Denying the Holodomor

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The Holodomor Memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated last November

Ukrainians call it the Holodomor, which means “extermination by hunger.” The man-made famine – conceived by Stalin as a way of eliminating Ukrainian nationalism – took the lives of at least 2.5 million Ukrainians (and perhaps three times that) in 1932 and 1933. It was, without question, an act of cold-blooded mass murder. Food supplies were cut off; grain produced in the Ukraine, in amounts large enough to feed Ukrainians several times over, was transported out of the Ukraine and sold abroad; Ukrainians seeking to leave the Ukraine to find food elsewhere in the USSR were turned back. The Ukraine reached such heights of desperation that widespread cannibalism resulted. And yet from the very beginning, there have been those in the West who have denied the existence of immense historical atrocity.

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Walter Duranty

The very first of these deniers – or, at least, the most prominent and influential of the first, contemporary wave of deniers – was our website’s own poster boy, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty.

As the Times‘s man in Moscow from 1922 to 1936, Duranty exercised immense control over what, and how much, Americans – and the Western world generally – knew about what was going on inside the Soviet Union. His overall record is disgraceful; he was one of the earliest modern examples (CNN, more recently, has provided us with many others) of a foreign correspondent who is prepared to systematically whitewash the dictatorship in which he is stationed, presumably in order to retain access.

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Gareth Jones

But none of the propaganda he served up about Uncle Joe was as bad as his thoroughgoing misrepresentation of the Holodomor. When a courageous young British journalist named Gareth Jones, who had traveled widely in the Ukraine and seen the starvation up close, reported honestly on his findings, Duranty was quick to shoot him down, calling his report “an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”

Duranty – the man who had the name, the reputation, and the golden Times imprimatur – won the day; Jones, a nobody, was dismissed as a fabricator or, at best, a rank hyperbolist. In fact Duranty was well aware of the famine; he knew Stalin had engineered it; and he accepted it as something that simply had to be done in order to advance the USSR’s long, glorious march toward utopia. (It was, incidentally, Duranty, acknowledging the Holodomor in a private letter, who first wrote, apropos of Stalin’s tough love for his subjects, that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”)

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Louis Fischer

Joining Duranty in the cover-up was Louis Fischer, a staffer for The Nation who parroted the official Kremlin line, insisting that there was no starvation in the Ukraine, and blaming any food shortages on counterrevolutionary Ukrainians. (To his credit, Fischer, who at the time of the famine was a devout Communist, later turned against Communism and left The Nation because of its Stalinist slant.)

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George Bernard Shaw

The great playwright George Bernard Shaw, who defended Stalin’s show trials and summary executions (and whose fatuous stoogery deserves to be discussed at greater length on this site at a future date), was taken on a Potemkin tour of the USSR in 1932 and on his return to Britain stated that hadn’t seen “a single under-nourished person in Russia, young or old.”

But that was just the beginning. More tomorrow.

Eulogies for a Stalinist

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Alexander Cockburn

As we’ve noted, Alexander Cockburn‘s death unleashed a torrent of praise from the mainstream media, most of which pretended that he’d been something of a classical liberal. The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg didn’t play that game – in fact, he admitted that Cockburn’s politics had been morally offensive – but he sought to put those politics into, shall we say, some kind of larger context. Emphasizing style over substance, personality over ideology, Hertzberg recalled “the dazzle of [Cockburn’s] charisma in the eyes of a certain cohort of bohemian and would-be bohemian youth” back in the 1970s. Hertzberg exulted: “what style! Cockburn was a rare bird, a peacock among the scowling mudhens of America’s humor-challenged Nixon-era New Left. He was a combative Fleet Street Oxbridge dandy, a prolific, lightning-fast writer, often laugh-out-loud funny, with a rich store of obscure (to us provincials) historical allusions and a knack for deploying a tone of elaborate courtesy in the joyful delivery of delicious insult.”

