Alexander Cockburn and CounterPunch

CounterPunch editor Alexander Cockburn
’s Keble degree and family connections probably got him a job at the Times Literary Supplement straight from university and a staff post at the New Statesman before he turned 23.

Alexander was brought up in a very particular Communist Party milieu. His father, Claud Cockburn, was from a diplomatic family and went to Berkhamstead College School, an ancient British elite private school, which also produced Winston Churchill’s wife, various cabinet ministers, the fascist AK Chesterton and Graham Greene. Auberon Waugh is a cousin.

Claud Cockburn in Spain: Lying for Stalin

Claud Cockburn joined the Communist Party and covered the Spanish Civil War (as “Frank Pitcairn”) for the Daily Worker, joining the International Brigade. The Communist Party played a terrible role in Spain, of course, murdering independent socialists and anarchists. Cockburn worked closely with the Soviet agents who orchestrated both acts of violence against the anti-Stalinist left and the propaganda which whitewashed those acts – such as his friend Mikhail Koltsov (Cockburn: “I spent a great deal of my time in the company of Mikhail Koltzov, who then was foreign editor of Pravda and, more importantly still, was at that period… the confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin himself.”). He was also friendly with British agents like Guy Burgess. (His first wife, Hope Hale Davis, went on to marry another spy, Hermann Brunck.)

George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is the best account of this. Orwell is sharply critical of the lies Cockburn told about Spain. Here is an example of one of Cockburn’s lies:
Catalonia is full of German and Italian agents working desperately to reorganize the rebellion against the People’s Front government...German and Italian agents, who poured into Barcelona ostensibly in order to ‘prepare’ the notorious ‘Congress of the Fourth International’ had one big task. It was this: they were - in cooperation with the local Trotskyists - to prepare a situation of disorder and bloodshed... a situation in which the Italian and German governments could land troops or marines on the Catalan coasts...The instrument for all this lay ready to hand for the Germans and Italians in the shape of the Trotskyist organization known as the POUM.”*
Of course, the POUM, an independent Marxist party, was not Trotskyist (Trotsky criticised it for being too anti-Soviet). Far from being pro-fascist, it was consistently active in militant anti-fascism. 

Here’s another example: 

“In the past, the leaders of the POUM have frequently sought to deny their complicity as agents of a fascist cause against the People’s Front. This time they are convicted out of their own mouths as clearly as their allies, operating in the Soviet Union, who confessed to the crimes of espionage, sabotage and attempted murder against the government of the Soviet Union.”
As Kevin Keating writes:
"His reference to confessions in the Soviet Union is Claud Cockburn’s approving nod to the results of the Moscow Trials, a high point of Stalinist totalitarian delirium, where Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other leading Bolshevik bureaucrats confessed to absurd charges that they had long been agents of Hitler, the Japanese Emperor and other malefactors, and were subsequently shot.
David Walsh at WSWS puts it even more starkly:
"Claud Cockburn's slanders helped prepare the atmosphere in which [POUM leader Andres] Nin and others were murdered. Moreover, his articles were published in the midst of the infamous Moscow Trials. His lies played an objective role in assisting in Stalin's mass extermination of the Soviet socialist intellectuals and workers."
Here is how Cockburn later described his job as intellectual hatchet man for Stalin: I “was what, if one were inclined to pomposity, might be called a section leader of the counterespionage department of the Spanish Republican Government dealing with Anglo-Saxon personalities.”

Alexander has seen fit to recycle his dad’s lies. On the 70th anniversary of the Spanish war (I call it the Spanish revolution; the Stalinists never use this term, as they helped crush the revolution), CounterPunch reprinted some of Claud’s writings. In “Scenes from the Spanish Civil War”. Claud Cockburn describes his meeting with the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti (misspelled Durutti by Cockburn). Cockburn writes:
"[Durruti] spoke to me in French and I realized that he was furiously angry. I banded him my credentials, supposing that this evidence of my having the capacity of correspondent of a "Red" newspaper would immediately appease him. He glanced at, them and threw them on the table and then in a low voice, vibrant with hatred, denounced the Communists and all their works. So far as he, undisputed Anarchist boss of Catalonia, was concerned, I might almost as well have been a Fascist.

