by Mark, Detroit
(from Communist Voice #24, June 14, 2000)
The "right-left" alliance during the NATO-Serb war
Left-right love blooms in San Mateo, CA
Beat the Devil or join him?
Capitalism and war
Finding "shared moral ground" with slaveholders
Groveling before free-market arguments against government interference
Uniting with the rightist to "defend liberty"
Friends of the environment?
Right the right and left-wing servants of capitalism
Appendix: Chomsky's attempt to equate Lenin and McNamara
. Today there are a variety of right-wing trends seeking to build up their reactionary cause by appealing for alliances with the left. Such alliances with the right have long been the practice of the Democratic Party liberals and organizations which are closely tied to them who shamefully join hands with open reactionaries. Leftist critics of the liberals have justly pointed to the liberals unity with the right as confirmation of how the liberals constantly betray their promises to help the oppressed masses. But today there are some on the left who fancy themselves radical critics of the liberals, who themselves have been seeking unity with the right. In this article we focus on one example, that of left-wing journalist Alexander Cockburn's courtship with the Buchananite/libertarian crowd. But, as we shall soon see, Cockburn is part of a trend that has developed among a section of the left. The new-found rightist "friends" of these leftists promote themselves as "anti-establishment" and rail against the liberals and certain mainstream conservatives. But they do so from the standpoint or raving supporters of American capitalism. Their charge against the establishment is that it has betrayed American capitalism by having some social programs or by allowing U.S. imperialism to allegedly be put upon by foreign countries or international organizations dominated by foreigners.
. Nevertheless, this alliance is presented by both its right and left-wing participants as a new politics "beyond left or right." Actually it shows that while some "leftists" disagree with many liberal politicians on this or that policy, their general approach trails in the wake of the liberals, who are masters at conciliating the right. After all, there are liberal forces in the pro-choice movement that have been searching for common ground with the anti-abortion crusaders. Various liberal reformers and some trade union bureaucrats in the anti-WTO movement have been cozying up to Buchanan's chauvinist campaign to divert that struggle away from targeting capitalism and into a chauvinist crusade to beat back a supposed loss of U.S. imperialism's national sovereignty. Al Gore has used the Elian Gonzalez case to kiss up to the reactionary Cuban organizations in Miami, just as Clinton did by uniting with arch-reactionary Jesse Helms a couple of years ago to pass the notorious Helms-Burton bill.
. Such alliances with the right, whether by the Democrats with Helms or by alleged left critics of
the liberals with Buchanan, have nothing to do with helping the masses break out of the
stranglehold of bourgeois politics. To really fight the capitalist establishment means helping the
masses organize against their class enemies. But it is impossible for Cockburn to take such a
stand when he is engaged in establishing warm relations with bigoted, "America First"
chauvinists like Buchanan or the defenders of complete freedom for exploitation of the workers
like the libertarians. The development of an independent class trend requires taking a distinct
position against both the right-wing and the liberal/reformist milieu. The "left" proponents of
right-left unity fail on this account. For all their pretensions of a new politics, they are trapped in
the traditional framework of the American bourgeoisie which confines politics to the choice
between liberals and conservatives. The only thing new that unity with the
Buchananite/libertarian crowd accomplishes is to attempt to legitimize among the oppressed
some of the most backward and fanatical defenders of their capitalist oppressors.
The "right-left" alliance during the NATO-Serb war
. The complex situation created by the NATO-Serb war over Kosovo provided new opportunities for the development of this "right-left" courtship. The U.S./NATO war against Serbia was another example of imperialism's so-called "humanitarian interventionism." Serbia had unleashed a terrible military campaign against the Albanian Kosovars for the "crime" of wanting to escape Serbian national oppression by establishing their own national state. Actually, U.S./NATO imperialism's concern wasn't Albanian suffering per se, which they ignored for years when they were making deals with Milosevic, but that either an extended massacre or an independent Kosovo would threaten the stability among their allies in the region. Thus, they sought to insert themselves as the arbiter of events there. Meanwhile, the NATO bombing campaign added a new set of horrors on top of those created by Milosevic. The dilemma was how to oppose imperialism, when imperialist intervention helped stop the Serb onslaught against the Albanian Kosovars, but had its own rotten motives and created its own havoc? Many liberal/reformist types supported NATO military intervention as an effort to save the Albanians from Serb terror and more or less accepted Clinton's imperialist "humanitarian interventionist" policy. In Congress, many arch-imperialist Republicans criticized the war because it served their rivalry with Clinton. Further to the right, Mr. "American imperialism first," Pat Buchanan, also declared against the war. None of these trends was opposing imperialism.
