Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Neumann vs. Klein, Corporate Give Away News

Just finishing up two solid days of complete busy-ness. I'm amazed at the amount of time one must spend in meetings in today's academia. It's a relief to finally make it into a classroom, and it's beyond relief when it's time to hit the library.
There is a grim article about the impact that the end of import quotas will have on smaller producing countries such as Cambodia. As those economies go heading toward the toilet so that we Americans can wear cheap clothes made in China and India, there's more corporate give-away news. And there's some more. And then there's more examples of privileges for the privileged.
Interestingly, provocatively, and indeed, sadly, Counterpunch's Michael Neumann has written a strident critique of Naomi Klein's most recent article in In These Times.
The critique reminds me of debates at the Left Forum a few weeks ago, when some argued for supporting parts of the Iraqi resistance while others said, "no to do that is to be imperialistic. you just need to support the resistance." I can see the justice of both positions, but the accusation by those who say "support the resistance - without making distinctions" that those who want to make distinctions about which members of the resistance to support are just being imperialist, arrogant, ugly Americans, I find both intellectually problematic and strategically not realistic. The "support the resistance w/out qualification" crowd seems to me to make a strawman of the other side.
To begin, Neumann makes some claims that suggest to me that he is living in somewhat rarified company. Of Klein's argument that the left needs to expose the lack of democracy of the US occupation, he says, "Everyone but some few Americans know this, and those few Americans are either too steeped in their prejudices to be moved, or don't really give a damn whether the US is out to make Iraq into a democracy." This doesn't fit with the people I've met who are attached to an idea of America as "good" and American intervention as a force for "good." To expose the truth behind the occupation is one of the most vital tasks of organizing a movement. I don't find it helpful to simply dismiss these people as impossible to move.
Neumann dismisses the possibility of making choices among forces opposed to the occupation and makes an analogy to WWII, arguing, "you couldn't say you wouldn't support Stalin if you opposed Hitler." This is true generally, particularly when involved in military action. I even used the Spanish Civil War analogy when I was talking to Anthony Arnove after the Left Forum debate, that it would make sense to argue that people didn't say "we can't support Republican Spain because there are Stalinists in it."
However, that doesn't imply the reverse, that we can't criticize the Stalinists because we are supporting the resistance. It can be argued, a la Fernando Claudin, that Stalinism crushed a revolutionary movement. It would certainly have helped the anti-Stalinist Left in Europe, if there had been a powerful anti-Stalinist left in the US.
When you look at the day to day actions that make up resistance and warfare (as Klein did while in Iraq as a journalist) it seems reasonable to expect that you might gain a more complicated set of attitudes about the resistance. It might even strike you, if you were on the ground, that the victory of one side might be particularly terrible. I'm struck by this in reading Robert Fisk's accounts of Lebanon. Is it wrong, if you are looking ahead to a potentially very drawn out occupation to learn something more about the resistance, and is it wrong to make choices (to an extent) about what kinds of resistance you can personally be in solidarity with? ISO people after all, are very critical of The Philippines Communist Party, although that party is repressed by, and acting in resistance to, a very repressive government that is allied with Bush's imperialist "war on terror."
What is it exactly that Neumann and others believe Klein is advocating? Perhaps i am being naive, but would the American left's support for Iraqi trade unionists, for example, as opposed to the American left's supporting the Islamic Fundamentalists who are currently assassinating trade unionists, really be an example of arrogance?
So, I'm frustrated with Neumann. I agree wholeheartedly with his point that you actually don't need to know the reasons for the war in order to oppose it effectively. He's right: people on the left do spend way too much time refining analyses as if knowledge will in fact set us free. When I was a grad student, it used to drive me crazy when people said that what we needed was a better theory.
On the other hand, I have great respect for Naomi Klein, and it bugs me to read something that's so personally critical of her, to the extent that he refers to her position as barely different from Bush's. This is a polarizing overstatement of a difference, don't you think, particularly among people who endorse "out now" as a position.
Along the same lines, I think Neumann is dangerously wrong when it comes to a winning strategy for the movement. He dismisses the US troops as potential allies, and eschews organizing to bring more people into the movement. Ultimately, he calls for strong, militant, clear action by people already opposed to the war. This may produce militant demonstrations -- but there is little evidence that a nasty (as opposed to a big) demonstration will actually succeed in ending a war, or that such demonstrations have ever succeeded in ending a war.
In Vietnam, and probably in Iraq, the single biggest factor in pushing the war to the end was not the degree of militancy of the civilian resistance in the United States, or even the fact that some in the antiwar movement supported the NLF, but rather, the growth of GI resistance. If you want to encourage and support GI resistance, as part of a support for the US working class, any support for the Iraqi resistance needs to be argued in such a way as to not be completely alienating. While it might feel satisfying to rant in the manner of Neumann, I have found that this type of argument - because of its tone if nothing else - tends to be what turns people away from the left and leftists. Is it overstated, needless, posturing? What do you think?

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