Solidarity Versus Indifference — Part 3


When citizens of foreign countries are denied their democratic rights, when they become the victims of human rights abuses by their own states, and when their actions to secure their rights are met with even greater abuse, the likelihood that the establishment U.S. media will inform us about their fate is much greater when the state causing them harm ranks among the "enemies" of the United States, than when it is the United States itself, an ally of the United States, or a client doing its bidding.


What follows is an exploration of how this establishment pattern was replicated by segments of American left and liberal opinion over the past 18 months, as excerpted from something that Edward S. Herman and I have just completed: "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment's Bandwagon" (ZCommunications, December 15, 2010).  (Also see David Peterson, "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System,"  ZCommunications, October 24, 2010. As well as "Solidarity Versus Indifference," Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)  


— David Peterson
    Chicago, USA

The "Democracy-Promotion" Left [16]


Steve Clemons' appearance on this Rachel Maddow Show was perhaps the best example in our MSNBC sample of what we may call the "democracy-promotion" left and the regime-change reality that lies behind the rhetoric of "democracy."  "'[B]randing' technology is a tool of psychological manipulation," one Kazakhstani analyst observes, where the discrediting of elections via allegations of fraud, combined with the "losers' ability to mobilize the discontented voters" and the feedback transmitted to targeted countries from Western leaders and media helped to bring about the rapid "transformation of political regimes in some of the Soviet successor states….The counter-elite works hard to synchronize public consciousness by imposing behavioral and identification matrices on society as a form of fashionable behavior; external and internal forces employ psychological, semiotic, and other mechanisms to plant conscious and subconscious identifications with the opposition and its aims in the minds of the people."[17]


Here we'd add that this "branding" process works both ways: "conscious and subconscious identifications with the opposition and its aims" affects not only the population in the targeted country but also the populations in the countries doing the targeting.  As Iran has been a top priority of a U.S. destabilization and regime-change campaign for several years, the blowback effects on U.S. and allied populations have hardly been trivial.  Once the regime-change campaign began to be branded as support for Iran's burgeoning democratic movement, and any opposition to the campaign as opposition to democracy and as support for the murderous tyrants of the clerical regime, much of the Western left lowered its guard and rushed into the open arms of Iran's "pro-democracy" movement.  In this context there also have arisen opportunistic individuals who lay guilt-trips on the left, and who bug leftists to explain how, as activists working within an Enlightenment tradition, they could fail to support "pro-democracy" movements inside Iran, and who demand that leftists prove their bona fides by public displays of "solidarity" with Iran's opposition.[18


Yet, when it came to the masses struggling for their rights in Honduras—where the struggle is against a U.S. and transnational oligarchy as much as it is the Honduran—these voices were flat-out ignored.  For example, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP), which was born in opposition to the coup regime but grew rapidly as a movement to incorporate all forms of resistance to the institutionalized repression of Honduran life, and which makes a stream of reports and statements available through its Resistencia website, has been mentioned only three times by major English-language newspapers (once apiece in the U.K.'s Financial Times, Independent, and Guardian), and never by a major U.S. newspaper. [19]  The same lack of interest in the Honduran resistance movement has been true of the English-language media as a whole.  Thus it is not that there are too few solid, heart-rending accounts of the abuses and serious human rights violations carried out by the coup regime, whether originating from within Honduras or picked-up and re-circulated by sympathetic Western sources.[20]  It is just that giving voice to the popular resistance and reporting about the structural and political violence against the masses in this nearby U.S.-supported state fall outside the interests of the establishment media as well as the "democracy-promotion" left.


Clearly, while the causes of human rights and democracy in Iran caught the liberal U.S. media's attention in 2009-2010, human rights and democracy in Honduras did not. But when we push our inquiry even further out into allegedly left opinion, beyond the New York Times and MSNBC, we find that the same pattern predominates.


3. Louis Proyect versus Louis Proyect

As the U.S. wars of the post-Soviet era caused a peeling-off of leftist after leftist, the Marxmail administrator and blogger Louis Proyect resisted, remaining staunchly anti-imperialist.  Thus, for example, Proyect closed out a March 2006 analysis of the U.S.-led bloody and imperial abuses of the former Yugoslavia with the warning that the "greatest threat to world peace since the days of Adolph Hitler has emerged under the banner of the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack.  Using pious phraseology about democracy and human rights, it invades sovereign nations on the basis of lies and then subjects their head of state to show trials."[46]  And in late 2007, in response to an angry comment posted to one of his blogs that had asked him "why any real leftist would waste his time defending Milosevic and his policies," Proyect explained his interest in simple terms: "This is not about defending Milosevic's policies.  It is about resisting imperialism."[47]


