By Stephen Gowans
Lester Kurtz is a professor of sociology who sits on the academic advisory board of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, an organization that trains activists in the use of mass civil disobedience to take power from foreign governments.
The ICNC was founded by former Freedom House head, Peter Ackerman, Michael Milken’s right-hand man at the Wall Street investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. Ackerman became ridiculously wealthy organizing the KKR leveraged buy-out of RJR Nabisco. 
These days Ackerman is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with former US secretaries of state, defense, and treasury, and CEOs, investment bankers and highly placed media people. When he’s not helping formulate foreign policy recommendations at the CFR, he’s lending a hand on the Advisory Council of the United States Institute for Peace, a phoney U.S. government peace outfit headed absurdly by the U.S. secretaries of defense and state.
As you might expect of a wealthy investor who hobnobs with the US foreign policy establishment, Ackerman defines protection of private property rights as an integral part of democracy and believes the United States has a lot of teach the world. 
After learning investment banking at the knee of Milken, Ackerman turned his energies to training foreign activists in the use of the nonviolent resistance techniques of Gene Sharp, probably the first person to situate mass civil disobedience in the context of military strategy.  This earned Sharp the sobriquet the Clausewitz of nonviolence, after the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. 
An interviewer working for a Canadian nonviolent resistance magazine once pointed out to Sharp — with some incredulity — that people say a government cannot fund or sponsor the overthrow of another government.
Sharp replied, “Why not?” adding, “What do they prefer that the U.S. spend money on?” 
Nonviolent resistance – also more aptly called nonviolent warfare – is about taking power, not making a point. It’s not pacifism or a principled religious or ethical position based on abhorrence of violence. It’s power politics. Ackerman and other nonviolent warriors believe that mass civil disobedience – the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and nonviolent sabotage backed by sanctions and demonization of target governments – can be more effective in taking political power than military intervention.  That makes them instrumental nonviolence advocates. They advocate nonviolence, not because they hate violence, but because they think nonviolence works better than armed revolt or military intervention.
With the help of people like Lester Kurtz, the ICNC trains a modern cadre of mercenaries, who travel the world in the pay of NGOs, Western governments, wealthy individuals and corporate foundations, in order to train local groups in regime change through nonviolent warfare.  Ackerman, Kurtz and company, sit at the head of a kind of imperialist International, whose aim is to spread the US system, US influence and ultimately US capital around the world, under the guise of “promoting democracy.” It calls to mind a line from Phil Ochs’ condemnation of US imperialism, “We’re the Cops of The World”. Ochs sang, “The name for our profits is democracy.” Of course, the ICNC isn’t admitting to any of this. ICNC members say they’re just handing out information on nonviolence to anyone who will listen.
Last April, Kurtz posted a comment to my blog, calling my linking of Ackerman and his ICNC to US imperialism a “non sequitur.”
I replied. In my reply I pointed out that Kurtz discloses on his CV that he gave workshops to the CIA and the U.S. government- and corporate- funded think-tank, the RAND Corporation. Nine months later, Kurtz replied, with a bombshell. Sure, he talked with the CIA and RAND, he said, because they asked him to.
Albert Szymanski, also a professor of sociology, would never have received an invitation from the CIA to conduct a workshop on anything, and if he had, we can be pretty sure he would have turned them down. So why Kurtz (an academic advisor to an outfit founded by a wealthy CFR member who celebrates the overthrow of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, an act which cleared the way for a US-backed pro-capitalist government to come to power to sell off state and socially-owned assets to investors like Ackerman) and not Szymanski (a Marxist-Leninist who deplored imperialism)? If ever there was a sign you’re part of the problem, it’s being asked by the CIA for advice. Giving it erases all doubts.
Here’s the exchange. It begins with Kurtz’s comments on my article, “Washington Post: North Korean, Iranian nuclear capability threatens US imperialism”, on April 5, 2010.
It’s no surprise that US foreign policy is somehow linked to the economics of things is not a shock – what is surprising is Stephen Gowans’ effort to link “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” and Peter Ackerman, with US imperialism! What a non-sequitur! Those activists (with the aid of only educational resources from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict that Ackerman funds) have taken on oppressors of all political stripes, many of them (like Marcos, Pinochet, etc., etc.) part of the US orb. While Washington no doubt has a hit list, it has nothing to do with providing information and resources to people who would organize for their rights regardless of who is thwarting them. The kind of imprecise thinking that links these activities through some leap of logic simply distracts from other aspects of the argument and leaves me puzzled as to the point of the article.