. In this complicated situation, what then would a class stand in the interest of the workers be? It had to be based on support for the mass movements against oppression. Such a stand would oppose both Milosevic and NATO and encourage the development of new revolutionary trends among the workers in Kosovo and Serbia, and in the countries of the imperialist NATO alliance. Recognition of the right to self-determination for the Kosovars is critical to the task of rebuilding the class trends. This is because the present distrust of the Kosovar masses toward their Serbian counterparts cannot be overcome without this, and because to do otherwise would help tie the Serb workers to the tyrannical rule of the state-capitalist Milosevic regime.
. Without an orientation based on supporting the oppressed and encouraging the rebuilding of revolutionary organization among the workers of all the nationalities, confusion on what anti-imperialism meant was bound to reign. This confusion went in several directions, but for a section of the anti-war left it led them to conclude that the only alternative to the liberal cheerleading for NATO imperialism was to join forces with ultra-reactionaries of the "anti-war" right. "Anti-imperialism" for these "leftists" was reduced to condemning the Clinton/NATO war from whatever angle. They claimed that recognizing the legitimacy of the struggle of the Albanian Kosovars for independence from the state-capitalist Milosevic regime, or, in some cases, even acknowledging the atrocities of Milosevic, was tantamount to lining up with U.S./NATO imperialism. Such trends failed to recognize that anti-imperialism without recognizing the rights of oppressed masses is a sham. True, under the auspices of the post-war NATO protectorate, there has been horrible treatment meted out against the non-Albanian minorities. But the need to respect the rights of the minorities in Kosovo can not justify toleration of the Serbian oppression of the Albanian Kosovars, and the justice of a struggle opposing such oppression. It only highlights the need for encouraging proletarian trends opposed to the bourgeois nationalism that has created havoc in Kosovo and Serbia.
. But while certain left trends insisted that demonizing the Albanian Kosovars and covering for Milosevic was necessary to prove one's anti-imperialist credentials, a mutual flirtation was developing between them and a section of the right-wing reactionaries. Anti-war writings by "left" apologists for Milosevic like Diana Johnstone could be found on left and right-wing anti-war web sites alike. Certain anti-war web sites promoted the idea of right-left unity against the war. The "www.stopnato.org" site promoted everyone from parties calling themselves "communist" to the Buchananites for the stated purpose of "uniting peaceful, thoughtful Americans from across the political spectrum." The "anti-war.com" site run by right-wing libertarian supporters of Buchanan promoted that right-left designations were out of date and that they were open to unity with the left. Alleged left-wing "anti-imperialist" Jared Israel produced and promoted a film meant to exonerate Serbia of all crimes by showing how some particular Western claims against Milosevic were lies. He boasted of how so many different trends loved the film, stating that even "conservatives love it" including "the Buchananites at antiwar.com." It is hardly a badge of honor to produce materials that are adored by the right, however. Meanwhile, the leftist Z Magazine advised activists that there was no point in agitation that distinguished the stand of the right from that of the left in the anti-war movement. True to its word, Z Magazine's "ZNet" web site carried a "sample anti-war flier," that in its efforts to sidestep the controversies in the movement, called for unity of all activists on the basis that the war would be a "debacle." Opposition to "debacles" however, could hardly serve as a line of demarcation between anti-imperialist sentiments and pragmatic pro-imperialist opposition from rightists like Jack Kemp and Buchanan who considered the war a debacle because they think their own policies are better suited to help U.S. imperialism succeed. Left unity with the right also included the phony socialists of the Workers World Party who, their love of Milosevic as a supposed socialist aside, tailored their slogans at demonstrations so that they would be acceptable to anti-Milosevic Serb chauvinists who pine for the good old days of the Serbian monarchy.
. Indeed, there were any number of congressional conservatives and other right-wing demagogues
who opposed the war in the U.S. Anti-imperialism had nothing to do with it, however. Rather,
some rightists believed that U.S. imperialist interests would be best served by preserving its war
machine for other regions of the world they thought were of more "vital interest" to imperialism.
