State, media, and NGOs collaborate in shaping public opinion on upcoming Zimbabwe elections

By Stephen Gowans

A New York Times story published three days before elections in Zimbabwe provides an interesting illustration of how the state and mass media cooperate with agents on the ground to shape public opinion.

The aim of the March 26, 2008 article, titled “Hope and Fear for Zimbabwe Vote,” is to discredit the elections that the current president, Robert Mugabe, seems likely to win, in order to justify continuing efforts to replace Mugabe and his policies of land reform and economic indigenization with the pro-foreign investment, pro-private property policies of the US- and EU-backed Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.

Mugabe has provoked the ire of corporate executives, investment bankers, and those who have taken a leadership role in representing Western upper class interests by taking measures to invest Zimbabwe’s national liberation project with real content. His government expropriated the farms of white settlers and their descendants for distribution to the landless poor after former colonial power Britain reneged on promises to finance land redistribution.

Now the ZANU-PF government is proposing to place majority ownership of the country’s resources in the hands of indigenous Zimbabweans.

It’s all part of a program to achieve real national independence by turning Zimbabweans into owners of their own land and natural resources.

Zimbabwe has barred election monitors from the US and EU, but will allow observers from Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, South Africa and the Southern African Development Community to monitor the vote.

The barring of Western observers is pointed to as indirect evidence of vote rigging. After all, if Zimbabwe has nothing to hide, why won’t it admit observers from Europe and the US?

At the same time, it’s suggested that Zimbabwe is only allowing observers from friendly countries because they will bless the elections automatically.

By the same logic, one would expect that a negative evaluation is foreordained from observers representing unfriendly countries, especially those whose official policy is to replace the current government. Indeed, it is this fear that has led Harare to ban Western monitors.

With Western observers unable to monitor the elections directly, governments in North America and Europe are left with a public relations dilemma. How can they declare the vote fraudulent, if they haven’t observed it?

To get around this difficulty, the US, Britain and other Western countries have provided grants to Zimbabweans on the ground to monitor the vote. These Zimbabweans, part of civil society, declare themselves to be independent “non-governmental” observers, and prepare to render a foreordained verdict that the elections are rigged. Cooperating in the deception, the Western media amplifies their voices as “independent” experts on the ground.

The US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy — an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly — has provided grants to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network “to train and organize 240 long-term elections observers throughout Zimbabwe.”

The NED is also connected to the Media Monitoring Project through the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which it funds, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which is funded by Britain’s NED equivalent, the Westminster Foundation.

The Media Monitoring Project calls itself independent, but is connected to the US and British governments, and to billionaire speculator George Soros’s Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

When the New York Times needed Zimbabweans on the ground to comment on the upcoming election, its reporters turned to representatives of these two NGOs.

Noel Kututwa, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, told the newspaper that his group would be using “sampling techniques to assess the accuracy of the results announced nationally.”

Yet, Mr. Kututwa also told the newspaper that, “We will not have a free and fair election.” If Kututwa has already decided the election will be unfair and coerced, why bother assessing its accuracy?

Andrew Moyse, a regular commentator on Studio 7, an anti-Mugabe radio station sponsored by the US government’s propaganda arm, Voice of America, is quoted in the same article.

“Even if Mugabe only gets one vote,” Mr. Moyse opines, “the tabulated results are in the box and he has won.”

Moyse, on top of acting as a US mouthpiece on Voice of America, heads up the Media Monitoring Project. While part of the NGO election observer team the US and EU are relying on on the ground, he’s already decided the vote is rigged.

Kutatwa and Moyse are the only experts the New York Times cited in its story on the upcoming elections.

Both represent NGOs funded by hostile governments whose official policy is to replace Robert Mugabe and his government’s land reform and economic indigenization policies.

Both present themselves as independent election monitors, though they can hardly be independent of their sources of foreign government and foundation funding.

Both have declared in advance of the election that the vote will not be free and fair and that the tabulated results are already in the box.

Their foreordained conclusions happen to be the same conclusions their sponsors in the US and Britain are looking for, to obtain the consent of a confused public to intervene vigorously in Zimbabwe’s affairs.

It’s a symbiotic collaboration of media, state, and NGOs on the ground.

The target is public opinion, and ultimately, the poor of the world, and their struggles to break free from centuries of oppression.

(References to follow)

The Company Patrick Bond Keeps

By Stephen Gowans

While Patrick Bond likes to create the impression he offers an independent left perspective on Zimbabwe, it’s difficult to reconcile the impression with the reality. Bond has, in the past, recommended that progressives look to two of Zimbabwe’s “pro-democracy” groups, Sokwanele and Zvakwana, to find out what’s going on in Zimbabwe. (1) Both groups are modeled after Otpor, a Western-funded youth group that worked to oust Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Like their Serb progenitor, the Zimbabwean groups are handsomely funded by Western governments (2), not to oppose the interests of wealthy individuals, corporations, banks, investors, and imperialist states, but to promote them.

“The United States government (is) working with the Zimbabwean opposition” “trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations” “to bring about a change of administration.” (3) It supports “the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society,” including providing training and assistance to grassroots “pro-democracy” groups (4) – groups Bond celebrated in a Counterpunch article as “the independent left.” (5)

The US also supports “workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies,” (6) a project enlisting the kinds of nonviolent imperialists Stephen Zunes has made a practice of vigorously defending. (7)

Bond’s most recent attempt to bamboozle the West’s progressive community is a Z-Net article co-authored with a woman who is part of US-sponsored regime change operations in Zimbabwe. (8)

Last April, Grace Kwinjeh traveled to Washington with Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of one faction of the Zimbabwe opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and representatives from NGOs funded by the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. (9)

The NED does overtly what the CIA once did covertly, namely, meddle in the affairs of foreign countries to bring down governments that refuse to do Washington’s bidding.

Soon after it was established, the MDC became the party favored by white farmers in Zimbabwe for its opposition to the government’s land reform policies. The party is backed by the US and EU. Tsvangirai, the party’s original leader, and now leader of one its two factions, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, pledging to restore property rights and to compensate white farmers for the loss of land their settler ancestors took by force. (10)

Last April’s delegation to Washington was organized by the Open Society Initiative, a project of billionaire speculator George Soros, to “build and strengthen the values, practices and institutions of an open society throughout Southern Africa” (11) — roughly, to promote open markets and free enterprise where governments are pursuing programs of economic indigenization.

SW Radio Africa, which operates on funding provided by the US State Department’s Office of Transition Initiatives, reported that the group was in Washington to “brief Western institutions like the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson Center.” (12)

The CSIS is a little known think-tank run by a bipartisan collection of upper class leaders, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. It recently prepared a report recommending that the West use preventive nuclear first strikes to stop other countries, like Iran, from acquiring nuclear weapons. (13)

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is a US government established center that links “scholarship to issues of concern to officials in Washington.” The Center’s Africa program was launched with a grant from the Ford Foundation to promote dialogue between scholars and US policy-makers on Africa. The tenor of the dialogue is obvious in the latest edition of the Center’s journal, The Wilson Quarterly. Articles extol competition (it’s hard-wired into humans) and the US Department of Homeland Security (it doesn’t get enough credit.)

Kwinjeh is a frequent guest on Studio 7, a radio station sponsored by the US-government’s propaganda arm, the Voice of America. (14) She calls herself “a founder member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, (MDC),” and says she “spent some time in Belgium as the MDC Representative to the EU.” (15)

At one point, she was the deputy secretary for international relations in the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC. She ran for the post of MDC secretary of information (the party’s propaganda office) unsuccessfully.

When writing for Western audiences, Kwinjeh conceals her MDC connections and presents herself as a journalist – not a senior member of the US and EU-backed MDC, not a part of US-government regime change operations.

