Russia-gate: The Dead But Undead

Attention all Russia-gaters! Under the cover of pandemic, the US finally dropped charges against those dastardly Russian meme-bombers! 

Just in case you think this is yet another conspiracy led by Trump’s DOJ to hide something, the case against the troll farm fell apart 2 years ago when Mueller was still in charge. It’s been in limbo ever since but as the trial approached the DOJ killed the case. In a sane world, this would be the final nail in its coffin but the Russia-gate zombie is useful — so it rises again.

Russia-gate Dies

In May 2018, Concord Management, one of the indicted firms, pleaded innocent and went to court to clear its name. Concord’s lawyers had the audacity to ask for evidence as part of the normal legal procedure of “discovery.” Discovery means that both parties must exchange all the information and facts relating to the case at hand. Otherwise, legal defense is impossible.

Since we have no extradition treaty with Russia, the troll farmers could have safely stayed in Russia. Apparently, Mueller was betting that would be the case. 

Who would be foolish enough to voluntarily come to the US to stand trial for one of the most notorious crimes of the century? Well, Concord Management did; they called Mueller’s bluff.

In a propaganda campaign filled with one “bombshell,” after another, these events were so underreported that many people never heard of them. Why? Well, this bombshell blew up the Russia-gate narrative. And when reported at all it was spun as yet another Russian attempt to weaponize “secret” materials.

Mueller’s double-speak as to why he suspended the case is identical to what the DOJ’s spin is today. Both Mueller and the DOJ are saying that to release the evidence of a threat to national security is itself a breach of national security — a threat that outweighs the alleged Russian meddling. In other words, informed Americans are more dangerous to the security of the state than Russians. This is completely in keeping with Edward Snowdon’s revelations about massive domestic spying.  As quoted in the Guardian Snowdon said:

“Why are we intercepting more American communications than we’re intercepting Russian communications?”

Like the NSA, both Mueller and the DOJ’s actions treat the American public as if we are their targets. Police actions speak louder than police words

We can only conclude that Mueller never intended to prosecute the only example of Russian influence he could come up with.

 

Russia-gate Rises

No weapon as potent as Russia-gate will be put to rest over the lack of a little thing like evidence.

Who does Russia-gate serve? Who does this cover-up serve? It serves the purposes of the state. The intelligence community — of which Mueller is a leader — has seen itself as the gatekeepers of what the public should know and believe since the 1950s. Russia-gate serves the purpose of this once-hidden force that has now become a powerful and independent actor in American politics.

Recent events reveal the increasingly overt meddling and intervention of the secret police forces in domestic affairs. Here are a few choice examples. 

On the eve of the Nevada primary, the Washington Post tells us that the Russians are helping Sanders. Who says so? The police. How are they helping exactly? The police could not say. 

Ever the faithful servants of the state, the New York Times piled on with more Russia connect the dots smears on Sanders. Bloomberg carried the slander into the debates. Hillary Clinton, one of the architects of Russia-gate, smeared Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian asset, who, in a rare act of political courage, sued Clinton and waged a public counter-attack on Russia-gate and the abuses of the intelligence agencies.  

Soon after, on the eve of Super Tuesday, a joint statement from eight police agencies made yet another fact-free intervention in the election by — you guessed it — warning about election meddling. It seems the intelligence community is more interested in king-making than finding out about the coronavirus. Apparently, subversive thoughts are far more dangerous than pandemics for the security of the state. 

Then comes the Biden endorsement. In what The Washington Post called a “break with tradition” 100 former intelligence agents and other members of the national security state have publicly endorsed Biden. As quoted in the Independent:

“Margaret Henoch, a former CIA officer…agreed that a public endorsement is “absolutely” unheard of for career professionals.”

And leading this unheard-of endorsement is James Clapper. As former Director of National Intelligence, he was boss of all 17 secret police forces. Clapper is an unindicted perjurer that lied to Congress about the massive spying on everyday Americans by the National Security Agency. As reported in the Independent, Clapper repeats the core message of the Biden campaign:

“I just think he would represent if elected, a restoration of normality to the country,” 

Dude knows how to toe the party line and to deceive. Whether its “Normality,” or MAGA any return to the past is simply not in the cards. “Normal” cannot be purchased at any price or with any degree of power. Mother nature will see to that. The pandemic is just a prelude to irreversible climate chaos. Ten years — tick, tick, tick.

Break with Tradition or Abuse of Power?

It is not simply a break with tradition but yet another step in the long history of the abuse of power. The executive branch has grown so large, it has overwhelmed anything even resembling the Constitutional separation of powers or checks and balances. We have the empire to thank for that.

And since 9/11 the power of the intelligence community has grown even greater. The Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act institutionalized police powers to spy on all Americans. In words we could apply to the pandemic crisis, the American Civil Liberties Union states:

“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks the FBI sought to rid itself of these legal restraints and expand its investigative and intelligence collection capabilities. Acting during a period of fear and uncertainty, Congress, the White House, and the attorney general gave the FBI enhanced investigative and surveillance authorities…Other powers the FBI simply assumed for itself, often secretly, and at times in direct violation of existing laws.

Who and what benefits from Russia-gate? The corporate state and its need to destroy what little remains of our human rights.

Russia-Gate and Movement Strategy

Russia-gate works to distract us from our own problems; divide the progressive movement and set strict limits on dissent. Even Sanders pays tribute to the very weapons used against him by repeating the Russia-gate mantra. For a campaign so focused on completing the mission of the first New Deal, it is a self-inflicted wound. The first New Deal remains unfinished precisely because of Russia-gates’ predecessors: the Cold War and McCarthyism.

