God’s warriors: America’s Christian Right

13 Nov

My previous post, Critical thinking on US electoral fraud, generated interesting and informed below the line commentary. The thrust of that post was to question the basis on which so many liberals show visceral resistance, at times bordering on hysteria, to any suggestion that Trump might – and I do stress, might – have good reason to assert voter fraud.

I’m sorry your election results are being disputed as fraudulent, America. Have you tried not having the single worst electoral system in the western world? (Caitlin Johnstone)

The very first comment took the discussion in a different but valid direction. It posed the spectre of fascist militias pouring onto Elm Street America to keep Trump in office after January 20. Me, I see no mass socialist movement in America, hence zero incentive for its ruling class to back a fascism which, for the same reason, has no mass appeal. Without such backing the prospects of a far right movement seizing power strike me as vanishingly slim.

On this I could be wrong, in which case I’ll have bigger worries than egg on my face. And even if my assessment is sound for now, things may shift rapidly given Asia’s challenge and a US elite divided on how to respond. On the one hand Trump (a loose cannon of broadly neocon instinct) was never going to “bring US jobs home” when globalised capital-labour relations, and Wall St need to maximise profits, dictate that wealth be produced wherever it is cheapest to do so.

On the other, the (mainly) neoliberal Democrats leading their party – their grip cemented by new lows in the DNC’s long history of dirty doings – have no answer either to China’s rise, or to falling living standards for ordinary Americans while wealth levels soar for the rich.

Which is to say, neoliberalism will not be able to thwart a fast gathering challenge to the dollar hegemony on which globalisation in its current form is premised. Hence my leaving room for the possibility of an angry America embracing more dangerous remedies, touted by forces not necessarily fascist but more authoritarian than anything yet seen.

As I said in a comment below my own post, I see that danger as less likely to arise in the run up to January 20 than in:

… four or eight years time when, right wing Dems having failed to solve the deepening structural problems of US capitalism, a new authoritarian presents him or herself. One with a solid and highly focused power base and an agenda far clearer than Trump’s.

God knows, I’ve given George Monbiot a few kickings on this site but, credit where it’s due, he grasps this truth in a surprisingly good piece in yesterday’s Graun

Materialist analyses are all well and good. More than that, their explanatory power knocks into a cocked hat the idealist prism through which mainstream comment of conservative and more especially liberal stripe views the world. But no materialist, let alone a dialectical one, should overlook the power of subjective factors to shape our history.

Yes, a post 1945 – more precisely, post 1990 – world order is slipping away from Washington and Wall Street. That is the overarching context for pretty much everything, and failure to grasp this renders almost all mainstream political commentary half baked at best. But this essentially materialist assessment must not blind us to the fact that the most realistic contenders in sight, for an extreme right resurgence, include those now gathering in the Name of the Lord under the combined banners of American Exceptionalism and Christian fundamentalism.

America remains the world’s superpower. It has 800 military bases in virtually every part of the globe, more than all other nations combined. At $729.5 billion in 2019, its arms-spend exceeds that of the next ten players put together. It invades, subverts and uses proxy forces at will; its doctrine of Exceptionalism finding its purest expression in neocon demands for Full Spectrum Dominance. The only country ever to have used nuclear weapons, when there was no military need to do so, its ruling class certainly has its fault-lines, most visibly that between neoliberal market globalists and neocon hard-ass enforcers. But the most important of these fault-lines are reducible to quarrels – vitriolic, to be sure – over who has the best plan for preserving US supremacy.

(A spat which does not map neatly – witness Biden’s likely team – onto Democrat v GOP.)

Among the neocons we find an egregiously hawkish grouping, the Christian Right. Of which a comment below this post, made before this and the next two paragraphs were added, says:

 Chris Hedges [himself a Presbyterian minister] makes some valuable observations. They are an important component of the extreme right in the USA, fervently patriotic, socially reactionary, Zionist, stridently anti-socialist, anti-science and with an unhealthy longing for the end times. A large constituency in a nation where 20 – 30% believe in creationism, they have played an important role in filling the ideological vacuum of Trump’s buffoonish egoism. They are not fascist for the most part but provide a fertile soil.

Consider these observations alongside those made four paragraphs above – America remains the world’s superpower … For why I’m less fearful of what Trump and Co might do in January ’21, than of what may unfold in ’25 or ’29 – Biden-Harris having failed to come through for blue and white collar Americans – try this from one of that Christian Right’s most forceful gurus.

