A special Acorn report
The war-hungry capitalist propaganda machine has been in overdrive in recent weeks.
It has, of course, been relentlessly amplifying the views and narratives of the status quo and giving no platform for dissident opinion – that’s what it’s there for!
But in these days of social media and independent online journalism, that is no longer enough to ensure that its message is swallowed by the public and the system has also been churning out endless bile vilifying its opponents.
It has been doing this not only through its mainstream media but, as we will see, by means of commentators who superficially appear to be on the left.
Neoliberal reaction to the Skripal aftermath, in which people actually dared to question the official narrative, was furious, with former ambassador turned blogger Craig Murray attracting particularly vitriolic abuse.
The same thing happened all over again after the alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government in Douma.
A particularly nasty article which appeared on the BBC’s website on April 19 2018 had the clear aim of rubbishing opponents of a US/UK/French war against Syria, depicting them as “conspiracy theorists”.
It said: “The group includes activists and people who call themselves ‘independent journalists’, and several have Twitter followings reaching into the tens or hundreds of thousands. The activists call themselves ‘anti-war’, but as they generally back the Syrian government’s military operations against rebel forces seeking to overthrow Mr Assad and Russian air strikes carried out in support, it might be more accurate to describe them as ‘anti-Western intervention’ or ‘pro-Syrian government’.”
The BBC’s conclusion is clear. There is no such thing as an independent journalist or a genuine anti-war activist, only shady agents of sinister foreign forces. Challenging UK/US foreign policy means you are probably in the pay of The Enemy. Questioning official propaganda regarding Russia or Syria makes you an apologist for Putin or Assad and your opinions can therefore be disregarded.
This isn’t a subtle approach to winning an argument. It’s just an attempt to completely close down any possibility of dissent: “Our side are good. The other side are bad. If you criticise us, then you too are bad so nobody should listen to you.”
A similar approach has been taken in the fabricated controversy over alleged antisemitism within the UK Labour Party.
Because antisemitism is a sensitive issue, it has proved particularly easy here to disallow any challenge to the smears.
A denial that there is a particular problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party is regarded in itself to be evidence of antisemitism, or at the very least of a wilful desire to conceal the existence of antisemitism.
This little trap, worthy of the Inquisition, tells us nothing about the reality of the alleged antisemitism, because it would work just as well with any allegation against any group.
And, at the end of the day, the issue at stake is not actually antisemitism.
In an excellent article in Jacobin magazine, Daniel Finn, deputy editor of the New Left Review, pulls apart the agenda behind the smears.
He concludes: “Insinuations of antisemitism can be used, not merely to defame critics of Israel, but to discredit any radical critique of capitalism or imperialism in the modern world”.
This is the key point. The aim behind these smear attacks is not to oppose antisemitism as such – in fact, by crying wolf at the wrong targets, the accusers distract attention from real antisemitism and other forms of racism.
Instead their purpose is to attack the left using the “antisemitism” angle as the perfect weapon, because of the way that it is so difficult to refute without digging a deeper hole.
In the past, during the 20th century Cold War, the capitalist system would attack opponents by calling them Communist sympathisers, lackeys of the evil USSR.
The collapse of the Soviet bogeyman meant it had to modify its tactics. Instead of denouncing its anti-capitalist critics as being on the extreme left, which no longer seemed so scary, it sometimes found that allegations of far-right contamination were more effective.
When these allegations came from sources which appeared to be “left-wing”, the ideological smears could be effective in manipulating thinking within the left.
Ideally, the left would be remodelled along lines acceptable to the capitalist system. It would be allowed to espouse certain liberal social causes, demand a certain amount of reforms and so on, but would be steered away from challenging neoliberal imperialism or the fundamental assumptions of the global capitalist system.
The end result of this approach was very apparent in Germany, with the emergence of the Antideutsch movement which, in the name of this new authorised “leftism”, applauds US and Israeli imperialism.
In the UK, an important role was played by Norman Geras, a “left-wing” academic who supported the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and in 2006 published his Euston Manifesto.
Under the guise of “a renewal of progressive politics”, this sought to push the UK left away from the opposition of the US and its neoliberal wars that had been so apparent.
It declared: “We reject without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking. The United States of America is a great country and nation. It is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and social achievements to its name.”
Nafeez Ahmed, in a 2015 article, explored the links between Geras and James Bloodworth of Little Atoms, a notorious defender of US neoliberalism who frequently lays into its critics from an apparently left-wing position.