The armed bodyguard standing by could not understand what he was saying but his tone told them this was an enemy. It was a time when enemies were shot quickly. I could feel the atmosphere in that kitchen becoming horribly cold. I had a clear conviction that Durutti was in the judgment seat and pronouncing sentence of death. For at that place and time, to be a member of a rival organization on the Republican side -- to be ideologically at variance with the Anarchists -- was, to the pure Anarchist, not very much different from being on the other side altogether."
The bitter irony here, of course, is that it was Communists who were murdering anarchists, not the other way around… And then:
"I saw him only once again, on a snowy day in Madrid, soon after he bad brought, against bitter opposition in Barcelona, the pick of his Anarchist fighters from Catalonia to assist the defense of the Castilian capital. The day after I saw him he was shot dead in the street -- on the ground that he was about to sign a comprehensive agreement with the Communists-by members of an organization called the "Friends of Durutti.""
This is a most outrageous lie. Durruti was killed in combat against fascists, not by anarchists. The Friends of Durruti were formed in March 1937, months after Durruti’s death in November 1936, to fight for the libertarian revolution Durruti fought for, against the alliance of the anarchist leadership with the Communists in the Popular Front. In Abel Paz’s splendid biography of Durruti, The People Armed (badly translated from French by the great Nancy MacDonald, one of my heroes), Paz, a comrade of Durutti’s, presents accounts that suggest the incompetence and political manoeuvring of the (Communist-dominated) International Brigades for placing Durruti in the situation that got him killed.

(It is worth noting that the same issue of CounterPunch publishes a piece by George Galloway, eulogising another Stalinist, John Cornford. Galloway, with his typical lack of modesty and bombastic prose, writes:
"But for a bullet in the brain on the Ebro, Rupert John Cornford might have loomed as large as George Orwell in the British left-wing lexicon. Orwell would probably have informed on him to his bosses in British Intelligence. For Cornford was a Communist. Not just a Communist, but a potential leading figure of the party, then rising towards the zenith of its power as the potential nemesis of Fascism, as well as a war poet as brilliant as he is now obscure. Not bad for a man who was killed doing his internationalist duty on his 21st birthday.
John Cornford was the grandson of Charles Darwin, son of the Victorian poet Frances Cornford, and part of the golden generation of the British left who went to fight fascism in Spain. That their memory has been sullied by Orwell's slanders, unfortunately reinforced by Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom, and now lies largely forgotten on the Iberian peninsula by the progressives of the 21st century is the main reason why I am working on an historical novel, Heart of the heartless World at the centre of which is the tall handsome figure of John Cornford."
More Stalinist lies.)

Claud eventually left the CP (in 1947 – that is, weathering the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that made many of his generation, such as his earlier wife Hope Hale Davis, leave). Alexander, though, has on many occasions acted as a defender of its moribund faith.

Alexander Cockburn: Neo-Stalinist

A leftist critic of Cockburn, Louis Proyect, has described some examples of this:
"He supported the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan on the basis that it was a lesser evil to the misogynist fundamentalism of the village chieftains. He probably was influenced on this score by the CP politics of his father, another famous journalist, Claude Cockburn. But Alex was not a plain vanilla Stalinist. He also extolled the newspaper of the Trotskyist Spartacist League. This I found much more disturbing than his old-line Red Army apologetics. The Sparts, who also supported Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, were--to put it bluntly--nuts. During the Vietnam war, they raised the slogan "Drive the GI's into the sea!" As somebody who had leafleted draftees and knew how important tactful formulations were, I would found have found this slogan an invitation to a broken nose."
In 1998, the William Keach of Socialist Workers Party described him fairly accurately thus:
"Cockburn's personal history links him to the politics of the Communist Party, and there are still moments in his writing - debating the number of people estimated to have perished in Stalin's gulags, claiming that 'the Brezhnev years were a Golden Age for the Soviet working class',** when aspects of his father's convictions can be glimpsed."
David Walsh provides other examples, from The Golden Age is in Us: “He suggests at one point, for instance, that Stalin had no choice but to sign the Nazi-Soviet pact. He places principal blame for totalitarianism in eastern Europe on the emergence of the Cold War. He cites figures to prove that the US incursions in El Salvador and Guatemala resulted in far more casualties than the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia.” In 1989, when Christopher Hitchens was still at The Nation and on the left, Cockburn defended Fidel Castro from Hitchens’ attacks.

