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Reply to Peace Activist Stellan Vinthagen

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By Stephen Gowans

The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, founded by the junk-bond king Michael Milken’s former right-hand man Peter Ackerman, is accumulating a stable of academic advisors who in the last week have written a series of articles on nonviolent civil disobedience for the website openDemocracy. openDemocracy is a flashy website ostensibly committed to progressive causes but whose backers are anything but progressive, unless you think corporate philanthropists and strenuously anti-communist billionaire financier George Soros are cutting checks to individuals and groups working toward traditional leftist goals.

One article, People power and the new global ferment, written by ICNC academic advisor Stellan Vinthagen, accuses me and Eva Golinger of spinning conspiracy theories. According to Vinthagen, a Swedish sociology professor,

…a final sign of the growing impact of civil resistance are radical activists, be they left-wing, right-wing, or anarchist, who rage against “the new imperialist” tool of nonviolence (writers such as Stephen Gowans and Eva Golinger). They reduce people power to a conspiracy organized by the almighty USA and (naive or reactionary) parts of local civil society that lend themselves to the overthrow of (progressive) foreign governments. Conspiracies against such governments may exist, but indigenous people power could not grow if it were, ‘made in USA’.

Vinthagen misrepresents my position. While nonviolence, to be sure, is a tool, I do not regard it as inherently “the new imperialist” tool. Indeed, my criticism is not specific to nonviolence itself, but to its high profile promoters, particularly individuals associated with the ICNC, whose affinity with nonviolent civil disobedience appears to begin and end in the assistance it can provide grass roots movements whose goals momentarily align with those of the US state in opposing a foreign government. Gene Sharp, Robert Helvey and Peter Ackerman—who have taken an old CIA practice of covertly destabilizing target governments and made it overt and seemingly progressive—appear to be less interested in the technique’s usefulness in bringing about progressive social change and more in its usefulness as a surrogate for military means of achieving US foreign policy goals, and occasionally as a complement to state violence. (For example, while nonviolent civil disobedience is often hailed by the ICNC as a sterling example of what people power can achieve, the account conspicuously overlooks the role played by NATO’s three-month-long bombing campaign, economic warfare and assistance to a KLA insurgency in creating miserable conditions for Serbs, and hence a motivation to oust then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. These measures, all of them violent and undertaken by Western states against a foreign population, established the conditions that allowed civil disobedience to eventually topple the Milosevic government.)

It is a matter of no small moment that Ackerman—the driving force behind the ICNC–is part of the US foreign policy establishment. He is a board member of the premier US foreign policy establishment think-tank, The Council on Foreign Relations, and as independent scholar activist Michael Barker points out, has “less widely advertised service [to the US ruling class] on the advisory board of America Abroad Media, where he is joined by the likes of James Woolsey, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation (the world’s largest defense contractor).”

In their Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman described Freedom House, which Ackerman not too long ago headed up, as having interlocks with “the CIA, and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the government and international right wing.” (1988, p. 28.) As for Ackerman’s ICNC, its role in facilitating US regime change efforts is obvious in the following, from a 2005 New Republic article by Franklin Foer: “When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.” (“Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.)

Nonviolent civil disobedience is a technique, preferable, to be sure, to violence. But it is no more inherently progressive than it is inherently the new imperialist tool. Whether a specific application of the tool is good or bad depends on what it is being used for, and whose interests it serves. Unfortunately, Ackerman’s background and connections—explored in detail in Overthrow Inc.: Peter Ackerman’s quest to do what the CIA used to do and make it seem progressive—suggests strongly that the ICNC promotes use of the tool, not to advance democracy in the original sense of the word, but to advance the foreign policy goals of the US state.

Vinthagen and other peace activists are doubtlessly sincere in their passionate embrace of nonviolent direct action, but their passionate commitment—and the alluring resources the ICNC offers to promote it—may have blinded them to the nature of the ICNC principals and their true aims.

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November 23, 2010 at 12:00 am

Peaceniks for imperialism

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Canada’s Peace Magazine and the promotion of non-military warfare in the service of US foreign policy goals

By Stephen Gowans

While apparently possessing impeccable leftwing credentials, the Canadian publication, Peace Magazine, is a bulwark of conservatism which virtually operates as a house organ of the Ackerman-Helvey-Sharp destabilization school of US foreign policy. Although it opposes military intervention in the pursuit of US foreign policy goals, it is supportive of liberal-democratic-free-trade capitalist arrangements and the overthrow of governments that operate outside the US axis of domination. It promotes the use of US-sponsored and funded nonviolent resistance (NVR), sometimes called political defiance, or what the CIA calls destabilization, to “take out” governments whose overthrow Washington justifies by demonizing as dictatorial. And it uncritically echoes the pronouncements on official enemies of the White House and US State Department, endorsing from the left US government-provided pretexts for the expansion of US imperialism. The peace that Peace Magazine promotes, is one in which the United States is firmly in control, and the system of government and economy its ruling class favours has been imposed, willy-nilly, in every corner of the earth.

The Ackerman-Helvey-Sharp destabilization school

Peter Ackerman, an immensely wealthy investor and member of the premier US establishment think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Robert Helvey, a thirty year veteran of the US Army, are the major proponents of a method developed by Gene Sharp for destabilizing foreign governments. While the name NVR gives the technique a fresh look, it is nothing more than CIA-style destabilization, with a twist: it rejects overt CIA sponsorship to escape the taint of being associated with the CIA. Instead, it relies on funding channelled openly through Western government and ruling class foundations. Ackerman defines the technique as: “the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience” [1] in addition to mass protests [2] and even nonviolent sabotage, to disrupt the functioning of government [3] and make “a country ungovernable.” [4] NVR, then, is equivalent to the CIA-engineered destabilization used to help overthrow Chile’s leftist president, Salvador Allende.

Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp are involved in some capacity in deploying Sharp’s destabilization techniques to countries the US government pressures diplomatically, militarily and economically: Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Myanmar, Iran, and formerly Georgia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Peace Magazine likes the governments of none of these countries, calling Venezuela’s economic policies mistaken [5] and welcoming a nonviolent resistance to (i.e., destabilization of) Hugo Chavez’s government. [6] The magazine’s fondest wishes have been fulfilled. “A couple of people who worked with us, including Bob Helvey, have been there and done a workshop for Venezuelans,” explains Gene Sharp. [7]

The trio illegitimately abstracts destabilization from the multi-tiered approach the United States employs to take out targeted foreign governments, in order to argue deceptively that NVR alone, and not NVR plus the threat or use of military violence plus economic warfare are responsible for regime change successes. For example, the role of a 78-day bombing campaign and economic warfare in the eventual ouster of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has been minimized by the destabilizers, whose version of history holds that it was Helvey’s training of US-funded nonviolent mercenaries in Sharp’s techniques that was responsible for Milosevic’s overthrow and his replacement by a US-backed neo-liberal regime.

Peace Magazine amplifies this deception, acting as an indefatigable cheerleading squad for Sharp, Helvey and Ackerman and their views. All three have been frequently featured in the magazine, through major interviews, or through the wholesale adoption of their positions in editorials, or both.

Promoting capitalist democracy

Editor Metta Spencer frequently adulates democracy, whose imposition on other countries has formed one of the enduring pretexts for US interventions. The democracy she celebrates is the multi-party parliamentary democracy dominant in the West, and not the original idea of rule by or for a previously subordinate class or people – the original sense having always been regarded as dangerous and undesirable by property-owning classes (and social democrats, too, to say nothing, I suspect, of Peace Magazine.) To be sure, it is not democracy in its dangerous and original sense that Spencer adulates. It is democracy tamed by the wealthy that she celebrates.

In an interview with Seymour Martin Lipset, Spencer invites the academic to refute Western democracy’s Marxist critics.

Spencer: But people sometimes say, “Don’t tell me Canada and the United States are democratic. Look at the way money controls the outcome of the elections…”

Lipset: …It is obviously true that money has enormous influence on elections. However, that does not determine everything. [8]

The Marxist critique of Western democracy isn’t that money determines everything, but that those who own productive property and therefore have immense wealth have the means to dominate the electoral process and shape its outcomes to favour their interests and to encroach upon the interests of everyone else. They don’t always get their way, true – but they often do. That the wealthy don’t always win, however, is hardly a ringing endorsement of capitalist democracy, and hardly a reason to be satisfied with it or work for its promotion. Nevertheless, Lipset and Spencer believe that so long as the majority can influence the government some of the time on some issues in some way, all is well.

Cuba’s democracy, based on the election of individuals unaffiliated with political parties (as opposed to ambitious, exhibitionist lawyers who have been vetted by political parties financed overwhelmingly by wealthy individuals and corporations) doesn’t count as democracy in the Peace Magazine view. Cuba, instead, is denounced by the magazine as a tyranny, and Cuba’s former president, and presumably its current one, too, is regarded as being on the same plane as Hitler, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and Ida Amin. So too are Lenin and Stalin. [9] That Peace Magazine’s democratic sympathies lie with those of the dominant property-owning class in the West, and not with revolutionaries guided by a definition of democracy closer to the original meaning, is evident in Spencer drawing on the arch-establishment figure, imperialist and war criminal Winston Churchill, for support. “As Winston Churchill pointed out,” she reminds us sententiously, “democracy is the worst system of government — except all others.” [10]

In Spencer’s view, “Democratic states virtually never are involved in wars against other democratic states” (only against “repressive” or “failed” states). [11] The absurdity of this view hardly needs to be pointed out. Israel, a multi-party democracy along Western lines, attacked Gaza, precisely because the Palestinian territories are a democracy which elected a party, Hamas, which Israel refuses to accept. The only way this nonsense can be made true is by defining the democratic states that other democratic states attack as being repressive or failed. But the logic is circular. In 1999, Yugoslavia, a federation that had adopted Western multi-party democracy, was attacked militarily by Western democracies. But in the circular logic of Peace Magazine, Yugoslavia was attacked because it was repressive, and therefore not truly democratic. But how do we decide when a country is truly democratic, and when it is repressive or failed? Moreover, who decides? The answer, in the Peace Magazine view, is that Washington does.

Legitimizing imperialist intervention

The Peace Magazine modus operandi is to accept all US government pronouncements on the threats posed by foreign governments as true, and then to propose the use of Sharp’s destabilization techniques as an alternative to military intervention to deal with the threats.

For example, Peace Magazine contributor John Bacher wrote in a 2004 review of a Robert Helvey book that, “Rather than attempting to build costly and leaky shields for missiles from Iran and north Korea, why not seek non-violently to change these regimes into democracies?” [12] Apparently, it never occurred to Bacher to ask why Iran and North Korea would attack the West, since it would mean their immediate annihilation, nor inquire into what possible motivation either country could have to lob missiles at the West. Instead, he accepted as true a rather transparent pretext for justifying the construction of missile shields that would provide the United States with a nuclear first strike capability against Russia, while fattening the bottom lines of US military contractors.

Even more astonishingly, in 2003, the magazine’s editor took peace activists to task for failing to acknowledge that “George W. Bush was right about…the need for regime change in Iraq.” [13] She echoed Peter Ackerman, who, a year earlier, had teamed up with sidekick Jack DuVall to write a Sojourner’s Magazine article urging “anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone (Saddam Hussein)…to suggest how he (Hussein) might otherwise be ushered out the backdoor of Baghdad.” [14] Spencer also scolded “the organizers of protests (against the war on Iraq, for failing to) on the whole propose any alternative nonviolent way of bringing democracy to Iraq.” [15] In this, the magazine accepted US positions on Iraq as legitimate, and demanded that opponents pressure the US government to use non-military means. In the Peace Magazine view, the left should partner with the US government, and try to influence it to adopt less sanguinary methods of achieving its foreign policy goals. This apes Gene Sharp. Asked what he thought of mass demonstrations in the United States against the war on Iraq, Sharp replied,

“I don’t think you can get rid of violence by protesting against it. I think you get rid of violence only if people see that you have a different way of acting, a different way of struggle. […] Part of my analysis is that if you don’t like violence, you have to develop a substitute. Then people have a choice. If they don’t see a choice, then violence is all that they really have. […] The thing that is most shocking is that the Bush Administration acted on the basis of the belief – dogma, ‘religion’ – in the omnipotence of violence. […] The assumption is an invading country can come in, remove its official leader, arrest some of the other people, and well, then, the dictatorship is gone.” [16]

The reason Spencer believes peace activists should endorse Washington’s regime change agenda is evident in her approval of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, an up-to-date intellectual apology for imperialism. She writes,

“States have a responsibility to protect their own citizens. If instead they abuse them, as in Iraq, they cannot take refuge in the usual rules of sovereignty. The international community may legitimately intervene against such a state.” [17]

The critical flaw in this doctrine lies in the question of who decides when a state has abnegated its responsibility. The answer is “the international community,” a high-sounding synonym for the United States and any other country Washington can bully, cajole or entice to join a coalition under its leadership.

Spencer tops off her endorsement of the US right to determine when intervention is justified with jaw-dropping sophistry.