Little Atoms is itself owned by an “impact agency” called 89up which, as we pointed out in Acorn 41, has been playing a key role in whipping up anti-Russian sentiment in the UK. Its boss Michael Harris has been a vociferous supporter of the bombing of Syria.
In France a site called confusionnisme.info, which is still online but hasn’t been updated since 2016, specialised in accusing various left-wingers and environmentalists of being tainted with fascism, of being “red-browns”.
Its leading light, one Ornella Guyet, even managed to get in very early on the antisemitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn, sticking the boot in via an article published in October 2015 just after he was elected Labour Party leader.
She says she is a “libertarian communist”, but in a piece exposing her activities, the left-wing website Le Grand Soir concluded that she was “an opportunist in thrall to the neocolonial and ultra-liberal system”.
It added: “Ornella Guyet claims to be ‘left-wing’, but her work proves the opposite.” It said she uses the cover of anti-fascism to attack genuine opponents of the capitalist system. “In this sense she is the perfect example of the Fake Antifa, a guard dog of power”.
This is all just the tip of the iceberg, of course. In truth, there is an enormous and well-funded international network of pundits, think-tanks and websites feverishly defending the interests of global capitalism and the USA.
Part of their modus operandi is to contaminate genuine anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism with an unsavoury odour of antisemitism or a “red-brown” form of fascism.
This tends to work, because no anti-fascist wants to be thought by his comrades to be somehow tainted by fascism.
The effect of all this propaganda, often spread no doubt by genuine activists who are not aware of its dubious origins, is to shift the parameters of left-wing anti-capitalist thinking, to gradually exclude views and ideological insights which were previously considered perfectly acceptable and even mainstream in anarchist and anti-capitalist circles.
We, here at Winter Oak, came across this phenomenon after we published the essay Envisioning a Post-Western World by Rob los Ricos and Paul Cudenec in July 2017.
It attracted some positive comments and was later reposted by some American comrades at Antidote Zine, although with what was, to us, a rather puzzling disclaimer.
Antidote wrote: “In light of recent discussions among antifascists (including here within the Antidote Writers Collective) about an esoteric but significant kind of red-brown convergence—the potential for fascist counter-recruiting on the more nihilistic, misanthropic fringes of deep green, Euro-pagan, and Malthusian eco-anarchist groups—we recognize that some of the arguments put forward in the article that follows are right on the knife’s edge.”
Anyone who reads the essay will see no sign of nihilism, misanthropism or Malthusianism, nor of any paganism that is specifically European. What was this “knife’s edge” stuff all about?
It turned out that the “recent discussions among anti-fascists” centred around the work of Alexander Reid Ross, who teaches geography in Portland, USA and who got his MA in 2014 from the prestigious private Swiss university, the European Graduate School.
Ross is author of Against the Fascist Creep (2017), a book which purports to show “how infiltration is a conscious and clandestine program for neofascist groups that seek to co-opt and undermine both mainstream and left-wing institutions”.
Here he claims that there is a “crossover” between fascism and revolutionary causes, conflates opposition to NATO with post-war fascism and claims that Earth First! has at some times in its history bolstered white supremacism through its appeals to Nordic paganism.
Not everyone was impressed. One online reviewer complained that the work “was absolutely ruined by a nearly complete lack of citations to back up the claims that were being made. As a result I had to do outside research to learn about the things that were being discussed, and when I did I discovered that many of the claims being made were exaggerations, manipulations, or outright lies”.
Anyway, that very same anti-fascist hero, Alexander Reid Ross, was back in ideological action on April 17 2018 with an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
This is entitled “How Assad’s War Crimes Bring Far Left and Right Together – Under Putin’s Benevolent Gaze”. The sub-heading declares: “The ‘anti-imperialist’ left is now shilling for tyrants in Damascus and Moscow. And conspiracy theories are the toxic glue binding them to their fellow Assad and Putin apologists on the alt-right”.
A clue to Ross’s stance comes from the fact that the term “anti-imperialist” has been placed in scare quotes, as if this political position didn’t actually exist!
He writes: “In recent months, the crossover between leftists and the far-right in defense of Syria’s tyrant and Russian geopolitics has become increasingly obvious. Its implications are potentially disastrous for the course of the international left and political society in general.”
This is nonsense of course. The fact that some far-rightists oppose war on Syria does not invalidate left-wing opposition to the attacks, any more than the fact that some far-rightists support Palestinian rights and criticise Israel means that leftists should stop criticising Israel and should instead applaud the IDF when they murder unarmed protesters.
Ross is reading from exactly the same ideological script as the likes of Norman Geras, Ornella Guyet, James Bloodworth, Antideutsch and the smear-piece on the BBC site.
