Archive for March 2008
By Stephen Gowans
The color revolution in Zimbabwe (yet to be given a color) unfolds as other US- and British-government and foundation-directed color revolutions have unfolded in Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine.
The revolution is what, in business circles, is called a turn-key solution. All you do is turn a key, and follow the plan.
The plan was developed by the US State Department, based on advice from “peace” and civil society scholars, and is cheered on by the same scholars who contributed to its development.
Here’s how the plan unfolds:
1. Elected officials in countries that won’t do Washington’s bidding are denounced a dictators. That the officials in these countries have won free and fair elections doesn’t matter. Doubt is raised about the legitimacy of the elections or the leaders are said to govern in an anti-democratic manner (Chavez) or both. This provides the US with the justification for step 2.
One of the most persistent critics of “anti-democratic” leaders abroad is US Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose commitment to democracy hasn’t dissuaded him from explaining that it doesn’t matter what the US public thinks of the war on Iraq – the administration does what it wants, not what’s popular. While the next administration will doubtlessly dismiss what’s popular in precisely the same way, there’s no movement afoot to get rid of the dictatorship where it’s needed most.
2. The US, Britain, and other Western countries provide financial support, expertise and other assistance to “civil society, the media, and opposition parties” to remove the “dictator.”
3. An election campaign is used as the setting to force the government to step down. The apparent inconsistency of a dictator holding elections is explained away as a hollow sham used by the dictator to claim legitimacy. (If the leadership is really dictatorial, and the elections really lack legitimacy in the eyes of voters, why are real dictators holding elections at all? Hitler, Mussolini and Franco didn’t. Why would real dictators do so now?)
4. The Western-supported media, civil society and opposition parties declare in advance, consistent with the dictator narrative, that the vote will be rigged. Western media dutifully trumpet this prediction.
5. Before the official vote is announced, the opposition and “independent” election monitors announce an opposition victory.
6. If the official vote tally contradicts the opposition’s claim of victory, the vote is denounced as fraudulent, and people are encouraged to move the battle to the streets.
Ian Makoni, election director for Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai explained two days before the vote:
“The lesson from 2002 (when the last presidential election was held) is we didn’t plan for after the vote. Everyone stayed at home and said we will go to the courts. What happened in Kenya was they knew there would be fraud and they were ready. We will be out on the streets celebrating when the polls close.”
Note that Makoni had already declared an opposition victory before the vote had even been held. It’s one thing to say the vote will be rigged – quite another to declare in advance of the poll that you’ve won.
Makoni continued: “It can turn into a protest easily. Zimbabweans are angry, they are desperate, they are ready to protest. It’s the turning point we are planning for.”
Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said that if the opposition isn’t declared the winner, Kenya will look like a picnic.
7. Public opinion is mobilized in the West by the media’s single-minded focus on the opposition and its civil society allies, completely excluding the government’s point of view.
Every major Western newspaper has based its reporting of Zimbabwe’s election in the last week exclusively on the point of view of the opposition and the civil society groups who share the same Western sources of funding. It’s as if in an election held in the United States, the media only covered the Republican candidates.
By Stephen Gowans
“The intellectual justifications that Sepulveda gave in the 16th century to justify the conquests of the Indian lands are,” says Immanuel Wallerstein, “almost word for word, the same ones used for colonization, and the ones that are given today for what is called intervention.” He continues: “At that time, it concerned evangelization and the expansion of Christendom. Today, these values are ‘freedom and democracy.’ But they are in fact the same thing.” (1)
George Bush, in his own way, underscores Wallerstein’s point. Freedom and democracy, he writes in his 2002 National Security Strategy, “are right and true for every person, in every society – and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people.” (2)
Stephen Zunes strays only millimeters from Bush’s universalism. “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states,” he writes, “comes from civil society, not the U.S. government.” (3)
The problem is that in what Zunes and the U.S. government call the world’s last remaining autocratic countries, the U.S. government and civil society are the same. In these places, explains the U.S. Department of State in a 2007 report, the U.S. financially supports “the efforts of civil society to create and defend democratic space”. It funds “international and local NGO programs that [promote] a wide variety of causes, including social welfare, democratic processes, human rights, peace-building, women’s and youth empowerment, and public advocacy.” And it supports “the efforts of the political opposition, the media, and civil society.” (4) That makes Zunes’ “best hope for advancing freedom and democracy” and Patrick Bond’s and Grace Kwinjeh’s “wellspring of hope” (5) functionally equivalent to the U.S. government and the corporate board members, corporate lawyers and investment bankers who dominate it.