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Hendrik Hertzberg

He was a Stalinist, in short: an apologist for the Gulag, the Moscow show trials, the Holodomor, and much else. But oh, what sense of humor! What charm! What wit! And there was more: “Cockburn’s speaking voice was as seductive as his wit was sharp. He was good-looking, too, in the angular, joli laid way of certain British star performers. A bit of Jagger, a bit of Peter O’Toole.” 

Yes, a Peter O’Toole in the service of the Kremlin. 

One person who didn’t try to obscure the straightforward facts about this man was the distinguished historian Ronald Radosh, who quite rightly called Cockburn “the true successor of Walter Duranty, a man who wrote to serve the enemies of the United States and to glorify what he saw as the great achievements of the Bolsheviks and their successors.”

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Ronald Radosh

Radosh noted that when he, Radosh, favorably reviewed former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares’s memoir Against All Hope – a book that, as Radosh put it, revealed “the truth about the torture state that Fidel Castro had created in Cuba, thereby making the public aware for the first time in our country of the reality of how Castro treated his country’s political opponents” – Cockburn responded by disseminating the Havana regime’s lies, smearing the valiant Valladares and dismissing his accounts of torture as counterrevolutionary lies.

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Armando Valladares

In a letter to The Nation protesting Cockburn’s reprehensible effort to discredit Valladares, Radosh observed that the only reasonable conclusion one could come to after reading it was that Cockburn supported Castro’s torturing of his opponents. Cockburn, in his reply, derided Radosh as “a professional anticommunist, with the tunnel vision that goes with that trade,” and again denied that Castro’s government engaged in torture.

Given the kind of information to which Cockburn had ready access, it is impossible to interpret his statements about Castro and Radosh as anything other than the most cynical and heartless of lies. 

Duranty’s heir

In the last couple of days, we’ve met Claud Cockburn (1904-81), a loyal Stalinist stooge who was actually taken seriously – and respected – as a journalist, and his son Alexander (1941-2012), ditto.

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Alexander Cockburn in the 1970s

Repeatedly, Cockburn fils strove to understate the scale of Stalin’s crimes. In a March 1989 piece for The Nation, he expressed outrage at Soviet historian Roy Medvedev’s statement that about 20 million people had “died in labor camps, forced collectivization, famine and executions” under Stalin. Professing to find “a suspect symmetry about the number 20 million, which is the same total normally reckoned for Soviet losses in the war against Hitler,” Cockburn charged Medvedev with seeking to establish a “symmetry…between Stalin and Hitler.” Cockburn thereupon launched into a strained, desperate argument the manifest objective of which was to try to bring the number of Stalin’s victims down as much as possible. Like many another minimizer of Stalin’s crimes, Cockburn also took on Robert Conquest, mockingly referring to him as “the British chevalier de la guerre foide” and finding various exceedingly obscure professors who were willing to sneer at Conquest on the record.

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Robert Conquest

Cockburn knew it was impossible to totally rehabilitate Stalin, and always offered the obligatory acknowledgment that Stalin was, indeed, a bad guy. His modest goal was simply to ensure that Hitler remained unchallenged as the most evil dictator of the 20th century. In order to accomplish this objective, Alex needed to keep the numbers of Stalin’s victims below Hitler’s, and to insist that while Hitler committed genocide, Stalin did not.

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Leonid Brezhnev

But that wasn’t all. Cockburn rooted for Stalin’s successors, too. Here’s Harold Meyerson, whom we quoted yesterday: “Alex also periodically issued forth with defenses of Brezhnev, which was more remarkable yet: While Stalin retained a few nostalgic apologists, Brezhnev had virtually none. I still remember one column in which Alex enthused about the rise in the number of refrigerators in the Soviet Union.”