On November 10, Mike (“we-lied-we-cheated-we-stole”) Pompeo – Sunday School teacher turned CIA Director turned Secretary of State – gave a speech to the Ronald Reagan Institute. Entitled, The Promise of America, video excerpts and full transcript can be found here.

Meanwhile I’ll just cherry pick and make ascerbic asides.

Ronald Reagan … believed in the promise of America and of our people. He understood that no other nation, under God, was conceived in liberty quite like the one that we are.

Reagan understood very little. It’s not every day I quote Mrs Thatcher with approval but here I’ll make an exception. Returning from her first visit to Washington after Reagan’s 1980 denial of a second term for Carter, she told future Foreign Secretary Hurd – index finger tapping temple to underscore the point – that “when you look into his eyes, Douglas, there’s nothing there!”

And that nation “under God [and] conceived in liberty” was founded on ethnic genocide and the horrors, first of those men and women stolen from Africa by Europe’s own ruling classes, then of the millions more who, born into slavery, lived out their entire lives knowing nothing else.

[Reagan] was confident … and I am, too.  We have many threats today that remain. But I am equally confident that America will overcome any challenge, from Communist China to the terrorist regime in Tehran. Because that’s what free people do.  We come together; we solve problems; we win, they lose; and we execute our foreign policy confident that we are that shining city on a hill.

We win. They lose. Is that from the Sermon on the Mount?

I must say, as I travel, you don’t see individual families trying to migrate to Iran, or to Russia, or to Venezuela.  Those countries offer abuse, not the opportunities that free nations can afford peoples.

Trump was blunter with his “shit-hole countries” but I’ve heard nicer chaps than Mike Pompeo voice the same demented logic. I liken it to the local bully – his thefts, extortions and power to ostracise resistance making his house the richest in the ‘hood – insisting he’s Virtue Incarnate, the sweetest guy in town. His proof? Everybody wants to hang out at his place, where, once in a while – provided they suck it up on all the other stuff – they get to sink a few beers with The Man and play the latest video games; way beyond the reach of their own threadbare pockets.

And by just simply recognizing Jerusalem – candidly recognizing Jerusalem – as the capital of Israel and acknowledging that the Golan Heights are part of Israel, we’ve helped secure our ally, the Jewish state, as central to the region’s future.

No comment. Absolutely no fucking comment.

… United States-China relations will not be dictated by exceptions carved out by the party, but by the simple and powerful standards expected of any nation with aspirations to play a role on the global stage.

That means what we’ve told our counterparts in China – accountability, transparency, reciprocity from Beijing. This is exactly what President Reagan demanded from Moscow.

And it also means no more illegal claims in the South China Sea, no more coercion and co-optation of American businesses, no more consulates used as dens of spies, no more stealing of intellectual property, and no more ignoring fundamental human rights violations.  And the party’s atrocities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere will not be tolerated.

Because the USA leads the world on human rights.

May God bless the United States of America.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

Here again is the full text. Watch this man. He and those around him are laying down serious markers for when the hour cometh for God’s Warriors to rescue His Most Favoured Nation from the mess Biden and his successors will assuredly have made. Maintaining capitalism, under the stark circumstances sketched out in this and other posts, is compatible with no other outcome.

In the meantime Pompeo is doing his bit to ensure Biden-Harris don’t deviate from that “pivot to China” begun by Obama and continued by Trump. Not that their own inclinations, evidenced by Harris’s hawkish utterances and a lifetime of Biden warmongering, could ever take them any place else.

So far nuclear weapons, and nothing but, have kept us from the WW3 to which all other signs – social, political and economic – have for years pointed. Maybe our luck will continue to hold. Maybe the lunatics won’t trigger it deliberately or by miscalculation or, through one round too many of play-chicken, a mix of the two. But even if our luck does hold, I see trouble ahead.

* * *

25 Replies to “God’s warriors: America’s Christian Right

  1. Monbiot talks about the need for a “left” populism to counter this. Yet the dominant current on the “left” is not geared up to attempt never mind take on such a task. On both sides of the Atlantic what passes for the “left” is trapped in the dead end of identity politics and posturing in an ever increasing lunacy of purity spirals

    This is going to a whole new level in the US via initiatives such as the “Trump Accountability Project” which, on the evidence of past precedent, is odds on to expand its mission aim of “cancelling” (in this context: preventing its targets from ever having employment or having a roof over their heads ever again) those who worked for, supported and made donations to the Trump Presidency beyond the initial targets to encompass everyone who voted for Trump.

    All 70 million of them.

