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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: April 2011

You may not be familiar with the name of the Spanish Judge, Baltasar Garzón, but he is about to receive in mid-May the first “Alba-Puffin Human Rights Award” of $100,000.00, from the Puffin Foundation and the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade archives, now housed- of course- at New York University.  Judge Garzón is being awarded this honor for two reasons- his effort to investigate human rights abuses  by the old Franco dictatorship that took place from the date of his victory in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s until the demise of his dictatorship in recent times. Second, he is being honored for his arrest while in Spain  in 1998 of the late Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, whom he tried to have permanently detained in put on trial there for his crimes against the Chilean people after the overthrow of the Allende government in the 1970’s.

According to the statement issued by the Puffin Foundation’s Perry Rosenstein, “The award is designed to give public recognition, support, and encouragement to individuals or groups whose work has an exceptionally positive impact on the advancement and/or defense of human rights. It is intended to help educate students and the general public about the importance of defending human rights against arbitrary powers that violate democratic principles.”

One has to only look at the Wikipedia entry on the Judge to easily discern what is taking place. Judge Baltasar is an extreme leftist whose commitment to exposing human rights violations extends exclusively to those whose politics he opposes—late dictators of the far Right—and to excusing and trying to stop any expose of any human rights violations that occur from individuals who are on the political Left or those who committed them in the past and who came from the ranks of the left-wing. As the Wikipedia summary notes, the Judge sought to bring charges against the Bush administration for its running of the facility at Guantanamo:

In March 2009, Garzón considered whether Spain should allow charges to be filed against former officials from the United States government under George W. Bush for offering justifications for torture. The six former Bush officials are: Alberto Gonzales, former Attorney General; John Yoo, of the Office of Legal Counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; William Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Jay Bybee, also at Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney‘s Chief of Staff. On 29 April 2009, Garzon opened an investigation into an alleged ‘systematic programme’ of torture at Guantánamo Bay, following accusations by four former prisoners. According to Andy Worthington, writing in the Huffington Post, Spanish newspaper Público reported in September 2009 that Garzón was proceeding to the next phase of his investigation.  Garzón has repeatedly expressed a desire to investigate former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in connection with a plot in the 1970s known as Operation Condor.

The Judge’s fortunes came crashing down in Spain, where he was himself charged with exceeding the rule of law as established in his own country. In April 2010, Garzón was indicted by the Spanish Supreme Court for prevarication for arbitrarily changing his juridical criteria to engineer the case in order to bypass the law limiting his jurisdiction. In addition, charges have been brought against the Judge for major involvement in corruption.

It is hardly a surprise that that Lincoln Brigade archives group is involved in the award. The Brigade- actually only a battalion but a name it took to make its role seem larger at the time of the Civil War- was composed of the American branch of the Stalinist shock troops that were created by Stalin’s Comintern to implement its policy in Spain. The Comintern  meant to buy Stalin time while creating the façade of anti-fascism while Stalin was himself preparing an alliance with Nazi Germany. The Brigades were closely controlled by appointed commissars, who worked with Stalin’s NKVD agents in Spain, and participated in the hunt to isolate, kill and destroy independent revolutionaries including anarchists, independent socialists and of course, Trotskyists.

The best book written about the Brigades, for anyone interested, is the sadly ignored masterpiece by Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars:The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. Stanley G. Payne, one of the major historians of Spain and its Civil War, has written accurately that  Eby “demonstrates a very good grasp of the volunteers as individuals, not as political puppets, and is thoroughly sympathetic to them on the human level, while at the same time showing the real character of the politics involved.”

In Spain, Stalin’s agents themselves carried out major atrocities, most famous of all being the kidnapping and murder of the leading revolutionary communist who led the P.O.U.M., the organization with which George Orwell fought when he was in Spain, and in which his participation led him to see the truth about Stalin’s goals, and to pen his classic Homage to Catalonia.

Somehow, an investigation by Judge Garzón of Stalin’s crimes in Spain is not one the Judge seems to be interested in. Nor does he seem today to express one drop of concern about the human rights violations committed by Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East. Nor has he ever expressed an iota of support for Israel, as other principled Spaniards have done.

Most upsetting about the award ceremony is the list of assembled sponsors and participants. They are, to date,  Human Rights Watch ,the Robert F. Kennedy Center, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the World Organization Against Torture. And the committee welcoming him includes Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, the on-air legal analyst for CBS-News, NBC-News, and MSNBC, as well as a frequent guest on Sunday morning news talk shows. Special guests include Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation; Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA; and Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The honorary committee for this benefit (now in formation) includes Harry Belafonte, Mike Farrell and Susan Sarandon.

The last three entertainers, as we all already know, are three of the most prominent knee-jerk leftists in the business. (You might enjoy reading my op-ed of some years back on Belafonte.) Amnesty International, in giving its once good name to this event, now reveals itself as well to be more of a leftist agitation group than an organization dedicated to freeing political prisoners, and part of the spectrum of anti-American organizations in the world.

Finally, The Center for Constitutional Rights, as Discover The Networks has revealed, is a group formed in the 1960’s to defend the Old and New Left activists then under political attack. David Horowitz and Peter Collier, in their book Destructive Generation, state that all four CCR founders “had long histories of public support for communist causes,” and that by “representing such paramilitary groups as the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Black Liberation Army,” they “had attempted to justify terrorist acts and criminal violence by indicting America and its democratic allies as partners in a system of economic oppression and social injustice.” That sorry record continues to the present day.  CCR has been a strong supporter of radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who in February 2005 was convicted on charges that she had illegally “facilitated and concealed communications” between her client, the incarcerated “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, and members of his Egyptian terrorist organization, the Islamic Group, which has ties to al Qaeda. CCR called Stewart’s indictment in 2004 “an attack on attorneys who defend controversial figures, and an attempt to deprive these clients of the zealous representation that may be required.”