I replied the same day.
I’m assuming the above was written by Lester Kurtz, Professor of Sociology at George Mason University, and a member of the academic advisory board of Peter Ackerman’s organization, the ICNC. In March, 2005, Kurtz ran a workshop on religion and violence for the CIA and RAND.
I wonder whether Kurtz sees the connection between RAND and the CIA on the one hand and US imperialism on the other. Probably not.
While it may come as no surprise to Kurtz that US foreign policy is somehow linked to the economics of things, showing that this is so is much more difficult than showing that Peter Ackerman is linked to US imperialism. The latter is easily demonstrated.
(1) US foreign policy is imperialist,
(2) The Council on Foreign Relations plays a major role in shaping US foreign policy, and
(3) Peter Ackerman is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
We could add other observations (e.g., Ackerman’s previous role as head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House, hardly what you would call a non-imperialist organization, and his privileged position atop the economic order of things) but the points above should suffice.
What comes as a surprise to me is that while Kurtz can grasp the nexus between the economics of things and the imperialist nature of US foreign policy, he can’t see the much more obvious connection between Ackerman and US imperialism, but perhaps that is so because to see it, would mean acknowledging his own connection to it.
Nine months later Kurtz responded.
Of course there’s a connection between RAND, the CIA, and US imperialism – that’s why I talked with them when asked to do so. What good does it do to sit in a corner and talk to ourselves? I used to complain to my students that nobody ever asked me about important policy questions – do they ask you? I’d ask. So, when they asked me to speak, I did. I’d not work for them, but will talk with them, with you, with the devil, with anyone who will listen. The whole system is rotten, but won’t be replaced or transformed until people stand up and speak out.
Interestingly, Kurtz used the same defense that the head of the ICNC academic advisory board Stephen Zunes used on behalf of the Clausewitz of nonviolence, Gene Sharp, when it was revealed that Sharp had advised right-wing Venezuelans on how to bring down Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Sharp, explained Zunes, had “taken a ‘transpartisan’ position that cuts across political boundaries and conceptions and (talks) to essentially anyone” , apparently just as Kurtz does. If that’s a defense, the world dodged a bullet when Zunes turned down a career in law.
Here’s more of Zunes defending Sharp:
Unfortunately, Sharp – who is now well into his 80s and whose health is failing – appears to show little discernment as to who he meets with and his audience has sometimes included some right-wing Cubans or Venezuelans who have sought him out to see if any of his research would be of relevance in their efforts to organize some kind of popular mobilization against the Castro or Chavez governments. Some of those may have indeed been later found to have engaged in assassination plots. 
Since Kurtz isn’t well into his 80s, how do we explain his lack of discernment in who he meets with? Or does age have anything to do with it? Meeting with right-wing Venezuelans, right-wing Cubans , followers of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah of Iran , and the CIA seems to be standard operating procedure for nonviolent warriors. The New Republic’s Franklin Foer pointed out that “When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.” It seems that if there’s a nationalist or socialist government to be overthrown, the nonviolent warriors are always willing to step up to the plate. They’ll talk to anyone: right-wing assassins, followers of a former US-backed Iranian dictator, the CIA. Adopting a position that “cuts across political boundaries and conceptions” means that where leftist peaceniks once were against the US government and other rightist forces, not they advise them.
On January 5, I responded to Kurtz’s latest comment.
Good work Les. Maybe after you deliver a few more seminars, the CIA will see the light, and decide that taking down foreign governments that refuse to subordinate themselves to Washington’s dictates isn’t such a good thing after all… Oh, but I forgot, that’s no longer a CIA function, is it? It’s now your job, and that of your ICNC colleagues.
Exactly what is it you’re standing up and speaking out about to the CIA anyway: that organizing nonviolent warfare campaigns against foreign governments is more effective in achieving US foreign policy goals than taking out wedding parties with predator drones?