The key questions for Western progressives are: Does Patrick Bond know who Grace Kwinjeh is? If so, why is he co-authoring articles with her? Is Bond’s definition of “independent” the same as that of the US state and Western media, i.e., any individual or group that facilitates the US government in its efforts to bring down foreign governments that refuse to do the West’s bidding? If Patrick Bond doesn’t know who Grace Kwinjeh is, why is he passing himself off as a left expert on Zimbabwe? Surely, someone who professes to have a knowledge of Zimbabwe greater than that of Western progressives would know about Kwinjeh’s role in US regime change operations. And what separation is there between the views of Bond and those of Kwinjeh, an MDC operative who has traveled to Washington on George Soros’ account to brief a ruling class think-tank that promotes a nuclear first strike strategy?

Follow Up, April 11, 2008

Z-Net changed Kwinjeh’s bio after I wrote to Chris Spannos about it, complaining the omission was deceptive.

Bond, usually obsessive about rising to these kinds of challenges, hasn’t replied to the article above, or to the questions asked of him at the end of it.

His most recent writing on Zimbabwe of which I’m aware (this time authored without the help of the US, British, and Australian government-backed MDC) appeared on Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News is directly financed by the Ford Foundation and billionaire speculator George Soros and indirectly by the Canadian government, the European Union and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

You can’t help trip over Bond’s connections to corporate foundations and groups and political parties financed by imperialist governments. They fund his civil society center and pay for his junkets. Groups he urges leftists to look to as an “independent” left voice are bankrolled by the US, British and other Western governments. Is it any wonder he’s known as Bond…Patrick Bond….of Her Majesty’s NGOs?

At one time, CIA spooks channeled money to left scholars like Bond covertly. Now, the funding is open, and the connections are hardly concealed.

Incidentally, Spannos mounted a sophistical defense of Z-Net’s accepting Bond’s MDC co-authored Zimbabwe article. Explained Spannos: If Z-Net refused to accept submissions from people who are connected, in some way, to parties or institutions dominated and funded by corporations and imperialist governments, Z-Net would have to dissociate itself from most of the submissions it gets on a daily basis.

This follows along the lines of a Stephen Zunes argument. Almost everyone, if they have a job, gets paid by capitalists or capitalist-supported governments, so what’s the fuss? The fuss is that few people get paid to undertake funded political activity. Equating a clerk who works for Sears and writes on Zimbabwe to Grace Kwinjeh, is like saying, “Just because George Bush is president doesn’t mean his views on public healthcare are more reflective of the interests of the US ruling class than those of Walmart employees, whose livelihood is also linked intimately to the US ruling class through their employment by a giant corporation.” Walmart employees, unless they’re in the PR department or boardroom, don’t get paid to represent Walmart’s political interests or those of the US ruling class. Kwinjeh, on the other hand, has a direct material interest in representing the interests of the MDC, and through it, the MDC’s patrons.

Sadly, Z-Net, and Z-Net favorites, Bond and Zunes, have a penchant for this kind of specious nonsense.

1. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/zimbabwe-and-the-politics-of-demons-and-angels/

2. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)

3. The Guardian (August 22, 2002)

4. U.S. Department of State, April 5, 2007 report on human rights. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/

5. http://www.counterpunch.org/bond03272007.html

6. U.S. Department of State

7. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/

8. http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2008-03/11bond-kwinjeh.cfm

9. http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2007-04/2007-04-27-voa54.cfm?CFID=213706089&CFTOKEN=96857847 and http://www.swradioafrica.com/news290407/un270407.htm .

Regarding NED funding of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition see http://fanonite.org/2008/03/10/nonviolent-imperialism-major-revision/

10. The Herald (Zimbabwe) (March 23, 2008)

11. http://www.osisa.org/

12. http://www.swradioafrica.com/news290407/un270407.htm

13. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/01/27/whose-nuclear-first-strike-strategy-is-this-anyway/

14. http://www.voanews.com/english/africa/zimbabwe/

15. http://gracekwinjeh.blogspot.com/

Who is Grace Kwinjeh (and why did Patrick Bond co-author an article with her)?

By Stephen Gowans

Patrick Bond and Grace Kwinjeh wrote on article on March 11 for Z-Net on the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. Titled “Zimbabwe’s political roller-coaster hits another deep dip,” the article took the current government to task, predicted a Robert Mugabe victory “by hook or crook,” and declared civil society to be Zimbabwe’s “main wellspring of hope.”

Civil Society Center director Patrick Bond (as in Bond…Patrick Bond…of Her Majesty’s NGOs, as one wag put it) has been lambasting the Mugabe government for years as a self-declared “independent” left voice on Zimbabwe. Bond’s independence includes celebrating activist groups that receive US government funding as part of the West’s regime change program in Zimbabwe.

But who is Bond’s co-author, Grace Kwinjeh?

Kwinjeh is listed at the end of the duo’s article as a South African-based Zimbabwean journalist. But according to Kwinjeh’s blog, Kwinjehviews, Bond’s co-author is also “a founder member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, (MDC)” who “spent some time in Belgium as the MDC Representative to the EU.” At one point, Kwinjeh was the deputy secretary for international relations in the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change. (She also says she is a South African-based Zimbabwean journalist. Since this matches the brief bio provided at the end of the Bond-Kwinjeh Z-Net article, I assume Bond’s Grace Kwinjeh is also Tsvangirai’s Grace Kwinjeh.)

Inasmuch as Kwinjeh’s and Bond’s analysis of the upcoming elections is highly critical of the current Zimbabwean government, it is hardly an insignificant point that Kwinjeh fails to disclose her connection to the MDC. This is tantamount to an IBM employee writing a scathing review of Mac computers and then presenting herself as a technology journalist without acknowledging her connection to IBM.

It’s no less significant that Patrick Bond should be caught up in the deception, given his history of promoting “independent” left voices that are hardly independent (and does so once again.) But, then, maybe that’s what a civil society center director does. See Talk Left, Funded Right.

The MDC, which soon became the favored party of white farmers in Zimbabwe, has manifold connections to the US and British states and EU. The leader of the MDC faction Kwinjeh was deputy secretary of international relations for, Morgan Tsvangirai, worries in the Wall Street Journal about the effect the current government’s land reform policies have had on foreign investor confidence, and favors a policy in which Zimbabweans compensate settlers and their descendants for land taken from them and never paid for in the first place. This is akin to insisting you pay a thief for the return of the goods he stole from your house.

The issue, here, however, isn’t the MDC’s politics, but the deception and Bond’s part in it. Readers of Kwinjeh and Bond ought to be aware that they’re being bamboozled when either writer says or implies he or she is providing an independent left perspective. Kwinjeh should acknowledge her ties to the US- and EU-backed MDC. As for Bond, he should stop misrepresenting groups and individuals linked to corporations, capitalist foundations, and imperialist governments as an “independent” left.

Reply to Zunes on 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism

Stephen Zunes has written a brief reply to my last article, 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism, which you can read here. The following is my response.

Stephen,

Let me address your points one by one.

1.You say: “I do not and have never singled out leftist governments for criticism.”

I guess that depends on what you consider a leftist government to be. I would surmise that your definition is different from mine. If I said, “You criticized government x,” you would reply, “But government x isn’t leftist.” You’re using a difference of opinion about what a leftist government is, to construct a straw man.

2. You say: “I have supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements around the world.”

I’m sure you have supported some anti-imperialist and some anti-capitalist movements around the world, but who says you haven’t? My comments concerned anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist governments, not movements. I suspect you haven’t supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements that take up arms, but that’s another matter.

3. You say: “I have opposed the agenda of ‘wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments’”.

I’ve never said you haven’t, but some would say you certainly haven’t opposed the agenda of Peter Ackerman as it relates to the ICNC and you certainly didn’t oppose USIP when you accepted a USIP research fellowship (i). These are good points, but they’re not my points and they’re hardly necessary points. Churchill opposed the agenda of the Soviet Union, but that didn’t stop him from working with it.

The issues, here, are: (1) Are you willing to take money from one or more of: wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments? And (2): Are wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments willing to give you money to oppose their interests? The answer to the first question, judging by your comments on an earlier article of mine, is yes (ii); the second question can only be answered in the affirmative by the deluded or naïve.

