BEYOND LEFT AND RIGHT
“Beyond Left and Right: The New Face of the Antiwar Movement,” that was the theme of this, the second annual Antiwar.com national conference, and it’s a catchy phrase but what does it mean?OLD POLITICS FOR NEW
November 9, 1989, marked the end of the old politics and the old alignments; on that day, as the Berlin Wall fell, so too did the political categories and alliances of half a century. For the end of the Cold War meant a lot more than the end of Communism as a viable ideology, more than the implosion of the Soviet Empire and the breakup of the old USSR: here in the United States, it also meant the end of anti-Communism as a viable ideology, and the implosion of the old conservative coalition that governed America in the eighties. It meant the breakup of the Right, as well as the Left since both had in large part defined themselves in relation to something that no longer existed.
THE COMING REALIGNMENT
Of course, this process did not happen immediately; it took a while to work itself out, and it is still working itself out. But today the great realignment has progressed far enough so that we can begin to see the shape of the new political landscape, or at least the broad outlines of it. I often refer, in this space, to what I call the War Party, a phrase that is a kind of shorthand for that complex of social, political, and economic forces that constitute a permanent and powerful lobby on behalf of imperialism and militarism. In my very first column for Antiwar.com, I described it as “the war propaganda apparatus maintained by the interventionist lobby. Well-funded and well-connected, the War Party is such a varied and complex phenomenon that a detailed description of its activities, and its vast system of interlocking directorates and special interests, both foreign and domestic, would fill the pages of a good-sized book.” I solved the problem of how to present this material in the form of a daily column by focusing on specific individuals, the biggest and most vocal supporters of the Kosovo war, from Madeleine Albright to Vanessa Redgrave and all the way round to Jeanne Kirkpatrick. These three Harpies of the Apocalypse pretty much represented the ideological contours of the War Party during the Kosovo conflict: Clintonian Democrats, hard leftists, and neoconservatives.
The hard leftists, former peaceniks like Tod Gitlin, naturally rallied round the flag when Clinton declared that this was a war against “racism” and for “diversity.” The Clintonians, for their part, were glad enough to divert attention away from the fact that their leader had turned the White House into the heterosexual equivalent of a gay bathhouse. But the neoconservatives that merry little band of ex-lefties who left the Democratic Party in the 1970s and 80s over its lack of enthusiasm for the Cold War were the most bloodthirsty of the whole sorry lot. Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, openly called for “crushing Serb skulls” in a famous editorial a full year before the bombs began to fall on Belgrade. Opportunists like John McCain sought to climb on the “kill the Serbs” bandwagon out of their instinct for the main chance, but the real hardcore ideologues of the War Party were the neocons. While the Clintonians served up some rhetorical hash consisting of bromides about “humanitarianism” and “diversity” to justify the war, this was at most a half-hearted effort: after all, if you’re bombing television stations, and raining death on a civilian population, it becomes increasingly hard to pass yourself off as Mother Theresa.
THE NEW BARBARIANS
Only the neocons had a clear ideological agenda, and Kristol’s remark about “crushing Serb skulls” pretty much expresses what it means in practice. In theory, however, it is much more high-sounding, and I must admire Kristol and his co-author Robert Kagan, for their effort to dress up what is basically the most barbaric doctrine ever enunciated in language that sounds almost like it might have been written by a civilized human being. In their article for the Summer 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs, Kristol and Kagan enunciate the outlines of what they call a “neo-Reaganite” foreign policy. Conservatives, it seems, have been “adrift” in the realm of foreign policy since the end of the cold war. Up until November 9, 1989, the role of the US in world affairs had been defined by the alleged threat posed by the Soviet Union. Now that the Soviets are gone, however, the question arises: “What should that role be?” Kristol and Kagan have an answer, and I quote:
“Benevolent global hegemony. Having defeated the ‘evil empire,’ the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance by strengthening America’s security, supporting its friends, advancing its interests, and standing up for its principles around the world. The aspiration to benevolent hegemony might strike some as either hubristic or morally suspect. But a hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America’s position in the world today. The leaders of Russia and China understand this. At their April summit meeting, Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin joined in denouncing “hegemonism” in the post-Cold War world. They meant this as a complaint about the United States. It should be taken as a compliment and a guide to action.”
