the Nicaraguan regime-change efforts and the right wing of the US Congress.

With precision and wit, like a defence lawyer delivering a summation to a jury, Chuck Kaufman in “The Case Against Ortega” (138) eviscerates the charge that Ortega is a dictator, as well as the claims of those who assert that they stand to the left of the Sandinistas. Explaining his motivation (and startling this reviewer), Kaufman opens his piece with a collective self-reproach to the US solidarity Left:

[S]ince the [Sandinistas]’ return to power with the 2006 election of Daniel Ortega as president, we haven’t really countered the disinformation campaign against Daniel, his wife, and his government. We mistakenly assumed that the demonstrably improving standard of living, the reduction in poverty, infant and maternal mortality, the lack of Nicaraguans coming north to the US border, the return of economic and political rights stripped from the people during seventeen years of neoliberal US vassal governments [1990 to 2006], would outshine the lies.

John Perry studies the role of “social media, Nicaragua’s corporate media and the international press,” in “Nicaragua’s Crisis: The Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage” (208):

Nominally the protests that began on April 18 were in opposition to a series of quite modest reforms to the social security system. A vigorous disinformation campaign fooled large numbers of students and others into joining the protests by misrepresenting the details of the government’s proposals. But the students leading these protests were soon joined by those with a much wider agenda of attempting to bring down the Ortega government. Rather than arguing about changes in pension arrangements, social media were quickly promoting regime change.

This campaign “included many more fake videos and false reports. Facebook posts reported that public hospitals were refusing to treat injured protestors. Fake videos appeared of ‘injured’ students being treated in universities and at the Catholic Cathedral of Managua.” Social media disseminated “instructions to track down and kill government sympathizers or officials.” On July 12, a caravan of motor vehicles ”attacked both the police station and the town hall.” Four police and a teacher were killed. “Around 200 armed ‘protestors’ kidnapped the remaining police, took them away, beat them up and threatened to kill them.”

Perry remarks the existence of a “consensus narrative” on Nicaragua. International media, including the New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, BBC, and Huffington Post adhere to the narrative, often comparing Ortega’s government to famous dictatorships of history. And AI, HRW and IACHR repeat the false claims and invented body counts of local Nicaraguan ‘human rights’ organizations that are “aligned with the opposition, are notoriously biased and have often received US funding.”

Chuck Kaufman’s “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” briefly outlines the alphabet-agencies and fronts responsible for the regime-change operations of 2018. (171) These include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the AFL-CIO, and others, along with Nicaraguan-based NGOs, some not only funded but created by US regime change organizations. Max Blumenthal’s essay, “US Government Meddling Machine Boasts of ‘Laying the Groundwork for Insurrection’ in Nicaragua” (174) details these US operations and their evolution from covert to overt operations in US foreign policy. It is estimated that the US may have spent hundreds of millions on the efforts that culminated in the regime-change war of 2018 (Willson and McCune, 13).

In pieces by Gabriela Luna (5), Chuck Kaufman (10, 171), Brian Willson and Nils McCune (13), and Dan Kovalik (186, 256), the long arc of the Sandinista Revolution and its accomplishments emerge, from the triumph in ’79, the reversal in 1990, and the return to power in 2007. During the first Sandinista period:

The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated. (Dan Kovalik)

Then in 1990 came the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Revolution, but as Noam Chomsky noted at the time, “the Nicaraguan people were voting ‘with a gun to their heads,’” understanding that if they did not vote out the Sandinistas the US would continue the dirty war. Counter-revolutionary government followed, during which the gains of the Revolution were reversed: in public health care, education, land redistribution, and much more. (Willson and McCune)

With the return of the Sandinistas in 2007, the Revolution began its second phase, with enormous and rapid progress in poverty alleviation, food sovereignty, gender equality and much more. (Kovalik) For example, the “absolute number of undernourished people in the country has been reduced by half, access to free education and health care has been guaranteed to rural communities, maternal mortality has been reduced by 60% and infant mortality by 52%, while access to electricity has been increased from 54% to 96% of the rural population.” (Gabriela Luna)

One of the accomplishments least known in North America are Nicaragua’s achievements in gender equity (Kovalik, 258-259): “[I]n 2018 Nicaragua was ranked number 5 in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF).” Only Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland were ranked higher. A 50-50 law mandates gender equality in party candidate lists for elections. All this, Kovalik remarks, “is at great variance with the derisive claims of many in the US left and the human rights community that Nicaragua is being led by a sexist ‘caudillo’ in the person of Daniel Ortega, but few will acknowledge this glaring contradiction.”

The Reader includes essays on Nicaragua that cover much more than the events of 2018. Nils McCune writes of the unique Nicaraguan “popular economy” (221), which he aptly calls “Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” referring to Naomi Klein’s work on neoliberal opportunism, The Shock Doctrine.

While the formal private sector — represented politically through the Supreme Counsel of Private Companies — employs about 15% of Nicaragua workers the informal, popular sector employs upwards of 60%…The capitalist creates employment in order to maximize accumulation; the self-employed worker, family business or cooperative uses accumulation as a tool in order to provide employment.

And it is the popular economy that provides much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing.

In “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup” (232), Jorge Capelán has written an expert, statistic-rich, but extremely readable analysis of the Nicaraguan economy as a whole, its development over the last forty years throughout the first and second periods of Sandinismo, as well as during the interim neoliberal period of 1990 through 2006. Capelán explains why such an economy was able to maintain stability and provide for the needs of the people both during and after the war. This success owes much to strategic government policy and regional alliances with Venezuela and Cuba  (e.g., Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: Peoples’ Trade Treaty [ALBA] and PetroCaribe).

This very economic success, as Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune explain (“Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” referenced above), answers the question of why the modern Nicaraguan state became the target of empire: because the country’s popular social, economic and political achievements, and its open rejection of imperialism, present the classic “threat of a good example” that might inspire other countries of the global south to break free of the imperialist choke-hold. It is also because of Nicaragua’s alliances with Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian struggle, its support for Puerto Rican independence, its membership in ALBA, and its alliances with China for a canal project and with Russia for security cooperation. (122)

Taking opposition critics of the government at their word, Kathy Hoyt (143) writes that for some, including those trained by NGOs funded by the US and the EU, “material improvements are not enough for them or they are not particularly interested in them.” Instead, they have particular complaints about the political system, the nature of Nicaragua’s political parties, elections, the person of Daniel Ortega, etc. But for supporters of the government, both in Nicaragua and abroad, the remarkable improvement in the lives of the poor of Nicaragua matter, and as Hoyt notes, quoting Orlando Nuñez Soto speaking of Cuba, “we are seduced by the fact that the children eat and go to school.”

In “The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Its Role in the Current Political Crisis in Nicaragua” (243), Colleen Littlejohn writes of ideological or theological differences within the Catholic Church, and the Church hierarchy’s participation in the war, both as instigator and organizer of the violence, and as a duplicitous negotiator and mediator. While the hierarchy formed part of the opposition, other Church elements resisted the betrayal of revolutionary Liberation Theology, which still has deep roots in Nicaragua’s Catholic laity and some clergy.

In “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom’,” (13) Brian Willson and Nils McCune have written a gripping introduction to the century-and-a-half history of the US attempt to control Nicaraguan “resources, infrastructure and a potential interoceanic canal route.” One learns that the US has used every technique in its campaign against Nicaraguan sovereignty: direct and mercenary war, military occupation, assassination of political leaders, financing of opposition political and media organs, use of international institutions to exert pressure, coup attempts, sanctions on trade and credit, and manipulation of US credit rating corporations to misrepresent Nicaragua’s financial stability. Even the world’s first use of planes to drop bombs was done by the US, on Nicaragua.

In the 1930s General Augusto César Sandino led a guerilla war against US occupation. He was assassinated in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza García, who also massacred Sandino’s troops. Backed by the US, the Somoza family then ruled the country from ’34 to ’79. Although the Sandinista Revolution was victorious in 1979, the US seamlessly continued the counter-revolutionary efforts that preceded the revolution, beginning the Contra War. President Jimmy Carter, after briefly wavering just before the Sandinista triumph, initiated the effort that was next taken up with such brutality and sadism by the Reagan administration. Ancillary techniques of this war of murder, torture and rape of civilians, and the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools, included US funding, via the CIA and the NED, of a reactionary pro-Contra press, economic and election sabotage, radio propaganda broadcast from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, and manipulation and recruitment of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito population on the Atlantic Coast. The Iran-Contra Affair, a US national scandal, helped the administration fund the Contra without telling the public or Congress. This is the period when the CIA’s covert funding of opposition parties for regime-change efforts in many places in the world began to be done overtly by the NED, which loomed large in the 2018 war.

But victories are rarely final. With the recent passage of the NICA Act (unanimous in both Congress and Senate), the US has announced that its war on Nicaragua is far from over. This unlawful siege-by-sanctions and the international campaign of demonization against the country continues, immiserating the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular, just like the illegal, unilateral sanctions the US wields against dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. Live from Nicaragua should arm the solidarity Left in its resistance to the cruel and reactionary methods and aims of the empire.

  1. “The Events of 2018 and Their Context,” Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton, 76ff.

Empire’s War under the Radar: Nicaragua

In April of 2018 armed and unarmed proxies of the US in collaboration with Nicaraguan elites launched a war against the Nicaraguan state, its government, its economy and its people. It disrupted transportation and communications throughout the country and sabotaged the economy. This was effected through acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, as well as the construction throughout the country of hundreds of violently enforced roadblocks, and the staging of political demonstrations peppered with violence. Through false and deceptive domestic, international and social media reports and posts, the aggressors in this war managed to enlist a number of Nicaraguans not part of the country’s politically reactionary elite.

The war proper began mid-April and ended mid-July with the removal of the opposition roadblocks. Over 250 people had been killed and many more injured.  More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000. (NB: This review calls the events of 2018 a “war,” though it may also be called a “regime-change operation,” “coup attempt,” and more.)

This 270-page ebook, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, which the editors call a “Reader,” is offered free by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), the leading anti-imperialist solidarity organization in the US. It includes essays, investigative journalism, interviews and first-hand accounts of the war. It is a thoughtful and multifaceted collection covering a highly significant event in modern revolutionary and anti-imperialist history. Contributors are Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Max Blumenthal, Michael Boudreau, S. Brian Willson, Jorge Capelán, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Chuck Kaufman, Dan Kovalik, Barbara Larcom, Coleen Littlejohn, Gabriela Luna, Nils McCune, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, John Perry, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese.

Live from Nicaragua exposes and refutes the biased and false accounts of the war presented in the corporate and even alternative media, along with Washington-aligned human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their narrative imagined a peaceful, progressive protest movement crushed by the brutal national police of a dictatorial regime. Even from the broad Left (however defined) this narrative has been disseminated by North American Congress on Latin America, Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, The Guardian, and iconic broadcasts like Democracy Now! (262-263) In the Orwellian world we inhabit it is certain this Reader, despite its importance, scope and quality, will never be acknowledged by the corporate media or most alternative media, much less reviewed or discussed there.

In addition to longer essays and articles, Live from Nicaragua includes news briefs.  From these we learn of the launch of the regime-change war, and that some days before the war began, a fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve was greeted with contrived protests against alleged government inaction. These protests tried but failed to initiate the war and they fizzled with the fire. We learn the details of the proposed social security reforms by which the government sought to avoid the neoliberal plans of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful Nicaraguan business association, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise. These proposed reforms were misrepresented in opposition media and met with pretextual protests with changing rationales. These were the protests that initiated the war.1

These news briefs report the burning of government offices in Masaya, with the fire spreading through much of the neighborhood; the teachers’ denunciation of the violence and the roadblocks; the kidnapping of a high school teacher in Managua who had marched in the protests; shootings in Carazo and Jinotepe; the burning of the pro-Sandinista radio station “Tu Nueva Radio Ya” in Managua; opposition calls for a coup; Mother’s Day violence which killed 16 and wounded 30 police and Sandinista supporters in Managua, Masaya, Chinandega and Estelí; the arrest of Christian Mendoza, “El Viper,” gang leader who carried out murder, car theft and other crimes, and who had been in charge of the initial April violence at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua; the burnings in Granada of the municipal building and vendor markets, destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of vendors and small business owners.