“And having been complicit in imposing sanctions that caused the deaths of a million or so Iraqis, we have a moral duty now to intervene and help them…” [18]

By this logic, creating a grave injustice through an initial intervention provides a perpetual moral obligation to continue to intervene to try to set the original injustice straight. Of course, the United States and Britain’s subsequent military intervention, following the mass murder of over one million Iraqis in the preceding decade through economic warfare, didn’t redress the initial injustice. Instead, it sparked a humanitarian calamity of colossal magnitude, far greater than the one in Darfur. And yet the magazine advocates non-military warfare to overthrow the government of Sudan [19], but is completely silent on the use of the same NVR techniques to disrupt the US government and make US society ungovernable, to put a stop to the much larger, US-engineered, catastrophe in Iraq.

National Sovereignty

In an astonishing exchange with Gene Sharp, Spencer expresses her contempt for national sovereignty (at least that of countries the United States seeks to dominate) and wonders why anyone would object to Washington overthrowing foreign governments.

Spencer: Recently we showed the film about Otpor (an underground destabilization group trained by Robert Helvey and bankrolled by the US government) and the overthrow of Milosevic, Bringing Down a Dictator. Lots of pro-Milosevic people were present. The real issue for them is, here is the evil US…funding this nonviolent resistance. To them that’s a cardinal sin. A government cannot sponsor the overthrow of another government!

Sharp: Why not?

Spencer: Because the US has interests and it’s supposedly immoral to have interests. Nobody is surprised that the US gives guns to people, but the idea that they assisted the Serbs to get rid of Milosevic seems somehow especially evil. To my mind, it is particularly the US, of all countries, that I want to see supporting nonviolence. It would be the greatest thing in the world for the US to adopt nonviolence.

Sharp: … What do they prefer that the US spend money on? [20]

Intervention

While the defense of national sovereignty has become associated with the left, it has not always been true that the left has supported an absolute right of countries to be free from foreign intervention. Indeed, there have been frequent interventions supported by the left and carried out by leftist forces: the Soviet Union and the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War;  China in the US imperialist war on the Korean peninsula; Cuba in Africa. In these interventions the question wasn’t whether countries had an absolute right to sovereignty, but whether the reasons for and outcomes of intervention were progressive. Was the point to free a class from exploitation and a people from oppression, or to provide a foreign ruling class with new opportunities for expropriating the economic surplus of another country?

Peace Magazine and the destabilizers present US interventions as progressive, guided by opposition to tyranny and the goal of spreading democracy. But the question is whether the democracy the destabilizers promote is a cover for another kind of tyranny, that of domination by US corporate and financial interests. One way to tell is to look at the outcome of successful interventions. Who benefited? Who was injured? In Yugoslavia, the intervention the destabilizers point to with particular pride, the overthrow of the socialist Milosevic, was soon followed by a spate of privatizations, in which formerly publically- and socially-owned assets were bought by Western investors. In Eastern Europe, where a similar destabilization paradigm helped bring about the collapse of socialism and its replacement by a liberal-democratic-capitalist model, joblessness, economic insecurity, deep inequality and the recrudescence of previously virtually eliminated diseases, replaced equality of income, education, healthcare and opportunity. That the outcomes of US interventions have not been progressive may explain why the destabilizers never consider them. But to Spencer, outcomes don’t matter.

“Getting rid of Milosevic did not immediately bring good governance to Serbia…and neither Afghanistan nor Iraq will likely become democratic soon…We can’t help much with that. But their democratization must start with liberation, and we can help them achieve that – non-violently.” [21]

Having no qualms about aligning itself with Washington’s imperialist projects, Peace Magazine endorses without scruple the Western government foundations which support the work of the destabilizers. Asking “How can we help?”, the magazine explains that,

“Many countries maintain organizations that help democratic opposition movements inside tyrannical regimes. In Britain, it’s the Westminster Foundation. In the US it’s the National Endowment for Democracy. In Sweden it’s the Olaf Palme Center. In Canada it’s Montreal-based Rights and Democracy. Moreover, there are experts who have studied nonviolent struggle and who can help dissident movements develop effective strategies” [22] such as Robert Helvey.

It would doubtlessly cause little embarrassment to the magazine to point out that the National Endowment for Democracy was established by the Reagan administration to overtly bankroll the overthrow movements the CIA used to fund covertly. So long as imperialist goals are pursued through non-military means, Peace Magazine is content.

Conclusion

Despite its apparent left credentials, Peace Magazine serves the conservative function of legitimizing the goals of US foreign policy and burnishing the reputation of a capitalist democracy subordinated to US corporate and financial domination. The magazine apes the views of Peter Ackerman, Robert Helvey and Gene Sharp, the major proponents within the US establishment of the use of destabilization methods to overthrow foreign governments that resist domination by US corporate and financial interests. The magazine’s only disagreement with US foreign policy is its reliance on military intervention. This disagreement is motivated in part by a public relations concern. If the US government “would restrict its interventions to aiding nonviolent opponents of tyrants,” the magazine contends, “the world would admire it.” [23] That a peace magazine wants the world to admire the leading champion of capitalist imperialism leaves little doubt as to its orientation, whose side it’s on, and what role it seeks to play in the struggle for economic, social and political justice.

1. Ackerman, Peter, “Paths to peace: How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired,” National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002.
2. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “The nonviolent script for Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003.
3. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.)
4. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
5. Spencer, Metta, “Gene Sharp 101.” Peace Magazine, July-September 2003. “Personally, I think Chavez is steering the wrong course on economic matters,” writes Spenser. “They won’t get out of the hole until they have different policies.”
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Spencer, Metta, “Democracy matters: A conversation with Seymour Martin Lipset,” Peace Magazine, July-September, 2000.
9. Spencer, Metta, “Introduction: Nonviolence versus a dictatorship,” Peace Magazine, October-December, 2001.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Bacher, John, “On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals,” Peace Magazine, October-December 2004.
13. From the Editor, Peace Magazine, April-June, 2003.
14. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.
15. Metta Spencer, “Ushering Democracy into Iraq – Nonviolently,” Peace Magazine, January-March 2003.
16. Pal, Amitabh, “Gene Sharp Interview,” The Progressive, March 2007.
17. From the editor, 2003.
18. Ibid.
19. Lee McKenna, “The nonviolent way in Sudan,” Peace Magazine, January-March, 2009.
20. Spencer, July-September 2003.
21. From the editor, 2003.
22. Spencer, Metta, January-March, 2003.
23. From the editor, 2003.

Overthrow Inc.: Peter Ackerman’s quest to do what the CIA used to do, and make it seem progressive

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“When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.”  [1a]

“Gene Sharp [is] the author of a series of books on nonviolent conflict who is generally credited with being the first person to study rigorously the techniques of mass civil disobedience and place them in the context of traditional military strategy.” [1b]

Interviewer: (Some people say) a government cannot fund or sponsor the overthrow of another government!

Gene Sharp: Why not?…What do they prefer that the U.S. spend money on? [1c]

By Stephen Gowans

Peter Ackerman, an immensely wealthy investor and board member of the premier U.S. foreign policy think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, [2] and Robert Helvey, a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Army [3] who served two tours of duty in Vietnam [4], are the principal proponents of a nonviolent alternative to military intervention in the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy goals. Students of Gene Sharp, who developed a theory of how to destabilize governments through nonviolent means, Ackerman and Helvey have been at the head of a kind of Imperialist International, training “a modern type of mercenary,” who travel “the world, often in the pay of the U.S. government or NGOs, in order to train local groups” [5] in regime change. Ackerman and Helvey’s new type of mercenary are practioners of what the CIA used to call destabilization. To escape the taint of its CIA past, destabilization has been rebranded as nonviolent resistance (NVR), shrewdly drawing upon the reputation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent struggles for black civil rights in the 1960s. But where King sought to bring about change within the system, and in the United States, NVR is strictly a foreign affair, seeking to overturn governments abroad that operate outside the system of U.S. imperial domination. NVR is not about pursuing social, economic and political justice at home. It’s about taking power overseas, in order to bring resistant countries into the U.S. imperial fold. To make itself appear to be squeaky clean, NVR explicitly rejects overt CIA and U.S. military sponsorship. As Helvey explains, “The easiest way to destroy a movement is for the CIA to taint it.” [6] That, however, doesn’t make NVR any different in its aims and content from the destabilization campaigns the CIA used to plan, sponsor and implement. Indeed, Ackerman and Helvey have simply taken over a CIA function, made it semi-overt, and created the illusion that it’s progressive.

What is it?

Ackerman defines NVR as “the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience” [7] in addition to mass protests [8] and even nonviolent sabotage, to disrupt the functioning of government [9] and make “a country ungovernable.”[10] Since strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience are traditional leftist techniques, NVR campaigns often garner the support of a large number of left-leaning people. But NVR isn’t holding a demonstration, listening to speakers, and then heading home for supper. Neither is it pressuring elites — what most Western leftists set as the limit of their political activism. It isn’t pacifism based on moral or religious principle, either. Former Harvard researcher Sharp, explains that NVR and principled nonviolence are not the same. Principled nonviolence is “abstention from violence based on ethical or religious beliefs.” NVR is a political technique for overthrowing foreign governments. [11] “It’s not about making a point, it’s about taking power.” [12]

Since the aim of NVR is to take political power abroad, NVR can be characterized as a form of Western warfare, employing nonviolent armies behind enemy lines. In fact, it was Sharp’s analysis of how regime change could be accomplished effectively that drew Helvey, the U.S. Army veteran, to the Clausewitz of nonviolence, as Sharp is known, after the Prussian military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz. [13]

Helvey had been the military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, where he witnessed armed opposition groups repeatedly fail in their attempts to overthrow the Myanmar government. [14] The trouble was that rebel groups were going up against a regular army that could exercise overwhelming force. Sharp’s analysis suggested an alternative. Drawing on social science literature on power, Sharp pointed out that governments have two sources of power: their ability to exact obedience coercively through their control of armies, police, courts and prisons; and their moral authority. Since a government can use overwhelming force to defeat most internal armed challenges, the key to taking power is to undermine the reason most people obey: because they believe their government is legitimate and has a right to rule. In Sharp’s view, most people obey, not because they’re compelled to, but because they want to. If a government’s legitimacy is undermined, people will no longer want to obey. That’s when they can be mobilized to participate in strikes, boycotts, acts of civil disobedience, even sabotage – anything that makes the country ungovernable. “Removing the authority of the ruler,” according to NVR advocates, “is the most important element in nonviolent struggle.” [15]

NVR holds that destabilization works best when the target government is not “supported by an entrenched party system that can claim a higher ideological purpose.” [16] This may explain why destabilizers have attacked the ideological basis of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF leadership, suggesting that the party’s leader and Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, maintains a “hold on power (that) is…reliant on personal loyalties and their reinforcement by material rewards and mortal penalties,” not commitment to national independence. [17] In regime change discourse, Mugabe is said to have cronies, who he rewards with confiscated farms, to hold on to power. That Mugabe and his principals could be genuinely committed to investing Zimbabwe’s nominal post-colonial independence with real content, is dismissed by NVR promoters as out of the question. The same cynical arguments are used to challenge the moral authority of Cuba’s government. The Castros are accused of being motivated by an unquenchable thirst for power, not an ideological commitment to socialism and national independence. For destabilizers, breeding a cynical view of the leaders of countries in their cross-hairs is a necessary part of undermining their targets’ legitimacy.

To buttress their efforts to undermine the moral authority of target governments, the destabilizers depend critically on the frequent use of the words “dictatorial” (to denote the governments they seek to bring down) and “democratic” (to denote the target government’s opponents.) It doesn’t matter whether the target governments are truly dictatorial or whether their opponents are truly democratic. What matters is that these things are believed to be true. Getting people to believe target governments are dictatorial is done by repeating the charge incessantly, until the idea takes on the status of common knowledge, so widely accepted that proof is unnecessary.

But what if the “dictator” has been elected, as is often the case in destabilization efforts? The destabilizers’ solution is to claim the elected leader came to power illegitimately, by means of electoral fraud. For example, while widely denounced in the West as fraudulent, the recent re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears not to have been fraudulent at all. No compelling evidence of vote rigging was ever presented, and the only rigorous public opinion poll done in the weeks leading up to the election — sponsored by the Ahmadinejad-hating International Republican Institute — predicted the Iranian president would be re-elected by a handsome margin. Indeed, the poll foresaw Ahmadinejad winning by a greater margin that he actually did win. [18] Still, Western media and their governments’ propaganda apparatuses — Voice of America, Radio Free Liberty and the misnamed “independent” media that serve as fronts for the Western governments that finance them – repeated the opposition charge of electoral fraud over and over. Soon, the mass media and state propaganda apparatuses were singing out as one: the election was rigged.

In Zimbabwe, which for a number of years has been a target of the destabilizers, elections are routinely denounced as fraudulent, even before they’re held. This was true too of Zimbabwe’s last elections, which saw the opposition parties win more seats than the governing party, and the main opposition leader beat the sitting president in the first round of the presidential vote. While this is powerful evidence the elections weren’t rigged, the destabilizers continue to insist the presidential vote was illegitimate. This is so because the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out at the 11th hour. Tsvangirai’s decision appears to have come straight from the destabilizers’ playbook. Had he stayed in the race, he might have lost, and relinquished any possibility of challenging Mugabe’s rule as illegitimate. (He couldn’t credibly say the vote was rigged because he had won the first round.) By dropping out, and blaming his decision on violence perpetrated by Mugabe’s supporters, Tsvangirai could challenge Mugabe’s moral authority to rule. After all, he could say that in the only contested election, he had won.

