“The name for our profits is democracy” – Phil Ochs, Cops of the World
By Stephen Gowans
Stephen Zunes, a professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, is bristling against what he calls the leftist attack on “independent” grassroots nonviolent activists who are trying to bring down “autocratic” governments and “dictatorships” in places like Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran (1). People who have cast votes in these countries may be surprised to discover they’re living in dictatorships, but the U.S. government says they are, and “progressives” like Stephen Zunes are happy to lend credibility to Washington’s charges. “Independent” grassroots activists in these same countries may be surprised to hear they’re independent, despite the cataract of support they receive from U.S. and Western governments and Western ruling class foundations, but if Zunes wants to elevate them from fifth columnists to independent democracy activists, they’re pleased to receive his support.
These days, Zunes’ bristling against the leftist attack may have something to do with the attack hitting too close to home (2). His association with dodgy U.S. ruling class foundations that hide the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives behind a high-sounding commitment to peace has increasingly come under scrutiny. And judging by his reaction, he doesn’t like it (3).
Although he boasts of having impeccable progressive and anti-imperialist credentials, Zunes chairs the board of academic advisors for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (the ICNC), a Wall Street-connected organization that promotes nonviolent activism in the service of destabilizing foreign governments — the same ones the U.S. State Department (and Zunes) likes to discredit by calling them dictatorships.
The ICNC’s founding chair is New York investment banker Peter Ackerman, who is also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an organization dominated by directors of major U.S. corporations, corporate lawyers and CEOs. The CFR brings together executives, government and military officials and scholars to provide policy advice to the U.S. State Department. Its key members circulate between the council, corporate board appointments and State Department positions. The CFR has never been particularly concerned about promoting peace, freedom and democracy, but has had a single-minded focus on promoting the overseas profit-making interests of U.S. corporations and investors.
Ackerman is also chairman of the board of Freedom House, an organization that champions the rights of journalists, union leaders and democracy activists to organize openly to bring down governments whose economic policies are insufficiently friendly to U.S. trade and investment. Funded by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House features a rogues’ gallery of U.S. ruling class activists who have sat, or currently sit, on its board of directors: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Otto Reich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Steve Forbes, among others. These people share Zunes’ rhetorical commitment to “freedom and democracy,” though the only freedom they’re interested in is the freedom of U.S. corporations and investors to accumulate capital wherever and whenever they please.
Ackerman’s Center has been heavily involved in successful and ongoing regime change operations, including in Yugoslavia, which Ackerman celebrated in a PBS-TV documentary, Bringing Down a Dictator, about the ouster of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Ackerman, who studied under U.S. nonviolence guru Gene Sharp, has a U.S. Marine Corps officer son who earned a silver star for service in Iraq, using bombs and bullets, not nonviolent activism, to change Iraq’s regime. Apparently, Ackerman did little to instill nonviolent values in members of his own family.
The Center’s vice-chair is Berel Rodal, a former senior Canadian government official in foreign affairs, international trade, defense, security and intelligence, hardly the kind of background you would expect of an advocate of nonviolence, but fits well someone who has taken a leadership role in promoting Western foreign policy goals. Put the two together and you get nonviolent direct activism in the service of US foreign policy goals – -exactly what Rodal, Ackerman, the ICNC and Stephen Zunes are all about.
Another Center associate is Robert Helvey, whose book “On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict: Thinking about the Fundamental”, is promoted on the Center’s website. Helvey is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. military attaché to Myanmar (like Rodal’s, an improbable background for a budding Ghandi) who has been linked to anti-Chavez groups. Chavez has accused Helvey’s employer, the Albert Einstein Institution, of being behind an imperialist conspiracy to overthrow his government (4). Zunes says that “charges that…Bob Helvey” or the Albert Einstein Institution or the ICNC “are serving as agents of U.S. imperialism are totally unfounded” and that “the only visit to Venezuela that has taken place on behalf of any of these non-profit groups engaged in educational efforts on strategic nonviolence was in early 2006 when” Zunes “led a series of workshops at the World Social Forum in Caracas.” (5) Chavez, he says, has fallen for a conspiracy theory. These “individuals and groups” are not “plotting with his opponents to overthrow him.” (6)
But a Reuters’ report says Helvey was brought to Caracas in 2003 “by a group of businessmen and professionals to give courses to young activists on how to ‘resist, oppose, and change a government without the use of bombs and bullets.’” (7) Is Zunes unaware of this, or is he paltering with the truth?