Keach’s analysis is that “The trouble is that Cockburn understands Lenin's maxim through a historical perspective distorted by Stalinist myth.” He quotes more Cockburn:
“The Soviet Union defeated Hitler and fascism. Without it, the Cuban Revolution would never have survived, nor the Vietnamese. In the post-war years it was the counterweight to US imperialism and the terminal savageries of the old European colonial powers. It gave support to any country trying to follow an independent line. Without it, just such a relatively independent country as India could instead have taken a far more rightward course. Despite Stalin's suggestion to Mao that he and his comrades settle for only half a country, the Chinese Revolution probably would not have survived either.”***
Keach writes:
"Every sentence of this paragraph belies Cockburn's political intelligence and represents a barrier to his asking the most important political questions. In what sense had either the Cuban or the Vietnamese revolutions survived by 1991? Was the Soviet Union a 'counterweight to US imperialism' or a rival imperialist power in its own right, imposing its own regimes of repression? Did the Soviet Union encourage or block the development of genuine socialist politics in India? Caught up in the terminal crisis of Stalinist Russia, and obviously appalled by a world increasingly dominated by US style market capitalism, Cockburn retreats to a backward looking defence of mythical Russian accomplishments.
Cockburn clearly felt in August of 1991 that the world had entered the era of 'post-communism'. Just where this left him politically is indicated by his quoting a from Vietnamese intellectual Nguyen Khac Vien: 'If a world front of capital is being founded, its counterweight, the democratic popular front on a world scale, is also in formation'.**** This is where Cockburn was left by the collapse of the Soviet Union, with a nebulous global popular frontism."

Long after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, Cockburn continued to take similar lines. In the summer of 2002, aboard a cruise organised by The Nation, Cockburn asserted that Soviet nuclear proliferation made the world a safer place:
"I remarked that there was one bit of proliferation that seemed to me indisputably okay, which was when the Soviet Union acquired the know-how to make A and H bombs, thus ending the US monopoly on Armageddon, and in my view making the world a safer place. (My position, very shocking to Jonathan Schell, is that every country should have at least one thermonuclear device, if necessary donated by the World Bank along with the "national" flag.)"
In 2005, he relatavised away the totalitarian Soviet Union’s vast spy machinery by comparing it to Israel’s:
"I'd reckon that when it comes to agents of influence the USSR back then [in the Alger Hiss period] couldn't hold a candle to Israel today (or then, for that matter, though in that distant time Zionist and Communist were often hats on the same head)."
This, to me, is like describing what Israel is doing today as a Holocaust: a comparison that at once trivialises the crimes of Hitler and Stalin, while demonising Israel in an offensive way. (The claim also echoes his father’s “Spies and Two Deaths in Spain”, published by CounterPunch, which suggests that spies were not all they were cranked up to be in the Cold War imagination.) This continues the denialism that defined his earlier period (Cockburn’s “Purging Stalin” in 1989, for example, sought to defend the Soviet experiment from those – like Roy Medvedev – who sought to reveal the extent of its murderousness, condemning them as spouters of State Department propaganda).

CounterPunch: Cockburn's turn to the right

Following his well-paid assaults on Clinton for right-wing outlets like New York Post and Wall Street Journal, Cockburn was an enthusiastic supporter of Ralph Nader in 2000; his vicious attacks on Al Gore (e.g. Al Gore: A User's Manual) played a part in rallying the left to Nader. The Nader vote, of course, was what gave America, and the world, a George W Bush presidency.

(Faux-ecologist Cockburn has also supported a cause Bush has flirted with: global warning denial. Although this is driven by Cockburn’s hatred of Gore, the apostle of global warning, as much as anything else (although it fits in with his pro-nuclear stance, mentioned above), it has placed him in the same dodgy political space as the remnants of Britain’s Revolutionary Communist Party and Lyndon LaRouche, as Louis Proyect has shown.)

Since 2000, anti-Bushism has become the central plank of the neo-Stalinist liberal milieu in which he moves. Anti-Bushism, of course, makes for strange bedfellows. Cockburn has a regular column for, the far right paleo-libertarian website run by Justin Raimondo, which appears to be leftist but is, on closer examination, largely fascist. This convergence was anticipated by Cockburn’s famous 1990s defence of the far right Militia movement, for which he was criticised by Janet Biehl, Katha Pollitt and David Walsh among others.

