Folly, Left and Right

Attacked by left, smeared by the right – I must be doing something right. That, at least, is what I’m led to believe by the two most recent polemics directed at your humble servant. The first, from the pages of the Daily Caller – the right-wing answer to the Huffington Post – is really a study in the damage that public school has done to our youth: the incoherence is palpable. Entitled "Sun Tzu versus Justin Raimondo," the piece, by one Kerry Patton, takes on my most recent appearance on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s "Freedom Watch" program, albeit through a tangled thicket of tortured prose, to wit:

"While many conservatives and libertarians argue similar points of interest, they oftentimes are arguing the same message."

Whatever that sentence may mean, it is hardly worth the effort to uncover, so we’ll go on to the next, which claims, in so many words that I really "missed the point" of Wayne Simmons‘ argument. So what was Simmons’ point? Well, we are never told. Instead, Patton gives us a quote from the Chinese warrior-philosopher Sun Tzu:

"The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected."

So what do these words of wisdom have to do with the issue in contention on "Freedom Watch," which was, on that occasion, the war in Afghanistan and our foreign policy of perpetual war in general? Well, it’s not clear, and before the author makes any effort at clarity he emits a litany of bromides, e.g. "war is a necessary evil," and then lists some of the varieties of this particular evil, as if he’d just come from the latest session of his class in Evil 101. He seems to have missed – or failed – Basic Grammar, however, as he instructs us that the purpose of war-making is "to seize the submission of their enemies." Leaving such niceties as the elements of style aside, we are still left in the dark as to exactly what Simmons’ point was supposed to have been. My own take is that Simmons was perfectly direct in his contention that "all they understand is Power," and his argument that brute force exercised by a government answerable to none but itself was all too clear.

In any case, Patton finally lets at least part of the cat out of the bag with yet another Sun Tzu citation:

"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."

Yes, well I don’t exactly think putting 150,000 troops in Afghanistan is the equivalent of winning "without fighting," and indeed Patton seems to recognize this:

"The current methodology of fighting unconventional and asymmetric threats today in places like Afghanistan and Iraq has been proven unsuccessful. Implementing some of Sun Tzu’s playbook today is the likely cure to succeed in securing our National Security platform."

Then comes the inevitable apocryphal aphorism:

"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate."

This, it seems to me, is precisely the strategy that has been pursued by Osama bin Laden and his followers from the beginning: it is not, however, a strategy that can be adapted by a superpower such as the US. After all, how "subtle" and "formless" can an army of occupation be? How much mystery can be infused into an occupation force that numbers in the hundreds of thousands and costs multi-billions? So far, Al-Qaeda has been the director of our fate – throwing our entire national security apparatus into chaos and a fit of mutual recriminations every time some lone nutjob tries to set his underwear on fire.

Letting loose with yet another ungrammatical broadside, Patton avers:

"What appears to be something which Wayne Simmons attempted to spurt out yet could not due to disruption was the basis of Sun Tzu’s aforementioned thoughts. In order to do this though, you need to have at least one or two pre-existing footholds in close proximity to your adversary. Hence, we need some ‘lily pads’ to base covert and clandestine operations."

The problem with this strategy, at least for those of us who live in the real world, is that the War Party considers the whole world [.pdf] to be our "lily pad." Hopping from one pad to another, we are a giant that stands astride the entire earth, dispatching assassination squads to various targets according to such "intelligence" as we receive and find credible. Yet, as we have seen in Afghanistan, where Task Force 373 roams the mountains and valleys spewing death, our intelligence network is none-too-reliable, e.g. the "mistake" that led to the slaughter by US special forces of at least seven children, and the deaths of hundreds more in similar incidents across the region. A favorite ploy of conflicting Afghan clans is to accuse their enemies of collaborating with the Taliban/Al-Qaeda, very often in contradistinction to the facts. The bloody and tragic results have led to the general discrediting – and widespread hatred – of the allied forces. Simmons averred, during the program, that we need to turn Afghanistan into "one giant intelligence network," but in that case we really do require an all-pervasive presence, and not the "mysterious" and ghostly presence imagined by Patton.

