Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sherry Wolf replies to criticsm

Always good to see debate. Sherry Wolf on the MRZine site defends her arhument against the leftwing anti-war moement hooking up with the right.

In a Hole? Dig Deeper! A Reply to the Left on Ron Paul
by Sherry Wolf

There is a section of the broad Left today that is so demoralized by the miserable state of the world, the repugnant electoral options for 2008, and the dismal place the antiwar movement is in that they are flailing -- both politically and organizationally. In response to my article, "Ron Paul, Libertarianism, and the Freedom to Starve to Death," written for the Jan.-Feb. International Socialist Review and posted to several Web sites, literally hundreds of people have written nasty screeds to comment boards or e-mailed me their invective. I want to respond to the small segment of them who are self-described leftists who continue to challenge my argument that the Left should not be embracing either Ron Paul's candidacy or his libertarian constituency.

There is a deep cynicism informing the idea that since the Left is weak, we must turn rightward for strength. The Left's primary weakness in this country is its refusal to jettison an electoral strategy that has led us to the political cul-de-sac of antiwar activists placing an effective moratorium on mass protest to not embarrass prowar Democrats they feel they must support, as the movement did in 2004. The current crop of Democrats heading into the 2008 primaries murmur their tactical differences with the losing strategy of Bush and Co. in Iraq, while their party votes for more war funding and exposes its liberal imperial aspirations by threatening war against Iran and Pakistan.

As Adolph Reed recently wrote: "The Democratic candidates who are anointed 'serious' are like a car with a faulty front-end alignment: Their default setting pulls to the right." In other words, the rightward drifting strategy of the movement has failed, so the antidote, some insist, is move even further to the right by supporting a Republican. The prescription: In a hole? Dig deeper.
There are other weakness to be sure, including the collapse of a broad Left that once understood the need to oppose U.S. foreign adventures under ALL circumstances, including those called "humanitarian." This devastated a Left that lost its political rudder when it began supporting ventures in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, and finally Afghanistan. A trail of death and poverty lies in the wake of those great acts of the white man's burden.

Some of Paul's defenders complain that since he supposedly didn't actually write some of the racist crap in his own eight-page 1992 newsletter, then he's cleared of any racist aspersions. Get real. This is a man who argues that cross-burning shouldn't be a crime, unless it's violating someone's property rights. Threaten someone's life with the tactics of the Klan, no worries; singe their lawn, watch out! Paul has a 100 percent approval rating from the unabashedly racist John Birch Society and his political career, according to Texas muckraker Molly Ivins whose columns exposed his batty ideas, was helped by crazed holy-roller homophobe Pat Robertson. If those allies aren't bad enough, wrap your brain around the fact that he received an endorsement on KKK leader David Duke's site. The Web site's motto, "White Civil Rights: The Website for Europeans and Americans Wherever They May Live," can't be parsed by Paul's defenders -- they hold proto-fascistic ideas and give enthusiastic support to Ron Paul.
Then there's that little problem he has with separation of church and state, a fundamental aspect of any modern secular society. Paul argues, "The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers." Come on folks, how far to the right does a guy need to be before his antiwar position ceases to corral leftists into his camp?

If all a guy needs to be is antiwar to embrace his supporters or even offer up endorsement, then why stop at Ron Paul, a man who isn't even pretending to stand outside the two-party stranglehold of big business? If it's his antiwar stance that gets progressives excited, then why not embrace Pat Buchanan too? In 2004 he blasted the war and the Bush administration at great length in Where the Right Went Wrong. Afterall, Buchanan is a far better known opponent of foreign adventures, is more pugnacious toward the do-nothing Democrats, and shares a lot of Paul's other individualist politics. Most leftists would say that Buchanan is a nasty bigot; does this mean Paul's folksy style and apparent nice-guy persona cancels out his pro-business and racist natterings? Nasty racists, no; affable ones, okey dokey?

Since many progressives who wrote me don't seem to be repelled by Ron Paul's actual anti-labor, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, defiantly sexist, homophobic, and outright racist voting record and statements, perhaps a gander at what his supporters have to say would be instructive. Those who endorse uniting with the Paulites to build a stronger antiwar movement, such as left-wing writer/activist Joshua Frank, ought to know who they're getting into bed with. Here is a tiny sampling of the responses I've received so far from his committed followers.
Most numerous were the puerile personal attacks devoid of any political content -- I'll spare you those. Though it's worth mentioning that quite a few (men) addressed me as "sweetie," "hey lady," and "girly" -- diminutive and sexist means of attempting to belittle a woman whose arguments, in the minds of chauvinists, don't deserve a political retort. Gee, they would make fine movement allies.

Then there are the old-school McCarthyites and a handful of anti-Semites, a couple of whom attack the organization I'm in, the International Socialist Organization, as "an organization of Jewish run hypocrites." More common were these: "Your interpretation is simply Marxist and Un-American as well as manipulative" and the more colorful "Keep your views to yourself as I think they stink like your farts! If you don't want to learn to follow and obey the US Constitution get the hell out of this country we don't want you." Or the delusional red-baiting type: "You socialists cause inflation through your support of The Federal Reserve's unceasing creation of money out of thin air. . . . Let us alone to be free people. Everyone in our country will benefit except for the oligarchs such as you."

I won't bother reprinting the tirades against Stalin and Mao used to "refute" my arguments, since as a member of a political tendency that has never defended Stalinism or Maoism, I found these folks simply avoided dealing with the actual political issues involved. As do screeds, like the one on, "Ron Paul: Slings and Arrows, Left and Right," which argue that I'm shilling for Hillary Clinton, who, if she ever had a progressive stance, has had it triangulated into its poll-tested opposite. For the record, I do not now vote for or advocate a vote for, nor have I ever in my adult life voted for or advocated a vote for, a Democrat.

The racists claim: "Multi-culturalism is being discredited more each day, we don't all need to live together in harmony." And the immigrant bashers: "I would like to make an objection to your use of the term 'undocumented immigrant.' There is a reason that these individuals are not documented . . . that is because they are in the country illegally. These illegal aliens come to this country because they get free healthcare, social services and their children are born citizens." The first note speaks for itself; as for the second, not only are 96 percent of undocumented males gainfully employed (higher than any other sector of the population), but the National Academy of Sciences found that immigrants benefit the U.S. economy overall, have little negative effect on the income and job opportunities of most native-born Americans, and may add as much as $10 billion to the economy each year. I can't see too many Arab, Black, Latino, and other immigrants feeling welcomed into a movement with the likes of these correspondents.
The more thoughtful notes actually betray the pro-employer class bias at the very heart of Ron Paul's libertarianism. There were lots of overt defenses of the free market and privatization, among which was this e-mail that really sums up the ramifications of Paul's politics:
"You talk of Bosses exploiting employees. You probably think employers should pay employees what they are worth -- because it sounds good to you. . . . The simple fact is if you were paid what you were worth, then there would be no profit left to the employer. If you cannot live cheaply enough for your income level, go live somewhere else. No one points a gun to your head in either case. If you are not satisfied working for someone else, go to your secretary of state's office, and pay the tax if you wish to incorporate, or just be a sole proprietor -- you be the Boss you so despise."

Though he does make Marx's point about where profits come from, his solution that everyone should just get up and start their own company has the charm of both denying reality and deeming exploitation inevitable and desirable.