You are, indeed, making the world a better place, Les. Keep accepting those CIA invitations.
Kurtz and some other ICNC academic advisors seem bewildered that they should be so vigorously criticized for trying to show the powerful that nonviolent overthrow movements are a better alternative to armed intervention. After all, what could be wrong with trying to persuade Washington that there’s a nonviolent way to achieve its foreign policy objectives? What they fail to grasp is that the tools the US government uses to prosecute its foreign policy aren’t the problem. The problem is US foreign policy.
1. Franklin Foer, “Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.
2. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, “Interview with Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” October 19, 2006. http://www.international.gc.ca/cip-pic/discussions/democracy-democratie/video/ackerman.aspx?lang=eng .
3. Eli Lake, “Iran launches a crackdown on democracy activists,” The New York Sun, March 14, 2006.
4. Peace.Ca, “Gene Sharp: A Biographical Profile.” http://www.peace.ca/genesharp.htm
5. Spencer, Metta, “Gene Sharp 101,” Peace Magazine, July-Septmeber, 2003.
6. Peter Ackerman, “Paths to peace: How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired,” National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002; Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, “The nonviolent script for Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003; Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.)
7. Mark R. Beissinger, “Promoting democracy: Is exporting revolution a constructive strategy?” Dissent, Winter 2006. http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=155
8. Stephen Zunes, George Cicariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Debate on the Albert Einstein Institution and its Involvement in Venezuela”, venezuelanalysis.com, August 5, 2008. http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3690
9. Ibid. It’s bad enough that Zunes tries to excuse Sharp’s meeting with right-wing Venezuelans as a lack of discernment attributable to age and illness when nonviolent warriors regularly aid right-wing forces, but his descent into bafflegab in the construction of the truly prolix phrase “‘transpartisan’ position that cuts across political boundaries and conceptions” — meaning I’d give advice to Hitler if he asked — would be comic were it not intended to prettify a reactionary position. Zunes, I think, would give British MP Sir Norman Fry a run for his money as a concocter of tortured explanations to cover up what he doesn’t care to admit.
29 thoughts on “Leftist overthrow advisor Lester Kurtz: “I talked with the CIA””
.Its been 9 days and it looks like im not going to get an answer from lester to my questions.Shame,there would have been much to gain for all concerned from his responces.An opportunity to elaborate ones position missed,perhaps.
Your right-wing cliches and ignorance of socialism both past and present does nothing more than embarrass you among the people who read and contribute here. Whether you realise that or not makes little difference.
Stop wasting your time and ours with boring, bourgeois-liberal banalities.
There’s a place for that – it’s called the Democratic Party (or the Liberals,if you’re in Canada).
capitalism sucks esp when you compare it with the alternatives! Tunisia is an other eg of the implosive nature of the system that augments human greeds.
Workers own the means of production in the USA?
That is a hilarious assertion and shows how desperate the American imperial Left truly is.
Owning stock or, worst yet, having your pension based in stocks is not owning the means of production. That is handing your money over to America’s casino capitalist system embodied particularly by Wall Street, where financial speculators like George Soros rule.
The Wealth Divide
The Growing Gap in the United States Between the Rich and the Rest
American “democracy” is a capitalist plutocracy where a tiny elite own a wildly disproportionate share of wealth and thus power.
America, the self-styled Leader of the Free World, is in reality one of the most unequal nations in the entire First World.
Well Brian here’s the cite: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-household-stock-ownership-posts-modest-upswing . And while shareholders don’t get involved in day-to-day factory operations, they do vote on management and sometimes hold seats.
My figures don’t imply that most stock ownership is blue-collar, but I can’t think of another country where corporate ownership is so broad.
And let’s not forget that individuals have their own risk-aversion levels, and that many people don’t _want_ to own companies directly or indirectly (I have no stock/bonds, for example). Some people just want to _work_ at the dry cleaners; a few are willing to risk all by _owning_ the dry cleaning shop. Socialist policies are noted for discouraging business ownership and investment, for killing the golden goose.
But I am always interested in seeing countries (comparable to the US in diversity of course) cited where the socialist model has improved upon the capitalist. Capitalism indeed sucks, until compared with the alternatives.