    And as everything across what passes for the political spectrum in the US is slavishly copied over here it should not be too long before the dominant Identity Left in the UK – whether in the Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP and Green Party (not forgetting the smaller wannabee’s) – continue the long alienation of their support base amongst the majority working class by attempting the same pogrom style approach to voters who abandoned them in the “Red Wall seats.

    Driving the voter base required for a left populism further into the arms of the right and competent Trump style authoritarian leaders on both sides of the Atlantic which is described here.

    The Democratic Party abandoned its industrial, unionized family and moved in with its Silicon Valley mistress. It had once believed in collective bargaining. It had once believed that workers were an essential part of a healthy economy and worthy of respect. There was a time when a US president, like Harry Truman, might entertain a labor activist, like Walter Reuther, amiably in the Oval Office. But the Party had fallen hard for its tech darlings and began to dream of a meritocracy based on steadily-increasing knowledge, intelligence, and creativity that would lift us all toward self-realization as we bathed in the restorative glow of our screens. In other words, Democrats put their faith in social vaporware. Old-Economy workers would be “rehabilitated,” language implying that they might be more intellectually challenged than unlucky. “Euthanized” would be a more honest word. The former lower-middle and working classes would listen to two decades of meritocratic cant while their standards of living would fall steadily with no ground floor in sight. They were never a priority…

    …..The candidate Barack Obama spoke to blue-collar America. He campaigned on change that would rejuvenate careers and restore dignity. Working Americans in the swing states doubted that Hillary Clinton even knew they existed. They saw Obama as a last hope and supported him enthusiastically in the 2008 primaries and later in the general election, but he soon proved to be a disappointment. He, too, fell in love with Silicon Valley and Wall Street and neglected the people who needed him most. And they punished him: he won fewer states in 2012 than he had in 2008. People like the alternate me felt cheated by a guy who rocked a Brooks Brothers suit and talked a great game, then gave the Tech and Finance sectors everything they wanted and more. Educated people from the best schools trusted Big Tech outfits because educated people from the best schools ran them. Elites imagine each other to be virtuous because they imagine themselves that way…

    …No one bears greater responsibility for the lack of empathy toward Old-Economy workers that led to Donald Trump’s victory than big-name Tech darlings and the New Democrats who coddled them, then openly ridiculed their own voter base: the people Hillary foolishly nicknamed “Deplorables;” that is, the millions of disappointed Obama voters who would happily have voted blue if they’d had confidence that the party would respect them, welcome them, and acknowledge their needs. But the New Economy is a gated community, shut firmly to them, whose most strenuous boosters have been the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations. Old-school, working-class Democrats are unwelcome in the party they built. No one wants them tracking mud through the salon.

    Whether it’s Trump or Brexit the driver of those lost votes finding “somewhere else to go” has been aided by a “left” preferring, on the one hand, to work with the extreme neo-liberal centrists to manage the decline of the traditional base and the resultant discontent rather than challenge it*;

    and;

    on the other, abandon the hard graft of class politics (and Caitlin Johnson’s poem quoted in the Byron or Shelley piece encapsulates this) in favour of playground level intersectionalist politics which salami slices the majority into ever decreasing ghettos resulting in dividing that majority into warring factions fighting over deliberate incursions into hard fought and long won rights.**

    * The latest in this sad litany can be found in the largely pathetic response to the the tail wagging the dog instruction from LP GS Evans banning by diktat all Party Units from democratic debate on matters that Starmer’s “Central Committee” have deemed democratically off limits.

    Whilst most of the current attention will be on the few on the left who had the balls to treat this with the required level of contempt, like Bristol West CLP – who have had some Officers suspended ( https://skwawkbox.org/2020/11/13/labour-suspends-chair-co-secretary-of-bristol-west-clp-for-pro-corbyn-motion-passed-by-members/ ) – there are many other Party Units and members still operating on the basis of gang membership (the means) being more important than the principle (the ends).

    **The LP is not the only organisation where there is a de facto but undeclared civil war taking place around some of these issues. The SNP are somewhat further along this road as a result of at least a significant part of its membership base being more focused on ends rather than means.

    Though you know your are in trouble as an organisation when a Party Unit run by those who claim to be of the “left” de-platform fellow Party members who represent 51% of the voting population using un-evidenced slanders which, if they were uttered by someone like Trump, would see such language denounced as “fascist.”

    On that specific it does not take more than one brain cell to suss out that the billionaire run Corporate media will pick their moment to use the huge volume of ammunition provided by the strategically incompetent and deluded self styled Identity warriors to remind the majority of registered voters who are being alienated come election time just who it is are alienating them.