Backed up against a wall, and stuck with defending an unpopular and clearly futile war, the right-wing of the War Party is rapidly being reduced to a fallback position that very much resembles the option championed by Vice President Joe Biden, which is to let the "special forces" take care of the jihadists wherever they happen to pop up, without undertaking a massive military operation such as a full-fledged occupation.

A lot of conservatives are beginning to wake up to the fact that this war – already the longest in our history – cannot be won short of building an Afghan puppet state from the ground up. While some hardcore neocons are perfectly willing for us to take up this task, most conservatives are too sensible to even consider such an option, and the result is the unleashing of the private opinions of several right-wing bigwigs, who have formerly kept their skepticism to themselves. When even Ann Coulter is beginning to challenge the wisdom of fighting a "permanent war" – her words – and GOP national chairman Michael Steele is calling the present conflict "Obama’s war." The effort to salvage some modicum of credibility is left to such paladins as Senor Patton, who concludes his polemic with yet another citation, this time from none other than Major General Smedley Butler," who "said it best long ago, ‘War is a racket.’ It is a necessary yet evil racket. For those citizens who utterly oppose all forms of war like Justin Raimondo, reflect back and learn why you have the luxury of living a life of free will here inside the United States."

Evil is necessary, Patton assures us: and lucky for him it is, otherwise he’d have to go and work for a living. According to his bio, Patton "served in the U.S. Defense and Justice departments, and as a contractor within the Homeland Security and State departments." Senor Simmons, too, is a military contractor, and it’s no surprise that these two war profiteers are in cahoots, watching each other’s back: there are tens of thousands of these Myrmidons, really and willing, if not quite able, to come to the defense of our crazed foreign policy. It’s their bread and butter that’s at stake, and so they are mortified by the sudden appearance of war critics on their right flank, flustered and somewhat unnerved by the rise of the antiwar right.

In this they have plenty of company on the left, as is made clear by recent polemic directed my way by one Chris Gauvreau, a leading member of a Trotskyist grouplet known as "Socialist Action," which was instrumental in organizing a recent national conference of antiwar activists in Albany, New York. Her piece, which appears on the Socialist Action web site, is meant to be an answer to my own piece, here, which criticized her views on the question of a left-right alliance against interventionism: she’s against such an alliance. Gauvreau writes:

"Right-wing ideologue Justin Raimondo’s article “Why is the Antiwar Movement Stalled? In Two Words: the Left” (, July 27, 2010) demonstrates very clearly that for the far right, or what is euphemistically called “traditional conservatism,” beating the drum for the “left-right coalition against Empire" is less about coalition and more about discrediting the left, the labor movement, and existing antiwar organizations."

Am I really a "right-wing ideologue"? Libertarianism is neither right nor left: we reject these arbitrary, archaic, and obfuscating categories, which are designed to keep ordinary people divided and unable to organize against their oppressors: the corporate elite and the political class (or do I repeat myself?). I have written several extensive pieces on why the left-right paradigm fails to accurately describe the real political landscape, and what purpose it serves. Rather than repeat myself, I would suggest Ms. Gauvreau and her co-thinkers do a little research: this will be a great help when it comes to the art of persuasion.

Yet I fear persuasion is the least of Gauvreau’s concerns: the aim is simply to mislead her readers. Thus, she avers:

"To his shame, Raimondo uses red-baiting and scorn for the pain suffered by working people in his attempt to belittle one of the largest, most broadly sponsored, and democratic antiwar conferences held in recent decades. Because the conference was streamed live, thousands of activists shared in its deliberations."

There are no citations to back up the charge of "red-baiting," unless by that term one means accurately identifying the politics of some of the conference participants, including Gauvreau and her comrades. Is it not true that Socialist Action is a Trotskyist organization? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I, who have worked with countless lefties in my career, am honestly baffled by the "red-bating" charge. It’s nonsense, but there’s so much nonsense stuffed into the above-cited paragraph that it really bespeaks an extraordinary talent for obfuscation.

