More than forty years ago I concluded an undergraduate essay on Britain’s radical press, at its peak amid the economic downturn and savage repression following the Napoleonic Wars, with a quote from James Curran, co-author of Power Without Responsibility.
Market forces succeeded where legal repression had failed, in constraining the media, with lasting consequences for society.
His words threw a trillion candela beam on how rule by and for a tiny few can be squared with the semblance of a democratic society in which all voices are equal. For two centuries our mass media, naively seen as independent, have been pivotal to this balancing act.
But that two hundred year old business model – media largely in the private hands of what some of us call a ruling class,1 and in any case with income streams one part purchase price, two parts advertising2 – is on its last legs.
New business models have arisen for all kinds of information and ‘creative product’. Those of us raised in an era where we bought such things from newsagents and record stores were slow to catch on to the truth that if the product is free, the product is you.
In the main this has been advantageous to a capitalism which, while racked by crises of rising frequency and severity, continues to turn them to its advantage as wealth shifts inexorably to the few from the many. But an online world, where information is not only free but available from so many more sources, poses a major threat to the status quo described by Mr Curran.
I can read radical sites like OffGuardian, Jonathan Cook’s blog and the Socialist Equality Party’s WSWS as easily as Guardian or Mail (and more easily than Murdoch’s pay-walled titles). More significant yet, in a time of growing rivalry between Western imperialism3 and a Eurasia rising, I can access sites like RT, Al-Jazeera or Al-Monitor – hardly radical, but with worldviews ranging from Al-Monitor’s mildly divergent gap-filling to an RT now resigned to full-on challenge to the view from Washington, London and Paris – as easily as I can the BBC or CNN.
In short, since all media of necessity pursue ideological agendas, I can not only triangulate but factor in what I know of any medium’s inbuilt bias. I trust Al-Jazeera coverage of Venezuela, for example, but remain sceptical, given its Qatar ownership and the Emir’s hatred of Damascus, of its Syria coverage.
And I’ll read WSWS, yes, but since Western media’s biggest lies are (a) about imperialism and (b) more of omission than commission, I’m as likely to turn to non radical sources such as The Economist, whose niche audiences can be trusted with otherwise dangerous truths. Or to those offering perspectives which, though well inside the Overton Window, are nevertheless global south perspectives. Al-Monitor is a case in point. As to some degree is Israel’s liberal Haaretz.
You get my point, I’m sure. None of this is good news to those whom Caitlin Johnstone calls the Empire’s Narrative Managers. Since I’m currently too depressed to write much about politics – I’ve been hanging out with the birds – I’m about to hand over to Caity, who waives copyright for all but racists and fascists.
(So do I, in case you were wondering.)
First though I’ll wrap this up. Given such threats to the balancing act I opened with, how would any self respecting ruling class respond? In two ways. One would be to withdraw – softly softly, in small steps taken in the name of protecting us – from even the semblance of democracy. For as any serious observer of power in the West can easily ascertain, should those inconveniences attendant on the myth (largely but not wholly a charade) of democracy be deemed to obstruct the Greater Good of maintaining profits, it is not the latter our rulers will want to sweep aside.4
And let’s not forget, the withdrawal I speak of has been hastened by 9/11.
The other response is to trash, revile as “fake news” and – for our own good, mind – censor all challenges from those competing narratives. But now I really must hand over to Caity, writing today on her blogsite.
Narrative Control Ops Escalate …
In 2017, representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google were instructed in a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that it is their responsibility to “quell information rebellions” and adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment to “prevent the fomenting of discord.”
“Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words,” the representatives were told by cold warrior think tank denizen Clint Watts. “America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”
“Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end,” Watts added.
Those words rattle around in the memory now as America burns with nationwide protests demanding an end to the police state, and as narrative control operations ramp up with frantic urgency.
The Grayzone reports that it has been blacklisted as a source on Wikipedia following a concerted campaign by a suspicious-looking group of editor accounts, many of whom appear to have ties to the right-wing opposition in Venezuela. Wikipedia, whose co-founder once told the US Senate that the online encyclopedia project “may be helpful to government operations and homeland security”, has added The Grayzone to a very short list of outlets that are never to be used under any circumstances, claiming on apparently no basis whatsoever that it publishes false information.
“In fact, in its more than four years of existence, including its first two years hosted at the website AlterNet (whose use is not forbidden on Wikipedia), The Grayzone has never had to issue a major correction or retract a story,” Grayzone‘s Ben Norton says in its report on the matter. Norton documents how the Wikipedia editors are unable to cite any actual false information in any of the outlet’s publications in their arguments, leaving only their objection that Grayzone doesn’t parrot US government-approved narratives like The New York Times, Bellingcat, and Wikipedia’s other designated “reliable sources”.
Norton also notes how Wikipedia has designated the leak publication outlet WikiLeaks an unreliable source despite its nearly 14-year record of authentic publications. Wikipedia designates WikiLeaks as “generally unreliable,” making the utterly baseless claim that “there are concerns regarding whether the documents are genuine or tampered.”