In using the term “human rights” as the reason for the Judge’s reward, the sponsors inadvertently reveal how the cause of human rights has itself been hijacked by the far Left, which uses the term to advance its anti-American agenda. NYU should be ashamed of itself for once again using its facilities to house and then to honor organizations such as the Puffin Foundation and the ALBA group.

It has just been announced that Fatah and Hamas, the two bitter rivals in the Palestinian nationalist movement, have signed a unity accord to end their decades long divide. Their preliminary agreement, according to The New York Times, provides for their creation of a transnational unity government for both the West Bank and Gaza, to be followed by new elections after one year.

Immediately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a firm statement about the meaning of this agreement:

“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,”  Mr. Netanyahu said in a televised address on Wednesday. “Peace with both of them is impossible because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”

Netanyahu is correct. What it means, moreover, is the immediate end to the mythical “peace process” that the Obama administration has been trying to resurrect since Obama assumed the presidency. The fig leaf is now off the Palestinian Authority and the idea that the West Bank government of Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a viable partner for the attainment of negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution.

Now that Fatah has made it clear that it prefers unity with the Hamas terrorists — despite the documented fact that Hamas has itself slaughtered and murdered scores of Fatah representatives in cold blood the past few years — it is crystal clear that there is simply no Palestinian entity that can serve as any kind of negotiating partner with Israel.

According to reporter Isabel Kershner’s story in the Times, the announcement “appeared to catch the Obama administration…by surprise.” If that is the case, it not only reflects on the poor intelligence capacity of the United States in the region, but also reveals the administration’s dependence on its myopic hopes about a new peace process taking place. Indeed, as Abbas revealed earlier to Newsweek:

Obama had led him on, and then let him down by failing to keep pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank last year. “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,”  Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”

Having been burnt by Obama already, clearly the PA decided that rather than go along any more with the current U.S. administration’s lofty plans, it was better to cut a deal with Hamas than find that Hamas would take over the West Bank on its own, assuring the arrest, imprisonment or elimination of Fatah leaders, or the total collapse of any Fatah role in a forthcoming Palestinian state or territory.

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Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Boeing that the firm cannot open a new factory in a “right to work” state, South Carolina, because the move was undertaken to avoid strikes that plagued the firm’s factory in Puget Sound, Washington. Is this a new departure for the Board, and does it in any way go way beyond its original mandate?

The NLRB was created as an enforcement mechanism of the Wagner Act in July of 1935. That Act restored the balance between business and labor by protecting the right to organize, so that workers who chose to join a union could not be fired at will by anti-union employers. The Board protected the right to organize, and had powers of investigation and enforcement built into it. It became an “unfair labor practice” for employers to interfere with, restrain or coerce workers exercising their right to organize. Employers were now forbidden to discriminate against those workers who decided or wished to join a union. For example, a packing company in Sioux City, Iowa, had to post a sign that “no one will be discharged, demoted, transferred, put on less desirable jobs, or laid off because [a worker] joins Local No. 70 or any other labor organization.”  And workers who had lost their jobs for such reasons had to be rehired and paid full back pay.

The Board legalized unions, and brought them into the mainstream of American life. Unfair labor practices were prohibited, and management that sought to ignore or fight unions now had to bargain with them in good faith. The Wagner Act also made “company unions,” mechanisms that the companies created as alternatives to actual worker chosen organizations, essentially illegal. Bargaining representatives were to be chosen by majority rule via votes by members of a plant or factory. Unions then became certified bargaining agents.

It is important to recall all of this, when we survey today’s landscape and see how far organized labor has moved. Card check, which union bosses supported during the last presidential campaign, sought to go way beyond this, by essentially, as Mark Hemingway writes in his very important cover story in The Weekly Standard, giving organizers the power to “form a union by getting workers to sign cards declaring their support for unionization.” No elections to be certified by the NLRB would be necessary, and unions could “identify publicly workers opposed to unionization and use coercive tactics against them.”

The unions were now seeking protection to employ the very same tactics anti-union employers used against them in the 1930s, before the Wagner Act was passed. They were also seeking to in fact undo the secret elections leading to certification they had fought so hard to obtain during the early New Deal years.

Now, recent events reveal that labor, having failed to pass card check for the time being, is trying to use the new pro-union Board stacked with new appointments made by President Obama to hurt business and in effect make fiscally sound business decisions illegal by government fiat. Last Wednesday the NLRB filed a complaint seeking to force Boeing to stop building a new airplane plant near Charleston, South Carolina — a “right to work state” — and to expand the current plant that exists in the state of Washington.

Boeing’s plant is near Puget Sound, and negotiations with the International Association of Machinists collapsed when the union refused to agree to a long-term no strike clause. What Boeing was upset about was that the IAM went on strike four times since 1989, and the company claimed it cost them nearly $2 billion in lost revenue.

The NLRB complaint cites the words of a senior Boeing official, who told The Seattle Times that “we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years.” The plant, however, had been planned for the past two years, and Boeing has already hired one thousand workers who would not have jobs if the company is prohibited from building in South Carolina. So it comes down to whether the union will stop non-union workers from getting a job and earning a living, in order to force Boeing to build and expand next to the plant that already exists in Puget Sound. And, it turns out that at the Puget Sound factory, Boeing has already hired 2000 more workers since October of 2009, even though they had already announced construction of the Charleston plant!

