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Friday, January 31, 2020

History’s Thieves

With the historical memory fading, aging Cold Warriors are seizing the opportunity to portray twentieth-century socialism as an abject failure, a human tragedy of enormous dimensions. With fewer of the millions who sacrificed to achieve it still alive, enemies of socialism enjoy a clean slate to reconstruct the history of the Soviet Union as they please. And they are availing themselves of that opportunity. Shamefully, academic historians who know or should know the historical record remain silent.

Last year offered a special moment to demean the legacy of twentieth century Communism and the Soviet Union-- the eightieth anniversary of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact. Absurdity exceeded old bounds with the European Union resolution charging that the pact "paved the way for the outbreak of World War II." The European Union has on numerous occasions sought to equate Communism with Fascism, Communism with “totalitarianism;” it has justified the banning of Communism in several constituent countries; but August 23, 1939 provided an excuse for an even more outrageous EU resolution.

Any serious, honest account of the factors leading to the outbreak of World War II would likely begin with the Treaty of Versailles, which saw the victors in the First World War imposing impossible terms on the vanquished. The Anglo-American banks feasted on the usurious loans necessary for Germany to make its reparation payments, leaving German economic development stunted.

Moreover, the blame for the rise of Nazism lies squarely on the extreme nationalism and rabid revanchism fostered by the German bourgeoisie. The Social Democratic parliamentarians bear blame as well for tolerating Nazism and treacherously turning armed gangs of fascists (Freicorps, Stahlhelms) on genuine leftists and the workers.

And, of course, the collapse of global capitalism, beginning in 1929, provided nourishment for right-wing populism, with its chauvinism, demagoguery, and aggression -- critical conditions for the outbreak of world war.

Isolated, but immune to the ills of capitalism, the Soviet Union was largely untouched by the Great Depression. Alarmed by the Nazi capture of state power in 1933, Soviet leaders immediately embarked on a peace offensive.

As early as December 14, 1933 (Hitler became German Chancellor on January 30, 1933), the Soviets proposed a joint Polish-Soviet declaration, resolving to protect the peace in Eastern Europe in the event of a war threat. On the following January 26, Poland signed a friendship and non-aggression pact with Germany. On February 3, the Polish government rebuffed the Soviet offer. 

A month later, the Soviet Union proposed a protocol to be co-signed with Germany to reject any actions directly or indirectly against the Baltic states. Nazi Germany rejected the offer.

In May, Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov addressed the International Disarmament Conference suggesting strengthening peace by imposing sanctions and encouraging additional non-aggression pacts (the Soviets had concluded one with France in 1932). He proposed all-European and regional agreements of mutual assistance against aggression. British opposition and US indifference effectively killed the initiative.

Late in 1933/early 1934, French Foreign Minister Barthou, along with the Soviets, enthusiastically sought a broad collective security pact (the Eastern Pact) covering many European countries and directed against German aggression. Several governments, especially the British, insisted that Germany be included! While France and the Soviet Union conceded this, Germany and Poland refused to sign onto the pact. With a shift in French diplomacy after Barthou’s assassination and British intransigence, the pact subsequently foundered. Many see this as the moment of the birth of French/British appeasement. Clearly right-wing governments in Poland, Finland, and the Baltics were more anti-Soviet than fearful of Nazi aggression.

When Italian fascism set its sights on Ethiopia in 1935, the French and British diplomats signaled that they would not act against the aggression. In September, Litvinov chastised the League of Nations for inaction, demanding that the League “[must] spare neither efforts nor means to prevent an armed conflict between two members.…” In a subsequent telegram Litvinov stated that “the resolute application of sanctions by the League against Italy will be a stern warning to Germany as well.” The Western “democracies” opposed sanctions, military action, or a blockade to forestall aggression. Instead, they rewarded invasion by selling out Ethiopia with the onerous Hoare-Laval agreement. The US underscored its passivity on fascist aggression by passing a Neutrality Act.

The Soviet Union continued its peace offensive throughout 1935 and 1936, objecting strenuously to the inaction over Germany’s occupation of the Rhineland in March and Germany’s remilitarization.