“The internet encyclopedia has become a deeply undemocratic platform, dominated by Western state-backed actors and corporate public relations flacks, easily manipulated by powerful forces. And it is run by figures who often represent these same elite interests, or align with their regime-change politics,” Norton writes.
Norton’s breakdown of the ways Wikipedia is slanted to consistently favor pro-establishment narratives is comprehensive, and well worth reading in its entirety. This short Mintpress News article by Alan MacLeod on the way this same monopolistic editing dynamic has seen Mintpress, teleSur English, and Venezuela Analysis blacklisted from Wikipedia in the same way is also worth a look.
This all comes out as we learn that Facebook is attaching warning labels to posts from outlets sponsored by governments which have not been absorbed into the US-centralized empire like RT and CGTN, but attaching no such label to outlets funded by imperial governments like BBC and Radio Free Europe. There is not any discernible difference in the degree of bias shown in state media from unabsorbed nations like Russia and China than there is in state media from the US and UK (or oligarchic media from the US and UK for that matter), but Facebook causes its 2.6 billion active users to look at one with suspicion but not the other.
This also comes out at the same time we learn that Twitter has deleted over 170,000 accounts for “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China”. CNN reports (in an article which also cites the analysis of the scandal-ridden narrative manager Renee DiResta) that the accounts were determined to be “tied to the Chinese government” by “experts” who we learn later in the article are none other than the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think tank geared explicitly toward fomenting anti-China sentiment in Australia.
“Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has slammed ASPI for pushing a ‘one-sided, pro-American view of the world’, while the former Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby added that ASPI is ‘the architect of the China threat theory in Australia’,” journalist Ajit Singh noted on Twitter, adding, “Australian Senator Kim Carr has slammed ASPI for seeking to ‘promote a new cold war with China’ in collaboration with the US. In February, Carr highlighted that ASPI received $450,000 funding from the US State Department in 2019-20.”
This blatant imperialist narrative manipulation operation are the “experts” Twitter consulted in determining which accounts were “tied to the Chinese government” and therefore needed to be silenced. Twitter meanwhile continues to allow known fake accounts like the MEK propaganda operation “Heshmat Alavi” to continue inauthentically posing as real people, even when their propaganda is publicized by the President of the United States, because such accounts toe the imperialist line against empire-targeted governments. This pro-imperialism slant is standard for all Silicon Valley tech giants.
This also comes out at the same time the mass media are warning us that Russia, China and Iran are “employing state media, proxy outlets, and social media accounts to amplify criticism of the United States related to the death of George Floyd and subsequent events.”
“As protesters hit the streets in cities across the country, America’s foreign adversaries have flooded social media with content meant to sow division and discord in the wake of George Floyd’s death, according to a U.S. government intelligence bulletin obtained by ABC News,” we are told by the Disney-owned ABC.
“These actors criticize the United States as hypocritical, corrupt, undemocratic, racist, guilty of human rights abuses and on the verge of collapsing,” the bulletin reads, which to anyone who’s been paying attention is obviously true. This is a news story about people from other countries saying true things about the United States of America.
“This is yet another indicator that Russia is using the combination of overt propaganda and covertly disseminated disinformation to sow discord across our populace, expand the cracks in our society, and undermine the credibility of the U.S. government,” former senior Department of Homeland Security official and current ABC News contributor John Cohen informs us.
Ahh, okay. Cool. Thank you for the information, former senior Department of Homeland Security official and current ABC News contributor John Cohen. Man it sure is a good thing America doesn’t have state media. Think about how bad the disinformation would be.
Social media outlets were told that they need to censor their platforms to “prevent the fomenting of discord,” but obviously they didn’t move quickly enough, because the discord has been well and truly fomented. And now they are in a mad scramble to prevent Americans from hearing what people in foreign nations have to say about that, still apparently laboring under the delusion that this is anything other than homegrown, purebred, cornfed, American-as-apple-pie discord.
The most distinctive feature of the last four years has been expanding consciousness. Expanding consciousness of media corruption, of DNC corruption, of government corruption, of the excessive amount of power wielded by the US presidency and the absurd esteem people used to have for that position, of the abuse of immigrants, of police militarization, of unhealed racial wounds, etc.
This is encouraging, because you can’t fix something you haven’t made conscious. This is true of our own unresolved psychological issues, and it’s true of our unresolved collective issues as well. The first step toward a healthy world is expanded consciousness.
This is why increasing government opacity, internet censorship, and the war on journalism are so dangerous. Corruption and abuse thrive in darkness, and corrupt abusers want to keep that darkness intact. They want to keep things as unconscious as possible.
It’s beginning to look like that cat’s out of the bag, though, and I would be very surprised if they ever manage to get that sucker back in there.
What an exciting time to be alive.
* * *
- A ruling class is here defined as a small group whose income derives not from sale of labour power but monopoly ownership of the means of producing material wealth. Everything else flows from this core truth.