A surprising number of self-proclaimed leftists wrote in to argue in defense of Paul's "colorblind" vision of society as being similar to Martin Luther King's, while dismissing Paul's racist writings on Blacks. Let's be clear: MLK had a dream that we needed to fight for a world in which people would be judged by "the content of their character, not the color of their skin," BUT he didn't pretend as though we actually live in that society today! Anyone who can look around at the terrifying incarceration, unemployment, and mortality rates of Blacks and say that we have achieved that dream and should therefore support a man who opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is either suffering racial myopia, is a racist, or is someone who thinks reality is a mere diversion. So long as we have institutionalized racism, we will need affirmative action, including quotas, and other legal and social protections to challenge the racists in power and defend groups under siege.

Finally, I want to address a couple of things lurking beneath the surface of many progressives' arguments, elaborated by Josh Frank -- someone I respect and with whom I often agree. He argues in a recent radio interview that we should "Put the false differences aside and come together in common cause," with the "beer drinking red-necks from Tennessee" he wrote about in his initial online article, "Ron Paul's Campaign Deserves Our Attention." He states plainly that abortion and gay rights are "wedge issues" that "distract us from the big issues." While nobody is advocating a litmus test for antiwar folks to join the movement, certainly not I, we need to be clear that there is a difference between a movement in opposition to a racist and imperial war having some reactionary elements float through occasionally and activelycourting racists and know-nothings.

If a left-wing movement seeks alliance with these folks, we will find ourselves dropping demands and protests of things such as the attacks on Arabs and Muslims -- the domestic front of this war -- among other accommodations. Ignoring Paul's more outlandish ideas is an expression of the same opportunism that some progressives have embraced as they hold their noses and vote for Democrats with repulsive politics except for abortion, or whatever.

If a Left is to strengthen, it must take on backward ideas in its midst, not cater to them. There are literally millions of progressive-minded people in this country, most of them working class of every race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation who are facing a looming recession. Paul's politics provide no answer to the catastrophes afoot and will only repel the very people who need to be brought into the Left. Let's not pander to petty bosses' ideology and racist electoral campaigns and pretend we can walk away unsullied.

Sherry Wolf is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review. She can be reached at


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Steve Fraser from Tomgram

Perfect Storm of Campaign 2008
War, Depression, and Turning-Point Elections
By Steve Fraser

Will the presidential election of 2008 mark a turning point in American political history? Will it terminate with extreme prejudice the conservative ascendancy that has dominated the country for the last generation? No matter the haplessness of the Democratic opposition, the answer is yes.

With Richard Nixon's victory in the 1968 presidential election, a new political order first triumphed over New Deal liberalism. It was an historic victory that one-time Republican strategist and now political critic Kevin Phillips memorably anointed the "emerging Republican majority." Now, that Republican "majority" finds itself in a systemic crisis from which there is no escape.

Only at moments of profound shock to the old order of things -- the Great Depression of the 1930s or the coming together of imperial war, racial confrontation, and de-industrialization in the late 1960s and 1970s -- does this kind of upheaval become possible in a political universe renowned for its stability, banality, and extraordinary capacity to duck things that matter. The trauma must be real and it must be perceived by people as traumatic. Both conditions now apply.

War, economic collapse, and the political implosion of the Republican Party will make 2008 a year to remember.

The Politics of Fear in Reverse
Iraq is an albatross that, all by itself, could sink the ship of state. At this point, there's no need to rehearse the polling numbers that register the no-looking-back abandonment of this colossal misadventure by most Americans. No cosmetic fix, like the "surge," can, in the end, make a difference -- because large majorities decided long ago that the invasion was a fiasco, and because the geopolitical and geo-economic objectives of the Bush administration leave no room for a genuine Iraqi nationalism which would be the only way out of this mess.

The fatal impact of the President's adventure in Iraq, however, runs far deeper than that. It has undermined the politics of fear which, above all else, had sustained the Bush administration. According to the latest polls, the Democrats who rate national security a key concern has shrunk to a percentage bordering on the statistically irrelevant. Independents display a similar "been there, done that" attitude. Republicans do express significantly greater levels of alarm, but far lower than a year or two ago.

In fact, the politics of fear may now be operating in reverse. The chronic belligerence of the Bush administration, especially in the last year with respect to Iran, and the cartoonish saber-rattling of Republican presidential candidates (whether genuine or because they believe themselves captives of the Bush legacy) is scary. Its only promise seems to be endless war for purposes few understand or are ready to salute. To paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for many people now, the only thing to fear is the politics of fear itself.

And then there is the war on the Constitution. Randolph Bourne, a public intellectual writing around the time of World War I, is remembered today for one trenchant observation: that war is the health of the state. Mobilizing for war invites the cancerous growth of the bureaucratic state apparatus and its power over everyday life. Like some over-ripe fruit this kind of war-borne "healthiness" is today visibly morphing into its opposite -- what we might call the "sickness of the state."

The constitutional transgressions of the executive branch and its abrogation of the powers reserved to the other two branches of government are, by now, reasonably well known. Most of this aggressive over-reaching has been encouraged by the imperial hubris exemplified by the invasion of Iraq. It would be short-sighted to think that this only disturbs the equanimity of a small circle of civil libertarians. There is a long-lived and robust tradition in American political life always resentful of this kind of statism. In part, this helps account for wholesale defections from the Republican Party by those who believe it has been kidnapped by political elites masquerading as down-home, "live free or die" conservatives.

Now, add potential economic collapse to this witches' brew. Even the soberest economy watchers, pundits with PhDs -- whose dismal record in predicting anything tempts me not to mention this -- are prophesying dark times ahead. Depression -- or a slump so deep it's not worth quibbling about the difference -- is evidently on the way; indeed is already underway. The economics of militarism have been a mainstay of business stability for more than half century; but now, as in the Vietnam era, deficits incurred to finance invasion only exacerbate a much more embracing dilemma.

Start with the confidence game being run out of Wall Street; after all, the subprime mortgage debacle now occupies newspaper front pages day after outrageous day. Certainly, these tales of greed and financial malfeasance are numbingly familiar. Yet, precisely that sense of déjà vu all over again, of Enron revisited, of an endless cascade of scandalous, irrational behavior affecting the central financial institutions of our world suggests just how dire things have become.

Enronization as Normal Life
Once upon a time, all through the nineteenth century, financial panics -- often precipitating more widespread economic slumps -- were a commonly accepted, if dreaded, part of "normal" economic life. Then the Crash of 1929, followed by the New Deal Keynesian regulatory state called into being to prevent its recurrence, made these cyclical extremes rare.

Beginning with the stock market crash of 1987, however, they have become ever more common again, most notoriously -- until now, that is -- with the implosion of 2000 and the Enronization that followed. Enron seems like only yesterday because, in fact, it was only yesterday, which strongly suggests that the financial sector is now increasingly out of control. At least three factors lurk behind this new reality.

Thanks to the Reagan counterrevolution, there is precious little left of the regulatory state -- and what remains is effectively run by those who most need to be regulated. (Despite bitter complaints in the business community, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, passed after the bubble burst, has proven weak tea indeed when it comes to preventing financial high jinks, as the current financial meltdown indicates.)