Helvey’s dalliances with the anti-Chavez opposition came fast on the heels of “his work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall” where he “briefed students on ways to organize a strike and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.” (8)
Zunes has received at least one research grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and has served as a fellow of the organization (9). USIP’s aim is to “help prevent and resolve violent conflicts”, an improbable mandate given that the organization was established by the U.S. government, receives funding from Congress, and has a board of directors appointed by the President, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and the president of the National Defense University – hardly the world’s greatest advocates of peace, but pretty effective advocates of the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.
What’s not so improbable is that Zune’s ICNC colleagues (you know, the guys who are absolutely not agents of U.S. imperialism) are also connected to USIP. ICNC founder and Freedom House chair Peter Ackerman is on the advisory council. Former U.S. Air Force officer, presidential campaign speechwriter and ICNC director Jack DuVall – who Zunes must know well based on his assurances that “Jack DuVall…is not an agent of U.S. imperialism” (10) — is also connected to the USIP.
It’s hardly curious, then, that a group of Americans, many with backgrounds in the military, but also in foreign policy and investment banking, connected in some way to the U.S.-government funded and directed Institute of Peace, and involved in training foreign activists to destabilize foreign governments, might be seen as agents of U.S. imperialism. But Zunes says they’re not, offering his assertion alone (and his self-proclaimed credentials as a progressive and anti-imperialist) as proof.
Zunes’ rhetoric is reminiscent of Bush’s. He says nonviolent activists are pursuing “freedom and democracy” (in the same way, apparently, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a project in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East). He throws the charge of dictatorship around as facilely as Bush does. Yugoslavia (in 1999), Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Iran are dictatorships, he says. Apparently, Zunes has been too busy mimicking State Department press releases to notice there are elections and opposition parties in these places.
He says “there is no evidence…to suggest…that the U.S. government or any U.S.-funded entity has ever provided training, advice, or strategic assistance for the kind of mass popular nonviolent action campaigns that have toppled governments or threatened the survival of incumbent regimes.” (11)
Maybe he hasn’t been paying attention. When it comes to Zimbabwe, one of Zunes’ and the U.S. government’s favorite betes noire, there’s plenty of evidence. The British newspaper The Guardian revealed as early as August 22, 2002 that, “The United States government has said it wants to see President Robert Mugabe removed from power and that it is working with the Zimbabwean opposition” “trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations” “to bring about a change of administration.” (12)
Washington confirmed its own civil society-assisted regime change plans for Zimbabwe in an April 5, 2007 report, revealing that in 2006 “The U.S. government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society,” including providing training and assistance to the kind of grassroots “pro-democracy” groups phony anti-imperialists, among them, another ruling class foundation-connected academic, Patrick Bond, celebrate as “the independent left.” (13) The U.S. “supported workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies.” (14)
Zunes tries to defend U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries by pointing out that “the limited amount of financial support provided to opposition groups by the United States and other Western governments in recent years cannot cause a nonviolent liberal democratic revolution to take place.” (15)
Who said it could? The real issue isn’t whether groups that challenge foreign governments are homegrown; it’s what they’re struggling for, why phony peace institutes are helping them, and what they’re going to end up with if they’re successful.
How curious that the governments Zunes really seems to be concerned about (Zimbabwe, Iran, Belarus and Myanmar) are hostile to the idea of opening their doors to unrestricted U.S. investment and exports. How curious that the successful soft revolutions Zunes admires (Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine) have brought pro-U.S., pro-foreign investment governments to power.
And what happens when the soft revolutions Zunes and his colleagues assist, succeed? In Serbia, which Zunes’ ICNC considers to be the site of one of its most successful engagements, “dollars have accomplished what bombs could not. After U.S.-led international sanctions were lifted with Milosevic’s ouster in 2000, the United States emerged as the largest single source of foreign direct investment. According to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, U.S. companies have made $1 billion worth of ‘committed investments’ represented in no small part by the $580 million privatization of Nis Tobacco Factory (Phillip Morris) and a $250 million buyout of the national steel producer by U.S. Steel. Coca-Cola bought a Serbian bottled water producer in 2005 for $21 million. The list goes on.” (16)
Meanwhile, in Kosovo, the “coal mines and electrical facilities, the postal service, the Pristina airport, the railways, landfills, and waste management systems have all been privatized. As is the case across the Balkans, ‘publicly-owned enterprises’ are auctioned for a fraction of their value on the private market with little or no compensation for taxpayers.” (17)
It should be recalled that prior to the soft revolution-engineered corporate takeover, the Yugoslav economy consisted largely of state- and socially-owned enterprises, leaving little room for U.S. profit-making opportunities, not the kind of place investment bankers like Ackerman could easily warm up to. That the toppling of Milosevic had everything to do with opening space for U.S. investors and corporations should have been apparent to anyone who read chapter four of the U.S.-authored Rambouillet ultimatum, an ultimatum Milosevic rejected, triggering weeks of NATO bombing. The first article called for a free-market economy and the second for privatization of all government-owned assets. NATO bombs seemed to have had an unerring ability to hit Yugoslavia’s socially-owned factories and to miss foreign-owned ones. This was an economic take-over project.