    Certainly, the risk of a competent authoritarian on both sides of the Atlantic represents a major concern. However, equal attention needs to be given to the incompetence of a “left” trapped in a zero sum Identity politics which is performing a sterling job of driving huge sections of the populace towards the populist right and which is ill equipped to take on any project to create a populist left to counter that certainty.

    • The piece on Purity Spirals is depressing – almost amusingly so if you’re in the mood – but beautifully written. Highly recommended. Btw, I’ve had an email from an old friend who knows Nathan Taylor, founder of DiversKnitty.

      I never expected to see my friend Nathan feature in your pages! Purity Spirals and Cancel Culture rocked the knitting community last summer (2019) and still reverberates.

      Call me a conspiracy theorist but it seems to me we’d have to be total coincidence theorists to rule out the possibility that our tendency toward purist schism has been exploited to the full by identity politics. (Look at the ‘debate’ over whether biological sex is binary, and the spectacle of otherwise intelligent people cheering when a born-male trans cyclist snatches gold in a women only event.)

      Can we really rule out the possibility – in specific arenas like 9/11 ‘truthism’, the more intelligent critics of lockdown and for that matter Julian Assange supporters – of agents provocateurs and false flaggers stirring it up with preposterous claims made precisely to weaken those movements?

      • It doesn’t matter where you go you’ll always encounter those who kick the arse out of something and bugger everything up for everyone.

        If you consider the basic structural features and processes of the AS issue there is good deal of commonality.

        You have a diverse community of people which become dominated by a single section claiming monopoly rights to (a) speak on behalf of that diversity as though it were a single homogenous community and (b) both define and constrain the narrative and the debate.

        With AS it has become commonplace to see members of the Jewish Community who take a different view and approach not just sidelined but hounded and cancelled as AS, self hating etc. On the evidence of the way in which these processes have played out it is not unreasonable to anticipate the possibility of similar outcomes in regard to the gender/sex rights debate?

        Although perhaps the one area of non-commonality here is the very obvious strategy of that monopolization process refusing point blank to discuss issues, period.

        In that regard there exists a great deal of commonality of approach with the political right who also refuse to “legitimise” any debate or discussion about, in this case, Capitalism. Placing any debate on the subject beyond the pale. As illegitimate and deserving of ever more drastic punishment.

        You’re not the first to observe that this phenomena probably originated on the political right. I recall my first thought after a long period of study, analysis and observation was 4-chan and gamergate, with the right suckering the guillible and younger up and coming “left” into the purity spiral.

        Unfortunately, you cannot tell many of these “young Turks” anything without what in these parts would once have been referred to as a “mardy” reaction. On the present trajectory and at the current rate of knots I can see this generation totally exterminating the left from the inside.

      • Can we really rule out the possibility – in specific arenas like 9/11 ‘truthism’, the more intelligent critics of lockdown and for that matter Julian Assange supporters – of agents provocateurs and false flaggers stirring it up with preposterous claims made precisely to weaken those movements?

        Well exactly. And I really have no faith in those “fact checking” or “truth guarding” websites that seem to be sprouting up. I think it’s an easy game to play: to dish out the requisite rationalising language as a cover for what is just “truth management”. I think that all disputes should be seen for what they are i.e. interactions between the actual people involved in which all sides have their own interests. The adoption of some “higher court” exercising “objective criteria” is just the most powerful party imposing it’s interests on all others.

        And I have noted that censorship in the West follows a different pattern from the one normally associated with “communist dictatorships”. Someone once noted the difference between East and West propaganda by saying that in the old Soviet Union hardly anything was permitted but every tiny thing was important whereas in the West everything is permitted and nothing is important. And in the latter, there are certainly all sorts of intellectual sabotage going on all the time. One I may have mentioned is when Chris Shayler, ex-intelligence man (?!), made an excellent film cataloguing the “Truther” case for 9/11 and soon after announced himself as the son of god. Nice one. I’ve often wondered about Mr Icke mixing in plausible suspicions with extra-terrestrial lizards.

        So on the one hand, we have the sea of wondrous stories and on the other, the “proper authorities”. Since I have long lost all trust in the latter, I try and steer a path through the former. I know it’s perilous but I feel I have no option. I don’t think there is any substitute for making your own way through the swamp of various points of view whilst trying to bear in mind Marx’s dictum that “nothing human is alien to me” i.e. that all opinions, even the most distorted, must have their origin in the actual world.