- Curran rightly notes market discipline. While broad left commentators like George Monbiot point to media in oligarchic hands – Murdoch, Rothermere, Barclay Brothers – they overlook the truth that titles like the Guardian are constrained by the need to keep advertisers sweet. (For reasons set out by Herman & Chomsky, liberal media are vital to advanced consumer capitalism. But with ad revenues in free fall – and the Guardian’s status as the West’s go to liberal source sitting uneasily alongside the fact its costs exceed its revenues – GMG must look to donors in a USA whose liberalism is to the right of Britain’s.) For their part state broadcasters, their top brass rooted in and answerable to the Establishment, and in any case dependent on licence fees set by politicians beholden to Murdoch and Rothermere, have still less editorial freedom.
- Imperialism is defined here as the export of monopoly capital from global north to global south, and repatriation of profits in the reverse direction. All other things – wars on the middle east, blockades on Cuba and now Venezuela, and mounting tensions with Russia and China – derive from this core reality.
- What I’d broadly call “people’s gains” were just that: outcomes of often protracted class struggle. Witness the Trades Dispute Act of 1906, reversing the Taff Vale Judgment of 1901. The Act came into being because the railworkers’ defeat in the latter boosted Labour representation to the point where Campbell-Bannerman’s Liberal Government was under pressure to pass it. The wider point being that of a centuries old class struggle in which such rights do not fall from the sky but have always to be fought for and – equally significant, this – defended.
The narrative is managed in many different ways. Including co-option and what might be labelled ‘kettling’ of narratives into a cul de sac by reducing them to simple for and against – one example being statues and cultural artifacts as George Galloway argues here.
Where discussion is corralled into a ‘safe space’ in which everyone is sidetracked into arguing about something which, as Galloway’s sub-text notes, does not challenge contemporary manifestations of past practices – such as the systemic economic and political model responsible for current as well as past exploitation.
Far easier to manage discontent through arguments about cultural history – both sides of the narrative controlled by the same interests – than open up contemporary manifestations of imperial abuse, at home as well as abroad:
Was it really less than twenty years ago that first one million people and subsequently two million people marched through London (and elsewhere) against the threat to invade another country before the event?
Today? Its like tumbleweed. With opposition to what is happening now reduced to the ineffective concentration of time and effort on inanimate cultural objects from the past as an ersatz proxy for holding the present contemporary manifestation of the heirs of Colston, Rhodes, Baden Powell et al and the system which continues those past crimes to account.
Who is next in this self-indulgent approach (whether it’s Darwin or someone who only ten years ago was considered a radical) is not so much the key question as what is next as even evidence based objective inquiry and judgement, along with the scientific method and similar products of Enlightenment thinking, are denounced as the enemy of the ego-driven puerility of the dead end that is post-modernist identity politics.
They’ll be marching on Highgate Cemetery to tear down Marx’s statue before the end of the year, on the present trajectory.
The sidelining of class issues and analysis in favour of a smorgasbord of atomised and divided individualised interests represented by identity politics is probably the most effective exercise of narrative control we have witnessed.
Its why we no longer have any due process worth a spit, as corporate elites (who no longer need to make a profit because the Central Banks have their backs with the Magic Money Tree printing presses of QE) line up to endorse this weeks flavour of the day, cannot believe their good fortune in managing the narrative to this degree of success.
I want to dedicate a post to this, Dave. On the one hand I question the authenticity of “protests” which – for now, and on this side of the Atlantic – appear to have the blessing of HM the Q and most of the Tory Cabinet. On the other, sectarian sneering at the naivety (and at times smugness) of identity politics repels me. Shouldn’t those of us genuinely seeking change be joining the protestors and, from a position of common cause, be having the deeper arguments Galloway hints at?
Johnstone makes some decent points, and ones that I have read made many dozens of times. There are though areas where she cannot go herself : certain subjects which are avoided, or, if brought up at all, produce a change of tone to one that is dismissive or denunciatory.
You (Philip) mention a definition of the ruling class as the owners of the means of production. When I started to read about money and the money system some years back, I encountered a whole other set of critiques of capitalism which are largely ignored (or are considered taboo) by most on the Left. The portion of the ruling class who create credit, and through that, can greatly influence the shape and pace of a national economy are seen by some as somewhat separate and arguably more significant than the owners of factories and mines when considering the system as a whole. I think it fair to say that many ordinary folk understand that even though a company like Ford are paying their workers too little and the bosses/shareholders too much, at least they are producing something tangible and useful; whereas they view bankers and money masters are merely pulling tricks. If considered politically, and not just technocratically, then there are questions which beckon to most who study the subject of money in earnest : Who comprises the ‘money power’, what are their objectives (besides getting rich) and how and from where did they emerge into Western society?
Besides her focus on narrative control and media distortion, Caitlin also has written of ‘deep events’ (or SCADs). She tends though to steer away from the details on these matters too. I think it can be a very instructive area when one gets down to asking who exactly are the logical suspects in a crime like 9/11 or the assassinations of the 60s (and I don’t mean a generic or collective suspect like ‘the CIA’ or the ‘military industrial complex’, but actual individuals) ?