This vision of world domination goes way, way beyond hubris, and crosses over the border into outright megalomania. It reminds me of all those terrible science fiction movies, where the goal of the mad scientist or the evil space beings is always to conquer the world. For the authors of this manifesto of Empire, however, what most normal people would consider villainous is, instead, virtuous. As the great architects of “national greatness conservatism,” Kristol and his cabal naturally want to export that “greatness” to the rest of the world. It is the old Marxism, turned inside-out, in which the “democratic revolution” must be exported to the far corners of the globe.
BEATING THE WAR DRUMS
While the neocon theoretician Francis Fukuyama deploys the Hegelian dialectic to show that history has ended in the birth of what he calls the “universal homogenous state,” the Weekly Standard and the cadre of neocon columnists and editorial writers beat the war drums continuously and ever more loudly: they want an all-out war against Serbia, Iraq, Russia, China, North Korea, and who knows how many other so-called “rogue states” out there. I think Austria may very well be next. Of course, by the neocon definition, any state that does not recognize American supremacy, that doesn’t kowtow and surrender its sovereignty to the West, is a “rogue state.” Neoconservatism is an ideology that has to mean perpetual war.
DIFFERENT BRANDS OF THE SAME POISON
The War Party is not a unitary party: it is riven into various factions, with ostensibly “left” and “right” wings. Some, like Kristol and Kagan, want the US to assume a frankly imperial stance, and act unilaterally to achieve global dominance. Others, the “left”-imperialists, see the US acting through the United Nations, or some other multilateral institution. Both see the emergence of a global state, centered in the West, as inevitable and desirable. The only argument is the means to bring this about, and their differences are almost purely stylistic. There are other differences, such as the regional preferences each wing has in terms of the enemies it chooses, with the “left” concentrating on Europe while the “right” wing of the war party has always been focused on the Asian theater of operations. But that is a whole other subject, that we don’t have sufficient space to explore in this column. Suffice to say that we are talking about two versions of essentially the same poison. The dwarfish Bill Kristol likes to affect a macho stance, and is enraptured by his vision of “crushing Serb skulls,” while Clinton and his enablers pose as great “humanitarians” even as they are bombing one of the oldest cities in Europe from the cowardly height of 50,000 feet.
ON THE FRINGE
And so we have a War Party that spans the very narrow spectrum of the politically permissible, from the neo-liberal “left” to the neo-conservative “right” with anything and everything that falls outside of these parameters exiled to the so-called “fringe.” Of course, when the so-called “mainstream” is defined so narrowly, we get to the point where millions of Americans are considered to be so-called “fringe elements.” This is the great dream of the neocons: to lop off the fringes and institute the rule of the Eternal Center, where dissent is nonexistent especially in the realm of foreign policy.
MOBILIZING FOR PEACE
It’s very clever how they’ve gone about it, in a deliberate campaign to marginalize any and all opposition to the globalist idea. But any attempt to suppress opposition is bound, instead, to stimulate it and that was the reason for the recent Antiwar.com conference, and all the conferences to come: to mobilize the party of peace. The first step of that mobilization is to recognize who were are, and where we’re coming from. The Peace Party, though less organized and far less generously funded represents a far greater number of Americans, most of whom are instinctual isolationists. The American people have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into virtually every war in their history, and the post cold war trend has been to encourage this natural isolationism.
ON THE LEFT
But this opposition to foreign adventurism is normally activated only after we actually go to war. Active opposition to interventionism in between wars is therefore limited to the “far” left and the “far” right. We have the remnants of the Old Left, whose best elements are represented by a man like Alexander Cockburn and whose worst aspects are exemplified by the neo-Stalinist robots of the Workers World Party, whose “International Action Center” has marginalized the opposition to the Kosovo war as a wacko sideshow far better than the War Party ever could.
