Commentaries on current events, political economy, and the Communist movement from a Marxist-Leninist perspective.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2017
The Last Liberal
year 1989 marked the death of the independent journalist, Isidor
Feinstein (I.F.) Stone, the last twentieth century US liberal.
Liberalism in the last century combined the liberties of the original
Bill of Rights with Roosevelt’s proposed Second Bill of Rights. By
mid-century, US liberalism reached its greatest heights,
supplementing the historic bourgeois rights that dismantled feudalism
and enshrined the right to property with the promise of an entirely
new set of economic rights-- rights to employment, housing, medical care, social security, education, among others. The economic rights sought to codify the
social democratic gains made in the New Deal era.
the time of I.F. Stone’s death in 1989, liberalism had nearly shed
all of its commitment to the Rooseveltian social justice rights. The
bearer of the liberal legacy, the Democratic Party, swiftly retreated
from New Deal values in the face of the Reagan attack on social
welfare programs. Consequently, the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton,
the “third way,” market-obsessed Democrats, eschewed the term
“liberal” and appropriated the once-meaningful term “progressive”
in its place. Stone would have been appalled.
the thinness of the US liberal commitment to its own principles were
well known to Stone. He well knew of the Alien and Sedition Acts of
1798 that affronted the Bill of Rights before even a decade had past.
knew of the betrayal of the rights of Blacks granted by the 14th and
15th amendments that closed the Reconstruction era.
was, of course, familiar with the shameful, tepid response of
liberals to the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920, the government repression
and deportation of political dissidents.
Stone was most familiar with the sell-out of classical liberal values
by Republicans, Democrats, and nearly all self-described liberals in
the late 1940s and 1950s, a repressive time commonly called the
denounced the “two decades of carefully nurtured nightmare” that
began with the Smith Act of 1940, an “era in which the mere
allegation of leftist sympathy or affiliation was enough to put a man
outside the pale.”
ACLU secret collaboration with the witch hunt to the establishment of
the Americans for Democratic Action as a haven for untainted,
anti-Communist liberals, liberalism fared poorly in the Cold War era.
The liberals who didn’t think that associating with Communists was
necessarily traitorous were banished with the Communists. The
liberals who were enthusiastic about anti-Communism saw no
contradiction between abrogating the rights of Communists and
fervently defending the sanctity and universality of those rights.
could not understand this posture of Cold War liberals. He truly
believed that the rights granted in the Bill of rights were
absolutely universal and beyond abrogation, just as the celebrated
Founding Fathers proclaimed. He didn’t think that they only applied
in good times or when it was convenient.
believed the contradiction of Cold War liberalism could be summed up
with one example of a Cold War security case. With respect to a
specific “security” firing, Stone cites the comment of the era’s
arch-liberal, Walter Lippmann, who advocated “to have the charge
tried by due process,” a seeming appeal to fairness. But Stone
responded with exasperation: “How do you try the ‘charge’ that
a man once worked for Armtorg or has two sisters in Russia?”
recognized that it was innuendo and association that propelled a
country supposedly built on liberal foundations to qualify,
obfuscate, and relinquish those values.
the 1950s hysteria diminished, Stone continued to serve as a vigilant
watchdog over liberalism and its hypocrisies. At the same time, he
fervently defended liberal values, especially freedom of speech, the
value of an independent press, and freedom of association.
wonders what he would have thought of liberalism in our era?
in the McCarthy era, when liberals felt compelled to show their
loyalty by following the Republicans on the anti-Communist crusade,
today’s liberals have mounted their own, unprompted campaign of
innuendo, guilt by association, and fear-mongering.
the security services fed the Red scare through reliable media
contacts and opinion-makers, the 2017 security services play the same
role, feeding some of the same media outlets and many others
unsubstantiated, politically charged, and unattributed charges
against capitalist Russia. In the latter case, the catalyst for the
new hysteria is US liberals.