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Claud Cockburn

In an August 1991 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Cockburn admitted that the collapse of the USSR made him “sad.” After all, “The Soviet Union defeated Hitler and fascism.” Never mind the total (and typical) omission from this picture of the role of the western Allies: what Cockburn was celebrating here was the defeat of one form of totalitarianism by another. “Without the Soviet threat,” he claimed, “there would have been no Marshall Plan.” This is kind of like giving a deadly disease credit for the discovery of its cure. “There would never have been the International Brigades, the workers my father used to describe to me when I was a boy. He met them in the trenches in Spain after they’d crossed the Atlantic or ridden the rails across Europe, mustered to defend the republic against Franco, fascism and the complicity of the Western powers.” We’ve already seen the disgraceful role that Cockburn’s father played in that war, in which he’d not only fought against Franco but consorted with the murderers of Republican soldiers who were actually fighting for freedom, rather than for Stalin. 

Second-generation Stalinist

Yesterday we met the late Claud Cockburn, a propaganda tool of Stalin’s who passed himself off as a legitimate journalist.

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Alexander Cockburn

Cockburn had three sons, all of whom became journalists of varying degrees of legitimacy. The oldest, Alexander – born in 1941 and educated, like his father, at Keble College, Oxford – was, more than his brothers, the keeper of their father’s flame and the follower in his footsteps. Which is to say that he routinely wrote columns celebrating his father’s legacy, shamelessly repeated his father’s flagrant lies, and himself made a career of defending Stalin, the Soviet Union, and, later, post-Soviet Russia.

Presumably because he was the son of such an illustrious, well-connected hack, Alex Cockburn made his name quickly, going straight from Oxford to the Times Literary Supplement and New Statesman and then – after relocating, in familiar British-journalist fashion, to the U.S. – to the Village Voice, then The Nation. In the 1990s he co-founded the loony-left rag CounterPunch, of which he served as co-editor until his death in 2012. When he died, Cockburn, like many another Communist, was given a thorough whitewash in the New York Times and other mainstream media, which memorialized him as a brilliantly crusading journalist and honorable liberal truth-teller.

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Irving Howe

In fact there was nothing liberal about him. As Harold Meyerson wrote after Cockburn’s death, a “contempt for liberals and social democrats was a hallmark” of his work; he “took particular pleasure in calumniating” anti-Communist socialists such as George Orwell and Irving Howe, because their “democratic scruples” threatened Cockburn’s own “claim to radical rectitude (not to mention communism’s claim to socialist legitimacy).” In short, he was the very tintype of his dad.

As with his father, Alex’s politics were always of a piece: ardently pro-Soviet, anti-American, anti-Israeli, and – not to mince words about it – unapologetically anti-Semitic. One of the things that made CounterPunch distinctive, as it happens, was that he actually allowed into its pages – which were mostly populated by far-left nuts – the occasional piece by a far-right nut who shared his own virulent Jew-hatred.

Exactly how anti-Semitic was he? This anti-Semitic: in 2009 he ran an article by Alison Weir accusing Israel of kidnapping Palestinians in order to harvest their organs for transplant.

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Josef Stalin

As for his devotion to Stalin, we’ll quote Meyerson again: “Alex never ceased casting Stalin in the best light possible, consistently downplaying the number of Russians (including virtually all the original Bolsheviks) who died by his hand.” He defended Stalin’s signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He blamed postwar totalitarianism in Eastern Europe on the Cold War – in other words, on the West, rather than on Stalin, who’d actually imposed the totalitarianism. Though firmly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he defended the USSR’s earlier incursion into that country. He also applauded the fact that the USSR had stolen America’s nuclear secrets, “thus ending the US monopoly on Armageddon, and in my view making the world a safer place.” In fact, the U.S. monopoly had lasted four years, long enough for the U.S. to have exploited that monopoly in the same way Hitler or Stalin would have done in a heartbeat – namely, by using it to subdue the entire planet.

Venezuela: don’t mention socialism!

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The key word is “hambre” (hunger)

A June 19 article by Nicholas Casey of the New York Times painted a vivid picture of the crisis in Venezuela:

With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.

Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.