4.You say: “I have never implied that (wealthy individuals, corporations…) were in any way a “wellspring of hope.”

Who said you had? The “wellsprings of hope” reference was to civil society (and Patrick Bond’s and Grace Kwinjeh’s description of it), not to the funders of civil society.

5. You say: “I have never ‘followed State Department’ narratives.”

I guess it depends on what you mean by “followed.” Maybe we should call it a case of simultaneous multiple invention. You can be Wallace to the State Department’s Darwin. The State Department talks about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. You talk about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. The State Department talks about Belarus as a dictatorship. You talk about Belarus as a dictatorship. The State Department talks about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. You talk about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. And so on. (iii)

But maybe I’m being too charitable. I’ve assumed you’ve aped the State Department narrative on places like Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran because it’s easy to do. Perhaps I should be complaining about your false allegations and total fabrications about these governments.

6. You say: “I have never defended the practices of the NED, the USAID or other government agencies.”

Who says you have? Patrick Bond is wont to celebrate groups that receive NED funding as an “independent” left. I’m not sure whether that counts as defending the practices of the NED, but I have no information on your attitude toward these organizations. Accordingly, I have nothing to say about it. Claiming I have is (to use your language) a total fabrication.

7. You say: “I only wish I could be criticized about the things I’ve really said.”

If I said all the things you say I’ve said about you, I too would say they were total fabrications. But alas I haven’t said these things. You’re either misreading what I’ve written or you’re raising the straw man to an art form.

Stephen Gowans

(i) See point 11of your “A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations Against Stephen Zunes” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16613 .

(ii) Ibid. You write: “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.”

(iii) You write, “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states comes from civil society” and “Similar claims heard today that the United States is somehow a major force behind contemporary popular movements against dictatorships in Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Belarus or that the United States was somehow responsible for the successes of previous movements in Serbia, Georgia or Ukraine are equally ludicrous.” “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538 .

10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism

By Stephen Gowans

Stephen Zunes, chair of the board of academic advisors to the US ruling class International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, and Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at Durban, are regular contributors to Z-Net, Counterpunch and other left media. There’s nothing particularly new, interesting or exciting about their writing. When it comes to foreign governments that pursue a traditional leftist agenda of independent economic development outside the domination of imperialist powers they can be counted on to ape the New York Times and Washington Post, and by extension, the White House and Department of State.

Reading Zunes’ write about Belarus, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Iran, is like reading State Department press releases. “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states,” says Zunes, “comes from civil society” (1). In its reference to freedom and democracy in the abstract, Zunes’ language is evocative of the propagandistic bilge that gushes in rivers from White House and State Department speechwriters trying to shape public opinion. Bond, who claims an expertise on Zimbabwe based on proximity to the country (he runs a civil society center on the other side of the Limpopo River) is hardly better. Both mimic State Department charges against the West’s leftist and national liberation foreign policy betes noire, and, like the State Department, both celebrate civil society. Bond has gone so far as to naively dub activist groups in Zimbabwe that receive Western funding as “the main wellspring of hope for a Zimbabwean recovery” (2). It would be more apt to say civil society is the West’s main wellspring of hope to return Zimbabwe to a colonial past.

Bond and Zunes are formulaic writers. They cleave to a basic set of rules to guide their analyses of governments that have disrupted property relations that once favored Western investors, banks and corporations. Once you know the rules, you can predict what either Zunes or Bond are going to write with astonishing accuracy.

Rule #1. All governments are bad, especially those that pursue traditional leftist agendas of placing control of a country’s resources and productive property in the hands of its public, its government, or its domestic business class. The leaders of these governments deceptively employ socialist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric to win and then to hang on to power. They enjoy enormous privileges secured and defended by corruption and abuse of authority. Governments, by nature, are corrupt, authoritarian and thoroughly rotten, particularly those that call themselves leftist and anti-imperialist. There has never been a truly leftist, anti-colonial or anti-imperialist government, and can never be one. All revolutions are betrayals and no one should expect that anything good can ever come from left and anti-imperialist forces taking power. The only good revolution is the one that has never happened, or the ones that have been financed by wealthy individuals and the US government.

Rule #2. Civil society is the main wellspring of hope. Non-governmental organizations funded by the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, the US State Department’s USAID, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and other Western “democracy promotion” agencies, are independent organizations that are working to build a better world. Leftists should look to these groups to understand what’s going on in countries led by nominally anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and socialist governments. Zimbabwe’s Lawyers for Human Rights, for example, represents one of the main wellsprings of hope for Zimbabwe. Never mind that it is funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy (3) – an organization that does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly. Plenty of civil society organizations take money from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. Does that mean they’re not independent?

Rule #3. Decentralized, participatory democracy is good. It is the absolute good.

Rule #4. Process is more important than outcome. Zimbabweans becoming owners of their own land and natural resources is only half as important as the British parliamentary tradition in Zimbabwe being upheld; only a tenth as important as the freedom and democracy Zunes’ celebrates in the abstract; only a hundredth as important as civil society having room to operate to peacefully change the government. It’s not helpful to mention that peaceful regime change is often preceded by economic warfare and threats of military intervention and that non-violent activism and civil society are only part of a larger whole of regime change operations.

Rule #5. Governments that call themselves anti-imperialist or socialist or both are neither of these things and are as deplorable as imperialists and neo-liberals. Civil society, though drawing its funding from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments, is the main wellspring of hope.

Rule #6. When writing about governments that pursue traditional leftist agendas, it is important to follow State Department narratives. This is equivalent to doing what the New York Times, CNN and other major media did when they amplified Washington’s lies about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction – an inconvenient reality, but skip over it. Charges made against leftist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist governments of corruption, human rights abuses, and betrayal will resonate with a left population primed for cynicism. Accordingly, it takes little effort to make the charges stick. Don’t bother to cite evidence. You don’t need to. Tap into what everyone knows is true, because everyone says it’s true, because the media say it’s true, because the State Department and White House say it’s true. Who will ask for evidence? Insist that the other side present evidence. If you don’t like the evidence, say it’s not from a credible source.

Rule #7. Never shy away from basing your argument on appeal to authority. If you live close to the country civil society is to promote democracy in, or have visited it, claim authority based on geography. “I’ve been (or live close) to Zimbabwe.” This, however, might backfire. Opponents can reply: “If geography is so important, I’ll accept as a higher authority the analysis of the leaders of the government you denounce, since they are long-time residents of their country, and not merely tourists and residents of a neighboring country.”

Rule #8. Make definitive statements. For example, assert with certitude that Bob Helvey has never been to Venezuela to train civil society to bring down the Chavez government. When you’re shown evidence that Bob Helvey has indeed been to Venezuela, say “I only found about it last week.” Never let ignorance get in the way of self-appointed authority.

Rule #9. Defend civil society’s receiving its funding from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments by saying, “A people’s revolution cannot happen by generous funding alone.” This sounds compelling. Of course, if this were true, we could also say, “Acceptance of a ruling class ideology cannot happen by the ruling class virtually monopolizing the media and schools” or “George Bush won his first run at the presidency through a groundswell of popular support that had little to do with his connections to wealthy supporters and the king’s ransom spent on his campaign.”

Rule #10. Some say civil society should not take money from wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments. Others say the reality that wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments shower many civil society groups with money tells you everything you need to know about these groups. These people are not helpful.

1. Stephen Zunes, “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” February 17, 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538

2. Patrick Bond and Grace Kwinjeh, “Zimbabwe’s political roller-coaster hits another deep dip,” March 11, 2008, http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2008-03/11bond-kwinjeh.cfm

3. Michael Barker, “Nonviolent Imperialism: A Major Revision,” March 10, 2008, http://fanonite.org/2008/03/10/nonviolent-imperialism-major-revision/

Stephen Zunes and the Struggle for Overseas Profits

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.
6. Ibid.

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.
8. Ibid.
9. See http://www.stephenzunes.org/ and http://www.fpif.org/advisers/37
10. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
11. Ibid.
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.
17. Ibid.
18. The Albert Einstein Institution, Report on Activities, 2000 to 2004, http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations/org/2000-04rpt.pdf .

