My September reads

27 Sep

Some folks – I’m tempted to call them psychological sectarians, more interested in ‘othering’ those outside their cosy club than effecting change in this Vale of Tears – will slam me for this, but all three of my picks this month are in CounterPunch. Worse, one is by the infamous Louis Proyect.

I’ve been slated before for citing, “approvingly”, verboten  sources – variously: Caitlin Johnston, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Gowans, Grayzone. In no case was specific argument raised against the content of my citings, nor of their relevance to wider points I was making. Which omissions I see as textbook signs of the sectarian mindset.

(Trust me on this small point. I did time in that most acrimonious of jailhouses; the trotskyist left of the eighties.)

In some radical circles, CounterPunch is equally off limits. And to be sure, I often find pieces there that would sit comfortably in the Guardian, but what of it? If I see something of merit in the Guardian on a political issue of core significance (rare, I’ll grant you) I’ll acknowledge the fact. Ditto the Economist, Al-Monitor, CIA Factbook or any number of media best approached with circumspection, if not a g-clamp tightly attached to both nostrils.

Not that I place CounterPunch in such company. For all its frequent vapid pieces, it also – even more frequently – houses fine analyses. These three reads, I submit, merit that descriptor.


Myths of the White Working Class (2400 words)

In February of this year, below the line of an OffGuardian version of my post, The Syrian Army in Idlib, the author of this my current pick made a comment which sparked heated exchanges. I got my own two penn’oth in:

I get this weird sense of disconnect with Louis Proyect. On the one hand this is the man who sees that vile comment on Vanessa Beeley – and photoshopping the face of an interlocutor he took exception to onto an image of a cockroach – as valid debating method. The man who so often ‘argues’ by means of links to specious sources that don’t – on factual accuracy, logic and/or relevance grounds – withstand a moment’s careful scrutiny. As is the case here.

On the other hand I was only last night reading a really good CounterPunch piece by him on Malcolm X. It’s well reasoned, lucid and with a good balance of personal experience and objectivity. Had I not known that other Louis, I’d have wanted to meet the author and buy him a drink.


A few chipped in, Louis included. Follow the discussion here. In a subsequent BTL comment at OffGuardian, below another of my pieces, a commenter using a pseudonym but identified by the Administrator as the one and only Mr Proyect called me a cunt.1

All the same, the Mr Hyde aspect to this strange man’s character does not in my view negate the value of his Dr Jekyll offerings. This thoughtful piece (actually a book review) on race, class and ‘bourgeoisified’ blue-collar workers in an imperialist state is a case in point.2

The weird sense of disconnect is heightened by the fact that in this piece a man who calls me a cunt and describes Vanessa Beeley – a reporter who defends Damascus and rightly condemns the dirty war on Syria – as “too ugly to fuck” actually uses the female universal pronoun.

I could go on, really I could …


The US is Using the Guardian to Justify Jailing Assange for Life. Why is the Paper So Silent? (5061 words)

I’m a long term admirer of Jonathan Cook. The former Guardian journalist3 is remarkably skilled at dissecting both ruling class devilry – without ever using such terms – and media collusion with said devilry. His language is always calm, simple and on the nail.

Journalism is an activity, and anyone who regularly engages in that activity qualifies as a journalist. It is not the same as being a doctor or a lawyer, where you need a specific professional qualification to practice. You are a journalist if you do journalism – and you are an investigative journalist if, like Assange, you publish information the powerful want concealed …

… Assange was doing exactly what journalists claim to do every day in a democracy: monitor power for the public good. Which is why ultimately the Obama administration abandoned the idea of issuing an indictment against Assange. There was simply no way to charge him without also putting journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian on trial too. And doing that would have made explicit that the press is not free but works on licence from those in power.

In this Cook is saying what others have; Craig Murray and me for starters. But roughly a third of the way in we get to what makes this piece so worthy of attention:

On the one hand, Assange needed the manpower and expertise provided by big-hitting newspapers like the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel to help Wikileaks sift through vast trove to find important, hidden disclosures. He also needed the mass audiences those papers could secure for the revelations, as well as those outlets’ ability to set the news agenda in other media.