Elsewhere are vivid eyewitness accounts of the war, such as this from Maribel Baldizón, a self-employed Managuan fruit-seller and General Secretary of the Federation of Workers at Bus Stops and Traffic Lights (226):

[W]e couldn’t be in our streets; we couldn’t walk freely because we were worrying about those who might rape, kill or steal…I sell here in the sector of the [University of Central America]…they set my stand on fire…they shot mortars where I sell, and they burned down [Tu Nueva Radio Ya, pro-Sandinista radio station] across the street…

She rejected the media’s false narrative, saying of the opposition:

What they did was against the people, it was not a struggle in which the people rose up, no, it was a struggle against the poor.

In “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua” (115, 179), Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune analyze the regime-change operation, the violence committed by opposition forces, and opposition claims of government use of excessive force. They identify the class character of the conflict, aptly calling it “an upside-down class war.”

In “How Nicaragua Defeated a Right-wing US-backed Coup” (57), Max Blumenthal interviews Nils McCune. This especially compelling interview gives an overview of the war from its inception. Also discussed is the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-funded Felix Maradiaga and his criminal operatives in organizing and committing the violence, as well as the role of nominally Left parties of the opposition: Movement for Sandinista Renovation, and Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo (both parties known by the acronym MRS). McCune notes that these parties lack popular support and give a perpetually weak showing in elections, always in single digits and nearly always at the low end. “They’re very strong outside the country,” McCune notes, but “very weak within the country. There’s not one MRS member in Tipitapa [McCune’s town] because it’s a very working-class city.”

Previously AFGJ and the British organization, Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG), collaborated on Dismissing the Truth, a detailed refutation of two Amnesty International reports on the violence in Nicaragua. The 55-page analysis is excerpted in the Reader (195) and available free at afgj.org. Amnesty International has been a primary purveyor and ostensibly authoritative source of the false narrative embraced by the media, and this debunking by AFGJ and NSCAG makes plain AI’s subservience to the anti-government narrative promoted by the US and Nicaraguan opposition press.

In “The 15 Days of Protests without Deaths” (83), Enrique Hendrix references his own longer study, “Monopolizing Death,” which examined every death occurring during period of the war, from April 19 through September 23, 2018. Hendrix’s work refutes the myth of a popular peaceful opposition protest movement met with brutal police repression.

In “How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions,” (191), Max Blumenthal discusses the falsification of the death toll by partisan NGOs in the reporting of the regime-change war and the use of so-called human rights organizations in propagating false and misleading accounts. These organizations include the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, relied upon by the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Blumenthal also reports the close and unconcealed ties between leading young activists of the Nicaraguan regime-change efforts and the right wing of the US Congress.

With precision and wit, like a defence lawyer delivering a summation to a jury, Chuck Kaufman in “The Case Against Ortega” (138) eviscerates the charge that Ortega is a dictator, as well as the claims of those who assert that they stand to the left of the Sandinistas. Explaining his motivation (and startling this reviewer), Kaufman opens his piece with a collective self-reproach to the US solidarity Left:

[S]ince the [Sandinistas]’ return to power with the 2006 election of Daniel Ortega as president, we haven’t really countered the disinformation campaign against Daniel, his wife, and his government. We mistakenly assumed that the demonstrably improving standard of living, the reduction in poverty, infant and maternal mortality, the lack of Nicaraguans coming north to the US border, the return of economic and political rights stripped from the people during seventeen years of neoliberal US vassal governments [1990 to 2006], would outshine the lies.

John Perry studies the role of “social media, Nicaragua’s corporate media and the international press,” in “Nicaragua’s Crisis: The Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage” (208):

Nominally the protests that began on April 18 were in opposition to a series of quite modest reforms to the social security system. A vigorous disinformation campaign fooled large numbers of students and others into joining the protests by misrepresenting the details of the government’s proposals. But the students leading these protests were soon joined by those with a much wider agenda of attempting to bring down the Ortega government. Rather than arguing about changes in pension arrangements, social media were quickly promoting regime change.

This campaign “included many more fake videos and false reports. Facebook posts reported that public hospitals were refusing to treat injured protestors. Fake videos appeared of ‘injured’ students being treated in universities and at the Catholic Cathedral of Managua.” Social media disseminated “instructions to track down and kill government sympathizers or officials.” On July 12, a caravan of motor vehicles ”attacked both the police station and the town hall.” Four police and a teacher were killed. “Around 200 armed ‘protestors’ kidnapped the remaining police, took them away, beat them up and threatened to kill them.”

Perry remarks the existence of a “consensus narrative” on Nicaragua. International media, including the New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, BBC, and Huffington Post adhere to the narrative, often comparing Ortega’s government to famous dictatorships of history. And AI, HRW and IACHR repeat the false claims and invented body counts of local Nicaraguan ‘human rights’ organizations that are “aligned with the opposition, are notoriously biased and have often received US funding.”

Chuck Kaufman’s “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” briefly outlines the alphabet-agencies and fronts responsible for the regime-change operations of 2018. (171) These include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the AFL-CIO, and others, along with Nicaraguan-based NGOs, some not only funded but created by US regime change organizations. Max Blumenthal’s essay, “US Government Meddling Machine Boasts of ‘Laying the Groundwork for Insurrection’ in Nicaragua” (174) details these US operations and their evolution from covert to overt operations in US foreign policy. It is estimated that the US may have spent hundreds of millions on the efforts that culminated in the regime-change war of 2018 (Willson and McCune, 13).

In pieces by Gabriela Luna (5), Chuck Kaufman (10, 171), Brian Willson and Nils McCune (13), and Dan Kovalik (186, 256), the long arc of the Sandinista Revolution and its accomplishments emerge, from the triumph in ’79, the reversal in 1990, and the return to power in 2007. During the first Sandinista period:

The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated. (Dan Kovalik)

Then in 1990 came the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Revolution, but as Noam Chomsky noted at the time, “the Nicaraguan people were voting ‘with a gun to their heads,’” understanding that if they did not vote out the Sandinistas the US would continue the dirty war. Counter-revolutionary government followed, during which the gains of the Revolution were reversed: in public health care, education, land redistribution, and much more. (Willson and McCune)

With the return of the Sandinistas in 2007, the Revolution began its second phase, with enormous and rapid progress in poverty alleviation, food sovereignty, gender equality and much more. (Kovalik) For example, the “absolute number of undernourished people in the country has been reduced by half, access to free education and health care has been guaranteed to rural communities, maternal mortality has been reduced by 60% and infant mortality by 52%, while access to electricity has been increased from 54% to 96% of the rural population.” (Gabriela Luna)

One of the accomplishments least known in North America are Nicaragua’s achievements in gender equity (Kovalik, 258-259): “[I]n 2018 Nicaragua was ranked number 5 in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF).” Only Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland were ranked higher. A 50-50 law mandates gender equality in party candidate lists for elections. All this, Kovalik remarks, “is at great variance with the derisive claims of many in the US left and the human rights community that Nicaragua is being led by a sexist ‘caudillo’ in the person of Daniel Ortega, but few will acknowledge this glaring contradiction.”

The Reader includes essays on Nicaragua that cover much more than the events of 2018. Nils McCune writes of the unique Nicaraguan “popular economy” (221), which he aptly calls “Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” referring to Naomi Klein’s work on neoliberal opportunism, The Shock Doctrine.

While the formal private sector — represented politically through the Supreme Counsel of Private Companies — employs about 15% of Nicaragua workers the informal, popular sector employs upwards of 60%…The capitalist creates employment in order to maximize accumulation; the self-employed worker, family business or cooperative uses accumulation as a tool in order to provide employment.

And it is the popular economy that provides much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing.

In “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup” (232), Jorge Capelán has written an expert, statistic-rich, but extremely readable analysis of the Nicaraguan economy as a whole, its development over the last forty years throughout the first and second periods of Sandinismo, as well as during the interim neoliberal period of 1990 through 2006. Capelán explains why such an economy was able to maintain stability and provide for the needs of the people both during and after the war. This success owes much to strategic government policy and regional alliances with Venezuela and Cuba  (e.g., Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: Peoples’ Trade Treaty [ALBA] and PetroCaribe).

This very economic success, as Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune explain (“Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” referenced above), answers the question of why the modern Nicaraguan state became the target of empire: because the country’s popular social, economic and political achievements, and its open rejection of imperialism, present the classic “threat of a good example” that might inspire other countries of the global south to break free of the imperialist choke-hold. It is also because of Nicaragua’s alliances with Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian struggle, its support for Puerto Rican independence, its membership in ALBA, and its alliances with China for a canal project and with Russia for security cooperation. (122)

Taking opposition critics of the government at their word, Kathy Hoyt (143) writes that for some, including those trained by NGOs funded by the US and the EU, “material improvements are not enough for them or they are not particularly interested in them.” Instead, they have particular complaints about the political system, the nature of Nicaragua’s political parties, elections, the person of Daniel Ortega, etc. But for supporters of the government, both in Nicaragua and abroad, the remarkable improvement in the lives of the poor of Nicaragua matter, and as Hoyt notes, quoting Orlando Nuñez Soto speaking of Cuba, “we are seduced by the fact that the children eat and go to school.”

In “The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Its Role in the Current Political Crisis in Nicaragua” (243), Colleen Littlejohn writes of ideological or theological differences within the Catholic Church, and the Church hierarchy’s participation in the war, both as instigator and organizer of the violence, and as a duplicitous negotiator and mediator. While the hierarchy formed part of the opposition, other Church elements resisted the betrayal of revolutionary Liberation Theology, which still has deep roots in Nicaragua’s Catholic laity and some clergy.

In “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom’,” (13) Brian Willson and Nils McCune have written a gripping introduction to the century-and-a-half history of the US attempt to control Nicaraguan “resources, infrastructure and a potential interoceanic canal route.” One learns that the US has used every technique in its campaign against Nicaraguan sovereignty: direct and mercenary war, military occupation, assassination of political leaders, financing of opposition political and media organs, use of international institutions to exert pressure, coup attempts, sanctions on trade and credit, and manipulation of US credit rating corporations to misrepresent Nicaragua’s financial stability. Even the world’s first use of planes to drop bombs was done by the US, on Nicaragua.

In the 1930s General Augusto César Sandino led a guerilla war against US occupation. He was assassinated in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza García, who also massacred Sandino’s troops. Backed by the US, the Somoza family then ruled the country from ’34 to ’79. Although the Sandinista Revolution was victorious in 1979, the US seamlessly continued the counter-revolutionary efforts that preceded the revolution, beginning the Contra War. President Jimmy Carter, after briefly wavering just before the Sandinista triumph, initiated the effort that was next taken up with such brutality and sadism by the Reagan administration. Ancillary techniques of this war of murder, torture and rape of civilians, and the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools, included US funding, via the CIA and the NED, of a reactionary pro-Contra press, economic and election sabotage, radio propaganda broadcast from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, and manipulation and recruitment of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito population on the Atlantic Coast. The Iran-Contra Affair, a US national scandal, helped the administration fund the Contra without telling the public or Congress. This is the period when the CIA’s covert funding of opposition parties for regime-change efforts in many places in the world began to be done overtly by the NED, which loomed large in the 2018 war.

But victories are rarely final. With the recent passage of the NICA Act (unanimous in both Congress and Senate), the US has announced that its war on Nicaragua is far from over. This unlawful siege-by-sanctions and the international campaign of demonization against the country continues, immiserating the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular, just like the illegal, unilateral sanctions the US wields against dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. Live from Nicaragua should arm the solidarity Left in its resistance to the cruel and reactionary methods and aims of the empire.

  1. “The Events of 2018 and Their Context,” Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton, 76ff.