The most effective assault on the New Deal was aimed directly at the working class. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which even the Cold Warrior President Truman called the “slave-labor act”) purged the socialists and communists leading 18 CIO unions, banned key tactics and strategies and promoted “right to work” laws.

In the larger context, Taft-Hartley increased the power and rights of management while limiting all forms of workplace and economic democracy. Taft-Hartley was passed despite Truman’s veto by a powerful coalition of Democrats and Republicans. It’s the last major labor law “reform” this country has seen. 

The second New Deal will not be born if we swallow the same poison that killed the first New Deal. 

The collapse of the Russian collusion story also illustrates the total bankruptcy of the choices made by the DNC after 2016. They preferred the high drama and wild accusations of Russia-gate and the New Cold War to healthcare, election reform or positive programs of any kind.

Russia-gate’s aim is to enforce ideological discipline and silence criticism. But without criticism, people failed to learn the lessons of 2016. That failure is clear in the selection of Biden who represents the repetition of the old electoral strategy.

While it’s understandable to cling to a winning strategy it is stupid to cling to a losing one. Even a winning strategy can turn into a losing one if armies fight using the methods of the last war. Winning armies, on the other hand, fight the war they are actually in. And that requires a clear-eyed assessment of the conditions we currently face. 

The war we are actually in will increasingly demand the creation of mass movements, coalitions of all kinds, local communal efforts, mutual aid networks, organizing projects and third parties especially now after the frontal assault on the Democrats and the Presidency seems blocked.

We face uncertainty, risk, and danger. But whatever the outcomes of this unpredictable pandemic and the chaotic, rigged Democratic primary may be — and even if Sanders can defeat the DNC and Trump both — any progressive political agenda will be in jeopardy without massive outside pressure. In any case, we need to outflank the ruling class with a mighty army of activists coordinated with but outside of the electoral arena.

 

 

 

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The Inside is Connected to the Outside: The Inside/Outside Strategy Revisited

 

The Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) claims we need to work both inside and outside the dominant order to win. Most critiques of IOS correctly point to the shortcomings and dangers of working within the system. But, this weakness is also a reflection of the lack of powerful outside movements to recruit and discipline inside actors. If the outside isn’t working the inside isn’t working either. That said, far too many hopes, dreams, and dollars have been invested in inside work — elections in particular.

Working inside does not mean climbing the career ladder, joining some political machine, or aiming no higher than mere reform. Inside work, done well, means identifying the conflicts and divisions within the power structure and pushing on them. It means intensifying the struggle, working around obstacles and organizing outside the centers of power. Inside work does not have to mean giving up on revolutionary change. It should mean just the opposite.

But one part of the concrete conditions we cannot ignore is the reality that different people and tendencies will, in fact, work different angles. Some might focus either too far inside or too far outside the existing order for our tastes but we should aim toward greater synergy and coordination between the two. The trick is to learn to keep one foot in each world. Walk the razor’s edge.

For those critical of working within the Democratic Party, for example, our task is to build up our capacity for mass movements, local communal projects, and third parties. Organizing projects are far more important than winning the debate about where to concentrate forces.

 

“Inside” the Academic Labor Movement

The first front –the struggle for adjunct rights and against the two-tiered labor system — was the most important. When I started in 1998, the adjunct movement was coming into its own. I had a movement I could relate to, advocate for and help to organize. Without that outside force, there would have been nothing and no ground for an insider like me to stand on.

The adjunct faculty had been — and still are — dispossessed: unions rarely represent them well and often comply with workplace rules that actually hurt them. Adjuncts work for poverty wages, lack health care and are always fifteen minutes away from total humiliation. Sometimes students are their only true allies.

The second front was confronting management. Higher education managers adopt the ways and means of the corporation. Their arrogance and cruelty are so vicious it’s hard to make sense of.

Management understands what union officials usually don’t; the adjuncts are a crucial source of cheap labor and a wedge to weaken the entire workforce. To the bosses, adjuncts are a class enemy to which they will give no quarter. University management — liberals all — led the race-to-the-bottom replacing good jobs with bad, transferring wealth to the top and saddling generations of students with bad debts and dismal futures.

The last and most challenging front was dealing with conservative union officials that represented a small, influential, but deeply misguided segment of the tenured faculty. With some very notable and very honorable exceptions many of the official types, both elected leaders (many union elections are uncontested) and staff, avoided the issues or dragged their feet — a few were outright sellouts.

Very few union leaders play an effective inside role because they want to control the more radical rank and file rather than leverage their power. Instead, the savvy inside leader tells the boss: “I cannot control these people so if you don’t want a strike you better start throwing concessions our way.” But since control over members is tied to their own power most union officials squander rank and file pressure.

As the percentage of hires off the tenure-line grew year after year — replacing the secure with the vulnerable — a cultural shift eased the faculty’s surrender to the new order. The tenured faculty were all too eager to turn tenure from a right designed to defend academic freedom into a privilege rewarding hard work, intellectual prowess and merit.

What is “merit” other than the morality of the so-called “free market?” And, it has a powerful appeal. Who doesn’t want a merit badge? Why do you think so many academic radicals still believe that the free-market is a description of reality? Once privilege and merit replaced workplace rights the tenured faculty behaved much as other privileged groups do when tempted by the comforts of merit and the delusions of class collaboration.