Kwinjeh, a founding member of Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and a regular guest on the U.S. government sponsored propaganda Voice of America radio show, Studio 7, is a beneficiary of the U.S. government’s support for the political opposition, the media and civil society in Zimbabwe.
Not without chutzpah, Kwinjeh presents herself as an “independent” journalist. Her co-author Bond, likewise celebrates civil society groups that are on the U.S. payroll as an “independent” left.
In their lexicon, “independent” means: not aligned with the “autocratic state” the U.S. is trying to bring its universalist values of freedom and democracy to — on behalf of corporations, investors and banks.
Janet Cherry is another universalist. She too believes that the countries the U.S. government calls the world’s last autocracies are indeed the world’s last autocracies and that civil society is the best hope for advancing the values of freedom and democracy in these places. She appears in the film “A Force More Powerful,” a celebration of civil society’s power to change the world. The film’s editor and content advisor was universalist Peter Ackerman, an investment banker who made a fortune on Wall Street and has authored a companion book by the same name. Ackerman heads up Freedom House, an organization which describes itself as “a voice for freedom and democracy around the world,” and whose directors have included cabinet members from previous U.S. administrations – they too mainly corporate board members, corporate lawyers and investment bankers like Ackerman. Ackerman also founded the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, which has been involved in training activists to bring down governments that refuse to do the bidding of the U.S. (the last autocracies of the world), including the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Latter day Sepulveda Stephen Zunes, who wants to use civil society to advance the universalist values of freedom and democracy, is the ICNC’s chair of the board of academic advisors. (6) Ackerman is also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. ruling class organization dominated by directors of major U.S. corporations, corporate lawyers and CEOs. The CFR brings together executives, government and military officials and scholars to provide policy advice to the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. government advances its foreign policy goals under the guise of promoting freedom and democracy. “The name for our profits,” remarked singer-songwriter Phil Ochs in the 60s, “is democracy.” Were he alive today, he might say, “The name for our profits is civil society.”
Cherry wrote me to defend Zunes and Patrick Bond. She capped off her remarks with this: “As for Otpor – well, if only the opposition movements in Zimbabwe, both political parties and civil society, could organize as efficiently! Sometimes it is necessary to step back from self-righteous leftist rhetoric, take some action to break the impasse, and get rid of the dictator. Then ordinary people can, though ordinary democratic processes, find their own way forward.” (7)
Otpor was a youth group funded by the U.S. government and trained by Robert Helvey, an associate of Stephen Zunes, to work with NATO bombing and economic sanctions to bring down the Milosevic government in Yugoslavia. After getting rid of the elected “dictator,” Otpor failed to help the ordinary people of the former Yugoslavia find their way forward. Unemployment soared; publicly and socially-owned assets were privatized. Nato had signaled its intention to privatize the Yugoslav economy in the appendices of the 1999 Rambouillet Accord, which the Milosevic government rejected. The next day, Nato began a 78-day campaign of bombing.
Ackerman and others celebrated the ouster of Milosevic in the film “Bringing Down a Dictator,” attributing the fall of the Yugoslav president to a grassroots movement that practiced nonviolent direct action to bring “freedom and democracy” to one of Europe’s last “autocratic states.” The role of the U.S. government in engineering the possibility of an uprising by creating misery through economic sanctions and military intervention, its efforts to shape public opinion inside Yugoslavia by funding anti-Milosevic media, and its bankrolling of the opposition and Otpor, were skipped over.
“A Force More Powerful” and “Bringing Down a Dictator,” are useful for conservative forces at home. They create the illusion that the civil society-based nonviolent direct action that appears to work abroad can work anywhere to bring about social change. Scholars associated with Z-Net are advocates of this view.
But while seemingly effective outside the West, there are significant differences that make the model’s effectiveness in the West approximately zero.
1. Absence of funding. Civil society has been able to play a role in bringing down governments outside the West because it has been richly funded by wealthy individuals, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. The same sources of funding are not available to groups and individuals in the West prepared to challenge the funders’ dominant positions. Reebok, an employer of sweatshop labor, will finance a human rights award and give it to Janet Cherry to burnish its image, but Reebok isn’t going to give money to groups or individuals working to overthrow the systemic imperatives that produce sweatshops. Ackerman won’t help nonviolent activists expropriate his wealth.
2. Public opinion. Outside the West, civil society has operated in a public opinion milieu shaped by wealthy individuals, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments through their funding of “independent” media inside target countries and propaganda broadcasts originating from outside. Independent media that seek to shape public opinion against wealthy individuals and corporations at home will never have access to the same funding and will never achieve the same volume and critical mass. It’s easier to rise up against a “dictator” when the information environment is shaped to portray the country’s leadership as autocratic and when “independent” media call for an uprising. Any media in the West that called for an uprising at home would remain perpetually under-funded and unable to achieve sufficient volume to persuade more than a handful of people.