Dr. Chris Wright: “Critical and Informed Thinking Is Dangerous to the Powerful”

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote Worker Cooperatives and Revolution where you talk about workers’ cooperatives. In this fascinating book, we note your optimism about the coming of a new era where the human is at the center. You give the example of the cooperative New Era Windows, in Chicago. In your opinion, are we in a new era where the union of workers in the form of a cooperative will shape the future of the world?

Dr. Chris Wright: I think I may have been a little too optimistic in that book about the potential of worker cooperatives. On the one hand, Marx was right that cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.” They’re microcosmic socialism, since socialism is just workers’ democratic control of economic activity, which is essentially what cooperatives are. Even in the large Mondragon firms that have seen some conflicts between workers and the elected management, there is still vastly more democracy (and more equal pay) than in a typical large capitalist enterprise.

Moreover, there’s an expanding movement in the U.S and elsewhere to seed new cooperatives and promote the transformation of existing capitalist firms into co-ops (which, incidentally, are often more productive, profitable, and longer-lasting than conventional businesses). Countless activists are working to spread a cooperative ethos and build a wide range of democratic, anti-capitalist institutions, from businesses to housing to political forms like participatory budgeting. (Websites like Shareable.net and Community-Wealth.org provide information on this movement.) This whole emerging “solidarity economy” is really what interested me when I was writing the book, though I focused on worker co-ops. I was struck that the very idea of a socialist society is just the solidarity economy writ large, in that all or the majority of institutions according to both visions are supposed to be communal, cooperative, democratic, and non-exploitative.

It’s true, though, that a new society can’t emerge from grassroots initiative alone. Large-scale political action is necessary, since national governments have such immense power. Unless you can transform state policy so as to facilitate economic democratization, you’re not going to get very far. Cooperatives alone can’t get the job done. You need radical political parties, mass confrontations with capitalist authorities, every variety of disruptive “direct action,” and it will all take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see “socialism” in our lifetime.

Marxists like to criticize cooperatives and the solidarity economy for being only interstitial, somewhat apolitical, and not sufficiently confrontational with capitalism, but, as I argue in the book, this criticism is misguided. A socialist transformation of the country and the world will take place on many levels, from the grassroots to the most ambitiously statist. And all the levels will reinforce and supplement each other. As the cooperative sector grows, more resources will be available for “statist” political action; and as national politics becomes more left-wing, state policy will promote worker takeovers of businesses. There’s a role for every type of leftist activism.

MA: Do you not think that the weakening of the trade union movement in the USA and elsewhere in the world further encourages the voracity of the capitalist oligarchy that dominates the world? Does not the working class throughout the world have a vital need for a great trade union movement?

CW: The working class desperately needs reinvigorated unions. Without strong unions, you get the most rapacious and misanthropic form of capitalism imaginable, as we’ve seen in the last forty years. Unions, which can be the basis for political parties, have always been workers’ most effective means of defense and even offense. In the U.S., it was only after the Congress of Industrial Organizations had been founded in the late 1930s that a mass middle class, supported by industrial unions with millions of members, could emerge in the postwar era. Unions were important funders and organizers of the American Civil Rights Movement, and they successfully pushed for expansion of the welfare state and workplace safety regulations. They can serve as powerful allies of environmentalists. It’s hard to imagine a livable future if organized labor isn’t resurrected and empowered.

But I don’t think there can be a return of the great postwar paradigm of industry-wide collective bargaining and nationwide social democracy. Capital has become too mobile and globalized; durable class compromises like that aren’t possible anymore. In the coming decades, the most far-reaching role of unions will be more revolutionary: to facilitate worker takeovers of businesses, the formation of left-wing political parties, popular control of industry, mass resistance to the global privatization and austerity agenda, expansion of the public sphere, construction of international workers’ alliances, etc.

Actually, I think that, contrary to old Marxist expectations, it’s only in the 21st century that humanity is finally entering the age of the great apocalyptic battles between labor and capital. Marx didn’t foresee the welfare state and the Keynesian compromise of the postwar period. Now that those social forms are deteriorating, organized labor can finally take up its revolutionary calling. If it and its allies fail, there’s only barbarism ahead.

MA: Your book Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis asks a fundamental question, namely, do we live in a real democracy?

CW: We certainly don’t. None of us do. The U.S. has democratic forms, but substantively it’s very undemocratic. Even mainstream political science recognizes this: studies have shown that the large majority of the population has essentially zero impact on policy, because they don’t have enough money to influence politicians or hire lobbyists. Practically the only way for them to get their voices heard is to disrupt the smooth functioning of institutions, such as through strikes or civil disobedience. We’ve seen this with the gilets jaunes protests in France, and we saw it when air traffic controllers refused to work and thus ended Donald Trump’s government shutdown in January 2019. We live in an oligarchy, a global oligarchy, which isn’t constrained much by the normal “democratic” process of voting.

But voting can be an important tool of resistance, especially if there are genuine oppositional candidates (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example). In that case, society can start to become a little more democratic. So it remains essential for the left to organize electorally, even if it will take a while for there to be a big policy payoff.

MA: Do you not think a new crisis of capitalism is in progress? Does not the capitalist system generate crises?

CW: I’m not an economist, but anyone can see that capitalism has a deep-rooted tendency to generate crises. There’s a long tradition of Marxist scholarship explaining why crises of overproduction and underconsumption (among other causes) repeatedly savage capitalist economies; David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and John Bellamy Foster are some recent scholars who have done good work on the subject. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “excessive capitalist empowerment,” to quote Harvey, leads to “wage repression” that limits aggregate demand, which constrains growth. For a while the problem doesn’t really appear because people can borrow, and are forced to borrow more and more. But accumulation of debt can’t go on forever if there’s no growth of underlying income. Huge credit bubbles appear as borrowing gets out of control and capitalists invest their colossal wealth in financial speculation, and the bubbles inevitably collapse. Then things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession happen.

As horrible as economic crises are, leftists should recognize, as Marx did, that at least they present major opportunities for organizing. It’s only in the context of long-term crisis and a decline of the middle class that there can be a transition to a new society, because crisis forces people to come together and press for radical solutions. It also destroys huge amounts of wealth, which can thin the ranks of the hyper-elite. And the enormous social discontent that results from crisis can weaken reactionary resistance to reform, as during the 1930s in the U.S. (On the other hand, fascism can also take power in such moments, unless leftists seize the initiative.)

There is no hope without crisis. That’s the paradoxical, “dialectical” lesson of Marxism.

MA: You wrote an article about Obama’s mediocrity. Don’t you think that the current US President Donald Trump is competing with Obama in mediocrity?

CW: In the competition over who’s most mediocre, few people hold a candle to Trump. He’s just a pathetic non-entity, an almost impossibly stupid, ignorant, narcissistic, self-pitying, cruel, vulgar little embodiment of all that’s wrong with the world. He’s so far beneath contempt that even to talk about him is already to lower oneself. So in that sense, I suppose he’s a suitable ‘leader’ of global capitalism. Obama at least is a good family man, and he’s intelligent. But he’s almost as lacking in moral principles as Trump, and he has no moral courage at all. I don’t know what to say about someone who announced in 2014, as Israel was slaughtering hundreds of children in Gaza, that Israel has a right to defend itself, and went on to approve the shipment of arms to that criminal nation right in the midst of its Gaza massacre. He’s a self-infatuated megalomaniac without morality.

MA: You wrote in one of your articles that the US government considers its citizens as enemies by using generalized surveillance. Does not the real danger come from this system which spies on everyone?

CW: I think Glenn Greenwald is right that few things are more pernicious than an expansive “national security” state. Surveillance is a key part of it, facilitating the persecution of protesters, dissenters, immigrants, and Muslims. The so-called “law and order” state is a lawless state of extreme disorder, in which power can operate with impunity. It begins to approach fascism.

One danger of the surveillance state is that it might operate like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: because people don’t know when they’re being watched or targeted, they monitor and regulate themselves all the time. They avoid stepping out of line, being obedient drudges and consumers. Any misstep might sweep them up in the black hole of the police state’s bureaucracy. So they internalize subservience. Of course, in our society there are many other ways of making people internalize subservience. Surveillance is only one, though a particularly vicious and dangerous one.

Another reason to be concerned is that internet companies’ ability to “spy” on users allows them to censor content, whether on their own initiative or from political pressure. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other such companies are constantly censoring leftists (and some on the right) and deleting their accounts. Critics of Israeli crimes are especially vulnerable, but they’re hardly alone. The only real way to solve this problem would be to make internet companies publicly owned, because private entities can do virtually whatever they want with their own property. It’s absurd that leftists can connect and coordinate and build movements only subject to the approval of Mark Zuckerberg and other corporate fascists. It’s also terrifying that a surveillance alliance can develop between corporate behemoths and governments. That’s another feature of fascism.

MA: How do you see the inhuman treatment of Julian Assange and the persecution of him by the British and American administrations?

CW: As left-wing commentators have said, the persecution of Assange is an assault on journalism itself, and on the very idea of challenging the powerful or holding them to account. In that sense, it’s an assault on democracy. But that’s pretty much always what power-structures are doing, trying to undermine democracy and expand their own power, so the vicious treatment of Assange is hardly a surprise. But I doubt that the U.S. and Britain will be able to win their war on journalism in the long run. There are just too many good journalists out there, too many activists, too many people of conscience.

MA: This capitalist society is based on consumption but boasts of concepts such as “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, “democracy”, etc. Don’t we live rather in a fascist system?

CW: I wouldn’t say the West’s political economy is truly fascist. It has fascist tendencies, and it certainly cares nothing for freedom of expression, human rights, or democracy. But civil society is too vibrant and gives too many opportunities for left-wing political organizing to say that we live under fascism. The classical fascism of Italy and Germany was far more extreme than anything we’re experiencing now, especially in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t have brownshirts marching in the streets, concentration camps for radicals, assassinations of political and union leaders, or total annihilation of organized labor. There’s still freedom to publish dissenting views.

But major power-structures in the U.S. would love to see fascism of some sort and are working hard to get there. And they have armies of useful idiots to do their bidding. American “libertarians,” for example, of whom there are untold millions, are essentially fascist without knowing it: they want to eliminate the welfare state and regulations of business activity so as to unfetter entrepreneurial genius and maximize “liberty.” They somehow don’t see that in this scenario, corporations, being opposed by no countervailing forces, would completely take over the state and inaugurate the most barbarous and global tyranny in history. The natural environment would be utterly destroyed and most life on Earth would end.

In one sense of fascism, Marxists from the 1920s and 1930s would, as you suggest, say we do live in a rather fascist system. For them, the term denoted the age of big business, or, more precisely, the near-fusion of business with the state. Insofar as society approached a capitalist dictatorship, it was approaching fascism. We don’t literally live under that kind of dictatorship, but without determined resistance it could well be our future.

MA: Isn’t there a need to reread Karl Marx? How do you explain the disappearance of critical thinking in Western society?

CW: I actually think there’s a lot of critical thinking in Western society. The rise of “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is evidence of this, as is the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The left is growing internationally — although the right is too. But insofar as society suffers from a dearth of critical thinking, the reasons aren’t very obscure. Critical and informed thinking is dangerous to the powerful, so they do all they can to discourage it. Lots of studies have probed the methods of corporate and state indoctrination of the public, and the enormous scale of it. Noam Chomsky is famous for his many investigations of how the powerful “manufacture consent”; one of the lessons of his work is that the primary function of the mass media is to keep people ignorant and distracted. If important information about state crimes is suppressed, as it constantly is, and instead the powerful are continually glorified, well then people will tend to be uninformed and perhaps too supportive of the elite. It’s more fun, anyway, to play with phones and apps and video games and watch TV shows.

The mechanisms by which the business class promotes “stupidity” and ignorance are pretty transparent. Just look at any television commercial, or watch CNN or Fox News. It’s pure propaganda and infantilization.