Three Fronts in a War of Maneuver

Now, don’t take this analogy too far, but back when unions had real power they did not just fight scabs on the picket line. They sent their very best organizers into the shop to talk with and educate the strikebreakers, who were, after all, just workers in desperate need of a decent wage and class consciousness.

Whether its labor unions or the Democratic Party, don’t go “inside” unless you are ready to fight on three fronts and deal with the intense contradictions that struggle requires. Keep the shifting relationships between inside and outside foremost in your mind. If the connections weaken or break, you weaken or break.

Should people work inside or outside?  A good organizer usually encourages people to follow their own political instincts. When moved by the courage of their own convictions, people are more likely to do something — anything — and that activism will always be the best teacher.

 

 

 

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Inside/Outside Strategy Revisited

What is Strategy?

Strategy is a plan — a proposed course of action. Strategy demands the analysis of current conditions and statements of desired goals. But, the primary focus of strategy is “how.”  How do we work the transition between what is and what ought to be?

An effective strategy proposes how existing consciousness, resources, and capacities can achieve a range of political ends. Strategy tries to answer the hardest questions of all: what to do next and how to do it? While strategic thinking often relies on one political theory or other it is not the same exact thing as theory — its nothing as orderly or elegant as that.

Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) is an approach to organizing and movement building that emphasizes learning from and coordination with resistance movements that have political positions you do not completely agree with. IOS is an inclusive rather than an exclusive approach. A “both/and” attitude can help us resolve the static binaries and false choices that divide us and waste our energies. IOS is an alternative to the endless arguments and fragmentation that characterize the conventional left-wing pursuit of the “correct line.” IOS is particularly useful in organizing mass movements, coalitions, big-tent political parties, and revolutions.

Effective organizations regularly use a strategic planning process. While there are variations all include an assessment of the various forces in play; yourself, allies and adversaries; a shortlist of goals; the selection of tactics and demands; and most crucially — matching the tactics and tasks to the organizational resources already in hand. In the spirit of experimentation, the results must be evaluated, criticized and the plan revised. But always, we start from where we are — not where we’d like to be or hope to be.

Strategy is permanently provisional. Strategy is a work in progress, an unending discussion open to revision based on practice and the constantly shifting political context. Strategy does not provide certainty but is a guide to action. But the sad fact remains that much activism is simply reactive or willfully avoids strategic work.

The IOS Remains A Coherent Strategic Framework For An Incoherent World

In 2014, when I started writing about IOS, I was hard-pressed to find good sources and examples — the discussion was just getting underway. A lot has changed since then. IOS has become a topic of discussion among strategy-minded activists. 

IOS reaches its greatest potential as an overall strategy for social transformation.  It can be applied to a wide variety of situations and movements. Still, most discussions of IOS focus narrowly on the relationships between social movements or organizing on the one hand and electoral work on the other. 

IOS emphasizes experimentation in practice rather than doctrinal rigor or ideological clarity as a way of rebalancing a movement drunk on polemics and the hangover of analysis paralysis. IOS gives priority to engagement with the millions rather than debates between or within organizations.

Personal experience is the best teacher by far and that is why job #1 is to encourage people to take action. Real change becomes possible when millions act on the stage of history and not before. And when the millions move they will burst every comfortable category the “left” prizes so dearly. Change will not be orderly.

The mixed reaction of the US and French left to the Yellow Vests is just one example of our inability to deal with the contradictions unfolding before us. It reminds me of Lenin’s observations of the 1916 Irish Revolution.

“To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression…against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will he a social revolution!

Lenin continues:

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.

The socialist revolution…cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible….”

 

Let’s start working on the world as we find it not as we wish it to be.[1] That in no way means we accept the world the way it is. But, it does mean we are working toward a strategy that is far more effective than moral outrage or ideological precision.

It’s not that raising consciousness is a waste of time — it is vitally important. We need to bring the empire into view first and foremost because that is where the crisis cooks the hottest. Yes, we need the ideological struggle but tempered and trained by the complicated political context we find ourselves in. And, there is nothing more full of contradictions than revolution — nothing.

Deal with that or we deal ourselves a losing hand.

 

  1. While the concept of “working with the world the way we find it,” is most often associated with Saul Alinsky it is a really just a practical application of the most useful insight Marx and Engels ever offered: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

 

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One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement And One Losing Way

Q. What cloaks the empire and turns a mighty movement into a mirage? 

A. Narrow partisan politics.

When anti-war activism plays second-fiddle to “follow the leader” the chosen champion and the opposing villian loom so large that they become the main focus of attention obscuring the empire and dumbing the movement down.

But, build independent peace organizations — of any kind for any project — and we will put the movement on a firm foundation. If history is a guide, the most effective and committed voices for peace will come from an independent position largely outside of electoral activity. Applying stronger “outside” pressure on “inside” politicians and parties is the best recipe.

As Ajamu Baraka details in Black Agenda Report, anti-war activism driven by partisan loyalty is weak and limited. Partisan activism substitutes loyalty to a party for loyalty to our class interests and our political or environmental values — all of which demand peace and dismantling of empire. This is as true for the anti-interventionist conservatives that followed Trump to war as it is for the Democrats that only oppose Republican-led aggression.

Here is the essential history. The 2003 global demonstrations before the Gulf War were the largest peace demonstrations ever. But the size of the movement masked weakness: millions of those protesters lacked a truly political or anti-imperial opposition to war. The moderate tone of the protests failed to deliver either sustained disruption or systemic analysis. Going from weakness to weakness, the inability of even gigantic demonstrations to stop war further discouraged many. And, far too many protested only the outrages of Bush — a Republican President.