In fact, that Washington plant not only still exists, but is scheduled to assemble seven planes each month compared to three in the new Charleston facility. Yet the union claims that Boeing is “inherently destructive or the rights guaranteed employees” by federal labor law. The union local’s president argued that Boeing was trying “to intimidate our members with the idea that the company would take away their work unless they made concessions at the bargaining table.”

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We all know by now that J-Street is the anti-Israel “peace” group that pretends it is pro-Israel, and exists primarily to give the Obama administration a cover to say that its policies have the support of the Jewish community.  But its existence, evidently, is not enough for the legions of American and foreign leftists who seek to create an openly anti-Israel new organization, one that seeks to delegitimize Israel and which hopes for its destruction. These people have now created such a group, which they call “Move Over AIPAC.”

Its first national gathering is scheduled to take place a few days in advance of AIPAC’s own national policy conference, to be held at the end of May at the Washington DC Convention Center. The AIPAC event will be highlighted by a major speech by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and includes representation from every major  Democrat and Republican in both houses of Congress.

So what is the proclaimed purpose of the new group, which seeks to destroy AIPAC and limit its influence, and who is behind it? On their website, the group proclaims that it will “bring activists and concerned citizens from around the country to learn about the extraordinary influence AIPAC has on U.S. policy and how to strengthen an alternative that respects the rights of all people in the region.” Of course they say they only want an “even-handed” policy for the Middle East, while their sponsors and their propaganda indicate otherwise.

By even-handed they mean, as they put it, that they oppose “AIPAC’s unrelenting support for the illegal policies of the Israeli government—separation walls, settlements, the siege of Gaza—in addition to its bellicose policies across the region, especially Iran, has been devastating for Palestinians and the Middle East, including Israel. It also harms our reputation around the world and squanders $3 billion a year subsidizing the powerful Israeli military when we need that money to rebuild the United States.” They refer to opposing “Israel’s war crimes” and call for an end to all U.S. military aid to Israel, which is supported vigorously in the Senate and House by both Democrats and Republicans.

These policies they single out are those supported by the majority of the American public. And the defense measures taken by Israel to protect its people are not “illegal,” despite the new group’s claim. One must also notice their opposition to would-be “bellicose” policies against Iran, while they say not one word about Iran’s attempt to go nuclear and its own proclaimed position of calling for the obliteration of Israel. They dare to call last year’s flotilla and Israel’s response to it an “IDF assault on the Mavi Marmara,” the Turkish ship that was filled with Hezbollah armed activists.

The group appears to be a new coalition, made of up “realists” like the anti-Israel duo, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer- both of whom will speak at their conference, and those who are old style anti-American activists from the 60’s joined by old Communists and their fellow-traveling allies from the heyday of the Soviet Union’s existence. The group endorses and supports the BDS movement, and favors working to restore the influence of the Goldstone Report, which has lost some of its momentum due to Judge Goldstone’s recent repudiation of it. Its last event will be what it calls a “creative action” outside of the AIPAC gala dinner, at which Netanyahu will be speaking. (I will be covering this for PJM, and will report on it that evening.)

Now let us take a look at the group’s sponsors and few listed members. Their list includes The International Solidarity Movement- the backers of Hamas, The US Boat to Gaza, CODEPINK, the old pacifist left-wing group Fellowship of Reconciliation, and seemingly hundreds of anti-Zionist, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian entities, many of which may be inflated names with few actual members. Two groups that stands out, however, are The US Peace Council and The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. The latter was founded in 1915 by old Progressives and peace activists. Its US branch gradually morphed into a front for the American Communist Party, whose activists enrolled in it for their “mass work” and effectively took control of it in the 1950’s and after. Its US branch today heralds its support for what it calls its “Cuba and Bolivarian Alliance Committee,” a program meant to gather American support for the Castro regime in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  You will find little on it about peace and freedom, and a great deal about their proud pro-Castro work.

The U.S. Peace Council, founded in 1948 as the American branch of the Soviet based World Peace Council, was the pre-eminent front group of the CPUSA, meant to gather backers in support of pro-Soviet foreign policy positions, whether it was gathering signatures in the early 50’s for the “Stockholm Peace Petition,” which sought unilateral US atomic disarmament so the Soviets could forge ahead with their stockpile while the US destroyed the one it had, or whether it was calling for an end to US atomic testing in the 60’s while supporting Soviet atomic tests.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its bloc in Eastern Europe, its remnant too now devotes itself to pro-Cuban and pro-Venezuelan political support. Its website calls for an end to “an end to the imperialist war of aggression against Libya.”  It favors opposing what it calls Israel’s desire for a “total war” on Lebanon and Gaza, and of course, it still opposes NATO, as it did in the old days of the existence of what it saw as the bloc created by the international forces of peace led by the socialist bloc and the Soviet Union.

Speakers they feature on the web page include Phyllis Bennis, an analyst at the old left-wing and pro-Cuban and pro-Soviet think tank, The Institute for Policy Studies—which does not have the kind of influence and attention it had in the 60’s, but still exists, with some of the same people in charge. Naomi Klein, the anti-globalist radical who writes for The Nation and whom people line up to hear around the world- a woman I call “Noam Chomsky in women’s designer suits,” is on board, as are a few Arab and Palestinian anti-Israeli speakers, one left-wing Israeli activist, and former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, who was known in the Senate from the start for his viral opposition to Israel. And, one must not forget Helen Thomas, who obviously will be feted by the group as a hero.