But the real measure of anti-fascist, anti-Nazi commitment came in response to the fascist assault on the Spanish Republic on July 17, 1936. With the treacherous Franco, aided by the Italian and German military, rising against the elected government, the shameful Western “democracies” chose to turn away from a sister republic, allowing Nazism and fascism to act freely. Only the Soviet Union (and Mexico, to a lesser extent) offered material, human, diplomatic, and political assistance to the besieged Spanish Republic. 

By contrast, the British and French governments enacted an arms embargo and sealed the borders, raising obstacles to the true anti-fascists rushing to the defense of the Republic.

The US extended its Neutrality Act to Spain, a neutrality that proved porous, as US corporations found ways to help the insurgents. The US and Western European governments adopted a bizarre non-intervention policy against Nazi intervention! For generations, much of the international left viewed the war in Spain as the first staunch resistance against fascist aggression. Today, that perspective seems to have been erased from the twenty-first-century collective memory. 

It should be noted that Soviet foreign policy was consistently one of solidarity against aggression. When Japan attacked China in July of 1937, the Soviet Union was the only major power to lend material assistance to China.

Chamberlain and the British government rewarded the Italian fascists for their intervention in Spain with a treaty of friendship and cooperation on April 16, 1938.

Soviet diplomats received clear signals that the British and French governments were determined to exclude the USSR from any pacts and were equally determined to turn German aggression eastward toward the Soviet Union. In private conversations, British Lloyd George and US Sumner Welles intimated as such. Western powers believed that they could both contain Germany (at the expense of small countries and the USSR) while preserving their empires. 

When Germany entered Austria in March of 1938, only the Soviet Union objected strongly. Pravda wrote ominously of the Western indifference to the Anschluss: “It is a policy with inevitably fatal consequences. And those who pursue it must be held responsible for helping to increase the war threat in Europe.” [my emphasis] In the Soviet view, Western complicity “paved” the way for the war to come, a consideration seemingly lost on the bureaucrats of the European Union, who are today so anxious to blame World War II on the Soviets.

The Anschluss emboldened other rightists in Europe. In March of 1938, the military, crypto-fascist government of Poland, acting in tacit agreement with Germany, instigated a provocation aimed at occupying part of Lithuania. The Soviet Union strongly stood them down.

Throughout 1938, the Soviets advanced collective-security plans, anticipating German aggression against Czechoslovakia. Their initiatives in September were favorably received by Winston Churchill, who was not then in government. Ignoring the initiative of the Soviet Union and the wishes of the Czechoslovakian government, Britain and France gifted the Germans the Sudetenland (the infamous Munich Agreement). Hitler later bragged that Czechoslovakia had been “presented to him on a plate by her friends.”

Poland also demanded the cession of the Teschen region, while the Western powers were dividing up Czechoslovakia.

The following March, 1939, Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. On March 18, the Soviet government proposed a conference of the USSR, Britain, France, Poland, Rumania, and Turkey to address the war danger. Without discussion, Chamberlain and Halifax rejected it and the French government never replied. A subsequent offer in April to sign a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain and France was treated dismissively.

After years of peace initiatives, offers of collective security, mutual defense, and common cause against fascism, the Soviet government understood that the European powers were determined to appease Hitler in order to direct his attention eastward. In May of 1939, the Soviet architect of collective security, Maxim Litvinov, was reassigned, replaced by V. Molotov.

The Japanese aggression against an isolated Soviet Union in May of 1939 only added to the urgency of the Soviet need for peace-preserving agreements (the Soviets defeated the Japanese at Khalkhin Gol in September, relieving the immediate threat of a two-front war).

Despite the shift in foreign policy leadership, in June, the Soviet government offered Britain and France a draft treaty of mutual assistance in the event of an attack upon any of the three parties. In addition, the draft proposed assistance to Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Rumania, Poland, or the Baltic states in case of aggression. The two major powers sent low-level emissaries to Moscow to discuss the draft. Since the discussants had no power to negotiate, but were mounting objection after objection, the Soviets concluded that they were not serious. Negotiations were dragging on well into August and promising to last, at least, to October.