Sorry if this digresses from attacks on promulgators of peaceful overthrow of oppressive govts, but I try to answer Qs when posed.
My reply is here.
‘At least in the US the means of production are owned in great measure by the workers — a few years ago we passed the point where over half of all US households owned stock directly or through pension programs’
are u serious? So the workers become direct or indirect shareholders…LOL…thats not very comforting. The workers dont own the means of production in the US, and trying to turn them into shareholders whos sole goal is to maximise profits sure aint what i thought the socialist ideal of owning the means of production was about
elgordo.Stalin called for a pact against the rising Hitler in the mid 30,si think.It was rejected by Poland and the UK aswell as the czechs.The non interventionist policy was the USA,s line.Also,role models arnt whats needed,it is an understanding of political economy that is vital if workers are going to develop stratagies to achieve what is best for them and that from my prospective that is socialism.Revolutions are not exportable,rather a product of internal contradictions within the production methods of capitalist system,revolution in your home will have perquliarities that pertain to it and will be different from russia or Venezuala.You point out that there are many millions of share holders in your country and indeed there are here in Australia too.But that dosnt stop the onward march of the collapse of the political economy with its cyclical boom,bust,ressesion depression and then war for markets.Owning stock is also a very big gamble that frankly i would not like to take in my retirement.Pensions decided by the investment stratagy of the boss.There is the strong likelyhood that the whole lot would disappear as happens frequently when systems are based on exploitation and ever expanding profits,witness the economic meltdown that has just struck the world capitalist system…
Mark, some further reading for you in links that follow. I think the Venez experiment will tell us something about the “Golden Goose”. If the tax policies get too confiscatory, investors will flee and the street urchin won’t know why, though the oil income can benefit everyone while it lasts. There is a balance to be struck, and of course the land ownership in most of S America is still extremely concentrated. Here’s a good recent article on one country’s path to reform http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/1216/Bolivian-land-reform-a-country-strives-to-sustain-an-agrarian-revolution
At least in the US the means of production are owned in great measure by the workers — a few years ago we passed the point where over half of all US households owned stock directly or through pension programs. Nevertheless, S America at the moment is cutting poverty faster than the US, and with left-leaning governments. http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/2010/1122/Want-to-slash-poverty-Look-to-Latin-America And with US trade down to only 15% of the S American total, there’s less truth to the gringo imperialism charge.
To KJ (and “his ilk”) ~ I’m thinking maybe George Soros is your boy, for funding the Left against Rightist govts (where they are oppressive). Let the best tilt win.
And it appears the factual bottom line is that the Left lacks compelling role models of emulable states (having rejected the US of course). USSR? Cuba, the Workers’ Paradise?
And here we might dust off the Comintern story, how it supported a policy of non-intervention as WWII began, arguing (as most in this blog/echo chamber would) that the war was an imperialist war between various national ruling classes, etc. Hmm, then when the Soviet Union _itself_ was invaded, the Comintern saw-the-light and supported the Allies…
I think the attention this blog brings to the ICNC is salutary as it puts the spotlight on its critics’ mindset which perpetuates oppressive governments by opposing even peaceful, non-violent counteraction. As I said at the outset, it’s like Arafat: The man couldn’t take “yes” for an answer.
I have just finished reading an article from ”freedom house” wich is a link from the icnc relating to what it sees as problems with the current Venezuelan government.If i were a wealthy investor or a business man with profit making ventures in that country,i would be horrified and would be wishing for mr Chavez,s hasty demise,he would be denying me my profits by engaging in wreckless social spending and employing Cuban doctors and technical personel for social schemes that take away my ability to invest and make a healthy return on my investment.But if i were a poor street urchin or farmer,or a working class person[wich i am]then i would be very happy to see mr Chavez continue in his role as it is clear that i and my family are benefiting from his political economic apolicies as society is getting some benefit from the fruits of our collective labour.I dont know the exact figures,but i think i would be safe in assuming that there are many more of the later than the former in this senario.The essence of class struggle is aptly described and clear for all to see in this article from ”freedom houses”.The only question is,Who,s freedom and democracy is the icnc seeking to advance with its support for the venezuelan opposition?