ON THE RIGHT
It is on the right, however, that the most interesting developments have taken place: for, until the end of the cold war, there were very few antiwar rightists. Up until recently, the long tradition of anti-imperialism on the Right was completely forgotten, especially by conservatives. Yet it was the old America First Committee, founded by rock-ribbed conservatives and opponents of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, that was the biggest and best-organized antiwar movement in American history. The fight to keep us out of the European war was led by such Roosevelt-haters as John T. Flynn, and such editorial bastions of mid-Western middle Americanism as the Chicago Tribune and the Saturday Evening Post. Their analysis that we would win the war against national socialism in the trenches but lose the battle for liberty on the home front, was largely borne out by events. Garet Garrett, chief editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post, warned in 1950 that “we have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire” but by then not many were listening. Only a few, notably Murray N. Rothbard, the libertarian economist and theoretician, carried on the Old Right tradition. By the mid-sixties the so-called “New” Right of William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review had taken over the conservative movement almost completely, along with a crew of ex-leftists such as James Burnham (a former leader of the Fourth International) and a whole coven of ex-Commies of one sort or another, who were hell-bent on destroying their ex-comrades in the Kremlin.
If we look at the parallel histories of the War Party and the party of Peace, we can see a whole series of such realignments, starting with the First World War and its aftermath. The crusading spirit of the War Party of 1917 was animated by Wilsonian liberalism, a militant internationalism of the left. These same liberals, however, were cruelly disillusioned by vengeance of Versailles and the subsequent redivision of Europe by the Great Powers. This great betrayal gave rise to a new, noninterventionist liberalism, which found political expression in the midwestern populists of both parties (but primarily the Republicans). Exemplified by Senator William C. Borah, the great orator known as “Lion of Idaho, this group constituted the Midwestern leadership of the antiwar movement of the 1930s. These progressive Republicans were initially friendly to Franklin Roosevelt, but were alienated by the Mussolini-esque National Recovery Act, horrified by the court-packing scheme, and bitterly opposed to getting into the European war, which they saw as a war between empires in which the republican US had no interest and no stake. US intervention in the war, they saw, was a scheme by the President to increase his power, and plant his foot firmly on the neck of the nation.
WAR IS THE CATALYST
In this suspicion they had plenty of company in conservative businessmen such as Colonel Robert E. Wood, the head of Sears and Roebuck, and a group of Yale undergraduates led by R. Douglas Stuart, the son of the first vice president of the Quaker Oats Company. This working alliance, based on opposition to a common enemy, soon evolved into a common analysis of America in the 1930s: that Roosevelt was a warmongering would-be dictator who was taking the country down the path to perdition. While opposition to the President’s domestic policies formed some basis for the alliance, it was the war question that was the real catalyst of the 1930s realignment as it has been throughout American history.
REALIGNMENT ON THE LEFT
Over on the left, another sort of realignment was taking place, with the formerly antiwar Communist Party turning on a dime: the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact had motivated their opposition to intervention, but when Hitler turned on his twin brother in the Kremlin, Stalin’s American agents changed their line in mid-sentence and without missing a beat. Suddenly, the Commies were the biggest warmongers on the block, stridently demanding that the US open up a “second front” and save the Soviet Union, and demanding that all opponents of the war be jailed as “traitors” this from a party funded and directly controlled by a foreign power, a party that now billed Communism as being the living incarnation of “twentieth century Americanism”!
KARMA IN HISTORY
The Communists had been on the outs with their liberal friends and potential fellow travelers on the war question, but just as soon as the Commies were pro-war they were let into the government and the seats of power without question. The Communists hailed the passage of the Smith Act, which criminalized opposition to the war, and cheered when Roosevelt jailed some 30 members of the Socialist Workers Party, which opposed the war. A few years later, the same law was used to jail leaders of the Communist Party which demonstrates how the principle of karma in operates in history.