At the same time, the British were discussing further concessions with Germany, offering a revision of the Versailles treaty regarding mandates and colonies against the security of its empire.

Despite at least three rejected overtures from the Germans for a mutual agreement, the frustrated Soviet government accepted a non-aggression, mutual assistance pact with Germany on August 23, 1939. 

Western critics of the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact should be reminded of Stalin’s words at the 13th Congress of the CPSU in March of 1939: “1. We stand for peace and the strengthening of business relations with all countries… 2. We stand for peaceful, close and friendly relations with all the neighboring countries… 3. We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggression and are fighting for the independence of their country.” He added the USSR should “be cautious and not... allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them.”

Of course, there were many more initiatives, and peace proposals on the part of the Soviets beyond those documented here. This is a mere sketch. But the facts are incontestable.

Moreover, they are well known to serious historians of the period. The facts paint a picture of an isolated Soviet Union actively pursuing a peace policy and challenging an indifference, even encouragement of movement toward war.

At no time in the period after the Nazi assumption of power did the leading Western so-called “democracies” mount a stiff resistance to aggression (it was not merely Munich and Chamberlain). At every moment, it was the Soviets who raised the alarm and, in the case of Spain, met fascism on the battlefield.  

Perhaps the Soviets were guilty of some miscalculations or faulty assessments in crafting their peace initiatives, but it was a rational response to the threat of what proved to be an unprecedented, deadly war. In addition, it was, from the first effort through the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, directed at guaranteeing the peace and security of the Soviet Union.

Therefore, it is unconscionable that professional historians can remain silent before scurrilous resolutions offered by unprincipled, political charlatans serving European Union capitalism.

Maybe intellectual cowardice should not be surprising in an era of bought-and-sold intellectuals inhabiting cash-rich think tanks, impervious to objectivity and honest scholarship.

Perhaps it should not be unexpected from spineless academics.

Such are our times…

Greg Godels

Friday, January 10, 2020

How Could This Happen?

Imagine a prominent public figure-- a general or a political leader-- flying into a commercial, public airport of another country to attend a funeral, perhaps negotiate a peace initiative. After being greeted by a top leader of that country’s militia, national guard, or military reserve, the two proceed to leave the airport in a motorcade, taking no particularly remarkable security arrangements. 

A drone from a third country intercepts the motorcade, firing missiles and killing everyone involved.

Understandably, such an event would provoke world outrage and calls for bringing the perpetrator to justice. If the visiting public figure were a NATO general visiting Greece, a cabinet member landing in Colombia, or an ambassadorial assignee in Japan, denouncements would ensue, moral indignation would explode, and legal consequences would follow. An angry UN would respond to calls for sanctions. Terrorism alerts would reach a high level. 

Of course the ‘imaginary’ scenario described above is not imaginary, but real, chronicling the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force. And instead of moral indignation and legal recourse, US political and media elites and their Western allies vacillate between fear and threats. 

Former CIA director Porter Goss believes that Soleimani belatedly got what was coming to him. His counterpart in the Obama administration, Leon Panetta, bizarrely states that Soleimani was never on the CIA assassination list since the agency could not decide between several evil Iranian generals. NPR summarizes Democratic Party leadership thinking (expressed clearly by Pelosi and Schumer):  indignation, not over the morality or legality of the assassination, but over the fact that Congress was not consulted (would they have turned Trump down?)! 

To their credit, Bernie Sanders and some young Democratic progressives-- at least—characterized the killing as an assassination, most others did not. Some might be surprised that Joe Biden spoke of the assassination as “a stick of dynamite.” But that was completely consistent with his performance in the Obama administration, where he was a pragmatic counterforce in opposition to the administration’s war hawks-- Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Ben Rhodes. As attested in Jeffrey Goldberg’s informative exit interview in The Atlantic, Obama regretted listening to the hawks and, therefore, found the spine to defy them on intervention in Syria. Yet it is important to recognize that he did it for practical reasons and not for moral considerations-- military action at that time was perceived as counter-productive.