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“My country is hungry”

Casey spelled it all out: dozens of food riots; people marching on supermarkets, “screaming for food”; mass looting; businesses destroyed; at least five deaths. “A staggering 87 percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food,” he wrote. Thanks to the decline in value of the Venezuelan bolívar, he explained, the average family needs at least 16 minimum-wage salaries to feed itself. People are literally dying of starvation.

TOPSHOT - A woman with a sign reading "We starve" protests against new emergency powers decreed this week by President Nicolas Maduro in front of a line of riot policemen in Caracas on May 18, 2016. Public outrage was expected to spill onto the streets of Venezuela Wednesday, with planned nationwide protests marking a new low point in Maduro's unpopular rule. / AFP / FEDERICO PARRA (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
“We’re dying of starvation”

Casey recalled that when Hugo Chávez was first running for president, he said that Venezuela’s inability to feed its people was the reason why the country needed a socialist revolution. But now, Casey noted, things are possibly even worse than they were then. In response to the current crisis, reported Casey, Chávez’s hapless successor as president, Nicolas Maduro, has “put most food distribution in the hands of a group of citizen brigades loyal to leftists, a measure critics say is reminiscent of food rationing in Cuba,” where friends of the government get fed first, others perhaps not at all.

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“There’s no food”

But why has all this happened? Why is one of the world’s major oil-exporting nations the one with the very worst economy on earth? Other, more honest American newspapers have published analyses that explicitly trace this nightmare to chavista economic policies – in short, socialism. Not The New York Times. The Venezuelan government, wrote Casey, “blames an ‘economic war’ for the shortages. It accuses wealthy business owners of hoarding food and charging exorbitant prices, creating artificial shortages to profit from the country’s misery.” Casey gave no indication that this is a transparent lie. Casey also cited low oil prices; he did not bother to point out that other oil-producing countries are still doing very well indeed.

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“Venezuela will be free”

As Thomas Lifson observed at The American Thinker in a commentary on Casey’s article, “in over 1,500 words on the situation, there is no mention whatsoever of socialism as a root cause….there is no mention of the price controls, the demonization of business owners, the seizures of businesses, the decline in oil production thanks to state management, or any of the other socialist policies that make Venezuela the only oil producer in the world to see mass starvation in the wake of the oil price decline.”

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“There’s nothing in Venezuela”

Even the left-wing Guardian ran a fairer account of the Venezuelan mess. (The Guardian even included mention of the high level of government corruption.) Meanwhile The Nation predictably assured its readers that the crisis in Venezuela is “deep but not cataclysmic” (or, later in the piece, “dire, but not apocalyptic”) and that “mainstream US media have consistently exaggerated the extent of it.” Nation hack Gabriel Hetland even found “sparks” of hope in the rise of private and communal vegetable gardens and of the practice of bartering the goods produced by these gardens. Chavismo, one gathered from Hetland’s report, may end up giving rise to the purest and most beautiful kind of revolution – namely, a total rejection of the money-based economy in favor of prehistoric-style direct trade in agricultural products.

Lifson’s conclusion is that “the leftist media are busily engaged in covering up the evils perpetrated by socialism.” It’s hard not to agree with him.

Who is Malcolm Harris?

Yesterday we examined a recent New Republic piece in which a writer named Malcolm Harris, who’s connected with an online rag called New Inquiry, strove to pull off a one-man rehabilitation of Communism.

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A photo from the Times profile of New Inquiry (Harris is not in the picture)

Who, we wondered, is this audacious fool? And what, for that matter, is New Inquiry? Well, the New York Times provided an answer to the latter question back in November 2011, when (for reasons we cannot begin to fathom) it ran a full-length profile of the “scrappy” Upper East Side “literary salon” cum online journal whose members, all recent college grads, uniformly came off as obnoxious, privileged brats. One of them whined about not getting a job “at a boutique literary agency”; another (“an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009”) resented having to work at a real job (sweeping movie theaters); yet another had actually secured a job at the New Yorker only to walk away from it in boredom. Harris, then 22, was described as a young man who’d been “sifting through grad-school rejection notices a year ago” but had since “written for N + 1 and Utne Reader.”