by Democratic Party nobles and liberal-leading lights as a defense of
our treasured democratic process, the campaign is, in reality, a
stealth mission to solidify an aggressive, dominating US foreign
policy. Just as the Red scare really targeted left unity, militant
trade unionism, and the more committed New Dealers, the current
Russia-baiting targets foreign policy dissidents, anti-imperialists,
and the rejection of post-Soviet triumphalism. Under the guise of
meeting Trump perfidy, liberals are wittingly or unwittingly shaping
an aggressive, imperialist foreign policy consensus.
for the news media, media conglomerates have used the interminable
leaks from the security services as the candy to coax subscribers in
the rating wars. So far, several have outmaneuvered the Fox News
empire which is trapped in defense of right-wing interests aligned
behind the unsavory Donald Trump (MSNBC has narrowed a nearly 46% gap
in prime time viewers favoring FOX News at the beginning of the year
to 17.5% six months later, an unprecedented gain).
F. Stone understood the rank opportunism of the media and its
challenge to liberal values decades ago. He warned of the use of
anonymous sources as early as 1955: “…[one] cannot come into
court and ask for conviction on undisclosed evidence by undisclosed
persons on the grounds that to reveal them would endanger its source
of information.” But this is precisely what liberals and the media
are doing today in the Court of Public Opinion with the so-called
Stone could not have anticipated its further corruption, he fully
recognized the deteriorating function of the news media. He wrote in
...most American newspapers carry very little news.
Their main concern is advertising [based on circulation and media
ratings]... All the so-called communications industries are primarily
concerned not with communications, but with selling. This is obvious
on TV and radio but it is only a little less obvious in the
newspapers. Most owners of newspapers are businessmen, not
newspapermen. The news is something which fills the space left over
by the advertisers. The average publisher is not only hostile to
dissenting opinion, he is suspicious of any opinion likely to
antagonize any reader or consumer.
today’s handful of giant monopoly, multimedia corporations have far
surpassed the commercial imperative identified by Stone. As the
uncritical transmission belt of security services’ leaks, the US
media have totally abdicated their mission as news sources. They have
not only failed to deliver news, but have packaged rumor as news and
presented it as entertainment.
was aware of the dynamics of news “management” long before
journalists were “embedded.” Writing in 1955:
... it is easy to see why the average Washington
correspondent is content to write what he is spoon-fed by the
government’s press officers… Why dig up a story which the desk
back home will spike?... The private dinner, the special briefing,
are all devices for “managing” the news, as are the special
organizations of privileged citizens gathered in by State and Defense
Departments for those sessions at which highly confidential (and one
sided) information is ladled out to a flattered “elite.”
the reporters and media news readers are not likely to reject the
government feeding tube and will, instead, stick with the consensus:
“Most of my colleagues agree with the Government and write the
accepted thing because that is what they believe; they are indeed--
with honorable exceptions-- as suspicious of the non-conformist as
any group in Kiwanis.” Unfortunately, there are few exceptions
today, honorable or otherwise.
knew how the media failed to provide the necessary condition for a
truly informed, democratic citizenry. Nonetheless, he had an abiding
confidence that liberal values would prevail and find a way to
reverse, or at least correct, the course of US democracy. He had a
faith-like confidence that independent journalists like himself would
prevail somehow against the media behemoths. He believed that freedom
of speech, freedom of association, and an independent and diverse
press would protect citizens from the manipulation of the rich and
powerful. Subsequent history shows he was wrong.
our time, liberals are the key players in the Russian-under-every-bed
witch hunts that are boiling over in the media. At all the past
critical junctures when liberal values were tested by duress,
liberals failed to defend those values. They are failing now.
Perhaps liberalism is philosophically incoherent.
Perhaps it’s theoretically flawed and that is what accounts for its
failure at critical moments. That’s an argument for another time.
But clearly liberals have shown little spine when liberal values
would be most useful, times when deliberation and measure should
confront mob hysteria and waves of duplicity. Instead they stand
knee-deep in hypocrisy.
know your friends in times of crisis; liberals consistently fail the