Likewise, the alleged anti-interventionism touted by the right is a policy they believe will better
defend U.S. capitalist interests at home and abroad. Thus they emphasize not getting involved in
various international bodies and alliances they feel will be more beneficial to foreign capitalist
rivals. While these days even Buchanan talks about "neo-imperialism," such a policy aims to
strengthen U.S. imperialism, not undermine it.
Left-right love blooms in San Mateo, CA
. The flirtation of a section of the left with the right has been developing toward an outright
alliance. Symbolic of this was the decision of some ostensibly left opponents of the war to attend
a so-called anti-war conference in San Mateo, California in late March at which the featured
speaker was Pat Buchanan. The conference billed well-known columnist Alexander Cockburn as
the main leftist speaker. Cockburn's column, "Beat the Devil" appears in The Nation and some
mainstream bourgeois papers, and he co-edits the CounterPunch newsletter. The conference was
organized by the aforementioned Buchananite libertarians at "antiwar.com", whose Justin
Raimondo functioned as chief host and publicist for the conference. According to Raimondo, the
list of left participants was to include Jared Israel. Mr. Israel, who thinks anti-imperialism
requires accepting that the idea that Milosevic has mistreated the Albanians is simply a CIA plot
never showed however. In explaining his non-appearance, Mr. Israel voiced no opposition to
alliance with Buchanan and said he was busy making his above-mentioned film which was so
loved by the right.
Beat the Devil or join him?
. Cockburn likes to argue that there is nothing wrong with a leftist attending a gathering of right-wing groups. But as we shall see, Cockburn did not go to expose the phony anti-war pretensions of Buchanan and various other right-wing demagogues who spoke. Instead he portrayed Buchanan as a real anti-war fighter taking on the pro-war establishment. Indeed, he promoted the possibility of further unity with racist, religious bigot Buchanan and assorted libertarians on a range of issues including the environment and defending democratic liberties. (Elsewhere in this issue, we reprint Cockburn's article "Life and libertarians: beyond left and right", which includes his remarks at the San Mateo, CA conference with Buchanan, from the April 3 issue of CounterPunch.)
. In his speech before the overwhelmingly right-wing gathering in San Mateo, Cockburn insisted that one must look past whether people label themselves "right" or "left" and see what actual political positions they hold. But while Cockburn pointed out the gap between words and deeds by the liberals, when it came to Buchanan and other right-wing reactionaries, he accepted their anti-war claims at face value. He announced to his right-wing audience that: "you [anti-war activists] really do start looking for allies and I have noticed you find them increasingly in people like yourselves. People who would conventionally be regarded on the libertarian right or people like Buchanan." And he added: "Can we unite on the anti-war platform? We have already, in the case of Kosovo for example." Buchanan is against the NATO war against Serbia, and that's evidently all Cockburn wants to examine the matter.
. But to leave matters at that level is to hide Buchanan's actual position. Among other things, Cockburn failed to note that in San Mateo, Buchanan's position on Kosovo was that the U.S. should prod the European imperialist powers to become the police for that region. (1) In his San Mateo speech, Buchanan declared he was against "neo-imperial foreign policy" and Cockburn became all starry-eyed, ignoring that Buchanan's actual policy on Kosovo is pro-imperialist domination, only with the capitalist powers of Europe, not the U.S., doing the dirty work. In one breath Buchanan declares against the war and in the next he is justifying it. After all, what purpose was there to NATO's war except to establish imperialist policing of Kosovo? Buchanan thinks NATO should not have warred with Yugoslavia, but seeing the results, he urges NATO to carry on with their mission, only without U.S. troops. Nor does it matter to Cockburn that Buchanan could care less about the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars and considers it more important not to offend the more powerful Serbian rulers over such a "trivial" matter.
. Of course, if one does not care whether or not the anti-war movement opts for the alternative imperialist views of Buchanan or really opposes imperialism, the less one examines Buchanan's stand, the better. Thus, Cockburn's speech in San Mateo and his subsequent April 3 article on the subject studiously avoid mentioning the expressions of love for the U.S. war machine that Buchanan reiterated in his San Mateo address. For instance, Cockburn's "anti-war" ally declared:
. "I speak as a proud Cold Warrior who supported every great anti-Communist initiative from JFK to Reagan. And I support a U.S. defense that is second to none and a foreign policy whereby America responds resolutely to any attack on American citizens, honor, or vital interests."