The other two speakers of note are Ralph Nader, who when running for President made clear his opposition to Israel, and the noted medical doctor played by Robin Williams in the movies, the “clown” doctor, Patch Adams.

To see what Adams’ embarrassing contribution is to the group, and to evaluate the low level of its propaganda, you must take a look at the following video, of which they are evidently most proud.

That MoveOverAIPAC seems to think that this will help them is hard to understand, although perhaps it reveals their desperation.

So what this group is about is yet another example of a coalition of “realists,” extremist radicals of the far Left, and pro-Islamist and pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah organizations.  In an important interview in The Jerusalem Post, the American writer Bruce Bawer, talking about the growth of anti-Semitism and pro-Islamism in Norway, Bawer makes the following point. Talking about a new leftist political party in Norway, he writes: “The Socialist Left Party is the spiritual home of much, if not most, of the Norwegian cultural elite. Many of its members were once card-carrying Communists and Soviet sympathizers. They despise the US and hate the fact that Norway is in NATO. At one time they would’ve gladly enlisted Norway in the Warsaw Pact, because in their view the great force for evil in today’s world is capitalism. Now they are eager to embrace jihadists and terrorists for the same reason.”

Bawer is exactly right. And what he says about the cultural elite in Norway and their CP past and world-view applies directly to those who have formed Move Over Aipac in our country. For the old American Left, opposition to Israel, to the existence of a Jewish state, and hence support for Hamas and Hezbollah, has replaced their old anti-Americanism and support for the Soviet bloc. They have not moved on, and opposition to Israel is the equivalent of their old support to Soviet style Communism.

We live in a very different world than the days of the old Cold War, but evidently, we face the same enemies at home.

In the current issue of The New Republic, Senior Editor John B. Judis has an article about what he calls the collapse of “disinterestedness.” I have only one question: What was Judis smoking when he wrote that article? As he sees things, The New York Times from its very founding to today exemplifies this principle. The paper stands above the fray, supposedly non-partisan, thereby adopting “a mediating role in society—between business and labor, and later between the general public and the more militant wings of the civil rights, consumer, and environmental movements.”

The NYT, in other words, like NPR, are truly objective, not biased, and certainly not liberal or left in the way he says Fox News is openly right-wing and conservative. The MSM, he says, has a “genuine commitment” to “being above party and ideology.” Conservative media, on the other hand, functions as an open arm of the right-wing of the Republican Party.

Judis writes: “Journalists at The New York Times, for instance, may be more likely to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans, but they are taught and required by their publication to put aside their own partisan inclinations when reporting.” Sure, John. If you don’t think the Times’ coverage reads like its editorials, look at this story about the budget battle in Congress, from last Saturday’s paper.

Judis, like so many other leftists and liberals, is so convinced that his side has the truth that he can no longer distinguish between ideology and truly disinterested reporting. NPR’s news programs, he writes, “are generally solicitous of all sides in a controversy, and it has bent over backward to avoid being tainted by party or interest. NPR staff were even barred from attending the rally on the Mall last October staged by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.”

He confuses the foolishness of its directors, burnt from the firing of Juan Williams so they pretend that not allowing staff to go to the Stewart-Colbert comedy event, with evidence that the station is above ideology. Has he ever listened to its coverage of the Middle East, which has given critics like CAMERA many examples to cite that reveal NPR’s bias, and for people to call the network “National Palestinian Radio?”  Has he not seen the James O’Keefe video with NPR’s now dismissed directors, who readily revealed their blatant ideology?

So John, despite your pleas, a “a significant percentage of conservatives now refuse to accept the Times as a trustworthy news outlet” and will continue to do so.  So here’s a suggestion: Perhaps Roger Kimball will agree to ask Encounter Books to send you a freebie of William McGowan’s Grey Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America . Micky Kaus, a journalist whom you respect, says this about it: “America’s most important paper became somehow more unashamed of its political bias and more insulated. By skillfully reporting the telling anecdotes, disturbing incidents and outright scandals of the past two decades, William McGowan shows us that things at the Times aren’t as bad as we’d thought. They’re worse!”

Perhaps it’s not too late for you to learn something also. Or are you too disinterested? And please, stop smoking that stuff when you write!

As I wrote in my first part of a blog post on this subject, John Nichols cites the most well-known American socialists of the past — Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington — as an example of how socialists were part and parcel of the American tradition, and how their socialism grew out of American values and as a basic part of our country’s heritage. This is particularly true of Eugene V. Debs, the titan of American socialism’s heroic years of growth and influence. Debs, as his biographer Nick Salvatore revealed in an excellent biography, spoke in the language of American republicanism and patriotism, eschewing Marxian ideology for the most part, and therefore managed to reach the average working-class citizen in a manner that other socialists never managed to match.

But Nichols ignores completely what happened to socialism after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, as the movement collapsed totally as many of its militants, contrary to Debs’ own advice, saw fealty to Lenin and his comrades as a necessary component of their program. Moreover, Nichols does not let his readers learn about the many socialists who broke with their party’s mainstream in two major respects — they came to value the American system as the embodiment of their dreams, and hence to both support its foreign policy (including entry into World War I) and to vigorously oppose the Bolsheviks and their domestic American supporters. This group included socialists like William English Walling, Algie M. Simons, Charles Edward Russell, and others. These socialists formed a pro-war and patriotic socialist group, The Social Democratic Federation. Although they are now forgotten, they were among some of the most well-known figures in the America of their time.