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Malcolm Harris

The Times didn’t mention it, but to many observers Harris is best known not an aspiring littérateur but as an early leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a September 2012 postmortem on OWS, Mark Ames, a veteran of MSNBC and The Nation – in other words, a solid left-winger – waxed cynical about the movement, whose failures he attributed largely to Harris, whom he mocked as a self-seeking “twenty-something hipster” and poster boy for a certain “brand of marketing-concocted ‘anarchism.’” Wrote Ames: “one look at Malcolm Harris – his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses – and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.”

10/10/11 New York Broadway and Liberty AV . .A protest on Wall Street is in 4 weeks, with more people showing up every day. The group is still working on its message, and it doesn't really have any demands. But the protesters say they are tired of struggling to make a living while the big banks get help from the government. Original Filename: Wall st Protest 21.JPG
OWS, October 2011

Ames provided some bio: Harris’s father was a “Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.” As for Harris himself, he “was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand.” Only a month after OWS got off the ground, it turns out, Harris signed up with a speakers’ agency; when a California branch of the movement, Occupy Redlands, asked him to come address its members, Harris’s agent replied “that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses.” The news that an OWS “anarchist” was trying to squeeze five-grand payments out of allied groups around the country spread like wildfire, apparently, and did not exactly make Harris a movement hero.

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Harris in court, December 2012

Then came the lawsuit. In December 2012, after denying for over a year that he and other OWS activists hadn’t been warned by police to stay off the Brooklyn Bridge during an October 1, 2011, march – and hinting through his lawyer that, on the contrary, police had deliberately lured protesters onto the bridge – Harris’s own tweets from that day, which he’d fought to keep secret but which Twitter had provided to the court, showed that he was lying. Facing trial on a charge of disorderly conduct, he pleaded guilty. Even his lawyer was reprimanded for having played fast and loose with the facts.

Harris has continued writing prolifically – and in a thoroughly predictable vein. In January he contributed an article to Al Jazeera’s website entitled “Wealthy Cabals Run America”; in February the same site ran a piece of his entitled “Hooray for Cultural Marxism.” He’s also contributed plenty of articles to Jacobin, “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” That there are nasty corners of the Internet prepared to give space to this mendacious young stooge is hardly surprising; but it’s depressing that The New Republic, once known for its staunch liberal anti-Communism, should welcome him into its pages.

Celebrating terrorism: Max Blumenthal

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Max Blumenthal

Last June, we examined some of the sleazy shenanigans of one Max Blumenthal. Following in the slime trail of his dad, Sid Blumenthal, the longtime Clinton operator, bagman, lackey, factotum, spinmeister, and all-around inside-the-Beltway creep, young Max (he’s 38) has for some time now been pursuing his own career as an amoral political hack and hanger-on, gaining a reputation as —among other things — a shameless apologist for Vladimir Putin and a fierce critic of Israel.

Then again, the word critic isn’t quite strong enough to describe what young Max is up to when it comes to Israel.

As the Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in January: “A writer should avoid hyperbole. But when it comes to Max Blumenthal…it’s hard to avoid superlatives. Max is quite simply one of the most biased, anti-Semitic, terrorist-defending, Israel-has-no-right-to-exist haters out there.”