As for Karl Marx: there’s always a need to read Marx, and to reread him. He and Chomsky are probably the two most incisive political analysts in history. But Marx was such an incredible writer too that he’s a sheer joy to read, and endlessly stimulating and inspiring. He rejuvenates you. (His political pamphlets on France, for instance, are stylistic and analytic masterpieces.) Besides, you simply can’t understand capitalism or history itself except through the lens of historical materialism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Of course, Marx wasn’t right about everything. In particular, his conception and timeline of socialist revolution were wrong. The “revolution,” if it happens, will, as I said earlier, be very protracted, since the worldwide replacing of one dominant mode of production by another doesn’t happen in a couple of decades. Even just on a national scale, the fact that modern nations exist in an international economy means socialism can’t evolve in one country without evolving in many others at the same time.

I can’t go into detail on how Marx got revolution wrong (as in his vague but overly statist notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution I devote a couple of chapters to it. It’s unfortunate that most contemporary Marxists are so doctrinaire they consider it sacrilege if you try to update or rethink an aspect of historical materialism to make it more appropriate to conditions in the 21st century, which Marx could hardly have foreseen. They’re certainly not honoring the Master by thinking in terms of rigid dogma, whether orthodox Marxist or Leninist or Trotskyist.

MA: You are a humanist and the human condition is central in your work. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

CW: Frankly, no, I’m not. The forces of darkness just have too much power. And global warming is too dire a threat, and humanity is doing too little to address it. It’s worth reflecting that at the end of the Permian age, 250 million years ago, global warming killed off almost all life. If we don’t do something about it very soon, by the end of the century there won’t be any organized civilization left to protect.

And then there’s the problem of billions of tons of plastic waste polluting the world, and of the extinction of insects “threatening the collapse of nature,” and of dangerous imperialistic conflicts between great powers, and so on. I don’t see much reason for optimism.

We know how to address global warming, for example. But the fossil fuel industry and, ironically, environmentalists are acting so as to increase the threat. According to good scientific research, as reported in the new book A Bright Future (among many others), it’s impossible to solve global warming without exponentially expanding the use of nuclear power. (Contrary to popular opinion, nuclear power is generally very safe, reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly.) Renewable energy can’t get the job done. The world has spent over $2 trillion on renewables in the last decade, but carbon emissions are still rising! That level of investment in nuclear energy, which is millions of times more concentrated and powerful than diffuse solar and wind energy, could have put us well on the way to solving global warming. Instead, the crisis is getting much worse. Renewables are so intermittent and insufficient that countries are still massively investing in fossil fuels, which are incomparably more destructive than nuclear.

But the left is adamant against nuclear power, and it’s very hard even to publish an article favorable to it. Only biased and misinformed articles are published, with some exceptions. So the left is working to exacerbate global warming, just as the right is. Why? Ultimately for ideological reasons: most leftists like the idea of decentralization, dispersed power, community control of energy, and anti-capitalism, and these values seem more compatible with solar and wind energy than nuclear. The nuclear power industry isn’t exactly a model of transparency, democracy, or political integrity.

But the Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is right: sometimes you have to go with a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater one, in this case the collapse of civilization and probably most life on Earth. Is that a price environmentalists are willing to pay so they can preen themselves on their political virtue? So far, it seems the answer is yes.

We humans have to break free of our tribal ways, our herd-thinking ways. We have to be more willing to think critically, self-critically, and stop being so complacent and conformist. The younger generation, actually, seems to be leading the way, for instance with the Extinction Rebellion and all the exciting forms of activism springing up everywhere. But we still have a terribly long way to go.

I haven’t lost hope, but I’m not sanguine. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most decisive in human history.

The Professor and the Poet

I have been pondering lately the significance of two elder visionaries who have exerted a lasting influence on me – Noam Chomsky (90) and Bob Dylan (77) – the former because he is an intellectual ‘rock of Gibraltar’ now in his ninth decade, and the latter because I recently saw the Nobel Laureate perform in concert more than half a century after the lyrics of his timeless classics became etched in my youthful brain.

Interestingly, both men were (are) word geniuses – one being the heralded poet- musician ‘voice of a generation’ and the other the ‘father of modern linguistics’ – who have radically changed the way we understand language, the world and ourselves.

Bob Dylan created some of the most powerful and enduring songs of the last century – Blowin’ in the Wind, Like A Rolling Stone, The Times They Are A- Changing, Masters of War, All Along the Watchtower, Mr. Tambourine Man, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall… – and was a seminal figure in the 1960s counterculture, even though he has balked at the idea that he was its spokesman.

Whether one views Dylan as the poet laureate of the youth counterculture or not, his lyrical masterpieces certainly helped shape and define that unique period of social change in modern history.

The enigmatic Dylan has undergone many transformations during his long and storied career, alienating a fair share of his fans in the process, and has remained throughout largely indifferent to the masses, including critics, the media, and his concert audiences. A master of reinvention, the chameleonic artist has done whatever he chooses to do and gotten away with it, in large part because he is the legendary Bob Dylan, a mercurial soul who has always followed his own muse rather than the expectations of others.

Noam Chomsky is a celebrated philosopher-scientist-activist who in the 1950s revolutionized the study of language and cognition with the development of his theory of universal grammar, which posits the existence of linguistic knowledge innately structured in the human mind that renders possible its infinite creative potential, and has been an unrelenting critic of U.S. foreign and domestic policies and its corporate media since the ’60s. A brutally honest man, Chomsky has angered ideologues of all political stripes by bringing to light hard truths about our nation that most are unwilling to acknowledge, especially its reckless and bloody military exploits around the world fueled by the powerful military-industrial complex President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about in his 1961 farewell address.

The distinguished MIT Professor Emeritus has transcended both left and right, liberal and conservative, in his quest to speak the unvarnished truth, no matter what anyone else thinks and how much criticism is fired his way.

The two iconic historical figures, while similar in some interesting respects, are also different as night and day.

Chomsky at 90 years young is the same anti-authoritarian thinker he was in his 30s when he expressed early and staunch opposition to the Vietnam War (for years, he refused to pay a portion of his taxes, supported those who resisted the draft, was arrested several times protesting the war, and was on “Tricky Dick” Nixon’s enemy list), and to this day remains an uncompromising voice of reason and conscience in a world filled with injustice, oppression and violence. The celebrated scholar and dissident possesses a deep ethical core that does not change with time, and his rare moral courage and towering intellect have combined to serve as a force for good in exposing evil in the world.

Chomsky seems to personify the hero archetype1 that the renowned depth psychologist Carl Jung discovered in art, mythology and legend throughout the ages and in different cultures around the world, and which is part of a shared human collective unconscious.

Dylan’s unique genius lies in his elusive and unpredictable nature. A modern embodiment of the age-old trickster archetype2 Dylan is a man of mystery who has worn numerous masks over the years and broken many rules along the way. His protean persona has undergone dramatic changes – Bob Zimmerman to Bob Dylan, transitioning from folk to rock artist, turning his back on the counterculture he helped spawn, preaching mini-sermons from the stage during his ‘born again’ Christian phase, serving as a corporate pitchman for gas-guzzling cars and “ladies undergarments”, crooning Sinatra songs and appearing on stage looking like Liberace… – and who always seems a step ahead of those seeking to label or categorize him.

Dylan has been described by some as the consummate sellout artist for behavior exhibited as far back as the mid ’60s when he abandoned his acoustic guitar and “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, turning off many folk music purists in the process, to his recent appearances in commercials for Chrysler and Victoria’s Secret. His most ardent fans blow off such criticisms by emphasizing that the artist has earned the right to do whatever he wants, and Dylan himself could probably care less about any of it.

I wondered myself while watching Bob Dylan perform recently, WHO IS THIS GUY?, and could not help but think of what the bard once said about himself, “All I can be is me, whoever that is.”

In a similar vein, Bono, activist and lead singer for the Irish band U2, once said of Dylan, “The reason I’m never bored with Bob Dylan is because there are so many of them.”

Dylan and Chomsky are in classes all their own and, despite glaring differences, share certain admirable traits and qualities: They are both iconoclasts who have challenged the conventional order, marched to the beat of their own drum, and chosen not to heed much what others, especially those in positions of power and authority, think. In other words, they are boldly unorthodox individuals in a world where most are content to blindly and unquestioningly conform to the social status quo.

Finally, each of these gifted geniuses has carved a unique niche in their respective fields – Dylan in music and literature and Chomsky in philosophy, linguistics and psychology – and each has exerted a positive influence in my life, helping to open my eyes to the world around me and think more critically about it, and for that I am grateful.

  1. The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long- hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious.” Carl Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, (Volume 9, Part 1), August 1981.
  2. “…his fondness for sly jokes and malicious pranks, his powers as a shape- shifter, his dual nature, half animal, half divine, his exposure to all kinds of tor- tures, and – last but not least – his approximation to the figure of a savior…”  Carl Jung, on the Trickster.

Life Or Death: Corporate Media or Honest Media?

Relying on the corporate media, including BBC News, to provide a reliable account of the world is literally a matter of life or death, on many levels.

Imagine, for example, a Russian dissident living in the UK who had published copious evidence of Russian war crimes, and who had then sought political asylum in an embassy in London. Imagine if that dissident were then expelled from the embassy, under pressure from Russia, immediately imprisoned in a high-security prison here and faced with the prospect of extradition to Russia to face life imprisonment or the death sentence. There would be a massive uproar in the Western media. Western political leaders would issue strong statements of disapproval and demand the freedom of a brave dissident. The case of Julian Assange, co-founder of WikiLeaks, is much worse. He is being pursued relentlessly by a powerful country, the United States, of which he is not even a citizen.

US prosecutors are now reportedly helping themselves to Assange’s possessions, including medical records and two manuscripts. Baltasar Garzon, international legal co-ordinator for the defence of Assange and WikiLeaks, urged international bodies to intervene in what he called: “an unprecedented attack on the rights of the defence, freedom of expression and access to information.”

He added:

It is extremely worrying that Ecuador has proceeded with the search and seizure of property, documents, information and other material belonging to the defence of Julian Assange, which Ecuador arbitrarily confiscated, so that these can be handed over to the agent of political persecution against him, the United States.

The US is undoubtedly looking for evidence to build a bogus case against Assange to lock him away for life for alleged crimes against the world’s number one rogue state. As Noam Chomsky has long observed, the US behaves like the Mafia writ large. You go against their power at your peril.

The incentives for Ecuador, under a Washington-friendly government led by Lenín Moreno since 2017, to behave in this appalling manner are obvious. A report in The Canary spelled it out: “Ecuador is raking in new [trade] deals with the UK and US after handing over Julian Assange.”

In Sweden, surely under US pressure, prosecutors have now applied for a warrant for Assange’s arrest. Craig Murray provided the vital background to this latest disgraceful development, pointing to the: “incredible and open bias of the courts against Assange […] since day 1.”

The former British diplomat is clear about the crucial importance of the work of WikiLeaks and Assange:

Julian Assange revolutionised publishing by bringing the public direct access to massive amounts of raw material showing secrets the government wished to hide. By giving the public this direct access he cut out the filtering and mediating role of the journalistic and political classes.

Murray pointed out the contrast with the Panama Papers, detailing how the super-rich hide their money, covered by the Guardian and other ‘mainstream media’ outlets with great fanfare. However, contrary to media promises, such coverage:

only ever saw less than 2% of the raw material published and where major western companies and individuals were completely protected from revelation because of the use of MSM [“mainstream” media] intermediaries.

He continued:

Or compare Wikileaks to the Snowden files, the vast majority of which have now been buried and will never be revealed, after foolishly being entrusted to the Guardian and the Intercept. Assange cut out the intermediary role of the mediating journalist and, by allowing the people to see the truth about how they are governed, played a major role in undercutting public confidence in the political establishment that exploits them.

John Pilger, a staunch defender of Assange and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, as all journalists should be, said via Twitter:

The filthy war on Julian #Assange and Chelsea Manning, whose heresy is to have revealed the crimes of great power, intensifies. Craven Sweden plays to its theatre of darkness while Assange the prisoner is denied even his glasses.