. Buchanan's history of flag-waving militarism, from his days as a speechwriter for Nixon during the war against the Vietnamese people and the invasion of Cambodia, through his public relations work in the Reagan administration in its efforts to strangle the Nicaraguan revolution, bomb Libya, invade Grenada, etc., are well-known to Cockburn. But when talking before his right-wing friends on the subject of opposing war, Cockburn dodged the issue. The only time Buchanan's warmongering history was mentioned in Cockburn's speech was when he remarks how a reporter questioned him about Buchanan writing a speech for Nixon justifying the invasion of Cambodia. And even then, Cockburn answered the reporter not by condemning Buchanan, but by speculating about how then-anti-war protester Clinton was probably on the CIA payroll back then.
. Clearly Buchanan has not repented his past support for U.S. military adventures. He openly
declares his support for a war machine "second to none" and justifies using it against any regime
he decides has interfered with the "vital interests" of the U.S. ruling class. Clearly, Buchanan
believes the U.S. has the right to destroy any movement he believes is communist. For Buchanan,
"communist" could include not only genuine communist political trends really loyal to the
liberation of the working class, but the state-capitalist regimes masquerading as "communist,"
various Third World governments that engage in "anti-imperialist" rhetoric, and just about any
revolt of the oppressed or government in the world. If Buchanan speaks out against certain
military interventions today, it is not due to opposing imperialism, but because he differs with
Clinton on where and when to impose imperialism's will by force. In Cockburn's right-left
anti-war alliance, it is not polite to bring up such things, however.
Capitalism and war
. While the bulk of Cockburn's remarks lavish praise on the right-wingers, he does briefly lecture
them that, unlike the left, the right-wing fails to see that capitalism gives rise to war and the
desire to crush revolts like the Zapatista peasant movement in Mexico. Capitalism is indeed the
root cause of war today. But Cockburn doesn't really attach much significance to it. His whole
theme is that it matters little if one's opposition to some war comes from the right or the left. He's
beyond all those supposedly meaningless categories. What's really important for Cockburn is to
accept the sincerity of Buchanan or the other pro-capitalist zealots of the right when they
proclaim against war. That's why he didn't bother to expose Buchanan's lengthy war crimes, but
only those of the liberals. At one point in his April 3 article (but not in his speech in front of the
Buchananites) Cockburn even concedes to a critic that Buchanan may be a fascist. But he sees no
conflict between this and Buchanan's anti-war pretensions. Rather, he euphemistically describes
this fascism as merely a "funky" feature of "American isolationism." Cockburn mocks a message
he received from a left-wing anti-racist activist who had the nerve to protest an alliance with
Buchanan. He responds as follows": "Nor do I think B [Buchanan] is any more of a fascist--in
practical terms--than Albright and Clinton and Gore and Bradley, with the first three literally
with the blood of millions on their hands." So its only Clinton-style fascism that is guilty of any
serious war crimes, whereas Buchanan's fascism is peace-loving and funky--so harmless only a
stick-in-the-mud would oppose unity with him.
Finding "shared moral ground" with slaveholders
. Should anyone doubt that the left-right unity schemes mean anything more than prettifying reactionaries, accepting whatever they say about themselves as the gospel, and reducing the struggle to what is tolerable to the right, consider Cockburn's attitude toward the slaveholders of the past. On this matter Cockburn's speech cites some awful reasoning by Noam Chomsky according to which you can unite with reactionaries "on every issue." Cockburn finds these passages from Chomsky "provocative and stimulating." He quotes the following from Chomsky:
". . . you find shared moral ground on which you can work things out. That's true on every issue. Take a look at the debate over slavery. It was largely on shared moral ground, and some of the arguments were not so silly. You could understand the slave owner's arguments. The slave owner says, 'If you own property, you treat it better than if you rent property, so I'm more humane than you are.' We can understand that argument. You have to figure out what's wrong with it, but there is a shared moral ground over a range that goes far beyond any experience. . . . It means that there must be principles that are embedded in our nature or at the core of our understanding of what a decent human life is, what a proper form of society is and so on."