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David Mikics

David Mikics, writing in the Tablet in March of last year, summed Max up as follows: “Max Blumenthal’s stock in trade is anti-Zionist polemic dripping with cartoon-like, racially weighted depictions of Israeli Jews. What distinguishes him from many other anti-Zionist writers is not his political views, but the obsessive nature of his work, which seems animated not by moral passion or analysis but by hate.” In 2013, Max published the book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which, in the words of J.J. Goldman in the Forward, seeks to “show the suffering and unbroken spirit of the Palestinians and the callous cruelty of the Israelis.” Eric Alterman of The Nation, who is anything but an apologist for Israel, wrote in his review: “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

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Rabbi Schmuley Boteach

Max, noted Boteach in March, “is known for creating the hashtag #JSIL—the Jewish State in the Levant—a play on the acronym ISIL, aka ISIS. In Max’s twisted mind, the democratic State of Israel is on par with ISIS.” Throughout his writings about Israel, indeed, Max repeatedly likens the Jewish state to the terrorists who seek to destroy it. And, naturally, to Nazi Germany.

hillaryemailsMax’s anti-Israel writings gained a special kind of attention recently when some of the e-mails dating back to Hillary Clinton’s Foggy Bottom days began to be published, and it turned out that Sid was sending excerpts from his son’s poisonous screeds to the Secretary of State – who responded by praising Max’s work. In March, Boteach’s pro-Israel organization, the World Values Network, bought a full-page ad in The New York Times urging Hillary to cut her ties to both Sid and Max. The ad included several anti-Israel quotations by both father and son. Hillary appears to have ignored Boteach’s plea.

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Father and son

Then, in April, the Telegraph published a recording in which Max, speaking at a March event at the London School of Economics, celebrated a 2014 massacre of Israeli soldiers by Hamas commandos who entered an IDF base in Israel through a series of underground tunnel from the Gaza Strip. At the base, these terrorists killed “every soldier they encounter[ed].” Since they wore video cameras on their helmets during the entire operation, moreover, they were able to provide young Palestinians with a visual record of their triumph. For Max, this was a beautiful thing: after being “humiliated” repeatedly by the IDF, those youths had a chance to see their side win a glorious victory over “the occupier” and to recover their own “dignity” by becoming terrorists themselves.

Checking in on chavismo‘s cheerleaders

Yesterday we started looking in on some of the Americans who, not that long ago, were slavering fans of chavismo. Where, we asked, are they now? What, if anything, do they have to say about what’s happened to Venezuela as a result of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution? Has any of them exhibited even the remotest hint of regret, remorse, repentance for cheering on Hugo’s socialist shake-up?

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Greg Grandin

Among those who signed a 2014 letter to the U.S. Congress in defense of the Chávez regime was NYU historian Greg Grandin. Writing in The Nation in March of last year, Grandin “explained” current developments in Venezuela by turning to one after another of his fellow signers of that letter to Congress. (We took note of Grandin’s piece, incidentally, last June.)

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Miguel Tinker Salas

Grandin cited with approval, for example, Miguel Tinker Salas‘s insistence that “we have to keep perspective” about developments in Venezuela. There followed another attempt to change the subject: why focus on the horrors of Venezuela but not, say, Mexico? Tinker Salas rejected U.S. media reports suggesting that Venezuela “is once again on the verge of a precipice” and mocked “[s]ensational headlines [that] focus on the lack of toilet paper and condoms.” Grandin likewise took comfort from anthropologist Naomi Schiller’s observation that “[t]here have been few periods where Bolivarianism hasn’t been deeply embattled.”

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George Ciccariello-Maher

He further cited George Ciccariello-Maher, who offered the novel observation that by focusing on Venezuela’s present shortage of basic goods “we run the risk of losing sight of…the historically poor, the revolutionary grassroots, those who knew shortages and insecurity long before wealthy elites raised these as banners.” Ciccariello-Maher further suggested that instead of turning back from the precipice, Venezuela needed to charge forward faster than ever, putting its faith in the new phenomenon of “self-governed communes,” which produce their own manufactured and agricultural goods. We looked at those communes back in January, noting the ominous similarity between them and Stalin’s collective farms.