Zunes’ associate Helvey hasn’t limited himself to training activists to overthrow governments in Venezuela and Serbia. Wherever Washington seeks to oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies, you’ll find Helvey (and perhaps Zunes as well) holding seminars on nonviolent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran (18).
Zunes would be a more credible anti-imperialist were he organizing seminars on how to use nonviolent direct action to overthrow the blatantly imperialist U.S. and British governments. With the largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism, it cannot be denied that there’s a grassroots movement for peace and democracy in the West awaiting Zunes’ assistance. So is he training U.S. and British grassroots activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war? No. His attention is directed outward, not on his own government, but on the governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown. He’s also busy applying for grants from a phony U.S. government institute of peace, hooking up with Peter Ackerman and his gaggle of fifth column promoters and mimicking U.S. State Department nonsense about countries the U.S. ruling class would like to dominate but can’t being dictatorships and their Western-funded oppositions being independent.
Genuine progressives and anti-imperialists should carefully scrutinize the backgrounds of Zunes and others, paying special attention to their foundation and think-tank connections. They should also ask whether the “independent” grassroots groups these people celebrate are really independent, or whether they’re as tightly connected to Western governments and ruling class activist foundations as Zunes is.
1. “Nonviolent Action and Pro-Democracy Struggles,” Z-Net, February 17, 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538. See also Zune’s “Leftist Attack on Nonviolent Direct Action for Democratic Change, www.canvasopedia.org/files/various/Leftist_Attack_on_NVA.doc
2. Michael Barker, “Peace Activists, Criticism, and Nonviolent Imperialism,” MRZine, January 8, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html and John Bellamy Foster, “Reply to Stephen Zunes on Imperialism and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” MRZine, January 17, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/foster170108.html.
3. Stephen Zunes, “Spurious Attacks on Supporters of Nonviolent Resistance to Oppression, MRZine, January 18, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html#zunes.
4. The Guardian, June 7, 2007.
5. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
Concerning Zunes’ assurances that Gene Sharp, Robert Helvey and the Albert Einstein Institution are not agents of U.S. imperialism and aren’t assisting groups plotting to overthrow the Chavez government:
“The AEI is run by Gene Sharp, a self-titled expert of what he calls ‘nonviolent defense,’ though better termed ‘regime change.’ His methodologies have been studied and utilized by opposition movements in Burma, Thailand, Tibet, Belarus, Serbia, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. In the AEI’s 2004 annual report, Venezuela is highlighted as an area where actions are currently being taken:
Venezuelans opposed to Chavez met with Gene Sharp and other AEI staff to talk about the deteriorating political situation in their country. They also discussed options of opposition groups to further their cause effectively without violence. These visits led to an in-country consultation in April 2003. The nine day consultation was held by consultants Robert Helvey and Chris Miler in Caracas for members of the Venezuelan democratic opposition. The objective of the consultation was to provide them with the capacity to develop a nonviolent strategy to restore democracy to Venezuela. Participants included members of political parties and unions, nongovernmental organization leaders and unaffiliated activists…Helvey presented a course of instruction on the theory, applications and planning for a strategic nonviolent struggle. Through this, the participants realized the importance of strategic planning to overcome existing shortcomings in the opposition’s campaign against Chavez. Ofensiva Cuidadana, a pro-democracy group in Venezuela, request and organized the workshop. The workshop has led to continued contact with Venezuelans and renewed requests for additional consultations.”
Eva Golinger, Bush vs Chavez: Washington’s War on Venezuela, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2008, p. 136.
Either Zunes doesn’t know what’s going on, or is playing fast and loose with the truth.