Even when the United States began branding its destabilization and regime-change campaigns against Iran as "democracy promotion," Proyect didn't bite.  In debunking the "billionaire sponsor of toxic NGOs" Peter Ackerman and his circle of "nonviolent conflict" proselytizers (Jack DuVall, Gene Sharp, Robert Helvey), Proyect found it suspicious that this clique only takes an interest in the "democratic" potential of countries when the "U.S. wants to bring down a government by military force, attempting to refocus any First World opposition away from opposing imperialism and toward 'bringing down dictators by non violent means'."  Some of them, Proyect added, singling out Ackerman's partner DuVall by name, are "frauds" and quite possibly "spooks," whose real "aim is to divide the anti-war movement."  "Ackerman and his circle have begun to kick around creative ideas for challenging the mullahs," Proyect cautioned, alluding to Iran.  "Ultimately, he envisions events unfolding as they did in Serbia, with a small, well-trained, nonviolent vanguard introducing the idea of resistance to the masses."[48]


But when the eruption of election-related turmoil struck Iran in June 2009, and the Western establishment threw its collective weight behind the "Green Wave" opposition, Proyect suddenly did an about-face, and enlisted in the cause.  What he had written previously about resisting imperialism, his accurate warning about the U.S. application to Iran of the standard regime-change strategy that had been used many times in the so-called "color revolutions" in the former Soviet bloc and elsewhere—these concerns disappeared from sight.


Beginning in the second-half of June 2009, Proyect started using his Unrepentant Marxist blog for attacks on people who remained faithful to the left's core principle of resisting imperialism, but who in Proyect's eyes are guilty of defending Ahmadinejad, or the Ayatollah Khamenei, or even the clerical regime and its brutal crackdown on dissidents.[49]  This very strange switch, in which a "Green" Louis Proyect repented and renounced the pre-"Green" Louis Proyect, also featured vicious attacks and name-calling against people associated with MRZine for what he alleged is their (and our) throwing Iran's "pro-democracy" dissidents to the clerical regime's lions.[50]  "It took me a while to figure out that the 'anti-imperialist' methodology was lacking," he wrote in late July 2009.  "Identify the latest target of American destabilization and then try to burnish the reputation of the government under siege."[51]  The same man who once saw that fighting against the dismantling of Yugoslavia was "not about defending Milosevic's policies" but "resisting imperialism," is no longer capable of grasping that where the destabilization and possible future war against Iran are concerned, this is not about defending Ahmadinejad's policies, but as much about resisting imperialism as ever.


It is also interesting to see the shifted overall priorities of Proyect from his pre-anti-anti-imperialist revelation days to the new enlightenment.  Although chiding the present writers for our alleged inattention to class, Proyectin strict parallel with Danny Postel, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the New York Times, and the State Departmenthad nothing whatever to say about Honduras, where the class nature of the 2009 coup and regime change is far clearer than it has been for the conflict in Iran. He writes furiously about the limiting role of the unelected Guardian Council in setting narrow parameters for Iran's "two-party" system,[52] but not one word about the demonstration elections held under the coup regime in Honduras, where no candidate was allowed to run for the presidency who appealed to the 60% of the population living below the poverty-line, and the candidates fielded by the National / Liberal two-party system appealed only to the unelected oligarchy (both in Honduras and in the United States).  In fact, during the 17 month period from June 28, 2009 through November 2010, Proyect's Unrepentant Marxist blog completely ignored the repression-by-death-squads in Honduras, where one of the most vibrant democratic movements in the Western hemisphere struggles for its rights.[53] 


On the other hand, contrary to Proyect, we did mention Iran's Guardian Council and note its limiting role, but we also pointed out that a candidate was allowed to run for the presidency of Iran who was regarded by the West to be a legitimate alternative to Ahmadinejad, and supported by the massive turnout of protesters after June 12.[54]  So why would an "Unrepentant Marxist" reserve his expressions of solidarity exclusively for the protesters in the Middle Eastern country where the regime is targeted by the United States, and completely neglect the clear class war in a nearby Central American country where the United States supports a regime that targets its own people?


The Unrepentant Marxist has lost interest in the war-threat of U.S. imperialism, at least when directed against Iran.  In February 2010, we published a piece with MRZine (the "24/7 website for Islamic Republic handouts," Proyect calls it) that decried a full-page ad in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune sponsored by The Elie Wiesel Foundation For Humanity, and signed by 44 Nobel Prize laureates, calling for a military attack on Iran.[55]  Proyect exhausts his discussion of this fairly important issue with a single statement: "Once they have made the case for opposing war with Iran," the "nitwits" addressed the question of "what the people of Iran really want."[56]  Clearly, opposing this call for war on Iran is of little interest to the Unrepentant Marxist—it is far more important to him to attack us for our views on Iranian politics.  "I could not wait to hear how the two experts would channel the innermost thoughts on the Iranian population," he wrote.  In fact, we summarized the analyses published jointly in February 2010 by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and WorldPublicOpinion.org of no fewer than 12 public opinion polls taken in Iran by four different polling agencies over a five month period in 2009, beginning the month before the presidential election (the first was May 11-20) and extending through August 27-September 10.[57]  The insights provided by these polls are indispensable to anyone trying to learn about what Iran's citizens think about the clerical regime and the Western powers.  But instead of assessing this important data, Proyect hides behind the snide claim that we were trying to divine the "innermost thoughts" of Iranians, which obscures inconvenient evidence on actual Iranian political preferences that Proyect never confronts and would prefer that no one else did, either.  