3. Absence of external pressure. It is the explicit strategy of Washington to apply pressure to populations of target countries through economic warfare and military aggression. The intention is to create growing misery, if not to provoke a crisis, to prepare the ground for an uprising from within. While Western countries aren’t immune to growing misery or crisis, they are immune to growing misery and crisis engineered from outside.
In the absence of funding, a sympathetic media to shape public opinion, and growing pressure on the population created by economic warfare and military aggression – all necessary conditions whose creation depends on access to resources commanded by wealthy individuals, corporations, and imperialist governments – decentralized, civil society-guided nonviolent direct action becomes a means for diverting energy for change into safe and inconsequential avenues.
As a mechanism for political change, civil society works when backed by military force, economic warfare, a sympathetic media and oodles of cash, but when these conditions exist, its purpose is to advance the interests of those who have established the conditions for its effectiveness. At these times, civil society marches under the flag of European universalism, its foot soldiers draw their pay from foreign governments, and its generals sit on the boards of foreign foundations. At all other times, it is a force less powerful.
1. Olivier Doubre, “European Universalism Is Used to Justify Imperialism: An Interview with Immanuel Wallerstein,” MRZINE, March 26, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/doubre260308.html
2. George W. Bush, National Security Strategy, September 20, 2002.
3. Stephen Zunes, “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” Z-Net, February 17, 2008. http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538
4. U.S. Department of State’s account of its promotion of freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe, April 5, 2007. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/
5. Patrick Bond and Grace Kwinjeh, “Zimbabwe’s political roller-coaster hits another deep dip,” Z-Net, March 11, 2008, http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2008-03/11bond-kwinjeh.cfm .
6. See http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/ .
7. Comment March 27, 2008 in response to Stephen Gowans, “Mugabe vote rigging allegations,” March 27, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/mugabe-vote-rigging-allegations/
By Stephen Gowans
It’s not the outcome of the upcoming March 29 elections that is foreordained, but the opposition’s, civil society’s, and Western media’s judgment of the election’s fairness that has been predetermined.
To see this, it’s instructive to note how the New York Times treated Mugabe’s chances of winning the election, before falling into line with the main opposition MDC party’s self-serving “Mugabe can’t win without rigging the vote” rhetoric.
On February 26, reporter Barry Bearak predicted Mugabe would “coast to victory” because the opposition had “failed to unite behind one presidential candidate.” The entry of Simba Makoni into the race, a former senior member of the ruling Zanu-PF party, would make the contest tighter, Bearak predicted, but acknowledged that “Mugabe…may still win handily.”
It was clear that Bearak didn’t think Mugabe would win because he had rigged the vote, but because the opposition was weak and fractured.
Three weeks ago, The Guardian (March 3, 2008) echoed Bearak’s assessment, declaring Zimbabwe’s opposition to be “weak and badly divided” and noted that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s “credibility has been worn away by poor leadership.”
Only recently have both newspapers begun to treat Mugabe as an unpopular leader who has to resort to vote rigging to stay in power.
The same pattern characterized Western media assessments of the last presidential elections in Belarus. Belarus, too, is on Washington’s list of governments targeted for regime change.
Months before the vote, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko’s popularity was openly acknowledged and his victory in the election confidently predicted.
However, in the final week leading up to the election, press reports suddenly reversed course, emphasizing the vote rigging allegations of the opposition. (See http://gowans.blogspot.com/2006_03_01_archive.html )
Significantly, Belarus’s opposition shares the same sources of funding, assistance and backing as Zimbabwe’s, and operates along the same lines and with the same goals.
The March 26 New York Times cited two leaders of US- and British-government funded NGOs, who averred confidently that the election would not be free and fair and that “the tabulated results are in the box and [Mugabe] has won.”
The newspaper did not acknowledge the NGO leaders’ connections to US- and British-government sources of funding – a significant omission, considering both governments have an interest in discrediting the Zimbabwean government.
At the same time, the newspaper’s reporters complained bitterly that Mugabe is buying votes by bestowing “tractors and plows on village chiefs whose gratitude is expected to be a reciprocal harvest of votes.”
The two allegations are contradictory. If Mugabe has rigged the elections, why does he need to buy votes?
As is true when imperialist states, the Western media, NGOs and peace and civil society scholars collaborate to bring down governments that refuse to do the West’s bidding, reality has been turned on its head.
While the case that says Mugabe has predetermined the outcome of the election has become the dominant view, through sheer repetition by a Western media that serves as a platform for a bought opposition and civil society, the evidence is paper thin.