. Oh how touching! The slaveholder says chattel slavery is based on his concern for a decent human life -- and Cockburn promotes this as a "provocative" idea! Of course, a decent life for the plantation owner was predicated on unspeakable crimes against the black slaves. In other words, the slaveholders' actions and morality were rooted in their own class interests. It was because there were class interests at stake that the issue of slavery wasn't settled through appeals to the slaveholders' morality, but was abolished through a bloody struggle of the slaves and the Civil War. Yet according to Chomsky, the key thing wasn't whether one was for or against slavery, but unity with the slaveholders on the high moral ground of empty humanitarian phrases. The Chomsky/Cockburn analysis boils down to the idea that since pro- and anti-slave forces both lay claim to being moral, there was a basis for unity. One may as well argue that the mutual use of guns by each side in the Civil War was also a basis for unity.
. Of course, Cockburn doesn't go into the exposition on slavery for its own sake, but to illustrate the validity of cozying up to reactionary dregs today. Clearly the intent of the discourse on slavery is that the left should accept Buchanan into its heart because: 1) he says he's a good guy; and 2) everyone, regardless of class or political stand, has the same basic interests at heart.
. While Cockburn ponders moral unity with the slaveholders from the theoretical angle, his pal
Pat is putting the idea into practice. In a recent article entitled "White flag or battle flag" in The
Washington Times, Buchanan argues that during the Civil War, "the cause of the war was, thus,
not slavery." Thus, the South didn't fight for slavery and, concludes Buchanan, the flag of the
Confederacy was "a banner of bravery and defiance" and it is wrong to demand its removal from
the South Carolina capitol building and elsewhere.
Groveling before free-market arguments against government interference
. In appealing for unity with his Buchananite and libertarian audience, Cockburn made sure he sounded a host of favorite right-wing themes. For the free-market advocates, he (again relying on passages from Chomsky) struck the theme that society's problems emanated from those who want to reform society because they think "that people don't have an instinctive nature." The free-marketers could not agree more. They too insist that human values and behavior are a product of an unchanging, innate human nature. If capitalism is presently dominating the world, that is simply the result of this human nature. They too warn against the menace of reformers, or government measures that might at least slightly mitigate the ravages of the market on the working masses. The free-market zealots hold that any restriction on profiteering, or any government program which slightly improves the conditions of the masses, is tyranny by (socialistic) dictators who foolishly think social maladies can be cured by improving social conditions. (2)
. Cockburn quotes Chomsky to the effect that these bad people who think that how people think and act is shaped by the society they inhabit have the "managerial impulse" or the "technocratic impulse." Chomsky argues that human behavior is a fixed entity, and not a reflection of the particular stage of societal development, so it would be natural for the defenders of market capitalism to understand him as agreeing with them that innate human nature is responsible for capitalism. Actually, however, it's likely that Chomsky's criticism was aimed not only at government officials, but also at managers of corporations.
. In any case, Cockburn makes sure that Chomsky's words are understood in a way most pleasing
to the rightists. Just in case anyone was wondering who those with the evil
managerial-technocratic impulse were, Cockburn assured his right-wing pals that it's the liberals.
He tells the rightists the "defense of liberty" means taking on "the liberal humanitarian
interventionist spirit at home." (3) The liberal spirit at home, according to the free-market
enthusiasts, means shifting wealth from those who "earn" it, i.e., the capitalists, to those who
don't, i.e., the workers and poor. It means some incursions on unbridled capitalism. When
Cockburn appealed to the rightists that they must wage war against the liberals, he is not
appealing to some imaginary higher moral unity, nor for "liberty" in the abstract, but to the basest
class instincts, namely, capitalist greed. Complete liberty for the capitalist means no liberty for
the workers and poor. Not only does it mean no limits on exploitation, but placing no restrictions
on the owners of capitalist property inevitably results in undermining democratic rights for the
Uniting with the rightists to "defend liberty"
. Only by avoiding the question of the right-wingers' fanatical defense of private capitalist property, can Cockburn pretend that they represent a great potential source for defense of democratic liberties. Can anyone really take seriously that the notorious racist, anti-woman, anti-gay, avowed leader of a theocratic Christian "cultural crusade" like Buchanan will stump for the rights of the oppressed? Or that Buchanan, who's main financial backer is an union-busting textile billionaire named Roger Milliken, is really going to pave the way for workers organizing against their employers? His chauvinist, protectionist appeals may echo those of the labor traitors who run the union bureaucracy, but this only reinforces the point that he opposes organization that really defends the workers.