Likewise, an important part of the destabilizers’ efforts to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic was to declare well before the first vote was cast in the 2000 presidential election that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Milosevic would win, illegitimately. In fact, Milosevic came second to the main opposition leader, who failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote. With no candidate commanding a clear majority, a run-off election was scheduled. The runoff never happened. Instead, Milosevic was overthrown with the help of forces trained by Helvey [19]…in the name of democracy.

To complement the branding of target governments as dictatorial, opposition forces are branded as democratic. It is no accident that the main opposition party in Serbia, formed under the guidance of U.S. advisers [20], was called the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or that the main opposition party in Zimbabwe is called the Movement for Democratic Change, or that the main opposition party in Myanmar, Helvey’s pet project, is called the National League of Democracy. Western media reinforce this branding by frequently referring to opposition parties in countries undergoing destabilization as “the democratic opposition,” implying the governments they oppose are dictatorial. This invests the opposition, and its struggle to replace the government, with apparent legitimacy, while undermining the legitimacy of the government under attack. Likewise, the modern nonviolent mercenaries who travel the globe in the pay of the U.S. government and NGOs, are celebrated as “pro-democracy” activists, as are the armies of (typically) youth activists they train. Even some left scholars, out of ignorance or collaboration, refer to these groups as an “independent” democratic left, presumably because they use techniques traditionally associated with the left, though hardly with the same aims.

After absorbing Sharp’s teachings, Helvey became deeply involved in helping the National Council Union of Burma try to destabilize the Myanmar government, not by challenging it militarily, but by undermining its moral authority to govern. He took a detour along the way, to train Serb youth groups on how to destabilize the government of Slobodan Milosevic [21], an event Ackerman would celebrate in a documentary titled (with predictable NVR language distortion) “Bringing Down a Dictator.” With the socialist-leaning Milosevic safely out of the way, and Serbia opening its door to takeover by U.S. investors, Helvey jumped back into organizing the destabilization of Myanmar.

Over a number of years, Helvey’s mercenaries,

“trained an estimated 3,000 fellow Burmese from all walks of life – including several hundred Buddhist monks – in philosophies and strategies of non-violent resistance and community organizing. These workshops, held in border areas and drawing people from all over Burma, were seen as ‘training the trainers’ who would go home and share these ideas with others yearning for change.” [22]

“That preparation – along with material support such as mobile phones – helped lay the groundwork for dissident Buddhist monks in September (2007) to call for a religious boycott of the junta, precipitating the biggest anti-government protests in two decades. For 10 dramatic days, monks and lay citizens…poured into the streets in numbers that peaked at around 100,000 before the regime crushed the demonstrations…” [23]

The U.S. Navy would dearly love to lay its hands on Myanmar. The country lies strategically along the Strait of Malacca, a major shipping-lane linking China to the oil of Western Asia and Africa. Control of Myanmar would allow the U.S. Navy to choke off one of China’s major oil supply routes, bringing the behemoth to its knees, if ever Washington felt the need. The Myanmar government, however, has aligned itself with China, and is not ready to allow the Pentagon to use its ports as naval bases. What’s more, the country has a largely state-owned economy, closed to U.S. corporations, banks and investors. Washington would like to bring Myanmar under its control, and Helvey and Ackerman’s destabilization techniques offer the best chance of doing so.

“Burmese opposition activists acknowledge receiving technical and financial help for their cause.” The help came “from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros’s Open Society Institute and several European countries. […] International donors and activists figure Burmese opposition groups received $8m-$10m in 2006 and again in 2007 from American and European funders… […] In 2006 and 2007, the (U.S.) congressionally funded NED…spent around $3.7M a year on its Burmese program…These funds were used to support opposition media, including the Democratic Voice of Burma, a radio station and satellite television channel to bolster dissidents’ information technology skills and to help exiles’ training of Buddhist monks and other dissident techniques of peaceful political resistance.” [24]

From 1992 to 1998, Helvey taught eight, six-week courses to more than 500 members of the National Council Union of Burma, on how to apply Sharp’s techniques to overthrow the Myanmar government [25]. More recently “some 600 Burmese have gone through both introductory and advanced courses” in destabilization taught by the Albert Einstein Institution [26]. Sharp is the organization’s scholar in residence.

Antiviolence, not antiwar

Antiwar activists will find no ideological soul mates in Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp, who are conditionally against the use of violence, not out of moral principle, but because they believe violence is often an ineffective method of achieving what political violence is normally intended to achieve: the seizure of power. As New Republic writer Franklin Foer points out, “Ackerman’s affection for nonviolence has nothing to do with the tactic’s moral superiority. Movements that make a strategic decision to eschew violence, he argues, have a far better record of” success. [27]

The destabilizers represent a faction within the U.S. ruling class that pushes for a nonmilitary means of achieving a goal all ruling class factions agree on: regime change in countries that resist integration into the U.S. imperial orbit. Ackerman, for example, argues that “It is not true that the only way to ‘take out’ (axis of evil regimes) is through U.S. military action.” [28] He opposes the faction led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, which favors a robustly militaristic imperialism, based on the overwhelming use of force. In the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, Ackerman and DuVall wrote an article in Sojourner’s Magazine arguing that “anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone (Saddam Hussein) has a responsibility to suggest how he might otherwise be ushered out the backdoor of Baghdad.” (Notice Ackerman and DuVall implicitly removed the option of leaving Saddam Hussein’s fate to Iraqis, to decide for themselves, without outside interference.) The answer, they contended, was to “use a panoply of forceful sanctions – strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, disrupting the functions of government, even nonviolent sabotage…” [29]

Ackerman’s mentor, Sharp, expresses similar views. Asked what he thought of mass demonstrations in the United States against the war on Iraq, Sharp replied,

“I don’t think you can get rid of violence by protesting against it. I think you get rid of violence only if people see that you have a different way of acting, a different way of struggle. […] Part of my analysis is that if you don’t like violence, you have to develop a substitute. Then people have a choice. If they don’t see a choice, then violence is all that they really have. […] The thing that is most shocking is that the Bush Administration acted on the basis of the belief – dogma, ‘religion’ – in the omnipotence of violence. […] The assumption is an invading country can come in, remove its official leader, arrest some of the other people, and well, then, the dictatorship is gone.” [30]

In other words, Sharp’s contribution to the peace movement is showing the U.S. ruling class it can achieve its imperialist goals by nonmilitary means. Sharp and his disciples Ackerman and Helvey aren’t progressives at all. Nor are they advocates of the moral superiority of nonviolence. They’re imperialists who believe violence isn’t always the best policy in achieving imperial goals. The antiwar activists who have been misled by this trio, and by their publicist within the progressive community, Stephen Zunes, should be clear that NVR is a military technique yoked to political goals that serve the ruling class interests of the United States. It is not a moral position. It is a form of warfare with imperial political content. Helvey calls it “nonviolent war.” [31]

“It’s a form of warfare. And you’ve got to think of it in terms of a war. […] What is it that I want to accomplish? And how do I want to accomplish it? […] One option, of course, is an armed struggle. Another option is…a nonviolent struggle. And in some cases the ballot box is the way to bring about change. […] You’ve got to make a decision which is a strategic decision. And if you decide to accept nonviolent struggle, the same principles of war (apply.)” [32]

War can be waged in many ways: economically, through sanctions, blockade and financial isolation; militarily, through the use or threat of violence; electronically, through cyber attacks to freeze an enemy’s bank accounts and cripple its government and communication systems; and through other methods of destabilization, to make an enemy society ungovernable. It’s wrong to believe that war is limited to violence and that violence is always the most injurious form of warfare. Other forms can be just as devastating. For example, sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s were estimated to have led to the deaths through malnutrition and disease of well over one million people, an outcome Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations with Ackerman, said was worth it. [33] Political scientists John and Karl Mueller pointed out that more people have died from sanctions (an element of NVR, as we’ll see in a moment) than from weapons of mass destruction. [34] For these reasons, antiwar activists should ask: What am I against: Violence — or warfare (both violent and nonviolent) to achieve imperialist goals?

Outside assistance

In his earlier writings Ackerman was open about Western support for destabilization campaigns. But in more recent articles he has become circumspect, calling destabilization movements home-grown and arguing that “external aid can help, but it’s neither necessary nor sufficient.” [35] He was not so modest about the role played by the West when he boasted in a 2002 National Catholic Reporter article about Serb students bringing Milosevic down without a shot being fired. In that article he wrote about how “massive civilian opposition can be roused with the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience and other forms of nonviolent resistance – all of which can be quietly assisted, even funded from abroad, as happened in Serbia.” [36] The reference to outside assistance being delivered quietly shows he’s aware that were it widely known that so-called “people power” movements are aided from abroad, their moral authority (and alleged home-grown character) would be called into question. That explains why “An iron rule for (the Milosevic opposition) was never to talk about Western financial or logistical support,” [37] and why, with the massive involvement of Western governments in “people power” movements having since become a matter of public record, Ackerman denies that outside aid is necessary. But only the incorrigibly gullible would believe Western governments and corporate foundations spend countless millions funding destabilization movements unnecessarily.

U.S. involvement in the hardly spontaneously erupting drive to dump Milosevic was massive. As the Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs reported,

“U.S.-funded consultants played a crucial role behind the scenes in virtually every facet of the anti-Milosevic drive, running tracking polls, training thousands of opposition activists and helping to organize a vitally important parallel vote count. U.S. taxpayers paid for 5,000 cans of spray paint used by student activists to scrawl anti-Milosevic graffiti on walls across Serbia, and 2.5 million stickers with the slogan “He’s Finished,” which became the revolution’s catchphrase.” [38]

Helvey was at the center. [39] “Behind the seeming spontaneity of the street uprising that forced Milosevic” from power “was a carefully researched strategy put together by (anti-Milosevic forces on the ground) with the active assistance of Western advisers and pollsters.” [40] The U.S. government “employed every element of Sharp’s nonviolent strategy for destroying” a foreign government. To assist, “sanctions were applied in a … targeted fashion. For example, they were not applied to municipalities that voted to support opposition politicians.” [41]

Washington spent $41 million to oust Milosevic, $10 million in 1999 and $31 million in 2000. “The lead role was taken by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development…which channeled the funds through commercial contractors” [42] and the National Endowment for Democracy, established by the Reagan administration to overtly fund destabilization campaigns the CIA once funded covertly.

Helvey, the military strategist, might disagree with Ackerman about outside assistance being unnecessary. According to Helvey, in order to carry out a successful destabilization campaign,

“You need radios and the ability to produce and distribute information. You need to be able to train. You need to provide the activists with some income to take care of their families. When people get arrested, you need to take food to them in prison or the hospital.” [43]

Real grassroots activists — that is, those who aren’t dependent on lucre from philanthropic foundations — are unlikely to have the cash to pay for the inputs a campaign of nonviolent warfare requires. That’s where Western governments and corporate foundations come in. They’re often happy to furnish the needed material support, because the power-seizing aim of NVR has happy consequences for the bottom lines of their transnational business and investor patrons. If real grassroots activists think they’re going to secure foundation or government funding for genuinely democratic and socialist projects, they’re mistaken. Western governments and corporate foundations limit funding to activists who, whether they know it or not, act to advance corporate and imperialist goals.

Even Ackerman disagrees that outside help is unnecessary. In a Christian Science Monitor article written with Jack DuVall in 2002, Ackerman complained that Iranians didn’t have the “know-how” to take power from the government in Tehran and that the know-how should be delivered by Western “pro-democracy programs.” (He cautioned that aid should “not come from the CIA or Defense Department,” to keep the movement seemingly free from taint.)[44] He echoed this view in a New York Time’s article written with Ramin Ahmadi, pointing to the lack of “a clear strategic vision and steady leadership” among the anti-Ahmadinejad opposition. [45] At the same time, he advised readers to watch the streets of Tehran, seemingly confident the know-how and clear strategic vision and steady leadership would be delivered. And he called on,

“Nongovernmental organizations around the world (to) expand their efforts to assist Iranian civil society, women’s groups, unions and journalists. And the global news media should finally begin to cover the steady stream of strikes, protests and other acts of opposition…” [46]

This was a curious appeal from someone who believes outside aid is unnecessary.

The New Republic’s Franklin Foer wrote that “Ultimately, (Ackerman) envisions events (in Iran) unfolding as they did in Serbia, with a small, well-trained, nonviolent vanguard introducing the idea of resistance to the masses.” [47] Ackerman, of course, could be sure the vanguard would be helped by a substantial injection of money from outside, as happened in Serbia — aid Ackerman claims is unnecessary.