As Mark Hayward points out above…
“8] Why is it that where your movements are successful it is right wing forces that are brought to power[Shakasvilli in Georgia as one example]”
And here we have the bottom line when it comes to Mr. Kurtz and his ilk. Again and again it is the Right that benefits. All Kurtz’s oh-so-reasonable prose evaporates in the face of this blunt reality.
Ackeman happy to support US goals using Gandhis tactics. NOTE Gandhis tactics are mostly to be used where a govt has broad support from its people.
‘Ackerman suggests that civic groups can accomplish regime change by engaging in “strategic nonviolenc conflict”. A succint explanation of his theories can be found here:
Indicative of the common objective are the comments of the theoreticians of the post modern coup, for example, Dr. Peter Ackerman, the author of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter on April 26, 2002, Dr. Ackerman offered the following corrective to Bush’s Axis of Evil speech targeting Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, which he otherwise approved: “It is not true that the only way to ‘take out’ such regimes is through U.S. military action.”
Speaking at the “Secretary’s Open Forum” at the State Department on June 29, 2004, in a speech entitled, “Between Hard and Soft Power:The Rise of Civilian-Based Struggle and Democratic Change,” Ackerman elaborated on the concept involved. He proposed that youth movements, such as those used to bring down Serbia, could bring down Iran and North Korea, and could have been used to bring down Iraq – thereby accomplishing all of Bush’s objectives without relying on military means. And he reported that he has been working with the top US weapons designer, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, on developing new communications technologies that could be used in other youth movement insurgencies. “There is no question that these technologies are democratizing,” he stressed, in reference to their potential use in bringing down China, “they enable decentralized activity. They create, if you will, a digital concept of the right of assembly.”
Teaches State dept and is happy to target North korea…but not south korea?
Ackerman also has this furfy:
‘President Bush has rightly endorsed the desire for real democracy espoused by most Iranians. Other world leaders should follow his example. But the Bush administration should resist proposals to foment a general upheaval that could turn violent, because that would only justify more repression’
do you endorse this, Professor? because it is certainly not true to say that most iranians were opposed to Ahmadinejad or his govt.,,note the bit of sage advice by Ackerman that Bush admin should resist proposals …etc. What Ackerman he is seeking is a way to over throw a legitimate govt NON-violently.
Non-violent ‘processes’….thats interesting language,..its like talking about natures processes, which can be used to help or harm, depending on the persons making use of natures processes
‘Successful civilian-based struggle makes a country ungovernable through strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other nonviolent tactics – in addition to mass protests – crumbling a government’s pillars of support. This is possible in Iran’
make a country ungovernable….thats the goal sought…Did Gandhi want his methods to be used by just anyone? Does Juan Cole want to be associated with such devious designs?
‘As Mr. Gowans essentially concedes, nonviolent civil resistance is empirically proven to be more effective than any other method for bringing about change. ‘
‘Mahatma Gandhi, my professor in these matters and the subject of years of research on my part, in addition to being an extraordinary strategist was the genius of anti-imperialism in his day, who set in motion the forces that toppled the colonial system. He wanted everyone to be trained as a Satyagrahi, a nonviolent civil resister who would oppose any kind of injustice in any sphere or at any level, from the micro level (e.g., domestic violence) to the global (e.g., international imperialism).
Interesting language in your reply..Its very artful, pleasant urbane…like a college professor.
Well first your using another mans ideas in a way he would never have approved. Gandhi never turned professor and taught his methods to anyone, esp anyone seeking to overthrow legitimate govt just because the govt elected wasnt what they wanted. Theres a saying:
when the wrong man takes the right way, the right way becomes the wrong way.
Youre abusing Gandhis methods, having discovered they can be used by anyone. Youve found that any legitimate govt can be overthrown/subervted by those who are not happy their candidate was not selected. In polarised societies this is a neat weapon.
Ive looked at the website of Peter Ackerman, and he writes the following:
‘Cheerleading from Washington is not a policy. It makes Iranian protesters appear to be doing America’s bidding, and covert support for violent action would undercut their legitimacy. What’s needed is a more strategic resistance by the Iranian opposition, unified behind clear political goals, backed by broader civilian participation, using tactics that divide the clerics and their military defenders. The Iranian people have the drive, the intelligence, and the capability to make such a strategy work – and that is what the world’s democracies should assist.’