As noted, one of Proyect's pathetic techniques is to transmute all those who disagree with him on Iran into supporters of Ahmadinejad and the clerical regime: Hence we are "Flunkies for Ahmadinejad" and “intent on burnishing" the "reputation" of the Islamic Republic.[58]  He has regressed to the point where he can no longer recognize the possibility of criticizing propaganda campaigns that seek to discredit and demonize foreign regimes without also supporting either their leadership or the regimes themselves.  We know that Proyect opposed the March 1999 attack on Yugoslavia, the October 2001 attack on Afghanistan, and the March 2003 attack on Iraq.  Yet at the same time, we are confident that none of this entails that Proyect loved Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein.  But set to an attack-mode, Proyect can't resist this familiar and stupid old ploy.  (Although for the record, Proyect once did write: "To the credit of the late Slobodan Milosevic and to Saddam Hussein, who now is on trial for his life in another kangaroo court, they never bowed down.  In life and in death, these imperfect men will always remind us of the need to resist the injustice perpetrated by states acting out of perfect evil."[59])


In fact, this ploy leads him into further absurdities.  He asks if we are aware that Iran's Shiite clergy backed the CIA coup of 1953, and that the Islamic Republic invited "Ollie North to Tehran to discuss how a deal could be struck that would divert cash to the Nicaraguan contras"?  Proyect then writes that "The 'anti-imperialism' of the Islamic Republic had about as much authenticity as a three dollar bill."  The implication that we are defending Iran's clerical regime because of its leaders' "anti-imperialism" is truly stupid, and feebly attempts to divert attention away from the utter collapse of Proyect's own anti-imperialist proclivities.  Can anyone imagine Proyect arguing that because Saddam Hussein was not genuinely anti-imperialist, we should have supported the 2003 war? 


While as late as 2007 Proyect was very impressed with the menace of  "democracy promotion" as a method of Western subversion, the new Proyect is not worried about these “imperialist” interventions.  He quotes our criticism of the Elie Wiesel war appeal, where we mentioned the U.S. sanctions, threats, terrorist attacks, and "democracy-promotion" efforts in Iran.  We noted their costs to Iranian citizens and feedback effects on Iranian attitudes toward their government, drawing a comparison with the feedback effects on Nicaraguan attitudes during the U.S. contra war years.  Proyect objects to this "facile comparison between Sandinista Nicaragua and the Islamic Republic in which the [Iranian] protestors are implicitly compared to the contra."  But this is a facile putdown, and unrelated to what we actually wrote;[60] indeed, the comparison is so implicit as to make Project's allegation a lie.  Yet it also shows that at least where Iran is concerned, Proyect is now prepared to offer apologetics for the kind of regime-change campaign that he attacked in his earlier analysis of "democracy promotion" and the U.S.-funded Otpor and propaganda program that culminated in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.


Poor Louis Proyect has lost his way. He can't see the class war in Honduras staring him in the face, and the Western threat of  war against Iran is dim and of lesser concern to him, but he sees clearly that all those critics of the Western take on Iran's "stolen" election and alleged war threats are motivated by their love of Ahmadinejad.  This is silly, but it is passionately felt by the new anti-anti-imperialist, Unrepentant (Ex?) Marxist.  


 [16] See Gerald Sussman, Branding Democracy: U.S. Regime Change in Post-Soviet Europe (New York; Peter Lang Publishing, 2010), esp. Ch. 3, "The Infrastructure and Instruments of Democracy Promotion," pp. 67-121.

 [17] See Alisher Tastenov, "The Color Revolution Phenomenon: From Classical Theory To Unpredictable Practices," Journal of Social and Political Studies, Vol. 43, No. 1, 2007, pp. 32-44; here p. 32, p. 41. 

 [18] For three cases in point, see Reese Erlich, "Iran and Leftist Confusion," CommonDreams, June 29, 2009; Stephen Zunes, "Iran's Do-It Yourself Revolution," Foreign Policy In Focus, June 29, 2009; and Stephen R. Shalom et al., "Question & Answer on the Iran Crisis," Campaign for Peace and Democracy, July 7, 2009.