Among this group was John Spargo, whom I wrote about in this article which appeared in The Weekly Standard.  Spargo was among the very first Americans to call for opposition to Bolshevism, and to urge various administrations to develop a strong anti-Communist foreign policy. He grew close to the State Department, and during the Wilson administration, he personally created the policy of non-recognition of Lenin’s new regime, and actually wrote the policy document issued under the name of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. The policies he espoused would be exactly the kind both John Nichols and the other editors of The Nation opposed then and would find horrific today.

From the perspective of the American socialist tradition, what is most important are the conclusions Spargo reached about the country he loved. America, he believed, had become a nation whose system embodied the best of socialism: a belief in equality of opportunity, economic growth that would benefit the working man as well as the wealthy, and regulation of industry when it was deemed necessary.  Spargo called it “a communism of opportunity” or “socialized individualism.” In a new era, he wrote, capitalist America had progressed towards “a new type of communism, based upon private property and individualism,” in which the genius of capitalism would be channeled to achieve “socialization of results.”

During the New Deal era, he saw public funding of government projects as steps that retarded, rather than advanced, economic recovery. As an alternative, he favored an industrial democracy similar to that called for by social democrats, and based on cooperation of progressive businessmen and moderate trade union leaders. In addition, he feared that some New Dealers favored an American style of central planning that would lead to collectivism and have the same dangerous results as in the Soviet Union. The New Deal, he thought, was driving towards what historian Markku Ruotsila calls a “centralized, illiberal and coercive governance on par with Bolshevism and Fascism.” Spargo also favored regulatory legislation that would stifle corporate greed; but he opposed any move of government into business, arguing that it would lead not only to an unnecessary bureaucracy but also to increased taxes that would harm the production of wealth. Roosevelt’s domestic policies were, in effect, what Spargo had opposed when he was a socialist: a centralized bureaucracy leading to a new state capitalism.

Near the end of his life, his last political act was to endorse Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. Spargo’s analysis, then, is more than similar to the current analysis of the United States offered by my good friend, the historian Martin J. Sklar. In The Nation dated September 4-11, 2000, a discussion of Sklar’s importance is presented by Marc Chandler, who is identified as teaching international political economy at NYU, a columnist for the business publication TheStreet.com, and the chief currency strategist for the Mellon Bank! His curriculum vita is hardly that of a flaming far left radical!

Chandler writes (his article, unfortunately, is not online): “The idea that capitalism and socialism are not mutually exclusive anticipates an arguably more intellectually rigorous discourse. American historian Martin Sklar develops this line of argument in a collection of essays published under the title The United States as a Developing Country (1992) and in a number of subsequent essays, most recently in ‘Capitalism and Socialism in the Emergence of Modern America:The Formative Era.’”

Chandler sums up Sklar’s work in the following paragraphs:

For Sklar, socialism refers to a mode of production, or what he calls “property production relations.” Socialist relations are those that supplement or to some degree supplant the property stake as the bedrock of one’s role and status in society. Socialism comprises those tendencies, forces and institutions that blunt, mitigate or adapt market relations to social goals.

Socialism, according to Sklar, is the redefinition of property rights in ways that make the market socially accountable and responsible. It broadens the meaning of human rights and citizenship. He finds socialism in the ways in which we celebrate our identities as citizens and not simply as factors of production, like breathing appendages to machines. Socialism lies in those various political, associational and contractual relationships that mediate, restrain and redirect the rights of property and the cash nexus. The part-conflicting, part-symbiotic relationship between capitalism and socialism does not simply take place between classes and institutions but within them as well. Sklar argues against equating capitalism with markets or businesses and equating socialism with the state or unions, which is what … many others have done. He suggests that each sphere may embody the capitalist-socialist mix that characterizes the modern American political economy.

In fact, Sklar argues, the large modern corporation, which many consider a defining institution of capitalism, is itself an embodiment of both capitalism and socialism: Its very origins lie in self-conscious attempts on the part of individual capitalists to escape the vagaries of the “free market.”

At this point, I hope some readers of mine will actually go to the link and read Sklar’s entire article, as complicated as it might be for some to follow. What he develops is a new way of looking at the nature of both capitalism and socialism, by what he has called the theory and reality of “the mix,” in which both elements of capitalism and socialism arose together during the era of the birth of the modern large corporation. This principle, he argues, “cohered strongly with prevalent American political principles associated with republicanism and rooted in the traditions and experiences of the American Revolution.” Hence, when Sklar refers to socialism, in his terminology it is the very opposite of the kind of state-command economies that existed in what the world came to know as “socialism.”

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Part I of a blog post on American socialism and the American tradition.

In my previous blog, I quoted some of the comments about social democracy made by Leszek Kolakowski. Let me begin this article about socialism in America by again citing, this time more completely, his closing remarks in his essay about Marx. Kolakowski was not among those who believed that socialists never played any positive role in the advance of Western civilization. Indeed, in his essay, he wrote the following:

Everything was clearer before the First World War. Socialists and the left in general wanted not only equal, universal, and obligatory schools, social health service, progressive taxation, and religious tolerance, but also secular education, the abolition of national and racial discrimination, the equality of women, the freedom of press and assembly, the legal regulation of labor conditions, and a social insurance system. They fought against militarism and chauvinism. European socialist leaders of the period of the Second International, such people as Jaurès, Babel, Turati, Vandervelle, and Martov, embodied what was best in European political life.

He understood that in the 20th century, as well as today, those who called themselves socialists had moved away from this tradition, and in the name of socialism, became ardent supporters of a state-command economy and a totalitarian system that was almost indistinguishable from fascism.  While he eschewed any attempts to regulate equality and to build a new social system through revolution, he did not abandon what he thought was the social-democratic project. Thus he added:

Be that as it may, socialist movements strongly contributed to changing the political landscape for the better. They inspired a number of social reforms without which the contemporary welfare state — which most of us take for granted — would be unthinkable. It would thus be a pity if the collapse of Communist socialism resulted in the demise of the socialist tradition as a whole and the triumph of Social Darwinism as the dominant ideology.