It feels like in recent years I have strayed from certain confines of acceptable ‘Left discourse’ into areas which call out for more detailed consideration : the media (or more widely, narrative control through ownership and control of news media but also cultural production, social media and publishing), the deep state (widened to include the various secretive groups which surround state intelligence agencies) , and the money/ banking system. There are clearly a lot of overlaps between these groups.
If we are pondering the decline of universalist class politics and the triumph of identity politics on the Left, we might want to refer back to these three areas above mentioned. Discomforting but revealing in my opinion. Caitlin is a bit superficial, maybe ?
“We will take whatever measures are necessary both to destroy this world as quickly as possible & to create the world we want” -extract from a handbook given out by armed leaders at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle yesterday.
Thanks Crank. It’s not for me to defend Caitlin – she can do that ably herself – but I’d baulk at calling her superficial. It takes all sorts to make a revolution (however we define that) and what she does, she does superbly. I myself, a retiree, devote thousands of hours each year to this blogsite but Caitlin leaves me in the dust. She posts day in, day out, and with great panache reaches out to people not necessarily predisposed to radical critiques of our rotten society. She does so through a rare ability to frame complex ideas – any ideas counter to dominant narratives seem complex – in simple, vibrant but not showy language. I see her as an unusually gifted polemicist, a warrior for truth: a necessary but not sufficient condition – which of us could claim that for ourselves? – for revolutionary change
This post is about one thing only: the need of a capitalist ruling class to disguise its rule beneath a cloak of democracy. That obligation is imposed by two core factors. One is capitalism’s historic need for a “free” proletariat – not least in the sense of not being bound by feudal or slave ties which debar it from selling its labour power. The other is that it is cheaper to rule by consent than by naked force. Both factors can in extremis be put on hold: as when capitalism’s crises call for strong measures, like fascism. But these are by their nature temporary. Even Franco only managed forty years.
Hence Caitlin’s repeated reference to the narrative managers. In keeping with her aim of shining a light on the extent of capitalist media propaganda, I used a term she rarely uses: ruling class. Since I try to reach folk who doubt we even have a ruling class, and find the term either offensive or ridiculous, I (a) ration my use of it and (b) offer a simple but I hope not simplistic definition. I believe it sufficiently robust to apply to any form of class rule – slavery, land based feudalism, water based Asiatic, capitalist. In all cases a ruling class is defined primarily by its monopoly ownership of something essential to wealth creation.
If I understand you right – and if I don’t, do please forgive and correct me – you believe capitalism has given way to some new form of exploitation, and that the turning point has been the bewildering complexity of its current, highly financialised forms. I do not.
I see monopoly as the logical outcome of capitalism’s need to drive down costs, and financialisation and imperialism as the logical outcomes of monopoly capital. Since these things would not preclude capitalism having outgrown itself, and morphed into something qualitatively different, let me add that I remain unconvinced by those who argue that such a transformation has already occurred.
(Any ruling class has a twofold problem. Not only must it appropriate surplus wealth from those it rules. It must also safeguard that surplus. Under feudalism, lands and castles had to be protected. Capitalism’s surplus values must likewise be held safe. But surplus wealth is now extracted at point of rather than after production. Before they can be realised as profit, those values must be valorised in reified markets. What’s more, in an imperialised and financialised world whose rentier and industrial wings of capital often clash, especially in the climates – laissez faire … anti-dirigiste – of Britain and USA, those values are leveraged and redistributed in a dizzying array of exchanges, and still more dizzying array of ‘financial products’ whose inner workings not even the self acclaimed masters of the universe understood.)
But I’m no expert. In any case this opens up a line of inquiry far removed from the thrust of this post. As you know, I recently made a foray or two into guest posts. I’d certainly look with interest at an above the line submission from you along the lines you open up here.
I am pleased that you enjoy the writing of Caitlin so much, as indeed I once did myself. She is a good writer, that cannot be taken away from her. I do though disagree that she can ‘defend’ her position on certain matters. That was my point: if someone makes narrative control the central thesis of their political analysis, then how they themselves respond to ALL narratives becomes significant. If certain (official) narratives are considered sacrosanct, or are dismissed without giving a good reason, then media critics can stand accused (rightly in my opinion) of selective bias and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, I have seen this tendency more and more in Caitlin’s writing (especially on social media) as more readers -like me I presume – ask for deeper analysis into how this world actually works. [A good example of this has been her response to the coronavirus narrative].
Fair enough if one regards a writer like Johnstone as a good gateway into questioning mainstream narratives presented in state-corporate media and coming from the political class as a kind of tag team of bullshit- I have linked her work to many people in correspondances. But like Dave (above) I am trying to comprehend the moment we live in now, the ‘New Normal’ where a US Embassy hangs ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners over its windows and Spongebob Squarepants comes out as gay for pride month, where every logo of the capitalist-liberal-state edifice has a rainbow motif, where whole industries are being left to die and others created with no limits to the support coming from the financiers. Caitlin Johnstone is not someone I think is helping me or others in understanding this, because I think she is ‘selectively honest’.