In the war on terror, Cockburn has opened up the pages of CounterPunch to various antisemites and fellow travellers with Islamist totalitarianism, writers like Alan Cabal and Daniel A. McGowan who elsewhere have defended the free speech of Holocaust deniers such as Ernest Zundel. It has published Israel Lobby conspiracy theorists Walt and Mearsheimer. It has been attacked in 2005 and 2006 by Jews Against Zionism for its peddling of the hate speech of Gilad Atzmon and his acolyte Mary Rizzo.

From New Left to alt-left

Walsh asks:
"Why is the history of the Cockburn family franchise--now operated by the son--of political importance? Primarily because of the light it sheds on the New Left, a movement with which the younger Cockburn is closely identified.
It is not accidental that the middle class radicalism of the 1960s passed on such a meager intellectual legacy and produced so few revolutionists. At the heart of the New Left's political weakness lay an avoidance of the basic historical questions posed by Stalinism and the fate of the Soviet Union. In certain cases, such as Cockburn's, these issues cut too close to the bone. For others, who justified their ideological indifference on "practical" grounds, the problems were simply too complicated.

An eclectic catch-all of political conceptions, with a dash of Maoism [in the 1960s, Cockburn spoke of "the astonishing works of Mao Tse Tung--philosopher and general, poet and statesman"], Castroism, "libertarianism" and other assorted ideological spices, the New Left could not provide a coherent perspective upon which to base a political struggle."
I would argue that it is worth paying attention to the Cockburn family franchise today because it sheds light on the new New Left, the convergence of Islamist theocrats and Third Worldist authoritarian nationalists with their liberal and “libertarian” useful idiots, fuelled by conspiracy theory, degenerated “anti-imperialism” and paranoid hatred of Israel and America, a formation whose house magazine is CounterPunch.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing this, I read this post, which takes a similar line: Terry Glavin: Counterpunch, Official Organ of the Reactionary Left, on Afghanistan (Linked to by stubble jumping redneck) Commenting on Terry's piece, David T asks "Does anybody here still seriously want to argue that Counterpunch is not a magazine of the far Right?" And on Alexander's brother, Patrick, see this post from Cedar Lounge, as well as the comments thread to this post.

Other posts on: Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, George Galloway, POUM, Spanish Civil War, Justin Raimondo.


*“Pitcairn lifts Barcelona Veil; Trotskyist rising as signal,” Daily Worker, May 11, 1937, Pages 182 to 184 Cockburn in Spain: Dispatches from the Spanish Civil War, published in 1986 by the CP publisher Lawrence and Wishart text, quoted by Kevin Keating.
** A Cockburn, The Golden Age is in Us: Journeys & Encounters (London, 1996), p226
*** Ibid, p226.
**** Ibid, p227-228.

Trackback: Posts linking here: TNC, Sultan Knish, Hak Mao, Martin, Engage.


Anonymous said…
"Alexander has seen fit to recycle his dad’s lies."

Back in the 1990s, when I was a young anarcho-lefty, Alexander (along with a couple of academics) was on a local radio program concerning Orwell. He repeated his father's lies verbatim but since the program allowed calls from the public I was able to call him out on his b.s. He was not pleased, to say the least, and came across as an uninformed buffoon.
Anonymous said…
Great stuff! it's time that the Stalinist-far right "post-left" alliance was exposed. Old man Cockburn was, and his sons remain, leading figures in this Axis. Alexander's "CounterPunch" is now well-known for drifting over the line of divide between legitimate criticism of Zionism, and outright anti-semitism.
Brother Patrick's "Independent" coverage of Iraq (like fellow Indie correspondent Robert Fisk and, until he completely lost it, John Pilger) is well-informed but politically so biased against the West that he ends up effectively supporting clerical fascism and nihilism in Iraq on a "My Enemy's Enemy Is My Friend" basis.
Anonymous said…
Hi. Since our discussion over at one of my blogs influenced this discussion, I feel some obligation to respond. But I don't really want to invest too much time in this particular matter, though this is an interesting article.

