The four high-horsemen of the Liberal Left have mounted and are riding again, sprinkling no-brainer criticism of the current anti-war movement in with gobs of self-righteous, mindless Left-bashing. Renowned white, male, former leftists David Corn, Christopher Hitchens, Marc Cooper, and Todd Gitlin are once again sounding off against the contemporary Left, and in tacit support of the Bush Administration.
Each man has published at least one commentary (in LA Weekly, The Washington Post, The LA Times and Mother Jones, respectively) taking cheap shots against the Left and regurgitating standard establishment lies about subjects like September 11, Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s no surprise that a bunch of white men might want to hijack or undermine the Left while currying favor from the liberal establishment. And it isn’t particularly difficult to poke holes in the Left of today (or of yesterday). But the fervor these fellows manage to muster, and the audience they choose to address, are indeed quite alarming.
While all four of these would-be leaders of a less “leftist” Left are voicing opposition to the coming war on Iraq, each is careful in this latest round of entreaties to avoid bucking up against the system in the process. Nowhere do they advocate challenging the fundamental beliefs of the “mainstream Americans” each carefully purports to love so much. What’s worse, these guys are getting mainstream attention as moderate, reasonable “leftists” who are more palatable to the American public, not least because they oppose any real challenges to the institutions of greed and violence which run our society.
Each of these men makes candid arguments against the likes of Ramsey Clark and his cadre at the International Action Center having a prominent role in any antiwar movement. They are right that Clark is not a sound leader, and that the Workers World Party front group poses a serious, long-term threat to the Left if it continues to grow and garner support from diverse groups. Numerous concerns about Workers World front groups and their ploys and tactics have been exposed of late. But each of these four writers has also managed to lump most of the present day Left in with Clark and his miniscule minions. The truth is, most American leftists are anything but pro-Saddam/pro-Stalinism types like Clark’s WWP. And there is plenty of middle ground between the genocide apologetics of Ramsey Clark’s ilk and the venomous pro-Establishment viewpoints of wankers like Cooper, Gitlin, Corn and Hitchens.
Todd Gitlin, whose despisal of all things radical surfaced loudest during NATO’s war against the people of Serbia and Kosovo, has been ranting on the pages of Mother Jones in support of various slaughters ever since. His methods are particularly underhanded, as he espouses traditional government lies in order to make his case. For instance, in this latest commentary (“Who Will Lead,” Mother Jones, 10/14/02), Gitlin makes tired and false claims such as upholding the US government’s purportedly honest desire to protect Kurds in Northern Iraq. Remarkably, Gitlin calls “credible” the illegal no-fly imposed unilaterally on Iraq by the US and UK. We’ve heard this one before, from three administrations now, and it’s incontrovertibly false. I wonder what Mr. Gitlin thinks about the fact that Turkey’s infantry and air forces have been attacking Kurds in Northern Iraq (using US weapons and money) without being fired on by US warplanes. If we’re so concerned about the plight of the Kurdish people, why don’t we stop Turkey from slaughtering them, instead of encouraging such activity?
So what are Gitlin’s prescriptions for us? He says, “Liberal-left antiwarriors need to be out-front patriots.” That may well be the case, so let it be a lesson for us to avoid anything called the “liberal-left.” His only practical piece of advice for us is to stop demonstrating and start holding teach-ins. Thanks a lot, Todd, that’s super helpful.
Christopher Hitchens, for his part, creates a straw man of the Left, portraying us as believing Osama bin Laden to be “a slightly misguided anti-imperialist,” and says we generally consider Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic to be “victims.” (“So Long, Fellow Travellers,” WP, 10/20/2002) While this may be true of the International Action Center and their strongest adherents, it is decidedly untrue of the Left in general. He also takes a shot at what he calls “pacifist types,” who oppose war but also think nothing at all should be done, by anyone, about Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. I haven’t met or heard from many of these people, and I’m certain they too are in a minority on the Left. It occurs that rather than painting the entire Left with such broad brushes, Hitchens might opt to point out that believing such things is contrary to the spirit of leftism in the first place. Instead, Hitchens is hell-bent on distorting the Left’s actual positions in order to attack them.
Least vicious but still intent on making sure the off-track antiwar movement remains ineffective against the dominant institutions, is David Corn, among whose major gripes is the multi-issue focus of modern demonstrations (“Behind the Placards,” LA Weekly, 11/1/02). It offends Corn’s sensibilities that we would consider tying various domestic issues in with work against the war. Granted, Corn spends most of his time suggesting a sort of regime change inside the IAC-led antiwar movement, which is hard to argue against. But it seems Corn wants a lowest common denominator, single-issue movement, instead of one which might be smaller (at first), yet actually addresses the roots of the impending war and their interconnectedness among diverse other issues and causes. And he doesn’t seem to have considered that privileged white Americans are not the only audience for antiwar organizers; that we’ve seen connecting issues of poverty, racism, the prison system, health care, education and other concerns is typically a boon to the movement. Predictably, various constituencies see their own priorities validated by a more encompassing agenda, and in turn elites feel more threatened as dissent is bolstered among more sectors of the population.
Marc Cooper admits out front that he drooled over the US’s revenge attack against the people of Afghanistan, calling it a “proportionate response,” “justified” and “absolutely necessary.” He suggests that those who raised concerns of civilian deaths were somehow proved wrong when the blood of only several thousand Afghanis turned up on American hands. (“A Smart Peace Movement is MIA,” LA Weekly, 9/29/02) Then, once those assertions prove Cooper’s heart is in the right place, the reader is treated to a feverish liberal rant against the Left. Since Cooper is certain he hates Osama bin Laden more than leftists do, he tells us, “An effective peace movement must avoid linking opposition to the war in Iraq with opposition to the war against Al Qaeda.” While it’s certainly true that the Bush Administration should avoid such linkages, the same advice doesn’t apply to the Left. Bush’ s “crusade” against the particular kinds of terrorism he dislikes is not only horrific in and of itself, its momentum is very much tied to his aspirations in Iraq and other hotspots-to-be around the world.
What is most disturbing about these four essays is that they appear in widely-circulated mainstream publications, ostensibly addressed to those who might consider taking an active stance against the war, and doing a fine job of turning them off. Preaching beyond the choir is of course a necessary activity the Left needs to spend more time doing – but when the subject is the choir itself, the old clichÃ© does not apply. If one has concerns about certain, prominent elements of the Left – and we all should be very concerned about IAC dominance of events, as well as critical of fundamentalist pacifism and its do-nothing irrationalities – why not address them to the Left itself, instead of making a generalized portrayal to the outside and suggesting that involvement in antiwar work is a waste of time?
Just about every activist community is home to at least one token liberal who despises anything to the left of his or her own perspective, and accordingly bashes all things radical or progressive. We should not need these people to attack the Left publicly in order to prompt us to deal with our dirty laundry. Instead, we should welcome criticism and dissent as long as they are presented in a manner which promotes positive internal change, and which is not in fact intended to undermine truly radical social movements or support the establishment and uphold the system of privilege. That system has looked quite favorably on non-radical critics like Corn, Gitlin, Cooper and Hitchens since long before the Left was ever a tangible entity to attack.