Whether necessary or not, Washington has delivered. Last June, The Washington Post reported that,

“The Bush administration told Congress last year of a secret plan to dramatically expand covert operations inside Iran as part of a long-running effort to destabilize the country’s ruling regime…The plan allowed up to $400 million in covert spending for activities ranging from spying on Iran’s nuclear program to supporting rebel groups opposed to the country’s ruling clerics…” [48]

Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp are part of the $400 million campaign. According to Sharp,

“Our work is available in Iran and has been since 2004. People from different political positions are saying that’s the way we need to go. […] If somebody doesn’t decide to use military means, then it is very likely there will be a peaceful national struggle there.” [49]

For his part, Ackerman has several ideas for ousting Ahmadinejad. His films on destabilizing governments have been translated into Farsi, and are broadcast repeatedly over the Los Angeles-based Iranian satellite networks. He has worked with Helvey to train Iranian Americans, many of them followers of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed shah. And the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), which Ackerman founded, and which progressive Stephen Zunes is a part of, has made contacts with the referendum movement within Iran, which campaigns for a binding vote on the clerical state. [50]

“Events in Iran are reminiscent of Serbia just before a student-sparked movement removed Slobodan Milosevic,” write Ackerman and DuVall. “His regime had alienated not only students but most of the middle class, which the dismal economy had shattered.” [51]

Ah, the economy. What Ackerman and DuVall ignore is that Western sanctions were instrumental in crippling the Yugoslav economy, and therefore in alienating students and the middle class. Disorganizing an economy through sanctions is an important part of nonviolent strategic regime change, a point John Bacher made in a Peace Magazine article on Robert Helvey. Bacher describes the targeted sanctions employed by the U.S. government against municipalities that voted to support Milosevic as being one of the elements of Sharp’s nonviolent strategy. [52] Significantly, Washington applies multiple sanctions against and financially isolates countries that are the targets of NVR destabilization efforts: Zimbabwe, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar and Cuba. Economic warfare, though nonviolent, wreaks terrible devastation, while providing immeasurable help to the destabilizers.

An Imperialist International

In a Dissent Magazine article, Mark R. Beissinger remarks on how overthrowing governments

“has now become an international business. In addition to the millions of dollars of aid involved, numerous consulting operations have arisen, many of them led by former revolutionaries themselves. Since the Serbian revolution, for instance, Otpor (youth) activists (trained by Helvey) have become, as one Serbian analyst put it, ‘a modern type of mercenary,’ traveling the world, often in the pay of the U.S. government or NGOs, in order to train local groups in how to organize a democratic revolution. A number of leaders of the Ukrainian youth movement Pora were trained in Serbia at the Center for Nonviolent Resistance, a consulting organization set up by Otpor activists to instruct youth leaders from around the world in how to organize a movement, motivate voters, and develop mass actions. […] After the Rose and Orange Revolutions, Georgian and Ukrainian youth movements began to challenge Otpor’s consulting monopoly. Pora activists even joked about creating a new Comintern for democratic revolution.” [53]

Foer borrows Leninist terminology to describe destabilization activists as a vanguard. [54] Lenin, however, was never interested in promoting imperialism; this vanguard is. Consider Nini Gogiberidze. Every few months she is deployed abroad to teach activists how to destabilize their governments. She has traveled to Eastern Europe to train Belarusians and Turkey to instruct Iranians. She is employed by the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas, one of the many organizations in the destabilizers’ network. “The group is funded in part by the International Republican Institute,” the international arm of the GOP “and Washington-based Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. government.” [55] Freedom House is a CIA-interlocked [56] organization of which Ackerman was not too long ago chairman of the board.

But building an imperialist international is not solely the project of Freedom House. The ICNC, the organization Ackerman founded, is also heavily involved. Ackerman regularly holds conferences hosting new recruits into the destabilization vanguard from around the world. One recent summer “he brought activists from more than a dozen countries to a retreat in the Montreal suburbs for a week of solidarity and study.” ‘We can’t say where they are from,” Ackerman said. “’But think of the 20 biggest assholes in the world, and you can guess.’” [57]

I’m thinking of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Benjamin Netanyahu, but Ackerman isn’t training a vanguard to destabilize the United States, Britain and Israel. He benefits too much from their dominant positions. And yet these are the world’s principal purveyors of massive violence. You would think that proponents of nonviolence would surely set their sights on undermining violence’s biggest champions. Instead, Ackerman’s 20 biggest assholes seem to be the leaders of Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Gaza, and Venezuela, judging by where Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp have been active: countries that are charting their own course, outside the U.S. imperial orbit. The State Department has distributed Ackerman-produced destabilization videos to anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba. “When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.” [58] Ackerman has sent a trainer to Palestine “to spend twelve days creating a nonviolent vanguard to challenge Hamas.” [59] The list goes on.

Who is Peter Ackerman?

Ackerman is the managing director of Rockport Capital Incorporated, a private investment firm. He was chairman of the board of Freedom House and sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and various other war criminals, CEOs, investment bankers, and highly placed media people.

As part of his Council on Foreign Relations role, Ackerman not too long ago participated in a task force headed by former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA Director and current U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The goal: to craft a new approach to Iran. [60] He is also a member of the U.S. Advisory Council of the United States Institute for Peace, a phoney U.S. government peace outfit headed by the U.S. secretaries of defense and state. And when he’s not hobnobbing with the U.S. foreign policy establishment and managing his investment firm, he’s building an Imperialist International through the offices of the ICNC, of which he is the founding chair.

Ackerman made his fortune working alongside junk-bond king Michael Milken. His “Prada parka and winter tan remind you that you’re not in tattered NGO-land anymore. You’re in the presence of wealth.” [61] After graduating from Colgate, he joined the graduate program at Tufts University Fletcher School, where he met Gene Sharp. “Ackerman spent eight on-and-off years at Tuft’s refining Sharp’s thesis.” [62] After obtaining a PhD in 1976, he joined investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, where, according to James B. Stewart’s Den of Thieves, he had his head so far up his boss’s ass, he was known as “the Sniff”. [63] Recruited by Milken to work as one of Drexel’s traders, Ackerman soon became the junk bond king’s highest-paid subordinate. In 1988, he made $165 million, after putting together the $26 billion KKR leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. One year later, his net worth having soared to about $500 million, he quit finance and turned to whittling down his 1,100 page PhD dissertation into a book, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. [64]

It should come as no surprise that a man who reeks of wealth, heads a private investment firm, and sits on the board of the premier U.S. establishment think-tank, defines a central element of democracy as protecting “property rights.” [65] Indeed, the promotion of this central tenet of capitalist ideology is the reason Freedom House, the organization he formerly headed, exists. “You can’t,” Ackerman insists, “have government constantly expropriating the fruits of the labor of its citizens.” [66] Which citizens? Since property rights, in the words of Ackerman and other owners of productive property, are the rights of ownership to what other people have produced, Ackerman equates democracy with capitalism. What he really wants to protect is the right of investors (himself included) to expropriate the fruits of other peoples’ labor. That might explain why he thinks the United States, the world’s premier champion of capitalist exploitation, “has an awful lot to teach people around the world.” [67]

Conclusion

The destabilizers are clever marketers. They choose their words carefully. They draw on the reputation of nonviolent resistance, popularized in the United States by the civil rights struggle led by Martin Luther King Jr. And they repeat the words “democracy” and “dictator” endlessly. It’s all part of a clever marketing campaign, one that has deceived more than a few leftists in the Western countries whose financial and corporate elite profit from NVR. But then, you have to be clever to take on the former CIA function of destabilizing foreign governments, make it seem progressive, and get away with it.

Let’s be clear on what NVR is, what its goals are, and who’s behind it. It’s not nonviolence as a moral or ethical position; it’s a form of warfare, aimed at taking political power in other people’s countries. And while it’s based on nonviolence, it has, in its reliance on sanctions and financial isolation as an integral part of alienating people from target governments, devastating consequences, as real as those violence produces. It’s not used by grassroots organizations in the West to force their own governments to change reactionary policies, or to take political power at home. Instead, it is invariably aimed at foreign governments that have resisted integration into the U.S. imperial orbit. The major proponents of NVR are not independent grassroots organizers, socialists or anarchists. They are, instead, members of the U.S. financial and foreign policy establishment, or are linked to them in subordinate roles through organizational and funding ties. NVR is hardly progressive; it is an imperialist project whose only redeeming feature is the possibility that it may stimulate Western leftists to think about how they too might use the destabilizers’ techniques to take power in their own country to win the authentic battle for democracy.

1a. Foer, Franklin, “Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.
1b. Lake, Eli, “Iran launches a crackdown on democracy activists,” The New York Sun, March 14, 2006.
1c.  Spencer, Metta, “Gene Sharp 101,” Peace Magazine, July-Spetmeber, 2003.
2. Ibid.
3. Spencer, Metta, “Training pro-democracy movements: A conversation with Colonel Robert Helvey,” Peace Magazine, January-March, 2008. http://archive.peacemagazine.org/v24n1p12.htm
4. Dobbs, Michael, “US advice guided Milosevic opposition,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2000.
5. Beissinger, Mark R., “Promoting democracy: Is exporting revolution a constructive strategy?” Dissent, Winter 2006. http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=155
6. Bacher, John, “Robert Helvey’s expert political defiance,” Peace Magazine, April-June, 2003. http://archive.peacemagazine.org/v19n2p10.htm
7. Ackerman, Peter, “Paths to peace: How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired,” National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002.
8. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “The nonviolent script for Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003.
9. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.)
10. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
11. Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire, “Regime change without bloodshed,” National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 2002.
12. Ackerman and DuVall, 2002.
13. Peace.Ca, “Gene Sharp: A Biographical Profile.” http://www.peace.ca/genesharp.htm .
14. Bacher, 2003.
15. Dobbs, 2000.
16. Ackerman and DuVall, 2002.
17. Ibid.
18. Ballen, Ken and Patrick Doherty, “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want,” The Guardian (UK), June 15, 2009.
19. Bacher, 2003.
20. Dobbs, 2000.
21. Bacher, 2003.
22. Kazmin, Amy, “Defiance undeterred: Burmese activists seek ways to oust the junta,” Financial Times, December 6, 2007.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Bacher, 2003.
26. Shanahan, Noreen, “The NI Interview: Gene Sharp,” New Internationalist, Issue 296. November, 1997.
27. Foer, 2005.
28. Ackerman, 2002.
29. Ackerman and DuVall, 2002.
30. Pal, Amitabh, “Gene Sharp Interview,” The Progressive, March 2007.
31. Spencer, 2008.
32. CANVAS, “Is nonviolent action a form of warfare?” Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, 2004. http://www.canvasopedia.org/content/servbian_case/otpor_strategy.htm
33. 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996.
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.

34. Mueller, John, and Karl Mueller. 1999. Sanctions of mass destruction. Foreign Affairs vol.78, no.3:43-53.
35. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “Homegrown revolution,” International Herald Tribune, December 29, 2004.
36. Ackerman, 2002.
37. Dobbs, 2000.
38. Ibid.
39. Dobbs, 2000; Bacher, 2003; Spencer, 2008;
40. Dobbs, 2000.
41. Bacher, 2003.
42. Dobbs, 2000.
43. Spencer, 2008.
44. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
45. Ackerman, Peter and Ramin Ahmadi, “Iran’s future? Watch the streets,” The New York Times, January 4, 2006.
46. Ibid.
47. Foer, 2005.
48. The Washington Post, June 30, 2008.
49. Pal, 2007.
50. Foer, 2005.
51. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
52. Bacher, 2003.  Bacher is an example of how parts of the peace movement promote US imperialism. In an October-December 2004  Peace Magazine review of Robert Helvey’s  On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals, Bacher writes, “Rather than attempting to build costly and likely leaky shields for missiles from Iran and North Korea, why not seek nonviolently to change these regimes into democracies?”
53. Beissinger, 2006.
54. Foer, 2005.
55. Daragahi, Borzou, “A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution,” The Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
56. Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon Books, New York, 1988. p. 28.
57. Foer, 2005.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Brzezinski, Zbigniew and Robert M. Gates, “Iran: Time for a New Approach: Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, July 19, 2004. http://www.cfr.org/publication/7194/iran.html .
61. Foer, 2005.
62. Ibid.
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid.
65. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, “Interview with Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” October 19, 2006. http://www.international.gc.ca/cip-pic/discussions/democracy-democratie/video/ackerman.aspx?lang=eng .
66. Ibid.
67. Ibid.

Concerned Africa Scholars’ Jacob Mundy

with 9 comments

By Stephen Gowans

A member of the executive committee of the scholars’ organization that has accused Mahmoud Mamdani of falling for what it calls the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, has volunteered and worked for pro-imperialist organizations and has given briefings to the US State Department and Intelligence Council. (1)

Jacob Mundy, who co-edited a recent collection of articles posted on the Concerned Africa Scholars’ website, criticizing Mamdani for failing to take a hard negative line against Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party, was a Peace Corp volunteer and has held jobs with The International Crisis Group and Amnesty International. (2)

The Peace Corps “was spawned by the US cold war desire to compete with the Soviet bloc for influence in the third world.” While it no longer has a cold war mission, it remains, at its core, committed to a “battle for hearts and minds” (3) – instilling pro-West and pro-capitalist values in third world populations.

On top of its missionary function, the Peace Corps has been used as a CIA front.