Manning is yet again back in prison, following a brief spell of freedom. She has steadfastly refused to testify to a secret grand jury in Virginia that is attempting to entrap her into revealing incriminating evidence about her past communications with WikiLeaks. The reluctance of corporate journalists, and even human rights groups, to support Manning, Assange and WikiLeaks is symptomatic of a broken political system still masquerading as ‘democracy’.

Missing Headlines on Douma

The freedom of the Western media, then, is a cruel deception. In reality, the corporate media has paved the way for war after war: Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen; and possible future wars in Venezuela and Iran. On and on it goes. Last week, a leaked document from the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), directly contradicted the concocted ‘consensus’ that Syrian President Assad’s forces dropped canisters containing poison gas from helicopters over Douma on April 7, 2018, killing dozens of civilians. The claim was crucial to the justification given by Western governments for launching air strikes on Syria one week later, relayed dutifully by the Guardian in its headline: “Syria: US, UK and France launch strikes in response to chemical attack.”

The leaked report was published by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), a group of independent scholars and researchers, and signed by Ian Henderson, an engineering expert who, as independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone noted, has been listed in leadership positions on OPCW documents as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. The report concluded:

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

WGSPM concluded in their analysis of the leaked engineering report that it is: “beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged.”

Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave his initial assessment of the leaked report and concurred that the alleged chemical attack was staged:

The OPCW engineering assessment unambiguously describes evidence collected by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) that indicates two analyzed chlorine cylinder attacks were staged in April 2018 in Douma. The holes in the reinforced concrete roofs that were supposedly produced by high-speed impacts (impact at speeds of perhaps 100 m/s or more, 250 mph) of industrial chlorine canisters dropped from helicopters were instead created by earlier explosions of either artillery rockets or mortar shells. In one event a chlorine canister that was damaged on another occasion was placed on the roof with its head inserted into an existing crater hole, and in the other case a damaged chlorine cylinder was placed on a bed supposedly after it penetrated the building roof and bounced from its original trajectory into a bed. In both cases the damage to the chlorine cylinders was incompatible with the damage to the surroundings that was allegedly caused by the cylinder impacts.

Shockingly: “35 deaths that were originally attributed to these staged chlorine events cannot be explained and it cannot be ruled out that these people were murdered as part of the staging effort.”

Postol emphasised: “the voices that come through the engineering report are those of highly knowledgeable and sophisticated experts.”

But the dissenting engineering analysis was ‘entirely unmentioned in the report that went to the UN Security Council’. Postol concluded:

This omission is very serious, as the findings of that report are critical to the process of determining attribution. There is absolutely no reason to justify the omission of the engineering report in the OPCW account to the UN Security Council as its policy implications are of extreme importance.

Caitlin Johnstone commented:

This should be a major news headline all around the world, but of course it is not. As of this writing the mass media have remained deathly silent about the document despite its enormous relevance to an international headline story last year which occupied many days of air time. It not only debunks a major news story that had military consequences, it casts doubt on a most esteemed international independent investigative body and undermines the fundamental assumptions behind many years of western reporting in the area.

The OPCW confirmed that the document is genuine. However, rather than address the serious questions about its omission in its official report to the UN, the OPCW merely said that they would now be ‘conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.’ They added that they would not be commenting further ‘at this time’.

Journalist Peter Hitchens asked:

What is going on at the OPCW? It is a valuable organisation, containing many fine people, with a noble purpose, but has it been placed under pressure, or even hijacked, by political forces which seek a justification for military intervention in Syria? Given that a decision between war or peace, affecting the whole world, could one day hang on its judgements, I think the whole world is entitled to an inquiry into what is happening behind its closed doors.

Our searches of the ProQuest newspaper database confirm that there has not been a single mention of this devastating document in any ‘mainstream’ US or UK national newspaper except in an opinion column by Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday. It is truly remarkable, but predictable, that corporate media journalists have ignored an expert assessment that casts serious doubt on the official narrative on Douma and, therefore, the West’s ‘justification’ for bombing Syria.

There is no mention on the BBC News website of the leaked OPCW report. This is consistent with the ‘public’ broadcaster’s central role in maintaining and supporting the case for UK state policies. As Caitlin Johnstone astutely observed, the BBC’s preferred mode when it comes to foreign policy is fact-free war propaganda. Even when the press reported fresh US claims of a ‘possible Assad chemical attack in Syria’ – likely a propaganda effort intended to deflect attention from the leak – journalists managed to avoid mentioning the newly published OPCW report.

A news article in the small-circulation Morning Star is the only other exception to the craven silence in the national press. The overwhelming media acquiescence for Western foreign policy is surely a performance that the old Soviet press of Pravda, Izvestia, et al. could only have dreamt of.

Human Extinction

But the greatest calamity resulting from the myth of a free and fair media is the inexorable rush towards climate breakdown. In 1982, Exxon scientists predicted that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would reach 415 parts per million (ppm) by around this year; which is exactly what has happened. In pre-industrial times, the concentration was much lower; around 280 ppm. The last time it was this high was 2.5 to 5 million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, well before modern humans evolved. Global sea level was 25m higher than now and global temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius higher.

As Kyla Mandel noted in an article for ThinkProgress:

Despite this knowledge, the company chose not to change or adapt its business model. Instead, it chose to invest heavily in disinformation campaigns that promoted climate science denial, failing to disclose its knowledge that the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain untapped in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

Over ten years ago, in January 2009, New Scientist reported that: “Billions could go hungry from global warming by 2100.”

As we have documented in media alerts and books since then, there has been warning after warning from reputable scientists, and things are worse now than they were in 2009. Governments have not merely ‘done nothing’; they have promoted and perpetuated corporate policies that are destroying the planet’s ecosystems and unleashing climate instability.

The World Health Organisation states that climate change is already leading to 150,000 deaths annually around the world. Researchers fear that the number may well double by 2030, even if serious emissions reductions begin today. Relevant factors include malnutrition, heat stress and increased incidence of diseases such as malaria. Death rates will likely worsen even further because of population displacement, reductions in labour productivity from farmers trying to work in hotter conditions, and disruptions to health services because of destructive weather and climate. Climate change could also force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, increasing their vulnerability to ill health and disease.

The corporate disinformation campaign to block or slow action to tackle climate breakdown has therefore already led to huge numbers of people dying and suffering from illness. It will only get worse, potentially leading to a mass extinction of species, including humans.

When will senior BBC News editors and journalists, funded by the public licence fee, make the climate emergency central to their reporting? How long before economics and business correspondents notice the utter absurdity of ignoring climate breakdown in their reports, day after day? Last December, we asked BBC News business editor Simon Jack when he would address the climate crisis. He had never responded to us before. He replied this time: “Very soon.”

Over four months later, he published a piece on his blog titled, ‘UK’s biggest money manager warns on climate catastrophe’.

It began:

The world is facing a climate catastrophe and businesses around the world must address it urgently or face the ultimate sanction for a public company, shareholders who refuse to back them any more.

That is not a message from an environmental action group but from the largest money manager in the UK, Legal & General Investment Management, which manages £1 trillion worth of UK pension fund investments.

Its climate warning was the top of a list of concerns about the way companies are run.

A serious message indeed; surely there could be nothing more pressing. ‘Climate catastrophe’; ‘top of a list of concerns’, ‘ultimate sanction’. Would this mark a sea change in the business editor’s reporting? Seemingly not. Simon Jack’s reporting since then has been business as usual.

Our previous media alert highlighted the valiant campaigning and protests by Extinction Rebellion, and at least some degree of serious media coverage has been generated recently. But peaceful protests need to proliferate, intensify and seriously disrupt government policies and industry practices that are continuing to pump up dangerous global levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert, two well-respected writers on climate, believe that although ‘the political tide could be turning on climate change’, they are both deeply concerned that it is too little, too late.

McKibben, whose book The End of Nature was published thirty years ago, told journalist David Remnick in a New Yorker interview:

The argument about climate change was over by the early nineteen-nineties, when scientists had reached a very robust consensus. We’d won the argument. We were just losing the fight, because the fight was not about data and reason and evidence. It was about the thing that fights are always about: money and power.

Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction about the human-driven mass loss of species, warned in the same interview:

We have not yet experienced the full impact of the greenhouse gases we have already put up there. And once we do [in] a decade or so, there’s a sort of a long tail to that, we will have put up that much more. So we’re always chasing this problem […] Once we decide, “Oh, we really don’t like this climate,” you don’t get the old climate back for […] many, many, many generations. So we are fighting a very very, very uphill battle. […] maybe we can avoid the worst possible future. But I don’t think at this point we can avoid a lot, a lot, a lot of damage.

The outlook is so pessimistic that the best McKibben can hope for is that global warming is slowed down ‘to the point where it doesn’t make civilizations impossible.’ But it is ‘an open question’ as to whether even that is attainable.

McKibben added:

There are scientists who tell you we’re already past that point. The consensus, at least for the moment, is that we’ve got a narrow and closing window, but that if we move with everything we have, then, perhaps, we’ll be able to squeeze a fair amount of our legacy through it.

This is terrifying, and it should drive media coverage of the problem with huge urgency and scope. The real prospect that all of humanity’s achievements – in art, science, music, literature, philosophy – might be wiped out of existence, should compel dramatic action.

Journalist Jonathan Cook, freed from the need to kowtow to state or corporate interests in his reporting, states our predicament clearly and honestly:

‘Climate collapse is so close at hand, the window to avert our fate so narrow, that only the insane, the deeply propagandised and those so alienated from the natural world that they have lost all sense of themselves and what matters can still ignore the reality. We are teetering over the precipice.’

Now is the time, says Cook, for ‘genuine populism’: a widespread, grassroots struggle to overturn ‘turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism’, including the corporate media, before it destroys us all.

“We Don’t Do Propaganda”

Earlier this month, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia For Realists, was interviewed by the high-profile Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Bregman had bluntly told billionaires that they should stop avoiding taxes and pay their fair share:

“We gotta be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit, in my opinion.”

His comments went viral which, in turn, led to him being invited on to Carlson’s television show. It’s safe to say that the interview did not go as the right-wing host would have liked. In fact, Fox News decided not to air the segment. However, it was captured on mobile phone footage in the Amsterdam studio where Bregman was doing the interview and it was later distributed via Twitter. He told Carlson:

‘The vast majority of Americans, for years and years now, according to the polls – including Fox News viewers and including Republicans – are in favour of higher taxes on the rich. Higher inheritance taxes, higher top marginal tax rates, higher wealth taxes, it’s all really mainstream. But no one’s saying that at Davos, just as no one’s saying it on Fox News, right? And I think the explanation for that is quite simple, is that most of the people in Davos, but also here on this channel, have been bought by the billionaire class. You know? You’re not meant to say these things. So I just went there, and I thought, you know what, I’m just going to say it, just as I’m saying it right here on this channel.’

Carlson was happy enough at this point. Indeed, he praised Bregman for what he’d said in Davos: “That was one of the great moments – maybe the great moment in Davos history.”

Carlson added: “If I was wearing a hat, I’d take it off to you.”

The Dutch historian continued:

‘America is still pretty much the most powerful country in the world, right? So if it really would want to, it could easily crack down on tax paradises. But the thing is, you guys have brought into power a president who doesn’t even want to share his own tax returns. I mean, who knows how many billions he has hidden in the Cayman Islands or in Bermuda. So I think the issue really is one of corruption and of people being bribed, and of not being, not talking about the real issues. What the family—what the Murdochs [owners of Fox News] basically want you to do is to scapegoat immigrants instead of talking about tax avoidance.’

By this point, it was clear that Carlson was unhappy with how the interview was going:

‘And I’m taking orders from the Murdochs, that’s what you’re saying?’

Bregman responded reasonably:

‘No, I mean, it doesn’t work that directly. But I mean, you’ve been part of the [right-wing libertarian think tank] Cato Institute, right? You’ve been a senior fellow there for years.’

The Fox News presenter interjected aggressively, seemingly rattled: “Well how does it work?”