Liberal media, on the other hand, needed to court Assange and Wikileaks to avoid being left behind in the media war for big, Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, for audience share and for revenues. Each worried that, were it not to do a deal with Wikileaks, a rival would publish those world-shattering exclusives instead and erode its market share.

For a brief while, this mutual dependency just about worked. But only for a short time. In truth, the liberal corporate media is far from committed to a model of unmediated, whole-truth journalism. The Wikileaks model undermined the corporate media’s relationship to the power establishment and threatened its access. It introduced a tension and division between the functions of the political elite and the media elite.

Over the remainder of the piece, Cook elaborates on these three paragraphs. That lucid and simple prose he so excels at is seen here alive and kicking. As good journalists do – and good essayists, good poets; indeed, good communicators of whatever stripe, field or genre also do – he moves seamlessly between the universal (the nature of media funded by advertising) and the particular (the nature of such media as it plays out in the case of Julian Assange).

An absorbing if painful read.4


The Plot Against Libya: an Obama-Biden-Clinton Criminal Conspiracy (3506 words)

The quality of writing here speaks for itself, as does its overall thrust, in these its opening paragraphs:

The scorching desert sun streams through narrow slats in the tiny window. A mouse scurries across the cracked concrete floor, the scuttling of its tiny feet drowned out by the sound of distant voices speaking in Arabic. Their chatter is in a western Libyan dialect distinctive from the eastern dialect favored in Benghazi. Somewhere off in the distance, beyond the shimmering desert horizon, is Tripoli, the jewel of Africa now reduced to perpetual war.

But here, in this cell in a dank old warehouse in Bani Walid, there are no smugglers, no rapists, no thieves or murderers. There are simply Africans captured by traffickers as they made their way from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, or other disparate parts of the continent seeking a life free of war and poverty, the rotten fruit of Anglo-American and European colonialism. The cattle brands on their faces tell a story more tragic than anything produced by Hollywood.

These are slaves: human beings bought and sold for their labor. Some are bound for construction sites while others for the fields. All face the certainty of forced servitude, a waking nightmare that has become their daily reality.

This is Libya, the real Libya. The Libya that has been constructed from the ashes of the US-NATO war that deposed Muammar Gaddafi and the government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The Libya now fractured into warring factions, each backed by a variety of international actors whose interest in the country is anything but humanitarian.

But this Libya was built not by Donald Trump and his gang of degenerate fascist ghouls. No, it was the great humanitarian Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and their harmonious peace circle of liberal interventionists who wrought this devastation. With bright-eyed speeches about freedom and self-determination, the First Black President, along with his NATO comrades in France and Britain, unleashed the dogs of war on an African nation seen by much of the world as a paragon of economic and social development.

But this is no mere journalistic exercise to document just one of the innumerable crimes carried out in the name of the American people. No, this is us, the antiwar left in the United States, peering through the cracks in the imperial artifice – crumbling as it is from internal rot and political decay – to shine a light through the gloom named Trump and directly into the heart of darkness.

There are truths that must be made plain lest they be buried like so many bodies in the desert sand.

I rest my case.5

* * *

  1. Ordinarily OffGuardian, for historic reasons averse to censoring comments, would nevertheless have removed such a crude ad hominem. It didn’t in this case, precisely to make a point I endorse.
  2. Not all the marx-leninists I’ve crossed swords with over Syria are as debased in their debate methods as Louis. Take John Smith, a true gent and author of the invaluable Imperialism in the twenty-first century, a book frequently cited in my own posts. Despite having broadly similar perspectives on a good many matters political, we differ strongly on Syria. Why? Not, I think, because of any fundamental difference over the nature and limitations of ba’athism – aka ‘Arab socialism’, aka ‘state capitalism’. Rather because John is more sanguine than I am over the prospect of an international workers’ revolution. Where I see only two possible stances over Syria – defend its lawful government from imperialist attack, or side with the imperialists – other marx-leninists cry a plague on both houses and demand an “international solidarity with the Syrian working class” that strikes me as rooted in cloud cuckoo land. (And for all the real differences between ‘revolutionary’ and ‘democratic’ socialists like universalists Owen Jones and George Monbiot, in respect of Syria those differences, to my mind and for all practical purposes, may as well not exist.) In Assad-loathing Louis Proyect’s piece you’ll find that he too refers to the possibility of workers’ revolution. Whether or not this is scheduled to arrive in time to save millions of mainly dark skinned people, now and for the foreseeable future in imperialism’s firing line, is not entirely clear.
  3. Cook, who blogs from Nazareth, parted company with the Guardian after his articles critical of Israel were increasingly being spiked, even as the reactionary apologetics of Jonathan Freedland gained him senior status and made him a contender for editor-in-chief, a race won by New York based Katherine Viner.
  4. While we’re on the subject of Julian Assange, yesterday WSWS ran this very good piece on the kangaroo hearing at the Old Bailey. WSWS is the platform of the Socialist Equality Party, exception to the rule – see footnote 2 – of marx-leninist groups refusing to defend Damascus.
  5. NB the Libya piece features in CounterPunch+ – normally paywalled. It first appeared on September 8 as publicly available “for a limited period”. At time of writing – 06:15 on September 27 – it is still accessible to non subscribers but the rest of us may with all due speed copy and paste to a Word document on our own devices.