How is it that US officials, the media, and the think tanks can be so morally deaf to Soleimani’s assassination?

The reason is simple: they all fail to recognize Iran’s and Iraq’s sovereignty. They believe that the US has freedom of action in both countries since they both are or have been “illegitimate.” That thinking is the basis for the reigning doctrine of regime change, wholly embraced since the demise of the Soviet Union and its place as a counterforce to US imperialist intervention around the world. 

In the case of Iraq, the US treats the country as a colony, a neo-colony. The brilliant exponent of Pan-African unity and African socialism, Kwame  Nkrumah, created the theory of formal independence and actual neo-colonial dependence to describe how today’s imperialists wrap their tentacles around the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And there is no better example of that neo-colonialism than contemporary Iraq.

From the illegal no-fly zones maintained from 1991 until 2003, the US and its allies exercised de facto control over Iraq. Before the actual invasion, the bombing campaign to enforce the No-Fly Zone costs as many as 1400 civilian lives.

The concomitant sanctions regimen-- a new US model for warfare: minimizing aggressor casualties and maximizing victim casualties-- may have cost as many as half a million Iraqi children. While the numbers are disputed, what is not disputed is that the Iraqi population’s median age went from 16.8 in 1990 to 18.7 in 2005 and 20 today, a radical shift away from youth to elderly in a short time. The deniers must offer a theory of what happened to the young people who are today missing from Iraq’s population. It seems likely that they were, in one way or another, the victims of imperial violence.

Of course untold numbers of young people died in the US invasion and occupation beginning in 2003-- a slaughter too frequently shown on the cable military channels in gory detail. Cities were bombed, Fallujah totally destroyed. Iraqi infrastructure-- roads, buildings, water supplies, electrical generation, etc.-- was destroyed or diminished. The dominant political party was outlawed, existing politicians were bribed and exiles were established as puppets. Iraq was not a neo-colony then, but a classic colony.

Today, with 20 years of US occupation or dominance and with a median age of 20, most Iraqis have no conscious experience of authentic national independence. Consequently, young people rebelled in 2019 against corruption, inferior services, degraded living standards, and poverty. The assassination of Soleimani is perceived as a brazen affront to national sovereignty and dignity, possibly a last straw in US-Iraqi relations.

Obviously, Trump and his minions pulled the trigger-- made the final decision to assassinate the Iranian general. But it was the decades of neo-colonial arrogance, of patronizing “humanitarian” interventionism, of oil politics, of political scapegoating that made the West see the assassination as morally “justifiable,” though, perhaps, unwise. It is important to recall that the rabid anti-Trump opposition mostly objected to the fact that they were not consulted, that Trump stepped out of line, rather than that they deplored the act of murder. 

So why did Trump pull the trigger?

No doubt his advisors did not hesitate to tell him that wars are the great distraction, especially in election years. Certainly, elements in the military and CIA have long sought regime change in Iran. And Trump’s bluster and self-centeredness provides a handy excuse for them, should matters go awry (The Department of Defense was quick to point out that the assassination was Trump’s decision!). A war would draw attention away from the seriously bleak economic signs that are emerging and could affect Trump’s election prospects: the worst manufacturing data since 2009, falling automobile sales in 2019, the profit retreat of the US energy sector, etc. And, of course, there is the impeachment fiasco. 

Israel’s internal politics play a large role in Trump’s decisions. No one has been more of a friend to beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, than Donald Trump. Unable to form a government and caught in a web of corruption charges, Netanyahu needs a distraction even more than Trump. Jefferson Morley documents how Israel has lusted after Soleimani’s assassination for some time. Threats, tensions, conflict in the Middle East would likely rally Israeli support behind the über-belligerent war hawk, Netanyahu, at a moment of his greatest need.