7. Reuters, April 30, 2003.
9. See http://www.stephenzunes.org/ and http://www.fpif.org/advisers/37
10. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
12. The Guardian, August 22, 2002, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/22/zimbabwe.chrismcgreal .
13. Stephen Gowans, “Talk Left, Funded Right, April 7, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/07/talk-left-funded-right/ .
14. U.S. Department of State, The U.S. Record 2006, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/.
15. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
16. Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4.
18. The Albert Einstein Institution, Report on Activities, 2000 to 2004, http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations/org/2000-04rpt.pdf .
10 thoughts on “Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits”
Hello. Great job, if I wasn’t so busy with my school work I read your total site. Thanks!
Stephen Zunes’ characterization of Otpor as a “student-led movement which led the popular nonviolent uprising against the regime in October 2000 – were largely left-of-center nationalists who strongly opposed the bombing”
IGNORES the role of America in funding and sponsoring this organization in the first place.
As Jonathan Mowat as documented, OTPOR was funded by the American Regime and CIA proxies like Freedom House no less!
“Coup d’État in Disguise:
Washington’s New World Order “Democratization” Template”
And Otpor is just the tip of the iceberg of how the American Empire covertly manipulates the internal politics of countries around the world through NGOs and “Civil Society” proxies.
This tactic has been called a form of Postmodern or “People Power” Coup D’Etat.
In contrast to the Neocons, the Neoliberals or Progressives (implicitly) favor this form of American intervention–even as they cloak themselves behind an Antiwar or Anti-globalization veneer.
Zunes also claims that he opposes American intervenionism, but he penned an article arguing what the Liberal-Left should support Ukrainian “Pro-Democracy” Movement
(that just so happens to be once again funded and sponsored by the freedom-loving American government, CIA, NED, and other anti-democratic organizations)!
“Why Progressives Must Embrace the Ukrainian Pro-Democracy Movement”
The so-called American Left is in many ways just the Left Boot of American Imperialism.
NeoLiberals or Progressives play the role of Good Cop to the Neoconservative Bad Cop.
Indeed, many American “progressives” are extremely sensitive (like Zunes above) over this issue of “People Power Coup D’Etats,” as it could lead to critical scrutiny of WHO IS BEHIND many so-called American progressive groups, intellectuals, and (mis)leaders.
There is even a website devoted to exposing the fact that these American “progressive” organizations ARE FUNDED BY THE VERY SAME AMERICAN POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT (and its foundations) THESE PROGRESSIVE CLAIM TO OPPOSE.
I am writing from Europe – to be precise, Madrid in Spain.
I haven’t met Stephen Zunes, but have one of his books and have read quite a few articles. And he certainly doesn’t deserve this kind of ignorant and sneering smear campaign.
The world is a bit more complex than Gowans seems to allow. We all know that the CIA conspired to bring down the Allende government in Chile and install Pinochet. What we also need to understand is that 15 years later the US was capable of turning against Pinochet and supporting the democratic opposition. Were we meant to stop working with Pinochet’s opponents if some of them began to receive funds from bodies in the US or Western Europe?
I haven’t met Zunes, but I have met some of the brave Zimbabwean women from WOZA, Women of Zimbabwe Arise – indeed we in the Spanish war tax resistance campaign sent them the money to buy a jeep. Am I supposed to change my attitude to them because your Secretary of State decides to honour a WOZA leader?
Most of my activist life I have been involved in War Resisters’ International, and I have worked with anti-militarists resisting repressive regimes – some of them supported by the US, some opposed. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, and I certainly won’t change my loyalty to people in struggle because some idiotic conspiracy theorists want us to believe that they’re creatures of the USA.
It’s a pity but there’re so much leftists who cannot think with their own brains. For example, if ZNet is anticapitalist and antiimperialist website it would never publish such a bullshit like Zunes after articles by Michael Barker, John Bellamy Foster and Stepehpen Gowans. What we see in this case is a kind of leftist respectability. How silly.