You mention ‘ommission and commission’. Monetary campaigners forced (back in 2014 ?) the UK parliament to debate the money and banking system for the first time in 140 years. If that is not ana example of censorship be ommission then I don’t know what is.
I am honoured that you invite contributions above the line Philip. If I can get access to my books for reference I might take you up on that, but circumstances are complicated at the moment. I would write about the response on the Left to monetary reform proposals in the early decades on the 20th century (eg the Social Credit movement).
Yes I have noticed the general avoidance of class in OffG threads. So much so that when I use the expression “ruling class” I feel that I am bound to cause friction – and sure enough, in a recent exchange someone took offence at this term and ended up saying this:
“I’m done with this ruling class shit. I’m getting a boat and rowing to Russia.”
Thus displaying a view of the world that seems to have got stuck back in the Cold War. Many among us still seem to be dominated by that comfortable “middle of the road” view of politics that has been a cover for capitalism in the West for most of our lives but which is now irrelevant – if it ever was relevant.
It’s worse below the line at the Guardian. I now comment about once every three years but used to be a regular there. The slightest hint of dissent from the cartoonish depiction of Putin as an evil-for-evil’s sake despot who – unlike the good ‘ol US of A – invades other countries at the drop of a hat, would be met with a chorus of comments along the lines of:
Where to start with such inanity? The stupidly cynical use of a laudable term of address? The loutishly ahistoric disregard for the USSR having fallen? The sublime irony of brainwashed minds so far gone as to lay that very charge at the door of those who’ve been paying rather more attention to the exploits of “our” lovely democracies in the West?
Or heed the words of Proverbs 26:4:5 and refrain from arguing with fools, lest we be taken for fools ourselves?
The Guardian’s record on Syria, Corbyn and Assange is also dismal, not to mention giving credence and exposure to Luke Harding – a mouthpiece for spookery, the loathsome one man band who calls himself the ‘Syrian Research Group’ or some such thing, and the ‘White Helmets’ – a jihadi front organisation.
Although the Guardian trumpets itself as not being owned by a foreign millionaire its board is made up from a bunch of establishment types who benefit only from things staying as they are.
Should that not suffice to keep dissent within the Overton Window, there’s the market discipline I spoke of. And where this too is insufficient, on issues non negotiable for our rulers – such as the freedom to wage war (including sanctions and other covert but still lethal hostilities) on whomever it pleases Washington, direct interference comes into play.
Control of information is vital to class rule.
If I understand you right – and if I don’t, do please forgive and correct me – you believe capitalism has given way to some new form of exploitation, and that the turning point has been the bewildering complexity of its current, highly financialised forms.
Forgiven but also in need of correction. As stated on a recent thread here, I agree with several monetary historians and theorists that capitalism was born out of, and is shaped by, the financial architecture at its core. Double entry book keeping. Central banks lending money to sovereign governments. Stock and bond markets…
I don’t think that finance capitalism is the consequence of a long process of monopolisation, but rather that the process of state sanctioned monopolisation (of non financial corporations as well as financial ones) is a consequence of a capitalist system that is founded on usury and privatised money creation.
Many historical movements and thinkers have understood this, yet public ignorance is remarkable – and to ask the question ‘why?’ leads one on a journey the travelling of which is part of the answer.
I’ll leave it there, although I might pre-empt your piece about BLM/Antifa by asking if you think they are getting a ‘pass’ from the corporate state powers ? and if so, why? Why are websites like the WSWS reporting the events in America in such a skewed way:
Peaceful marches have continued in Seattle, where thousands silently marched in the rain throughout the day and into the evening on Friday. In south Florida, thousands marched through downtown Miami and down Interstate 95 before being ordered to disperse by riot police.
In Minneapolis, the site of George Floyd’s murder, at least 2,000 marched to the home of Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, and demanded his resignation.
Throughout rural America, youth and workers continue to gather at intersections holding up signs in solidarity with the anti-racism and anti-police violence protest movement. More demonstrations, sit-ins and rallies are scheduled to be held across the country today.
Why no mention of the CHAZ where several city blocks are occuped by armed radicals who have vandalised the whole area, make demands ?
Why no mention of the mass arson, arbitrary beatings of those caught in the mob violence, widespread looting and increasingly seen graffitti, flyers and posters calling for race killings of ‘white people’ ?
These things are widely reported which leaves my trust in WSWS badly damaged.
You don’t sound as if you are coming from any kind of radical or ‘left’ viewpoint there. Bit vulgar of these ‘armed radicals’ to ‘vandalise’ and make ‘demands’, you probably think. And the effrontery of black people to call for the ‘killing of white people’ Not that I’ve seen any examples of these posters. Perhaps you could point the way to some of them, along with proof of all the other allegations you make. You will of course be aware that US government agencies have a long history of false flags and ‘agents provocateurs’. Where does your evident certainty come from?