Bregman replied:

‘Well, it works by you taking their dirty money. They’re funded by Koch billionaires, you know? It’s as easy as that. I mean, you are a millionaire, funded by billionaires, that’s what you are. And I’m glad you now finally jumped the bandwagon of people like Bernie Sanders and AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly elected Democrat politician in New York], but you’re not part of the solution, Mr. Carlson. You’re part of the problem, actually. … All the anchors, all the anchors of Fox—’

By this point, Carlson had lost it: “You would have to be a moron, you would have to be—”

Bregman carried on speaking:

‘They’re all millionaires. How is this possible? Well it’s very easy, you’re just not talking about certain things.

‘You are a millionaire funded by billionaires, that’s what you are… You’re part of the problem.’

Bregman then correctly predicted: ‘you’re probably not going to air this on your show.’

He added:

‘But I went to Davos to speak truth to power and I’m doing exactly the same thing right now. You might not like it, but you’re a millionaire funded by billionaires and that’s the reason you’re not talking about these issues.’

Carlson: “But I am talking about these issues.”

‘Yeah, only now. Come on, you jumped the bandwagon. You’re all like, oh, I’m against the globalist elite, blah blah blah. It’s not very convincing to be honest.’

That was too much for Carlson who exploded:

‘I wanna say to you why don’t you go fuck yourself ― you tiny brain. And I hope this gets picked up because you’re a moron. I tried to give you a hearing, but you were too fucking annoying…’

Unflustered, Bregman interjected with a smile: “You can’t handle the criticism, can you?”

Afterwards, Bregman shared the clip on his Twitter feed:

‘Here’s the interview that @TuckerCarlson and Fox News didn’t want you to see. I chose to release it, because I think we should keep talking about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It also shows how angry elites can get if you do that.’

As predicted, Fox News did not air the segment. No doubt prompted by Bregman releasing the exchange into the public domain, Carlson addressed it on his show:

‘Things went fine for the first few minutes and then Bregman launched into an attack on Fox News. It’s not clear that Bregman has ever seen Fox. But he wanted to make his point. Fine.

‘But then he claimed that [adopts a fierce voice] my corporate masters tell me what to say on the show, and that was too much.’

Carlson continued:

‘Whatever my faults or those of this channel, nobody in management has ever told us what positions to take on the air – never – not one time. We have total freedom here and we are grateful for that. I have hosted shows on both the other cable channels so I know first-hand how rare that freedom is. On this show, thanks to Fox, we get to say exactly what we think is true, for better or worse.

‘But there was no convincing Bregman of that, he knew what he knew. So I did what I try hard never to do on this show, and I was rude. I called him a moron and then I modified that word with a vulgar Anglo-Saxon term that is also intelligible in Dutch.

‘In my defence, I would say that was entirely accurate. But you’re not allowed to use that word on television. So, once I’d said it out loud, there was no airing the segment.’

Carlson then pointed out that Bregman had released the exchange and that you could find it online:

‘There is some profanity, and I apologize for that. On the other hand, it was genuinely heartfelt and I meant it with total sincerity.’

It was a far from convincing explanation for why Fox News had not aired the segment. After all, a simple bleep could have overridden any profanity: a standard procedure used in television.

Note that we are not claiming that everything Carlson says can be dismissed as kow-towing to his ‘corporate masters’. Last year, for example, he admirably challenged the establishment consensus on Syria. That expression of dissent may well have boosted his ratings: always a welcome factor for a media outlet. Our point is that there is no freedom to ‘say exactly what we think’ on a corporate outlet. As Herman and Chomsky explained in Manufacturing Consent, there are structural limits in the ‘mainstream’ media:

‘the “societal purpose” of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises.’1

That phrase, ‘keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises’, is crucial. Thus, for instance, a Fox News presenter who looked critically at the ownership and advertising behind that network would not last long; indeed, would likely never have been promoted into that trusted position in the first place.

‘You Say What You Like, Because They Like What You Say’

What was perhaps most interesting in Carlson’s riposte to Bregman was his defence of Fox News:

‘nobody in management has ever told us what positions to take on the air – never – not one time. We have total freedom here and we are grateful for that. I have hosted shows on both the other cable channels so I know first-hand how rare that freedom is. On this show, thanks to Fox, we get to say exactly what we think is true, for better or worse.’

Even former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger understood the absurdity of this response. In 2000, he told one of us in an interview:

‘If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, “Rupert Murdoch”, or whoever, “never tells me what to write”, which is beside the point: they don’t have to be told what to write… It’s understood.’

In fact, Bregman had already noted when he released the exchange:

‘I stand behind what I said, but there’s one thing I should have done better. When Carlson asked me how he’s being influenced by Big Business and tax-avoiding billionaires, I should have quoted Noam Chomsky.’

He expanded:

‘Years ago, when he was asked a similar question, Chomsky replied: “I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”‘

Long-time readers of Media Lens will recall this example very well. It came up in a BBC2 programme in 1995 called The Big Idea when Andrew Marr – then of the Independent and now with BBC News – interviewed Chomsky about the propaganda model of the media. The quote in question comes when Marr is struggling to grasp the propaganda system that filters for obedient, power-serving journalists who are able to carve out a successful career in the ‘mainstream’.

Marr: ‘I’m just interested in this because I was brought up like a lot of people, probably post-Watergate film and so on, to believe that journalism was a crusading craft and there were a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism. And I have to say, I think I know some of them.’

Chomsky: ‘Well, I know some of the best, and best-known, investigative reporters in the United States – I won’t mention names – whose attitude towards the media is much more cynical than mine. In fact, they regard the media as a sham. And they know, and they consciously talk about how they try to play it like a violin. If they see a little opening, they’ll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn’t make it through. And it’s perfectly true that the majority – I’m sure you’re speaking for the majority of journalists who are trained – have it driven into their heads, that this is a crusading profession, adversarial, we stand up against power. A very self-serving view. On the other hand, in my opinion, I hate to make a value judgement but, the better journalists and, in fact, the ones who are often regarded as the best journalists have quite a different picture. And I think a very realistic one.’

Marr: “How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are…’

Chomsky: “I’m not saying your self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’

Chomsky’s phrase, ‘if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting’ sums up the propaganda system of the corporate media. What Tucker Carlson appears not to understand is that he has ‘total freedom’ to say what he likes on Fox News because he has shown that he can be trusted to remain within acceptable limits. He has obviously never heard Noam Chomsky explain how it works. Nor does he seem to be familiar with US critic Michael Parenti whose riposte to the proud boast by many a corporate journalist that ‘nobody tells me what to say or write’ was:

‘You say what you like, because they like what you say.’

Parenti expanded on the theme during a talk titled ‘Inventing Reality’ in 1993:

‘And, you know, the minute you move too far – and you have no sensation of a restraint on your freedom. I mean, you don’t know you’re wearing a leash if you sit by the peg all day. It’s only if you then begin to wander to a prohibited perimeter that you feel the tug, you see. So you’re free because your ideological perspective is congruent with that of your boss. So, you have no sensation of being at odds with your boss.’

Perhaps the Pulitzer Prize-winning US author Upton Sinclair put it most succinctly when he wrote:

‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’

Obviously, the same applies to a woman. Indeed, Deborah Haynes, then defence editor at The Times and now foreign affairs editor at Sky News, tweeted proudly last year: “No one tells me what to think.”

Orla Guerin, a veteran BBC News journalist currently reporting from Venezuela, believes herself to be scrupulously impartial and neutral:

‘Thank you for watching, but we don’t do propaganda. We call it they [sic] way we see it, even if that does not suit the pre-conceived idea/ ideals that some have.’

Jeremy Bowen, the BBC News Middle East editor, opined:

‘We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.’

At first glance, the claims made by Guerin and Bowen sound plausible. After all, the BBC is widely admired and lauded around the world. In reality, the BBC is structurally and institutionally incapable of reporting fully and honestly the crimes of the West and its allies. It has never told even a fraction of the truth about US-UK crimes in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. It has never properly reported these crimes or placed them in an accurate historical conquest, showing how the West has consistently attacked independent national movements abroad to ensure that local tyrants, armed and supported by ‘us’, suppress local people to the benefit of Western corporate interests. This framework of understanding is considered completely beyond the pale in ‘polite’ BBC discourse; it is not even thinkable for them. Moreover, the BBC exactly reverses this apologetic stance in its endless channelling and hyping of condemnatory Western government claims, often fabricated, against Official Enemies such as Iraq, Libya, Syria; thus preparing the way for Western sanctions and other forms of ‘intervention’, including full-scale invasion.

BBC reporting on Venezuela is a current ugly example. Because the US, UK and its allies are the world’s leading human rights violators, and because senior BBC News journalists and editors cannot even conceive of this possibility, BBC output must be considered propaganda on every issue relating to international – and, indeed, often domestic – affairs. Our media alerts and books are chock-full of examples and analysis that show this in great detail.

To take just one recent example: if Bowen’s absurd claim about the BBC were true, it would have reported extensively on former FBI Director Andrew McCabe quoting Donald Trump:

‘I don’t understand why we’re not looking at Venezuela. Why we’re not a war with Venezuela? They have all the oil and they’re in our back door’.

But you will never see this become the lead item on BBC News at Ten. Why not? Because that would sink the story we’re supposed to believe: that the US is acting out of humanitarian concern for Venezuelans. In a sane media, McCabe’s account of a meeting with Trump would have been central to countless news stories and discussion about Venezuela. BBC News, ITV News and Channel 4 News would all be leading with this on their news bulletins. The newspapers would have it on their front pages. In fact, our database searches show that not a single ‘mainstream’ UK newspaper has reported the remarks. The left-wing Morning Star is the only national newspaper to have covered the story.

Likewise, ‘mainstream’ news media seem supremely disinterested in similar remarks from the notorious US neocon hawk, John Bolton, resurrected from the war crimes of the Iraq invasion, and now anointed as the US National Security Advisor. He made crystal-clear the realpolitik considerations driving US policy towards Venezuela:

‘It’ll make a big difference to the United States if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela’.

Imagine if Putin had made similar remarks threatening war on Venezuela, and been entirely open that the objective was the vast oil reserves there. There would be no end to the headlines devoted to his monstrous intentions and the perfidy of Russian imperial ambitions.

We challenged Paul Royall, the editor of BBC News at Six and News at Ten, about not reporting the former FBI director citing Trump’s desire for war on Venezuela:

‘Hello @paulroyall. You are the editor of @BBCNews at Six and Ten. Why is *this* not front and centre in your news reports on #Venezuela? Why have you instead *buried* a crucial factor that helps to explain US policy towards #Venezuela?’

As ever, Royall – who follows us on Twitter – remained silent. Similar challenges to Orla Guerin and Andrew Roy, BBC News foreign editor, also blew past like the proverbial desert tumbleweed. Likewise, an earlier tweet of ours was ignored:

‘Your news reports present a highly partial, US-friendly view of #Venezuela. By omitting crucial facts, you are misleading your audiences’

As the veteran journalist John Pilger has long pointed out, this phenomenon is called ‘lying by omission’. It is a major factor in enabling senior journalists at major ‘mainstream’ news organisations to claim wrongly, as Orla Guerin did, that, ‘We don’t do propaganda’. This is a deadly myth. Deadly, because it masks the fact that corporate media, especially BBC News, are responsible for propaganda that pushes more Western ‘intervention’, more war, more stolen natural resources, more mass deaths of innocent civilians, more refugees, more corporate profits, more fossil-fuel burning, more species loss and, ultimately, more planetary destruction; perhaps even human extinction in an era of climate chaos.

  1. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1998/2004, p. 298.

Understanding the Red Menace

For anyone who has read or listened to Jordan Peterson, it is obvious that he has an intense dislike of communism. On this subject his reasoning appears very shallow.