In this regard, Kolakowski was very much in the same camp as the late Sidney Hook, who during the Cold War years through the Reagan presidency and beyond, allied with conservatives in the anti-Communist struggle, and wrote articles for virtually every conservative magazine, but who still called himself a social-democrat. (I attended the memorial service held for him at NYU, where Norman Podhoretz, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Herb London were speakers, as well as the then-president of the AFL-CIO, Lane Kirkland.)

So while Kolakowski rejected any attempt to build a new society, like Sidney Hook, he believed that social-democracy and socialism is an unrealizable dream:

as a statement of solidarity with the underdogs and the oppressed…as a light that keeps before our eyes something higher than competition and greed — for all of these reasons, socialism, the ideal not the system, still has its uses.

I begin with Kolakowski’s thoughts as a prelude to discussing the cover story that appeared in last week’s issue of The Nation, a magazine that we well know is anything but in favor of the kind of socialist ideal of which Kolakowski and Hook still had sympathies for. Written by one of its editors, John Nichols, it is somewhat outrageously titled “How Socialists Built America,”  and is excerpted from his new book, The ‘S’Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism.

My comments here are based on Nichols’ essay, and not on what he writes in his book, which I eventually hope to review. Nichols thesis is simple, and is stated at the beginning of his article. America, he argues, is subject to a false claim that America was  “founded as a capitalist country and that socialism is a dangerous foreign import that, despite our unwarranted faith in free trade, must be barred at the border.” To those who believe this — and as you expect, he includes all conservatives and Republicans in his list — “everything public is inferior to everything private, that corporations are always good and unions always bad, that progressive taxation is inherently evil and that the best economic model is the one that allows the wealthy to gobble up as much of the Republic as they choose before anything trickles down to the great mass of Americans.”

What particularly annoys Nichols is the belief of so many people, especially conservatives, that Obama is some kind of a socialist, not to speak of being a Marxist. In Nichols’ eyes, our president is anything but a socialist. Indeed, that is the trouble. Nichols writes:

The president says he’s not a socialist, and the country’s most outspoken socialists heartily agree. Indeed, the only people who seem to think Obama displays even the slightest social democratic tendency are those who imagine that the very mention of the word “socialism” should inspire a reaction like that of a vampire confronted with the Host.

He then adds:

Unfortunately, Obama may be more frightened by the S-word than Palin. When a New York Times reporter asked the president in March 2009 whether his domestic policies suggested he was a socialist, a relaxed Obama replied, “The answer would be no.” … But after he talked with his hyper-cautious counselors, he began to worry. So he called the reporter back and said, “It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question.”

To Nichols, the problem of Obama is that he is not a socialist. (Nichols seems unaware of the sophisticated argument made by Stanley Kurtz that Obama’s record indicates that in fact, he is a clear example of one who has abided regularly to a stealth-socialist strategy.) Hence Nichols argues that:

Obama really is avoiding consideration of socialist, or even mildly social democratic, responses to the problems that confront him. He took the single-payer option off the table at the start of the healthcare debate, rejecting the approach that in other countries has provided quality care to all citizens at lower cost. His supposedly “socialist”  response to the collapse of the auto industry was to give tens of billions in bailout funding to GM and Chrysler, which used the money to lay off thousands of workers and then relocate several dozen plants abroad—an approach about as far as a country can get from the social democratic model of using public investment and industrial policy to promote job creation and community renewal.

Yes, Obama took single-payer off the table, and got the insurance industry to sign on to ObamaCare by giving them a healthy profit. But as he has said, and is on tape saying at various times, the current program was but a stepping stone to eventual universal health care on the single-payer model, which he personally prefers. In other words, the path he took was that of tactics — not an abandonment of principle. There are, after all, different paths to Rome.

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For some reason, every time a modern capitalist economy faces a problem such as our current fiscal crisis here in the United States, members of the academy trout out Karl Marx as the solution. The latest example comes from The Chronicle Review, the literary supplement of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It is written by the British activist and writer Terry Eagleton, and is based on his new book, Why Marx was Right.

We all are all too familiar with the fact that while the world is moving away from social democracy, not to speak of Marxism as a philosophy, it always remains alive and well in our institutions of higher learning. Eagleton is too smart to not be unaware of the serious challenges to Marxism, especially the major defeat it suffered after the fall of the Soviet Union. So he acknowledges this at the start. He writes:

“Were not Marx’s ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women? Was not one of his devoted disciples a paranoid Georgian peasant by the name of Stalin, and another a brutal Chinese dictator who may well have had the blood of some 30 million of his people on his hands?”

You know what is coming next, if you are even slightly bit familiar with the Left’s fallback position: Marx was not responsible for the wrong interpretations made of his work by the totalitarians of the last century.  Sure enough, Eagleton argues that “Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition.”

Eagleton asserts that Marx would have scorned the idea that anyone could ever believe that the socialist system he desired could be built in a backwards society like Russia or China that had not yet been modernized by the forces of capitalism. So why, then, did all of Eagleton’s comrades like the British historian Eric Hobsbawm support the Soviet Union through thick and thin, and bemoan its passing after it came to a crushing end?

Bypassing an answer to that query, Eagleton argues instead that Marx was right about what counted: the failure of capitalism to attain justice and prosperity for all; the failure to end colonialism and imperialism; etc. As he puts it, “Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality? What are the mechanisms by which affluence for a minority seems to breed hardship and indignity for the many? Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor? …is it more plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality…?”

