Cyrano's Journal

Obstinate Memory —

Rescuing history from those who would murder it

A CJO selection by Stephen Gowans



Thursday, January 27, 2005

Iraq and its resistance

The question of whether Iraqis have a right to resist the occupation of their country by US-led forces is clear: they do. The question of whether they have a right to resist occupation by any means is academic.

The fact of the matter is that occupied people will, and always have, resisted occupations. And since poor people do not have access to helicopter gunships, tanks and bombers -- the tools of the occupiers -- they resort to the means at their disposal.

Those means are often gruesome. Some say they’re barbaric and uncivilized. The US government calls them terrorist, as it does any violent or armed challenge to exploitation by US corporations, the US military and its proxies. (Not surprisingly, Washington has a far more relaxed attitude toward armed challenges to exploitation by its rivals, evidenced recently in members of the US foreign policy establishment importuning Russia to hold talks with Chechen guerillas.)

That the methods of the occupiers are equally, if not more, barbaric, is granted, including by those who deplore the methods of the resistance, and wish a pox on both houses. This is a position regularly taken by moralists in the West, whose purpose in washing their hands of both sides, other than to make a show of their piety, is never clear. Uncivilized and barbaric things happen, in a regular, ineluctable, law-like, fashion, and deploring them doesn’t change the conditions that give rise to them or make them any less likely to happen tomorrow.

It is also ineluctable that the Iraqi government formed after the elections on Sunday will be an agent of US policy.

The electoral arena invariably favors groups with access to substantial resources -- in this case, the resources provided by the US-led occupation and such US-funded agencies as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, which operate to funnel money to pro-US political parties and organizations. The money is funneled to these groups for one purpose: So they’ll get elected to implement US policy.

If it happens that the outcome of the election is not entirely favorable to the pursuit of US aims, the victor will be forced to step aside in favor of a reliable pro-US operative. In any election, the outcome – whether in the final vote tally or in subsequent actions to overturn the election, if necessary -- is ultimately determined by whomever effectively holds power, and in Iraq, that party is the United States.

Indeed, it is almost axiomatic to say that the only kind of government that could possibly be elected under a US-led military occupation, and allowed to stand, is a pro-US one. To think otherwise is terribly naïve and ignorant of the regular, historical pattern of the United States and Britain bringing conservative, pro-capitalist, pro-Anglo-American leaders to power in countries they claimed to have “liberated.” This happened in Greece, France, Belgium and Korea during World War II, and in Vietnam later.

The purpose of Sunday’s election is to establish a legitimate basis in law for the transfer of Iraqi assets to US corporations, including the oil majors. Up to now, there has been no legitimate (hence, elected) Iraqi government in place to ratify the sell-off of state-owned enterprises and oil rights to US and British companies, and therefore no legal basis on which to carry out the annexation of the Iraqi economy.

True, Washington had no legal authority to invade the country either, but the question of title to property, and the resolution of conflicting property claims, is only resolvable by the authority of an Iraqi government which is recognized as sovereign in law.

So, with an election furnishing their legal bona fides, the authorities in Baghdad can pose as the legitimate representatives of the Iraqi people, while acting as agents of US investors and shareholders.

Far from restoring de facto sovereignty to Iraqis, this guarantees they will be plunged into an abyss of perpetual dependency. If all goes according to plan, Iraq’s natural resources and economic infrastructure – its public transportation, electricity, telecommunications, water and oil industries – will be transferred to private American and British hands before the occupation comes to a close.

At that point, the country will be nothing more than an economic colony of the United States, disgorging its resources and wealth for the benefit of US investors and shareholders, while settling into the usual pattern characteristic of exploited, dependent countries. There will be a small, affluent comprador stratum, a teeming surplus population, and a bevy of sweatshops dotting the banks of the Euphrates owned by contractors employed by foreign, mainly US, corporate titans.

The resistance is the only force capable of disrupting this plan.