A few points:

I support Ralph Nader too in opposition to Republicans and Democrats. Ralph Nader didn't cause Bush's election - or, rather, selection (by the Supreme Court) and the Democrats' insistence that Nader was responsible has been a way of deflecting responsibility for their own incompetence in the electoral arena (which was the result of various things that I won't get into here). Of course, Gore won the popular vote, and Bush's "election" was completely undemocratic anyway. But I think another Democratic candidate, waging another campaign, would have won by a greater margin that year, preventing the situation that happened, whether or not Nader or anyone else was in the running. Not that I would have supported the Democrats... I already was disgusted with their support of neoliberal policies, their pushing of NAFTA, their "ending welfare as we know it," their war-mongering around the globe. All those tendencies were intensified during Bush's term, but in many ways, it was just an intensification in the same direction, not a sharp turn in direction.

I didn't vote in 2000, because I had just a couple of hours left in the day after work, and I needed to get to a meeting of a group that was organizing for one of the "anti-globalization" protests. I thought at the time that my participation in that movement was a much more significant way to be politically active than pulling a lever at the polls. And I still think it was. (And by the way, I live in New York City, so even if I were really focused on preventing Bush from getting elected, it wouldn't have made a difference whether or not I voted here, Bush wasn't going to get the vote here.)

No major change is going to happen in the U.S. through voting for president at the polls, especially given the way that elections are completely controlled by corporate money, completely ruled by capital. The changes have to come from other kinds of political action and movements. But it would help to give power to a dissenting candidate at the polls, and to counter the incredibly undemocratic nature of presidential elections. As in past elections, there is no major-party candidate now who opposes neoliberalism, who would even stand up for a real national/single-payer healthcare plan (something that I believe you people in Britain have had for a while, but which would be a wonderful change for us in the U.S.), who would even stand up for mildly liberal reforms. I will support Ralph Nader (as I did in 1996 and 2004) in order to give some voice to an alterntaive point of view during the election (though it's not a form of dissent that nearly goes far enough in many ways as far as I'm concerned).

Regarding Israel... No, Israel has not committed a holocaust, but the government certainly has committed atorcities, from what I can tell, and the situation has often looked a lot like apartheid to me. Moreover, I have some pretty strong disagreements with the existence of Zionism. I'm not religious, and if I did adopt religion, it would probably be more in the area of eastern religion, buddhism or something like that. But as someone who is considered a Jew because of ethnic heritage, I don't want to be associated with the State of Israel or its atrocities. (And sorry, but I'm not interested in discussing this much further. I've already had big arguments with people on the other side, who would claim that incredibly reactionary groups were somehow progressive and revolutionary because they were "anti-imperialist" and opposed Israel. These arguments often degenerate into people blindly assuming one side or another without any reasonable analysis.)

Regarding Cockburn and his father... Well, I'm really not very interested the evils of Alexander Cockburn or his father. (Though your points about the New Left in general are more interesting...) I've said CounterPunch is a mixed bag. I've found some of their economic critiques to be very useful, and some of their articles are interesting. I also fully appreciated the strong stand that they took against 9-11 conspiracy theories, which is real poison for the left in the U.S. (not that there is much of a left left in the U.S. these days, but we don't need to have that kind of crap around to make it worse - and as you know, if you're worried about anti-semitism, 9-11 conspiracy theories have been full of that, and Counterpunch spoke out against it).

Anyway, CouterPunch is co-edited by Jeffrey St. Clair, whom I probably wouldn't agree with on all points either (especially not historical points), but who is a different person with different influences. And many other people are involved in this.

But I'm not out to spend too much time defending CounterPunch. If you want to spend a whole lot of time talking about how bad you think it is because of Cockburn and Cockburn's father, go ahead, that's your prerogative. (I hope that doesn't sound dismissive, it's just that I'm under a lot of pressure timewise (I have to try to find a job for one thing - somewhere, sometime) and I have to be a bit picky about how I spend my time, because the temptation to get lost in these blog debates is just too great, and it has screwed me up in the past some. And if you're tempted to say, well, then why did I write such a lengthy comment, the answer is that I really can't take the time to edit it. :)
bob said…
Re Jim, I was reading a Patrick Cockburn despatch from Iraq this morning on the bus to work, and I was struck by the quality of the reportage and the dodgyness of the analysis - exactly as you say. Alexander's model of journalism - muck-raking, tittle-tattle, leaks, ad hom attacks - directly inherits his dad's The Week, the bilious self-published scandal sheet that got him into trouble with the British secret state, who believed he was getting his material from Willi Münzenberg. While Patrick, the far finer writer, has, despite being a polio survivor, inherited his father's swash-buckling side, the International Brigadeer side.