“Those agents in the Peace Corps who were conscious of their role had several tasks. As they mingled with the people, they were identifying future leftist leaders as well as those right-wingers who in the future would work for U.S. interests. They were assessing consciousness, evaluating reactions to reforms. And they were selecting and training future agents.” (4)

That’s not to say Mundy is a CIA operative, only that his CV is replete with connections to organizations that are interlocked with the CIA or have served pro-imperialist roles, beginning with the Peace Corps.

Mundy’s term with the Peace Corps coincided with the directorship of Mark L. Schneider, who would later join the notoriously pro-imperialist International Crisis Group as Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America. Mundy would later show up at the ICG to serve a three month stint in 2005. (5)

The International Crisis Group is funded by such pro-imperialist and CIA pass-through organizations as the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, The Soros Open Society Institute and the Ronald Reagan established US Institute for Peace, of which the US Secretaries of State and Defense are ex officio board members.

The ICG’s board members, past and present, include US and British foreign policy luminaries, among them Wesley Clark (who commanded the Nato assault on Yugoslavia in 1999), cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski (who ordered the backing of the Mujahadin in Afghanistan), Lord Robertson (the former Secretary General of Nato), and billionaire financier George Soros, who has been active in bankrolling color revolutions. (6)

Also on the board is Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, wife of Peter Ackerman. Ackerman, another color revolution activist, is a member of the US ruling class Council on Foreign Relations, heads up the CIA interlocked Freedom House, and runs the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict (the ICNC).

The ICNC is significant for having Stephen Zunes, who once was a research fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, as a member of its academic council. What’s the connection to Mundy? Zunes is co-author, along with Mundy, of the forthcoming Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution in Northwest Africa.

The rights group Amnesty International, whose US branch Mundy worked for as assistant country specialist, North Africa, from 2004 to 2007, tends to reserve its harshest criticisms for countries outside the West, preferring a more reserved and nuanced approach to its criticisms of Western governments and their allies. This reflects an underlying commitment to the view that the West possesses a moral credibility which legitimizes its taking a leadership role in the world. For example, Amnesty International USA’s executive director, William Schulz, once called on George W. Bush to order a full investigation into the “atrocious human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers,” because,

“when the US government calls upon foreign leaders to bring to justice those who commit or authorize human rights violations in their own countries, why should those foreign leaders listen? And if the US government does not abide by the same standards of justice, what shred of moral authority will we retain to pressure other governments to diminish abuses?” (7)

In this can be glimpsed the basis of AI’s human rights imperialism – the idea that the US government has an obligation, borne of an assumed moral authority, to lead the world in the defense and promotion of human rights. It’s astonishing that anyone with even a passing acquaintance of US foreign policy would believe that the US hadn’t long ago surrendered the last ounce of moral credibility it ever had and is, without exception, the world’s worst human rights violator.

Former Amnesty International USA board member Dennis Bernstein underscored AI’s eagerness to expose human rights violations outside the West and kid gloves approach to Western countries in a 2002 interview.

“To be sure, if you are dealing with a human rights situation in a country that is at odds with the United States or Britain, it gets an awful lot of attention, resources, man and womanpower, publicity, you name it, they can throw whatever they want at that. But if it’s dealing with violations of human rights by the United States, Britain, Israel, then it’s like pulling teeth to get them to really do something on the situation. They might, very reluctantly and after an enormous amount of internal fightings and battles and pressures, you name it. But you know, it’s not like the official enemies list.” (8)

In 2006, Mundy wrote a paper on Western Sahara, Islam, Terrorism and Economic Marginality in the Sahara-Sahel for the U.S. National Intelligence Council, gave a presentation on Morocco and Western Sahara to the U.S. State Department and National Intelligence Council, and in August of that year, briefed Ambassador-designate for Algeria, Robert Ford on Western Sahara.(9)

Let’s review.

Mundy starts out working for the Peace Corps, an organization established expressly to serve imperialist goals, and which has a history of being used as a cover for, and means of, recruiting CIA agents.

He serves a short stint at the International Crisis Group, which is linked up with the US government foreign policy establishment, corporate foundations, and color revolution financier George Soros.

He spends four years working for Amnesty International, an organization whose eagerness to attack US foreign policy targets and reluctance to take on the US, Britain and its allies is notorious.

Meanwhile, he gives briefings to the US State Department and National Intelligence Council while co-authoring a book on Western Sahara with Stephen Zunes, who is active in the US-government-corporate-foundation-supported community of pro-democracy, non-violence activists who travel the world training youth to overthrow the governments of US foreign policy targets, among them the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe.

Next he shows up as member of the executive committee of the Concerned Africa Scholars, an organization offering a scholarly legitimation of the US, British and EU demonization of the Mugabe government, which these powers have openly targeted for regime change.

The orientation of the Concerned Africa Scholars and the background of one of its executive directors provide an answer to the obvious question: About what are the Concerned Africa Scholars concerned? The answer would seem to be legitimizing the narrative that justifies Western intervention in Zimbabwe (even if only limited to the new missionaries, NGOs (9)) and more broadly, in Africa as a whole.

1. Mundy’s CV was pointed out to me by Michael Barker, who has written indefatigably on the networks of organizations and individuals engaged in democracy manipulation.

2. Jacob A. Mundy, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Jacob_A._Mundy

3. Kevin Lowther, “‘Service to your country’ muddied by Peace Corps-military agreement”, Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 2005.

4. Annon, “Under the Cloak and Behind the Dagger”, North American Congress on Latin America, Latin America & Empire Report, July – August 1974, pp. 6-8.

5. Mark L. Schnieder, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Mark_L._Schneider

6. International Crisis Group, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=International_Crisis_Group

7. Alan Cowell, New York Times, May 26, 2005.

8. Francis A. Boyle and Dennis Bernstein, “Interview with Francis Boyle: Amnesty on Jenin, Covert Action Quarterly, Issue 73, Summer 2002.

9. Jacob A. Mundy, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Jacob_A._Mundy

10. One of the articles critical of Mamdani compiled by Mundy is written by a civil society scholar who is referred to in some anti-imperialist circles as Bond, Patrick Bond, of her majesty’s NGOs. Bond has labeled Sokwanele, a US-financed poplar insurrection group trained by “pro-democracy” non-violence activists, as an independent left, despite its connections to imperialist governments and corporate foundations. I’m not sure what Sokwanele is independent of, but it’s not independent of the US government’s regime change plans for Zimbabwe. Neither, it would seem, is Mundy.

Learning from color revolutions

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By Stephen Gowans

A common complaint made against critics of color revolutions, the Western-engineered insurrections that have brought neo-liberal governments to power in Serbia (the 5th October Overthrow), Georgia (the Rose Revolution), and Ukraine (the Orange Revolution), and have been attempted in Zimbabwe and Belarus, is that they err in minimizing the degree to which these revolutions are spontaneous, grass-roots-organized eruptions of popular anger against oppressive “regimes.”

One such defender of color revolutions, Philippe Duhamel, a “non-violent actionist (sic) and an educator for social change” takes issue with criticism of non-violence, pro-democracy activists who cheer on, and contribute to the organizing of, color revolutions (1). He argues that:

1. Criticism of such color revolution supporters as Stephen Zunes for his connections to ruling class foundations is unfair, and amounts to guilt by association; (2)
2. Color revolutions provide a model for non-violent social change in the West;
3. Anti-government mobilizations in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine were not imported from the West, but were grass-roots in origin.

Duhamel argues it is “possible for somebody to study the dynamics of popular revolutions and want to further nonviolent methods…without necessarily becoming a fan of the types of regime or rulers that emerge” – an implicit acknowledgement that the governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions, aided by “non-violent actionists and educators for social change,” are not the kinds of governments “pro-democracy” activists care to be associated with. No wonder. Western-directed uprisings have produced governments in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia committed to the Washington Consensus of harshness to the weak and indulgence to Western business interests. Considering that these uprisings have cleared the way for the ascension to power of governments that cater to the interests of the same Western governments and corporations that funded them (and hired the West’s docents of non-violent social change as color revolution advisors), they can hardly be said to be popular, progressive or democratic.

As regards studying color revolutions to apply their lessons to bringing about social change in the West, one must ask why it is that the model has enjoyed vaunted success in spring-boarding to power neo-liberal governments outside the West, but has failed to bring about a popular revolution in the West. (3) Color revolutions have relied heavily on funding from imperialist governments, ruling class foundations, and wealthy investors. (4) Western funding provides enormous advantages that genuine popular revolutions not aimed at serving imperialist goals struggle (usually unsuccessfully) to obtain. Obviously, Western governments and corporate foundations don’t fund revolutions in their own countries. (5) For this reason, color revolutions have been strictly non-Western phenomena.

In Serbia, where the 5th October Overthrow succeeded, and in Zimbabwe and Belarus, where Western governments and corporate foundations have worked to replicate the color revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, economic warfare and threats of military intervention were, and are, important regime change inputs. They conduce to the success of anti-government uprisings by establishing regime change as a necessary condition for ending the crisis conditions economic warfare and threatened (or actual) military intervention create. Whether techniques of non-violent direct action are more effective than other means of bringing about revolutionary change under siege conditions is an open question. What is clear is that in Ukraine and Georgia, anti-government mobilizations were bankrolled, organized and assisted by Western governments, corporate foundations and billionaire investor George Soros. Could anti-government mobilizations succeed in toppling governments in the West without the strategic advice, polling, legal support, media infrastructure, public relations backing, legal expertise, civil disobedience training, leadership education, hiring of full-time organizers, creation of unified political opposition parties, unqualified media support, and mountains of spending money that Western governments and corporate foundations have showered on color revolutionaries outside the West?

Duhamel and other pro-democracy non-violence activists argue that major social mobilizations cannot be created on demand from a socio-economic vacuum or imported from the US, but critics of color revolutions haven’t tried to make this case. The argument they make is that engineered uprisings depend on three critical inputs: a crisis (induced by economic warfare, actual or threatened military intervention, or related to the impugned legitimacy of an election); an understanding that relief from the crisis is contingent on removal of the government; and a united political opposition working with an interlocked civil society apparatus pursuing clear and specific goals related to removal of the government. (6) The idea that popular uprisings of sufficient mass and coherence to topple governments arise spontaneously is a pleasant thought, but fatally minimizes the necessity of crises, the establishment of a contingent relation between ending the crisis and overthrowing the government, and the advantages of generous funding in building an opposition capable of carrying out the assigned task of sweeping the government away.

The goals of color revolutionaries are narrow and circumscribed and quite different from those of truly popular revolutions. Color revolutionaries care about toppling the current government, not about the government that follows. Not surprisingly, color revolution enthusiasts in the West are usually completely unaware of the nature and character of governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions. They celebrate the process, not the outcome. Unlike color revolutions, truly popular revolutions have been concerned first with establishing new systems of government and second with removing the existing government because it stood in the way of achieving this goal. Color revolutions, however, are inspired by no positive vision, only a negative one.

The beneficiaries of color revolutions have been neo-liberal governments committed to privatizing publicly-owned assets, providing a low-wage, low-tax environment for Western investors, eliminating tariffs and subsidies to please Western exporters, and signing up to integration into Nato to please the Pentagon. For all their boasting about being pro-democratic, color revolutions haven’t brought democratic governments to power (democratic in the sense of representing the interests of the mass of citizens.) Since the outcome of ostensibly pro-democracy revolutions cannot, therefore, be said to be truly democratic, why it is that color revolutionaries don’t try again, if, indeed, democracy, or at least, removal of oppressive antidemocratic governments, is their true aim? Surely, equipped with techniques of non-violent activism imparted by corporate foundation-supported educators for social change, a movement, emboldened by success in toppling one oppressive government, would have no trouble toppling another – or at least, giving it a good try. Yet the post-revolutionary governments of Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, which have been no better than the ones they replaced, and in the case of Serbia, far worse, have faced no popular insurrections that have threatened to bring them down.(7)

Consider the case of Georgia’s Rose Revolution. The popular insurrection that brought US-trained corporate lawyer, and George W. Bush-admirer, Mikhail Saakashvili to power, has not ushered in a new, democratic, day. Instead, Georgia has become decidedly less democratic and emphatically friendlier to US corporate and military interests.

Lincoln A. Mitchell, a Georgia expert at Columbia University says that,

“The reality is that the Saakashvili government is the fourth one-party state that Georgia has had during the last 20 years, going back to the Soviet period. And nowhere has this been more apparent than in the restrictions on media freedom.” (8)

According to Sozar Subari, Georgia’s ombudsman for human rights,

“That Georgia is on the road to democracy and has a free press is the main myth created by Georgia that the West has believed in. We have some of the best freedom-of-expression laws in the world, but in practice, the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.” (9)

Indeed, so severe are the new government’s restrictions on the press that Nino Zuriashvili, a Georgian investigative journalist, says, “The paradox is that there was more media freedom before the Rose Revolution.” (10)

So why haven’t the Rose Revolutionaries trotted out their pro-democracy, non-violence techniques to oust the oppressive, anti-democratic and violence-prone Saakashvili (who sent troops to Iraq, started a war in South Ossetia, and sent riot police into the streets to bash the heads of demonstrators protesting the loss of their jobs)? One reason why is because they’re otherwise engaged doing Uncle Sam’s work elsewhere in the world. Instead of staying at home to topple the oppressive Saakashvili government, the non-violent, pro-democracy activists who helped organize the Rose Revolution have been “deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians” (11) but not Georgia.