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posted by Stephen Gowans at 6:29 PM Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Exiled from history






Russia paid by far the highest price of the Second World War: 22 million people dead (in a nation of 150 million), and more than 70,000 cities and towns turned to rubble. But it was the Russian armies, not the West, that broke the Werhmacht's back. Beware of Hollwywood versions of history.

When the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Eli Wiesel* addressed the UN during its commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, he lamented that Great Britain hadn’t allowed more Jews to “return to their ancestral homelands.”

The absurdity of declaring it possible for anyone to “return” to a place to which they’ve never been (without diminishing the main point that a generous refugee policy would have done much to save the lives of millions of European Jews), was passed over, as is much that is absurd in the distorted accounts of what happened in WWII.

The Jews, contrary to a growing view, were not the only victims of the Nazis, and it does not diminish the flagitious crime perpetrated against them to acknowledge the Nazi’s other victims, and to point out the Final Solution was not, as is now commonly supposed, the only significant event of WWII.


Indeed, it can be argued that the significance of any event is relative. For Jews, the Holocaust is central. For Russians, it is the mass devastation of their country, and the loss of 20 million lives. For Americans, who accounted for less than one percent of lives lost in WWII, it’s the arrogant and mistaken belief that they were the principal cause of the Nazi’s defeat.

Roma, too, were targets of the Nazi’s cold, calculated extermination programs, though anyone who suggested the Roma should have been allowed to “return” to their north India ancestral homelands (which they left circa 1400) to avert the Nazi’s elimination of 200,000 them, or that the Nazi’s efforts at anti-Roma genocide might justify the post-war herding of north Indians into ghettos to make room for the Roma, would be dismissed, deservedly, as a crank.

Forgotten is that the first targets of the Nazis, as recalled in Martin Niemoller’s famed invocation of the need for solidarity against a common oppressor, were the Reds.

“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.

“Then they came for the Jews.”

Reds, hunted down, rounded up, imprisoned and exterminated by the Nazis as cruelly and coldly as any other group that transgressed the Nazi ideal – or actively resisted and fought back – are history’s exiles.

And yet Communists are central – as victims, as early, implacable and clear-eyed opponents of Fascism, and as the principal reason European Fascism was defeated.

Nevertheless, nothing is said about them, except in out of the way journals and books.

So thoroughly have they been banished from official memory that it would not be going too far to suggest that if you stopped one hundred Canadians or Americans on the street, and asked them about the demographic composition of Germany after 1933, 99 would tell you it featured two large groups, and only two groups: the Jews and everyone else, who would be supposed to be Nazis or at least passive Nazi supporters. Germany’s large anti-Fascist community, the active resistance of the Reds, and their destruction at the hands of Hitler’s followers, would not be mentioned.

Popular history, that constructed by those who have turned anti-Communism into an official religion, has, moreover, turned Nazism into exclusively a movement against the Jews, and stripped it of its anti-Communist, anti-Socialist, and anti-trade union content. Today, it’s widely believed that anti-Fascism amounts to anti-anti-Semitism alone.

For a time, memory of the anti-Fascist resistance was kept alive in some places, in Communist East Germany, for example, but reunification saw anti-Fascist museums shut down and monuments carted away (too evocative of anti-capitalism), and replaced by tributes to Fascist-supporters, like John Foster Dulles.

And yet it was the most vilified of the Reds, the Communists, who rushed to the aid of the Spanish Republic before it was fashionable to be anti-Fascist, who led the fight at home against Mussolini and Hitler, free from delusions about the true nature of Fascism, and who successfully organized partisans to topple Fascist puppets in Yugoslavia and Albania.

And it was the Soviet Union that more than any other country, defeated – and suffered from – German imperialism.

While it’s rarely advisable to play historical what if games, we can be pretty certain that had the Soviet Communists not prevailed in driving German forces back into Germany, the Holocaust would have been far worse, and had German Communists prevailed earlier on (and German social democracy not quailed at the moment German capitalism was ripe to be toppled), there would never have been a Holocaust or death camps whose liberation we would be commemorating 60 years later.

posted by Stephen Gowans at 6:17 PM Sunday, January 23, 2005

When did left-wing politics become the defense of capitalism?