Whose Nuclear First Strike Strategy Is This Anyway?

By Stephen Gowans

In mid-January, former US Chief of Staff General John Shalikashvili and four top military leaders from European Nato countries released a report calling for a new Western military alliance that could act without UN authorization and use nuclear first strikes to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The generals were justifiably denounced as Drs. Strangelove, but what was missed was the reality that the former military men hadn’t acted on their own, but were brought together to write their report by a think-tank whose board of directors includes chairmen and CEOs of America’s top corporations and investment firms.

The recommendations the generals made were every bit as much those of America’s corporate elite as they were the generals’.

Who rules America?

The American sociologist William Domhoff has spent years asking who rules America?

He thinks he has the answer. America’s rulers, he says, comprise a tiny slice of the US population whose members intermarry, go to the same private schools, join exclusive clubs, travel the world for business and pleasure, and own most of the country’s corporate wealth.

They pursue careers in business, corporate law and finance and sit on the boards of large corporations, head up investment banks, and lead top corporate law firms.

They’re not a cabal issuing secret edicts from behind the scenes but an interconnected group who are keenly aware of their common interests and who use their wealth openly to dominate the political process in legal — and in what most people would consider legitimate — ways.

They hire lobbyists and fund think tanks and foundations to influence public policy.

They employ public relations firms and use their control of the media to shape public opinion.

They provide most of financial backing to the United States’ two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

Top government positions – secretaries of state, defense, treasury and commerce, top diplomats, the top tier of the bureaucracy – are overwhelmingly staffed by members of this tiny, interconnected, group.

Conflicts with organized labor, consumers, and others aren’t always won by this upper class of corporate grandees, but their domination of the political process allows them to come out on top most of the time.

Public policy

Where money power dominates, public policy tends to be shaped to promote the interests of those with money. Here’s how the upper class uses its money power to shape public policy, according to Domhoff.

o A problem is identified in corporate boardrooms or exclusive clubs.

o The problem is communicated to one of the foundations and think-tanks the upper class finances and directs. These include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Business Council and dozens of others.

o These organizations assemble groups of corporate executives, scholars (1), military officers and government bureaucrats to formulate solutions to the problems the upper class initially identifies in its boardrooms and exclusive clubs.

o The solutions are presented in papers, released to the public and sent to legislatures, where they are transformed into legislation, or to government departments to be enacted by executive order.

The upper class’s policy recommendations are often accepted by legislators and government officials. Top government officials almost always belong to, or are indebted to, the upper class. Legislators rely on upper class support to get elected, and to receive lucrative corporate lobbying or executive positions after politics.

Domhoff argues that political parties aren’t vehicles for formulating policy, but serve the purpose of selecting ambitious exhibitionists as candidates who can be relied on, if elected, to implement policies recommended by the ruling class’s experts.

Formulation of policy happens, instead, within ruling class think-tanks and foundations.

CSIS

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a little known think-tank which “seeks to advance global security…by providing strategic insights and practical policy solutions to decision-makers.” It calls itself “a strategic planning partner for the government.”

The CSIS fits Domhoff’s description of a ruling class policy formulation organization. Its board of trustees is made up a bipartisan collection of upper class leaders who have spent their adult lives alternating between top government appointments and the boardrooms of some of America’s largest corporations.

The organization brings together experts – usually retired generals, admirals and military strategists – to work on security issues the upper class has identified as needing attention. Policy recommendations are released in reports, and presented to the relevant decision-makers.

Recently CSIS brought together five top military officers from across the Nato community to prepare a “150-page blueprint for urgent reform of western military strategy and structures.” (2)

The blueprint “has been presented to the Pentagon and to Nato’s secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.” It’s expected the think-tank’s proposals will be discussed at the April Nato summit in Bucharest. (3)

There has been virtually no media coverage of the proposal in North America, but it has received some coverage in the British press.

The authors of the report, who include ”the US’s top soldier under Bill Clinton, John Shalikashvili,” recommend that the West use preventive nuclear first strikes to stop other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. (4)

The generals were immediately denounced as Drs. Strangelove for their readiness to recommend preventive nuclear strikes. But the story, and the reaction to it, seemed to miss the connection of the military men to the CSIS, and the CSIS to the US ruling class.

Shalikashvili and his counterparts were brought together by the CSIS to prepare a military strategy to deal with countries that resist domination by the West, particularly those, like Iran, which could be in a position to defend themselves by developing a nuclear weapons deterrent.

The blueprint proposes the development of “a new pact drawing the US, Nato and the European Union” together as a single, unified fighting force capable of taking immediate action – up to and including the use of nuclear weapons – without the authorization of the UN Security Council.(5)

Like the anti-Comintern pact, which brought together Germany, Japan, Italy and later Spain in a crusade against communism and the Soviet Union, a new Western military alliance would bring North America and Europe together in a crusade against political Islam (which the generals refer to as a growing irrationality in the world.)

But unlike the anti-Comintern pact, the new military alliance the generals prescribe would be a lot more cohesive and far more deadly.

Whose policy is this?

There is a danger of misunderstanding the generals’ policy prescriptions as being solely the work of individuals representing private concerns rather than recommendations endorsed by an organization that has taken a leadership role in representing the interests of America’s ruling class.

Behind the generals’ manifesto lies the CSIS and behind the CSIS lies some of the top names in American business and investment banking, including former and current chairmen and CEOs of Merril Lynch, Lightyear Capital, The Carlyle Group, Coca-Cola, Glaxo, Time Inc, and Exxon Mobil. The investment firm Lehman Brothers is represented on CSIS’s board. So too are CARE and the United Way.

For the US ruling class, Nato’s consensual nature, the strictures of international law, Europe’s occasional assertions of independence, and reluctance to exploit America’s nuclear arsenal to secure military objectives, have delayed the arrival of a new American century.

Countries which practice policies of independent economic development need to be brought to heel.

The owners of America’s corporate wealth complain bitterly about Iran’s foreign investment-unfriendly policies, Belarus’s largely state-owned economy, and South America’s budding 21st century socialism.

China is competing with Western companies for investment, raw materials and markets in Africa. An assertive Russia is reclaiming its economy and competing with US firms for Western Europe’s energy markets.

A unified Western military alliance that marched in the same direction and used overwhelming force would be decisive in conquering space for Western capital.

While Shalikashvili and his counterparts are the public face of this strategy, the interests of the owners of America’s corporate wealth are its real author.

Trustees and counsellors of the CSIS

(1) Ruling class think-tanks don’t rely exclusively on right-wing scholars. Left-wing scholar Stephen Zunes is associated with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a ruling class think-tank headed up by Wall Street investment banker Peter Ackerman. The ICNC specializes in training youth groups in using non-violent direct action to destabilize countries whose governments pursue economic policies that, while friendly to their own populations, are unfriendly to the profit-making interests of US corporations and investors. One of the ICNC’s latest projects has been to give courses to young activists on how to resist, oppose and change the Chavez government in Venezuela using non-violent techniques. Patrick Bond, a left scholar based in South Africa, heads up a think-tank, the Centre for Civil Society, which counts business groups and capitalist foundations as its backers. Bond is on record as endorsing youth groups funded by the US State Department as being representative of the “independent” left in Zimbabwe.

(2) Ian Traynor, “Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, Nato told,” Guardian (UK), January 22, 2008; Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing a Transatlantic Partnership, http://www.csis.org/media/csis/events/080110_grand_strategy.pdf
(3) Traynor
(4) Ibid
(5) Traynor; Towards a Grand Strategy

Color Revolution Counterpunch

The arrest by Iranian authorities of U.S.-Iranian scholar Haleh Esfandiari should come as no shock. She is almost certainly guilty of working to foment a color revolution, and governments, especially revolutionary ones, never stand for attempts to reverse their revolutions or to make fundamental changes in the class which wields state power. Whether her arrest was legitimate depends on which rights one believes to be senior: the rights of public advocacy and freedom to organize politically or the rights of self-determination and freedom from foreign domination.