11 Replies to “My September reads

  1. Proyect is an odd one. He was good on one Gareth Stedman Jones, presenter of the Penguin edition of “The Communist Manifesto” and who wrote an introduction multiple times longer than the central document and which pretty much negated the contents of that document. Proyect was also good on the odd journey of Richard Seymour, outlining the strange progress from historical materialism to a kind of postmodernist blather.

    But then you get the “resident Evil Dead spirit” side of Louis who occasionally – indeed all too frequently – erupts and you can almost see his head spinning Exorcist style with the vomit spurting round the room.

    I would thoroughly agree that all sources ought to be examined. I would guess (not having direct experience in the matter) that political journalism, like any other profession, is subject to various institutional pressures that have to be observed. Journalists and analysts know there are certain boundaries they cannot transgress if they want to reach a decently sized audience and therefore every reader should make allowances for that – as well as for personal prejudices which, once seen, can be “factored into the reception” as it were.

    • Well put, George – as ever. As it happens my previous post touches on psychological aspects of MSM corruption. After all, the primacy of materialist analyses of those media and their income streams should not blind us to the reality that walking, talking human beings not unlike me ‘n thee are for the time being necessary parts of the equation.

      But as you know – because we’ve discussed this before on a thread on this site – I will always wonder at the motives of those who, without addressing the specifics of a point being made, declare it invalid because from a taboo source.

    • What I mean in that last part is that bold sit-at-home bloggers can be as radical as they want under the cloak of anonymity but were they to be pushed onto e.g. a TV platform, they would realise pretty quickly that there are things they can and cannot say without the most severe effect on their livelihoods. It is a situation that really should not be the case in a land that took seriously the claim to “free speech”. It is nevertheless the world we live in.

      • This comment, and my reply to your opening one, crossed – I’ve had to fiddle with the time stamping so thread ordering reflects this fact!

        Now to reply to your second. I think Monbiot (whom I deem more heavyweight than Jones, though maybe the latter’s baby faced profile pic prejudices me) does increasingly valuable work on environment destruction as inescapable outcome of capitalism. But his silence on Julian Assange, and worse on Syria, aren’t easily forgiven. I’ll pass on the question, necessitated by his failure to call out his employer’s many crimes, of how any individual earns his or her crust. I’ll borrow from the Christian rulebook and say “judge the sin, not the sinner”.

        This of course opens up all manner of further questions; not least: where do we draw the line? I’m conscious of being in an extraordinarily privileged position: retired on a modest pension, but one adequate to my modest needs; living in a state where, precisely because of its success as an apex predator, I can – for now at least – say the things I do without fear of the night time knock on the door, or having acid thrown in my face on the street.

        George Monbiot must make his own peace with himself. Human beings tend to be rather good at that.

        • I suppose it’s a little off topic, but I stumbled on this last night:

          Pardon the hyperbole but I really think that the Starmer led Labour Party has become a flesh crawling abomination. And the weaponization of the term “anti-Semitism” is an excellent example of how the ruling powers set up the terms of debate and, most importantly, barricade off the areas where no-one is allowed to tread.