Few people openly talk about socialism anymore, at least not to advocate it. And I don’t mean socialism as capitalism with a smiley face, or imperialism as a civilizing mission, or socialism as a vague utopian society, but really (or previously) existing socialism -- socialism as it actually developed in post-Tsarist Russia, spread to Eastern and Central Europe, sprang up in China, and hangs on tenaciously in Cuba.

Nowadays, it’s utopian socialists who are more apt to champion anti-capitalist alternatives. They envisage a society of robust liberal democratic freedoms where economic rights are guaranteed and where capital willingly and meekly submits to its expropriation.

It’s an attractive scenario, but the attraction rests on assuming away the problem of the resistance of capital. For how do you provide maximal freedom, when your opponents are hell bent on seeing to it your efforts to build a better world are crushed, and a few bullets are placed squarely between your eyes, to keep it that way?

Easy. Construct a fantasy world where innocent and benevolent expressions of pious hope never come face to face with reality, in which you have plenty of space to roam about on a moral high horse. At the same time, heap dollops of scorn on anyone who’s led a real revolution, denouncing their authoritarianism as a corruption born of a perverse lust for power rather than as a necessary condition of bringing a revolution to fruition, consolidating its gains, and providing against its reversal.

And so, for these reasons, the universe of the utopian socialists consists of three options

• Really existing socialism

• Capitalism

• Utopia

ordered from least to most desirable.

Utopia is, of course, unattainable, so capitalism is settled for, even celebrated, as the immeasurably superior realistic option. Meanwhile, anyone who thinks a publicly owned, centrally planned economy is a good idea, and would willingly allow the coercive powers of the state to be used to repress the resistance of capital, is understood either to be detached from reality, a brutal monster, or hopelessly out of date.

Really existing socialism, in this view, is a grim, even monstrous, corruption that no one in his right mind would willingly accept, let alone advocate.

To anyone steeped in decades of Cold War propaganda, this sounds fine, even obvious, especially in the United States, where years of social engineering has turned Communism into the secular equivalent of Satanism, and Stalinism into the equivalent of Hitlerism. But scratch the surface and the view totters precariously, before collapsing into a heap of fantasies, wild exaggerations and fear mongering.

Why wouldn’t one advocate free health care, free education through university (with living expenses fully covered), free child care, free legal services, guaranteed employment, subsidized rents and dirt cheap public transportation -- all of which existed in the Soviet Union?

Why wouldn’t one advocate the end of gross inequalities in wealth, income, education and opportunity, the surcease of racial and national discrimination, and the abolition of homelessness and economic insecurity…boils really-existing socialism lanced under the most trying and difficult of circumstances, and with fewer resources to do it with than available in the advanced countries of the industrialized West?

“No, no, no, you don’t understand. Socialism accomplished some remarkable things. But so did Fascism. And Fascism worked. Just because socialism’s an alternative to capitalism doesn’t mean it’s desirable.” [1]

Well, that depends on whether you think an end to ignorance, disease, poverty, gross inequality, homelessness and economic insecurity – achievements of really-existing socialism -- is desirable. If not, then capitalism is better. But when did left-wing politics become the defense of capitalism as preferable to free healthcare, free education and guaranteed employment?

As to the supposed equivalence of Communism and Fascism, we might begin by asking in what way – and for whom -- did Fascism work?

Did it abolish racial and national discrimination? Did it eliminate extremes of wealth, income, opportunity and education?

Fascism, pioneered by Mussolini to wage war on socialism, and taken up by Hitler who saw the destruction of Bolshevism as his life’s mission, didn’t elevate the living standards of the majority. On the contrary, it crushed trade unions and left-wing political parties, slashed wages and lengthened the working day and embarked on a program of territorial expansion, all to the benefit of industrialists and financiers. Fascism worked for them.

Still, capitalist democracy is often counterposed against Fascism (Dictatorship from the Right) and Communism (Dictatorship from the Left). According to this view, Communism and Fascism occupy one end of the spectrum while capitalist democracy occupies the other.