More significantly, for at least the last quarter-century, the whole U.S. economic system has lived off the speculations generated by the financial sector -- sometimes given the acronym FIRE for finance, insurance, and real estate). It has grown exponentially while, in the country's industrial heartland in particular, much of the rest of the economy has withered away. FIRE carries enormous weight and the capacity to do great harm. Its growth, moreover, has fed a proliferation of financial activities and assets so complex and arcane that even their designers don't fully understand how they operate.

One might call this the sorcerer's apprentice effect. In such an environment, the likelihood and frequency of financial panics grows, so much so that they become "normal accidents" -- an oxymoron first applied to highly sophisticated technological systems like nuclear power plants by the sociologist Charles Perrow. Such systems are inherently subject to breakdowns for reasons those operating them can't fully anticipate, or correctly respond to, once they're underway. This is so precisely because they never fully understood the labyrinthine intricacies and ramifying effects of the way they worked in the first place.

Likening the current subprime implosion to such a "normal accident" is more than metaphorical. Today's Wall Street fabricators of avant-garde financial instruments are actually called "financial engineers." They got their training in "labs," much like Dr. Frankenstein's, located at Wharton, Princeton, Harvard, and Berkeley. Each time one of their confections goes south, they scratch their heads in bewilderment -- always making sure, of course, that they have financial life-rafts handy, while investors, employees, suppliers, and whole communities go down with the ship.
What makes Wall Street's latest "normal accident" so portentous, however, is the way it is interacting with, and infecting, healthier parts of the economy. When the bubble burst, many innocents were hurt, not just denizens of the Street. Still, its impact turned out to be limited. Now, via the subprime mortgage meltdown, Main Street is under the gun.

It is not only a matter of mass foreclosures. It is not merely a question of collapsing home prices. It is not simply the shutting down of large portions of the construction industry (inspiring some of those doom-and-gloom prognostications). It is not just the born-again skittishness of financial institutions which have, all of sudden, gotten religion, rediscovered the word "prudence," and won't lend to anybody. It is all of this, taken together, which points ominously to a general collapse of the credit structure that has shored up consumer capitalism for decades.

Campaigning Through a Perfect Storm of Economic Disaster
The equity built up during the long housing boom has been the main resource for ordinary people financing their big-ticket-item expenses -- from college educations to consumer durables, from trading-up on the housing market to vacationing abroad. Much of that equity, that consumer wherewithal, has suddenly vanished, and more of it soon will. So, too, the life-lines of credit that allow all sorts of small and medium-sized businesses to function and hire people are drying up fast. Whole communities, industries, and regional economies are in jeopardy.
All of that might be considered enough, but there's more. Oil, of course. Here, the connection to Iraq is clear; but, arguably, the wild escalation of petroleum prices might have happened anyway. Certainly, the energy price explosion exacerbates the general economic crisis, in part by raising the costs of production all across the economy, and so abetting the forces of economic contraction. In the same way, each increase in the price of oil further contributes to what most now agree is a nearly insupportable level in the U.S. balance of payments deficit. That, in turn, is contributing to the steady withering away of the value of the dollar, a devaluation which then further ratchets up the price of oil (partially to compensate holders of those petrodollars who find themselves in possession of an increasingly worthless currency). As strategic countries in the Middle East and Asia grow increasingly more comfortable converting their holdings into euros or other more reliable -- which is to say, more profitable -- currencies, a speculative run on the dollar becomes a real, if scary, possibility for everyone.

Finally, it is vital to recall that this tsunami of bad business is about to wash over an already very sick economy. While the old regime, the Reagan-Bush counterrevolution, has lived off the heady vapors of the FIRE sector, it has left in its wake a de-industrialized nation, full of super-exploited immigrants and millions of families whose earnings have suffered steady erosion. Two wage-earners, working longer hours, are now needed to (barely) sustain a standard of living once earned by one. And that doesn't count the melting away of health insurance, pensions, and other forms of protection against the vicissitudes of the free market or natural calamities. This, too, is the enduring hallmark of a political economy about to go belly-up.

This perfect storm will be upon us just as the election season heats up. It will inevitably hasten the already well-advanced implosion of the Republican Party, which is the definitive reason 2008 will indeed qualify as a turning-point election. Reports of defections from the conservative ascendancy have been emerging from all points on the political compass. The Congressional elections of 2006 registered the first seismic shock of this change. Since then, independents and moderate Republicans continue to indicate, in growing numbers in the polls, that they are leaving the Grand Old Party. The Wall Street Journal reports on a growing loss of faith among important circles of business and finance. Hard core religious right-wingers are airing their doubts in public. Libertarians delight in the apostate candidacy of Ron Paul. Conservative populist resentment of immigration runs head on into corporate elite determination to enlarge a sizeable pool of cheap labor, while Hispanics head back to the Democratic Party in droves. Even the Republican Party's own elected officials are engaged in a mass movement to retire.
All signs are ominous. The credibility and legitimacy of the old order operate now at a steep discount. Most telling and fatal perhaps is the paralysis spreading into the inner councils at the top. Faced with dire predicaments both at home and abroad, they essentially do nothing except rattle those sabers, captives of their own now-bankrupt ideology. Anything, many will decide, is better than this.

Or will they? What if the opposition is vacillating, incoherent, and weak-willed -- labels critics have reasonably pinned on the Democrats? Bad as that undoubtedly is, I don't think it will matter, not in the short run at least.

Take the presidential campaign of 1932 as an instructive example. The crisis of the Great Depression was systemic, but the response of the Democratic Party and its candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- though few remember this now -- was hardly daring. In many ways, it was not very different from that of Republican President Herbert Hoover; nor was there a great deal of militant opposition in the streets, not in 1932 anyway, hardly more than the woeful degree of organized mass resistance we see today despite all the Bush administration's provocations.
Yet the New Deal followed. And not only the New Deal, but an era of social protest, including labor, racial, and farmer insurgencies, without which there would have been no New Deal or Great Society. May something analogous happen in the years ahead? No one can know. But a door is about to open.

Steve Fraser is a writer and editor, as well as the co-founder of the American Empire Project. He is the author of Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life. His latest book, Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, will be published by Yale University Press in March 2008.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Che criticises the USSR

Le Monde Diplomatique, Dec 2007
The search for a democratic and communist alternative
Che Guevara: the thinking behind the action
Newly available writings by Che Guevara make clear just what he thought about Soviet – and Cuban – communism, and how his feelings and ideas about the socialism he so believed in changed in the years before his assassination
By Michael Löwy

Ernesto Che Guevara gradually lost his illusions about the USSR and Soviet-style Marxism. A 1965 letter to his friend, the Cuban minister of culture Armando Hart, criticised the way Cuba toed the line by publishing Soviet manuals on Marxism – he called them Soviet tomes and said they prevented people from thinking: the party did that for them, they only had to digest the results (1). Che was looking for another model, a different way of building socialism, more radical, more egalitarian, with greater solidarity.

His work is not a closed system, a complete theory with an answer to everything. On many questions, including socialist democracy and the battle against bureaucracy, his thinking was incomplete, interrupted by his death in 1967. But as Martínez Heredia rightly points out in this connection, the incompleteness has certain advantages: the great thinker is present, pointing out problems and possible courses; it is up to his comrades to think, study, and combine theory with practice.

At first, in 1960-62, Guevara had high hopes of countries with real live socialism. But he became critical after visits to the Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries, and after experiencing the beginnings of the transition to socialism in Cuba. He voiced his deviant views several times, especially in his famous 1965 speech in Algiers.