Obama, on the other hand, extended Bush’s wars and relied on drones, mercenaries and  “moderate rebels” to lower US casualties and hide the war from the public. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize and made everything seem cool again –including war. As the partisan protesters dropped out — comfortable with a Democrat in the White House — the real anti-war movement struggled just to survive.

Once again hopes ride high that politicians will save us but an anti-war movement with eyes on the prize must avoid a narrow partisan approach.

To state the obvious: the empire is not a mere policy choice of particular politicians or parties. Rather, it is a system of alliances and military bases that enforce a global order. The current US empire is an interlocking structure that merges the corporation and the state  —  the Military-Industrial-Complex being the prototype of that merger. Since WWII both Democrats and Republicans have supported the empire with few exceptions.

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Even still, it’s kind of amazing that the leading Democrats — in the middle of impeachment proceedings — supported the 2020 NDAA giving Trump a green light for war. Huge war budgets, a new Space Force, the elimination of all restrictions on the power of presidential wars and the use of force against Iran and Venezuela handed Trump the keys.

The hawks in control of the Democratic Party must be taken to task. Look here to see who voted for the NDAA in the Senate, who voted against it and who did not vote at all.

This shallow partisan stance will not lead us to anti-imperialism but we can counter with messages that emphasize the cultural and systematic nature of war and empire. The deep culture of war is hate and fear of the “other” contrasted to our own exceptional innocent white moralityWhether you go around stirring up the hate and fear of immigrants, or women, or Blacks — or Iranians, Muslims, Russians, or Chinese — you are stirring the imperial pot.

If we are only against hate and fear when the Republicans do it we are not against war.

May the Sanders and Gabbard campaigns turn us away from war and toward love and compassion. But, this empire has deep roots far beyond the reach of electoral activity. Show me a single example in world history of an empire dismantled in an orderly fashion by an election.

 

What Are Our “Units of Power?”

Let’s help people make the transition beyond the pro-war, pro-corporate consensus that dominates US politics. That transition will be primarily based on personal experience in a poly-centered movement large enough, diverse enough and audacious enough to disrupt the existing order.

If there is a clear formula for scaling up from the hopeful but small movements of today to more massive movements  — I do not know what it is. But for starters, it cannot hurt to connect empire abroad with empire at home,  anti-austerity efforts with opposition to the poverty draft, and the peace movement with the environmental movement. That’s big synergy for sure.

But synergy needs structure. Pick any project you like, of course, but build organizations to seed a larger movement and to tide us over between dramatic moments of protest.

“Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung workmanlike and experienced organizations.”

“Our most powerful nonviolent weapon is, as would be expected, also our most demanding, that is organization. To produce change people must be organized to work together in units of power” — Martin Luther King

 

There is widespread anti-war sentiment but without “units of power,” these attitudes will not become a mass movement.

The empire is a giant machine cranking out racism, misogyny, poverty and climate chaos. War is coming for your children and your planet. Make the connection between war and your community.

Units of power are best built along the paths to anti-imperialism. The Embassy Protectors;  Women’s March on the Pentagon; the Black Alliance for Peace;  National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth; GI Rights Hotline;  US Labor Against the War; Code Pink and the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign are a few prime examples of how to connect communities to the peace movement.

Digital warriors can get in the loop with Americans for Peace and Human Rights, Berners Against Militarism, Tulsi Gabbard Peace Movement and Stop the War Machine.

Or maybe best of all go totally local. Local chapters of Veterans for Peace are working hard as are community-based groups like St. Pete for Peace, Chelsea Uniting Against the War, NJ Hands Off Venezuala or No F-35 Fighter Jets in Madison.

Sporadic waves of protest, party politics, and appeals to morality will not be enough to reach millions of people. It’s our job — if we truly oppose wars — to build units of power and prove that war and empire are against the economic and political interests of the vast majority of the American people.

Our narrative: the empire is the weapon of the 1%; the engine of austerity; the enforcer of hate and hierarchy; the cause of climate change and the enemy of freedom. Our countermove: organize the unorganized.

 

 

 

 

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Bossing Grown Folks Around: The Open Letter to the Greens

Also in Counterpunch

Before a single primary vote has been tallied a number of big-shot progressive Democrats are already calling for the Green Party to stand down in an “open letter.”

Of all the issues we face, why focus so narrowly on marginal election maneuvers? Of all the movements we need to organize, why try to demobilize a dissident political party? Of all the great debates to be had, why spoil a discussion by faithfully repeating the failed DNC narratives of 2016: Elevate Trump, Lesser of Two Evils, Spoiler, and Vote Blue No Matter Who?

Nina Turner captured the failure of 2016 when she said:

“We should have been speaking to people’s hearts and not trying to shame and boss grown folks around.”

How does this shaming and bossing around work?

First and foremost the letter is only convincing if you accept the existing electoral system as permanent. A far better politics targets the rigged system itself as a starting point for reform. The open letter collapses in the face of a simple reform like Rank Choice Voting.

The strongest three arguments of the open letter are Trump, Trump, Trump. As in 2016, Trump is cast as the avatar of all evil but that role play masks the deep systematic evils of empire. Politics is not a morality play or a Marvel movie filled with superheroes and archvillains. Politics is a power struggle and in that struggle, all voices of real opposition and resistance are necessary — including the Green Party.