The problem is, for this to work, you have to accept the deception that capitalist democracy is a democracy of all, rather than a democracy for the few, and therefore also a dictatorship, viz., of capital, or the parties that represent capital, and therefore of a minority. Which is to say, any pre-communist society (and that includes socialist societies moving toward communism) are necessarily dictatorships of some class, or, if you prefer, democracies of some class, but only that class.

(And yes, the Soviet Union was tyrannical and despotic, for a time, toward the enemies of socialism, i.e., those who had a material interest in capitalist, even feudal, restoration. Had it not been, the USSR wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did. That it collapsed has much to do with the failure to recognize that class struggle continues long after capitalism is overthrown.)

Treating capitalist democracy as a system in which the majority runs society in its own interests through elections and parliaments is to misunderstand its true nature, and to miss some obvious realities. The United States is often supposed (in the United States anyway) to be the highest expression of democracy and the furthest thing from dictatorship possible, but it hasn’t a public healthcare insurance system, despite elections and despite the trappings of democracy and contrary to the wishes – indeed, the interests – of the majority.

Yet, public healthcare, of the sort unimaginable in the US, and more far reaching than what’s offered in, say, Canada, were typical features of Soviet-style socialism, and is a proud achievement of revolutionary Cuba, and yet these countries are understood in the US to be light years away from democracy.

That’s because democracy is often equated with its trappings (elections for nominally opposing parties), rather than its outcomes. A country with elections and parliaments, run in the interests of those who own and control its productive assets, is a democracy of sorts – for those who own and control its productive assets – but not a democracy in the original understanding of the word as rule by and in the interests of the mass of people.

Given this reality, it makes more sense to speak of a continuum of class democracies, with Fascism at the far right, capitalist democracy a few degrees to the left, and Communism much further to the left. That’s certainly the way Mussolini, who declared war on socialism, and Hitler, who set out to crush it, understood it.

Look at it another way: The Communist view of democracy is very different from that of liberals or social democrats. It says democracy is no more elections and nominally opposing parties that map a territory. In other words, elections themselves don’t make democracy, because it’s possible, indeed even invariable, for capitalist democracies to be organized in the interests of shareholders and investors, despite elections.

What makes democracy is the question of whether a society is organized in the interests of the majority. A society which fails to deliver free health care, free education through university, and guaranteed employment, though it could deliver all these things readily; refuses to abolish homelessness and economic insecurity, and which tolerates gross inequalities, though eliminating all these scourges is well within its grasp, is hardly democratic.

On the other hand, a society which achieves these gains in the interests of the majority is democratic, even if it doesn’t adopt all the charades and forms of capitalist democracy.

Those who regard capitalist democracy as imperfect, but superior to that practiced in the socialist states, are like Pepe le Pew, ardently pursuing female black cats because they look like skunks.

But maybe there’s a material basis for this. If you’re engaged in politics in a dissident direction and live a fairly comfortable life, with sufficient to eat, warm clothing, pleasant accommodations and interesting work, what’s likely to strike you as more important: civil and political liberties or economic rights?

I think the answer, in nine cases of 10, will be civil and political liberties, which may explain, in part, why Leftist politics in the West tends to lean heavily toward the defense and extension of these rights, while relegating the pursuit of economic rights to a subsidiary position.

What’s more, that rights aren’t absolute, but, under the most realistic conditions, are likely to clash, is largely assumed away. In utopia, there are no clashes.

But in the real world, there are, and when rights clash, a lot of Western Leftists can be expected to come down on the side of political and civil liberties. This is evident in discussion of really-existing socialism, whose economic achievements are quickly acknowledged, and just as quickly dismissed as hardly compensation for failing to adopt the charades and window-dressing of capitalist democracy.

Lastly, we might deal with the claim that socialism is just not on, because almost no one in the West – let’s single out Americans and Canadians – would ever choose to live in a socialist state.

This hardly seems credible.

Do Americans and Canadians have an aversion to free health care, free education, free childcare, free legal services, subsidized rents and dirt-cheap public transportation?

Are they committed to slums, homelessness, unemployment, and living without health insurance?