        • I hope you’re not implying we aren’t ruled by lizards, George! This site prides itself on tolerance of all views but, really, there are limits …

        • More seriously, I first encountered the term ‘fake news’ in the run up to November 2016. Resisting a FB friend’s claim of HRC as Lesser Evil to DRT, I cited the Libya legacy of ‘No Fly Zones’, and their WW3 potential in Syria. I referred my pal to sources of factual info but she was having none of it. She replied that she’d checked with just such a self-ordained truth checker site, which told her the sites I referred to were purveyors of Fake News. Thus saved from those who would have led her astray, she told me she had no intention of visiting said dens of iniquity.

          (Remember the Fast Show? I thought it brilliant. It once did an entire sketch on how stupid people can ‘win’ arguments because their gob-smacking illogicality – especially when combined with circularity – runs rings around folk armed with nothing more substantial than facts, logic, rationality and accountability.)

          I stayed down in the dumps for at least an hour.

          • I recall a South Park cartoon in which a crooked lawyer won a court case through “The Chewbacca Move” which consisted of one enormous non-sequitur. The Simpsons similarly referred to another dodgy manoeuvre: “Your tears say more than evidence ever could!”

            • South Park! The Simpsons! Like the less successful, but IMO equally intelligent in its sly subversiveness, King of the Hill, they show that truth will out, even in the belly of the beast.

  2. Good to hear that good old word mardy again Dave. On the subject of the Christian right, Chris Hedges makes some valuable observations. They are an important component of the extreme right in the USA, fervently patriotic, socially reactionary, Zionist, stridently anti-socialist, anti-science and with an unhealthy longing for the end times. A large constituency in a nation where 20 – 30% believe in creationism, they have played an important role in filling the ideological vacuum of Trump’s buffoonish egoism. They are not fascist for the most part but provide a fertile soil. Robert Black, in his detailed analysis of ‘Fascism in Germany’, makes the point that the fascist ideology did not spring into the world fully formed:

    The prejudices and distortions which comprised the social outlook of the Nazified petit-bourgeoisie had undoubtedly been accumulated over many generations and propagated through an entire spectrum of political, cultural, religious, philosophic and economic agencies.

    The book is one of the best analyses of fascism and is available on marxists.org

    • Good to hear that good old word mardy again Dave.

      Like me, Dave’s a Sheffield baby boomer, Colin. Rivalled only by the damning charge of being a “dirty dog”, no accusation was more cutting on my patch (the enormous post-war council estate of Parson Cross) than that of being a “mardy bum”. The term hit the big time with an Arctic Monkeys song of that name. Come to think of it, the AMs have yet to feature on this site’s much coveted ‘Tune for the day’ slot. Watch this space …

      … there, fixed it.

      Ta for the plug on Robert Black’s Fascism in Germany. It can be had on Amazon for a cool fifty – plus £2.80 postage. I dare say a few libraries – university or even general public – will have it.

      On the question of fascism not emerging fully formed, I’m no expert but might Franco – his power base firmly in Spain’s formidable, land based Catholic hierarchy (that and the army’s upper echelons) be seen as a hybrid instantiation?

      • To paraphrase Tolstoy, every disintegrating bourgeois democracy decays in its own particular way. However, the evidence doesn’t support the idea that Franco based himself primarily on the Church and landowners. That notion was certainly used by the Stalinists to justify their savage repression of socialist and anarchist workers and their parties.

        Their argument was that unity must be maintained with the bourgeoisie in the interests of defending bourgeois democracy, and therefore the demand for socialism was disruptive and must wait. This idea is still alive and kicking today. As Trotsky pointed out this was a bloc with only the “shadow” of the bourgeoise; the large capitalists, who were often the same people as the landowners, were solidly behind Franco.

        Thanks for the Arctic monkeys. I hadn’t come across them before, and will now seek them out . I come from the Notts/Derbyshire border, where “mardy” was a thing not to be, along with being a “wassock”.

        • … every disintegrating bourgeois democracy decays in its own particular way

          I guess so. And we have to leave room for the possibility, slim though I deem it to be, of America’s going out in a way the ‘rulebook’ hadn’t foreseen. Fixed and finite categories have a way of blinkering our minds to changing landscapes. I’ve noted for a while that WSWS is taking very seriously a fascist takeover by Trump but if this is explained in terms of balance of class forces – as befits a group avowedly building a mass revolutionary party – it’s passed me by.