But his attempt to formulate a new approach to socialism had already been set out in the great economic debate in Cuba in 1963-64, in which advocates of market socialism as practised in the USSR, with business autonomy and profit-seeking, were opposed by Guevara, who was in favour of central planning, based on social, political and moral criteria. Instead of productivity bonuses and market prices, he proposed that certain goods and services should be free. But he did not make it clear who was to take the basic economic decisions – the problem of democracy in planning remained.

Guevara’s critical notes about the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ manual of political economy (1963 Spanish edition) – one of the tomes mentioned in his letter to Hart – shed new light on this. This previously unseen material, produced in 1965-66 during his stay in Tanzania and Prague and recently published in Cuba, is not a book but a collection of extracts from the Soviet work with Che’s frequently bitter and ironic comments (2). We have waited a long time for this material. For decades it remained out of circulation, with only a few Cuban researchers allowed to consult it and quote some passages. Now it has been collated by Maria del Carmen Ariet Garcia of the Centre for Che Guevara Studies in Havana.
This edition contains other unpublished material: a letter to Fidel Castro in April 1965, which serves as a prologue; notes on the writings of Marx and Lenin; selected records of conversations between Guevara and his colleagues at the ministry of industry, 1963-65 (parts of these had already been seen in France and Italy in the 1970s); letters to eminent people including Paul Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim; and extracts from an interview with the Egyptian periodical El Taliah in April 1965. The work displays Guevara’s independent spirit and his limits.
To take these limits first: we do not know if Guevara’s views on the subject changed in 1966-67, but he did not seem to understand Stalinism. He actually attributed the USSR’s impasse in the 1960s to Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP). True, he thought that if Lenin had lived longer – he made the mistake of dying, Che quips – he would have corrected the most retrograde effects of this policy. But he was still convinced that the introduction of capitalist elements in the NEP led to disastrous tendencies signalling a return to capitalism, observable in the Soviet Union in 1963.
Sometimes – as when Guevara noted that managers welcomed the NEP, in which they had a privileged position – his views coincided with those advanced by leftwing opposition critics in the USSR in 1925-27. But the idea that the NEP was responsible for the pro-capitalist trend in the USSR under Leonid Brezhnev was unsustainable. Guevara was aware of Stalin’s disastrous role; one note makes the striking comment that Stalin’s terrible and historic crime was to treat communist education with contempt and institute a boundless cult of authority. This may not be an analysis of the Stalinist phenomenon but it is a categorical rejection.
In his speech in Algiers, Guevara called on countries which claimed to be socialist to end their tacit complicity with their western exploiters by ceasing to trade on unfair terms with nations struggling against imperialism. He made this point again several times in the notes on the Soviet manual. The authors of the manual spoke in glowing terms of mutual assistance between socialist countries but Guevara, with his experience as minister of industry in Cuba, conceded that this did not correspond to the facts. If the spirit of proletarian internationalism were to preside over the actions of governments in all socialist countries, he said, internationalism would triumph. But it was replaced by chauvinism, in great powers and small countries, or by submission to the USSR: an affront to the honest dreams of communists everywhere.
A few pages later, in an ironic comment on the manual’s celebration of the division of labour between socialist countries, based on collaboration, Guevara observed that this claim was undermined by the fact that the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance was a nest of vipers and so the manual was talking about an ideal that could be achieved only if proletarian internationalism were really practised, which it wasn’t. In another passage, he noted that the relations between countries claiming to be socialist were riddled with expansionism, unfair trade, competition, exploitation, and weak states bowing to the strong.
When the manual spoke of establishing communism in the USSR, Che put a rhetorical question: can communism be established in one country? He observed elsewhere that Lenin insisted on the universal nature of the revolution, which was subsequently denied (3).
Most of Guevara’s criticisms of the Soviet manual were in line with his economic writings in 1963-64: for central planning and against the primacy of value and independent factories operating in accordance with the rules of the market; for communist education and against individual financial incentives. He was also concerned about the material involvement of factory managers, which he regarded as a source of corruption. Guevara advocated planning as the central axis in the process of building socialism, because it liberated people from being economic objects. But he recognised, in the letter to Castro, that in Cuba the workers had no part in the production of the plan.
So who was to do the planning? The 1963-64 debate did not answer this question. And it is on this point that the 1965-66 critical notes show the most interesting marks of development. Certain passages establish quite clearly the principle of a socialist democracy in which the important economic decisions are actually taken by the people. The masses, Guevara wrote, must have a part in forming the plan but its execution was purely technical.
In the USSR, he considered that the concept of the plan as an economic decision of the masses, conscious of their role, had been replaced by a system in which everything was determined by economic factors. The masses, he insisted, must be able to control their fate, decide how much was to be saved and how much spent; economic policy must be conducted on the basis of these figures, decided by the people, and the consciousness of the masses must be the ultimate guarantee.

This is a recurring theme. The workers, the people as a whole, will decide on the main problems facing a country (growth rates, saving/spending), even if the actual plan is drafted by specialists. The unduly mechanical division between economic decisions and their execution is debatable, but in drawing these distinctions, Guevara came close to the idea of democratic socialist planning.

He did not draw all the political conclusions, “democratisation of government, political pluralism, freedom of organisation”, but there is no denying the importance of this new vision of economic democracy. These notes can be regarded as an important stage in Guevara’s quest for a democratic/communist alternative to the Soviet model, ended so abruptly in

Translated by Barbara Wilson
Michael Löwy is author of La Pensée de Che Guevara, Syllepse, Paris, 1997, and, with Olivier Besancenot, of Che Guevara: une braise qui brûle encore, Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2007
(1) This letter, long unpublished, is reproduced in Nestor Kohan, Ernesto Che Guevara: Otro mundo es posible, Nuestra America, Buenos Aires, 2007.
(2) Ernesto Che Guevara, Apuntes criticos a la economia politica (Ocean Press, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Havana, 2006).
(3) Unlike the internationalist principles advocated earlier by Lenin, this political theory, propounded by Stalin in 1924, was adopted at the 14th Soviet Communist Party congress on 18 December 1925.

Moshe Lewin on Bolshevik Revolution
Le Monde Diplomatique December 2007
Socialist revolution displaced by return to tsarism
USSR: making and breaking

The October Revolution of 1917, improvised by the Bolsheviks amid worsening national chaos, was socialist in intent. That it was so soon afterwards hijacked by the autocratic Stalin and delivered over to bureaucracy and a police state was no fault of socialism
By Moshe Lewin

The Russian revolution of October 1917 (1), a key event in the history of the 20th century, provoked justifications and ideological pronouncements. But conflicting representations have helped obscure the reality of the assault on the Winter Palace; 1917 was a year of general disruption of the army, the police, the state apparatus, and economic and political life.

The consequent chaos had a profound effect upon the decisions made by the Bolsheviks. When the revolution is described as having been “perpetrated” by the Bolsheviks, the implication is that they were “guilty” of it, which shows total ignorance of what actually happened in September and October 1917. Russia was in a state of collapse, its government totally paralysed and the country on the edge of revolt, civil war and chaos. The revolution was a response to this disorder and to the awareness that Russia as a nation state was on the verge of extinction.

The revolution did not cause a crisis; the crisis was resolved when the Bolsheviks intervened, after other parties’ attempts to control the situation had only worsened it. The official political order, symbolised by the provisional government established after the fall of Tsarism in February 1917, was paralysed, exhausted and doomed. Central power was an illusion. There was no power to be seized; the Bolsheviks had to create it.