Who deployed them abroad? Their employers, billionaire financier George Soros and “the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas. The group is funded in part by the International Republican Institute, which many describe as the international arm of the GOP, and Washington-based Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. government” (12) and is interlocked with the CIA. (13)

The other reason a second Rose Revolution hasn’t come along to sweep away the anti-democratic, pro-violence, Saakashvili is that while “U.S. support for Saakashvili resulted in a sharp increase in foreign aid to the Georgian government…funding for the advocacy groups that had been at the heart of the Rose Revolution dried up, forcing organizations to shut down programs that could monitor and challenge his decisions.” (14)

In other words, Washington cut off the funding that fuelled the Rose Revolution, and, predictably, without the impetus of generous funding, no grass-roots organized popular mobilization has arisen (or has, but is so starved for funds, and has such a low profile as a consequence, that nobody has noticed.) And yet pro-democracy, non-violence activists, who take money from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to train Belarusians, Iranians, Zimbabweans and Venezuelans to overthrow their governments, insist that color revolutions are not fuelled by Western lucre, but are grass-roots, independent, uprisings against oppression.

Finally, the idea that color revolutions are carried out non-violently, while also a pleasant thought, is without foundation. Engineered uprisings invariably arise in the context of implied or threatened violence, whether it is the persistent threat of non-violent demonstrators suddenly turning into a violent mob, or the threat of Western military intervention, lurking in the background of events related to efforts to oust the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe, and actual military intervention preceding the Serbian 5th October Overthrow.

Western-assisted revolutions have also been aided by the efforts of Western governments to destabilize target countries through economic warfare. The West imposed sanctions on the former Yugoslavia, and maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe and Belarus. As mentioned, these destabilizing efforts are accompanied by signals to the besieged population. Topple your government and the threats and sanctions end. These conditions (blackmail, in straightforward language) give birth to an incipient movement to overthrow the government, coalescing around the existing opposition. The hiring of full-time anti-government organizers, grants to establish “independent” media to shape public opinion, Voice of America and Radio Liberty broadcasts to further tilt public sentiment away from the local government, the hardships imposed by the West’s economic warfare, the training of activists in techniques of popular insurrection, diplomatic maneuvers to isolate the country internationally — these things together establish the conditions for the success of an engineered insurrection. At the same time, they challenge the idea that color revolutions are pure, spontaneous, and grass-roots-organized, not contrived, nurtured and facilitated from without.

Western-engineered insurrections cannot, then, serve as a paradigm for organizing in the West, for the ingredients essential to their success could never be expected in the foreseeable future to be present in the case of attempted popular revolutions in the US, UK, France or elsewhere in the Western world. The necessary crisis conditions, and the contingency between relief from the crisis and removal of the government, will have to arise independently of the will of Western ruling classes. In Serbia, Zimbabwe and Belarus, they have arisen owing to the will of Western ruling classes.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from attempted and successful color revolutions. There are two important lessons to be learned:

o Funding, and the organization that generous funding enormously facilitates, cannot be underestimated in its power to bring about disciplined mass mobilizations guided by clear and specific goals.
o Organizers serve the interests of those who provide the funding.

From this we can conclude that for a revolution to serve popular interests, its funding, unlike that of color revolutions (which have served Western corporate and military interests), must be popularly sourced. Non-popularly sourced leadership training, training in techniques of civil disobedience and insurrection, “independent” media and NGOs, serve the interests of their funders.

As regards the guilt by association of Stephen Zunes and his peers, it can be said that what they are guilty of is taking money from Western governments, ruling class foundations and wealthy individuals to train activists to topple foreign governments. The purpose of these activities, whether the guilty acknowledge it or not, is to clear the way for the ascension to power of reactionary dependent governments committed to catering to imperialist interests. What Zunes et al are associated with, then, are the outcomes of these insurrections – harsher, more uncertain, and certainly less democratic lives for the local populations, but enhanced profit-making opportunities for Western banks, corporations and investors. That the funding for these activities comes from Western governments, corporate-sponsored foundations and wealthy investors is no accident.

The argument of non-violent actionists and educators for social change that this funding contributes in no way to the success of antigovernment uprisings and in no way shapes their outcome is an obfuscation spurred by obvious self-interest. Those who take lucre from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to help bring to power foreign governments to cater to imperialist interests must be held accountable for the outcomes of their actions. They must not be allowed to hide behind the delusion that they’re only studying the dynamics of “popular revolutions” abroad in order to understand how to be bring about social change non-violently at home. Anyone who works diligently to overthrow foreign governments in order to clear the way for the more vigorous pursuit of imperialist interests can hardly be expected to be genuinely interested in bringing about truly democratic change at home.

1. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/#comments
2. Zunes has been criticized from the left by Michael Barker, “Peace activists, criticism and non-violent imperialism,” MRZine, January 8, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html and “Sharp reflection warranted: Non-violence in the service of imperialism,” Swans Commentary, June 30, 2008, http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html; John Bellamy Foster, “Reply to Stephen Zunes on imperialism and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” MRZine, January 17, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/foster170108.html; George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Making Excuses for Empire: Reply to Defenders of the AEI,” August 4, 2008, Venezuelanalysis.com, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3690; Netfa Freeman, “Zimbabwe and the battle of ideas,” The Black Agenda Report, September 25, 2008, http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=node/10802; and Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
3. Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/ and “The war over South Ossetia,” September 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/
4. Michael Barker, “Regulating revolutions in Eastern Europe,” ZNet, November 1, 2006, http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/2846
5. The funding that ruling class foundations and Western governments provide to left and progressive groups in the West is counter-revolutionary, intended to channel potential militancy into bureaucratic, litigious and electoral arenas where ruling class forces have the upper hand. Foundations are keen to support left groups that promote the idea that “we can change the world without taking power” and limit their goals to “pressuring elites”, i.e., leaving capitalist ruling class structures in place. Foundation grants are also used to upset the development of class consciousness by promoting identity politics and particularism. There is plenty of foundation funding available to support groups organized around women’s issues, ethnic media, gay, lesbian and transgender concerns, the elderly, and so on, but not for those working to create a working class conscious of its collective interests and place in history and the world. See Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, State University of New York Press, 2003.
6. Zimbabwe provides an example of how Western governments, media and foundations work together to destabilize target countries to promote anti-government uprisings. Western efforts to replicate Eastern European color revolutions in Zimbabwe have so far failed, possibly owing to the reality that the formula has become evident and target governments know what to expect and can take defensive actions. See Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/ and “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
7. For a summary of post-5th October Overthrow Serbia see Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
8. New York Times, October 7, 2008.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Borzou Daragahi “Soros’ Army: A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008
12. Ibid.
13. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988, p. 28. 17.
14. Philip P. Pan, “Georgia, a nation stalled on the road to democracy,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2009.

Cynicism as a substitute for scholarship

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“…against those who substitute moral certainty for knowledge, and who feel virtuous even when acting on the basis of total ignorance.”*

By Stephen Gowans

Mahmood Mamdani’s largely sympathetic analysis of the Mugabe government, “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” published in the December 4, 2008 London Review of Books, has been met with a spate of replies from progressive scholars who are incensed at the Ugandan academic throwing out the rule book to present an argument based on rigor and analysis, rather than on the accustomed elaboration of comfortable slogans and prejudices that has marked much progressive scholarship on Zimbabwe. Their criticism of Mamdani has been characterized by ad hominem assaults, arguments that either lack substance or sense, and the substitution of cynicism for scholarship.

Criticized by progressive scholars for shunning crude anti-Mugabe sloganeering.

Mahmood Mamdani: Criticized by progressive scholars for shunning crude anti-Mugabe sloganeering.

At the heart of what might be called the anti-Mugabe ideology lays the idea that the Zimbabwean leadership clings to power through crude anti-imperialist rhetoric used to divert blame for problems of its own making. This is an elaboration of elite theory — the idea that a small group seeks power for power’s sake, and manipulates the public through lies and rhetoric to stay on top. For example, one group of progressive scholars [1] complains about “Mugabe’s rhetoric of imperialist victimization,” while Horace Campbell argues that,

”The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.” [2]

Contrary to the empty rhetoric school of thought, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric is not unattended by anti-imperialist action, but in some extreme versions of anti-Mugabe thought, (for example, that put forward by Patrick Bond), Mugabe is an errand boy for Western capital. [3] The Zimbabwean leader’s anti-imperialist reputation is, according to this view, smoke and mirrors, an illusion conjured by a deft magician.

The Mugabe government’s anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonial credentials rest on the following:

o In the late 1990s, intervening militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the side of the young government of Laurent Kabila, to counter an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan forces backed by the US and Britain.

o Rejecting a pro-foreign investment economic restructuring program established by the IMF as a condition for balance of payment support (after initially accepting it.)

o Expropriating farms owned by settlers of European origin as part of a program of land redistribution aimed at benefiting the historically disadvantaged African population.

o Establishing foreign investment controls and other measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership of the country’s natural resources and enterprises.

Progressive scholars typically avoid mention of these anti-imperialist actions, for to do so would clash violently with the idea that Harare’s anti-imperialism is based on empty rhetoric. A few, however, do acknowledge these actions, but insist they were undertaken to enrich Mugabe and, aping US State Department and New York Times rhetoric, “his cronies.” Zimbabwe is said to have intervened militarily in the DRC to profit from the Congo’s rich mineral resources. Land is said to have been redistributed to reward Mugabe’s lieutenants (in which case, with 400,000 previously landless families resettled, Mugabe’s lieutenants comprise a sizeable part of the rural population). And measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership in Zimbabwe’s economy are said to have no other aim than to enrich Mugabe’s friends.

This substitutes cynicism for analysis. Has there been corruption in the land resettlement program? Asbolutely. But what human enterprise is free from corruption? What’s more, is the presence of corruption in a program, proof the program was undertaken for corrupt reasons? Measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership in the economy are scorned by progressive scholars for being capitalist. Fine, but a failure to be anti-capitalist is not equal to a failure to be anti-imperialist; nor is it proof of being pro-imperialist.

The foreign policy of capitalist governments is based in large measure on protecting their nationals’ ownership rights to foreign productive assets and promoting their access to foreign investment and export opportunities. Under the Mugabe government, ownership rights have not been safeguarded and foreign investment and export opportunities have been limited by tariff policies, foreign investment controls, subsidies and discrimination against foreign investors. Absent in the analyses of progressive scholars is the understanding of the Mugabe government’s policies from the point of view of the banks and corporations of the imperialist center. One key US ruling class foundation, The Heritage Foundation, complains that Zimbabwe’s “average tariff rate is high” and that “non-tariff barriers are embedded in the labyrinthine customs service;” that “state influence in most areas is stifling, and expropriation is common as the executive pushes forward its economic plan of resource distribution”; that Zimbabwe has “burdensome tax rates” and that “privatization has stalled”…”with slightly over 10 percent of targeted concerns privatized”…”and the government remains highly interventionist.” Of equal concern is Harare’s practice of setting “price ceilings for essential commodities,” “controls (on) the prices of basic goods and food staples,” and influence over “prices through subsidies and state-owned enterprises and utilities” – odd practices for what we’re to believe is a group of errand boys for Western capital. But perhaps of greatest concern to Western corporations and banks is Harare’s investment policies. “The government will consider foreign investment up to 100 percent in high-priority projects but applies pressure for eventual majority ownership by Zimbabweans and stresses the importance of investment from Asian countries, especially China and Malaysia, rather than Western countries.” [4] This paints a picture of the Mugabe government, not as a facilitator of Western economic penetration, but as economically nationalist, pursuing a program aimed at placing control of Zimbabwe’s land, natural resources and enterprises in the hands of black Zimbabweans. It is, in short, a black nationalist government. Clearly, Western investors don’t think Mugabe is working on their behalf. The only people who do are progressive scholars.

Confuses ZDERA with targetted sanctions.

Progressive scholar Horace Campbell: Confuses ZDERA with targetted sanctions.

The Mugabe government’s pursuit of black nationalist interests, which clashes in important ways with the interests of Western banks and corporations as well as with the minority population of settlers of European origin, has been met by a strong, multi-faceted response from the US, Britain and the EU. This has included the denial of balance of payment support and development aid, the building up of civil society as a pole of opposition to the Mugabe government, the creation of and subsequent direction of an opposition party, and an international campaign of vilification aimed at discrediting the Mugabe government. [5] Progressive scholars barely acknowledge the Western response, treating it more as an invention of the Mugabe government, used to manipulate the population and to deflect attention from its failings, than as a reality – a bowing to elite theory, rather than to the facts.