Gowans really should research his people and his facts about them before launching into a half-baked, half-truth, half-lies, half-false set of accusations against a man who has spent his entire career (pre-academic and all of his activism) in opposition to the tyranny and violence of right and left. Apologia for a Muslim killer like Milosevic and calumny about Zunes and Venezuela are unsuitable arguments for anyone interested in justice. Gowans cannot even manage to do the incredibly heavy research lifting it would take to spell Gandhi’s name correctly. His piece is libelous traducement. I have admired Zunes’s research for years and I sure won’t take a back seat to Gowans in opposing the policies of the US government until Gowans has served some time in US prisons for nonviolent resistance to those policies, as I have. Zunes supported me in my actions and the US government locked me up. That said much to me. And Gowans needs to learn to separate past military service from today’s reality. My mentor was Phil Berrigan, a grunt who fought across Europe in WWII and who became a peace leader with nonviolence that should speak to Gowans and others who disrespect nonviolent struggle. Grow up and smell the resistance, Gowans. If you wrote this for my class you would earn few points and if a lawyer read this first and told you that it didn’t contain slander, he would be wrong.
“The 1999 NATO bombing campaign of Serbia – which I and most of those subsequently associated with ICNC strenuously opposed – was completely unrelated to the overthrow of Milosevic more than a year and a half later.”
Yes, sure. and Polish “Solidarnost” was NOT a tool of USA.
Zunes REALLY has a chuzpa. To claim that in Georgia there were NOT a USA-founded coup (against a former, out-of-date puppet) is something. I am sure now I cannot trust Zunes even with the time of the day 🙂
Great article! I congratulate Stephen Gowans and wish Western activists wrote more on the left boot of imperialism, the likes of Zunes, Bond, an the legions of others who defend “Western civilization” on the pay of US corporations.
A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations against Stephen Zunes
Stephen Gowans’ February 18 article “Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits” is filled with demonstrably inaccurate and misleading statements about both me and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), with whom I serve as chair of the board of academic advisors. Below is a 13-point refutation which only begins to challenge the lies and misinformation.
1) I never have and do not “defend U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries.” This is a complete lie. I’ve dedicated most of my academic and activist life to opposing U.S. interventionism in all its forms. I have written whole books and scores of articles opposing U.S. interference in the affairs of other countries, spoken at and taken part in numerous protests and rallies, and have even been arrested on a number of occasions protesting U.S. imperialism. If there are any doubts whatsoever to my categorical opposition to U.S. interventionism, please check out my website: http://www.stephenzunes.org
2) ICNC has not been “heavily involved in successful and ongoing regime change operations, including in Yugoslavia” nor was Yugoslavia an example of a revolution “Zunes and his colleagues assist.” Neither I nor ICNC had anything to do with the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, which took place prior to ICNC being founded in 2001. It is totally false, therefore, to claim that Serbia was a place that “ICNC considers to be the site of one of its most successful engagements” since ICNC was never engaged there prior to the 2000 uprising.
Nor, contrary to Gowans’ assertion, did I or ICNC have any contact whatsoever with Georgians or Ukrainians before the popular nonviolent uprisings in those countries.
3) Gowans’ claim that “Wherever Washington seeks to oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies, you’ll find Helvey (and perhaps Zunes as well) holding seminars on nonviolent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran” is a complete lie. Neither Helvey nor I (who have met each other only on handful of occasions and only in the United States) have ever held seminars in any of those countries. Furthermore, I have absolutely no interest in supporting – and have always strenuously opposed – Washington’s agenda to “oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies.”
4) One of the most bizarre quotes from Gowans is as follows:
“Zunes would be a more credible anti-imperialist were he organizing seminars on how to use nonviolent direct action to overthrow the blatantly imperialist U.S. and British governments. With the largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism, it cannot be denied that there’s a grassroots movement for peace and democracy in the West awaiting Zunes’ assistance. So is he training U.S. and British grassroots activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war? No. His attention is directed outward, not on his own government, but on the governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown.”
As a matter of fact, for more than thirty years, I have indeed been “training U.S. … activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war,” working with Peace Action, War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ruckus Society, Direct Action Network, Direct Action against the War, and other groups through which I have led trainings for sit-ins, blockades and other forms of nonviolent direct action against the Pentagon, military recruiters, military contractors and other targets in the military-industrial complex. Regarding the “largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism,” I happened to have been a speaker at the February 2003 rally in San Francisco, in which I explicitly called upon the half million people gathered to support mass nonviolent direct action to stop the invasion and other manifestations of U.S. imperialism.
My background in strategic nonviolent action is rooted in my involvement in the late 1970s in Movement for a New Society, a revolutionary cadre decidedly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist in orientation. Of the more than one hundred seminars, trainings, workshops and related events designed to educate people on nonviolent action with which I have been involved subsequently, only three have primarily consisted of participants from countries with governments opposed by the United States, approximately a dozen have consisted primarily of those from foreign countries with government supported by the United States, and the remaining 85% or more have been for Americans struggling against U.S. government and corporate policies.