Capitalism, Eagleton continues, was great at ending feudalism and modernizing the economies in the age of industrialism, and that is why Marx was “extravagant in his praise for the class that created it, a fact that both his critics and his disciples have conveniently suppressed.” That class, he writes, did a lot of good things: emancipated slaves, fought for human freedom, and created a global civilization. Max appreciated and understood this, considering it a major “historical achievement.”

But to Eagleton, once having developed society, the new developments brought forth new “possibilities of barbarism.” Hence, Eagleton — along with Marx — sees the solution in the social revolution Marx hoped would be carried out by the oppressed proletarians or working classes of the capitalist social order.

As one reads Eagleton, it is fairly clear that all he is offering is a re-written Marx for beginners. There is virtually nothing in his Chronicle Review article that presents anything a first year student of Marx would  not have learned for himself upon a cursory reading of the Marxian classics. One thinks, therefore, that the editors of the learned weekly hoped that offering up this essay would again inspire more followers for Marx on the campus, as if there were not enough already.

The rest of Eagleton is apologia for Marx and rather unconvincing answers to the Left’s critics. If you point to “the proper outrage to the mass murders in Communist Russia and China,” Eagleton has the easy answer: what about the “genocidal crimes of capitalism”?  Fascism, resulting from capitalism, he reminds readers, was fought and defeated by “the self-sacrifice of the Soviet Union.” Does he actually believe that the Nazis lost because the Russian people believed in Communism? Does he not know that Stalin assumed the mantle of Russian nationalism, and that people fought to preserve Russia from submission to Nazi slavery, and not to create the Communist world believed in by Stalin?

As for his answer to Communist mass murders, he neglects the obvious fact that its supporters argued they were going to create a humane alternative to the horrors of capitalism, not a society that slaughtered millions in the name of their theory, and perpetrated deliberate horrors that were the byproduct of the system they created.

He also brags that Marxists warned “of the perils of fascism” while the leaders of the “so-called free world” where whitewashing Hitler. Again, he conveniently forgets the phony anti-fascism of Stalin, which masked his own preparations for mass purges, as well as his years of cooperation with Hitler that allowed fascism to triumph in Germany. And he has the nerve to argue that while today’s Marxists have no love for Stalin and Mao (he ignores those who still do, of course) non-Marxists defend Hiroshima. The latter is of course a historical question as to why the a-bomb was dropped, and has nothing to do with an economic and social system’s dependence on mass murder.

Next he compares our 9/11 to the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile on 9/11 thirty years earlier than 2001. Despite the similarity of the date on which both events took place, again there is no valid comparison.

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Ryan’s Hope and Change

April 12th, 2011 - 5:59 pm

Theodore Roosevelt, when asked what a Progressive was, once responded: “A Progressive is a conservative who resolutely sets his face towards the future.” Putting aside for a moment the issue of how conservatives moved away from the norm of limited government and began to stretch the meaning of the Constitution, let us ponder the issue of political labels and what they have come to mean.

Today’s would-be liberal Democrats are very anxious to have themselves defined as not only people who care, but as those who embody in their very being the notion of progress, based on an ever-expanding welfare state. In the ’40s and ’50s, they used the term “liberal” to describe themselves, even though they had hijacked the very meaning of liberal, which had arisen from the doctrine of classical liberalism associated with the defenders of laissez-faire ideology, as well as from the concept of the liberal culture of the West, which definitely did not have anything to do with an ever-growing state power.

Once our country passed through the volatile 1960s, with the emergence of both the counterculture and the New Left, most Americans came to identify liberals as those who identified with and supported all the excesses of both, including the use of violence, the disdain for authority and order, the calls for revolution, and the abandonment of moral values to hold the social order together. Quickly discovering that the term “liberal” and the idea of liberalism began to have a negative content, those who used to proudly assert that pedigree decided they had to come up with something else. That turned out to be the old term “progressive,” adopted from the old Progressive movement of the early 20th century.

Ironically, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, those “liberals” who were vigorously opposed to the totalitarianism of the Left as well as the far Right called themselves “anti-Communist liberals” who favored the Vital Center, to use Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s phrase. They sought to distinguish themselves from their old allies during the New Deal era who worked with the Communists and fellow-travelers, and who still wanted to keep that alliance alive when most Americans came to understand that there really was a Soviet threat. The so-called  liberals, who still favored a Popular Front with the Communists, then began to call themselves “progressives.”

Of course, they were not progressive, in any sense of the word, just as today’s left-liberals who now also call themselves progressives are not. What they really are — and I strongly believe we should begin to regularly call them this — are reactionaries. I use that term because when they argue against any movement to curb entitlements, demand an answer to fiscal crisis by “taxing the rich” and implementing higher and higher taxes, and argue on behalf of more and more bailouts, as does Paul Krugman, or new social programs like national health insurance and universal, free, government-funded health care, they are looking backwards for “solutions” that would make things worse for everyone, and that would both quickly fail and leave the United States a society on the way to permanent collapse.

Writing in Time, Fareed Zakaria points out that Barack Obama’s response to the agenda set forth by Rep. Paul Ryan finds the president doing the opposite of acting like a grownup, and trying on his own to let the nation know how he intends to deal with what is a very real coming major economic crisis. Zakaria writes that the entire “liberal establishment is in full fury over Ryan’s plan,” instead of realizing that although they might argue the plan has flaws and needs fixing, they are seeking to yell bloody murder about how it will harm the elderly, the middle class, and the poor.