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Eric Draitser

But of all these cheerleaders for chavismo, who’s still waving the pom-poms? Well, there’s Eric Draitser, for one. Who’s he? He’s the founder of a website called StopImperialism.com and is a regular contributor to both RT (Putin’s English-language TV channel) and Press TV (Iran’s English-language TV channel). Writing in April in the bizarre, far-left Counterpunch (a publication whose apparent purpose is to make The Nation look sane), Draitser spurned the “corporate media” which, he wrote, “would have you believe that Venezuela is a dictatorship on the verge of political and economic collapse; a country where human rights crusaders and anti-government, democracy-seeking activists are routinely rounded up and thrown in jail….In fact, the opposite is true.”

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Reality check: a photo of one of those Venezuelan grocery lines

In Draitser’s world, chavista socialism hasn’t destroyed Venezuela’s economy; what’s happened, rather, is that the political opposition has “undermined, targeted, and destabilized” the Bolivarian Revolution and has used “the sacrosanct terminology of ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ and ‘human rights’ to conceal” its “grave crimes against the people of Venezuela” and its “iniquitous agenda, shaped and guided, as always, by its patrons in the United States.” It’s no surprise that Draitser’s piece first appeared on the website of TeleSUR, a Caracas-based joint initiative of the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Bolivia.

President Sanders?

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Bernie Sanders

In November we took a brief look at Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – specifically, his admiration for Fidel Castro and the late, great USSR.  At the time, it was still possible to think of Sanders as an entertaining sideshow in the race for the Democratic nomination – a far-left clown who didn’t really stand a chance of winning. But since then things have changed quickly. His poll numbers have been rising while Hillary Clinton’s have been diving. Suddenly, it seems to be within the realm of possibility that this seventy-four-year-old socialist will make it all the way to the general election.

Sanders’s campaign is especially popular with younger voters – with millennials, that is, who cheer his promises to soak the rich and give everybody else lots of free stuff. To his young supporters, who know nothing about economics or about the history of ideologies that made such promises, Sanders’s program sounds like nothing other than common sense – goodness set into system.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Sanders has, of course, his share of older fans – old hippies, old Commies, people who’ve never given up on the utopian dream. Which brings us to our friends at The Nation, who on January 14 gave Sanders their endorsement. Applauding his call for “single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the breaking up of the big banks,” his vow to “wrest our democracy from the corrupt grip of Wall Street bankers and billionaires,” Katrina vanden Heuvel & co. averred that the “revolution” promised by Sanders “is not only possible but necessary.” In conclusion, “Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bending the arc of history toward justice. Theirs is an insurgency, a possibility, and a dream that we proudly endorse.”

And sensible observers are getting worried. One of them is Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution, who on January 16 complained in the New York Post that the media were helping to “mainstream” Sanders. “If Sanders were vying for a Cabinet post,” maintained Sperry, “he’d never pass an FBI background check.”

Six months after the avowed socialist scored a surprise victory to become mayor of Burlington, Vermont's largest city, Bernard Sanders is discovering that having an office inside City Hall doesn't make him an insider, Sept. 15, 1981. (AP Photo/Donna Light)
Sanders in 1981, after being elected mayor of Burlington

Why? For one thing, in 1964, when he was a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders belonged to the youth wing of the Socialist Party USA. In the 1970s, he took part in the founding of a party that “called for the nationalization of all US banks and the public takeover of all private utility companies.” In 1979, as Yahoo News reported in a January 17 article, he called for government takeover of all commercial television stations. In the 1980s, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he “restricted property rights for landlords, set price controls and raised property taxes to pay for communal land trusts. Local small businesses distributed fliers complaining their new mayor ‘does not believe in free enterprise.’” At one event he told an audience of charity workers said he didn’t believe in private charity – government should take on all social needs.

sanders1He also became an international busybody, making “goodwill” visits to the USSR and Cuba. In 1985, he attended an “anti-U.S. rally” in Nicaragua at which participants chanted that “the Yankee will die” and President Daniel Ortega charged the U.S. with “state terrorism.” Sanders displayed a Soviet flag in his office and spoke to Communist front groups.