Nowhere in my piece did I express "scorn" either for working people or the Albany conference: but then again, members of her particular sectarian grouplet are prone to substituting themselves and their tiny band of followers for the entire working class and antiwar movements. Gauvreau also claims that I wrote the conference attendees were "dupes of Socialist Action," but I never expressed any such opinion. Although I’m sure the intrepid Socialist Actioneers tried to pack the meeting with as many of their "cadre" as possible, the mere fact that there was a debate over the question of a left-right alliance against the war – due to the insistence of Kevin Zeese, head of Voters for Peace – and some pretty articulate arguments made by both Zeese and Medea Benjamin on behalf of the left-right strategy, proves that the conference was more than just Socialist Action’s Potemkin village. That this debate happened at all is encouraging evidence that the stranglehold of the ultra-left sectarians on the antiwar movement is in the process of being broken. The issue of war and peace is simply too important to be left in such irresponsible and self-serving hands.

I won’t bore my readers with too many extracts from Gauvreau’s fevered fulminations, which sound as if they’re lifted straight out of Communist Party of the 1930s "Third Period," but this will give you the flavor:

"At least Raimondo is clear about what he is against! An antiwar movement led by the right, Raimondo suggests in his first paragraph, would not be wasting its time linking the fight against the war to the need for single-payer health care, the fight against petroleum-fueled global warming, or the threats by the government to reduce Social Security. He plainly states that an antiwar movement led by the right would not attempt to link up the wars against working people abroad with the war against working people here at home. His paradigm is the opposite: the fight to privilege Republic over Empire.

"And what is the ‘Republic’ that Raimondo refers to? The dismantling of the ‘welfare state’ and the rolling back of the gains of the civil rights, women’s rights, and labor movements. It is opposition to climate controls in the name of the so-called free market. The libertarian and paleoconservative political figures to whom Raimondo looks for leadership are opposed to all the concessions that working people have managed to wring or tried to wring out of the corporate elite in the last 100 years — public education, a moderately dignified old age, medical coverage approaching that offered in the rest of the industrialized world, the right to a job."

Aside from the fact that I never have and do not now advocate "an antiwar movement led by the right," but rather a movement that includes conservatives as well as progressives, Gauvreau is quite correct: I am completely opposed to the sectarian and narrow-minded worldview exemplified by her ranting rhetoric.

Why in the world should a movement concerned with ending the war take up issues such as healthcare, single-payer or otherwise? Why should we divert our resources away from the question of war and peace and start bibbling on about "global warming"? Medical care, public education, the "right" to a job, and even the vagaries of how to remain dignified in old age – clearly Gauvreau doesn’t understand the difference between founding a movement dedicated to achieving a specific and limited goal, and starting a new political party. Why do antiwar activists have to agree on every subject under the sun – even the purely scientific question of whether "global warming" is real – before they can begin to put an end to our dangerous and immoral foreign policy? Why?

In all the many words emitted by our Trotskyist polemicist, there is not even the thinnest rationalization for this dogged dogmatism. After a certain point, her "arguments" degenerate into a series of pure epithets: "far right," "reactionary," and, of course, the requisite charge that conservatives as "racists." What’s astonishing, however, is her disdain for – and complete misunderstanding of – what I mean when I talk about our old Republic. What I mean is our republican form of government, which is being threatened with extinction by our foreign policy of endless aggression and permanent "crisis" – has she ever heard of the PATRIOT Act? The Military Commissions Act? The movement in Congress to give the President the power to shut down the internet? Is she unaware of the growth of the surveillance state, one in which the constitutionally protected activities of American citizens are spied on, recorded, and stored in the government’s dossier database?

Life on the Planet Trotsky is plainly bereft of any communication with earth, but I would hasten to inform Gauvreau that these democratic rights are under attack, in case she hasn’t heard, and that we must at least start thinking about how we can stand together before we’re all hanged together.