By Stephen Gowans

Few people had heard of Haleh Esfandiari until she was jailed by skittish Iranian authorities who feared she was involved in a U.S. plot to engineer a color revolution in Iran.

The director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Esfandiari had been visiting her mother when she was detained by Iranian authorities in May. She was accused of co-opting Iranians into a U.S.-sponsored regime change program, offering them research grants and scholarships, paying their way to conferences and linking them up with “decision making centers in America.” (1)

This wasn’t the first regime change-related arrest. Last summer, Iranian authorities arrested Ramin Jahanbegloo, a scholar with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship (*). The Ministry of Intelligence said the arrest was made in connection with U.S. efforts “to start a soft revolution in Iran.” (2)

Parnaz Azima, a reporter who works for Radio Farda, a Persian language radio station financed by the U.S. government has also been arrested, as has Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with billionaire speculator George Soros’ Open Society Institute. OSI has been instrumental in providing funding for color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

While there has been “a spate of recent crackdowns against Iranian activists” reflecting a “concern by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the United States is using democracy advocates to promote regime change,” (3) Esfandiari’s case has received the most attention.

Left scholars, like Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole, have condemned Esfandiari’s arrest, and others have suggested that the Ahmadinejad government is cracking down on legitimate dissent.

But how legitimate, and how independent, are the so-called democracy advocates, Tehran has jailed?

Esfandiari is the director of the U.S. government-established Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program. The Center is hardly a neutral body, independent of either the U.S. government or its foreign policy goals. Partly funded by the OSI, the Middle East Program was launched in February 1998 to assess “American interests in the region” and “strategic threats to and from the regional states.” It’s no secret that the U.S. considers Iran to be a strategic threat and considers its interests are best served by regime change in Iran.

Esfandiari’s program, according to the Center’s website, “devotes considerable attention to the analysis of internal domestic and social developments in Iran” including “the aspiration of the younger generation for reform and expansion of individual liberties” as well as the development of “civil society.” (4)

Is it any wonder Iranian authorities regard Esfandiari as a threat? She’s an Iranian living in the U.S., works for a U.S. government-established body, and directs a program whose mandate relates to American interests in the region. The program receives funding from the OSI, which has been instrumental in regime change operations in countries that had remained stubbornly outside the U.S. imperial orbit.

By itself, this is damning, but in the broader context of U.S. policy, it’s difficult to dismiss Tehran’s accusations as either paranoid or contrived.

Bankrolling a counter-revolution

In May of 2005, R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs said the U.S. was ready to hike funding to groups within Iran seeking regime change. The United States had already spent $1.5 million in 2004 and $3 million in 2005 on exile groups with contacts inside Iran. (5)

Burns equated the ramped up spending to “taking a page from the playbook” on Ukraine and Georgia, where, as the New York Times explained,” in those countries the United States gave money to the opposition and pro-democracy groups, some of which later supported the peaceful overthrow of the governments in power.” (6)

But it would take longer to spark a color revolution in Iran, Burns warned. “We don’t have a platform to do it. The country isn’t free enough to do it. It’s a much more oppressive environment than Ukraine was…during the Orange Revolution” where the U.S. was able to take advantage of the country’s openness to meddle in its internal affairs. (7)

On February 15, 2005 U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed to add $75 million to the $10 million already earmarked for U.S. government programs to “support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists.” Two-thirds of the additional funding was to be used to “increase television broadcasting to 24 hours a day all week in Farsi into Iran.” (8)

It’s unlikely that Esfandiari, working for the U.S. government through the Woodrow Wilson Center, and on a program that emphasized U.S. interests in Iran, wasn’t part of the stepped up efforts to oust the Ahmadinejad government.

Mercenaries of non-violent struggle

Equally unlikely is that the Iranian Center for Applied Non-Violence was passed over for Uncle Sam’s regime change largesse. The Center invites Iranians to workshops to teach them how peaceful revolts in Georgia, the Philippines and elsewhere were set off. Training sessions are held “every month or so, hoping to foment a non-violent conflict in Iran.” The Washington-based International Center on Non-Violent Conflict helps organize the sessions. (10)

The U.S. Center is interesting. It appears to be a grassroots organization – the kind of group that appeals to Z Magazine-reading activists in the West — but has strong connections to Wall Street and the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The Center’s founding chair is New York investment banker Peter Ackerman, who is also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization dominated by directors of major U.S. corporations, corporate lawyers and CEOs. The CFR formulates foreign policy for the U.S. State Department. Its key members circulate between the council, corporate board appointments and State Department positions.

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 OSI, USAID, 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 that 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. The only freedom these people are 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. If Ackerman, who studied under U.S. non-violence guru Gene Sharp, is truly committed to the peaceful way, he’s done a terrible job of transmitting a commitment to non-violent change to his children. Ackerman has two sons, one of whom is a U.S. Marine Corps officer, who earned a silver star for service in Iraq, using bombs and bullets to change Iraq’s regime.

The Center’s vice-chair is Berel Rodal, formerly a senior Canadian government official in foreign affairs, international trade, defense, security and intelligence (hardly the background of a budding Ghandi.)

Another Center associate is Robert Helvey, whose book “On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict: Thinking about the Fundamental”, is promoted on the Center’s website. Anyone who does a little digging into Helvey’s background will soon discover that strategic non-violent conflict means enlisting grassroots activists to bring down socialist or economically nationalist governments in order to privatize their socially-owned assets for the benefit of U.S. corporations and investors.

Helvey is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. military attaché to Burma (like Rodal’s, an improbable background for a budding Ghandi) who 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.’” (10) 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.” (11)

What comes after a color revolution?

So, what has happened to Serbia, now that the non-violence loving, dictator-hating Ackerman and Helvey have completed their missions and moved on to plotting the overthrow of other foreign leaders, like Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

“In Serbia 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.” (12)

Meanwhile, in the Serb province of 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.” (13)

It should be recalled that prior to the U.S. 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, or speculators like Soros, are keen on. 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.

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 holding seminars on non-violent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran. “Helvey conducted a week-long course on nonviolent struggle for a group of Iranians in March 2003. The participants were young professionals in exile in the United States and Canada who would be used as spokespeople for various Iranian democracy groups.” (14)

A mercenary of non-violent direct action, Helvey would be a much more sympathetic figure were he also organizing seminars on how to use non-violent direct action to overthrow the U.S., British and other war-mongering Western governments, but somehow his list of targets always seems to line up with the governments Washington wants to overthrow. Helvey and Ackerman aren’t really committed to non-violence as a way of life, but only to non-violent struggle as one of a number of tools to be used (along with air strikes, ground invasion, saber-rattling and economic warfare) to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives – objectives which have nothing to with the stated goals of promoting human rights and democracy and everything to do with putting U.S. capital in the driver’s seat.

Advancing U.S. corporate interests

Iran, as is true of other countries Washington has targeted for regime change, is economically nationalist, and it is this, and less so concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, that lies the heart of U.S. efforts to bring down the Ahmadinejad government. “’Regime change’ did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush,” New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer points out in his book Overthrow, “but has been an integral part of American foreign policy for more than one hundred years…starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1883” (15) and yes, including the overthrow of Iran’s economically nationalist president Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. Mossadegh had nationalized British-owned oil companies. The U.S. engineered his overthrow and then handed the once British-owned and now nationalized oil industry over to U.S. companies.

In his survey of Washington’s addiction to regime change, Kinzer couldn’t help but trip over the centrality of the profit-making interests of U.S. capital in decisions to overthrow foreign governments. American corporations, Kinzer explains, are so powerful that they find “it relatively easy to call upon the military or the Central intelligence Agency to defend their privileges” in other countries. Of course, no one ever says regime change is about profits. Who’s going to rally around fattening ExxonMobil’s, Lockheed-Martin’s, GM’s, General Electric’s and Bechtel’s bottom lines? Regime change is always said to be about something larger: democracy, human rights, freedom, checking the spread of nuclear weapons and combating terrorism.

