In Defense of Socialist Internationalism


We have been slimed. An article by Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal on the recent Socialism 2019 Conference — which appears on their rancid website, The GrayZone, and is apparently being widely circulated — is a scurrilous attack not only on the conference itself, but also on one of our editors, Dan La Botz, and indeed on the entire political outlook of socialism from below, which has always been the defining perspective of our journal.

New Politics was a sponsor of the conference, a major gathering that drew 1,500 participants – members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), former members of the now defunct International Socialist Organization (ISO), and a host of unaffiliated radicals and socialists as well as people from other groups. We were proud to support the event, which featured dialogue and debate among people who, in stark contrast to Blumenthal and Norton, recognize the centrality of democracy, labor rights, and civil liberties to socialism.

Norton and Blumenthal characterize the conference speakers as “a motley crew of regime-change activists” eager to “demonize Official Enemies of Washington” – by which they mean the authoritarian governments of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Nicaragua. For Norton and Blumenthal, this “demonization” consists in “exploiting the cause of human rights or labor rights to undermine and destabilize foreign governments that Washington has targeted for regime change.” To them, 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.

What Norton and Blumenthal, and their co-thinkers in what they call the “anti-imperialist left,” exhibit is essentially a revival of Cold War thinking, with a distinctly neo-Stalinist flavor: the world is divided into two camps, one dominated by the United States, and the other consisting of its enemies. The left must solidarize itself with the anti-Washington camp, no matter how brutal, corrupt and dictatorial its leaders, no matter how many of its citizens languish in prison cells, suffer in torture chambers, or lie dead in the streets. We at New Politics unreservedly reject this morally bankrupt politics. We have always stood for vigorous, consistent opposition to both U.S. imperialism and to the tyrannies that pose as socialist or anti-imperialist.

Norton and Blumenthal do not merely claim that those in the socialism from below tradition “objectively” promote the interests of U.S. imperialism; they falsely accuse us – and other speakers at the Socialism 2019 Conference, such as the heroic journalist Anand Gopal, who delivered a powerful talk on the death of the Arab Spring in Syria — of actually supporting Washington’s wars and actively promoting the work of the CIA and the State Department. These are shameless lies that defame lifelong principled radicals and socialists. Even a cursory examination of the New Politics journal and website will demonstrate with the utmost clarity that we have never given any support to U.S. imperialism. Our co-editor Dan La Botz has fought against every war and military intervention launched by Washington since Vietnam. At the same time, we stand by our critique of the governments of Cuba and Nicaragua as part of our consistent defense of democratic rights and opposition to the rule of elites everywhere.

Norton and Blumenthal make much of the fact that some of the conference speakers were affiliated with human rights and labor rights groups that have received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. New Politics has carried articles exposing and condemning the NED and its influence on groups such as the American Federation of Teachers; quite often members of such groups have little or no idea what the NED represents, but we think unions, human rights and left groups should have nothing to do with it. We reject, however, the crude claim that receipt of NED money automatically discredits an organization or a movement.

The soulless realpolitik of Norton and Blumenthal has nothing in common with an authentic left, “anti-imperialist” or any other kind. The left with which New Politics identifies is a political tradition of generous sympathies, always ready to offer solidarity to struggles for democracy and human dignity wherever they occur, a left that believes in the right of all people to control their governments and societies. It is of course true that Washington only invokes the crimes of Putin, Xi, Assad, Ortega, etc., hypocritically to justify its own imperialist aims. But it is entirely different for an independent left that combats its own government’s reactionary foreign and domestic policies to denounce these despots and their regimes and defend their victims. New Politics, as we have said, rejects the “campism” of Norton and Blumenthal. But there is one camp that we support wholeheartedly: the third camp of the oppressed and exploited everywhere. Neither Washington nor Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, Havana, and Managua! For the third camp of socialist freedom!

Aaron Amaral
Saulo Manuel Colón Zavala
Thomas Harrison
Michael Hirsch
Nancy Holmstrom
Dan La Botz
Scott McLemee
Jason Schulman
Stephen R. Shalom
Bhaskar Sunkara
Edward Tapia
Lois Weiner
Julia Wrigley

6 Comments

  1. avatar
    Dave Markland July 29, 2019 6:40 pm 

    Neither side of this exchange – not the editors of New Politics nor Norton and Blumenthal – have distinguished themselves by their conduct on the matter. The editors’ above 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. … (More on my Z Blog.)

  2. Raghav Kaushik July 18, 2019 10:22 pm 

    Paul D: your side of the debate hasn’t helped much either. To take the concrete example of Syria, your analysis that Assad is the main monster there was correct. But then, the right question that follows is: what options exist for folks in the West to help? This isn’t US-centrism, it’s elementary common sense. But it’s a question your side never answered. Instead, they engaged in the same slime game they accuse the other side of. Sitting in a society that’s thousands of miles away, that you yourself say is not a main contributor to the tragedy, saying nothing useful about how to help but abusing others is not “solidarity”, at least not one I can identify with.

  3. Matic Primc July 17, 2019 9:31 am 

    I must say that I know nothing about the conference itself. However despite that I would comment that I often encounter people pretending that their activities happen in a vacuum. Criticising country X while your country is actively trying to start a war with that country (a war you readily admit would bring only pain and suffering) is not an activity you can just wave off as “oh, were just taking about the real shortcomings or crimes of country X”. For example you can criticise one of the other 190 countries who are not currently threatened by an invasion. Its akin to criticising jaywalking and pushing down on the pedal of the car you are driving while there are actual (jaywalking) people who will get run over BY YOU if you dont step on the brakes. Sure, doing this does not make you imperialist, but I am not sure the stupidity explanation is that much better.

  4. avatar
    Paul D July 16, 2019 4:04 pm 

    Thank-you!

    The conspiracy-theory laden, neo-tankieist anti imperialists for Putin, Assad and Ortega (and now Maduro)” which included individuals and organizations on the left that I once admired, has done the left irreparable harm over the past decade.

    • Philip July 16, 2019 9:35 pm 

      yea Saddam was a very bad man also but Iraq would be better off today if we hadn’t destroyed the country. don’t you think that if we spent our time trying to keep our government from threatening all these countries militarily (Venezuela, Russia, North Korea etc) they might have more space to open up democratically. we destroyed Libya and Iraq and tried to do the same to Syria. we do not make those countries better by attacking them. i do not understand how aligning our voices with the imperialist right here is helping. maybe you can enlighten me?

      • avatar
        Paul D July 18, 2019 6:39 pm 

        The US was never threatening Syria – in fact, Assad has been an ally of US interests. An “opening up of democracy” was exactly what the Syrian people, led by the Syrian left, was trying to do but Assad savagely crushed them – imprisoning and executing leftists even as he was releasing Islamic extremists – and the USA had and has nothing to do with it. PLEASE learn about Syria from our Syrian leftist comrades like Yassin Al Haj Saleh, not protofascist Russian and Assadist sources.

        And get off your agency-robbing US-centrism. Everything is not about, and caused by, the USA.

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