For Gowans to claim, therefore, that I have never trained American anti-war activists or that my “attention is directed [toward] governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown” is totally and demonstrably false.
Indeed, in the final chapter of my book Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell, 1999), I write:
“As militarism and corporate capitalism has become global, so must nonviolent movements. For nonviolence to continue being an effective force, it must be within the context of transnational movements which struggle not just at where the worse manifestations of institutional violence occur, but at their source – which is often in the advanced industrialized countries, particularly the United States… Those of us with an appreciation for nonviolence should …be more…willing to use it ourselves.”
5) Gowans is completely wrong to claim that “the governments Zunes really seems to be concerned about (Zimbabwe, Iran, Belarus and Myanmar) are hostile to the idea of opening their doors to unrestricted U.S. investment and exports.” Indeed, anyone who bothers to look at the extensive writings on my web site and elsewhere will note that 95% of my criticisms of dictatorships and other autocratic regimes and human rights abusers are in reference to U.S.-backed governments that adopt a U.S.-backed neo-liberal agenda and not governments opposed by the United States or those which adopt a more progressive economic agenda.
As I have observed in numerous writings, public speeches, and media interviews, the United States remains the world’s number one supporter of repressive regimes and I repeatedly criticized the ways in which the U.S. government places so-called economic “freedom” above political freedom and human rights. Therefore, Gowans’ claim that “Zunes’ rhetoric is reminiscent of Bush’s” is completely false, since I support freedom and democracy universally (with particular emphasis on repressive U.S.-backed regimes), whereas the Bush administration speaks out for “freedom and democracy” highly-selectively, targeting only regimes that challenge American hegemony. Also, unlike the U.S. government, I believe that social and economic rights – which are routinely denied under capitalism – are just as important as civil and political rights.
Gowans is also completely false in insisting that the government of Zimbabwe is “one of Zunes’ and the U.S. government’s favorite bêtes noire.” That is certainly true of the U.S. government, which hypocritically singles out Zimbabwe’s dictatorship for criticism, sanctions, and subversion while supporting similar dictatorships in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Chad and other African nations. In my case, however, in the scores of articles, book chapters, public lectures, and interviews of mine in which I have expressed my opposition to repressive regimes around the world, I have never written or said anything – except it passing – about Zimbabwe. To claim, then that Zimbabwe is one of my favorite bêtes noire is a total fabrication.
Having said this, I fully acknowledge my distaste for the repressive and autocratic regimes in Zimbabwe, Belarus, Iran, and Burma. The “elections” in these countries that Gowans cites to counter charges that they are dictatorships – like similar “elections” staged by such U.S.-backed dictatorships as Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan – can hardly be considered free and fair. And just because the governments of Zimbabwe, Belarus, Burma and Iran oppose U.S. imperialism, it does not mean that they are therefore progressive or democratic, nor does it mean they are not guilty of corruption and repression.
Even though the U.S. government opportunistically and hypocritically criticizes these regimes for their lack of freedom and democracy, it does not mean that progressives like me who also criticize these regimes’ human rights abuses are therefore, in Gowans’ words, “mimicking State Department press releases.”
Gowans is also incorrect to allege that I deny that the U.S. is attempting to subvert the Zimbabwean government. Such destabilization efforts – which focus upon an institution-building advancement of the U.S. agenda – are very real and I oppose them. This is very different, however, than the solidarity work provided by independent progressive non-profit groups in foreign countries to independent progressive movements in Zimbabwe and elsewhere working for justice and human rights, which focus on popular empowerment.
6) Gowans is also completely inaccurate and misleading in claiming that the “revolutions Zunes admires (Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine) have brought pro-U.S., pro-foreign investment governments to power.” First of all, while there are certain aspects of those revolutions Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine that I do admire, I was frankly more excited and hopeful about earlier socialist revolutions in Nicaragua, Mozambique, Vietnam, and elsewhere that brought anti-U.S., anti-foreign investment governments to power.
More to the point, to claim that these Eastern European governments are all more “pro-foreign investment” than their predecessors as result of their nonviolent revolutions is overly-simplistic. For example, despite enormous pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, the post-Orange Revolution government in Ukraine maintains the strongest state role in the economy of all but one of Europe’s 42 countries.