From the perspective of U.S. corporations and investment banks the problem with Iran is the same as the problem with Yugoslavia under Milosevic and Belarus today. There are too many publicly-owned enterprises, which means not enough room for U.S. investors and corporations to sell their goods and services and to profitably invest their capital. “Today,” observes the New York Times, “Iran’s economy … is almost entirely in the hands of the government.” (16) The country has its own automobile industry, and has secured deals with Venezuela and Syria to produce cars in those countries. Virtually all of the country’s drugs are produced domestically. (17) And, of course, there’s oil. “Iran’s petroleum reserves are the second largest of any OPEC country.” Only “Russia has more natural gas.” (18)

Ahmadinejad represents the economically nationalist wing of the Iranian ruling class, which “advocates state control of the economy, subsidies, continuation of uranium enrichment and the standoff with the U.S.” (19) “His call for justice – primarily economic justice…resonate(s) with a population angered by a perception that it had been denied the benefit of oil wealth.” (20) Iran will spend $25 billion this year to hold down the price of flour, rice, even gasoline. Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost the last presidential election to Ahmadinejad, represents the neo-liberal faction and favors “privatization, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and overtures to the U.S.” (21)

While Tehran’s support for the Palestinian nationalist struggle and the country’s nuclear program may irritate Washington’s policy makers, it’s unclear that these irritants figure prominently in Washington’s regime change policy. Soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran approached Washington with a proposal for a broad dialogue, to include “full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian groups.” (22) In other words, Iran would act to resolve all the irritants Washington said were at the heart of its dispute with Iran.

Richard Hass, then head of policy planning at the U.S. State Department and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Washington rejected the proposal because the administration wanted the regime changed. And the administration believed “the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse.” (23) If Ahmadinejad’s government fell, or was toppled from within thanks to U.S.-funded regime change efforts, the neo-liberal, pro-West Rafsanjani would likely be the successor.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, pro-capitalist ideologue Francis Fukuyama asked, “What is it that leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increase their local appeal?” His answer: “Their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on social policy – things like education, health and other social services, particularly for the poor.” Fukuyama lamented that “The U.S. and the political groups that it tends to support around the world…have relatively little to offer in this regard.” (24)

The Brzezinski warning

Earlier this year, former Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski speculated on how Washington might engineer a “plausible scenario for military collision with Iran.” He warned that U.S. military action against Iran could follow “Iraqi failure to meet the benchmark followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure, then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran.” (25)

In late May, Brzezinski’s prediction seemed to be coming true. U.S. officials began to accuse Iran of forging an alliance with al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents, and Syria, with the goal of undermining achievement of the benchmarks in Iraq. In addition, the U.S. claimed to have “proof that Iran had reversed its previous policy in Afghanistan and is now supporting and supplying the Taliban’s campaign against U.S., British and other NATO forces.” (26)

Bush has repeatedly warned that while the United States is prepared to explore non-military means of forcing Iran to relinquish its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium, “all options are on the table.”

The Democrats are equally bellicose. “Top Democrats in the House and Senate issued a report” in July 2005 calling for the United States to use “military pressure, including ‘the possibility of repeated and unwarned strikes’” against Iran. (27)

Earlier this year, the U.S. and Britain started to beef up their joint armada of warships and strike aircraft in the Persian Gulf region “in a show of military resolve toward Iran.” (28)

The American Enterprise Institute, a principal fixture of the U.S. ruling class policy formulation network, has been “urging Mr. Bush to open a new front against Iran.” (29) The think tank, whose mandate is to promote free enterprise, counts Coors, Microsoft and ExxonMobil among its major funders. Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq originated in a recommendation from the AEI. (30)

Economic warfare

“More than 40 major international banks and financial institutions have either cut off or cut back business with the Iranian public or private sector as a result of a quiet campaign launched by the Treasury and State Departments.” (31)

The campaign began last September, when the U.S. treasury secretary Henry Paulson announced plans to isolate Iran financially, by prohibiting U.S. banks from dealing with Iran. (32) Paulson also strongly suggested that foreign banks follow suit, listing more than 30 Iranian companies and government enterprises banks should steer clear of. Afraid of jeopardizing their access to the U.S. banking system, several European banks, including Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland, HSBC in Britain and ABN Amro in the Netherlands announced that they had scaled back their dealings with Iranian banks and enterprises. (33)

Pressure was also brought to bear “on major U.S. pension funds to stop investment in about 70 companies that trade directly with Iran and international banks that trade with the oil sector, cutting off the country’s access to hard currency. The aim is to isolate Tehran from world markets.” (34)

This is part of a “full-court press on foreign companies…to impress them that it would be a mistake to do anything with” Iran. (35)

The Iranian view

Former Iranian Interior Minister and deputy foreign minister Ali Muhammad Besharati told the New York Times last August that, “If we backed down on the nuclear issue, the U.S. would have found fault with our medical doctors researching stem cells. What they would like to see us do is plant corn, make tomato paste and bottle mineral water. They do not want to see us high-tech.” (36)

Support for this thinking comes from the Bush administration itself. Asked whether Iran “might at some point in the future be allowed to enrich uranium on its own soil” “after it has satisfied regulatory bodies that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful” a senior Bush administration official replied “when hell freezes over.” (37)

The Iranian leadership sees the conflict with the U.S. as “a fight for survival against a far more powerful enemy that has lumped them into an ‘axis of evil’ and allocated millions of dollars to oust the government.” The fight is “Tehran’s frontline effort to…never again allow Washington to have the upper hand in Iran.” (38)

Conflicting rights

It’s no secret that Washington is maneuvering to regain the upper hand in Iran it lost when the U.S.-backed Shah was overthrown in 1979. Washington has a tripartite game plan: threaten air strikes; pressure the world’s banking and investor community to ruin Iran’s economy through financial isolation; build up grassroots activists and exile groups to bring down the government. By these means, Washington hopes to put itself back in the driver’s seat, to reclaim Iran’s resources, labor and markets, and to plunder its publicly-owned assets, on behalf of the U.S. corporations and investors.

Short of capitulation, there’s little the Iranian leadership can do – either to stop the massing of U.S. and British warships and strike aircraft in the Persian Gulf or to stay the quiet campaign of financial isolation the U.S. Treasury Department is pursuing against Iranian banks and enterprises. But it can disrupt U.S. efforts to build a fifth column in the country. Arresting Esfandiari, and other members of the U.S. government and corporate funded complex of regime change groups, is part of that.

Were Iranian authorities justified in arresting Esfandiari? Those who place advocacy rights above other rights will say no. We can place Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole in this group. Neither man, for obvious reasons of self-interest, would like to see much legitimacy given to the idea that fierce opponents of established authority can be locked away for advocating non-violent opposition. This applies even if the critics are on the payroll of a hostile foreign government. On the other hand, those who place more value on the right of societies to be free from foreign domination and meddling will say yes, Tehran was justified.

There are no absolute rights, only conflicting rights whose valence depends on perceived interest. Advocacy rights are favored by corporate groups and the governments they dominate, because they have the money to exercise those rights – and reap the benefits of their exercise — more fully than anyone else does. The class that benefits most from freedom of the press is the class that can afford one.

Rights of economic independence are favored by those who have suffered from economic subordination to a metropolitan power. To them, the right to be free from foreign domination is senior to the right of others to advocate, and organize politically to achieve, the restoration of foreign domination.

What about the interests of ordinary people in the U.S., UK, Canada and other Western countries? Where do their interests lie?

Neutrality or alliance?

There are three views that I know of on this. One says interference in the affairs of other countries is illegitimate. It subverts democracy and the self-determination of other people. Those who hold this view are also likely to say that jailing those who are working to remove a government through peaceful means – even if they’re funded by outside governments and corporations – is also illegitimate. But what happens when these rights clash? Which is senior to the other?