Oil politics likely also factor in Trump’s decisions, though not in the way that most commentators present it. With the US now more than capable of self-sufficiency in oil and gas, the US industry is actively competing for markets. Crippling or blockading rivals is becoming US policy. Rather than snatching foreign sources, the Trump administration shows more interest in disrupting, foiling, and threatening energy suppliers. This is a particularly difficult moment for US energy suppliers with natural gas overproduction generating extremely low prices and Wall Street investors calling in massive loans on frackers. Financial pundits are warning of serious losses, well closings, and bankruptcies. US producers benefit from chaos among their competitors, chaos that seems to be more and more the goal of US foreign policy. With Iran (and Qatar) owning the world’s largest gas field, US suppliers would be grateful for disruption of its exploitation, allowing for greater exportation of US Liquified Natural Gas. Oil prices rose 4% on the announcement of Soleimani’s assassination.

With joint naval exercises between Iran, Russia, and PRC wound up on December 31, 2019, the US military and security agencies no doubt want the assassination of Soleimani to be seen as a not-too-subtle message that they will not tolerate further unity.

While the threat to world peace has risen dramatically, the assassination is yet another sign of the weakness and desperation of US imperialism. The 80,000 US troops scattered throughout the Middle East have no discernable justification-- they have lost in Syria, are unwanted in Iraq, have failed to bolster Saudi Arabia. Even the returned and returning military personnel cannot explain why they have served. 

The deliberate stirring of ethnic and religious differences by the US is proving less effective than anticipated. And the long-suppressed economic and political grievances of the people of the Middle East are bubbling to the surface, threatening some of the region’s corrupt, US-supported client governments. A better world is in sight.

However, a wounded, weakened US empire is proving even more dangerous in its desperation.

 Greg Godels

Friday, January 3, 2020

A Shameless Patron of the Ruling Class

After the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries, the US government and its Cold War allies were in a celebratory mood. The most militant foes of the capitalist order were now absent from the playing field. Was this a temporary setback? Would socialism relaunch? Would the People’s Republic of China continue its flirtation with capitalist economic relations? Does the setback to socialism bespeak some deeper meaning for the course of history?

A year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1992), a relatively unheralded PhD working for the RAND Corporation authored a book that marked the “victory” of capitalism and Western-styled democracy over socialism as the “End of History,” humanity’s arrival at its political and economic destiny. Intellectual life in the US had largely scorned such grand narratives, but Francis Fukuyama boldly stated that history had settled the great ideological disputes of the twentieth century and decided in favor of capitalism and its version of democracy. The End of History and the Last Man, though hardly a huge best seller, impressed the ruling class and its courtiers with its pretentious Hegelian framework-- interpreted via the work of the decidedly non-radical Alexandre Kojève. They found his conclusions to their liking. Through Fukuyama, the capitalist celebrants gained intellectual gravitas, though undoubtedly few grasped the argument’s bastardization of Marxism. 

As a reward for his service to capitalism, Fukuyama received plum professorships at George Mason, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford universities. Moreover, he shrewdly, opportunistically shifted his politics with the currents of the day: first supporting Bush’s wars, then turning against them, and spinning again to support Barack Obama. Where ruling-class sentiment goes, so goes Francis Fukuyama.

So it should come as no surprise that Professor Fukuyama has pressed himself again into the services of the ruling class. 

His latest foray into the politics of the moment requires no challenging study of Hegel; it is simply a naked defense of the ruling class’s mechanism for imposing consent and control over the lives of its subjects. American Liberty Depends on the ‘Deep State’ is an unabashed advocacy for the unelected operatives who conduct the daily business of steering the capitalist ship of state. It is dismissive of the idea that these operatives might work for anything other than the people’s interests. At the same time, it scoffs at the notion that oversight and vigilance-- democratic control-- is appropriate for those filling the bureaus, agencies, and enforcement bodies.

For Fukuyama, the now popular term, “the Deep State” is broadly defined as the unelected employees of the Federal government who are “professional, expert, and non-partisan…” and “...whose primary loyalty is not to the political boss who appointed them but to the Constitution and to a higher sense of the public interest.”

 Fukuyama asks us to “think of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.…” Alongside these innocuous,  arguably non-political institutions, he adds-- almost as an afterthought-- “the uniformed military… the Federal Reserve… the State Department,” institutions which have both a political role to play, a political character, and a history of political intervention. He might have added the CIA, NSA, and the FBI, except for the fact that they would have so obviously undermined any credibility for his thesis of non-partisanship.  