The evidence that what is, in fact, predetermined, is the opposition and NGO judgment of the election, is far more compelling.
By Stephen Gowans
A New York Times story published three days before elections in Zimbabwe provides an interesting illustration of how the state and mass media cooperate with agents on the ground to shape public opinion.
The aim of the March 26, 2008 article, titled “Hope and Fear for Zimbabwe Vote,” is to discredit the elections that the current president, Robert Mugabe, seems likely to win, in order to justify continuing efforts to replace Mugabe and his policies of land reform and economic indigenization with the pro-foreign investment, pro-private property policies of the US- and EU-backed Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.
Mugabe has provoked the ire of corporate executives, investment bankers, and those who have taken a leadership role in representing Western upper class interests by taking measures to invest Zimbabwe’s national liberation project with real content. His government expropriated the farms of white settlers and their descendants for distribution to the landless poor after former colonial power Britain reneged on promises to finance land redistribution.
Now the ZANU-PF government is proposing to place majority ownership of the country’s resources in the hands of indigenous Zimbabweans.
It’s all part of a program to achieve real national independence by turning Zimbabweans into owners of their own land and natural resources.
Zimbabwe has barred election monitors from the US and EU, but will allow observers from Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, South Africa and the Southern African Development Community to monitor the vote.
The barring of Western observers is pointed to as indirect evidence of vote rigging. After all, if Zimbabwe has nothing to hide, why won’t it admit observers from Europe and the US?
At the same time, it’s suggested that Zimbabwe is only allowing observers from friendly countries because they will bless the elections automatically.
By the same logic, one would expect that a negative evaluation is foreordained from observers representing unfriendly countries, especially those whose official policy is to replace the current government. Indeed, it is this fear that has led Harare to ban Western monitors.
With Western observers unable to monitor the elections directly, governments in North America and Europe are left with a public relations dilemma. How can they declare the vote fraudulent, if they haven’t observed it?
To get around this difficulty, the US, Britain and other Western countries have provided grants to Zimbabweans on the ground to monitor the vote. These Zimbabweans, part of civil society, declare themselves to be independent “non-governmental” observers, and prepare to render a foreordained verdict that the elections are rigged. Cooperating in the deception, the Western media amplifies their voices as “independent” experts on the ground.
The US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy — an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly — has provided grants to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network “to train and organize 240 long-term elections observers throughout Zimbabwe.”
The NED is also connected to the Media Monitoring Project through the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which it funds, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which is funded by Britain’s NED equivalent, the Westminster Foundation.
The Media Monitoring Project calls itself independent, but is connected to the US and British governments, and to billionaire speculator George Soros’s Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
When the New York Times needed Zimbabweans on the ground to comment on the upcoming election, its reporters turned to representatives of these two NGOs.
Noel Kututwa, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, told the newspaper that his group would be using “sampling techniques to assess the accuracy of the results announced nationally.”
Yet, Mr. Kututwa also told the newspaper that, “We will not have a free and fair election.” If Kututwa has already decided the election will be unfair and coerced, why bother assessing its accuracy?
Andrew Moyse, a regular commentator on Studio 7, an anti-Mugabe radio station sponsored by the US government’s propaganda arm, Voice of America, is quoted in the same article.
“Even if Mugabe only gets one vote,” Mr. Moyse opines, “the tabulated results are in the box and he has won.”
Moyse, on top of acting as a US mouthpiece on Voice of America, heads up the Media Monitoring Project. While part of the NGO election observer team the US and EU are relying on on the ground, he’s already decided the vote is rigged.
Kutatwa and Moyse are the only experts the New York Times cited in its story on the upcoming elections.
Both represent NGOs funded by hostile governments whose official policy is to replace Robert Mugabe and his government’s land reform and economic indigenization policies.
Both present themselves as independent election monitors, though they can hardly be independent of their sources of foreign government and foundation funding.
Both have declared in advance of the election that the vote will not be free and fair and that the tabulated results are already in the box.
Their foreordained conclusions happen to be the same conclusions their sponsors in the US and Britain are looking for, to obtain the consent of a confused public to intervene vigorously in Zimbabwe’s affairs.
It’s a symbiotic collaboration of media, state, and NGOs on the ground.
The target is public opinion, and ultimately, the poor of the world, and their struggles to break free from centuries of oppression.