Re Richard: Which American president was it said the reason he wrote long letters was he didn't have time to write short ones? In order:

Nader: I am not a fan of Gore or the Democrats, and may well have voted Nader, and understand your desire to make the alternative felt. But if I had voted Nader in a swing state (which NY is not!), I would have felt pretty sick to wake up and realised I had helped Bush win. Of course, the Republican vote-rigging in Florida was crucial, but the undeniable fact is that the number of votes Nader received in Florida exceeded the number of votes by which Bush defeated Gore in Florida by some 89,000.

I'll leave Israel and Zionism aside for the moment. I think what I said about CounterPunch is valid for any sensible anti-Zionist too, as testified to by the attacks on it from Tony Greenstein and Roland Rance, who are quite a way to the anti-Zionist side of the spectrum from me.

CounterPunch as a mixed bag: Of course this is true. There is plenty of good stuff in CounterPunch, and even some of the stuff written by people like Cockburn who I hate can be good.

It is true that Cockburn, Mickey Z and other CounterPunchers have taken a strong line against the Truth Cult. (Although they did print Christopher Ketcham's "What Did Israel Know in Advance of the 9/11 Attacks?", which Truth Culters rate.) And it is true that Jeffrey St Clair is a much more palatable character than Alexander Cockburn.

But my question is, what is CounterPunch’s underlying ideology? Is it basically a force for good or a force for ill? And my conclusion is that its underlying ideology, its core, is an unpleasant neo-Stalinist politics.
Anonymous said…
"Is it basically a force for good or a force for ill?"

A force for ill. Full stop.
Anonymous said…
Bob, I like that quote about writing long letters... I've heard it was from either Samuel Johsnon or Mark Twain. (Pretty odd combination...but I'm pretty sure I've heard it attributed to one or both of these.)

Regarding this stuff about Afghanistan... It's also an absurd oversimplication - propaganda, really - to imply that all those opposing troop presence in Afghanistan (whether U.S. or Canadian - "coalition," in other words) - want to form a devil's deal with the Taliban. Please.

If you want a different perspective, try the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). You can't get more anti-Taliban and pro-women's liberation than this group. At the same time, they are just as strongly opposed to the western occupation and have been from the start.

See, especially, articles such as this:

(I posted this with another blog "return address," answering another post, but comments to this post warrant a repeat here.)

Here's a quote:

"Instead of defeating Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Gulbuddini terrorists and disarming the Northern Alliance, the foreign troops are creating confusion among the people of the world. We believe that if these troops leave Afghanistan, our people will not feel any kind of vacuum but rather will become more free and come out of their current puzzlement and doubts. In such a situation, they will face the Taliban and Northern Alliance without their “national” mask, and rise to fight with these terrorist enemies. Neither the US nor any other power wants to release Afghan people from the fetters of the fundamentalists. Afghanistan’s freedom can be achieved by Afghan people themselves."
Terry Glavin said…

No one here is guilty of committing the "absurd oversimplication" or "propaganda" (?) of implying that "all those opposing troop presence in Afghanistan (whether U.S. or Canadian - "coalition," in other words) - want to form a devil's deal with the Taliban."

Some would be content to do just that, but nevermind; The devil's bargain I was referring to is the open, conscious strategy of the mainline anti-war leadership in Canada (and Britain) to make common cause with the "anti-imperialism" of extreme right Islamists.

This is not something I'm irresponsibly implying. It is merely somthing I am reporting. It is a matter of public record. It is the avowed strategy of the Canadian Peace Alliance, for instance.

However, what I would say about "all those opposing troop presence in Afghanistan" is nothing more or less than what UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon has to say about them, which is that they are making "a misjudgment of historic proportions" and are (I would say especially in RAWA's case) guilty of staking out a position "almost more dismaying than the opportunism of the Taliban itself."