As Lenin wrote later, the Bolsheviks started with just slogans calling for socialism, revolution and the abolition of aristocratic and bureaucratic privileges and titles. The key to Bolshevik success was the appeal to peasants to appropriate the land they cultivated, which they regarded as their own. Such a measure could have saved the provisional government if it had not been attempting to seduce the landowners, convinced that socialism was impossible.

The provisional government’s assessment of the situation was accurate, but it drew the wrong conclusion. Socialism was impossible; but so was a democratic bourgeois revolution. That was the tragedy of the political parties involved in coalitions between February and November 1917: the situation was becoming chaotic, and they failed either to understand or control it. Those who seized the initiative and eventually took control ran a significant risk, not because the Whites (the monarchists) were regrouping their forces against the provisional government, but because of the severity of the crisis and the profound disturbances set in motion by the total disruption of society.

The Bolsheviks’ seizure of power was nominal and had little chance of withstanding the intense pressure of events. The party faced a massive influx of new members and intimidating tasks, for which neither its pre-revolutionary experience nor its nature had prepared it. Its failure to survive the upheaval, despite genuine internal democracy, was due not to the civil war (which the Bolsheviks won), but to the erosive effects of the administrative tasks involved in constructing a state.

A shadow party
In 1921, just before the launch of the New Economic Policy, a period of relaxation after War Communism, Lenin realised that he had to create a party; Bolshevism, though it had demonstrated its practical capabilities during the civil war, was no more than a shadow party. Bolshevism dominated the stage; but much of the literature on it fails to recognise that for all its domination, it was a ghost. The drama was the transformation of a revolutionary party into an administrative class.

In fact, two conflicting dramas were being performed on the same stage to define the nature of the revolutionary regime. As I showed in The Soviet Century, the confrontation between Lenin and Stalin opposed two antagonistic political programmes rather than two factions within a party. Real Bolshevism was dead. Lenin sought to define a programme for a new political camp able to meet the challenges of the post-civil war situation. Stalin, with his own take on what Russian history had signified in the past and implied for the present, formulated his own concept of what the state (with him at its head) must be – a concept that had nothing to do with Bolshevism and everything to do with his vision of personal power as an end in itself.

The rival programmes that confronted each other in 1922-23, initially during the debate on the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (2), were mutually exclusive and openly antagonistic. The battle ended with Lenin’s illness and death in January 1924.

Digging its own grave
Stalinism (3) is a textbook example of what happens as a system ages and declines. Was its lifespan genetically predetermined by its inability to reform itself? Stalinism was a tightly controlled system built for and around an autocrat; it was by definition unreformable. The impact of the changes that state policy caused within Soviet society left the system digging its own grave.

Stalin struggled constantly against the revolutionary past because it offered him no security; he had learned nothing from it and was even hostile to its lessons, as his battle to create a hegemonic Great Russian Soviet Union demonstrated. He sought a past that suited him and summoned Russia’s autocratic heritage to define what would become the USSR. Only Tsarism, which exercised unmediated, divinely derived authority, could confer the legitimacy to which he aspired. It is surprising that he should have continued to borrow systematically from the ideological structures of Tsarist Russia during and after the second world war. This shows his determination to deny the fact that the Tsarist regime had exhausted all its possibilities by 1914. He does not seem to have noticed the self-destructive tendencies of the model nor to have realised that his idol, Ivan the Terrible (4), had been responsible for a national nightmare.

The Stalinist regime suffered a similar fate just when it seemed to be at its zenith after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Stalin, as the leader of a victorious superpower, enjoyed enormous prestige; but the system he controlled ceased to function and went into decline. All his associates could see that the superpower had feet of clay. The Tsarist regime had no redeemer; no legitimate, competent successor. Stalin was blessed with close associates waiting impatiently to get to work and revitalise a system beset by absurd dysfunctions. It was difficult to foresee a healthy future for a regime that was denouncing cosmopolitans for bowing down to the West, requiring senior government officials to wear uniforms and adopt titles originally created by Peter the Great, murdering Jewish intellectuals and leading officials (5) and putting “white blouses” (6) on trial.

Some of Stalin’s closest associates tried to clean up the mess he was making. They acted quickly and radically after his death in March 1953, promoting major reforms introduced at the 20th conference of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956. Some people, whose psychologically-driven hatred of the USSR I struggle to understand, have expressed shock at my assertion that one of the first measures of the post-Stalin leadership was the suppression of the Gulag. But it is essential to distinguish the Gulag under Stalin, an economic and industrial complex under the ministry of internal affairs (MVD), from the radically reformed system of camps that continued to exist after his death (7).

There is something peculiar about the West’s obsession with the Gulag, which it equates with the Soviet system, defined as an absolute evil. The West hailed Alexander Solzhenitsyn as a prophet when he was, I consider, the defender of an obsolete ideology who hated the social democratic circle around the review Novi Mir and its editor, Alexander Tvardovsky. Solzhenitsyn was the sworn enemy of western democracy. Maybe this preacher of a medieval orthodoxy was necessary to fill the ideological void created by the cold war.

Mistaken diagnosis
The Soviet system stagnated at the end of the 1960s, when fundamental change was emerging at its heart. Urbanisation and modernisation had become inescapable, since the majority of people were now educated town-dwellers, familiar with new technologies. The status of women had improved significantly. These major social changes also indirectly affected the substantial number who, despite remaining in the country, largely adopted an urban mode of life.

This rapid process of change produced a relatively new urban society that was young, unlike the old bureaucratised state derived from the Tsarist system. In just 50 years the system had aged prematurely.

Were there any signs of life? The bureaucratic Soviet state practised a rigorous top-down centralism. But power at the top became entirely dependent upon the bureaucratic machine, especially at ministry level. As the balance shifted in its favour, the bureaucracy ceased to obey orders and turned into a monster motivated by its own logic and dragging the system towards the abyss. The centre lost the ability to control events. It had showed itself incapable of reforming and adapting, unable to modify its strategy and political orientation, to make new allies and overcome obstacles. The system had become depoliticised and unable to impose its will. And the USSR had as its leader Leonid Brezhnev, a man close to death (if not already dead).

Depoliticisation, in the sense of the loss of the ability to make policy, signifies the reaching of a point of no return. There was no longer a ruling party capable of conducting coherent political activity; the centre had become fatally dependent upon a mass of senior officials in various departments, concerned only with their own interests and overseeing the privatisation of the very entities that they were supposed to be administering.

Analysts, planners and writers publicly predicted catastrophe; but the government was paralysed. From the late 1960s to the 1980s any movement in any direction was regarded as fatal. The widely believed legend that the Soviet Union collapsed because of the unsustainable costs of the cold war and the arms race is a mistake. The brief reign of Yuri Andropov, who was secretary general of the party from 1982 to 1984, was interesting but too short to draw any conclusions. Nevertheless it exhibited the potential to repoliticise the system and mobilise it for urgent economic and political reforms. The conditions necessary for success were present.

The fall of the USSR can tell us a great deal about how political systems change, decline and collapse into crisis. To say that a system can age is to suggest that it passes through different stages marked by dynamism, periods of stagnation and decline, then renewed dynamism. These different moments can be seen as links in a chain, provided that the system is not beyond repair.