As a practical political matter, elevating Trump is designed to rally the party faithful– otherwise its a dud. The DNC elevated Trump in 2016 — failed. The DNC elevated Trump in Russia-Gate — failed. The DNC elevated Trump in impeachment — failed again. Hanging on to a winning strategy is understandable, hanging on to a losing one is not.

If we do not understand the institutional nature of power we will never overcome Trump or the corporate empire he leads. The corporate wing of the Democratic party and the rigged electoral system are part of the problem — not part of the solution. Elevating Trump again cannot hide that.

The real threat to Sanders and Gabbard comes from the DNC itself which will try to protect its own power — even at the cost of nominating lose/lose candidates like Warren or Biden. We lose in the short run if Trump prevails and we lose in the long run if they “win” because corporate politicians refuse to deal with the political crisis that produced Trump.

Again it’s a practical political matter. Since the Reagan revolution realigned elections so-called centrists Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton were all losers. Only Bill Clinton wins as a centrist and his main accomplishments achieved longstanding Republican policy objectives. Obama proved himself centrist but won because he ran as an agent of change. The open letter forgets all this: centrists are losers.

Thanks to the war machine and corporate drive for unlimited profit we are 10 years from irreversible climate chaos. There is nothing about Clinton (or the current DNC) to suggest that they would’ve acted in a decisive way had Clinton won. The DNC disarmed its own Green New Deal Committee for starters.

The DNC continues to attack Trump from the right by pushing the New Cold War, the New McCarthyism, the Space Force, and the New Arms Race. Nothing like amping up the existential threats of nuclear war, world war and climate chaos to knock the “lesser” out of the lesser of two evils. And the history is clear: both major parties have been managers of empire and corporate power long before Trump came along.

The timing of the open letter is just so revealing. Since there is no nominee they are calling on us to support anyone that gets it. Even billionaires who buy their way in? Since their arguments do not depend on Sanders or Gabbard winning the nomination this is a preemptive strike pushing us to “vote blue no matter who.” They counsel surrender just as the electoral battle is beginning.

The open letter holds back from promoting Sanders or Gabbard because then the co-signers would have to take aim at the DNC instead of just repeating the DNC’s narratives.

For at least fifty years lesser of two evils voting has been the primary strategy of radical voters. Did it work? We have been conned into giving up our right to be represented by candidates and parties that actually stand for our class interests and political values. 50 years of surrender has enabled both major parties to run hard to the right. When we give up on democracy we get the likes of Clinton and Trump — and in 2016 that meant we got Trump.

 

Predictably, the open letter falls back on “the spoiler.” They talk about vote counts in swing states to give their worn-out arguments the weight of math — but it is not math by a mile. Major elections are complex equations with at least 20 or 30 variables determining the outcome. The spoiler fallacy isolates a single variable — third party votes — and ignores the rest. That won’t get you passed high school algebra, but it will earn you high marks in the arts of scapegoating.

It’s not even good arithmetic as they never add or subtract the millions of non-voters because that would undermine the main assumption of the spoiler fallacy — that there is a scarcity of votes. There are millions of votes for anyone with vision and capacity to motivate them.

These lame arguments have failed for decades and will not work now. If the Democrats have a strong anti-austerity, anti-war and Green New Deal program — like the Green Party does — they can win over independents or the 90+ million US voters that stay home.

In effect, the open letter has already given up on Sanders and Gabbard. Instead, they punch down and punch left on the 1.5 million Green voters. Ganging up on the Green Party is not going to win Sanders the nomination.

Sanders and Gabbard supporters, you already know this to be true: these attacks against the Greens have and will be used against you too.

Worse yet, the authors totally dodge their responsibility to stand for democracy and reform the electoral system. Imagine if the DNC had put all its weight into election reform and ending voter suppression instead of Russia-Gate?

Harvard University’s Election Integrity Project (EIP) evaluated the US as the most dysfunctional electoral system among so-called “western democracies?”

As Global Research reports:

According to the EIP, U.S. elections scored lower than Argentina, South Africa, Tunisia, and Rwanda — and strikingly lower than even Brazil. Specifically compared to Western democracies, U.S. elections scored the lowest, slightly worse than the U.K., while Denmark and Finland topped the list.

The Green Party shooting itself it the foot will not make up for the failure to fight for basic democracy. The authors’ lip service to electoral reform means they have given up their right to condemn the Green Party — or anyone else to their left.

Electoral reform as mild as the “top two” primary in California has already produced credible Green campaigns for Congress in districts where no Republicans are on the ballot. Rodolfo Cortez Barrigan is a visionary candidate who got 24% of the vote in 2018 and will do far better in 2020.

Ranked Choice Voting would totally destroy the entire argument of the close-minded “open letter.” In Maine — where the people forced the politicians to accept Ranked Choice Voting — Green, teacher and activist Lisa Savage is running for Senate. People can vote for their interests and build a multi-party system at the same time — with no spoiler or lesser of two evils.

Imagine a system without voter suppression; without the constant meddling of billionaires and corporate media; without the year-long propaganda primary that gives big money and big media enormous power; without gerrymandering; without electoral fraud; without the electoral college or superdelegates — without the stranglehold of the two-party system.

Instead imagine elections with Rank Choice Voting or other forms of proportional representation, multiple parties, universal registration, automatic recounts, easy ballot access for dissenting parties, paper ballots, public funding only, or real debates. Imagine that.

But alas, the authors of the open letter appear more interested in supporting the establishment and bossing people around than reforming the system.

 

 

 

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Ten Best Messages for Waging Peace

 

Also in Counterpunch.