. But what of the libertarian right? They are supposedly the most ardent defenders of freedom from any government impositions. For instance they rail against the government's so-called "war on drugs" and point out its repressive aspects. But they are also vehemently opposed to legislation that requires that businesses don't practice racial, sexual or anti-gay discrimination. That's a violation of property rights, they argue. While they supposedly want equal rights for all, they jump on the racist reverse discrimination bandwagon that wants to abolish affirmative action programs. A Michigan spokesman for the Libertarian Party actually argues that affirmative action is no good because it is "social engineering" which imposes itself against "students who tend to prefer congregating and interacting within their own ethnic group." (4) The present affirmative action programs in reality have not done nearly enough to overcome discrimination, but for the Libertarians, a little is too much. After all, as the Libertarian spokesman reasoned, if blacks and Latinos start increasing their numbers on campus, that in itself is "forcing" oneself on white students who only want to have to deal with other whites. Meanwhile, Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne boasts that with the end of federal support for schools and subsequent tax cuts, parents can send their kids to private and religious schools, i.e., private entities that the Libertarians would allow to practice racial and sexual discrimination.
. Moreover, while the Libertarians talk about the evils of the "war on drugs," they don't care that their beloved free-market has created the conditions that help drive the masses to addiction to dangerous drugs. Their "cure" for crime precludes even the slightest public efforts to alleviate misery, or provide for drug rehabilitation, or decent legal representation, or rehabilitation of prisoners in general. Beyond recognizing certain formal rights, the Libertarians oppose anything that would allow these rights to be exercised by the workers and poor. The fact that the justice system is inherently stacked against the poor, who, whatever their legal rights, have little resources to enforce them, is of no concern to them. But without these resources, these rights exist only on paper. If you're rich on the other hand, the well-healed judges will look favorably on you, or you can bribe the authorities, and hire high-powered lawyers to get you off the hook.
. While turning a blind eye to the million and one obstacles for the poor to achieve justice, Libertarians are coming up with inventive "free-market" ways to make the class prejudice of the legal system more pronounced. One suggestion they have would require not only having prisoners serve their sentence, but requiring them to have a heavy bond posted on their behalf in order to get out of prison, say $30,000 bond for stealing a car, and $1 million for murder. (5) If you can't afford the bond, you just rot in prison forever. Prison terms according to wealth -- that's justice for the Libertarians.
. The Libertarians, for all their talk against abuses of government power, can be outright apologists of police terror. For example, the Libertarians whitewashed the brutal murder of black worker Malice Green by two white Detroit cops for the "crime" of being near a drug house. The cops were also "victims" they argued, presumably because were it not for laws making drugs illegal, they never would have come into contact with Green. But even if one grants that Green and these cops would not have met were it not for drug laws, how does this explain why the cops beat Green to death? Meanwhile, a top Libertarian in Michigan, Jon Coon, hosted a testimonial dinner for a free-lance libertarian "talk radio" reactionary who relentlessly argued that the police behaved properly in killing Green and was a major promoter of a legal defense committee for the "innocent" killers!
. Cockburn doesn't challenge the Libertarian approach toward "liberty", however, but glorifies it
as the basis for a great new fight for the rights of the oppressed. He creates a panacea out of the
idea of juries deciding cases on the basis of their conscience even if it contradicts the law.
Actually, jurists often do this right now, with the results being both good and bad, and the legal
system continuing to chew up the poor. But Cockburn isn't interested in seriously examining the
issue. His only purpose is to create hysteria that only his right-wing friends like juries, while the
left supposedly hates them, along with the idea of following your conscience. All he actually
succeeds in doing is pretending that justice will arrive without building up the mass movement
by the left, whom Cockburn's speech ridicules.
Friends of the environment?