Proponents of this view usually have no answer other than to say that the two rights are equally legitimate and neither cancels the other out. Governments, they contend, shouldn’t be meddling in the affairs of other countries, but equally, victimized governments shouldn’t be jailing the people on the ground whose meddling, however deplorable, amounts to nothing more than political organizing. This is the schoolyard monitor mentality. Johnny shouldn’t beat you up, but equally, you shouldn’t fight back to defend yourself. Like the neutral school authority who abhors the violence of self-defense as much as the violence of the aggressor, proponents of this view refuse to take sides.

Related in its neutrality, but not in the way the neutrality is arrived at, is the view of those who say they are partisans of the working class alone, and since the clash has no direct bearing on the working class per se, there is no need for them to take sides. Indeed, why should they side with capitalist governments, either that of the U.S. or Iran?

A third view says that the defense of the economic independence of countries from the predations of foreign capital is indeed a working class issue, even if the government under threat is not a working class government. The reasoning is that corporations and investors in metropolitan countries become stronger – or at least, avoid crises – as they increase their sphere of exploitation. In one view, this furnishes governments and employers with sufficient wealth to keep the working class in their own country docile with social welfare programs and comfortable living standards.

Alternatively, or additionally, outward expansion averts the otherwise inevitable economic crises in the metropolitan areas that would create momentum for revolutionary change. Since the working class and capitalist class are antagonistic, what strengthens one weakens the other. If Iran’s successfully defending itself from integration into the imperial orbit of the U.S. capitalist class checks growth in the strength of that class, or disorganizes it, the revolutionary possibilities for the working class are strengthened. Proponents of this view, then, are quick to side with governments that resist subordination to the profit-seeking interests of the corporations, banks and investors of their own country.

Conclusion

It’s probably true that Haleh Esfandiari was working to build a U.S. government and U.S. corporate-funded fifth column within Iran to bring down the Ahmadinejad government with a view to installing a pro-Western, neo-liberal government that would open Iran to U.S. exports and investments. Iran’s arresting Esfandiari, as well other mercenaries of public persuasion in the pay of the U.S. government and corporate-backed regime change organizations, is aimed at defending the country from subordination to U.S. corporate interests.

Whether the arrest is legitimate (assuming Esfandiari is guilty of what she is accused), cannot be asserted or denied as an absolute. It depends on which rights are senior – those related to public advocacy and freedom to organize politically or those related to self-determination and freedom from foreign domination. And which right is senior depends on where you’re situated within the global capitalist system.

Iranians who would profit by facilitating U.S. political and economic domination of Iran will favor Esfandiari’s civil liberties. The government of Iran will favor its right to defend itself from outside interference and U.S.-directed regime change. Ordinary people in metropolitan countries who are conscious of belonging to a class, and are able to work through the fog of nonsense on Iran, will take sides, or not, on the basis of strategic considerations: are the interests of the working class advanced by siding with governments resisting integration into an imperialist orbit, no matter what their stripe, or are they advanced by limiting alliances to members of the working class of other countries alone?

There are a number of class-conscious leftists who espouse the latter view sincerely, but there are those who use it as an excuse to climb into bed with their country’s own ruling class, to advance its interests. Left groups that worked to oust the Milosevic government in Serbia have nothing to show for their efforts but a country that is precisely where those leading the charge against Milosevic wanted it to be: subordinate to U.S. corporations and investors. Left groups that are working to oust the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe will have achieved, if they’re successful, not the succession of a socialist or working people’s government, but the installation of the Western-backed, neo-liberal opposition, which will reverse land reforms, and sell off the country’s publicly-owned assets. The rural poor won’t be cheering, but investors, corporate lawyers and CEOs in the West will, along with the former colonial-settler land owners.

Likewise, a color revolution in Iran will not be followed by the flowering of a progressive, socialist or working class movement in the country, but by the replacement of an economically nationalist pro-capitalist government with a government prepared to compromise with Western and especially U.S. capital. State enterprises will be sold off at a fraction of their value, subsidies will be cancelled, profits from the sale of the country’s oil and gas will disproportionately accrue to U.S. oil companies, and the lives of ordinary Iranians will become poorer and more uncertain.

It is hard to muster much sympathy for Esfandiari. Anyone who works to reverse the gains of a revolutionary government – and this is undoubtedly what those engaged in regime operations in Iran are up to – should expect to be cracked down upon, especially where their activities constitute a very real threat to the survival of the revolution. With its threats of air strikes, economic warfare, and tens of millions of dollars in overt (and who knows how many more millions of dollars in covert) spending on regime change operations, the U.S., and its agents, of which Esfandiari must surely count herself, are lethal threats to Iran’s revolution. No one should be surprised she was arrested.

Iran’s efforts to resist domination by U.S. capital are no less worthy of solidarity than the efforts of the resistances in Iraq and Afghanistan to throw off the U.S.-led occupations or of Cuba’s and north Korea’s resistances to the unceasing efforts of the U.S. and its allies to return both countries to the capitalist fold and bring them into the U.S. imperialist orbit. Taking sides with the Iranian government in its resistance to U.S. aggression is in no way equivalent to endorsing the Iranian regime, theocratic rule or the theories of Iran’s president on the anti-Jewish holocaust. It is, instead, a recognition of the rights of other people to self-determination and to be free from foreign domination. If the exercise of these rights implies the arrest of those actively working to deny these rights – as it appears Esfandiari was – so be it. The civil liberties of one person – especially when exploited to aid a privileged minority of hereditary capitalist families and wealthy investors – are not senior to the rights of hundreds of millions.

1. New York Times, May 22, 2007
2. New York Times, July 3, 2006
3. Associated Press, May 13, 20074
4. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1426&fuseaction=topics.intro
5. New York Times, May 29, 2005
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. New York Times, February 16, 2006
9. New York Times, November 20, 2006.
10. Reuters, April 30, 2003; Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez accused Helvey’s employer, the Albert Einstein Institution, of being behind an imperialist conspiracy to overthrow his government. The Guardian, June 7, 2007.
11. Ibid.
12. Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4
13. Ibid.
14. The Albert Einstein Institution, Report on Activities, 2000 to 2004, http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations/org/2000-04rpt.pdf
15. Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Times Books Henry Holt & Company, New York, 2006.
16. New York Times, May 28, 2006
17. Workers World, May 5, 2007
18. Washington Post, April 20, 2006
19. Lalkar, September/October, 2005
20. New York Times, December 20, 2005
21. Lalkar, September/October, 2005
22. Washington Post, June 18, 2006
23. Ibid.
24. Wall St. Journal, February 1, 2007
25. Granma International, February 8, 2007
26. Guardian, May 22, 2007
27. Boston Globe, August 14, 2005
28. New York Times, December 21, 2006
29. Guardian, February 10, 2007
30. Washington Post, February 11, 2007
31. Washington Post, March 26, 2007
32. New York Times, September 17, 2006
33. New York Times, October 16, 2006
34. Guardian, January 26, 2007
35. Washington Post, February 1, 2007
36. New York Times, August 28, 2006
37. New York Times, September 12, 2006
38. New York Times, August 28, 2006

* “On April 27, 2006, the Iranian philosopher was detained at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, and shortly after was accused of actively preparing to take part in a “velvet revolution” in Iran. This polyglot thinker … elected to write his doctoral dissertation on Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent change, Satyagraha. Jahanbegloo continued to espouse nonviolence after returning from the West to his homeland. …On one of his many trips to India, Jahanbegloo met with the Dalai Lama, who in turn has made frequent visits to Prague to meet with Havel since 1989. All such links reinforce suspicion among Iran’s clerical rulers that “the velvet revolution” is at hand.

“Rasool Nafisi has suggested that the main reason for Jahanbegloo’s arrest was his research project for the German Marshall Fund in which he compared the Iran’s democratic dissidents with their East-Central European predecessors. This line of comparative inquiry analyzed the balance of political power between Iranian civil society and the governing clerical regime. While Jahanbegloo sat in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, eminent international figures—among them Havel and Habermas—sent an Open Letter to Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad protesting the philosopher’s detention. The Iranian minister of the interior, Hojjatoleslam Qolamhoseyn Mosheni Eyhe’I, said in a July interview that Jahanbegloo was arrested on suspicion that he had been assisting the US to provoke “a velvet revolution in Iran,” an activity that, according to him, seems to be the US’s main business these days.”