Thus the author asserts in his 12 Rules for Life: “Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or society.”1

First, Peterson’s claim that Solzhenitsyn’s writing demolished “the intellectual credibility of communism” is a non-sequitur for one fundamental reason: there is no dialectical validity whatsoever when support for a claim comes from places with similar or identical ideological views. In this case, for an apparently anti-communist thinker such as Peterson to quote another anti-communist thinker such as Solzhenitsyn in support for his thesis is a futile intellectual exercise in the art of persuasion. In terms of analogy consider this: what do you think of American supremacists or ultranationalists who when asked to prove the notion of so-called American exceptionalism, reply by citing what Barack Obama said on the subject?

Pertinently though, in none of his literary and political writings dealing with communist issues had Solzhenitsyn succeeded at demolishing Marxism — the ideological, economic, and philosophical matrix of communism. His ire, however, was directed at Soviet communism. But even here, Solzhenitsyn was mostly critical of the excesses of the Soviet state while never delving into the details of the positive social manifestations of Soviet social structures. In other words, his tight bias against communism was such that he just saw things through the prism of his personal views.

Second, I am not here to defend or denigrate communism; this is not the subject of this article. But from an intellectual viewpoint, if Peterson wants to demolish either Marxism or communism, he should do that by pointing to where Marx went wrong in his over 20 books and papers, or at least show us where Lenin, the founder of the first communist state, erred in his conception of such a state. It seems that he skipped this crucial step entirely, maybe because dealing with the Marxian concept of historical materialism from multiple angles requires special preparation that he was not ready to undertake. Said alternatively, what passages in Das Capital, Theories of Surplus Value, The Holy Family (Marx and Engels), Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, etc., did Peterson find to be intellectually corrupt enough to demolish communism? Based on the preceding, how is it possible then that Peterson goes straight to the climatic point by giving a verdict without trying to evaluate all philosophical, political, social, or economic debates initiated by Marx?

Furthermore, others might counter that Karl Marx demolished the credibility of capitalism as an ideology that has any place in a morally based society. However, I will not comment on the intellectuality of capitalism. I would not characterize Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as intellectually devoid — quite the contrary. Likeliest, what passes for capitalism today would nonplus Smith. Yet Peterson would hold Marx’s Capital and Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto to be intellectually deficient?

What, in essence, does such a statement reveal? To pronounce on intellectual credibility inescapably means that the person doing the pronouncing considers himself intellectually credible and sufficiently informed of the subject matter. In any case, such a person would be capable of reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; tying it to communist theory, as applied in the Soviet Union and elsewhere; and determining the ineluctable, consequential impact of such an ideology on society.

A subsequent epistemological analysis would speak to the veracity of any conclusion having been reached and also to the intellectual rigor of the individual making such a claim.

The events that are documented in The Gulag Archipelago are not denied or contested. What I contest is that the prison labor camps, as is intimated by Peterson, are a predictable outcome of communism. Either the Gulag was an aberration that appeared in a society striving towards a communist state or it was an inevitable outcome of a state on the path to communism. Many more questions arise: for example, were prison labor camps the norm throughout the history the Soviet Union? Or were they bound, particularly, to the authoritarian rule of Josef Stalin? Does the Gulag system exist in other communist states? Does the Gulag system exist in capitalist states?

It is important to understand what is a Gulag. Writing in a forum — which Peterson touts — Konstantin Zhiltsov (whose profile identifies him with a LLB from Moscow State University) wrote: “GULag was a simple administration, not much different from US Federal Bureau of Prisons.”2 Specific to camps, as opposed to locked-in penitentiaries, Zhiltsov wrote that they “existed long before communists and will exist without them just as well.”

On the question of camps:

Do they exist in modern Russia? Of course, yes. The majority of prisoners serve their sentence there. Of course, the regime is much different from Soviet times, much more lenient (that depends on security level, though). For example, prisoner’s labour is a right and not a duty (in the GULag system of camps, for example, it was mandatory, nowadays prisoners decide themselves to work or not to work).

So, the form is the same, but the “soul” inside of them is much different.3

Penitentiaries, rightly or wrongly, exist in most nation states. And forced labor camps are found in the US. It is via the US that in communist Cuba, the most notorious Gulag continues. Irene Khan, Amnesty’s general secretary, described the United States’ incarceration facility at Guantánamo Bay (de facto US-occupied territory in Cuba) as “the gulag of our time.”

Did the fact that Solzhenitsyn criticized the Gulag in the Soviet Union confer his approval of capitalism in the West? Political analyst Radha Rajan wrote, “Solzhenitsyn was as critical of what America and Europe represented in the twentieth century as he was of the Soviet Union and Stalinist repression.”4

Does this point to a bias ingrained in Peterson’s thinking? Nowhere in 12 Rules did Peterson mention, for example, that “Noam Chomsky’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of capitalism, as ideology or society.”5

What happened to the Soviet Union immediately after the fall of communism? Has capitalism burnished its credibility?

If communism is not defined by the Gulag system, then what is it? What is this communism that Peterson despises?

The Real News editor-in-chief Paul Jay spoke with Alexander Buzgalin, a professor of political economy and the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Buzgalin has lived under communism in the Soviet Union and in post-communist Russia. Thus, he is uniquely positioned to comment on what communism is and was.

PAUL JAY: So, for an American or Western audience, that word, “communism,” has- less and less now, the further we get away from the cold war- but still, the idea of communism, socialism, particularly communism, it means “police state.” It means “tyranny.” For most American ears, they can’t understand how someone would actually hope for communism. What did that mean for your family?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: For us, it was absolutely another meaning because of literature, because of movies, because of some practical communal-associated activity. So, what was communism for us? First of all, labor is pleasure. I am glad, I am happy to have my work. I am going for the work because I like it, not because I must make as small as possible and receive as much money as possible. Another motivation, another logic. Second, at the workplace we have comrades, not competitors, and together we will do something interesting. This is communism. Communism is space where you have beautiful things; useful, beautiful, cheap things around you. Dress, furniture, everything. And these things are just, I don’t know, basis for your life, for interesting life, for communications, creativity. That was the image of communism. And if you read books of Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky or Boris Strugatsky, two very famous writers, you will find a very beautiful description of such a world, and some elements of this world, we had sometimes.

PAUL JAY: Like when?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Like when we were together as schoolboys and schoolgirls, we were making something good for Vietnamese kids. We were spending our free time, not to play games with computers, it was no computer or football- we were playing football, but not all the time. But it was interesting to work and to buy bicycles for Vietnamese kids together. Just one example. To help to the elder people together. To create museum with memory about victims of World War II in school, from the fortress of our parents and grandparents, and so on.

So, one example. And an example in university, we have a union of young students and young scientists, scholars. And we made ourselves with state finance, three, four conferences every year for free in different cities of Russia. We were travelling, we were inviting students from other cities and state paid for their trips, for airplanes, for hotels, for us to go to other places. And it was self-organization. We organized these conferences by ourselves. We had a scientific supervisor, but he or she was controlling the program, nothing else.

PAUL JAY: But this vision, I mean, communism, the Marxist vision, a classless society with very little government, if any, as the ideal. But the reality of life was quite the opposite.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but not one hundred percent opposite.6

*****
Peterson continues his criticism of communism: “No educated person dared defend that ideology again after [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago. No one could ever say again, ‘What Stalin did, that was not true communism.’” (loc 3845)7

Peterson attempts to support his contention by ad hominem against those who disagree. Peterson limits the parameters of debate: one must agree that Stalin’s governance was true communism. Moreover, according to Peterson, one must not defend communism or he will be counted among the uneducated. Once again, Peterson relies strongly on Solzhenitsyn to shoot down the entirety of communism:

Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago–not even the communists themselves. (loc 5314)

This comes across as pure bluster. Peterson seems to think that by citing a book he can draw a definitive conclusion. Moreover, even given that the events as described by Solzhenitsyn are unerringly accurate, this does not inextricably bind communism to the Gulag because the Gulag happened under nominal or experimental communism. Now whether that communism was as propounded by Marx is debatable. Marx’s communism was about the liberation of workers. The communism of Marx differs from that put into practice by Lenin and Stalin.8 Moreover, communism was not envisioned as a perfect theory, free from need for revision, to be applied to all societies in all situations. Unless Marx considered himself to embody perfection, then he would not construe his thought as free from error. Indeed, self-criticism is a key component of Marxism. As Marxists are aware: “The use of criticism-self-criticism is widely recognized in the Marxist-Leninist movement as a tool that is vital to improving our work.”9 Thus, just as different countries practice a particular form of capitalism construed to meet the needs of their societies (or, more accurately, to meet the needs of the elitists in society), communism has been adapted to the exigencies of time and location.

Peterson points to the Gulag system as the distinguishing feature of communism. The gulags existed, and as horrific and wicked such places were for so many people, they were an outcome of people in power with out-sized egos and blackened souls.

If the Gulag is not the distinguishing feature of communism, then what is? Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated: “The distinguishing feature of Communism is … the abolition of bourgeois property.”

Peterson commits the logical fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc scenario. Because of communism, there are gulags. What is wrong with such a postulation? Did prisons and torture not exist under the Czarist regimes? Do gulags not exist under capitalism? To institute an analogy, did it occur to Peterson that United States gave torture a meaning worse than that used in the former USSR? Could Peterson educate us about “the Gulag Abu Ghraib,” “the Gulag Guantanamo Bay” or “the Gulag Bagram”?

Also, Peterson should realize that a state does not become a full-fledged communist state overnight, and in the Soviet case, not without fierce resistance. Capitalist powers were not inclined to permit a challenge to their preferred economic order.

Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn wrote that by the summer of 1919, 14 western nations and their client states had invaded Bolshevik Russia.10 US Senator William Edgar Borah admitted at that time that the US was at “war with Russia, while Congress has not declared war.… It is a violation of the plain principles of free government.”11

For the next two and a half decades “the anti-democratic and anti-Soviet conspiracy.… kept the world in an incessant turmoil of secret diplomacy, counterrevolutionary intrigue, terror, fear and hatred, and which culminated inevitably in the Axis war to enslave humanity.”12

Peterson writes,

Communism, in particular, was attractive not so much to oppressed workers, its hypothetical beneficiaries, but to intellectuals—to those whose arrogant pride in intellect assured them they were always right. But the promised utopia never emerged. (loc 3909)

This passage by Peterson is not only the epitome of intellectual manipulation because of how it was phrased, but it is also a demonstration that Peterson has no clues regarding the core tenets of Marxism — specifically Marx’s concept of communism.

On the side of manipulation, Peterson clearly implies that communism is no more than an intellectual product that oppressed workers could not possibly relate to or understand. In addition, he seems to be annoyed — better yet, intimidated — by certain intellectuals whom he debits to the arrogance for feeling “always right.” In psychological terms, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson appears to acknowledge that he is short on deploying the necessary intellectual tools to counter the arguments of well-informed intellectuals. This impression is enforced by noting that he resorted to name-calling in the attempt to downgrade the competence of intellectuals on the subject while upgrading his own, which is obviously ridden with serious shortcomings.

On the side of Marxian tenets, the scope of communism is not as he erroneously painted it. Marx never thought of communism as a platform solely directed to workers. What he envisioned was for the working class and intellectual pioneers to lead the struggle to abolish the class system thus creating egalitarian societies without classes, exploitation, and discrimination.

Now let’s turn to the debate on the issue of “credibility.” Obviously Peterson must be referring to intellectuals without credibility, but some might argue that such a premise is a contradiction. This forces one to wonder how well Peterson understands the communism of Karl Marx. Peterson does not define the “promised utopia.” Marx and Engels wrote of an end to the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. At which time the “purely Utopian character” would be revealed by “such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, and of the wage system, the proclamation of social harmony, the conversion of the function of the state into a more superintendence of production.”13

Peterson’s second contradiction is acknowledging that workers are oppressed while also arguing that oppressed workers are not attracted to a system to end their exploitation. In other words, one surmises from Peterson that workers would prefer to be exploited by a capitalist class. Or Peterson considers that workers are not exploited under capitalism? But no one could be that deluded.

Marx and Engels shot down the notion of worker acquiescence to the capitalist structure: “But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bot. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”14

Moreover, utopia, if ever promised, was never promised overnight. As long as communist countries were surrounded by opposing capitalist countries, the class struggle remained ongoing.