Great leaps forward
This will be better understood if we compare the USSR with China. Mao Zedong’s China and Stalin’s Russia both attempted great leaps forward, followed by stagnation and decline, then by recoveries. Nevertheless, the two regimes developed differently.

Although much more advanced, the Soviet system fell into stagnation and proved unable to introduce the essential major reforms for which the country was ready. Despite political similarities, and being far more repressive and autocratic than its Soviet counterpart, the Chinese system achieved spectacular reforms. The problem is not inherent in communist regimes, as is so often claimed, but reflects the degree to which the leadership is capable of transforming itself at specific stages.

There can be no question of the socialist, or at least emancipatory, character of the October revolution. But it is difficult to sustain the claim that the Soviet state was socialist. It may have called itself socialist, and the party communist, but these were just labels. Socialism is a form of democracy that goes beyond any other that might exist in a capitalist world. But all that tells us about the sort of economic system that such a democracy might want to institute is that it would have to be controlled by society as a whole, without capitalists or bureaucrats.

The Soviet state proclaimed itself as socialist, ruled by a communist party. Like all national myths, this was an essential element in legitimising the system in the eyes of its own people and the world. But such assertions were unable to stand up to harsh reality outside and within. In post-Stalinist Russia, an advanced, educated, urban society emerged, with many officials experienced in every domain, including the management of public affairs. Such a society would not take the party line on socialism for reality.

The tragedy was that the weight of history had not been and could not be removed. Bureaucracy rooted itself deeply and spread right across Tsarist Russia; individuals could be eradicated, but the species flowered again under new forms adapted to Soviet realities. The Soviet state requires serious historical study. Even if it was not socialist, those who precipitated the October revolution were. The ideas in which they believed and which they put into practice remain as vital today as they were in 1917 when they made their commitment and turned Russia into a player in history.

Translated by Donald Hounam

Moshe Lewin is a historian and the author of The Soviet Century, Verso, London, 2005

(1) The storming of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, the seat of the provisional government, was a crucial symbolic event in the seizure of power. According to the Gregorian calendar, adopted in Russia a few months later, this took place during the night of 6-7 November 1917. According to the Julian calendar, still in force at the time, the Bolshevik revolution was in October.

(2) Lenin, backed by leading members of the government from Grigory Zinoviev to Leon Trotsky, supported a federation that granted significant rights to non-Russian republics and reserved only foreign and military policy to the central government. Stalin wanted tocentralise power and allow the non-Russian republics only token autonomy. Hence Lenin’s accusation that Stalin sought to perpetrate “Great Russian” hegemony. See Lewin, The Soviet Century.

(3) I use the term Stalinism to refer only to the period during which Stalin was in power.

(4) Ivan IV (1530-84), the first Grand Prince of Moscow to be formally crowned tsar, is regarded as having made one of the most important contributions to Russia’s greatness. History remembers him as a bloody tyrant because of his cruelty (and mental instability).

(5) During the Leningrad affair of 1950, all the former leaders of the Communist Party and the administration in the city were executed. The main accused was Alexei Kuznetsov, whom Stalin had appointed secretary of the central committee and who was therefore a potential successor. Another victim was Nikolai Voznesensky, the deputy prime minister and director of Gosplan (the committee for economic planning).

(6) On the persecution of Soviet Jews, which culminated in 1953 with accusations of a plot involving Stalin’s Jewish doctors, see Laurent Rucker, Staline, Israël et les Juifs, Presses universitaires de France, Paris, 2001.

(7) See Lewin, op cit.


And Paul Rogers says

Iraq’s danger signals
Paul Rogers
The narrative of progress in the "war on terror" is belied by immediate events and longer-term trends in Iraq, Afghanistan and Algeria.

13 - 12 - 2007

The mood-music for several weeks in November-December 2007 has been of the cautious improvement of military and political prospects in the various leading fronts of George W Bush's "war on terror". The United States military surge in Iraq was clearly having some success; a febrile political situation in Pakistan was nonetheless contained, with violence in areas such as Swat being addressed; the winter was expected to see an easing of the conflict in Afghanistan; the Annapolis summit could be presented as a signal of progress in middle-east negotiations; and Iran's recalcitrance over its nuclear programmes meant that there seemed a real possibility of maintaining pressure on Tehran (via an economic squeeze, international support for a third round of United Nations sanctions, and the ultimate threat of military force).

In combination, the domestic political impact of these events and trends in the US - especially when given a positive gloss by the establishment media - could be regarded as positive for the Republicans in the 2008 presidential campaign (albeit without agreement yet on the party's likely candidate).

A sea of worries

The most striking breach in this evolving story-line was the release on 3 December 2007 of the national-intelligence estimate (NIE), a collation of the most up-to-date assessments on current security situations and threats from the US's sixteen intelligence agencies. The latest NIE report - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities - concluded "with high confidence" that Iran had abandoned its plans to build a nuclear weapon in 2003 as a result of international pressure, and was unlikely to have enough enriched uranium to resume its plans until 2010-15. Its publication was a severe blow to leading US neo-conservatives who had invested so much effort in depicting Iran as an immediate danger.

The unexpected revision of judgment about Iran's nuclear ambitions produced a heated response from hawkish commentators (see Khody Akhavi, "The neo-cons strike back", Asia Times, 11 December 2007). There is little doubt, however, that the assessment makes it far more difficult for the more intransigent elements in Washington to persuasively advocate a military assault on Iran in the near future - and perhaps before the end of Bush's presidential term at the end of 2008. Moreover, the report effectively undercuts the case for increased sanctions on Iran, with Russia and China able to exert influence in the UN Security Council influence to counter any fresh US move in this direction.

Elsewhere too, the true picture qualifies the discourse of cautious optimism. The bombings in Algiers on 12 December which killed around sixty-seven people (including eleven United Nations staff) at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees offices and other locations show that al-Qaida and its affiliates are still capable of major coordinated operations against perceived western (as well as other) targets. The manoeuvres of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan have bought him and his US backers some breathing-space, though the political and security prospects there remain uncertain as the 8 January 2008 election approaches. Afghanistan, however, is re-emerging as a major worry for both the US and Britain, as large parts of the south and east of the country remain or have moved out of the control either of the Hamid Karzai administration or of International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) units.

The unusually severe message to his Nato allies from Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, is significant here: during his visit to Afghanistan on 3-4 December, Gates said that many Nato countries seemed frankly unwilling to increase their commitments to match current needs (such as a serious shortage of helicopters). The extensive "spin" over recent operations against the Taliban (such as the five-day assault on the town of Musa Qala, in Helmand province) or over the British prime minister's visit to Afghanistan on 12 December cannot conceal the fact that the real situation is one of great concern to the leading coalition powers.

Iraq's counter-surge

It is in Iraq, however, that provides the greatest test on any current assessment of the "war on terror". There has been over several months an undoubted improvement in the security situation in large parts of central and northern Iraq. This is reflected in a decline in American military casualties, which are running at a rate of around half of those in most of the 2005-07 period; and Iraqi civilian deaths are also substantially down. There has also been a limited return of refugees (due to "push" factors as the welcome in neighbouring countries where Iraqis have sought refuge has become strained, as well as the "pull" factor of greater security), and large parts of Baghdad are relatively calm. The increased US military presence as a result of the surge strategy has contributed to this, as has the erection of numerous walls and other barriers reinforcing the division of Baghdad into separate communities (see "Baghdad Safer, But It's a Life Behind Walls", Christian Science Monitor, 10 December 2007).