Martin Beck Matuštík, “Velvet Revolution in Iran?”, Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, Fall 2006.

On June 11, 2007 the New York Times reported that Ali Shakeri had been detained by Iranian authorities. Shakeri is a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. The Center, according to its web site, studies “the best grassroots peacebuilding methods in both domestic and international conflicts, and utilizes those findings in direct engagement in peacebuilding projects in … selected communities in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and the former Soviet Union.” The Center has honored Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Dalai Lama with its Citizen Peacebuilding Award. The only peace the Center is interested in, is the peace that comes from capitulation to US foreign policy goals.

Talk Left, Funded Right

By Stephen Gowans

In their zeal to demonize Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF government it sometimes seems that members of the “independent left” are working for the US government. The reason why is that many are.

At the same time, Trotskyites peddling bizarre theories that say the country’s president Robert Mugabe is in league with the same governments that are trying to overthrow him, might as well be.

An April 5th US State Department report [1] confirms what has been revealed in scattered press reports for years: that civil society groups and media some left scholars misrepresent as “the independent left” are actually puppets of the US governments.

That’s not to say these groups don’t believe they’re independent, or that all of their members know that the funding for their expensive websites, magazines, newspapers and radio programs are financed by Uncle Sam. However, knowingly or not, they’re doing Washington’s work.

Only the wilfully blind or naïve would believe the US government lavishes money on groups that aren’t going to be of some service in promoting its agenda. And only the wilfully blind or naïve believe that Uncle Sam’s agenda has anything to do with promoting democracy, freedom of expression and good governance.

Patrick Bond, director of the right-wing funded Center for Civil Society at the University of Natal — whose case against Mugabe is formulated in the same language of hunger for power leading to betrayal and corruption that characterized Trotsky’s case against Stalin — points to such US-funded groups as Sokawanele as the “independent left” in Zimbabwe [2]. Is he wilfully blind, naïve or is he grinding the usual Trotskyite axe against really-existing socialist governments and national liberation movements?

The US and EU use civil society to effect color revolutions – to do overtly what the CIA used to do covertly. An integral part of any color revolution is to demonize target governments to facilitate their replacement by local politicians prepared to open or re-open their country to imperialist penetration [3]. Bond is thoroughly integrated into the civil society apparatus. His Center for Civil Society (whose web site links to Zimbabwe’s US- and EU-funded MDC opposition party) is connected to the ruling class Kellogg and Ford foundations, the South African NGO coalition, the South African bank, ABSA and the South African Chamber of Commerce [4]. It could be said of Bond that he talks left and is funded right.

Last year, according to the US State Department, Washington was busily interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs, funding the opposition, backing civil society groups, showering money on “alternative” media, and seeing to it that Bond’s “independent left” was well greased with lucre [5].

“The U.S. Government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media, and civil society.” (That the efforts pertained to replacing the Zanu-PF government with one that would effectively shelf land reform, lift tariffs, abolish performance requirements on foreign investment, and privatize state-owned enterprises, should be spelled out. That these policies would benefit the corporations, investors and banks connected to Bond’s Center for Civil Society should also be spelled out.)

“The United States sponsored public events that presented economic and social analyses discrediting the government’s excuses for its failed policies, (which is to say, absolving US and EU sanctions of undermining the country’s economy.)

“The U.S. Government sponsored … and supported … several township newspapers” and worked to expand the “listener base” of “Voice of America’s Studio 7 radio station” (by distributing short-wave radios to expose the population to anti-Zanu-PF propaganda.)

“U.S. programs provided funding to NGOs that collected and circulated information on civil society, human rights, and government actions,” (groups like Sokwanele.)

The US “supported workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies,” a reference to the “grassroots” “pro-democracy” activist groups the US has previously trained and funded in Yugoslavia (Otpor), Belarus (Zubr) and Ukraine (Khmara), to carry out color revolutions with the intention of installing local politicians that favor pro-US trade and investment policies. The Zimbabwean equivalents are Bond’s favored Sokwanele, and its counterpart Zvakwana.

The State Department also “sponsored an … exchange program to learn about activism by civil society groups in the United States,” groups that one might infer are as deeply embedded in Uncle Sam’s pocket as their counterparts in Zimbabwe are.

Any doubt that these civil society regime change operations are motivated by purely economic considerations should be laid to rest by the State Department’s observation that “A growing number of like-minded donors now agree that fundamental political and economic changes are a prerequisite to reengagement by the international community with the government.” In other words, once Zimbabwe shelves its land reform program, opens its doors to unfettered US investment and exports, and stops interfering in US imperial designs in Africa, funding to civil society and Bond’s “independent left” will dry up.

The actions of some Trotskyite groups and Trotskyite-inspired scholars serve the same ends.

Australia’s Green Left Weekly, and the Zimbabwe International Socialist Organization, have both backed the opposition MDC from the start (in fact, the ISO is a founding member) [6]. The problem with the MDC is that it’s the US and EU vehicle for strengthening a neo-colonial domination of Zimbabwe and of white farmers for stopping land reform.

The ISO and Bond use language to rail against Mugabe that seems to be drawn from the same bag of clichés. Bond’s “Mugabe talks radical — especially nationalist and anti-imperialist–but acts reactionary” [7] is almost a word for word recycling of the ISO’s “Mugabe is compromising with the bosses at the expense of the workers – not only the local capitalists, but with foreign investors,” and “he speaks left but his policy is pro-capitalist” [8].

If Mugabe is as useful to imperialism as his Trotskyite detractors say he is, (Bond says “The Zim counter-example, frankly, is a useful one for imperialism to keep alive” [9]) why are imperialists in Washington and London lavishing money and support on the political opposition, “independent” media and “independent left” to overthrow him?

The anti-Mugabe screed is a replay of the Trotskyite narrative about pure revolutionaries opposing a revolution that has been hijacked and betrayed by an unworthy power-mad monster (Stalin being the Trotskyites’ archetype.) In this view, all revolutions are corrupt and must be overthrown – that is, all but the one that will never happen.

Trotskyites have always been useful to Washington and London: many are reliably against the same revolutions (though for different reasons), and therefore serve the useful function of whittling away at left support.

To discourage left support for Third World anti-imperialist movements, many Trotskyites invoke the argument that those who support Zanu-PF, the DPRK and sometimes even Cuba, are reflexively placing a plus sign beside the enemy of my enemy and that they ought to be more selective in who they support. Since many Trotskyites often have trouble with really-existing socialist governments and national liberation movements, this amounts to a prohibition against putting a plus sign beside any such movement.

The truth of the matter, however, is that anti-imperialists support national liberation movements, not because Washington or London dislike them, but because national liberation movements are anti-imperialist, period.

By comparison, misnamed independent left groups that depend for their existence or funding on the US, the EU and Western ruling class foundations, and those Trotskyites who can be reliably counted upon to oppose all revolutions except those they lead or influence, do what they accuse Zanu-PF of doing: talking left, and walking right.

1. US Department of State, “The U.S. Record, 2006,” http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/
2. Bond, Patrick (a), “Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Lie a Reactionary: Zimbabwe’s Descent,” Counterpucnh.org, March 27, 2007, http://www.counterpunch.org/bond03272007.html
3. Gowans, Stephen, “Zimbabwe’s Lonely Fight for Justice,” March 30, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/zimbabwe%e2%80%99s-lonely-fight-for-justice/
4. Center for Civil Society at the University of Natal, http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs/
5. US Department of State
6. Gowland, Rob, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” http://www.cpa.org.au/booklets/zimbabwe.pdf
7. Bond (a)
8. Gowland
9. Bond, Patrick (b), Reply to “Gowans, Stephen, “Grassroots Lieutenants of Imperialism, April 2, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/02/grassroots-lieutenants-of-imperialism/ , https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/02/grassroots-lieutenants-of-imperialism/#comment-14