The rapid response to US war moves against Iran has been an exciting start toward rebuilding the anti-war movement we so desperately need. Thousands took to the streets in more than 80 cities. It’s a great beginning. But, if we want a movement of millions we are going to have to reach everyday people outside of the existing movement, outside of partisan politics and outside of strictly moral appeals.  

We start by waging peace because the anti-war movement is the main path to anti-imperialist action — or so the history of the Vietnam Era would suggest. If we want to grow from a radical movement of thousands to a disruptive movement of millions our job is to help people discover their own economic and political interests for opposing war and empire. In other words, we have to help people see war not simply as a morality play, or electoral politics, or as a separate “foreign policy” issue but as a power struggle — their struggle.

Ten anti-war messages in no special order:

  1. “We should never have been there in the first place.” By the end of the Vietnam War, this straightforward idea was popular anti-imperialism and it challenged the US role as cops of the world. It was stock wisdom among millions of everyday anti-war Americans. We should have never been in the Middle East, or anywhere else, in the first place.
  2. Empire abroad means empire at home. War and empire do not defend democracy but destroys it. It was the empire that undermined what little remained of representative democracy once the Executive Branch took over all war-making powers and everyone else fell into line. When the Military-Industrial-Complex and the secret police became major players in the government and media, democracy gave up its last ghost. Proof? We have not had a constitutional declaration of war since WWII. If the highest law of the land is routinely violated for 70 years — so much for the rule of law.  
  3. Stop the Poverty Draft! The lack of decent wages, universal health care, and free higher education are the main recruiters for the poverty draft. The 1.2 trillion we spend annually for war enforces austerity at home by diverting funds and resources. Only the 1% get rich on war. The war machine thrives on and creates poverty.
  4. Hate and fear of the “other” is the culture of war. Hate and violence abroad and the culture of hate and violence at home exist in a vicious feedback loop. It’s not a coincidence that the hate demanded by the wars inflicted upon black and brown people abroad find a direct domestic parallel in the militarized penal system aimed at black, brown and poor and the attacks on immigrants of color.
  5. And make no mistakes, its war that drives climate change. Not only is the military the largest consumer of fossil fuels, its the enforcer of an oil empire. War captures resources and forces countries to submit to a global regime where the US dollar is the only acceptable currency for trading fossil fuels. Stand outside of the oil empire –refuse to pay imperial tribute —  and its regime change time for you.  
  6. Defend democracy and national sovereignty. Not only does the US routinely violate the national sovereignty of other countries but also attack legally elected governments. This is not debatable but plain fact — know the history.
  7. “We are sick of being lied to.” We have decades of proof that the war-makers lie — the Afghanistan Papers being the most recent. Every claim made by every political official should be judged in that light. The public record is clear — war is based on lies and deception. Remember: “In War Truth is the First Casualty.”
  8. Listen to anti-war soldiers and veterans. The greatest challenge to war is anti-war soldiers and veterans because they completely upset the empire’s narratives and are the most effective of all protestors. The peace movement from within the military’s ranks is a bridge between some hard-won, down and dirty knowledge about war and millions of people who do not currently define themselves as anti-war.  Support About Face, Vets for Peace and Veteran’s Power.  
  9. Empires rise and empires fall — without exception. American Exceptionalism has conditioned us to see the US as a moral force outside of history. Exceptionalism is a master narrative of war that blinds us to the dangers of an empire in decline. The liberal aspects of Exceptionalism are the hardest to see but they encourage us to understand war as a morality play with the US acting as a force for good in the world.  
  10. Imperial wars are unwinnable wars. Eighteen years in Afghanistan and over 25 years of on-again-off-again war with Iraq prove that these wars are unwinnable. Unwinnable wars are just permanent military occupations — the hallmark of empire. Sooner or later the facts become obvious to the people under US control and they want their countries back.

What should be our most important anti-war narratives? Let’s start out right with the goal of bringing the US empire into view as a target for political action. We need stories that help reveal to millions of people the true nature of empire. We need stories that can help us organize actual constraints on the war machine. We need stories that help us to find the beginnings of freedom in the end of empire. 

 

 

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The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?

The First American War Stories Are Still With US

American Exceptionalism remains one of the innermost ideas shaping our national identity and still lies behind all of the war stories used to justify US foreign policy. Exceptionalism has been a part of American culture since the very first European settlers landed. At its core, exceptionalism places America outside of history into a category of its own. For example, a historical view of empire is that all empires rise and fall and the US will be no different. An exceptionalist view of the US empire is: “empire what empire? We’re simply defending democracy.” The initial “escape” from history followed two interrelated tracks: one was the religious radicalism of the Puritans, the other was the frontier experience. Both paths were the warpath.[1]  

The early settlers believed that they were “chosen” — blessed by a special relationship to their God. They viewed their “errand in the wilderness” as a holy mission destined to bring a new and better way of life to the world. God’s judgment on their progress was revealed in the bounty of a harvest or the outcome of a war.  

iu-57American Progress (1872) by John Gast. An allegorical figure representing America’s “civilizing mission” brings light, white settlers and modern technology to the dark west as natives and the bison retreat.

Exceptionalism was not a free-floating idea but was forged into a lasting culture by the frontier wars aimed at the elimination or assimilation of native people and the conquest of land. America’s frontier mythology popularized empire and white settler culture while cloaking their many contradictions.