Do they shudder at the thought of anyone putting an end to gross inequalities in wealth, income, education and opportunity?

Do they think it’s desirable that 100,000 in the US die every year because they can’t afford adequate medical care, and that millions of able young people never get a higher education because they haven’t enough money?

Do they revel in economic insecurity and sneer at guaranteed employment, hoping their lives will be continually punctuated by the disruptions of unemployment and the unceasing threat of joblessness?

The answer is obvious, and to say Americans and Canadians – that is, most Americans and Canadians -- are averse to the traditional achievements of socialism is absurd.

But that’s not to say some aren’t implacably opposed, namely, those who own and control the economy, and stand to profit from providing private health care, private education, private social security, and require widespread economic insecurity, unemployment, low wages, meager or no benefits, and a war economy to thrive.

So, when it’s said that no American or Canadian is going to choose to live in a socialist state, what’s really being said is that no American or Canadian is going to choose to live in the spooky Communism = Fascism version of socialism that has its roots in Cold War propaganda -- not facts -- and continues unchallenged.

The reality is that really-existing socialist societies weren’t horrible monstrosities, but the best history could achieve, indeed, has achieved.

That’s not to say the USSR was perfect – far from it. But had we “a world of nations like the USSR,” remarked Kenneth Neill Cameron, “there would be neither war nor imperialism, neither exploitation nor mass oppression.” [2] Could the same be said about a world of capitalist nations -- even one filled with utopian dreamers?

1. The “just because it’s an alternative doesn’t necessarily make it better” view is often expressed by the same people who voted for John Kerry just because they regarded him as a realistic alternative, and therefore the better candidate. Significantly, they were unable to produce a speck of evidence that Kerry’s policies would be any less aggressive or exploitative than Bush’s. Kerry was, therefore, considered better, simply because he was a nominal alternative. By contrast, there are scads of evidence that really-existing socialism is better than capitalism in meeting the material requirements of the population and raising its material standards.

2. Marxism: A Living Science, International Publishers, New York, 1985, p. 112.

posted by Stephen Gowans at 6:16 PM Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Noam Chomsky’s rogue’s gallery

I used to devour everything Noam Chomsky wrote -- the Barsamian interviews when I wanted to stay awake, and books like The New Military Humanism when I needed to go to sleep.

But over time, as I hunted down Chomsky interviews, pored over copies of Z Magazine and struggled through deep yawns to get through Pope Michael’s (i.e., Michael Albert’s) encyclicals on Noam Chomskyism, I began to notice a recurrent element in Chomsky’s work that led me to see that all that was needed to do a perfectly serviceable impression of the master was to liberally use the words “rogue’s gallery,” “brutal monster,” and “thug,” all the while making sure to implicate various U.S. administrations in the activities of the brutal monsters.

Want to understand Iraq? Easy. A brutal monster backed by the US government failed to do Washington’s bidding. So Washington retaliated. Panama? Same thing.

Want to understand Indonesia and the Philippines? That’s easy too. Brutal monsters backed by the U.S. government did Washington’s bidding.

Wherever shit happens, you’ll find brutal monsters at work, sometimes backed by the US government, sometimes not. Want to stop the shit? Get rid of the monsters and pressure the elites in the US.

“It’s certainly true,” remarked Chomsky, in a November 10th interview with Bill Maher, “that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.” Now, this might be comforting to Americans who have doubts about the legitimacy of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (hey, everyone’s better off without Saddam, so what’s all the fuss about?) and it may be considered the kind of thing you say to settle the question “Is he or isn’t he soft on brutal monsters?” but as a statement, it’s meaningless.

Obviously, the guy who was next in line on Hussein’s execution list is better off, while the guy next in line on his promotions list isn’t (since he’s probably now languishing in a US military prison in Baghdad, being forced to masturbate for the amusement of prison guards.) As for the rest of the world, it’s meaningless to talk of whether the end of Saddam Hussein is for the good or bad without talking about what comes after. Iraqis would hardly be better off had Hussein been succeeded by a resurrected Vlad the Impaler bearing a murderous grudge against Muslims. If that’s the kind of thinking Chomsky’s going to engage in, I could probably sell him a truckload of firewood to heat his house by pointing out the world would be a better place if no one burned fossil fuels.