. Just as Cockburn ignores that fanatical defense of capitalist property rights is bound to clash with the rights of the workers and oppressed, so he also imagines that ardent defenders of capitalism will rally to the defense of the environment. Cockburn's speech rightly attacks the record of the liberal environmental establishment, but not the right-wing capitalist trends, whom he assumes will really be interested in saving the environment. In typical right-wing fashion, he avoids the free-market destruction of the environment, and only rails against "coercive regulation" and "big government". Do away with this, says Cockburn, and we will stop the destruction of "small ranchers" and "small farmers." Once again, Cockburn is just preaching to the free-trade choir. The free-traders always argue that it is government regulation that has killed the private entrepreneur, conveniently ignoring that without any government regulation at all, the small producers are always driven to the wall by competition with the bigger capitalists. No doubt there are government regulations that favor the powerful agricultural interests over the smaller farms. But the right-wing doesn't call for meaningful measures against the big capitalists. And, interestingly enough, neither does Cockburn's speech. If the liberals have gutted militancy from the environmental movement, Cockburn's adaptation to the right-wing should kill it altogether.
. Cockburn's general presentation bears a good deal of similarity to that of Libertarian Party
presidential candidate Harry Browne, who also spoke at the "anti-war" conference. According to
Browne, were it not for government-controlled properties there would be no environmental
problems because, as Browne assures us, the profit-motive assures that private businesses will
not do something so foolish as to pollute. As for Buchanan, here's an example of how he
expresses in practical terms what Cockburn's general perspective means. Buchanan's San Mateo
speech argued that "Mr. Gore is also an acolyte of the New World Order, every ready to cede
American sovereignty, and an architect of Clinton's Kyoto Treaty, under which global
bureaucrats would dictate America's use of fossil fuels." The 1997 Kyoto Treaty, which is
supposed to alleviate global warming through restricting carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.,
Europe and Japan, is supported by the Clinton administration, but has never been ratified by
Congress. The treaty has all sorts of loopholes for corporate polluters in the industrial countries.
But for Buchanan, the problem with the treaty is the alleged threat by "global bureaucrats" to the
sovereignty of American capitalism, whose industries are the largest source of fossil fuel
emissions in the world. Buchanan's stand is "America First -- in polluting the world."
Fight the right and left-wing servants of capitalism
. Given Cockburn's constant capitulation to the right-wing perspective, it is no wonder he got an
enthusiastic reception from the rightists. The "anti-war" conference organizer, Justin Raimondo,
an apologist for the fascist sympathizers of the Old Right isolationists of the 30s and supporter of
Buchanan, cooed "Alexander Cockburn" thrilled and delighted an audience made up primarily of
conservatives (and even outright reactionaries like myself)." Cockburn's stand has nothing to do
with helping build up powerful movements of the masses, but undermines efforts to really
develop a class trend against the capitalist exploiters. Indeed, welcoming the likes of Buchanan
into the mass movements will help discredit the struggle in the eyes of the workers and other
oppressed who rightly see Buchanan as their oppressor.
, Actually, Chomsky's equating Lenin and McNamara is, in his own misguided way, an attempt to also criticize modern capitalist corporations. According to Chomsky, the capitalist corporation constitutes a mean dictatorship over the masses, which is Chomsky's mistaken conception of what Lenin stood for. Cockburn's speech does not explain that Chomsky also intended to critique big business, however.
. As for Chomsky's lumping together Lenin and McNamara, it's absurd. His argument is that the main evil that needs to be fought against is "centralized management," which is raised both by Lenin and McNamara as necessary in the modern productive process. (For this and other quotes from Chomsky in this footnote see excerpts from Chomsky's 1977 work "Intellectuals and the state" called "Lenin and state capitalism" on the ZNet-sponsored Chomsky archives web site at www.zmag.org/chomsky/.) For Chomsky, a controlling force over economic functions is a horror in itself. He doesn't attach much importance to the class nature of the central management, i.e., whether it is a tool of the capitalist exploiters, or is supported, and actively participated in, by the working masses. For Chomsky, centralized management precludes the masses running things. This ignores that the real cause of tyranny over the masses has its roots in capitalist production itself. McNamara, who has served as president of the Ford auto monopoly, as warmongering Secretary of State under Kennedy and Johnson, and as president of the World Bank, has been for central management which was a vehicle for capitalist businesses. Inevitably capitalist management means dictatorship over the workers. After all, the capitalist must conquer the market to survive, and this impels the capitalist to exert all means to keep the workers down both through company management and the state apparatus.