(References to follow)
By Stephen Gowans
While Patrick Bond likes to create the impression he offers an independent left perspective on Zimbabwe, it’s difficult to reconcile the impression with the reality. Bond has, in the past, recommended that progressives look to two of Zimbabwe’s “pro-democracy” groups, Sokwanele and Zvakwana, to find out what’s going on in Zimbabwe. (1) Both groups are modeled after Otpor, a Western-funded youth group that worked to oust Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Like their Serb progenitor, the Zimbabwean groups are handsomely funded by Western governments (2), not to oppose the interests of wealthy individuals, corporations, banks, investors, and imperialist states, but to promote them.
“The United States government (is) working with the Zimbabwean opposition” “trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations” “to bring about a change of administration.” (3) It supports “the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society,” including providing training and assistance to grassroots “pro-democracy” groups (4) – groups Bond celebrated in a Counterpunch article as “the independent left.” (5)
The US also supports “workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies,” (6) a project enlisting the kinds of nonviolent imperialists Stephen Zunes has made a practice of vigorously defending. (7)
Bond’s most recent attempt to bamboozle the West’s progressive community is a Z-Net article co-authored with a woman who is part of US-sponsored regime change operations in Zimbabwe. (8)
Last April, Grace Kwinjeh traveled to Washington with Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of one faction of the Zimbabwe opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and representatives from NGOs funded by the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. (9)
The NED does overtly what the CIA once did covertly, namely, meddle in the affairs of foreign countries to bring down governments that refuse to do Washington’s bidding.
Soon after it was established, the MDC became the party favored by white farmers in Zimbabwe for its opposition to the government’s land reform policies. The party is backed by the US and EU. Tsvangirai, the party’s original leader, and now leader of one its two factions, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, pledging to restore property rights and to compensate white farmers for the loss of land their settler ancestors took by force. (10)
Last April’s delegation to Washington was organized by the Open Society Initiative, a project of billionaire speculator George Soros, to “build and strengthen the values, practices and institutions of an open society throughout Southern Africa” (11) — roughly, to promote open markets and free enterprise where governments are pursuing programs of economic indigenization.
SW Radio Africa, which operates on funding provided by the US State Department’s Office of Transition Initiatives, reported that the group was in Washington to “brief Western institutions like the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson Center.” (12)
The CSIS is a little known think-tank run by a bipartisan collection of upper class leaders, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. It recently prepared a report recommending that the West use preventive nuclear first strikes to stop other countries, like Iran, from acquiring nuclear weapons. (13)
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is a US government established center that links “scholarship to issues of concern to officials in Washington.” The Center’s Africa program was launched with a grant from the Ford Foundation to promote dialogue between scholars and US policy-makers on Africa. The tenor of the dialogue is obvious in the latest edition of the Center’s journal, The Wilson Quarterly. Articles extol competition (it’s hard-wired into humans) and the US Department of Homeland Security (it doesn’t get enough credit.)
Kwinjeh is a frequent guest on Studio 7, a radio station sponsored by the US-government’s propaganda arm, the Voice of America. (14) She calls herself “a founder member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, (MDC),” and says she “spent some time in Belgium as the MDC Representative to the EU.” (15)
At one point, she was the deputy secretary for international relations in the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC. She ran for the post of MDC secretary of information (the party’s propaganda office) unsuccessfully.
When writing for Western audiences, Kwinjeh conceals her MDC connections and presents herself as a journalist – not a senior member of the US and EU-backed MDC, not a part of US-government regime change operations.
The key questions for Western progressives are: Does Patrick Bond know who Grace Kwinjeh is? If so, why is he co-authoring articles with her? Is Bond’s definition of “independent” the same as that of the US state and Western media, i.e., any individual or group that facilitates the US government in its efforts to bring down foreign governments that refuse to do the West’s bidding? If Patrick Bond doesn’t know who Grace Kwinjeh is, why is he passing himself off as a left expert on Zimbabwe? Surely, someone who professes to have a knowledge of Zimbabwe greater than that of Western progressives would know about Kwinjeh’s role in US regime change operations. And what separation is there between the views of Bond and those of Kwinjeh, an MDC operative who has traveled to Washington on George Soros’ account to brief a ruling class think-tank that promotes a nuclear first strike strategy?
Follow Up, April 11, 2008
Z-Net changed Kwinjeh’s bio after I wrote to Chris Spannos about it, complaining the omission was deceptive.
Bond, usually obsessive about rising to these kinds of challenges, hasn’t replied to the article above, or to the questions asked of him at the end of it.
His most recent writing on Zimbabwe of which I’m aware (this time authored without the help of the US, British, and Australian government-backed MDC) appeared on Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News is directly financed by the Ford Foundation and billionaire speculator George Soros and indirectly by the Canadian government, the European Union and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
You can’t help trip over Bond’s connections to corporate foundations and groups and political parties financed by imperialist governments. They fund his civil society center and pay for his junkets. Groups he urges leftists to look to as an “independent” left voice are bankrolled by the US, British and other Western governments. Is it any wonder he’s known as Bond…Patrick Bond….of Her Majesty’s NGOs?