I know it is hard to believe that the Puritans are still camped out in our minds. The old religious radicalism has taken modern form in the liberal-sounding belief that the US military is a “force for good (read god) in the world.” The double-edged sword of exceptionalism traps us into repeating history: our high moral standards and special role in the world gives us license for wars and aggressions. It is the liberal elements of exceptionalism that are most seductive, most difficult to wrap our heads around, and the most effective at winning our consent to war.

Exceptionalism Wins Our Consent to War

On the one hand, we have the “hard” exceptionalism like that of the Cold War (New and Old) and the War on Terrorism. These war stories revolve around a rigid binary of good and evil. After 9/11, in scores of speeches, George W. Bush repeated the mantra that there were “no gray areas” in the struggle between good and evil.

On the other hand, “soft” exceptionalism takes a slightly different tack by appealing to the liberal in us. Stories of rescue, protection, democracy and humanitarian efforts assure us of our goodness. Obama mastered this narrative by claiming the US had a “duty to protect” the weak and vulnerable in places like Libya.

These two strains of war stories are the narrative one-two punch, winning our consent to war and empire.

Here is how war propaganda works: if authority figures in government and media denounce foreign leaders or countries or immigrants as an evil threat and repeat it thousands of times, they do not even have to say, “We are the chosen people destined to bring light to the world.” They know that millions of Americans will unconsciously refer to the exceptionalist code by default because it’s so deeply embedded in our culture. Once made brave by our exceptional character and sense of superiority, the next moves are war, violence and white supremacy.

The Myth of “Nation-Building” Meets the American War in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, and the resistance to it, profoundly challenged all existing war stories but especially the idea of “nation-building.” The idea that the US could create a new democratic nation — South Vietnam — was an utter illusion that no amount of fire-power could overcome. In truth, the US selected a series of petty tyrants to rule that could never win the allegiance of the Vietnamese people because they were the transparent puppets of American interests. Following the defeat of US forces, the elites shifted gears. The ruling class learned a lesson that forced them to abandon the liberal veneer of “nation-building.”

At the heart of this disruption was the soldier’s revolt. Thousands of US soldiers and veterans came to oppose the very war they fought in. An anti-war movement inside the military was totally unprecedented in US history. The war-makers have been scrambling to repair the damage ever since.

The Next Generation of War Stories: From “Noble Cause” to “Humanitarian War.” 

Ronald Reagan tried to repair the damaged narratives by recasting the Vietnam War as a “Noble Cause.” The Noble Cause appealed to people hurt and confused by the US defeat,  as well as the unrepentant war-makers, because it attempted to restore the old good vs. evil narrative of exceptionalism. For Regan, America needed to rediscover its original mission as a “city on a hill” — a shining example to the world. Every single President since has repeated that faith.

The Noble Cause narrative was reproduced in numerous bad movies and dubious academic studies that tried to refight the war (and win this time!). Its primary function was to restore exceptionalism in the minds of the American people. While Regan succeeded to a considerable degree — as we can see in the pro-war policy of both corporate parties  — “nation-building” never recovered its power as a military strategy or war story.

The next facade was Clinton’s “humanitarian war.” Humanitarian war attempted to relight the liberal beacon by replacing the unsolvable problems of nation-building with the paternalistic do-gooding of a superior culture and country. In effect, the imperialists recycled the 19th Century war story of “Manifest Destiny” or “White Man’s Burden.” That “burden” was the supposed duty of white people to lift lesser people up to the standards of western civilization — even if that required a lot of killing.

The_White_Man's_Burden_Judge_1899John Bull (Great Britain) and Uncle Sam (U.S.) bear “The White Man’s Burden…by delivering the colored peoples of the world to civilization. (Victor Gillam, Judge magazine, 1 April 1899)

This kind of racist thinking legitimized the US overseas empire at its birth. Maybe it would work again in empires’ old age?

From the “War on Terrorism” to the “Responsibility to Protect.”  

After the shock of 9/11 the narrative shifted again. Bush’s “global war on terrorism” reactivated the good vs. evil framing of the Cold War. The “war on terror” was an incoherent military or political strategy except for its promise of forever wars. Just as the Cold War was a “long twilight struggle” against an elusive but ruthless communist enemy, terrorists might be anywhere and everywhere and do anything. And, like the fight against communism, the war on terrorism would require the US to wage aggressive wars, launch preemptive strikes, use covert activities and dodge both international law and the US Constitution.

9/11 also tapped into deeply-rooted nationalistic and patriotic desires among everyday people to protect and serve their country. The first attack on US soil in modern memory powerfully restored the old exceptionalist binary: when faced with unspeakable evil, the US military became a “force for good in the world.” It’s easy to forget just how potent the combination is and how it led us into the War in Iraq.  According to The Washington Post:

Nearing the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, seven in 10 Americans continue to believe that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks, even though the Bush administration and congressional investigators say they have no evidence of this.

The mythology is so deep that at first the people, soldiers especially, just had to believe there was a good reason to attack Iraq. So we fell back on exceptionalism despite the total absence of evidence. Of course Bush made no attempt to correct this misinformation. The myth served him too well — as did the official propaganda campaign claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

But in due course, some of the faithful became doubters. A peace movement of global proportions took shape. But in the US far too much of what appeared as resistance was driven by narrow partisan opposition to Republicans rather than principled opposition to war and empire.

But fear not war-makers — Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton to the rescue! As they continued Bush’s wars in the Middle East and expanded the war zone to include Libya, Syria and then all of Africa, they sweetened “humanitarian war” with a heaping dose of cool-coated “Responsibility to Protect.” Once again, American goodness and innocence made the medicine go down and our wars raged on.