          • I actually remember that piece. It houses this:

            Until Corbyn … Labour had become a second party of capital alongside the Conservative party, replicating the situation in the US …

            His attempt to push the party back towards democratic socialism attracted hundreds of thousands of new members, quickly making Labour the largest party in Europe. But it also ensured a wide-ranging alliance of establishment interests was arrayed against him, including the military, corporate media, and Israel lobby.

            Unlike Corbyn, Starmer has not shown any inclination to take on the establishment. In fact, he had previously proven himself its willing servant.

            As head of Britain’s prosecution service in 2013, for example, his department issued thinly veiled threats to Sweden to continue its legal pursuit of Julian Assange …

  2. Cook’s article* (quoted above) was only written in July and it is a a measure of how dangerous the situation is becoming that in just two short months its concerns have been overtaken.

    Following hot on the heels of Starmer sacking junior Shadow Ministers via the Guido Fawkes blog of Paul Staines (BA Hull Failed) for voting against legalising war crimes by British forces (and such legal ‘protection’ can apply equally within the UK as outside it) as well as placing time limits on front line troops to submit Post Traumatic Stress and deafness cases we now have the first steps to outlawing opposition to Capitalism. A line which a Starmer led “Labour” Party will no doubt have little trouble supporting:

    ““Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that…..

    …..Department for Education (DfE) guidance issued on Thursday for school leaders and teachers involved in setting the relationship, sex and health curriculum categorised anti-capitalism as an “extreme political stance” and equated it with opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and endorsement of illegal activity.”

    One suspects at the present rate of trajectory that the statement by Phil**: “I can – for now at least – say the things I do without fear of the night time knock on the door, or having acid thrown in my face on the street.” may not age particularly well.

    *One of Cook’s key points in the article is the way Starmer has undermined the Forde Inquiry which he set up. On this point I have to declare, along with some other local comrades, a direct interest as several of us submitted a substantial amount of evidence to this inquiry. An inquiry which will no doubt get buried in the Brexit debacle which is shortly to engulf us.

    Evidence which in part supports with local material some of the evidence of the 850 page Report on the undermining of the 2017 election and the illegal use of Party funds for certain seats belonging to extreme centrist members of the PLP; as well as the burying of illigal breaches of members GDPR rights and PPERA 2000 by some of those Panorama so called whistleblowers.

    ** The corruption of the legal system – both in England and Scotland – as well as many statutory bodies is not limited to the current Assange Kangaroo Court case.

    The Salmond case – which was preceded by an expensive inquiry by the Scottish ruling Party which collapsed is equally worrying. Involving a blatant misuse of not only power but also agencies from the police to the Civil Service as well as the Corporate media. A full detailed exposition of this saga, spanning some months can be found not only on Craig Murrey’s blog (at one point the police were set on Murrey for “jigsaw” identification whilst Corporate ‘journalists’ are allowed to do worse)but also Stuart Campbell’s Wings over Scotland blog.

    The details on Campbell’s blog involving questions put to various agencies, apart from being familiar to anyone who has had to endure he sectarian misuse and rejection of rules and due process in the dysfunctional Labour Party Compliance Unit, demonstrate an equally worrying insight into the political capture of statutory agencies.

    Whilst this, in the main, relates purely to Scotland the same Kafkaesque experience can be found in just about every agency one encounters. The EHRC, as Cook observes, will deliver the same pre-determined result as the Assange trial. Despite being supplied with evidence of the criminal breaches of Labour Party members GDPR rights by those in the Panorama programme. Aided and abetted by the producer.

    Meanwhile, the stonewalling, timewasting and lack of response one experienced with the Labour Party Compliance Unit is, so far being repeated with the Information Commissioner’s Office over the same issues. And no doubt if matters progressed to court to obtain specific SAR’s now almost a year old ranks would be closed to protect Starmers second eleven and it’s pseudo-monopoly internal opposition of Lansman’s PLC – who are equally culpable in gaming and gerrymandering the system for sectarian ends.

    You think it couldn’t get any worse?