The world would also be a better place if men over the age of 40 didn’t have to submit to a doctor’s gloved finger squeezing past their anal sphincters to probe their prostate glands for evidence of cancer, but the alternative is worse. The only meaningful question to ask, then, is whether the world (and that includes Iraq) is better off with the US occupation, and years of US domination to follow, than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Chomsky either implies that it is, or means nothing more by saying “it’s certainly true that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” than the deposed Iraqi leader wasn’t a particularly nice fellow, and you would never want to fall on the wrong side of him. Since the reality that Hussein was no Simon the Likeable is readily apparent to most everyone, including Cindy, the young woman who cuts my hair, I’ve decided to use my time more effectively by steering clear of Chomsky and getting my political insight with my monthly visit to the barbershop.

What’s more, the view that bad things happen because there are bad people in power doesn’t take you very far. If bad people are in power, how is it that they come to power? Are bad people predisposed to rise through hierarchies? Are they selected by a bad system (for surely it must be a bad system that reserves its favors for the worst of us)? If so, is it bad people who are the problem, or is the system that's bad? And if the system’s bad, is eliminating a particular bad person going to make much of a difference, or the world a better place in which to live?

Moreover, is it always the case, or even disproportionately the case, that bad people come to power, or does a bad system make people (who may be either good or bad intrinsically) do bad things? Do CEO’s lay off thousands of employees, or drive wages down, or open sweatshops, because they’re bad or greedy? Or do they do it, because they’re compelled to, and if they don’t, someone else will? It’s like baseball. If you’re not committed to getting more runs than the other team, you’ll soon find yourself riding the pine, or sent down to the minors.

And another thing: What makes a thing bad? CEO’s cutting thousands of employees loose, driving wages down, and opening sweatshops, is bad if you’re a wage earner, but it’s good if you’re a CEO or shareholder. The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq is bad if you’re an Iraqi, and doesn’t look too good for the French, Russian and Chinese oil firms that are likely to be evicted from Iraq. On the other hand, it’s good for US engineering firms, like Bechtel, that have scored lucrative reconstruction contracts, US defense contractors, like Lockheed Martin, that will rake in cash hand over fist to re-supply the Pentagon, and the US oil majors, who will profit from Iraq’s abundant supply of oil.

Furthermore, is it meaningful to talk of people being bad? Attribute bad behavior to bad personalities and you go round and round. How do you know he’s bad? Because he’s done wicked things. Why did he do wicked things? Because he’s bad. A group of American Left intellectuals, Chomsky among them, wrote a letter appealing to Lefties to dump Bush in the last election by voting for the Democrat candidate in swing states. In their letter, they attributed the invasion of Iraq to Bush’s drive to war. They knew Bush had a drive to war because he had waged war and they knew he had waged war because he had a drive to war. Asked to define a curmudgeon they would have probably said, “A curmudgeon is a person who’s curmudgeonly.” You can’t argue with that, but it gets you nowhere, which is about where Lefties in the US are right now.

So whenever I hear Chomsky declaiming about brutal monsters and propounding his rogue’s gallery view of politics, I cringe. It’s as if the gangster theory of WWII – that the war owed itself to two men alone, Hitler and Mussolini, who appeared out of nowhere and acted in a socio-economic vacuum – has been updated and brought forward to explain contemporary events.

Since war could be attributed to the actions of a few bad apples, the implication was that future wars could be deterred by dragging the bad apples (Chomsky’s brutal monsters) before an international tribunal, where harsh penalties would be meted out to discourage other bad apples from following in their footsteps. In this way, attention was diverted from the bad barrel, and everyone went merrily along their way, secure in the knowledge that the brutal monsters had got their comeuppance, and that a future world of peace was at least a possibility. However, not too many years later, the Americans themselves were doing what they punished the Nazi gangsters at Nuremberg for. No surprise. It wasn’t a few bad apples in a good barrel that was at fault. It was the barrel itself – what the gangster theory drew attention away from -- that stunk. And the barrel was as much American as German.