Note his language.
So clearly your misuse of gandhis is meant to serve US interests. When Ackerman talkls of ‘Iranian people’ hes ignoring the vast majority of the country and settling on a minority who voted for Ahmadinejad….thats to make Satyagraha serve antidemocractic ends
‘who I want to believe is as ardent supporter of strategic nonviolent action as I am’
no doubt,but i doubt mr gowans would use it to subvert democracy: the will of the people.
‘Answering my initial question above seems clearly too much to ask, but I’ll respond to a few comments:
Brian: “Irans govt was democractically elected” You must be joking’
No El…/im not joking…and youd do better to find an independent source and not the Boston which also posted lies about the attack on the lebanon UN post in 2006!
My comment back then:
1. The article was posted in Jerusalem.
2. The headline reflects the Israeli view
3. The first view is Israels!
4. An anonymous UN person says it was israel.
5. There is NO Hezbollah comment.
6. This is an AP piece. BUT Washington paste has the AP headline….Didnt anyone at WP read the piece?
It was also taken up by Boston.com, same headline. This has now vanished from the internet.
So just cause it appears in the Boston doesnt make it true.
as for comments…i meet up with meathead commentators all the time…its called Astroturfing
Hey elgordo.How are the icnc going to give Iranian students ”self determination”?Does it not stand to reason that a foreign based organisation with funds from a ”private citizen”[and US government agencies] is going to take away ones”self determination”on behalf of those very people and agencies.I am neither a supporter or opponent of the Irainian government but i recognise its struggle to achieve real self determination.your attitude sounds far from democratic, like it or not,Iran makes its own decisions by virtue of its struggle for self determination wich you wish to usurp with your version that has shown to weaken independance in favour of the business interests of the US on numerous occasions,you shouldnt seek to speak for the students of Iran,thats presumptious.
How is a foreign organisation like the icnc or any other for that matter going to promote”self determination”to an already independant country,goverment and state?self determination from whom?Themselves!elgordo, this statement is rediculous.
Mr Kurtz.I have some specific questions for you that i would appreciate if you could answer specifically,not in a generic form but specifically address them as a leading figure in the ICNC and a proffesor.
1]What does the term”dictatorship of capital”mean to you and do you believe that it exists?
2]Do you believe the societies that you and i live in are divided into classes and that those classes are in struggle against one another?.
3]Do you support the overthrow of the Cuban communist party in Cuba?
4]Do you support the land reform process in Zimbabwe?
5]Do you support the KKE,s call for the overthrow of the capitalist system in Greece?
6]Why has the ICNC been so spectaculary unsuccsesful in overthrowing governments and economic systems that are within the western capitalist orbit including your own?
7]Why is the ICNC training anti Chavez activists to overthrow Hugo Chavez?
8]Why is it that where your movements are sucsesful it is right wing forces that are brought to power[Shakasvilli in georgia as one example]
9]Do you believe that all states are represive[including the US state]?
I eagerly await your reply….
Stephen Gowans’ commitment to justice and opposition to imperialism is admirable and I wish to thank him for his contribution to that ongoing struggle. I am not convinced, however, that his approach will help him achieve his goals, and would like to offer some friendly suggestions and a gentle critique regarding his approach to what I consider our common endeavor. I welcome a dialogue with him, as well as with anyone wishing to address these vital issues that he raises (https://gowans.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/leftist-overthrow-advisor-lester-kurtz-%E2%80%9Ci-talked-with-the-cia%E2%80%9D/ .
First, I am flattered by his inaccurate headline calling me a “Leftist overthrow advisor,” but that is not me – I am a sociology professor at George Mason University who educates people in the strategies of nonviolent civil resistance. What I teach and write about is not a recipe for taking “power from foreign governments” as Mr. Gowans suggests, but frameworks to understand better a complex phenomenon known as nonviolent conflict and a set of tools that have proved – across various historical cases – effective in resisting different types of oppression. It is a matter of educating and therefore empowering people to stand up to injustice no matter what the source – leftist, right-wing, domestic, or foreign governments, as well as tyranny within the workplace, the home, or the neighborhood.