At one time, CIA spooks channeled money to left scholars like Bond covertly. Now, the funding is open, and the connections are hardly concealed.
Incidentally, Spannos mounted a sophistical defense of Z-Net’s accepting Bond’s MDC co-authored Zimbabwe article. Explained Spannos: If Z-Net refused to accept submissions from people who are connected, in some way, to parties or institutions dominated and funded by corporations and imperialist governments, Z-Net would have to dissociate itself from most of the submissions it gets on a daily basis.
This follows along the lines of a Stephen Zunes argument. Almost everyone, if they have a job, gets paid by capitalists or capitalist-supported governments, so what’s the fuss? The fuss is that few people get paid to undertake funded political activity. Equating a clerk who works for Sears and writes on Zimbabwe to Grace Kwinjeh, is like saying, “Just because George Bush is president doesn’t mean his views on public healthcare are more reflective of the interests of the US ruling class than those of Walmart employees, whose livelihood is also linked intimately to the US ruling class through their employment by a giant corporation.” Walmart employees, unless they’re in the PR department or boardroom, don’t get paid to represent Walmart’s political interests or those of the US ruling class. Kwinjeh, on the other hand, has a direct material interest in representing the interests of the MDC, and through it, the MDC’s patrons.
Sadly, Z-Net, and Z-Net favorites, Bond and Zunes, have a penchant for this kind of specious nonsense.
2. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)
3. The Guardian (August 22, 2002)
4. U.S. Department of State, April 5, 2007 report on human rights. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/
6. U.S. Department of State
Regarding NED funding of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition see http://fanonite.org/2008/03/10/nonviolent-imperialism-major-revision/
10. The Herald (Zimbabwe) (March 23, 2008)
By Stephen Gowans
Patrick Bond and Grace Kwinjeh wrote on article on March 11 for Z-Net on the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. Titled “Zimbabwe’s political roller-coaster hits another deep dip,” the article took the current government to task, predicted a Robert Mugabe victory “by hook or crook,” and declared civil society to be Zimbabwe’s “main wellspring of hope.”
Civil Society Center director Patrick Bond (as in Bond…Patrick Bond…of Her Majesty’s NGOs, as one wag put it) has been lambasting the Mugabe government for years as a self-declared “independent” left voice on Zimbabwe. Bond’s independence includes celebrating activist groups that receive US government funding as part of the West’s regime change program in Zimbabwe.
But who is Bond’s co-author, Grace Kwinjeh?
Kwinjeh is listed at the end of the duo’s article as a South African-based Zimbabwean journalist. But according to Kwinjeh’s blog, Kwinjehviews, Bond’s co-author is also “a founder member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, (MDC)” who “spent some time in Belgium as the MDC Representative to the EU.” At one point, Kwinjeh was the deputy secretary for international relations in the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change. (She also says she is a South African-based Zimbabwean journalist. Since this matches the brief bio provided at the end of the Bond-Kwinjeh Z-Net article, I assume Bond’s Grace Kwinjeh is also Tsvangirai’s Grace Kwinjeh.)
Inasmuch as Kwinjeh’s and Bond’s analysis of the upcoming elections is highly critical of the current Zimbabwean government, it is hardly an insignificant point that Kwinjeh fails to disclose her connection to the MDC. This is tantamount to an IBM employee writing a scathing review of Mac computers and then presenting herself as a technology journalist without acknowledging her connection to IBM.
It’s no less significant that Patrick Bond should be caught up in the deception, given his history of promoting “independent” left voices that are hardly independent (and does so once again.) But, then, maybe that’s what a civil society center director does. See Talk Left, Funded Right.
The MDC, which soon became the favored party of white farmers in Zimbabwe, has manifold connections to the US and British states and EU. The leader of the MDC faction Kwinjeh was deputy secretary of international relations for, Morgan Tsvangirai, worries in the Wall Street Journal about the effect the current government’s land reform policies have had on foreign investor confidence, and favors a policy in which Zimbabweans compensate settlers and their descendants for land taken from them and never paid for in the first place. This is akin to insisting you pay a thief for the return of the goods he stole from your house.
The issue, here, however, isn’t the MDC’s politics, but the deception and Bond’s part in it. Readers of Kwinjeh and Bond ought to be aware that they’re being bamboozled when either writer says or implies he or she is providing an independent left perspective. Kwinjeh should acknowledge her ties to the US- and EU-backed MDC. As for Bond, he should stop misrepresenting groups and individuals linked to corporations, capitalist foundations, and imperialist governments as an “independent” left.