Campbell, for example, complains that,

“The Mugabe government blames all of its problems on the economic war launched by the USA and Britain. For the Mugabe regime, at the core of this economic war, are the targeted sanctions against Mugabe’s top lieutenants under its Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), passed by the Bush administration in 2001.” [6]

Campbell confuses targeted sanctions aimed at senior members of the Mugabe government, with ZDERA, an act which blocks Zimbabwe’s access to international credit, and, therefore, affects all Zimbabweans, not just Zanu-PF grandees. According to the act,

The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against–

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.” [7]

Zimbabwe’s economy, like that of any other Third World country, was never robust to begin with, and inasmuch as it has always relied heavily on Western inputs and access to Western exports, was never too difficult to push into crisis by Western governments intent on making a point. To pretend Washington, London and Brussels haven’t sought to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy, or are incapable of it, is absurd. ZDERA effectively reduces Zimbabwe’s access to the foreign exchange it needs to import necessities from abroad, including chemicals to treat drinking water, a significant point in the recent cholera outbreak. Development aid from the World Bank is also cut off, denying the country access to funds to build and repair the infrastructure needed to run a modern economy. Rather than banning the export of goods to Zimbabwe (the popular understanding of sanctions), the US has made importing goods a challenge. This doesn’t mean that Zimbabwe can’t import goods, or that there is no outside investment. What it does mean, however, is that Zimbabwe is denied access to the kind of financial support poor countries depend on to get by. The intended effect is to make Zimbabwe’s economy scream, and it has. Campbell, who, based on his equating ZDERA with targeted sanctions on individuals, doesn’t understand it, or hasn’t read it, dismisses the idea that the West’s economic warfare accounts for Zimbabwe’s economic troubles. He writes that,

“What has been clear from the hundreds of millions of dollars of investments by British, Chinese, Malaysian, South African and other capitalists in the Zimbabwe economy since 2003 is that the problems in Zimbabwe haven’t been caused by an economic war against the country.” [8]

This is like saying anyone exposed to an influenza virus couldn’t possibly be ill because he has received mega-doses of vitamins. Investment from non-Western sources may mitigate some of the problems created by ZDERA, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Chinese investment in platinum mines, for example, will not eliminate a balance of payment problem.

Understating the effects of ZDERA is not the only area in which progressive scholars go wrong; their failure to acknowledge Western efforts to build up a civil society with a mandate to destabilize Zimbabwe is another. This is inexcusable, since the efforts of Western governments to create, nurture, support, direct, and mentor opposition to the Mugabe government, including overthrow movements, is well documented [9] – mainly because these governments have been open about it — and is hardly new. It has been used elsewhere, famously in Chile, and recently in Venezuela, Belarus, and the former Yugoslavia.

One reason for the failure of progressive scholars to acknowledge the role played by Western governments and ruling class foundations in destabilizing Zimbabwe may be because they too benefit from the same sources of funding. Campbell’s critique of Mamdani, for example, was published at Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News is a project of the US ruling class Ford Foundation and of the Open Society Institute [10], a vehicle of billionaire financier George Soros to promote color-coded revolutions, under the guise of democracy promotion, in countries whose governments have been less than open to Western exports and investments. Pambazuka News is also sponsored by Fahamu [11]. While Fahamu no longer lists Western governments as funders, it has, in the past, been funded by the US State Department through USAID, by the British Parliament through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, by the British government through the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Department of International Development, and by the European Union. The US, Britain and EU are on record as seeking the overthrow of the Mugabe government. They fund the organizations that disseminate anti-Mugabe analyses and sloganeering. They do so with one aim: to overthrow the Mugabe government. Campbell’s protesting that he is opposed to imperialist interventions is a bit like buying crack on the street while professing opposition to drug dealing, or placing a Think Green sticker on the bumper of your new SUV. Similarly, progressive scholar Patrick Bond, whose anti-Mugabe diatribes can also be found at Pambazuka News, describes the overthrow movement Sokwanele as an independent left, seemingly unaware it is on the US government payroll. [12]

Hails Sokwanele as an independent left, seemingly unaware it is funded by the US government.

Progressive scholar Patrick Bond: Hails Sokwanele as an independent left, seemingly unaware it is funded by the US government.

Not only do progressive scholars ignore the links of Zimbabwe’s opposition to imperialist governments and foundations, they celebrate the opposition. Campbell refers to members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) as “brave fighters.” [13] Brave fighters they may be, but Campbell does not let on (or know) what Woza is fighting for. The group’s leader, Jenni Williams, won the US State Department’s 2007 International Woman of Courage Award for Africa, a plaudit presented to Williams by Condoleezza Rice in a March, 2007 ceremony in Washington. [14] It shouldn’t have to be pointed out that the US State Department’s priority is to secure the interests of US corporations and banks abroad, not the interests of the women of Zimbabwe. So why is the US State Department recognizing Williams? Not for her service to women’s rights, but because her activities help to destabilize Zimbabwe and bring closer the day the black nationalist program of the Mugabe government can be swept aside to clear the way for the unfettered pursuit of US corporate and banking interests. A US government report on the activities in 2007 of its mission to Zimbabwe reveals that the “US Government continued its assistance to Women of Zimbabwe Arise.” [15] US government assistance to Woza and other civil society organizations is channelled through Freedom House and PACT. Freedom House is interlocked with the CIA and is a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing,” according to Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. [16] It is headed by Peter Ackerman. Ackerman runs the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, of which Stephen Zunes, another progressive scholar, is chair of the board of academic advisors. Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, is a former director of the Albert Einstein Institute, an organization which trained activists in popular insurrection techniques to overthrow Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and has consulted with members of Zimbabwe’s civil society opposition on how to use non-violence to overthrow the Mugabe government. [17] Woza supports two US State Department propaganda vehicles: SW Radio Africa, a US State Department funded short-wave radio station that beams anti-Mugabe propaganda into Zimbabwe, and the Voice of America’s Studio 7, also funded by the US State Department to broadcast US foreign policy positions into Zimbabwe. [18] Zunes says Woza can by no means be considered American agents [19], echoing the progressive scholars’ line that there are no Western efforts to overthrow the Mugabe government; it’s all part of the anti-imperialist rhetoric Mugabe uses to stay in power.

Says Woza can by no means be considered American agents. The US government disagrees.

Progressive scholar Stephen Zunes: Says Woza can by no means be considered American agents. The US government disagrees.

One of the biggest problems for progressive scholars is that their wish to see the Mugabe government brought down inevitably means its replacement by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC. If Zanu-PF is deplored by some progressive scholars and demonized from the left for being capitalist, the MDC should have two strikes against it: it’s not only capitalist, it is unquestionably the errand boy of the imperialist center, a point one doesn’t have to twist oneself into knots to make, as is done whenever progressive scholars claim Mugabe, despite being sanctioned and vilified by the West, is kept afloat by and works on behalf of Western capital. The MDC’s subservience to Western corporate and banking interests is amply evidenced in its origins (Britain and British wealth provided the seed money), policy platform (decidedly pro-foreign investment), [20] and its advisors (the John McCain-led international arm of the Republican Party, the IRI [21]). Under an MDC government, the stalled privatization program the Heritage Foundation complains about will quickly be restarted. Foreign investment controls, subsidies, tariffs, and price controls will be terminated. Reversal of land reform, while it may come slowly, will inevitably happen, as a condition of ending ZDERA. IMF and World Bank loans will be extended, and the pro-foreign investment measures which are the inevitable condition of these loans will gladly be acceded to.

So, what do progressive scholars like Campbell offer as an antidote? “That Zimbabweans…oppose the neoliberal forces within the MDC to ensure that the suffering of working people does not continue after the ultimate departure of Robert Mugabe.” [22] There is more naiveté in this single sentence than there is in the average five year old. Please! Neoliberal forces have controlled the MDC from day one [22], and they’ve controlled the party because they hold its purse strings. Their control won’t disappear the moment Mugabe is gone; on the contrary, it is at that moment it will be strongest. But suppose, for a moment, that Campbell’s naive fantasy comes true, and that the forces that provide the funding that is the lifeblood of the MDC, yield to pressure from Zimbabweans, who, at one moment, vote the MDC into power, despite its neo-liberal platform, and at the next, ask the MDC to abandon the platform it was elected on. Were the MDC to yield to this pressure, it would face exactly the same response the Mugabe government faced when it backed away from neo-liberal policies: sanctions, destabilization, demonization and the threat of military intervention. The failure of Campbell to understand this evinces an unsophisticated understanding of the foreign policies of Western countries.

How droll, then, is the pairing of this breathtaking naiveté with the utter arrogance of progressive scholars. They dismiss Mamdani for failing “to look more deeply at the crisis” and for being “fooled by Mugabe’s rhetoric of imperialist victimization,” and then moan that preventing non-experts from falling for Mugabe’s rhetoric is “one of the more difficult tasks for scholars working on Zimbabwe.” And yet a far more difficult task, it would seem, is for the same scholars to acquaint themselves with the basics: what ZDERA is; why the West is waging economic warfare; what the policies of ZANU-PF are compared to the MDC’s and how these policies align, or fail to align, with the interests of Western banks and corporations; and who created and guides the opposition. Indeed, it could be said that one of the most difficult tasks for anti-imperialists working on Zimbabwe is to persuade progressive scholars to look more deeply into the crisis and not be fooled by imperialist rhetoric.

1. Timothy Scarnecchia, Jocelyn Alexander et al, “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” Letters, London Review of Books, Volume 31, No. 1, January, 2009.
2. Horace Campbell, “Mamdani, Mugabe and the African scholarly community,” Pambazuka News, December 18, 2008. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/52845
3. Bond, Patrick, “Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Like a Reactionary: Zimbabwe’s Descent,” Counterpucnh.org, March 27, 2007, http://www.counterpunch.org/bond03272007.html
4. Heritage Foundation, Index of Economic Freedom, 2008, http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/country.cfm?ID=Zimbabwe)
5. Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/
6. Campbell.
7. US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=107_cong_bills&docid=f:s494enr.txt.pdf
8. Campbell.
9. See the section titled “Regime Change Agenda” in Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/
10. Look under funders at Pambazuka News’ “About” page at http://www.pambazuka.org/en/about.php .
11. Ibid.
12. See Stephen Gowans, “Grassroot Lieutenants of Imperialism,” What’s Left, April 2, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/02/grassroots-lieutenants-of-imperialism/ and Stephen Gowans, “Talk Left, Funded Right,” What’s Left, April 7, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/07/talk-left-funded-right/.
13. Campbell.
14. Jim Fisher-Thompson, “Zimbabwean receives International Woman of Courage Award,” USINFO, March 7, 2007. http://www.america.gov/st/hr-english/2007/March/200703071523081EJrehsiF0.7266962.html
15. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PDACL121.pdf . See also Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes’ false statements on Zimbabwe and Woza,” What’s Left, September 30, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/stephen-zunes%e2%80%99-false-statements-on-zimbabwe-and-woza/
16. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon Books, New York, 1988, p. 28
17. Michael Barker, “Sharp Reflection Warranted: Non-violence in the Service of Imperialism,” Swans, June 30, 2008. http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html
18. See Woza’s website, http://wozazimbabwe.org/?page_id=29 ; “Studio 7, launched in 2003, is the Zimbabwe program of Voice of America, which is funded by the United States. The program is broadcast in Shona, Ndebele and English, and is beamed into Zimbabwe from a transmitter in Botswana on the AM signal and by shortwave.” Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 26, 2005. In an April 5, 2007 report, the US Department of State revealed that it had worked to expand the listener base of Voice of America’s Studio 7 radio station. On SW Radio Africa see http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SW_Radio_Africa .
19. See Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes’ false statements on Zimbabwe and Woza,” What’s Left, September 30, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/stephen-zunes%e2%80%99-false-statements-on-zimbabwe-and-woza/
20. In 2000, the (British Parliament’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy) provided the MDC with $10 million. Herald (Zimbabwe), September 4, 2001 cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “WFD has been involved in over 80 projects aiding the MDC, and helped plan election strategy. It also provides funding to the party’s youth and women’s groups.” Herald (Zimbabwe), January 2, 2001, cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “In a clandestinely filmed interview, screened in Australia on February 2002 on the SBS Dateline program, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was caught on camera admitting that his organization was financed by European governments and corporations, the money being channelled through a British firm of political consultants, BSMG.” Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia; Civil society groups “and the Movement for Democratic Change…have broad Western support, and, often, financing.” New York Times, December 24, 2004; The International Republican Institute, the international arm of the Republican Party, “is using (the US State Department’s) USAID and the US embassy in Harare to channel support to the MDC, circumventing restrictions of Zimbabwe’s Political Parties Finance Act. Herald (Zimbabwe) August 12, 2005; USAID bankrolls sixteen civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, with emphasis on supporting the MDC’s parliamentary activities. “Zimbabwe Program Data Sheet,” U.S. Agency for International Development, cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “USAID has a long and successful history of working with Zimbabwe’s civil society, democratic political parties, the Parliament and local government.” Testimony of Katherine Almquist, USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa, The Crisis in Zimbabwe and Prospects for Resolution. Subcommittee on African Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, July 15, 2008.