And in any case, do you really imagine that progress in altering the US state’s commitment to brutalising its black and poor white citizens can be made by asking nicely? It hasn’t worked so far, although it has been tried again and again. In the light of your comment, I imagine that your trust in WSWS was pretty shallow in the first place.
Thanks John. I respect the work WSWS are doing tirelessly.
As for Caitlin Johnstone, I’ve heard too much patronising put-down from people not fit to tie her shoelaces.
In solidarity, Philip
Not fit to tie her shoelaces?
Bye Philip. Next time I’ll remember to lick the boot.
My bad. I should have put this more carefully. My barb about shoelace tying is not aimed at crank. I do not know crank, who may well – though we differ on important matters – be a real stakhanovote for truth. But Caitlin has been subject to attacks from people I do know something about. Nuff said.
On the other hand that allusion to ‘patronising’ is directed (among others) at crank, on ground of the condescending tone of:
John, I think it is important we do not get siloed in times like these. This person’s views are important. A professor from Berkeley writes:
FYI I have participated in several occupations of public space, but never had anything to do with open calls for violence, nor ever excused such. People on the Left should read widely and consider their sense of solidarity with a movement that appears to be condoned by the corporate establishment.
Those words of yours I quoted – they sound just like the sort of thing I would expect Trump or Johnston to come out with – so yours cannot be a ‘leftist’ viewpoint. And I notice no attempt to defend your accusations. I think we know whose boot you are licking.
The link you gave – it’s so full of straw men that it could pass for a harvest field. Bogus all the way through. If that’s where you’re coming from, I’m not interested.
You cannot actually formulate any argument against any of what was in that letter though can you ?
All you have is put downs (“you sound like…”), binary ‘them and us’ thinking and the enforcement of your preferred orthodoxy. The mark of intellectual authenticity is the ability and willingness to challenge one’s own thinking, or at least engage with others’ arguments. I am not picking up that vibe here.
I don’t lick anyone’s boot, that is the point. You on the other hand, come accross as a ‘boot wearer’.
crank, I’ve taken the liberty of tweaking your comment so the Berkeley prof link, now embedded in the text, opens a new window rather than leaving this page.
Actually I agree with much of what “tracy beanz” says. Black people are disproportionately represented in the (in)justice system because they are disproportionately poor. America’s “white trash” suffer the same, and for the same reasons. They are poor and disempowered. OJ Simpson fared better.
Related but different, in a recent post on which you also commented, I wrote:
In my first comment on this post, my top of thread reply to Dave Hansell’s comment, I allude – too obliquely I fear – to a century old dilemma for the left. How to respond to real but insufficiently focused anger? It applied in Lenin’s dispute with Rosa Luxemberg on the right of nations to self determination, and to socialist responses to women’s liberation, to nationalism – from Ba’athism to the Provisional IRA – and to resistance to the racism so essential to colonialism, slavery and the ethnic genocide on which the USA (and in their different and ongoing ways, the West at large) are premised.
In matters of identity politics, the test for the Left – one it usually fails – is to avoid two mirror opposite errors. On the one hand an easy opportunism, embracing uncritically each “cause” while maintaining a tactical silence – aka “playing a long game” – about the drivers of oppression: drivers which tie it to exploitation.
(Here’s a parallel to the killing of George Floyd, whose skin colour, I agree, was at most a small part of why he died. The victims of imperialism’s wars on the global south are also disproportionately brown skinned – and, only slightly less obvious, female – but they are droned and bombed (not least by a black president and female Secretary of State) not to advance racist or sexist goals. Their suffering arises from the nature of imperialism as defined in a footnote above. Ours is a racist world but white bigotry, subjective and conscious, is the least of it – not, I hasten to add, that this makes it any less ugly when it is so nakedly present in much of a savagely dysfunctional America. The problem is more deep rooted, more systemic and inseparable from class rule. And there can be no doubting the irony – I’m being kind here! – of affluent Westerners virtue-signalling their non racism while enjoying all the fruits of its ongoing drivers. But as the man said, let he that is without guilt cast the first stone. We’re all of us prone to adopting the moral high ground. Wait for the right motivation and we’ll wait for ever. A more objective question, I’ll hazard, is this: carps and cavils and genuine criticisms momentarily aside, how shall we align ourselves, given the reality of these protests? The left had valid criticisms of IRA, USSR and much besides but when push came to shove it had to decide which way to bend the stick. The sad truth is not only that many sided in effect with imperialism, but that they still do – in Syria.)
Which leads me to the opposite of opportunism; a sectarianism which sneers at the lack of focus and ideological “impurity” of movements steeped as they of course are in illusion. (In truth, opportunism and sectarianism are but two sides of the same coin: mistrust of the masses.) Opposition to feminism, though couched in terms of high theory, too often shielded sexism and misogyny. Similarly, British left groups condemning Irish Nationalism’s armed struggle could lecture all day, with good reasons as well as bad, on the flaws of terrorism but in reality theirs was a capitulation to demonising narratives on the nature of the Six Counties: at once a colonialist and imperialist issue. One giveaway being a very different response to ANC terrorism safely distant – and not bombing the British mainland!
