by Justin Raimondo
A GESTURE OF DEFIANCE
I thought, at first, that I would skip Sunday's antiwar protest at the Golden Gate Bridge. The idea behind this event was to replicate the protests in Yugoslavia, where the defiant Serbs have been holding rock concerts and candlelight vigils on bridges, daring the NATO-crats to bomb them. While such a fatalistic and grandiloquent gesture seemed entirely appropriate in Belgrade, its significance I thought would be missed if imported into the Bay Area. We , after all, are not facing daily bombardment, except by the warmongering American news media, and, besides, such a gesture is so typically Serbian, such an idiosyncratic mixture of bravado and the tragic sense-of-life, that the meaning would be irretrievably lost in translation. Another reason not to go was the sponsor of the event, the far-leftist International Action Center: did I really want to spend one of my precious Saturday afternoons being hectored by bunch of robotic Marxists? No, no, a thousand times no!
A CHANGE OF HEART
Yet as morning broke, and the sun came out, the idea of going out to the bridge had a certain appeal: it was a bright and unusually glorious day, even for the Bay Area, one of those mornings where the interplay of light and fog, air and water, imbues the landscape with a pristine freshness, like a morning on the first day of Creation. It would be nice to get out of the house, I thought, and into the light, for once. Am I getting that nerdish pallor that comes with sitting in front of a computer screen all day (and night)? Yoshi, my sidekick and you may read into that anything you like or can imagine cinched the matter by declaring unequivocally that he wanted to go; as an aspiring photographer, he is getting his portfolio together, and he has hit on a theme: the growing antiwar movement in America, a story told in visual terms. The bridge event, he insisted, will be highly photogenic, and so the matter was settled. I had no great expectations about turnout, and thought we could just take a walk on the beach if nobody else showed up.
The crowd gathered at the entrance to the pedestrian sidewalk seemed invigorated by freshness of the morning air, tangy with the smell of the ocean, and also by their numbers. You never know with these riskier kinds of events how many are going to show up, but the International Action Center for all their Marxoidal frumpiness, or, perhaps, because of it had done a spectacular job of postering and promoting the event: hardly a telephone poll or a wall went uncovered in their campaign to plaster the town with leaflets. I estimated around 600-800 in the crowd. And what a crowd: diversity is not the word. (Now there is one word that has been rendered thoroughly useless.) Perhaps the word is interesting. I saw an old woman, vigorous in spite of her walker, wrapped in blankets, with a target pinned to her chest. In deference to the style started by the Serbians, the protesters wore printed targets pinned to their chests, and the organizers were doing a brisk business in target tee-shirts.
Other entrepreneurs roamed the crowd, hawking their ideological wares, salesmen for the various Marxist sects waving their newspapers around like Jehovah's Witnesses selling The Watchtower on the corner. I bought them all eagerly, which seemed to surprise them, because practically nobody else was; it was not, however, an act of charity. I have an abiding interest in the Left, not the liberal Clintonian left, with which we are all too familiar, or the Z magazine/Noam Chomsky left, which seems about as interesting as a bowl of organic mung beans, but the Old Left, the outright and upfront Commies. There is something charming, perhaps not always individually but certainly in theory, about the idea of embracing such an esoteric and subversive faith: in America, at least, it is almost like joining the Order of the Golden Dawn, or embracing Zoroastrianism.
But what is most charming about the Marxists is that they take ideas seriously, and their internal debates are quite interesting if you understand the players. The different sects are as individual as disparate personalities, like characters in a story (a comedy?), or the members of a variegated and rather eccentric family. You can always tell the salesmen for the Revolutionary Worker, weekly newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, in their raffishly "proletarian" garb, albeit far shabbier-looking than any proletarian I ever saw; they go in for red bandannas as headgear and funky blue denim, a fashion statement that expresses their lumpen-ish mentality as well as the self-conscious rrr-revolutionary rhetoric that infuses their newspaper, and not only the content but the graphics a kind of wild and crazy punk-street culture look that markets radical Maoism as the perfect ideology for the nose-ring-wearing hair-dyed-Day-Glo-blue crowd. The Revolutionary Worker today is just as much a cultural as a political statement, and the only remnant of its Old Leftish tone is an ad in the back for Bob Avakian's latest book, Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones, the Maoist answer to Bill Bennett.
THE BOB AVAKIAN STORY
Good old Chairman Bob! How nice to know that some things never change: while the a good many of the New Leftists of his era are high-rolling stockbrokers, pampered academics, or else highly placed officials in the governments of the NATO countries (such as German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer), there he is, still at the same old stand after all these years. Avakian was a prime mover in SDS during its heyday, the progenitor of a Maoist faction that eventually became at least for a while the largest and most aggressively visible radical left group outside of the Communist Party. The son of a federal judge, Avakian was so incensed at the "revisionist" Deng Xiaoping's visit to America during the eighties that he led hundreds of his followers in what amounted to an all-out assault on the Chinese embassy in Washington: the feds booked him on multiple felony counts, but he fled to Europe where he has lived ever since. From there the Chairman-in-exile sends long epistles to his followers, with titles like "Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?" and "This System is Doomed Let's Finish it Off!" presumably written in some cafe on the Left Bank (where else?). His photo always accompanies these tirades, and it is the same one the paper has been printing for the past twenty years: Chairman Bob never changes, never ages, his "proletarian" cap, his flannel work shirt, the same fixed expression of dour fanaticism staring into the "inevitable" Communist future, frozen in time and preserved forever, like a mastodon under the Siberian ice.