Like most people on the left, I have been very disappointed regarding capitalist encroachment in Eastern Europe. The examples Gowans cites, however, are terribly misleading:
a) Kosovo came under Western tutelage not as a result of a nonviolent struggle, but as the result of the 11-week NATO bombing campaign in 1999; the earlier Kosovar nonviolent struggle between 1990 and 1998 was largely ignored by the United States and other Western governments.
b) The 1999 NATO bombing campaign of Serbia – which I and most of those subsequently associated with ICNC strenuously opposed – was completely unrelated to the overthrow of Milosevic more than a year and a half later. The leaders of Otpor – the student-led movement which led the popular nonviolent uprising against the regime in October 2000 – were largely left-of-center nationalists who strongly opposed the bombing, which seriously set back their efforts as the Serbian people united against the foreign aggression. Indeed, Otpor suspended their anti-Milosevic campaign for the duration of the war and joined their fellow Serbs in opposition to the NATO attacks.
c) Capitalist penetration of Serbia and Georgia really got underway under the old Milosevic and Shevardnadze regimes, not the governments which came to power following those countries’ nonviolent revolutions. It should also be noted that the United States actually backed the Shevardnadze regime in Georgia because of its friendly relations with American oil companies and related economic interests, withdrawing their support until just hours before the Rose Revolution toppled him. And, as recent events have reminded us, the post-Milosevic government of Serbia can hardly be considered a puppet regime of the United States
7) It is simply untrue to claim that what “the ICNC and Stephen Zunes are all about” is “nonviolent direct activism in the service of US foreign policy goals.” My work through ICNC in educational projects on strategic nonviolent action has included support of Egyptians struggling against the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime, Palestinians struggling against the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation, Sahrawis struggling against the U.S.-backed Moroccan occupation, Maldivians struggling against the U.S.-backed Gayoom regime, West Papuans struggling against the U.S.-backed Indonesian occupation, and Guatemalan Indians struggling against the ramifications of U.S.-backed neo-liberal economic policies, among others. How is working with progressive activists struggling against U.S.-backed governments and policies possibly be construed as being “in the service of US foreign policy goals?”
Similarly, ICNC has provided educational materials on strategic nonviolent action to such American antiwar leaders as Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Kathy Kelley of Voices in the Wilderness, as well as such peace groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Peaceworkers, among others. I have also been involved in ICNC-facilitated workshops on strategic nonviolence for immigrant rights groups and progressive unions here in the United States. How is working with progressive activists explicitly struggling against U.S. policies be considered as being “in the service of US policy goals?”
I would also challenge Gowans to find any evidence whatsoever to back up his charge that I have ever supported “fifth columnists” or any other opposition movement dependent upon and beholden to “U.S. and Western governments and Western ruling class foundations.”
8) ICNC is not “Wall Street-connected.” There has never been any coordination, meetings, dialogue or any other connections between ICNC and any Wall Street company or organization.
9) ICNC does not “promote nonviolent activism in the service of destabilizing foreign governments.” ICNC provides generic information and educational forums on the history and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action for indigenous struggles and NGOs concerned with human rights abuses, the oppression of women and minorities, corruption, and other abuses of power. In fact, ICNC’s legal charter explicitly prohibits the organization from initiating actions relative to any country.
ICNC provides its educational material and seminars for grass roots activists struggling for freedom and justice regardless of the ideological orientation or foreign policy of the ruling regimes in their countries. As mentioned above, virtually all of my work with ICNC – and most of ICNC’s work with foreign pro-democracy activists in general – have been with those struggling against governments supported by the United States, not governments opposed by the United States.
10) Gowans claims that I say that “nonviolent activists are pursuing ‘freedom and democracy’ in the same way [as] the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a project in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.” In reality, I never said anything like that. I was a leader in the U.S. movement against the invasion of Iraq and I have consistently challenged the myth that that war of aggression had anything to do with advancing freedom and democracy. Again, check out my web site.
11) Despite Gowans’ claims to the contrary, I have no associations with “dodgy U.S. ruling class foundations that hide the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives behind a high-sounding commitment to peace.” The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations – from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) – depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals. Just because the ultimate source of funding for various non-profit groups is from members of the ruling class, however, does not mean that ruling class interests therefore set the agenda for every such non-profit group; they certainly do in some cases, but not not in many other cases, including that of ICNC.