Mahatma Gandhi, my professor in these matters and the subject of years of research on my part, in addition to being an extraordinary strategist was the genius of anti-imperialism in his day, who set in motion the forces that toppled the colonial system. He wanted everyone to be trained as a Satyagrahi, a nonviolent civil resister who would oppose any kind of injustice in any sphere or at any level, from the micro level (e.g., domestic violence) to the global (e.g., international imperialism).
What is disturbing about Mr. Gowans’ comments is that many of his facts are simply inaccurate. I have never collaborated with the CIA, nor has the ICNC on whose academic advisory board I sit. I spoke as an independent academic and in no way as a representative of the ICNC, when my government asked me to dialogue with members of its intelligence community. I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to educate others when requested, and I was glad to give my modest input, among others, into a greater understanding of nonviolent processes that I think are often so badly misguided and– as Mr. Gowans’ article proves – misinterpreted.
To be completely transparent so Mr. Gowans understands clearly that there are no hidden conspiracies, at the first event, at the Rand office in Washington, I served on a panel with distinguished scholars (including Juan Cole) and spoke about religion and violence (one area of my expertise). Later I was asked to respond to a presentation by UCLA professor David Rapoport about terrorism and then at the National Intelligence Council’s request I gave a presentation on nonviolent movements, which I had mentioned as playing a more significant role than violent ones when examining religious movements. At no time did I provide any information that I did not already present in my publications and courses.
More broadly, Mr. Gowans has a serious misunderstanding of what is being taught by me (and by ICNC), and to whom it is being taught. It would be helpful if he would peruse ICNC’s website or obtain and read its extensive materials on civil resistance before making assumptions about its content. He might also sample my writings and books. Quite the opposite of providing tools for U.S. imperialism, we are offering content much of which is based on struggles that were conducted against regimes supported by the U.S., such as the anti-apartheid movement inSouth Africa, the movement against Pinochet in Chile, the people power movement against Marcos in the Philippines, and the first Intifada against Israel in occupied Palestine. Moreover, ICNC’s educational materials have been used, and workshops that it supported have been attended, by organizers and participants in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, in the Maldivians’ successful campaign for democracy, in the West Papuans’ struggle for independence from Indonesia, in the Sahrawis’ struggle for independence from Morocco, in the Egyptian and Ethiopian resistance to dictators in those countries, and in the struggle of Hondurans against the coup regime in that country. All of these nonviolent struggles have been waged against governments supported or assisted by the U.S. government.
As Mr. Gowans essentially concedes, nonviolent civil resistance is empirically proven to be more effective than any other method for bringing about change. The best study demonstrating that is Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1(Summer2008), pp. 7–44. In disseminating information about this phenomenon, the ICNC is merely one of many organizations internationally working to develop nonviolent civil resistance and encouraging its exploration. Training for Change, Nonviolent International, Voices in the Wilderness, the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, and Peaceworkers in the U.S., War Resisters International based in the U.K., and Nova/Center for Social Innovation in Spain, are just a few of the other international organizations that are shouldering the work of global education in nonviolent struggle (and with all of whom ICNC has cooperated).
I wish Mr. Gowans – who I want to believe is as ardent supporter of strategic nonviolent action as I am – would join me and others in creatively developing nonviolent strategies and actions for fighting imperialism and injustice rather than attacking people who are actually providing education for oppressed peoples in hope of helping them mount effective nonviolent resistance.
Answering my initial question above seems clearly too much to ask, but I’ll respond to a few comments:
Brian: “Irans govt was democractically elected” You must be joking. http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/06/irans_disputed_election.html And don’t miss the comments.
Mark: Imperialists under every bed, eh? But don’t cry for Stephen and his blog. I will always be a minority in this echo chamber.
Similarly, BJ: Hits on goog are indeed a fuzzy metric, but if you haven’t visited http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/ you may be over-discounting its visitors. If you were an Iranian student whose classmate had been butchered by Brian’s “democratically elected” govt you might be excited to find means for overthrow of the thugs which will work, and which will not multiply the violence. There was a time when the Left would welcome such peaceable inclinations.
Check out the website; Dr Ackerman and his colleagues have plenty of academic cred and offer just what a sad country like Iran needs, esp in the absence of support from our Administration.
The American Left is the left wing of American Empire. Nothing more.