Stephen Zunes has written a brief reply to my last article, 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism, which you can read here. The following is my response.
Let me address your points one by one.
1.You say: “I do not and have never singled out leftist governments for criticism.”
I guess that depends on what you consider a leftist government to be. I would surmise that your definition is different from mine. If I said, “You criticized government x,” you would reply, “But government x isn’t leftist.” You’re using a difference of opinion about what a leftist government is, to construct a straw man.
2. You say: “I have supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements around the world.”
I’m sure you have supported some anti-imperialist and some anti-capitalist movements around the world, but who says you haven’t? My comments concerned anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist governments, not movements. I suspect you haven’t supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements that take up arms, but that’s another matter.
3. You say: “I have opposed the agenda of ‘wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments’”.
I’ve never said you haven’t, but some would say you certainly haven’t opposed the agenda of Peter Ackerman as it relates to the ICNC and you certainly didn’t oppose USIP when you accepted a USIP research fellowship (i). These are good points, but they’re not my points and they’re hardly necessary points. Churchill opposed the agenda of the Soviet Union, but that didn’t stop him from working with it.
The issues, here, are: (1) Are you willing to take money from one or more of: wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments? And (2): Are wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments willing to give you money to oppose their interests? The answer to the first question, judging by your comments on an earlier article of mine, is yes (ii); the second question can only be answered in the affirmative by the deluded or naïve.
4.You say: “I have never implied that (wealthy individuals, corporations…) were in any way a “wellspring of hope.”
Who said you had? The “wellsprings of hope” reference was to civil society (and Patrick Bond’s and Grace Kwinjeh’s description of it), not to the funders of civil society.
5. You say: “I have never ‘followed State Department’ narratives.”
I guess it depends on what you mean by “followed.” Maybe we should call it a case of simultaneous multiple invention. You can be Wallace to the State Department’s Darwin. The State Department talks about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. You talk about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. The State Department talks about Belarus as a dictatorship. You talk about Belarus as a dictatorship. The State Department talks about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. You talk about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. And so on. (iii)
But maybe I’m being too charitable. I’ve assumed you’ve aped the State Department narrative on places like Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran because it’s easy to do. Perhaps I should be complaining about your false allegations and total fabrications about these governments.
6. You say: “I have never defended the practices of the NED, the USAID or other government agencies.”
Who says you have? Patrick Bond is wont to celebrate groups that receive NED funding as an “independent” left. I’m not sure whether that counts as defending the practices of the NED, but I have no information on your attitude toward these organizations. Accordingly, I have nothing to say about it. Claiming I have is (to use your language) a total fabrication.
7. You say: “I only wish I could be criticized about the things I’ve really said.”
If I said all the things you say I’ve said about you, I too would say they were total fabrications. But alas I haven’t said these things. You’re either misreading what I’ve written or you’re raising the straw man to an art form.
(i) See point 11of your “A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations Against Stephen Zunes” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16613 .
(ii) Ibid. You write: “The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations — from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) — depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals.”
(iii) You write, “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states comes from civil society” and “Similar claims heard today that the United States is somehow a major force behind contemporary popular movements against dictatorships in Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Belarus or that the United States was somehow responsible for the successes of previous movements in Serbia, Georgia or Ukraine are equally ludicrous.” “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538 .
By Stephen Gowans
Stephen Zunes, chair of the board of academic advisors to the US ruling class International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, and Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at Durban, are regular contributors to Z-Net, Counterpunch and other left media. There’s nothing particularly new, interesting or exciting about their writing. When it comes to foreign governments that pursue a traditional leftist agenda of independent economic development outside the domination of imperialist powers they can be counted on to ape the New York Times and Washington Post, and by extension, the White House and Department of State.
Reading Zunes’ write about Belarus, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Iran, is like reading State Department press releases. “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states,” says Zunes, “comes from civil society” (1). In its reference to freedom and democracy in the abstract, Zunes’ language is evocative of the propagandistic bilge that gushes in rivers from White House and State Department speechwriters trying to shape public opinion. Bond, who claims an expertise on Zimbabwe based on proximity to the country (he runs a civil society center on the other side of the Limpopo River) is hardly better. Both mimic State Department charges against the West’s leftist and national liberation foreign policy betes noire, and, like the State Department, both celebrate civil society. Bond has gone so far as to naively dub activist groups in Zimbabwe that receive Western funding as “the main wellspring of hope for a Zimbabwean recovery” (2). It would be more apt to say civil society is the West’s main wellspring of hope to return Zimbabwe to a colonial past.