          … the evidence doesn’t support the idea that Franco based himself primarily on the Church and landowners.

          No? Well I’m no expert. I’m surprised though. What was his power base, other than the army? My Spanish – well, mainly Catalonian – pals saw him as having deep roots in Church and feudal interests. I guess he had support within an emerging bourgeoisie but my sense, impressionistic to be sure, is that the latter would have been a far lesser force than in Germany or even Italy. Got any read recommendations in this regard?

          Could you also talk me through the logic on Stalin? I read Orwell of course, and in any case know that Stalin’s self-serving needs were reflected in Comintern zig-zags (lurching right when he was dealing with the ‘left faction’ around Trotsky; left when he was dealing with the ‘right faction’ around Bukharin). But how did characterising Franco as having his power base in church and land help Stalin crush the anarcho-syndicalists? Not arguing the point, btw – don’t know enough for that. Simply puzzled.

          I live now a ten minute drive from the Notts/Derbyshire border, south-east of DH Lawrence country. Am spotted from time to time in the big Tesco at Long Eaton.

          • I agree Phil. Firm predictions of a presidential coup supported by the military are wrong and disorienting.

            Spanish fascism had its own characteristics. It’s ideology was shaped by veneration of traditional forms of authority, as a result of Spain’s large and backward agricultural sector and the power of the Catholic Church. It’s material basis, though, was thoroughly capitalist. Agriculture was a capitalist enterprise, not a feudal one, and landowners, industrialists and banks were linked financially and personally. One of the best analyses is the contemporary account by Felix Morrow, “Revolution and counter revolution in Spain”, available here.

            Stalinism had by the time of the Spanish Revolution adopted the policy of Popular Fronts with reformists and the bourgeoisie. The seventh congress of the Comintern in 1936 decreed that Spain was undergoing not a socialist revolution but a bourgeois democratic revolution.

            When the workers and peasants seized factories and land the Popular Front parties, with the full support of the Spanish Communist Party, rolled back this revolutionary wave on the grounds that it was splitting the supposed unity of the anti-fascist forces. Like the Mensheviks in 1917 the Stalinists said “this far and no further”. They became defenders of private property and counter revolutionary executioners. Again, Morrow is excellent. See also Trotsky’s 1937 article on “The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning” which ends prophetically:

            The tragic experience of Spain is a terrible – perhaps final – warning before still greater events, a warning addressed to all the advanced workers of the world.

            Its available here as a pdf.

            Long Eaton! I know it well, though Ilkeston was my local town as a child. I moved away long ago but still miss that part of the world.

            • Thanks for the Trotsky and Morrow links. I’ll read the former today, and skim the latter as and when time permits. So much to read!

              Trotsky is not to be idolised. He also got things very wrong. But I see his clarity of vision, instanced by a predictive power surpassing that of his contemporaries, as proof that the methods of dialectical materialism, when not hijacked in crude caricature to serve Stalin’s narrow agendas, remain utterly pertinent. He’s also a cracking writer and, as the man who forged the Red Army under the worst circumstance imaginable, an embodiment of the Great Man thrust onto the world stage by yet another of history’s epic moments.

              Don’t suppose you’ve seen anything good – to the minute or as background – on Ethiopia have you? I’ve friends there and they are suffering.

  3. Information on current events in Ethiopia is hard to come by. I hope your friends are OK. The latest round of ethnic conflict is part of a long series sparked by the military dictatorship which overthrew Haille Selassie in 1974, falsely claiming the mantle of socialism. The WSWS has a recent article on current events. An article by Ken Tarbuck gave some useful background up to 1992. It is available here: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/tarbuck/1993/ethiopia/index.html

    As regards Trotsky, no-one is an idol, but I think his analysis and perspectives still hold true. Best to discuss concrete instances 🙂