As Brad Schaffer writes at Frum Forum, Chris Matthews told his Hardball audience that  Ryan’s bill “would kill half the people who watch this show.” Schaffer points out that in fact, those really hurt by Medicare and the proposals to extend it and enlarge it are the young, who will be paying through the nose. Matthews went on to say that “the federal government promised that back in the 1960s, that they would take care of people who have worked their whole life for their medical costs.” On this, Schaffer comments: “True enough. But that was nearly fifty years ago. It was a promise based upon faulty actuarials and bogus assumptions and now, after decades of kicking the can down the road, the bill has finally come due.”

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The idiot wind is blowing again, and this time it is comprised of all the pundits going after Bob Dylan for singing in China, and agreeing to abide by an approved list of songs submitted to him by Chinese censors.

First, here is a report about Dylan in China. As Keith Richburg writes, his set list was “devoid of any numbers that might carry even the whiff of anti-government overtones.” Richburg notes that it did not include “Desolation Row” or “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which he did sing in Taiwan. Nor, he comments, did Dylan sing “Chimes of Freedom.” Dylan’s appearance coincided with reports of increasing government repression and arrests of Chinese artists such as Ai Weiwei, and the imprisonment of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

The ignorance the media has about Dylan is most apparent in this AP dispatch appearing this morning in The Washington Post. Take the very first sentence about a forthcoming concert Dylan is to give in Vietnam: “After nearly five decades of singing about a war that continues to haunt a generation of Americans, legendary performer Bob Dylan is finally getting his chance to see Vietnam at peace.” The writer, obviously a very young person without any familiarity at all with Dylan’s work, does not realize that Dylan never sang about the war in Vietnam, and never joined one single protest against it.

In his famous 1968 interview (the very year of protest) conducted for Sing Out! by his friends John Cohen and Happy Traum, Dylan was asked by Traum: “Do you foresee a time when you’re going to have to take some kind of a position?” Dylan answered in one word: “No.” Traum, obviously upset, argued that “every day we get closer to having to make a choice,” because, he explained, “events of the world are getting closer to us … as close as the nearest ghetto.” Dylan’s answer: “Where’s the nearest ghetto?

When he got to the issue of the Vietnam War, Traum told Dylan: “Probably the most pressing thing going on in a political sense is the war,” and that artists like him “feel it is their responsibility to say something.” Dylan responded by telling Traum: “I know some very good artists who are for the war.” He then added that this painter he knows is “all for the war. He’s just about ready to go over there himself. And I can comprehend him.” Moreover, when Traum suggested he argue with the painter, Dylan asked, “Why should I?”

Yet the anonymous AP reporter still refers to Dylan as an American “folk singer,” a label he strenuously rejects, and the author of “classic anti-war tunes.” That the president of the Vietnam Composers’ Association thinks that Dylan used music “as a weapon to oppose the war in Vietnam” only reveals his ignorance as well, and speaks to an image of Dylan that never in reality was warranted. Nor is it accurate to say that Dylan’s music “during the tumultuous 1960s touched thousands of young people…angry that a draft was being used to send young men off to die in Southeast Asia — to take to the streets and demand that Washington stop the war in Vietnam.” One might say that about the openly anti-war John Lennon, who even led a march in New York City, but definitely NOT about Bob Dylan.

Yet Human Rights Watch, a group whose credibility has been recently questioned by its founder Robert Bernstein for its constant one-sided attacks on Israel as a human rights violator, felt no compunction in releasing a statement that “Dylan should be ashamed of himself.” Brad Adams, executive director of its Asia division, said that Dylan has “a historic chance to communicate a message of freedom and hope, but instead he is allowing censors to choose his playlist.”

Contrary to Keith Richburg, who chastised Dylan for not singing “Desolation Row” in Beijing, it turns out that he did sing it, as Sean Curnyn points out, in Shanghai. That song, as anyone who has heard it knows, casts up fierce images of a future world that is confused, topsy-turvey and in disarray. Some in China, undoubtedly, could also read “Hard Rain”  as a warning to its leaders to do what is necessary to curb the nuclear appetites of its ally, North Korea. As Curynn comments, “We might forget how radical, how world-upturning these songs were when many of us first heard them (and that goes even for us who heard them many years after their original release). It’s nice to think of them causing wonder and excitement, if only for a few, in China and in 2011.”

Curnyn also notes that no one has seen any specific prohibitions from the Chinese government as to what Dylan could and could not sing, and all such articles are based purely on speculation. Curnyn asks the fundamental questions:

For the sake of the historical record, hopefully we will at some point find for sure the answer to two questions:
(1) Did the Chinese regime prohibit certain songs?
(2) Did Bob Dylan ultimately abide by those prohibitions or not?
This isn’t from a judgmental point of view — for me anyway — but purely out of a healthy curiosity.

Clearly, since Dylan alters his set list each night, we do not know what they asked him to sing. He had to give them his lyrics in print, and as Curnyn writes, “The mental image of these communist bureaucrats going through all of those songs, trying to figure them out, is an oddly pleasant one.”

Even the reporter for Time understood that Dylan’s song “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall,” which he sang in Beijing, has meaning that obviously the censors let go by, probably because they did not have the imagination to comprehend it. Jenny Wilson wrote: “The Culture Ministry accepted his song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’ perhaps because it’s often examined in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But lyrics like ‘I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’’ may reflect a call for government reform. Not convinced? In the same song, he speaks of a land ‘Where the people are many and their hands are all empty/Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters/Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,’ bringing to mind poverty and pollution prevalent in modern China.”

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