And as with the IRA, “left” and “libertarian” gibes at BLM too often lecture from their collective armchair at those whose anger is real and white hot. I think John MacKinnon has in his own way made this point. Protest seldom comes in the forms we, whom history has granted the space and leisure to mull on such matters, would ideally like. It will always, I’m afraid, be raw and mongrel. And it will always come rich in opportunity for criminal elements themselves products of a rotten world. Wait for the right protest and we’ll wait for ever.
We need responses far more nuanced than either the opportunism or the sectarianism sketched out here. And they need to be articulated, in an ongoing dialectic, in solidarity with the struggles we now see as America burns, and as Britain and other imperialist countries produce their own, inevitably flawed, versions.
This incidentally is why so many economies – above all China, as yet unable to absorb its surplus at home – recycle their surpluses through US debt. Hence the love-hate relationship with what Valery Giscard d’Estaing called America’s exorbitant privilege. The creditor nations loathe the dollar for its unnatural strength – buoyed up artificially by Bretton Woods + Nixon’s decoupling from gold + the petrodollar system – yet fear its weakening.
One of several drivers of the current demonising of China is fear that it and other BRIC economies are finally serious about cutting their losses and trading oil in a gold backed currency, with the renminbi the likeliest candidate. Another is that as China’s internal consumer base grows, it will depend less on recycling its surpluses through US bonds.
The latest article at OffG seems very interesting to me since it goes into detail about the police officers involved with reference to their employment history and general background.
One part that stood out to me, and perhaps veering off topic, is this bit:
One way this manifests is in encouraging a knee jerk reaction of anger which, once done, is very difficult to undo as comments have the nasty habit of staying in place even when you come to regret them. And I have no doubt that there will be troll teams whose entire purpose is to disrupt discussion. And at the risk of being too grand, I wonder if a whole new type of human interaction has been created in which the lack of visibility creates a kind of constant disembodied tension and where actual physical engagement will come to seem increasingly remote
Your last paragraph is not at all grand. It is perceptive and profound. As is the passage you quote in the previous paragraph. Thanks.
On condescending tones, none meant. I was sincere in that sentiment that whilst I think I am right in what I believe to be true (as we all do), I am prepared to be shown to be wrong. If I say that I am happy that someone finds meaning and completion in another’s writings then that is genuine. I used to in Caitlin’s writings, that is the truth.
I struggle with any writer or thinker who is not open to discussion and exploration, any who revert to the too much seen strategies of obfuscation, denial, othering, negation or concealment. Social media make all these kinds of responses all too easy. Sad to say, I would claim that I have witnessed this kind of thing from people I once admired- Caitlin being one of them. When I brought this up here, rather than explore any of those instances, what I got back was an expression of solidarity with those critiqued.
Political discussion is marred (generally) by sectarianism and tribalism. I raised another perspective on this thread and was immediately ‘othered’ as a suspect nonLefty by John, with the implication that my views are a priori less worthy. You expressed solidarity with John. I wouldn’t say those comments enabled any exploration of, say, whether WSWS or Caitlin Johnstone’s writing has presented any kind of complete, accurate, balanced, nuanced or elucidating picture of the Covid scenario or the BLM / Antifa/ CHAZ phenomena. It just drew lines of allegiance.
I think we live in times of inversion. The ‘Left’, (as far as my understanding of it goes) has increasingly thrown its politcal weight behind a cultural revolution whilst loosing ground on the front of economic redress – a process that has continued throughout the years of my life time. Am I allowed to explore the thought (here) that the moment we live in now is not in truth one of ‘opportunism’ of capital (or capitalist states) in publicly aligning with an organic expression of anger, but that the cultural values that capital seek to see widespread in Western society are in truth aligned with those of the movement that we see ? Is the notion of ‘woke capital’ a self contradiction ? Is it any more of a contradiction than canonising a man who caused a lot of harm to those around him? As the letter asks, Are we allowed to attribute any degree of agency to those in the middle of this issue?
I fall back on principles. If someone says, “all lives matter” nowadays, it is taken as a dog whistle statement of white supremacism. The truth is that I do actually genuinely believe all lives matter. I am a universalist. If people are not true to their principles (because of ‘optics’) then they are leaving themselves open to manipulation. I say this of Caitlin Johnstone’s volumous writing about the centrality of narrative and narrative control, which abandons (in my opinion) its principles at certain key junctures. I say it of many of the woke young activists who want a less racist society, but are not calling for fairness, truth and reconcilliation but for demonisation and violence.
Thanks for the concilliatory comments, and apologies for coming across as patronising. I worry that political camps are not even talking to each other at the moment, which will lead to a very bad place. I am reading widely and attempting to consider every opinion as one coming from a human being trying to make sense of the world.
Thanks crank. In this context George McI’s comment, just above yours, is apposite. I do not hold myself immune to the vices I castigate. At times I put two and two together to get five.