  4. I think that the histories and the reputations of old Leon, Orwell and a number of other characters from that age are to this day well guarded and protected by those who have an interest in distorting the history of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the early years of the USSR. The same people (our bourgeoisie) have also been systematically downplaying and suppressing the extremely bloody facts of the failed “Allied War of Intervention” (1918-1925). We’re not supposed to know it even happened. On the other hand, Trotsky’s impressive 3-volume biography, written by a most talented and biased Isaac Deutscher, ended up being “world literature”. Neither old Karl, nor Lenin or Stalin ever had such PR in the west (Deutscher wrote a Stalin biography that was, as one might expect, rather negative). And then there are of course the facts … that on his return to Russia in 1917, Trotsky was detained and interrogated by British Intelligence in Canada and that he never gave a satisfying account of the incident. And that a bit later, in Russia, when he was commissioned to negotiate an instant peace treaty with the German, Habsburg and Ottoman empires in Brest-Litovsk, he deliberately blew it and returned empty-handed. Consequently, the war went on, more people died and Russia lost even more territories, until Lenin had sent more competent negotiators that were loyal to the revolution. There’s a lot more but one has to dig up this stuff as it is not well organized and all over the internet. But there is one more thing I came across only recently. On the occasion of Jacques Chirac’s death in 2019, I read that the ex-president had been the owner of a castle. Being curious, I looked up “Château de Bity” and found that in the 1920s and 1930s the place was owned and lived in by a British Intelligence officer, who invited treacherous old Leon (by then on the run) to stay there. And so he did for almost two years from 1934-1935. Funny, hu?!

    Anyway, I think none of this has much to do with those who today self-identify as “trots”. In the almost 8 decades since old Leon snuffed it, the 4th Int has itself changed beyond recognition. There are precious few workers in any trots organisation. Most of the members are students and other middle-class do-gooders. The upper echelons are firmly occupied by well-off, well-educated, withered personages who don’t have a single revolutionary molecule in their bodies and, if they are genuine and not MI5, their personal political outlook is mostly no more than mildly social-democratic. Still, they love to dazzle their members and audiences with complicated Marxist rhetoric. Inside such organisations things can sometimes turn very ugly. This is Anna Chen’s account of her years in the SWP (UK) …

    A couple of years ago Jeffrey St. Clair wrote an interesting piece – The Merchants of Shame – about the International Socialist Organisation ISO in Chicago, whose aim it is “to get young people involved in something that is going nowhere by design” …

    “The dirty secret about the brain trust that oversees the Socialist Worker is that few of them are socialists and even fewer are working class people or even identify with them. And how could you, really, when you’re the heiress to a cruise-liner fortune or you issue your editorial communiques from a mansion in one of the elite neighborhoods of upscale Evanston, Illinois.”

    … all of which leads us straight to WSWS. They are of course a very impressive operation. The tons of well written original content they publish each day in 20+ languages, the professional presentation and hosting of their website … I’d say that the sheer scale of WSWS rivals that of Reuters’ online presence. So, one really has to ask what is behind all of this? Who finances it? I don’t believe for a moment the 100s of thousands needed each year to run such an operation come from party members or small donations. But since “our bourgeoisie” doesn’t mind written criticism as long as it remains descriptive (Trotsky, Orwell etc.) and never ever ventures into the prescriptive and thus remains inconsequential, is it that far-fetched to suspect that by financing WSWS they can make sure that those they consider “vulnerable” to genuine left politics don’t get exposed to the real thing over at CPGB-ML or at Workers World etc. Every minute you spend on WSWS is one minute less on these sites … or something of that kind. Obviously, I don’t have a shred of evidence for any of this. It’s just a hunch … a hunch informed by decades of experience with just such forms of corruption.

    • Well I have my own criticisms of SWP (and of the WRP from whose ashes SEP – hosts of the WSWS site – arose) so I’m not here to defend them. But it seems to me the absence of any significant blue collar presence in far left sects owes primarily to the fact that Western so called democracies are as yet far removed from experiencing revolutionary upheaval. That leaves their members – regardless of their social class background – as would-be revolutionaries in non revolutionary times.

      I do hold the doctrine of permanent revolution responsible, at least in part, for the trotskyist left’s appalling failure to speak out in defence of the ba’athisms in the middle east against imperialist onslaught. On Syria I see only two viable positions: you defend its lawful government or you in effect side with the profit-driven destruction of this the latest middle eastern state to find itself in the path of Washington and junior partners. Those groups – including my own one time outfit, Workers Power – who cry a plague on both houses are IMO copping out, hiding behind that call for permanent revolution in a way I can’t entirely be sure is cynical or stupid. Both I guess, since the one begets the other.

      Incidentally, and again I stress that I’m not here to defend it, WSWS is the exception to the rule. Alone among the Trotskyist orgs I know of, it has consistently supported – critically but unconditionally – Damascus.

      At the level of individuals, the social class a person is born into tells me little about whether they would be true and honest socialists. No more than Wolf Tone being a Protestant undermines his credibility within the United Irishmen.

      As to the rest, well, as you say – just a hunch. I couldn’t really comment.