It’s clear that neither Gauvreau nor Socialist Action have any more interest in building a broad, massive antiwar movement than do Patton and Simmons – because both are invested in keeping the old left-right paradigm intact, in spite of its obvious limitations. For neocons, only the "left" is against their wars of "liberation," because they’re traitorous evil awful people. For the Trots – or those Trots, such as Socialist Action, who hate the idea of a left-right alliance, no matter how temporary or purely tactical – it’s the "right wing ideologues" such as myself who are the enemy, not the War Party, not the State, and surely not the Obama administration, whose election was hailed by Socialist Action and a host of other ostensibly "leftist" groups as a victory, albeit a limited one, for the "working class." The Socialist Actioneers enthused:

"The exuberant outpourings in cities and towns across the country hailing the Obama victory were multi-racial and youthful, although broad swaths of the general population joined in the celebrations. A majority of white voters under 30 voted for Obama. They too enthusiastically joined in the spontaneous mobilizations to register their contempt for Bush-era politics. And they were one with Black America in believing that Obama’s promised ‘Change’ was on the order of the day."

In spite of Gauvreau’s formal opposition to Democratic party politics, it’s all a show. Socialist Action underwent a major split a couple of years ago when the majority decided that they ought to participate in a demonstration which took place in conjunction with the Democratic party national convention in Los Angeles. The minority, which was expelled from Socialist Action for their boldness, "opposed S.A. participating in the demonstration because it took place at the Democratic Party Convention and many, if not most, protesters sought to improve the program of this capitalist party and promote its good politicians and oppose its bad ones. This, we argued, tended to lead participants to look towards the Democratic Party as a positive alternative to the Republican Party."

In spite of their belligerent "leftism," the Socialist Actioneers are plaintly oriented toward the left-wing of the Democratic party, which could care less about the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond, and is much more focused on issues like single-payer healthcare. After all, it’s just those foreigners who are bearing the brunt of our endless "war on terrorism," and, being lefties, our imminent bankruptcy isn’t real for them. They may not like Obama, much, but they sure would like to recruit his increasingly disillusioned fan club on the left, and so they don’t want to rock the boat too hard. By spiking the creation of a truly broad antiwar movement with their belligerent sectarian rhetoric, these Trotskyite wreckers perform a service to the administration while still maintaining an open line to what White House press secretary Robert Gibbs calls "the professional left."

Now I realize why Gauvreau’s polemic caused a shiver of déjà vu to travel up my spine: where had I heard such a fevered denunciation of the "right wing" before? Why, on cable news, of course: Gauvreau talks like a butcher version of Rachel Maddow as she’s railing against the Tea Partiers, and, indeed, that’s precisely the term that was used in debate at the conference: should the antiwar movement reach out to the "tea party"? Never mind that this "tea party" is largely a media creation, a very broad rubric to include all kinds of dissatisfied dissidents angry about everything from taxes to the bank bailouts: the whole topic was addressed in a manner more amenable to a cable news shout-fest, rather than a reasoned discussion over the best strategy to adopt. At the Albany conference, the demagogic Glen Ford (one of the few blacks in attendance) used his "authority" – before a nearly pure white audience — to berate anyone who imagines "diversity" can also mean ideological diversity. Conservatives, he declared, are "white nationalists" – a contemptible smear from a truly contemptible person, whose "arguments" were pure intimidation.

Ford’s fulminations echo the Democratic party narrative, broadcast day after day by the likes of cable political hacks like Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and Keith Olbermann, that any and all opposition to the administration’s agenda is rooted in "racism." One wonders, in idle moments, how long before antiwar white liberals are race-baited by Obama-ite war supporters for their "racism" in opposing the "liberation" of Afghanistan’s oppressed Third World women.

They want to divide us by race, gender, and sexual orientation: they want to divide us along "right" and "left" lines. That’s the War Party’s strategy, and, so far, it’s worked like a charm – thanks to the cable news mentality that dominates the discourse, and continues to block the antiwar movement from making any appreciable gains. Like the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Gauvreau-Patton Pact is ostensibly a union of opposites, but really these two characters aren’t really antipodes at all. They both are dogmatically committed to the left-right politics that have kept the worst on top, lo these many years, because both gain from maintaining the paradigm intact. The Patton half profits materially – keep getting those government contracts! – while the Gauvreau-ites imagine they’ll profit politically. And maybe the Socialist Actioneers will pick up a few more recruits – but is that really worth turning the antiwar movement into a left-wing sideshow, and derailing a mass movement against US war crimes abroad?

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].