 [19] See Adam Thompson, "Honduras looks to move on from coup," Financial Times, January 26, 2010; Johann Hari, "When hands across the sea are tied," The Independent, June 4, 2010; and Joseph Huff-Hanson, "Honduras, one year after the coup," The Guardian, June 28, 2010.   We base our findings on a search of the Factiva database under the "Wires" and "Newspaper: All" categories using the following parameters: rst=(twir or tnwp) and honduras and (fnrp or (national front and popular resistance)) for the period from June 23, 2009 through November 30, 2010.  Sticking with the English-language media, this search produced a total of 18 items, only three of which fairly can be regarded as major English-language newspapers. 

 [20] Besides the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular's website Resistencia, also see, e.g., Quotha, the website maintained by the American University anthropologist Adrienne Pine; Rights Action, an organization run by Grahame Russell and Annie Bird; and Upside Down World, a website by a collective that includes Benjamin Dangl and Cyril Mychalejko.   

 [46] See, e.g., Louis Proyect,
"The Demonization And Death Of Slobodan Milosevic," Swans, March 27, 2006.  

 [47] See Louis Proyect, "A Serbophobe outburst in the Nation Magazine," The Unrepentant Marxist, December 21, 2007.  Also see the comment related to this blog by "Yugoslav," December 23, 2007; and the comment by "louisproyect," December 23, 2007. 

 [48] Louis Proyect, "Peter Ackerman: billionaire sponsor of toxic NGOs," The Unrepentant Marxist, October 3, 2007. 

 [49] See, e.g., Louis Proyect, "A velvet revolution in Iran?" The Unrepentant Marxist, June 22, 2009.  In a simplistic non sequitur typical of Proyect's work, he wrote: "[T]he main problems facing the pro-Ahmadinejad left is its failure to adequately theorize the problem of democratic rights and which proceeds along these lines: If Peter Ackerman is funding 'pro-democracy' activists in Iran and Venezuela, how can we dare attack Iran for closing down newspapers or beating demonstrators? We don’t want to end up on the same side of the barricades as Tom Friedman, do we?" 

 [50] See, e.g., Louis Proyect, "MRZine sinks to new lows," The Unrepentant Marxist, July 31, 2009; Louis Proyect, "MRZine: drunk on its own rotgut ideology," The Unrepentant Marxist, January 6, 2010;  Louis Proyect, "Answering an email about Iran," The Unrepentant Marxist, March 30, 2010; and Louis Proyect, "An Iranian socialist replies to Yoshie Furuhashi," The Unrepentant Marxist, April 1, 2010.

 [51] Louis Proyect, "Edward S. Herman and David Peterson: Flunkies for Ahmadinejad," The Unrepentant Marxist, July 25, 2009.

 [52] Ibid.

 [53] We used The Unrepentant Marxist blog's internal search engine, and searched for mentions of 'Honduras' and similar terms from the date of the blog's inception in July 2004 through November 30, 2010.  We found forms of the words 'Honduras' and 'Honduran' used by Proyect a total of nine times in six different blogs.  However, nowhere between June 28, 2009 and November 30, 2010, did Proyect write about Honduras' coup d'état or about the demonstration elections held under the coup regime or about the ongoing repression by the coup regime against its own population, or about the popular resistance to the coup regime.  (For the link to what we found, see 'Honduras.'   

 [54] See Herman and Peterson, "Riding the 'Green Wave' at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond."

 [55] See Herman and Peterson, "Chutzpah, Inc."  

 [56] Louis Proyect, "The latest idiocy from Edward S. Herman and David Peterson," The Unrepentant Marxist, February 20, 2010.

 [57] See Steven Kull et al., An Analysis of Multiple Polls of the Iranian Public, PIPA – WPO.org, February 3, 2010; Steven Kull et al., Iranian Public on Current Issues: Questionnaires, PIPA – WPO.org, February 3, 2010; and the accompanying Press Release

 [58] Proyect, "Flunkies for Ahmadinejad," and Proyect, "The latest idiocy from Edward S. Herman and David Peterson."

 [59] Proyect, "The Demonization And Death Of Slobodan Milosevic."

 [60] In the passage to which Louis Project is objecting, here is what we actually wrote: "It is important to keep in mind, however, that economic sanctions, U.S. and NATO-bloc wars in countries to Iran's east and west, ongoing U.S. and Israeli military threats against Iran, and foreign-organized terrorism and subversion inside Iran, all have proven costly and painful to Iran's citizens, and had feedback effects on their attitudes towards their government (as was true in Nicaragua while it was under attack by the United States during the Sandinista years, 1979-1990)."  See Herman and Peterson, "Chutzpah, Inc." 

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