    • The heavy irony and evidence free mud slinging disguise some falsifications which demand a brief reply.
      1. The history of the October Revolution was distorted by Stalin, who went so far in his “distortions” as to judicially and extra-judicially murder almost all of the Bolsheviks who made it.
      2. While Stalin carried out this counter revolution he received a great deal of good PR in the West, not only from the purged ranks of official communism, but also from reformists and liberals such as the Webbs. Polite society hated the face of the revolution but warmed to its rear end.
      3. Trotsky was detained in Canada en route from New York to Russia along with 5 Russian comrades at the instigation of MI5, who believed him, correctly, to be a “main leader” of the revolutionary movement and therefore a threat to Russia remaining in the war on the Allied side. There was no secret to this. He was released as a result of pressure from the Provisional Government. The prison camp’s second in command later said “He gave us a lot of trouble at the camp, and if he had stayed there any longer he would have made Communists of all the German prisoners”
      4. You distort the account of the Brest Litovsk negotiations. It is true that Lenin won a vote in the CC to accept the “shameful” German terms, and true that Trotsky did not support this (he abstained). However no-one suggested at the time that this was treachery on Trotsky’s part. He resigned as foreign commissar and was immediately made commissar of war, in which role he built the Red Army and led it to victory.

      • Hear hear.

        Worth a listen is the late Christopher Hitchens in discussion with BBC R4’s Matthew Parrish as part of the “Great Lives” series. It’s on Youtube in three roughly ten minute parts. Here’s part two. Some good BTL comment too!

        • Thanks for the Hitchens link I had heard it before but enjoyed the reprise.
          Re your comment on permanent revolution, I think it is Trotsky’s most important legacy, relevant to today. It had two main planks:

          1. In the colonial and semi colonial countries. the struggle for national independence and democratic rights can only be successfully carried out as part of the struggle for socialist revolution, led by the working class in alliance with – but leading – the urban and rural petit bourgeoisie.
          2. The necessity of international socialist revolution, although the tempo would be different in different countries.

          He and Lenin came together on the first point in 1917. On the second point there was never any difference.

          October 1917 provided a positive corroboration of the theory. Sadly there were many negative corroborations, including Stalin’s subordination of the Chinese communists to the Kuomintang, the political domination of the working class by the bourgeoisie in the Spanish Popular Front, the replacement of apartheid in South Africa with neoliberal exploitation, and, tragically, the degeneration and downfall of the world’s first worker’s state.

          Trotsky did not say that colonial or semi-colonial bourgeois nations should not be be supported against imperialism. On the contrary, the Transitional Programme states categorically:

          It will be the duty of the international proletariat to aid the oppressed countries in their war against oppressors. …
          … In supporting the colonial country or the USSR in a war, the proletariat does not in the slightest degree solidarize … with the bourgeois government of the colonial country

          Famously, Trotsky said that he would support a fascist government in Brazil in a putative war with the UK. Some alleged Trotskyists failed that test in the Falklands war.

          “Trotskyists” who have abandoned this position in relation to Syria or Ukraine or Libya have followed the same path of capitulation to imperialism as those like the SWP who celebrated the destruction of the Soviet Union.

          On the other hand, many on the left have politically collapsed into the arms of Putin, Assad or China simply because they are in the sights of imperialism. This is a product of the long period of setbacks for the working class which we have been enduring, but which will change. Not being an astrologer I cannot say when.

          • Trotsky did not say colonial/semi-colonial bourgeois nations should not be be supported against imperialism

            Understood and agreed. But I blame the lamentable stance re the middle east of 4th/5th international sects on their (mis)understandings of permanent revolution. I should have made this clear.

            I’ve been taken to task often for my “stalinist” support – qualifed though it be – for Assad, Gaddafi and for that matter Nasser, by self avowed Trotskyists. Which is why I invoked, in my initial reply to “lumpy gravy”, the aspect they appear to have forgotten: critical but unconditional support”.

        • “Lumpy Gravy” – why would anyone choose such a nom de plume? – has excercised his – we can be confident of gender here – right to remain silent. Those BTL commenters who draw as heavily as he does on sarcasm and unsubstantiated innuendo (often, though not in his case peppered with gish-galloped irrelevance) very often prove to be hit and run specialists..

            • Alas, we can’t take credit for this one Colin. The term’s etymology is briefly set out here. In online debate, the spewing out of streams of URLs, ostensibly to back up a point but in reality highly repetitive and/or perfectly irrelevant, is one of the banes of our day and a great threat to civilised values. Once discovered, gish-gallop is one of those terms you wonder how you managed all your life without.

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