    Don’t bet on it. When you encounter people claiming to be on the “Left” being prepared to deny discussion based on blatant errors of identification and rejection of the need for substantiating evidence beyond subjective opinion it is increasingly looking as though, once again, Campbell, quoting the late Milton Mayer, is calling it right:

    • What you describe is a lurch on the part of our rulers toward rising authoritarianism. Many on the fringes, and even the centre left, are noting this. But where the former, or at least the marxist wing, locate this lurch in the growing frequency and depth of advanced capitalism’s crises, the latter, with the superficiality characteristic of the idealist worldview, speak of a disturbing rise in ‘populism’ and ‘extremism’ – pointing the finger at the Trumps, Johnsons and Bolsaneros as though these were aberrations, products of an unfortunate wrong turn made when bad ideas somehow prevailed over good ones.

      On that last remark, the Libya piece is or should be salutary.

      That misdiagnosis born of idealism is not only unhelpful but toxic. It serves to advance those moves you have, here and in other comments, noted: Labour’s embracing of an extreme and distorted definition of antisemitism that gives full reign to Israel’s lawless race hatreds; the proposed outlawing of school materials critical of capitalism; negative redefinition of terms like ‘radicalism’ (in an extreme status quo whose beneficiaries dictate what ‘extreme’ means); the de facto promotion of Islamophobia even as lip service is paid to protecting ‘moderate’ Muslims here and in far off lands.

      And there to give cover for this authoritarian drift, even in the West, we’ve had the signal events of … 9/11 (Patriot Act and “War on Terror”) … Lehman Brothers (“austerity”) … CV-19 (lockdown and a truly frightening Coronavirus Act) …

      • Indeed. What describes itself as ‘Center Left’ seems to have no or little comprehension of the counter-productive outcomes of its stance and approach.

        An approach summed up by Mandlesons quote about traditional Labour voters having ‘nowhere else to go’ which has now been extended to LP members.

        The inevitable outcome of this approach is described here:

        A piece which, whilst talking to the US experience, is equally transferred to the UK with the relevant substitutions – such as in this passage:

        “No one bears greater responsibility for the lack of empathy toward Old-Economy workers that led to Brexit and Boris Johnson than big-name Tech and finance darlings and New Labour who coddled them, then openly ridiculed their own voter base: ……..that is, the millions of disappointed voters who would happily have voted Labour 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 Blair, Brown, Starmer faction. Old-school, working-class Labour are unwelcome in the party they built. No one wants them tracking mud through the salon.”

        Though, in the spirit of equality, it has to be narrated that sections of the self labelled left are doing their fair share of alienating large and significant, in voting terms, sections of the populace and its own members over it’s flirtation with post modernism and deliberate confusion over sex and gender rights. Though this problematic approach is not confined to the LP as the SNP has its own capture issues by the Purity Police whose objective seems to be a tribute act to Mao’s Red Guard.

        Overlaying this is the intellectually stifling gang culture which infects every corner of the playground. Making it next to impossible to have a grown up conversation, never mind a debate or discussion.

        I recently introduced a ‘back to basics’ discussion at Branch level. Covering issues such as the corruption of values inherent from the undermining of the 2017 election and the dysfunction of the grievance and complaints processes. The extensive power point notes I made to act as a reference were too comprehensive to use directly and a result I sent them out after the meeting.

        One response received just about sums up the playground level gang culture. It ran along the lines of (to paraphrase): ‘Interesting talk. I’ll read this. Then we can get back to unifying and fighting the Tories.’

        Begging a number of questions including how far over the head this went; the total absence of understanding of what has actually gone down over the past five years and its impact of trust, relationships and other basics necessary for coherent progress; and just who are “the Tories” as well as what represents “Toryism.”?

        Again, applying equality, the sectarian gang culture is alive and kicking amongst sections of the self labelled “left”. Who have decided to no platform a group of members based on mis-dentification and un-evidenced allegations which impact not just organisationally but also on individual members who have associated with that group and it’s aims.

        There’s a book yet to be written on all this. It should be titled ‘How to lose friends and alienate people.’

  3. Yes, Jonathan Cook is always good. off-Guardian I’m not so sure about. It was cuttingly described in Moon of Alabama as ” the corona-nonsense blog Off-Guardian” – a description with which I agree, and I find the abusive comments section unpalatable. But even the best of sites has to be judged on a page by page basis. Normally I find the articles in ‘Dissident Voice’ to be interesting and reasonable, but even there a few “corona-nonsense” articles have appeared. Constant vigilance is the only guarantee – Caitlin Johnstone has a similar formulation, which I can’t quite lay my hands on right now.

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