RAWA long ago vanished off the radar of serious politics and has returned to the irrelevance of its Maoist roots. Read that statement of theirs that you reproduced here. Their criticism is less with foreign troops than it is with the Afghan people, who would "come out of their current puzzlement and doubts" if international forces were withdrawn. And again, magically, some three-way civil war involving the Taliban, the former Northern Alliance forces, and (again) some magical revolutionary third force would proceed to slaughter and dismember one another to the purpose of some sort of "peace."

It's crazy talk.

There is a third and fourth class of person, in my experience, who will oppose the presence of the 40-nation, UN-sanctioned ISAF front in Afghanistan.

They are people who have lost their minds, and people who are well-intentioned but who otherwise don't have a clue what the hell they're talking about.
Anonymous said…
Transmontanus, thanks for clarifying some of your point. However, whatever you claim RAWA's "true" criticisms might be, they do make criticisms about the history of U.S. and western interference in Afghanistan and the nature of the conduct of the U.S.-led coalition - including the common cause that it has made with some horrendous groups - that seem pretty valid to me.

Anyway, are most of the forces now occupying the country really there to protect anyone's freedom? I seem to recall a rather hasty attack after 9-11 that had less to do with defending freedom *or* pursuing the actual criminals in Al Qaeda than with finding a good reason to forcibly secure a strategic region near valuable natural resources. (I remember discussion about pipelines, etc. sometime back.)

I'm also a little concerned about what is really being accomplished over in those Pashtun tribal areas. It seems to me that both the Taliban and Al Qaeda could not use a better recruitment tool than the presence of those bullying and/or bumbling western troops crossing the border. (Conversely, I think the fundamentalists would lose their appeal more quickly were it not for the troop presence, thanks.)

Anyway, no time really for me to get into that debate further, and what would it gain me?

As you said, those who take an opposing view who are not making a deal with the devil are simply "people who have lost their minds, and people who are well-intentioned but who otherwise don't have a clue what the hell they're talking about."

Well, then, I guess that settles it! :)
bob said…
Myself, I don't think that those who oppose intervention in Afghanistan are necessarily evil or in bad faith. And I would certainly not say that the intervention in Afghanistan has proceeded in exactly the way I would have wanted it to. Nor would I imagine that the motives for supporting the intervention from some quarters are the same as, or even overlapping with mine.

But I think the moral case for the intervention is still absolutely correct.

At core, my position is a "third force"/"third camp" position - neither Taliban theocracy nor Western adventurism. But the sad fact is, there isn't much of an equivalent of the POUM/Durruti in Afghanistan. If RAWA are it, that's a sad truth, because, as I understand it, they do not have much popularity in Afghanistan (not to mention their Maoist politics).

In this context, the Third Camp position is morally strong, but practically not too relevant. That does not mean we should not be acting in solidarity with those forces which might present such a Third Camp - which might include RAWA - but in the meantime, the Coalition forces are the best hope Afghanistan has.

I meant to reply to your earlier comment mentioning RAWA (I think a response to when I linked to Terry's Afghanistan article), but I wanted to dig out the material I have on them, which I haven't yet. (I have been very much drawn to them, but suspicious of their Stalinist/Maoist phraseolgy, so some years back I asked some people with more knowldge then men whether I was right to be drawn to them, and got a cautiously negative response: I'll dig it out and post it some day!)
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. (It's Justin Raimondo, btw, not Jason.)
I'm wondering about this father-to-son legacy. It seems like a very conservative notion, for the son to follow his father in ideology and politics. Isn't it almost a natural impulse for children to question their parents' traditions and ideas? That is, those who are given a liberal education as in: think for yourself?

I'm thinking about Mel Gibson claiming that "my father never lied to me" in the context of Holocaust denial. It creates some very strange incoherent thinking, to have this kind of filial faith in your father's truths, and still pretend that you are you own person. To me it suggests rigidity, insufficient curiosity, conformism, and even laziness.
Anonymous said…
Re CC on fathers and sons - fascinating point. I should come out and say that my grandfather was a Stalinist, and believed the CP line on Spain (and therefore hated Orwell and loathed Ken Loach's film) until his dying day, although I like to think that he would have been at least embarassed to share a view with George Galloway on that...

Just/Jason - I'll correct that later today!!
Anonymous said…
The Galloway smear against Orwell also needs explaining.

