Yelling Past Each Other Part 1

Earlier this month, maverick left journalists Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal blasted the various conveners of this summer’s Socialism 2019 conference in Chicago. The editors of the journal New Politics, one of the sponsors of said conference, responded with “In Defense of Socialist Internationalism.”

Neither side of this exchange–not the editors of New Politics nor Norton and Blumenthal (N-B)–have distinguished themselves by their conduct on the matter. The editors’ Defense is economical with both evidence and reasoning yet rich in anger and judgement. Much of its scant argument is completely baseless. This is true despite the fact that the bulk of Norton and Blumenthal’s multi-pronged attack is itself ill-tempered, ill-argued and worst of all devoid of evidence for precisely its most serious claims.

The New Politics editors in their Defense strike out at Norton and Blumenthal’s project The Grayzone, a young website of left journalism which seems to have grown out of AlterNet and whose modest output has included work from Media Lens, Gareth Porter, Aaron Mate and more. The NP editors place it beyond the pale, calling the publication “rancid,” its creators “soulless” and their politics “morally bankrupt.” Talk about how to win friends and influence people! This type of argument–that of strident assertions rather than reason–reflects contempt for discussion and debate and is far from appropriate for those aspiring to be “an authentic left,” as New Politics claims to be. Do its editors see their readers as a rabble to be fed emotional and manichean appeals which relegate other left actors to a “rancid” oblivion? Surely it is rather sober clarity and good faith that ought to be hallmarks of left struggle.

Despite loathing their web site, the editors profess to share N-B’s first concern, that of the nefarious influence of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on the left. New Politics agrees that “left groups should have nothing to do with it,” differing mainly over what they characterize as N-B’s “claim” that “receipt of NED money automatically discredits” its receiver. The problem with the editors’ assertion is that it happens to be false. N-B do indeed make much of NED links–and do it in a decidedly hostile tone, to be sure. But they make no such claim that NED links discredit anyone, which is presumably why the editors did not quote N-B on the matter. In fact N-B say that some recipients of NED money do good work. (“This is not to say that NED-funded groups cannot at times have a positive impact on the lives of average people in repressive environments.”)

If New Politics indeed recommends rejecting NED funding, they would presumably support an open discussion of that agency’s involvement with institutions of the left and thus should welcome the raising of concerns of the type N-B highlight. One suspects that many attendees of Socialism 2019 would have appreciated hearing more than they evidently did about the subject.

The New Politics editors’ Defense does little to redeem itself. Amazingly, they “take but one example” from N-B’s “scurrilous attack” for demolition and proceed to completely botch their case. “To [Norton and Blumenthal], denouncing China’s mass incarceration of up to a million members of the country’s Uyghur minority in concentration camps, or even drawing attention to it, to take but one example, is nothing more than carrying out the agenda of the State Department.” But wait. The N-B article in question says zero about Uyghurs. While N-B have written about Uyghurs in earlier writings which can be found on The Grayzone, their alleged attitude as claimed by the New Politics editors is nowhere to be found. (Which, again, is why they did not bother to quote anything N-B wrote about it.) In their “one example” New Politics astonishingly simply made up facts.

The rest of the Defense hurls a familiar string of insults which no doubt are intended to exemplify the “generous sympathies” which New Politics touts. Again, it bears mentioning that the editors did not have to go down this road of unfounded accusation and insults, since there is error aplenty in the N-B piece. It is moreover quite surprising to see such a performance with Steve Shalom’s name attached, as he has a long history of careful and serious work.

(Continued in Part 2.)

1 comment

  1. Anton Glaving July 29, 2019 9:40 pm 

    True, NB do not explicitly assert that receiving NED money automatically discredits a group, but (in my reading at least) that seems to be pretty damn close to what they’re insinuating. The quote you present is immediately followed by “But their work is always part of a larger agenda, with ulterior imperial motives guiding them along the way. A controlled opposition can make some changes, but it always remains controlled.”

    Otherwise, your remarks seem on target.

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