The notion of a positive overall dynamic has, however, been challenged by a sharp escalation in the levels of violence in Iraq in the first two weeks of December 2007. Whether coincidental or not, the series of attacks intensified around the time of Robert Gates's arrival in Baghdad on 5 December. An attack on 4 December in Mosul was followed by four bombings the next day that killed twenty-five people, including sixteen in one Shi'a neighbourhood of Baghdad.

On 7 December, a woman suicide-bomber killed sixteen people and wounded at least twenty in Muqdadiya, ninety kilometres northeast of Baghdad, while ten more died other bombing incidents. On 8 December, six police officers were killed in the northern town of Baiji; two days later, multiple bomb attacks in Baghdad killed nine people and set fire to an oil refinery; and on 12 December, a triple car-bombing killed at least forty people and wounded 125 in Amara, southern Iraq.

A number of dedicated assaults in this same period reveal the political calculation of the insurgent forces. On 9 December, the police chief of Babil district, Major-General Qais al-Mamouri - a close ally of the US forces, whose representatives had publicly praised him only hours before - was assassinated. On 11 December, a bomb targeted the office of the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in a secure part of Baghdad close to the green zone; Allawi himself survived but two guards were killed.

The US attempts to undermine insurgents in recent months (especially those linked to al-Qaida) have included the arming of some Sunni militias, especially to the north and west of Baghdad. This has certainly helped counter the al-Qaida campaign, but the substantial flow of weapons and munitions into Sunni communities carries its own risks; many in these communities remain bitterly opposed to the US presence and fearful of the power of the Shi'a majority in any future Iraqi state. For them, the US military supplies may serve one useful purpose now, but a quite different purpose later.

In a parallel development, the withdrawal of British forces from Basra has been accompanied by an intensification of the fight for control of the city by Shi'a factions. Britain's government - including Gordon Brown himself, during his visit to Basra on 9 December - presents the retreat as a successful handover to the Iraqi government. The reality on the ground is very different (see Sami Moubayed, "British pullout stokes Iraq's southern fire", Asia Times, 12 December 2007). Britain retains 2,500 personnel at Basra airport, in a role termed "overwatch" that is largely concerned with protecting their own base. The government will be under heavy pressure from Washington to keep this small number of troops in Iraq, even if almost entirely for symbolic reasons. Now that Poland and Australia plan to pull out of Iraq, the coalition forces are now barely even a rump.

The logic of control

A more general issue is that alongside the slow easing of the security situation across much of Iraq, there is abundant evidence of an increase in lawlessness, racketeering and corruption. Transparency International now lists Iraq as the third most corrupt country (after Burma and Somalia) out of 180 countries surveyed. The combination of a surge in violence and an insistence on rigid religious observance has had a particularly damaging impact on the lives of women (see Mark Lattimer, "Freedom Lost", Guardian, 13 December 2007).

There is little evidence that this is a matter of real concern in Washington, where the main focus is on consolidating US influence in the country. At least 50,000 US troops are planned to stay in the country indefinitely (something that that the largely defunct Nouri al-Maliki administration has accepted), and there will in addition be at least 50,000 private-security personnel and contractors.

The US's military effort is accompanied by the continuation of efforts by transnational oil companies to enter the Iraqi oil markets. The intended Iraqi national oil law remains stalled after a year of internal negotiations, but it now appears that the al-Maliki government will bypass the legislative problems by awarding contracts for the development of existing oilfields. The companies involved including the so-called "super-giants"; Shell, BP, Chevron and Total are currently in the frame for substantial contracts, as are two US majors, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

The relevant oilfields (between seven and nine of which are at stake) each have reserves of at least 5 billion barrels - together containing nearly half of Iraq's total reserves (see Ben Lando, "Big Oil to Sign Iraq Deals Soon", UPI, 6 December 2007). The context is important: Iraq has the third largest oil reserves of any country after Iran and Saudi Arabia, and many of the largest oil companies find that the reserves currently under their control are diminishing rapidly.

Behind the headlines, then, the Bush administration is seeking to strengthen its influence in Iraq in the face of a weak and corrupt government that is ready to complete numerous contracts with oil companies. At the heart of United States strategy in Iraq remains the aim of securing ultimate control of what to it is Iraq's most precious resource.

This assessment reinforces the argument made repeatedly in these columns since the launch of war in Iraq in 2003: that the United States will be in Iraq for decades. From Washington's perspective, this is how it should be. From al-Qaida's perspective too, the prospect is as welcome as can be. The devastating Algiers bombs - perpetrated by a group which chose to serve under the al-Qaida banner - is another reminder of the value of Iraq as a combat-training zone for the al-Qaida movement. That movement still sees a few months' difficulty in Iraq as but a brief moment in a decades-long ambition.


A different reading of the NIE

Whose Disinformation?
Gareth Porter December 11, 2007
IRC Right Web:

The reported White House resistance to the conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran had abandoned a nuclear weapons program in 2003 was an effort to save a political tactic—justifying a hardline on Iran based on the erroneous argument that Tehran had a clandestine uranium enrichment capacity—that the George W. Bush administration had been using since early 2004, despite the absence of an intelligence analysis to support it.

The charge that Iran had a secret weapons program was originally devised to build international support for sanctions—and even potential use of force—against Iran at a time when Iran was not enriching uranium.

But in 2006, the hawks added the allegation of a secret Iranian uranium enrichment program paralleling the publicly acknowledged program to bolster the argument that Iran must not be allowed to have any enrichment, even if carefully limited to far below a weapon-related level and intrusively monitored.

The original Bush administration argument was that Iranian uranium enrichment at Natanz was prima facie evidence of a "nuclear weapons program." On February 23, 2003, the State Department charged that Iran had exhibited "an ambitious rush to develop a nuclear fuel cycle, whose true purpose can only be to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons program."
That line took advantage of the widespread impression that the Natanz facility was illegal when it was revealed by the anti-regime National Council of Resistance in mid-2002, even though its construction was in compliance with Iran's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

When Iran voluntarily suspended its program of uranium enrichment as part of its agreement with Britain, France, and Germany—the European Union Three (EU-3)—in October 2003, however, it forced the Bush administration to come up with the idea of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.

It was John Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control, who articulated the new charge. He told a press conference on March 3, 2004: "We think the Iranians are still trying to conceal a clandestine weapons program."

Bolton repeated the charge before the House International Relations Committee on May 24, 2004, declaring: "The United States strongly believes that Iran has a clandestine program to produce nuclear weapons."

After the Iranian enrichment suspension was extended under a new agreement with the EU-3 in November 2004, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte reaffirmed the U.S. charge that Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

But the Bush administration's charge was not backed by any intelligence assessment. That was a major issue at stake when the National Intelligence Council commissioned a new NIE on Iran in January 2005.

Significantly, while the 2005 Iran NIE was being developed, the public charges of a covert weapons program stopped, apparently on orders from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The intelligence estimate, produced in May 2005, concluded, "It is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons." But it remained uncertain about whether the evidence of "clandestine work" by the military amounted to a "nuclear weapons program," as reported by Dafna Linzer in the Washington Post, August 2, 2005.