The War Party, as we have seen, has worn many guises throughout American history. Sometimes it is left-wing, at other times it is a creature of the Right. The party of peace is likewise prone to switch polarities. If you live long enough, you can start out your life as a liberal, and wind up a right-wing reactionary without undergoing any fundamental change of views. That is what happened to H. L. Mencken, who was considered the guru of the freethinking “flaming youth” of the 1920s and early 30s and later consigned to the fever swamps of “right-wing extremism” for his opposition to the war and his visceral hatred of Roosevelt. The same was true of Albert Jay Nock, and John T. Flynn: their views did not change so much as the perception of them did. Opposition to war, imperialism, and the centralized State was “left” at the turn of the century and “right” by the 1930s. In the 1960s it was considered”radical” that is, radical left to oppose our policy of global intervention, whereas the noninterventionist of today is far more likely to be a conservative Republican or a member of the Reform Party than a liberal Democrat.
THE LONG ARM OF THE GLOBAL HEGEMON
The idea of an alliance between the antiwar Left and the anti-imperialist Right is a concept rooted in more than just the opposition to war. For out of the struggle against the Empire will arise a whole new way of looking at the world, a common analysis of how the few use the State to rule the many. Naturally, there will be disagreements, and competing analyses, and a lot of initial confusion: but over the long haul, the two sides in the battle for hearts and minds in the post-millennial world will sort themselves out. A movement in opposition to imperialism must, in this day and age, necessarily become a struggle against globalism, against the idea of a world state. In the era of enforced globalization, the Peace Party is the greatest defender of national sovereignty as a bulwark of resistance to the emerging transnational tyranny, while the War Party is the great champion of a world without borders or, indeed, any place to evade the long arm of the Global Hegemon. Now that the epic battle between Communism and capitalism has been decisively decided in favor of the latter, a new struggle of “isms” is breaking out, this time between globalism and nationalism and Kosovo was just the beginning.
COCKBURN WOWS CONFERENCE
This year’s Antiwar.com conference was a great success, in terms not only of publicizing the idea of a “Left-Right” alliance against interventionism, but also in the more concrete sense of making the links between people that really forges an effective movement. Alexander Cockburn thrilled and delighted an audience made up primarily of conservatives (and even outright reactionaries like myself). They cheered at his scathing expose of the Army “psyops” infiltration of CNN during the Kosovo war, enthusiastically applauded his denunciations of Waco-like police assaults imaginatively and convincingly linking David Koresh and Amadou Diallo and gave him a standing ovation. Left and Right meet and it was love (at least on our part) at first sight!
The media was naturally attracted by the presence of Pat Buchanan, who has now emerged as the focal point of populist rebellion against the twin hand puppets put up by the two “major” parties although I like to think that my clever little news release that said, “Buchanan and Cockburn at the same antiwar conference what’s up with that?” had something to do with attracting the media spotlight to our obscure little corner of California. Buchanan’s speech, posted here almost as it was being delivered, was magnificent: clearly he intends to make opposition to global intervention the main theme of his campaign. All I can say is, God help the globalists. They will never recover from the blow we are about to deal them.
TAKING IT TO A HIGHER LEVEL
The conference was an attempt to bridge the gap between left and right, to bring the fight against war and globalism to a higher level and to begin to organize the first real opposition to the War Party since the 1960s. There were many voices of protest at this year’s gathering, from Tom Fleming and Srdja Trikovic, editors of the paleoconservative magazine Chronicles, to old-fashioned Marxists like Alexander Cockburn and virtually everything in between. As the rule of the acronyms WTO, NATO, EU, UN replaces the self-rule of sovereign nations, a broad opposition is sure to arise. Who can say whether it is “right” or “left” and, in the end, what does it matter? Such labels no longer describe anything meaningful and that, really, is the whole point.