From the MDC’s 2008 policy platform: The MDC does not believe that government should be involved in running businesses and it will restore title in full to all companies; Private enterprise in general, and industry in particular, will be the engine of economic growth in a new Zimbabwe; The MDC government will remove price controls and reverse the coercive indigenization proposals recently adopted; (An MDC government will show) an unwavering commitment to:
* The safety and security of individual and corporate property rights.
* Opening industry to foreign direct investment and the unfettered repatriation of dividends.
* The repeal of all statutes that inhibit the establishment and maintenance of a socio-economic environment conducive to the sustained growth and development of the industrial sector.
The MDC will…(open)…up private sector participation in postal and telecommunication services; (The MDC believes) the private sector is in a better position to finance new development and respond to customer needs (in telecommunications); (An MDC government will) look into…the full privatization of the electronic media.

According to progressive scholar Patrick Bond: “…very quickly, what had begun as a working-class party … was hijacked by international geopolitical forces, domestic (white) business and farming interests, and the black petite bourgeoisie.” Noah Tucker, “In the Shadow of Empire,” 21st Century Socialism, August 3, 2008, http://21stcenturysocialism.com/article/in_the_shadow_of_empire_01694.html
21. The “IRI held a workshop for Tsvangirai’s shadow government at which each shadow minister presented and defended his/her policy positions. A panel of technical experts grilled presenters on the technical content of their policies.” US State Department report. See Stephen Gowans, “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
22. Campbell.
23. That Campbell thinks there’s any possibility of the MDC being budged from its neo-liberal position shows that he should spend less time worrying about whether others are falling for Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and more time worrying about whether he has fallen for the rhetoric of the MDC and its imperialist backers. The nascent MDC appointed an official of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Eddie Cross, as its Secretary of Economic Affairs. In a speech delivered shortly after his appointment, Cross articulated the MDC economic plan. “First of all, we believe in the free market. We do not support price control. We do not support government interfering in the way people manage their lives. We are in favor of reduced levels of taxation. We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.” Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe’s Plunge – Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Merlin Press, 2002.

A policy paper issued by the party in 2000 spelled out its plans to attract “foreign direct investment…on a substantial scale.” The party planned to: “Appoint a “fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies”; “Privatize all designated parastatals [public companies] within two years”; Encourage “foreign strategic investors … to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatized.”
“Social and Economic Policies for a New Millennium,” MDC policy paper, May 26, 2000.

* Mahmoud Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, Pantheon Books, 2009.

Written by what's left

December 30, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Prominent progressive intellectuals

with 3 comments

By Gowans

James Petras has taken issue with progressive public intellectuals (PPIs) who endorsed the Obama candidacy on pragmatic grounds and who argued the Democratic candidate is a lesser evil, while at the same time condemning lesser evils abroad. In particular, Petras wonders why there’s not a single PPI who supports “the democratically elected Hamas in Palestine or Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the popularly supported nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, the anti-occupation Taliban in Afghanistan or even the right, recognized under international law, of the Iranian people to the peaceful development of nuclear energy.” Whatever their defects, continues Petras, “these are the ‘lesser evil’.” (1)

To Petras’ list can be added Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF, a lesser evil no PPI would publicly support. While the secular nature of Zimbabwe’s party of national liberation makes it marginally more attractive to secular leftists than Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and the Sadrists of Iraq, it is still shunned for its failings. Its failings, however, do not erase two realities: (a) with its land reform and economic indigenization policies it is a more progressive alternative than the opposition MDC, which is virtually run from Western capitals and, not surprisingly, promotes a comprador program; (b) there is no other progressive alternative with any realistic chance of coming to power in the foreseeable future. (2) In other words, the situation in Zimbabwe parallels the situation in the US, in which PPIs concluded the progressive alternative, Nader, couldn’t win, that Obama was marginally better than McCain, and, therefore, that an Obama presidency deserved their endorsement on pragmatic grounds. If PPIs are willing to sacrifice their moral hymens at home, why do they keep their legs tightly crossed when surveying the political landscape abroad?

Support for the lesser evil at home but never abroad is a manifestation of an older PPI double-standard: eschewing communist organizations for their ‘crimes’ and hierarchical structure while supporting, working within, endorsing or voting for the Democrats, an organization that can hardly be considered non-hierarchical or free from moral failure. PPIs are forever condemning organizations that effectively oppose imperialist spoliation, while justifying support for a major party of imperialist predation whose commitment to civil and political liberties is no more absolute than that of communist organizations. As Michael Parenti points out:

“Left anticommunists find any association with communist organizations morally unacceptable because of the ‘crimes of communism.’ Yet many of them are themselves associated with the Democratic party in this country, either as voters or as members, apparently unconcerned about the morally unacceptable political crimes committed by leaders of that organization. Under one or another Democratic administration, 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes and livelihoods and thrown into detention camps; atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with an enormous loss of life; the FBI was given authority to infiltrate political groups; the Smith Act was used to imprison leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and later on leaders of the Communist party for their political beliefs; detention camps were established to round up political dissidents in the event of a ‘national emergency’; during the late 1940s and 1950s, eight thousand federal workers were purged from government because of their political associations and views, with thousands more in all walks of life witchhunted out of their careers; the Neutrality Act was used to impose an embargo on the Spanish Republic that worked in favor of Franco’s fascist legions; homicidal counterinsurgency programs were initiated in various Third World countries; and the Vietnam War was pursued and escalated. And for the better part of a century, the Congressional leadership of the Democratic party protected racial segregation and stymied all anti-lynching and fair employment bills. Yet all of these crimes, bringing ruination and death to many, have not moved the liberal, the social democratic, and the ‘democratic socialist’ anticommunists to insist repeatedly that we issue blanket condemnation of either the Democratic party or the political system that produced it, certainly not with the intolerant fervor that has been directed against existing communism.” (3)

Petras amplifies Parenti’s point:

“PPIs justified their support for Obama on the basis of his campaign rhetoric in favor of peace and justice, even as he voted for Bush’s war budgets and foreign aid programs funding the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, Palestinians, Colombians, Somalis and Pakistanis and the dispossessing and displacement of at least 10 million people from their towns, farms and homes.” (4)

PPIs like victims, so it’s fitting that they’ve endorsed or voted for a candidate who as president will continue to produce victims in abundance. They’re always springing to the defense of innocent civilians, but rarely to the defense of those who fight back (who in doing so, in the view of PPIs, are no longer innocent). The problem with Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and the Sadrists, from the point of view of the PPIs, is three-fold: (i) they’re religious-based, (ii) they use violence, and (iii) they’re not victims. The secular Zanu-PF earns the PPIs’ enmity because it uses the wrong tactics to resist imperialist pressure (presumably it should remove all impediments to the US and Britain using civil society and the MDC as instruments of Western foreign policy.)

To be sure, secular socialist alternatives would be preferable to these lesser evils, but those that exist command insufficient support to mount effective oppositions, and, in many cases, are supporting larger, religious-based, anti-imperialist organizations. And while nonviolent direct action alone is preferable to violence, it has yet to prove effective against armed occupations, except in circumstances in which the violence of war has weakened the oppressor (Britain in India).

There is both a moral and tactical argument for supporting existing organizations which have mounted effective anti-imperialist oppositions. First, they have a right to resist occupation, aggression, and intervention. That their political orientations may be repellent is irrelevant. We don’t deny the right to a fair trial on the basis of the accused’s views, no matter how offensive they are. Second, to the extent these organizations are successful in exercising their right, they weaken the ruling class forces against which progressive at home struggle. The anti-occupation Taliban is reactionary, and is an organization one would bitterly oppose at home, but in its resistance to occupation, and in this alone, it is objectively progressive from the standpoint of Western working class populations; a Taliban that is successful in its efforts to oppose occupation weakens the class forces that both exploit foreign populations by conquest and economically exploit populations at home.

Petras attributes the PPIs’ double standards to what aspiring PPI Stephen Zunes called “the sad reality of capitalism” (5) – “supporters of the millions of victims of Western and Israeli butchery do not live off foundation handouts,” while those who condemn organizations that have mounted effective opposition to imperialist predations receive “invitations to speak at universities with offers of five-figure honorariums.” (6)

There’s a principle governing which political ideas bubble to the surface of public awareness: the prominence of a political idea and of whoever can articulately express it, is proportional to the degree to which it is congenial to the interests of those who have the wealth to bring it to prominence.

Conservative intellectuals (CIs) enjoy the greatest degree of prominence because they articulate ideas that closely match the interests, and justify the privileges, of the wealthy. For example, a CI writing in my daily newspaper said Obama will back away from his pledge to hike taxes on Americans who earn over $250,000 per year and that this is prudent because the wealthy are “the most productive element of society.” It should be no surprise that intellectuals who articulate these kinds of legitimating ideas have no problems securing access to platforms capable of giving their views prominence.

PPIs are far less prominent than PCIs (prominent conservative intellectuals) because they articulate ideas that are often hostile to the interests of the wealthy. But their condemnations of any effective opposition to the interests of the wealthy are congenial to the interests of predatory capital. Whatever the failings of communist governments, they remained effective oppositions to capitalist interests. Whatever the failings of national liberation and anti-occupation movements, they act as effective oppositions to imperialist aims. And whatever the regrettable and grim outcomes of violence, movements and governments that use violence to defend themselves against the aggressions and predatory pursuits of capital, have enjoyed more success than their counterparts who won’t or can’t use violence. Progressive intellectuals who are able to set forth compelling cases against communism, really-existing national liberation and anti-occupation movements, and political violence, earn access to platforms which allow their views to be widely circulated within the progressive community. In this way, they become PPIs.

There is a parallel in the control of insect populations. If you want to reduce the mosquito population, you introduce sterile mosquitoes who mate with fertile counterparts and produce no offspring. This doesn’t eliminate successful fertile pairings, but it does reduce the probability, and checks population growth. Favoring sterile PIs with foundation grants, invitations to lectures, and ready access to progressive media (much of which operates on foundation grants), is equivalent to overwhelming mating populations with sterile mosquitoes.

Articulating a compelling case for effective organization against the wealthy at home is, to those who dole out foundation grants, also undesirable; accordingly, PIs who promote engagement with the Democratic party while condemning effective anti-imperialist movements aboard, are highly valued, and earn access to platforms capable of raising the visibility of their ideas. The question of whether PPIs alter their ideas to cater to foundation and progressive media gatekeepers is beside the point; all that matters is that the right ideas, articulated in compelling ways, earn their bearers prominence.

What we need to do is examine ideas on a case-by-case basis, immune from the halo effect of someone’s admirable political stance on other issues. Aspiring PPI Stephen Zunes makes much of the fact that he’s earned his progressive stripes, but his political stance on the IMF, World Bank, debt peonage or the Bush administration does not mean his stance on ruling class funded nonviolent pro-democracy activism is sound. In particular, we should ask:

• What movements and forms of organization have been historically effective in opposing exploitation and oppression?
• What political positions have PPIs taken on these movements and forms of organization?
• Are there systemic imperatives that push to prominence PIs who can persuasively argue against effective movements and forms of organization?

It might be argued that capitalist forces centered in the Western world are a common enemy of Western working class populations and the Taliban. Failure of the West’s popular forces to forge contingent, ad hoc, alliances with the Taliban weakens their common fight. From a purely self-interested standpoint, Western working classes stand to profit from such an alliance, in the same way the US state profited from an alliance with reactionary Islam in opposing a pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. This does not mean, however, that, from the standpoint of Afghans opposed to the Taliban, or the progress of humanity, that the Taliban is the lesser evil; nor that it is preferable from the perspective of a large number of Afghans to a secular comprador regime which guarantees the equality of the sexes, makes provision for the education of females, and expunges the remnants of feudal institutions. The question of who is the lesser evil, then, is necessarily relative. For women and peasants in Afghanistan, it’s difficult to imagine what the Taliban could be the lesser evil to.

My interest, however, isn’t in the normative question of whether Western working classes ought to pursue their own interests by supporting the Taliban in it fight against occupation, even if an alliance with the Taliban means sacrificing the interests of the peasant and female populations that face Taliban oppression. It is, rather, in the empirical question of whether PPI opposition to the Taliban serves the interests of imperialist forces, and whether PIs become PPIs as a consequence of their hostility to movements and forms of organization that have been historically effective in combating exploitation and oppression. The weakness of Petras’ argument lies, I think, in its reliance on the idea of the lesser evil, which is a contingent idea reflecting class interests in a particular place and time. The elevation to PPI from PI of those who favor support for the Democrats while condemning effective anti-imperialist oppositions abroad, can best be understood, not from the perspective of double standards, but as a necessary outcome of the way wealth operates to bring ideas acceptable to the interests of the wealthy to prominence in progressive communities.

1. James Petras, “Western Progressive Opinion: Bring on the Victims! Condemn the Fighters!” November 22, 2008, http://petras.lahaine.org/articulo.php?p=1763&more=1&c=1
2. While PPIs argue that Zimbabwe civil society is a progressive third force in Zimbabwe, the country’s NGOs are in thrall to the Western governments, capitalist foundations and wealthy individuals who provide their funding. They are no more a progressive alternative than the MDC is, which shares the same backers.
3. Michael Parenti, Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997; pp.48-49.
4. Petras.
5. Stephen Gowans, “Zunes compromising with capitalism’s sad reality,” What’s Left, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/25/zunes%e2%80%99-compromising-with-capitalism%e2%80%99s-sad-reality/
6. Petras.

Written by what's left

November 26, 2008 at 11:37 pm

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