Equally important was the NIE's conclusion that Iran would not have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon until 2010 to 2015. That timeline, as Linzer reported, reflected "fading suspicions that Iran's military has been running its own separate and covert enrichment effort."
Administration hardliners wanted the NIE to support their allegation of a secret enrichment program to back up their pressure on Britain, France, and Germany to reject Iran's 2005 proposal to the EU-3 for an agreement under which it would limit uranium enrichment to the low levels appropriate to nuclear energy and submit to an inspection regime proposed by the Europeans. A key administration argument against such an agreement was that the experience gained from even a very limited enrichment program could be diverted into the alleged underground enrichment program.

The key findings of the NIE were never made public—a decision that set that NIE apart from others covering politically sensitive subjects. Keeping them secret gave greater credibility to allegations of a secret enrichment program by Israel's Mossad. Israeli intelligence officials told a number of journalists, including Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, that there was a second nuclear program in Iran run secretly by the military and the revolutionary guards that included both enrichment and weaponization activities. Israel used the parallel enrichment program charge to support its claim that Iran was much closer to having the capability to make a nuclear weapon than had been suggested by U.S. intelligence.

When work on a new NIE on the Iranian nuclear program began in the second half of 2006, the alleged covert nuclear weapons program was again the top issue.

By November 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency had already circulated an assessment within the intelligence community that rejected the covert weapons program thesis, as Hersh reported in late November. However, Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides were trying to exclude the CIA's assessment from the NIE, a senior intelligence official told Hersh.

The CIA had found no evidence for such a program, but Cheney and the White House were insisting, according to Hersh's story, that the failure to find a secret nuclear weapons program in Iran was merely evidence of the skill with which the Iranians were hiding it.

Another tactic used by Cheney was to cite a new claim by Israeli intelligence that its spies inside Iran had learned that Iran had developed and tested a trigger device for a nuclear bomb.
Conveniently, the alleged tests would not leave any trace of radioactivity, thus explaining why the sophisticated radiation monitoring devices placed in Iran by the United States and Israel had not detected it.

The CIA did not regard the report as reliable, especially in the absence of details that would allow verification. But Cheney asked for the original raw Israeli intelligence report, according to Hersh—the same thing Cheney and top Pentagon officials had done in constructing their case for the invasion of Iraq in 2002.

Cheney's tactics bottled up the NIE until early 2007. Last spring, however, the intelligence community came up with much more compelling evidence that no secret nuclear weapons program—including covert enrichment-related activities—had existed after fall 2003.
The White House responded by arguing that the new evidence might be based on an Iranian disinformation campaign, which forced a long process of proving that it was not information deliberately planted by Iran. That held up the acceptance of the NIE for several more months.
Recent briefings by intelligence officials have carefully refrained from naming any particular White House official who pushed the disinformation theory, but it was Cheney who was in charge of managing intelligence issues in order to protect the existing policy line.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist who writes for the Inter Press Service. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.


Wallerstein on NIE

Commentary No. 223, Dec. 15, 2007
"A Major Reversal? The NIE Report on Iran"

The Director of National Intelligence of the United States released on December 3 a declassified version of a report, called a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), concerning Iran and nuclear weapons. The New York Times headlined it as a "major reversal." It "reversed" a previous NIE made in 2005. It signaled a shift in official U.S. policy. In 2005, the NIE "assess(ed) with high confidence that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons." In 2007, the NIE "judge(d) with high confidence that in fall 2003, Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program."

Most of the press and public analysis of this report presumes that this assessment was made by the Director of National Intelligence and that it is being read by the Bush administration and the Congress who are only now taking it into account. Some have even called it a "coup" against Bush and/or Cheney and the neo-cons. I do not believe this sequence for a moment. I assume that the assessment has already been discussed within the Bush administration. After all, the report is said to have been written as much as a year ago. I believe that the report is the outcome of the discussion within the Bush administration, which made the decision with the knowledge and assent of George W. Bush that the report should be released to the public. The report will not lead to a reversal. It signals that the reversal has already occurred.

What may we infer from this? We can infer that the long ongoing debate between the faction that favored immediate military action against Iran (Cheney and his friends, the Israeli government and their friends) has lost out to the much larger faction that, for various reasons, thought such military action unwise. I am not surprised at this outcome, since I have long been arguing that the anti-immediate war faction was much stronger within the U.S. administration than the Cheney faction, particularly since the anti-immediate war faction includes the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

What will happen now in relation to Iran? Probably nothing very much. Russia, China, and Germany were already dragging their feet very obviously on further sanctions against Iran. There are unlikely to be further sanctions. Iran has persisted in its argument that it has the right to continue the development of its uranium enrichment program, while at the same time freezing its nuclear weapons development program. It will continue to do this for the time being.

The basic fact that we should always keep in mind is that the present U.S. administration has a full plate - maintaining its presence in Iraq, maintaining its presence in Afghanistan, and worrying about the very real possibility of the breakdown of order in Pakistan. Even George W. Bush can appreciate that Iran's possible development of nuclear weapons a decade from now cannot displace these other concerns as a priority.

The United States will no doubt keep up a verbal facade of criticism of Iran. See the President's public comments about the report. This rhetoric is similar to the verbal facade of favoring the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008. But nobody is paying very much attention - not even the presidential candidates in the United States (of either party). These statements are just that - verbal facades. Bush is falling into a weary pattern of attempting face-saving as he lives out what will no doubt be an unhappy last year in office.

In the meantime, every one else around the world is thinking of what they should be doing in the Middle East after 2009, with most probably a Democratic president in office in the United States. It should seem obvious to them all that, at the moment, the one stable state in the Middle East is Iran. Iran to be sure has its internal conflicts and the Ahmadinejad faction may well lose the next elections. But Iran - an oil power, a Shia power, a military and demographic power in the region - is a major actor that has to be taken into account. Countries will prefer to have Iran on their side than against them. Iran is not going to go away.

Iran has over time made several offers to the United States of a deal, proposing that they work together on Iraq and other issues. The Bush administration wouldn't even acknowledge the gesture. It is now probably too late for the United States to make such a deal - but it is not too late for China or Russia or even western Europe. It is not even too late for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two countries whose collapse would really unhinge the region in ways that would make the Iraq fiasco seem a petty annoyance.

Actually at this point I have the feeling that Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates understand all this better than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but maybe not. In any case, I have the sense that the NIE assessment is an elegant way of saying: the Bush doctrine, Requiescat in pace!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Permanent Revolution #6 Autumn 2007

The last but one issue of Permanent Revolution (#6 Autumn 2007) is on-line. It's a good and attractive magazine, deserves to do well. Four interesting and important articles are available:

Stuart King on 'Respect: Not the best of times'. This has been around for a while as the text for PR supporters to refer to in all discussions about the split in Respect, and is, of course, badly out of date now. The basic line is that the populist and electoralist politics of both sides has nothing to offer, the split is unprincipled, etc. Doesn't really have anything to offer anyone with any investment in the hopes offered by Respect.

Bill Jefferies (who does the extremely interesting global economic perspectives and critiques writes about 'Russia: Putin flexes his muscles' with a focus on the prospects for a renewed 'cold war'.

George Binette is downbeat on 'USA: The anti-war movement', especially in comparison to the anti-Vietnam War movement, but disagreeing with Alexander Cockburn's recent nostalgic lament.

And Keith Harvey provides a useful history of the 'anti-capitalist movement' and the slow crisis of the European Social Forum in 'The anti-capitalist movement'.

Not saying I agree with everything, but they are all worth a serious disagreement.