Orwell was contacted in 1949 by Celia Kirwan, who worked for the newly-established Information Research Department of the Foreign Office (not 'British intelligence'). The IRD was not an intelligence agency, but a propaganda one set up to counter Soviet ideology. Kirwan wanted to know who she could recruit to help IRD, and Orwell gave her a list of 37 names of Communist and pro-Soviet journalists, writers etc who he recommended should not be approached.

None of these people were blacklisted, or hounded out of public life. Kirwan just asked for some reliable anti-Stalinists who would help combat Soviet propaganda, and Orwell said 'Don't ask these people because they won't help you'. End of story.

But then as we all know, Galloway knows that if you throw enough mud, some of it will stick. Particularly if your target is dead, and unable to defend himself.
bob said…
Thanks S&A. More detail on that issue in the comment thread here.
J said…
Connecting Alex C. with his father seems a bit unfair (and somewhat stalinist itself); judge AC (and Counterpunch) on his own merits, or dismerits.

While I would agree AC does at times seem a bit friendly to fascism (tho' of a somewhat romantic sort) and "anti-zionist", the site does feature a fairly wide selection of writers (including Nader). I find the sentimental Sally Fields-like tone of Counterpunch writers a bit offensive at times, but then read say Hitchens: CH's cold, cynical justifications for Bush and the IWE are hardly models of western progressivism. Even if some action was needed (and assuming Bushco did not, uh, lie their asses off re WMDs), HitchensSpeak often reminds one of like Michael Palin's torturer-doctor in Brazil cracking jokes as he washes the blood off his hands.....

Cockburn's criticism of Gore and AGW was not so poor--Al Gore is hardly qualified to speak on scientific matters (and he has been anti-union, and on the Occi. payroll for years) , and other writers and scientists have pointed out the problems with Gore's data, and the "man-made CO2 as culprit" theme. No, AC's no Einstein either, but he did point to some fairly impressive AGW skeptics.........
bob said…
I don't think connecting AC with his father can be called unfair - I mean, he did bring him up, and his connections did help him get his early jobs. In fact, AC's Counterpunch published Claud's Spanish reportage - full of lies - as recently as 2006, alongside George Galloway taking a very Claud-esque Stalinist line.

Yes, you are right, though, that AC/Counterpunch should be judged on their own (de)merits. I think that AC being soft on Stalinism is enough of a point against him. His pro-nuclear stance and his anti-Zionist conspiracy theories also count against him for me.

It is true that Counterpunch is more varied than this. Alongside antisemites and fascist fellow travellers like Atzmon/Rizzo, Cabal and MacGowan, it does publish some good stuff. (In this post I acknowledge that, and link to a couple of examples, including even an article by Cockburn which I agree with.)

I am no fan of Al Gore, so don't want to defend him. I also don't know enough about the science to really weigh in. But I think that Cockburn's position on climate change, whether adopted out of contrarianness, Gore-hate or good faith, is potentially a very dangerous one. The fact he has drawn on dodgy pseudo-experts like the Larouche-ite Zbigniew Jaworowski makes me think that good faith is the least likely explanation.
Alan Cabal said…
Dreary defender of Israeli genocide, have you no shame?
Generic Viagra said…
Alexander Cockburn is a great editor ,he has a diplomatic family that works in Berkhamstead College School.
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sackcloth and ashes said…
'Dreary defender of Israeli genocide, have you no shame?'

Vile defender of anti-Semitism masquerading as 'anti-Zionism', have you no brains?
Sam said…
Dreary defender of modern antisemitism, you yourself have neither shame nor brain!
Anonymous said…
i had little use for cockburn either, and enjoyed this article until i read:

"Cockburn has a regular column for, the far right paleo-libertarian website run by Justin Raimondo, which appears to be leftist but is, on closer examination, largely fascist."

antiwar does not appear to be leftist, and to claim an atistate if capitalist as fascist marks you out as an ignoramus.
Anonymous said…
Orwell delivered communists to the british. Search "Orwell list": Orwell also was pro-British. He wrote "the Lion and the Unicorn", a british nationalist justification. He wasn't actually a socialist more than "Labor party". Orwell was a bureaucrat working for the British ministery of Propaganda; virurently anti-communist and reactionary.

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