For example, Gowans reports ominously that “Zunes has received at least one research grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP),” which receives U.S. government support, “and has served as a fellow of the organization,” the purpose of which he describes as “the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.” I did receive one research fellowship from USIP back in 1989 – which is what makes one a USIP “fellow” – to study the role of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations in efforts to resolve the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict. The conclusions of that research – which is finally being published later this year as a book from Syracuse University Press – put the blame for the irresolution of the conflict largely on the United States, France and other imperialist powers for supporting the Moroccan occupation. Indeed, my USIP-funded research was openly sympathetic to the struggle of the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi people for self-determination. I would be quite willing to provide Gowans or anyone else a summary of my USIP-funded research to demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing in it that could possibly be construed as being supportive of “the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.”
Gowans is also incorrect to claim that I am “busy applying for grants from a phony U.S. government institute of peace.” I have not applied for a grant from USIP or any other government foundation for well over a decade.
And, despite Gowans’ claim to the contrary, USIP president Jack DuVall has had no personal connection whatsoever to USIP, except for speaking there as part of a couple of public panel discussions.
12) Gowans’ claims that the son of ICNC’s founding director used “bombs and bullets, not nonviolent activism, to change Iraq’s regime.” In reality, Peter Ackerman’s son, a U.S. Marine, did not take part in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (His unit, like most American combat units, was later rotated in and out of the country.) Dr. Ackerman, like everyone else I know affiliated with ICNC, personally opposed the invasion and argued that regime change in Iraq, as needed elsewhere, should come through nonviolent struggle by the subjected peoples themselves, not from foreign invaders.
13) In addition to the factual errors above, there are a series of seriously misleading statements which need to be addressed:
a) Many of Gowans’ attacks consist of guilt-by-association. For example, because ICNC founding director Peter Ackerman happens to sit on various boards which include, among others, some rather notorious neo-conservatives and other imperialists, Gowans wants readers to believe that this somehow makes me and ICNC part of their imperialist agenda. Gowans’ is certainly correctly to point out that, in the cases of many of these people, “the only freedom they’re interested in is the freedom of U.S. corporations and investors to accumulate capital wherever and whenever they please,” but they are not the ones who set ICNC’s policies. They happen to sit in the same room a few times a year with Dr. Ackerman, with whom I’ve had relatively little contact, and who has severed his operational ties with ICNC since becoming the chair of Freedom House. Yet Gowans wants readers to think that these degrees of separation are somehow a more significant indication of where I come from than my critical writings against corporate globalization, my facing down the WTO on the streets of Seattle in 1999, my repeated arrested in protests against various nefarious manifestations of corporate capitalism, and other activities. Similarly, Gowans tries to link their imperialist agenda with me because simply because I “share” their “rhetorical commitment to ‘freedom and democracy,’” ignoring everything else I have said or written which challenges such imperialists pursuits of overseas profits.
b) Referring to ICNC President Jack DuVall as a “former air force officer” is a highly-selective summary of his career prior to the founding of ICNC. DuVall served for slightly more than two years in the air force nearly 40 years ago at a time when American males were subjected to military conscription. He enlisted into a non-combat position as a young lieutenant to avoid serving in Vietnam in a war which he strenuously opposed, was glad when he was discharged, and has had no involvement with the U.S. military since then.
c) No one at ICNC was aware of Bob Helvey’s 2003 trip to Venezuela until well after the fact; I only found out about it last week. In any case, whatever he did there had nothing to do with me or ICNC. I certainly oppose any U.S-backed efforts to subvert the democratically-elected government of Venezuela. Gowans is not telling the truth, however, when he refers to “his work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall” where he “briefed students on ways to organize a strike and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.” That allegation has long since been reputed. Helvey was never in Serbia prior to Milosevic’s overthrow. The full extent of his involvement with the opposition student movement prior to the uprising was when he met with some Otpor activists in Budapest in a half-day meeting in April 2000, well after Otpor had already become a powerful dissident organization, had already engaged in a series of nonviolent action campaigns, and the Milosevic regime had already arrested more than 400 of their activists. In any case, Helvey has no formal association with ICNC. His book On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict is featured on ICNC’s web site, but there is absolutely nothing in it promoting U.S. intervention, imperialism, capitalism, or anything other aspect of the U.S. foreign policy agenda.
Santa Cruz, California, USA
February 22, 2008
Thank you so much. What do you have to say about the environment being created in Zimbabwe today by the west to preempt and ZANU victory.