Of course, getting around to examining the barrel, and then ripping out the rotten staves and replacing them with something better, is not the kind of thing people who are busily denouncing brutal monsters and their hypocritical US backers are going to do.

Instead, they’re going to suggest that social pressure is somehow capable of converting imperialism from lion to lamb, or of making the US live up to the ideals of its founding fathers. It hasn’t yet, and won’t, because imperialism is a system that transcends individuals. Writing letters to the president and your legislative representative, or marching though the streets of Washington, won’t pacify the lion. And that’s because imperialism isn’t the personal preference of Washington’s movers-and-shakers, which is not to say they’re averse to it; only that you don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I think we should take the country in an imperialist direction today, and if nothing comes of it by Wednesday, we’ll try a non-imperialist path.”

What’s more, the rogue’s gallery theory of politics allows people to come to terms with the unprovoked wars Washington wages for commercial gain. If the war succeeds in removing a brutal monster (and it is standard practice to portray the leader of the enemy as a brutal gangster beyond redemption), and the world is said to be better off for his removal, questions about whether the war was legal or prosecuted for the right reasons become nothing more than academic quibbling. “Yeah, yeah, maybe we didn’t go into Iraq for the reasons Bush said, but, look, the rape rooms are gone, and Saddam isn’t gassing Kurds any more, and he’s no longer a threat to us. That guy was one bad dude, and, I, for one, thank my stars he’s out of there and in prison where he can do nobody no harm.”

You could say that the rogue’s gallery view of politics ultimately has the effect of legitimizing US imperialism. Producing the effect, in Chomsky’s case, is doubtlessly unintentional, but equally, the effect is doubtlessly present. Make the rounds of what passes for Leftist groups in the US and it becomes clear that any commitment to anti-imperialism, in the sense that other countries ought to be left alone to develop unhindered in accordance with their own requirements, outside the hegemony of the advanced countries, is tenuous at best. Instead, there’s a pervasive view that left to themselves, countries whose economic development has been historically stifled would be terrorized by brutal monsters, corrupt politicians and religious zealots, that civil wars and ethnic cleansing would erupt, and that the West therefore has a moral obligation to intervene, and at the very least to guide the political and economic development of these countries by funneling money and assistance to “pro-democracy” groups committed to “economic reform.” That the continued intervention of the advanced countries in the affairs of poor countries will receive the backing of most Westerners who consider themselves Lefties is all but guaranteed by the pervasive acceptance of the rogue’s gallery view of international politics. Surely, we can’t leave the longsuffering peoples of the Third World in the hands of such notorious brutes as Robert Mugabe, Alexander Lukashenko, Kim Jong Il or …fill in the name of whichever person happens to be the leader of a country whose turf, resources, markets or cheap labor some Western country wants to lay its hands on.

Tenuous too is any understanding of imperialism as a socio-economic imperative, and not a bad life-style choice of people in power. Accordingly, socialism isn’t embraced as a solution; sensitivity training for cabinet members, or appealing to the liberal conscience of the nation, is. But then, what else would you do, if you understand shit to happen because shitty people are in power?


Stephen Gowans is a senior contributing editor to Cyrano's Journal. His columns are found (and read) widely across the Internet. He maintain a blog —What's Left—at His "warning" captures the essence and sturdy humor of this uncompromising thinker:

"HEALTH WARNING The commentary posted on this blog could be hazardous to patriots, conservatives, hero worshippers, rule-followers, liberals, the over-serious, moralists, Sunday school teachers, social democrats, self-appointed leaders, and Celine Dion fans. It contains the rants of some kind of ultraleft Dennis Miller. It should not be read by those who regard thinking as a tiresome exercise, humor as a frivolity, and worry about what Miss Grundy would say. The blog is contraindicated for those afflicted by acute cases of anti-communism, delusions that public opinion is the world’s second superpower, and the misapprehension that the Democrats are the answer. Read at your own risk."

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