Communism, in name, was brought about through revolution. Hated regimes like Batista in Cuba, the Czars in Russia, and the Guomindang in China were capitalist or feudalistic in orientation.

Peterson seems eager to criticize and excoriate communist states, yet in his book his home country, Canada, emerges relatively unscathed. Peterson rightly denounces Nazi atrocities committed against Jews, although he does not condemn Nazi atrocities against communists, Roma, homosexuals. Now let’s consider Canada. It is a capitalist state established through genocide against the Original Peoples. Why no criticism by Peterson?15

One shouldn’t just read Chomsky, Solzhenitsyn, Marx, and Adam Smith to get a handle on capitalism versus communism and socialism. In particular, one should not solely rely on the clinical psychologist Peterson to get an understanding in political-economics and associated ideologies. However, one should be open to learning from other political-economic systems, especially adding anarchism to one’s reading list. Become well informed. Devour information with open-minded skepticism and form your own conclusions. Above all, don’t unquestioningly accept ex cathedra statements from professors, politicians, intellectuals, or non-intellectuals.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
  2. In Part 5: understanding the Soviet Union and the fallibility of capitalism
  1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018): loc 2879.
  2. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
  3. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
  4. Radha Rajan, “Russian nationalism through the eyes of an Indian nationalist – 1,” Vijayvaani.com, 28 November 2018.
  5. Chomsky’s focus is not the intellectual credibility of capitalism but the morality of an economic system that leaves behind so many in society. See, e.g., Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Seven Stories Press, 1999).
  6. Growing Up in the USSR – RAI with A. Buzgalin (1/12),” The Real News, 11 July 2018.
  7. Later Peterson’s repeats “The Gulag Archipelago … utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility…” (loc 5307).
  8. See Thomas G. West, “Marx and Lenin,” in Marx and the Gulag (Claremont Paper No. 8, 1987).
  9. Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist) and Friends from the East Coast, “Open Letter on Criticism-Self-Criticism,” in The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 12, 11 September 1978. Available online at marxists.org.
  10. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia Proletarian Publishers (Little, Brown and Company, 1946): 79.
  11. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 85.
  12. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 392.
  13. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Chapter III. Socialist and Communist Literature” in Karl Marx: Selected Writings.
  14. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (London: Essential Thinkers, 2004): 39.
  15. The professor Noam Chomsky proffered a moralistic guideline that people should focus on the actions of their own states: “My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.” See Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987).

Limits of Dissent

When we think of prisons, we tend to think of Alcatraz, Bang Kwang and Belmarsh with their guard towers, iron bars and concrete. But in his forthcoming book, 33 Myths of the System, Darren Allen invites us to imagine a prison with walls made entirely of vacuous guff:

Censorship is unnecessary in a system in which everyone can speak, but only those guaranteed not to say anything worth listening to can be heard.

Is this true? For example, how easy is it to encounter genuinely uncompromised analysis locating the Guardian within a propaganda system designed to filter news, views and voices to serve powerful interests?

It is a key issue because the Guardian is the best ‘centre-left’ newspaper we have. If The Times and Telegraph define the limits of thinkable thought on the ‘mainstream’ right, then the Guardian does the same at the other end of the ‘spectrum’. In other words, the Guardian defines corporate media limits in accepting left views and voices. If it’s not in the Guardian, it’s not going to be anywhere else in the ‘mainstream’.

Are the Guardian‘s famous in-house dissidents willing and able to address this crucial issue? How about leftist firebrand Owen Jones? In November 2017, Jones lamented on Twitter:

I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column. Weirdly this doesn’t seem to work the other way round.

Jones can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the corporate media, as long as he doesn’t dish the dirt on his employer. Ironies inevitably abound. Last April, Jones commented:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

Even as Jones was speaking out on this ‘suffocating groupthink’, his comment was being suffocated by his obligation to spare his colleagues’ blushes.

In December 2014, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook challenged George Monbiot:

@GeorgeMonbiot Guardian, your employer, is precisely part of media problem. Why this argument [on the need for structural reform] is far from waste of energy. It’s vital.

Monbiot brazenly stonewalled:

@Jonathan_K_Cook that’s your view. I don’t share it. Most of my work exposing corporate power has been through or with the Guardian.

The Guardian: ‘Solid And Reliable’

The first rule of Guardian club, then: you do not criticise the Guardian. The second rule of Guardian club… etc.

Far greater hope for the kind of serious criticism we have in mind seems to lie with renowned dissident Glenn Greenwald who worked for the Guardian for more than a year and who helped secure a Pulitzer prize for the paper’s reporting on the NSA story. After all, unlike Jones and Monbiot, Greenwald certainly is willing to criticise the Guardian.

The latest example is his response to the paper’s recent, front-page claim that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange met former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The Guardian article, which appears to be a stellar example of ‘fake news’, was apparently intended to bolster claims that Assange had conspired with Trump, and with Trump’s supposed Russian allies, to fatally damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to become US president. Greenwald commented:

The reason it will be so devastating to the Guardian if this story turns out false is because the Guardian has an institutional hatred for Assange. They’ve proven they’ll dispense with journalistic standards for it. And factions within Ecuador’s government know they can use them.

Speaking to The Canary, Fidel Narváez a former consul and first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, insisted that the Guardian‘s claims are entirely false:

It is impossible for any visitor to enter the embassy without going through very strict protocols and leaving a clear record: obtaining written approval from the ambassador, registering with security personnel, and leaving a copy of ID. The embassy is the most surveilled on Earth; not only are there cameras positioned on neighbouring buildings recording every visitor, but inside the building every movement is recorded with CCTV cameras, 24/7. In fact, security personnel have always spied on Julian and his visitors. It is simply not possible that Manafort visited the embassy.

The Washington Post reported this week:

One week after publication, the Guardian’s bombshell looks as though it could be a dud.

No other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting. News organizations typically do such independent reporting to confirm important stories.

WaPo noted that the Guardian ‘has stood by the story, albeit somewhat halfheartedly. It has said little to defend itself amid mounting criticism’.

Indeed, the Guardian has so far merely commented:

This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange’s representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.

But in fact WikiLeaks did deny that the visits took place in a tweeted response to one of the Guardian authors of the article.

In an attempt to encourage a more serious response, Greenwald sent a series of excellent, challenging questions to Guardian editor Kath Viner and journalist Luke Harding. Greenwald has pointed to huge holes in the story and condemned the paper’s hatred of Assange. However, Greenwald has also commented that, apart from the issue of Assange, ‘the Guardian’ is ‘an otherwise solid and reliable paper’. He has repeatedly affirmed this view:

Like I said, I think the Guardian is a solid paper that has good journalists and does good work, and I wouldn’t derive any pleasure from seeing its reputation obliterated by a debacle of this magnitude, though I do think it’d be deserved if the story proves to be false.

He even said:

I think the Guardian is an important paper with great journalists. I hope the story turns out true. But the skepticism over this story is very widespread, including among Assange’s most devoted haters, because it’s so sketchy. If Manafort went there, there’s video. Let’s see it.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook responded:

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Cook indicated the clear limits of Greenwald’s dissent by providing the kind of rare, honest analysis that explains the Guardian‘s role within the propaganda system:

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist leftwing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for leftwing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s rightwing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where leftwing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

On November 29, we tweeted Greenwald:

Hi @ggreenwald, you have consistently soft-pedalled your criticism of your former colleagues at the Guardian, most recently describing the paper as “solid and reliable'” Will you respond to @Jonathan_K_Cook’s astute and rational criticism of your position?’

At time of writing the tweet has received 57 retweets and 82 likes. Greenwald has been tweeting and must have seen some of these responses and yet has chosen not to reply. We would guess that he finds himself in a pickle: if he attempts to defend his false claim that the Guardian is ‘solid and reliable’, he will be shot down in flames for the reasons described above by Cook. And if he agrees with Cook’s analysis, he risks alienating former colleagues and important allies on the paper.

The conclusion, then, is that Greenwald is following so many Guardian and other ‘mainstream’ journalists before him in simply blanking reasonable, rational questions.

Greenwald and the Progressive Left

Despite defending us against critics in the past, and despite the fact that we are writing from a similar political viewpoint inspired by Noam Chomsky, for whom he has expressed immense admiration, Greenwald has almost completely ignored our work. We cannot remember that he has ever retweeted our media alerts or retweeted any of our tweets (there may have been one or two exceptions). Our Twitter search ‘from:ggreenwald “medialens”‘ suggests very little interest or interaction from his side. We saw no point in sending him a review copy of our new book, Propaganda Blitz, about which Chomsky has said: ‘Great book. I have been recommending it.’ (Email to Media Lens, November 22, 2018) We, on the other hand, have cited, praised and tweeted Greenwald’s work many times.

One might certainly ask why Greenwald would bother with a two-man, tinpot operation? Who are we? But it does seem extraordinary to us that Greenwald comments so much on the UK press whilst apparently ignoring writers who are indisputably the most honest, important and popular critics of the UK press, and of the Guardian in particular.

John Pilger is arguably the finest political journalist of our time and certainly the most high-profile critic of UK corporate media, especially the Guardian. No-one else who has appeared regularly in ‘mainstream’ newspapers and on national TV comes close to matching the honesty and accuracy of Pilger’s criticism. As far as we are aware, Greenwald ignores Pilger’s work. Using the Twitter search engine, we checked for mentions of Pilger, ‘from:ggreenwald “pilger”‘, and found zero mentions in any of Greenwald’s 50,000 tweets. This is exactly like a UK dissident critically analysing US media without mentioning Chomsky or Edward Herman.

In 2011, Jonathan Cook won the prestigious Martha Gellhorn special award for journalism. We have cited above his powerful criticism of the Guardian, lent even more weight by the fact that he worked as a staff journalist at the paper for five years. Cook tells us he has never seen Greenwald mention or retweet anything he has written. In 2014, Greenwald did make a positive comment in response to criticism from Cook:

I’ve long been a fan of your work as well…

Curiously, this ‘fan’ does not even follow Cook on Twitter.

The British historian Mark Curtis is another rare, honest critic of corporate media. Chomsky commented on his book, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (Serpent’s Tail, 2010):

Unearthing this largely hidden history is a contribution of the highest significance, and could hardly be more timely.

Curtis is also highly critical of the Guardian. Last month, he tweeted:

All decent writers must now reflect: do you really want to contribute to an outlet producing utter fabrications in service of the state? Even retweeting G [Guardian] articles should stop, IMO.

Curtis told us he has never seen Greenwald mention or tweet his work.

By contrast, Greenwald can often be found applauding and retweeting Guardian journalists and commentators like Owen Jones and George Monbiot, and, of course, former New Statesman political editor and Guardian contributor, Mehdi Hasan, who now publishes in The Intercept alongside Greenwald. Is Greenwald so reluctant to alienate the Guardian that he is steering clear of UK media analysts who are strongly critical of the paper?

None of this is intended as condemnation of Greenwald.  Perhaps he is right to maintain friendly relations with powerful allies when facing so many heavyweight political enemies in the US. But it is a rare form of cognitive dissonance that praises both the Guardian and Chomsky.

The key point, for us, which has nothing to do with lefter-than-thou sniping, is that this indicates the extraordinary extent to which the best, supposedly ‘centre-left’ media are protected from rational criticism. Even a comparatively honest, Chomskyite journalist like Greenwald is either not willing or not able to tell the whole truth about a paper that has done enormous harm in supporting Blair (still now), attacking Corbyn, and in promoting Perpetual War with endless nonsense about ‘our’ supposed ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians in oil-rich countries like Iraq and Libya. The Guardian has, at last, begun responding to the climate extinction crisis with some urgency, but it has long downplayed the gravity of the crisis and the truth of corporate denialism, while simultaneously promoting high status consumerism and fossil fuel advertising.

And this is why the Guardian and other liberal media are held in such absurdly high regard: very few journalists indeed are willing to subject them to the serious criticism they deserve.