He is trying to use the bludgeon of an alleged ideological association with the far right as a way of silencing voices on the left who challenge the US imperialist narrative.
Ross really lets the cat out of the bag with his comments on the UK’s Labour Party, where he notes that “its leader Jeremy Corbyn’s controversial comments on the Skripal case brought widespread condemnations” and remarks on “Labour’s tepid response to the Douma attacks and Corbyn’s rejection of any humanitarian grounds for military action”.
Hang on! Let’s just read that again! Self-proclaimed anti-fascist Alexander Reid Ross is complaining about “Labour’s tepid response” to the alleged gas attack in Douma and its “rejection of any humanitarian grounds for military action”?
Doesn’t that sound more like the opinion of a right-wing neoliberal war hawk?
Ross’s article certainly raised the suspicions of Robbie Martin, aka @FluorescentGrey, on Twitter.
He pointed out that Ross uses a quote from Caroline O, aka @RVAwonk whom Ross describes as a “public scholar”.
On her Twitter account she identifies herself as Writer/Editor @Shareblue Media: “We tell real-world stories to give voice to the heroes fighting for American values”.
Caroline O is a great supporter of Hamilton 68, the surveillance project which claims to “track Russian propaganda” but in fact amounts to a McCarthyite system of blacklisting people whose views don’t please the neoliberal establishment.
As she tweeted on September 1, 2017: “Hamilton 68 is a great project. I’m hoping to see it expanded even more. I can see a lot of potential for it [to] grow.”
The ASD is “chaired and run primarily by former senior United States intelligence and State Department officials” and the Washington Post called the membership of the advisory council “a who’s who of former senior national security officials”.
It is part of the German Marshall Fund of the United States which, as we explained in Acorn 39, aims to maintain “transatlantic values” in Europe.
Robbie Martin suggests that “Caroline O.’s main mission was to inject Alliance for Securing Democracy / Hamilton 68 into the neoliberal/resistance dialog, from people on that side of the argument she promoted it/pushed it more than anyone else I saw”.
He expresses surprise that Alexander Reid Ross would be “so nakedly working with the same people promoting Hamilton 68 / Alliance for Securing Democracy”.
With hindsight, it’s clear that the aim behind Alexander Reid Ross’s book Against the Fascist Creep was not to counter actual fascism, nor even to warn the left of the dangers of fascist infiltration, but to attack and undermine anti-capitalism by claiming its beliefs are tainted with fascist associations.
The real problem faced by anarchists and anti-capitalists is Neoliberal Creep – or, in fact, a whole network of neoliberal creeps, hell-bent on ideological sabotage.
So what can we do all about this? How can we resist these attempts to cripple the cohesion, credibility and effectiveness of genuine anti-capitalism, anarchism and anti-imperialism?
The first thing to do is to talk about it, as we are doing here. We need to take a good look at where these fake left voices are coming from, understand why they spread certain memes and sow confusion around certain issues.
There is the possibility, in fact, that in breaking cover and making their propaganda so obvious, they have already hammered a nail into the coffin of their own political effectiveness. We can hammer in another few nails by spreading awareness of what they are up to.
We also need to talk about what it is we really believe in, what we are hoping for, how we define ourselves in relation to Western capitalist modernity and the global neoliberal military-industrial-prison complex.
We need to talk honestly and seriously, ignoring the ideological smears, shaking ourselves free from the fearful group-think that stifles free thought and discussion in the name of a phoney “consensus”. This received opinion has often in fact been injected into movements by elements out to manipulate and destroy it.
Yes, of course we need to remain constantly alert to the possibility that we may inadvertently find ourselves voicing the same views on specific issues as people whose general politics we do not appreciate and that they might be deliberately attempting to use us to advance their own unsavoury messages.
To combat this, we need to state clearly where we stand. We at Winter Oak, for example, place ourselves firmly and proudly in the anti-fascist tradition. We are committed to its values of internationalism, equality, solidarity, mutual aid, anti-militarism, anti-sexism and anti-racism and we will never work with anyone who does not at least share these basic values.
If we all adhere to similar principles, we have no reason to fear the toxic smears coming from the likes of Ross.
Meanwhile, those liberals in our midst who agree with the Washington-approved definition of “democracy”, with the profit-guided “progressive values” of capitalism, with its insane obsession with endless economic “growth” and with its deceitful “humanitarian” warmongering imperialism, may well decide to stop associating with a revolutionary global struggle for liberation which opposes all of these.
So be it.
Do we really want to have anything to do with them, anyway?