I am not a universalist – in fact I wrote on this in the context of Syria – but respect need not be conditional on agreement. (If only life were simple!) My initial target there was George Monbiot, whom I find excellent – and I get stick for this, especially over at OffGuardian – on linking environmental trashing to big money. Similarly, I have good friends who vote tory – we just stay away from politics! – while one or two whose word views I share are among the most mean spirited, small-minded and cold-hearted types I ever had the misfortune to cross paths with.
On Caitlin, I may have misread you. I do not share the certainty of many OffGuardian readers that Covid-19 is massively overstated. (I’ve been attacked from both sides on this, but more abusively by ‘libertarians’.) But even if I did, I would not convert that certainty into an attack on a person who does far more than most, self included, to shine a light on empire devilry. I’ve seen a similar reductionism in respect of 9/11. I hear ‘truthers’ proclaim proudly that this is their acid test of another’s fitness to be heard. It seems beyond them that, regardless of whether or not 9/11 was a false flag – and there are too many unanswered questions to discount that – a person may simply be wrong on the issue but genuinely so and, equally important, right on so much else that counts.
Do you follow Jan Oberg of the Trans Peace Foundation? Excellent photographer, btw, and unlike me a pacifist. He writes on Syria and other aspects of imperialism’s threat – not that I’ve heard him use the i-word, which is fine by me. Asked why he doesn’t “come out” and declare 9/11 a false flag, he replied: “I only write about things I know. I’ve been doing that for forty years.”
Do we ask too much of those who are already giving far more than most of us?
On the issue of “acid tests” re: the “reliability” of a commenter, it’s a complex issue. And I would never attempt to provide a “guide to who to trust” – indeed I think that one acid test I would tentatively suggest is not to trust anyone who would provide such a guide!
You can find helpful views anywhere. And I think this is emphasised by what I am certain is a very clever programme of information management whereby very solid views can sometimes come from sources that are portrayed as (and indeed often are) extremely unreliable generally. There is probably a name for this kind of device – “honeypot” perhaps i.e. something that is intended to smear the truth through guilt by association with other material.
You also have to bear in mind societal influences. To choose a relatively “safe” topic – due to its familiarity and age: Bob Dylan came out with a song recently that pretty much sums up the Kennedy assassination as a conspiracy. This led predictably to a mainstream response that completely overlooks the controversy. When Dylan equally predictably remined neutral on the topic in interviews, there were denunciations of cowardice from a depressingly vocal OffG presence that think Dylan should have made himself uncompromisingly clear. As if the complainers would have done so! It doesn’t occur to them to ask what would have been the inevitable outcome of such “bravery” i.e. that yet another celebrity would be rejected as someone who “lost it” to the “conspiracy bug”.
Such considerations also apply – though even more so – to 9/11. If it was an “inside job” or even if the US govt had a hand in it, then it is ludicrously obvious that they will never admit to it. And yet one of the “truthers”, David Ray Griffin, has demanded some kind of independent international enquiry. From where?
Freewheeling Bob’s been getting it in the neck for close to sixty years for ‘political evasiveness’ or worse. I’m reminded of the tale of Lenin visiting a college not long after the “civil war” had ended.
“And what do you read”, he asked the students. “Do you read Proust?”
“Oh no”, they chorused. “Proust is a bourgeois. We read … [name escapes me but it was some ideologically pure revolutionary] …”
Lenin smiled. “Proust is better”.
I have been a huge Dylan fan since my mid-teens. And if there is any figure that sums up the uselessness of a reductive view – it’s him. His intelligence and, to use that overused word, genius have rested on a deeply perceptive sensibly that was always attuned to the possibilities around him – or, the lack thereof. And he managed to give us the most politically astute songs by a tangential “poetic” language (which of course was always denounced by his more explicit followers). I personally think that his greatest political song is “Desolation Row” where he envisions Western society as a non-stop carnival where everyone is encouraged to watch. Sinister figures patrol the periphery to ensure no-one wanders off too far. Those who do are “dealt with” (“the heart attack machine”).
Of course, there is more than that to him: the songs about the complexities of sexual relationships, the ever-present religious fixation etc. But even concerning religion, his view was always complex (consider the creepy spiritual malaise of the “John Wesley Harding” album).
But I should stop there before descending into blathering fandom mode.
Yes. Intelligence, very high in his case, is a better word than the overused ‘genius’. Especially when aligned with unusual articulacy as, his songs apart, his Nobel acceptance speech – linked in my essay on him – attests.
Another thing about Dylan is that I think he’s the only one who went about releasing previously unavailable tracks the right way i.e. not by sticking a few on the end of old albums but by putting the outtake stuff on a completely separate series. But then Dylan is one of the few (he may even be the only one) whose shelved tracks merit – or even demand – release. It seems that, at every part of his career, the stuff he left off was as good as – if not better than – the stuff he kept on. Back in the 60s, he was rejecting tracks that others would have built entire albums on. “Farewell Angelina”, “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, “Only a Hobo”, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” etc. Consider the later rejects: “Blind Willie McTell”, “Dignity”, “Series of Dreams” etc. (And according to some, even the versions now released aren’t the best that are still festering in the vaults!)