Bond and Zunes are formulaic writers. They cleave to a basic set of rules to guide their analyses of governments that have disrupted property relations that once favored Western investors, banks and corporations. Once you know the rules, you can predict what either Zunes or Bond are going to write with astonishing accuracy.
Rule #1. All governments are bad, especially those that pursue traditional leftist agendas of placing control of a country’s resources and productive property in the hands of its public, its government, or its domestic business class. The leaders of these governments deceptively employ socialist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric to win and then to hang on to power. They enjoy enormous privileges secured and defended by corruption and abuse of authority. Governments, by nature, are corrupt, authoritarian and thoroughly rotten, particularly those that call themselves leftist and anti-imperialist. There has never been a truly leftist, anti-colonial or anti-imperialist government, and can never be one. All revolutions are betrayals and no one should expect that anything good can ever come from left and anti-imperialist forces taking power. The only good revolution is the one that has never happened, or the ones that have been financed by wealthy individuals and the US government.
Rule #2. Civil society is the main wellspring of hope. Non-governmental organizations funded by the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, the US State Department’s USAID, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and other Western “democracy promotion” agencies, are independent organizations that are working to build a better world. Leftists should look to these groups to understand what’s going on in countries led by nominally anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and socialist governments. Zimbabwe’s Lawyers for Human Rights, for example, represents one of the main wellsprings of hope for Zimbabwe. Never mind that it is funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy (3) – an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly. Plenty of civil society organizations take money from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. Does that mean they’re not independent?
Rule #3. Decentralized, participatory democracy is good. It is the absolute good.
Rule #4. Process is more important than outcome. Zimbabweans becoming owners of their own land and natural resources is only half as important as the British parliamentary tradition in Zimbabwe being upheld; only a tenth as important as the freedom and democracy Zunes’ celebrates in the abstract; only a hundredth as important as civil society having room to operate to peacefully change the government. It’s not helpful to mention that peaceful regime change is often preceded by economic warfare and threats of military intervention and that non-violent activism and civil society are only part of a larger whole of regime change operations.
Rule #5. Governments that call themselves anti-imperialist or socialist or both are neither of these things and are as deplorable as imperialists and neo-liberals. Civil society, though drawing its funding from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments, is the main wellspring of hope.
Rule #6. When writing about governments that pursue traditional leftist agendas, it is important to follow State Department narratives. This is equivalent to doing what the New York Times, CNN and other major media did when they amplified Washington’s lies about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction – an inconvenient reality, but skip over it. Charges made against leftist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist governments of corruption, human rights abuses, and betrayal will resonate with a left population primed for cynicism. Accordingly, it takes little effort to make the charges stick. Don’t bother to cite evidence. You don’t need to. Tap into what everyone knows is true, because everyone says it’s true, because the media say it’s true, because the State Department and White House say it’s true. Who will ask for evidence? Insist that the other side present evidence. If you don’t like the evidence, say it’s not from a credible source.
Rule #7. Never shy away from basing your argument on appeal to authority. If you live close to the country civil society is to promote democracy in, or have visited it, claim authority based on geography. “I’ve been (or live close) to Zimbabwe.” This, however, might backfire. Opponents can reply: “If geography is so important, I’ll accept as a higher authority the analysis of the leaders of the government you denounce, since they are long-time residents of their country, and not merely tourists and residents of a neighboring country.”
Rule #8. Make definitive statements. For example, assert with certitude that Bob Helvey has never been to Venezuela to train civil society to bring down the Chavez government. When you’re shown evidence that Bob Helvey has indeed been to Venezuela, say “I only found about it last week.” Never let ignorance get in the way of self-appointed authority.
Rule #9. Defend civil society’s receiving its funding from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments by saying, “A people’s revolution cannot happen by generous funding alone.” This sounds compelling. Of course, if this were true, we could also say, “Acceptance of a ruling class ideology cannot happen by the ruling class virtually monopolizing the media and schools” or “George Bush won his first run at the presidency through a groundswell of popular support that had little to do with his connections to wealthy supporters and the king’s ransom spent on his campaign.”
Rule #10. Some say civil society should not take money from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. Others say the reality that wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments shower many civil society groups with money tells you everything you need to know about these groups. These people are not helpful.
1. Stephen Zunes, “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” February 17, 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538
2. Patrick Bond and Grace Kwinjeh, “Zimbabwe’s political roller-coaster hits another deep dip,” March 11, 2008, http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2008-03/11bond-kwinjeh.cfm
3. Michael Barker, “Nonviolent Imperialism: A Major Revision,” March 10, 2008, http://fanonite.org/2008/03/10/nonviolent-imperialism-major-revision/