. Lenin's goals and actions were geared to the liberation of the workers. He stood for smashing the bourgeois state and the workers establishing their own state power based on mobilizing the working masses to run all facets of society, stepwise undermining the vestiges of capitalism, eliminating all class distinctions, and with it, the state. In short, Lenin stood for wiping out everything McNamara held dear. Chomsky will have none of this, however, because it involves the leadership of a political party. He, quoting Anton Pannekoek, a representative of the semi-anarchist theorizing of the "left" communists, castigates Lenin for wanting "to bring to power, by means of the fighting force of the workers, a layer of leaders who then establish planned production by means of State-Power." Thus, the crime of Lenin, according to Chomsky and other adherents of anarchist views, is that he and the Bolsheviks had an organization to "lead" the workers. This "leading" they consider in itself an act of oppression akin to the treatment of the workers by the capitalists. Then, Lenin and his party, with the support of the workers, had the nerve to take power. So when the workers support a revolutionary party these workers are, by anarchist logic, depriving themselves of their rights -- mainly the right to be leaderless! Of course, eventually the ruling party in the Soviet Union decayed and became an oppressor of the workers under Stalin. But Chomsky doesn't hold that therefore new revolutionary leadership is required, but that the workers must not have their own organized leadership. Presumably Chomsky holds that the workers can vanquish the bourgeoisie without a highly-trained, well-organized leadership.
. "Planned production by means of state-power" is another tyrannical measure according to Chomsky. No doubt the expropriation of the capitalist owners is tyrannical -- for them. As for the workers, putting the formerly capitalist enterprises in the hands of the state was a means by which they could plan and control production. What Chomsky omits is that Lenin never considered state control sufficient in itself. For this state property to really be run in the interests of society as a whole, Lenin emphasized that the working masses must actively oversee the economy and the affairs of state. But Chomsky doesn't distinguish the bureaucratic leadership of McNamara, meant to keep the workers from deciding anything, and the leadership of a truly revolutionary workers' party, which works to develop the self-motion of the workers.
. If the workers, upon coming to power, were to ignore the need for a centralized management of the economy, to use Chomsky's term, they would be committing a fatal mistake. Without some mechanism of central control reflecting the overall interests of the workers, supported by them, and based on the voluntary submission of each group of workers to the overall interest of the class, there is no way for workers to have any influence outside their own workplace. Each enterprise can do as it pleases, whether it is run by private interests, a collective, or is state property. Unless the workers can establish a unified control of the economy as a whole, overall economic planning will prove impossible, and the anarchic relations characteristic of capitalism will reassert themselves. Chomsky denounces capitalism, but his anarchist railing against central management of any type will inevitably lead society in that direction.
. Whatever Chomsky's intentions, his central point -- that the solution to the problems of the present system lies in avoiding centralized forces that control the economy -- also happens to fit in nicely with the free-market prejudices of the right. True, Chomsky includes powerful corporations as part of the forces he opposes. But then again, this is not necessarily a violation of free-market theory either, provided that one avoids mentioning that competition inevitably gives rise to monopoly. Free-market theorists also worry about the abuses committed by monopolies, though it must be admitted that often free-market rhetoric is used as a hypocritical cover by the corporate CEOs and their political representatives.
. To be sure, neither Chomsky nor Cockburn loves the capitalist corporations, while the rightists that Cockburn has befriended really do. But the anarchist views in Chomsky's theorizing share certain basic assumptions with free-market ideology, and may, as in the case of Cockburn's use of Chomsky, serve as a bridge to practical unity with the right.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
(1)Associated Press writer Scott Lindlaw reported in a March 25, 2000 article entitled "Buchanan attacks U.S. foreign policy" that Buchanan made this point at the San Mateo conference in remarks after his speech. Buchanan explained he was for getting Europe to police the region so as not to "walk away" from the situation in Kosovo. (Return to text)
(2)Buchanan's position is somewhat different than the libertarians who advocate a more pure free-market approach in that he advocates various protectionist measures for American capitalism. Cockburn's speech didn't raise the matter, but he apparently is not in agreement with Buchanan's protectionism. (Text)
(3)For more on Chomsky's attempt to equate Lenin and McNamara as interventionist, technocratic managers, see the appendix to this article. (Text)
(4)Op-ed column by Tim O'Brien, Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan, published in the Detroit News of Sept. 16, 1999. (Text)
(5)Op-ed column by Tim O'Brien, Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan, published in the Detroit News of Jan. 19, 2000. (Text)
Last modified: October 15, 2001.