If Fukuyama were correct in his adulation of the capitalist states’ servants, of his vouching for their integrity, he would have to explain, for example, the long, pernicious career of the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover and his employees, notorious abusers of civil and political rights. He would need to account for centuries of judicial and enforcement malfeasance, officialdom’s history of blindness to racism, sexism, homophobia, and class inequalities, government institutional evils like segregation, mass incarceration, surveillance, and a host of other violations of the public interest.

Of course, endless wars and countless victims are also the unquestioning work of government agencies or, at least, require their acquiescence. Surely, the civil servants who ran the Nazi death camps were also “professional, expert, and non-partisan” in their dedication, though their behavior was hardly in the interests of the people. 

It is sheer political romanticism to portray the politically appointed ambassadors and their CIA-infected embassy staffs, the careerist congressional staffers, the obscenely lobbied agency leaders, the cabal of compromised advisory boards, the political party functionaries, the profit-driven government consultants and contractors, and the rest of the Federal bureaucracy as non-political and imbued with dedication to lofty values. 

Professor Fukuyama, the enthusiastic defender of the capitalist lords and their court, shows his disdain for democracy. Indeed, his defense is intimately linked with distrust of popular rule:

During the 1820s, the franchise was broadened from white males with property to all white males, bringing millions of new voters into the political system. But how to mobilize these masses? [Andrew] Jackson pulls it off by bribing them with bottles of bourbon, Christmas turkeys and (most important) government jobs… President Jackson declared that he got to decide who served in the bureaucracy and that government work was something that any ordinary American could do.

How shocking to suggest that every man and woman could participate in government work! While Jackson was a populist charlatan like our present-day Trump, he was exploiting the fact that US citizens were disgusted with governance by elites. Like Trump, he opportunistically traded on the growing dissatisfaction with self-serving rule by wealth and power, rule by the appropriately called “swamp.”

The fact that millions gained the right to vote distressed and frightened the US ruling class in Jackson’s time and, consequently, the lapdog media heaped scorn on his administration. Like racist Trump, the mass murderer of Native Americans, Jackson, proved to be a cynical user of mass sentiment, leaving the popular desire for democratic, egalitarian governance unfulfilled. 

Fukuyama fears the popular rule falsely promised by Jackson: “...modern government was highly complex and required officials with education, expertise and a dedication to public service.” He is crudely, unsubtly suggesting that such qualities are not commonly found among the masses. Better, the rulers and their minions should have a proper elite education, they should possess the skills taught in the elite school, and a noble dedication to serve… the calling of the elites! 

“Public service,” like so many high-sounding, but empty phrases beloved by politicians, cries out for clarity: public service for whom? Fukuyama never considers that question. He assumes that what is perceived as good by those at the top is good for all. Noblesse oblige!

Fukuyama continues to serve the ruling class well. And it is a ruling class and not some “deep state” that determines the course of the US state. Living in a time where brands, slogans, and memes are the fashion, attention to words and to meanings is crucial. Through policy shifts and changing circumstances, the US ruling class remains. Its constituents and complexion may change, but it persists as the protector of private property, profits, and the privileged until it is overthrown.

To pretend that the state has a malignancy, a deeply embedded and independent body wresting control implies that the “deep state” may be temporary, removable, or overcome and that the state can be returned to its “normal” democratic nature. That is simply liberal or social democratic nonsense. 

There are ‘deeper’ elements of the state just as there are deeper objectives or ‘darker’ operations of the ruling class. But there is one state owned by one ruling class.

Yes, the ruling class can be conflicted, even split, but it continues to cling to the state in order to protect and promote capital. To acknowledge a vague, mysterious, conspiratorial “deep state” is to blur our understanding of the ruling class and its relation to the capitalist state. 

The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the DoD, etc. are institutions of the capitalist state serving the ruling class and are not a bunch of “deep state” renegades. 

In his consistent service to the ruling class, Fukuyama is not lured into fearing the “deep state,” he knows who he must defend.

Greg Godels