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Obama restored legitimacy to the empire so effectively that it took years for the illegal, immoral, racist and “unwinnable” wars to reveal themselves to the public. I was told by one of the leaders of About Face: Veterans Against War that they almost had to close shop after Obama was elected because their donor base dried up. Obama’s hope was our dope. Just as the daze was finally lifting, Trump started to take the mask off.

Is The Mask Off?

Today’s we face an empire with the mask half off. Trump’s doctrine — “We are not nation-building again, we are killing terrorists.” — is a revealing take on military trends that began with the first US – Afgan War (1978-1992). US leaders gave up nation-building and opted for failed states and political chaos instead of the strong states that nation-building, or its illusion, required. The US military began to rely on mercenaries and terrorists to replace the American citizen-soldier. The soldier revolt of the Vietnam Era already proved that everyday Americans were an unreliable force to achieve imperial ambitions.

Trump is now waging a naked war for oil. Nothing rips the mask off of the humanitarian justifications better than the actual experience of combat in a war for oil and power — so the war managers tried to reduce combat exposure to a few. And they succeeded. The number of official US troops abroad reached a 60-year low by 2017. Even still a new resistance movement of veterans is gathering steam. Can the mask be put back on? It’s hard to say, because as The Nation reports, Americans from a wide spectrum of political positions are tired of perpetual war.

Can the “Green New Military” Put The Mask Back On? 

The recycled imperial justifications of the past are losing their power: Manifest Destiny, White Mans’ Burden, leader of the free world, nation-building, humanitarian war, war against terrorism, responsibility to protect — what’s next? If only the military could be seen as saviors once again.

A last-ditch effort to postpone the collapse of the liberal versions of war stories might just be the “Green New Military.” Elizabeth Warren’s policy claims, “Our military can help lead the fight in combating climate change.” It’s a wild claim that contradicts all evidence unless she is also calling for an end to regime-change wars, the New Cold War and the scaling down of our foreign bases. Instead, Warren is all about combat readiness. She did not invent this — the Pentagon had already embraced the new rhetoric. Given that the Working Families Party and some influential progressives have already signaled their willingness to accept Warren as a candidate, she might just silence dissent as effectively as Obama once did.

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But, the lie is paper-thin: “There is no such thing as a Green War.” You can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but you cannot fool mother nature one little bit. War and climate change are deeply connected and ultimately there is no way to hide that.

The New Cold War and More of The Same Old Wars

So far the New Cold War against Russia and China has recycled the anti-communist conspiracy of the old Cold War into the xenophobic conspiracy theory of Russia-gate. Even a trusted tool like Mueller could not make it work as a coherent narrative but no matter — the US did not skip a beat in building up military bases on Russia’s borders.

The media and political attacks on Russia or China or immigrants, or Iran are likely to continue because propagandists cannot activate the exceptionalist code without an evil enemy. Still, it takes more than evil. An effective war story for the US ruling class must project the liberal ideas of helping, protection, saving and the spread of democracy in order to engineer mass consent to war. Hence the need for “Humanitarian War,” “Duty to Protect” or maybe the”Green New Military.”

Let anyone propose a retreat from any battlefield and the “humanitarian” war cry will rally the empire’s pawns and saviors-types. If we take our exceptionalism religiously — and religion it is — then the US empire will never ever pull back from any war at any time. There is always someone for the empire to “protect and save:” from the “Noble Savages” and innocent white settlers of the frontier, to the Vietnamese Catholics, to the women of Afghanistan, to the Kurds of Syria.

We so want to see our wars as a morality play, just as the Puritans did, but the empire is all about power and profit.

politics_and_war_by_milesland-d1x7649-2

“Politics and War” By MilesLand on DeviantArt

“War is the Continuation of Politics by Other Means.” — Carl von Clausewitz

All the Big Brass study Clausewitz because he is the founder of western military science — but they are so blinded by the dilemmas of empire that they make a mess of his central teaching: War is politics.

None of the war narratives and none of the wars can solve the most important question of politics: governance. Who will govern the colonies? The overwhelming verdict of history is this: colonies cannot be democratically or humanely governed as long as they are colonies. Until the empire retreats its heavy hand will rule in places like Afghanistan.

The empire is reaching the limits of exceptionalism as both war narrative and national mythology. This is why our rulers are forced to desperate measures: perpetual war, occupation, intense propaganda campaigns like Russia-gate, the reliance on mercenaries and terrorists and the abuse and betrayal of their own soldiers.

Just as damning to the war machine is the collapse of conventional ideas about victory and defeat. The US military can no longer “win.” The question of victory is important on a deep cultural level. According to the original mythology, the outcome of wars waged by “the chosen people” are an indication of God’s favor or disfavor. In modern terms, defeat delegitimizes the state. Endless war is no substitute for “victory.”

But it’s not military victory we want. Our victory will be in ending war, dismantling the empire, abolishing the vast militarized penal system and stopping irreparable climate chaos. Our resistance will create a new narrative but it can only be written when millions of people become the authors of their own history.

The empire is slipping into decline and chaos – one way or another. Will we be actors deciding the fate of the American Empire or will it’s collapse dictate our fate? But these wars will, sooner or later, become the graveyard of empire — or else America is truly exceptional and we really are God’s chosen people.

 

1/ Check out these two important recent works that discuss both the history and  contemporary forms of  American Exceptionalism: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich and American Exceptionalism and American Innocence by Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong

 

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