And this so-called US “Left” is exposing its real political nature more and more.
Disguised behind all its ivory tower “Marxist” posturing, the American Left’s true political role is provide left wing political cover (or rationalizations) for the spread of America’s tentacles around the planet.
In contrast to the Right, which favors more naked forms of American aggression, the Left prefers to conceal American imperial expansionism (like regime change operations) behind founding messianic deceptions like “Jeffersonian democracy.”
It should be remembered that Thomas Jefferson himself was a slaveowner and involved in the ethnic cleansing of Native Indians, as part of America’s theft of their lands from sea to shining sea.
Maybe, that’s what Americans *really* mean when they talk about benevolently expanding “Jeffersonian democracy” to other nations.
This is an academic article, how many hits a website has determines absolutely nothing, it is worse than citing Wikipedia in a publication. How can it be argued that Google hits does anything to determine which is really a subjective debate over opinion? Furthermore, hits are not located as being in any given country, and as an early poster pointed out, they are not even consistently accurate. If there is an argument to be made against this article, it should be based on what is presented on what is contained in the article not on how many hits another website has relative to this one.
Also, I felt this article was illuminating and well-presented. Good work!
@Elgordo, with Stephen having more credibility than I, as we both run different blog sites, I already have attained over 40,000 hits, and I’ve only been operating for a year. Gowans, on the other hand, had been running for many years. I can find articles of his from year 2001. So I seriously doubt I have more hits than him.
Having said that, Mark makes a great argument. 20,000 may be smaller than 158,000, but what comes out from those 20,000 is what’ll determine the significance over the other 158 K.
I bet you feel like you are banging your head against a wall sometimes Stephen after reading comments like those from elgordo.This writer views politics completely in the abstract,no historical and dialetical materialism in his analysis,history led by individuals that are good or bad with moral codes grabbed from some kind of a social vacuum irrespective of the social conditions within society,no association of the politics to the economic structure and dominant class interests in society and the world,certainly no class understanding of capitalism and little grasp of political economy and the imperialist stage of social development and a world view that corresponds nicely to that of the capitalist class.But not to worry my friend most of the 20.000 people that have visited your site have have left with a better understanding of the forces at play in the struggle for power and your expose of the political nature of the left boot of imperialism is invaluable.The other 158.000 will be diverted into the culdesac of reformism at best and acceptance of hegemony as democracy..keep up the good work..
What would Gandhi say?!
the mysterious el gordo wants to use gandhis method to overthrow democractically elected govts, just because his choice didnt get elected.
Irans govt was democractically elected..if your not iranian then you have no choice,…if you are you have to abide by the will of the majority.
Only 20000 for Gowans? But you still seem worried enough to come here and add to the hits.
Can we assume you’ve read Ackerman’s book, played his computer game, screened his documentary (A Force More Powerful)? http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/
Your approach to Ackerman et al reminds me of the truism about Yassar Arafat: The man couldn’t take “yes” for an answer.
A private citizen providing well-researched and tested means for peaceful regime change for free, to all comers ! With which of the antecedents to Ackerman’s model do you have a problem: Gandhi? MLKing? And are you expecting Jeffersonian democracy to emerge uniformly from the overdue overthrows of various kleptocracies?
Keep your eye on the thugs running Iran. I see 158,000 google hits for A Force More Powerful. And 20,000 for Stephen Gowans. If the Iranian students are tapping Ackerman, they’ll win some self-determination. If they listen to you…not so much.
I have no idea whether Chomsky actually said this, but let me assume for the sake of this discussion that he did. Another Chomsky line is that there’s no point speaking truth to power because power already knows the truth. With this in mind, we might ask, what would Chomsky, or anyone else on the left for that matter, hope to gain from delivering a talk or workshop to the CIA?
I return to the comment I made in the post: If ever there was a sign you’re part of the problem, it’s being asked by the CIA for advice. Giving it erases all doubts.
I think Noam Chomsky once wrote that he has been invited to talk before the CIA (or maybe it was some other secretive US agency, or possibly RAND) and was and is prepared to accept as long as the discussion is placed in the public record. The requested condition has never been granted.
Are you opposed to the talk or the conditions surrounding the talk?