It’s predictable enough that the handful of marginal old Commies who edit, write, and read The Nation are marching arm in arm with Sanders into the bright, new socialist America that they’ve been dreaming about all their lives. But what is depressing is that Sanders’s ideas are admired by millions of young people who don’t understand that the programs advocated by their candidate have been tried before, in the previous century, and that they brought unprecedented calamity, disaster, and tragedy to hundreds of millions of people who’d been promised utopia.

 

 

Top ten stooges of 2015: part two

Yesterday we looked at the first five of our top ten useful stooges of 2015. Here are the rest. Again, these aren’t necessarily the very worst creeps we’ve written about here; they’re just a few of the people whose stoogery during the last year stood out in ways that we thought made them worth another quick look before we move on into 2016. 

vickKarl Vick  The dopey Time scribe gushed more than once in 2015 over Cuba’s “decaying glory” and “social equality” – by which he meant that every Cuban who’s not a member of the political elite is dirt-poor – and expressed concern that capitalism-friendly changes in that island prison might end this precious “equality” by actually raising the standard of living. This is the same guy who in 2010 won a “Dishonest Reporting Award” for a cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace,” in which he vilified Israel and whitewashed Hamas, professing that its official commitment to destroying the Jewish state was only “nominal.”

cohen4Stephen F. Cohen  How could we leave Stephen F. Cohen out of this? He’s Putin’s most high-profile apologist, who – usually in league with his wife, moneyed Nation doyenne Katrina vanden Heuvel – keeps coming up with new ways to sell his hero in Moscow. In 2015, he co-founded the American Committee for East-West Accord, which pretends to promote “open, civilized, informed debate” on U.S.-Russian relations but, in the grand tradition of “committees” dedicated to U.S.-Soviet “peace,” “friendship,” and “understanding,” is patently nothing more or less than a pro-Kremlin propaganda operation. This is, after all, a dude who, in a June article, painted Ukraine’s leaders as savages and Putin as a gentle soul responding with restraint to their violent provocations. 

redfordRobert Redford  He’s directed movies crudely savaging capitalism (The Milagro Beanfield War) and lustily celebrating the despicable Maoists of the Weather Underground (The Company You Keep), and he produced The Motorcycle Diaries, a shameless hagiography of Che Guevara. In 2015 he played the lead role in Truth, one of the great cinematic falsehoods (and, fortunately, flops) in the entire history of Hollywood. Turning the facts of the 2004 Rathergate scandal upside down, the film transforms CBS Evening News anchorman Dan Rather – who lost his job for trying to sell the public on forged documents – into a hero who was fired for defending the truth. When this dreck was released in October, Redford, now 79, was out there promoting not only the picture but its profoundly mendacious message.  

seumas-milneSeumas Milne  The British Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications (i.e., spokesman), who was named to the post in October, is a famously poisonous critic of the U.S., capitalism, and Israel, and an ardent defender of Communism, Stalin, Castro, Che, Ahmadinejad, and Putin. Oh, and jihadists. A longtime reporter and commentator for The Guardian, Milne has praised the Soviet bloc for its “genuine idealism” and lamented West Germany’s annexation of East Germany because it meant “a loss of women’s rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment.” Journalist Kate Godfrey, herself a Labourite, condemned Milne’s appointment as “morally and ethically wrong,” saying it “devalues everything that Labour stands for, and everything that Labour is.”

roger_waters1Roger Waters  For years, the former Pink Floyd front man has publicly compared Israel to Nazi Germany and severely chastized fellow celebrities for performing there. In 2013, his concerts featured “a pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David.” This October, in a particularly vicious open letter in Salon (where else?), he told Bon Jovi that by accepting an invitation to Israel they were allying themselves with child-killers. Ignoring his demand that they change their mind about the trip, Bon Jovi went ahead with their plans and went onstage before a Tel Aviv audience of 50,000 only minutes after two people were killed in a Jerusalem terrorist attack.