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
Soon it was time to go onto the bridge: naturally, we weren't going to do anything illegal. The idea was to form a 'human chain," to place our people all along the walkway, facing traffic, and then, at the climatic moment, to all join hands in a symbolic gesture. No signs are allowed on the Bridge: bureaucratic fiat, which repeals the First Amendment within the confines of the Golden Gate Bridge District. That was the reason for the printed targets that we all wore pinned to our chests, and I must admit that I didn't at all mind this form of censorship: at least we were spared the obnoxious leftist slogans that usually accompany such protests: "Money for jobs, not for war!" as if this war were a question of "jobs," or "money," as opposed to simple lust: bloodlust, power-lust, a compulsive drive that (from the outside, at least) seems almost erotic in its violent intensity.
On the way home, we drive past a theater showing the new Star Wars movie: there is a long line of people waiting for tickets. Standing there is a man wearing a sandwich-board sign: on one side it says STOP THE WAR AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA, and on the other "Forget Star Wars: The Real War is in Yugoslavia."
INVENTING THE "NEWS"
Watching the report on the 10 o'clock news, I could hardly believe my ears: here was the Fox News reporter interviewing someone identified as a "counter-protester"! But there were no "counter-protesters" (i.e. pro-war demonstrators) at the bridge that day. What could she be talking about? But wait that guy she is interviewing looks familiar. "The issue here is the oppression of the Kosovars," he intones, "and I hope everyone here today will remember that." Now I recognize this jerk: he was one of the newspaper hawkers. A Commie supporting NATO? Well, not exactly a Commie, but a member of the News and Letters group founded by the eccentric founder of "Marxist-Humanism," Raya Dunaevskaya, Trotsky's onetime secretary and author of numerous tomes written in a style that elevate obfuscation into an art form.
STATE DEPARTMENT SOCIALISTS
I retrieve the copy of News and Letters I bought at the protest and examine it with renewed interest: the headline at the top proclaims "Support the Kosovar resistance!" The KLA is a "liberation struggle," we are told, and NATO is its worst enemy: Far from being a branch office of the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, as has been widely reported "this is a vicious lie" the Kosovar separatist organization "grew out of a core of Marxist-Leninist guerrillas who fought Serbian rule in the 1980s." Citing CNN and sounding like Jamie Shea, the Marxists of News and Letters aver that we must support "the right of the KLA to obtain arms." From whom they do not explicitly say, but the implication is clear enough. Raya Dunaevskaya, meet Bob Dole: stranger bedfellows have yet to be seen.
THE LAST HOPE
In an early article in Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn bemoaned the demise of the anti-imperialist Left and remarked that the right-wing isolationists are "our last hope." Being a right-wing isolationist myself, I wanted to believe it, but this seemed like a bit of an overstatement: after all, I thought, what about the anti-imperialist old-line Marxists? Well, what about them: except for good old Gloria LaRiva and the International Action Center, this seems to be a species that is virtually extinct. When even the sectarian Marxist grouplets and not just the latter-day followers of Raya Dunaevskaya are hard-pressed to support the antiwar movement and give de facto support to the NATO-crats, then it looks like Cockburn was right after all.
The reporter, a young Oriental woman with a very smug look on her face, interviews a man identified as "KTVU's foreign policy analyst," who intones that no one is going to show up for the June 5 demonstrations, since the public doesn't really care about foreign policy or much else, for that matter. Why do people imagine that they have the power and the right to make their own decisions, and most important of all why should they bother when they have all-knowing "experts" to tell them what to think and do?
I cannot resist the temptation to call the station: the segment is not even over and I am already reaching for the phone, propelled by an overwhelming need to contradict the lies going out over the airwaves and polluting the intellectual and political atmosphere with an obfuscatory smoke. While there were exactly two salesmen hawking News and Letters at the demonstration, as there are at every leftist get-together, in no way could their presence at this event have been construed as a "counter-demonstration," even if someone were really stretching and straining to make the point. They wore targets just like everyone else, and mingled with the crowd, with no more visible sign of their pro-interventionist stance than the rather modest headline in their paper. This is a "counter-demonstration"?
DEMORALIZE THE ENEMY
I finally get through to the news room and unleash a stream of invective at the poor guy who happens to answer the phone, a full minute and a half lecture on the difference between reporting the news and inventing it. He mumbles, half-apologetically, that he was not the reporter they sent to do the story: just to make his life more difficult, and perhaps drive him into his grave a few weeks or even months earlier than his natural lifespan, I demand to speak to the News Director. I know it is futile, at least in the short-term: but in the long-term, if we harass them and challenge them at every turn, if we take every opportunity to delegitimize and demoralize the War Party and its flunkeys among the elites, then we have a fighting chance to win. The War Party has a war chest several thousand times the size of ours: it is better-organized, and it has the overwhelming support of the major media, the organs of government, and among the intellectuals. We have only the outrage of ordinary people at the extraordinary lies being pushed down their throats. In the end, however, that may be enough: an anger so widespread as to seem universal, so intransigent and focused as to be nearly invincible. When the American people rise up against this futile and macabre demonstration of moralism run amok, they will really rise and then watch out. Until then, however, let us give the elites at least a taste of things to come, some slight premonition of what they have to look forward to.
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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).