Screens

•September 19, 2022 • 1 Comment
[Recent poem around death of Queen Elizabeth II. Image above from etsy.com. Image below from BonB Creative.] 

Screens

She loved corgis, horses, longed to roam barefoot, free
     in the Scottish heather singing risqué songs, 
far from all eyes and lenses. Meanwhile on screens
           she was gracious in her interactions
                         with bowers, curtseyers, fawners
and the Sex Pistols, people of all creeds and colours.

We stood up before the movies to ask someone else 
     we capitalized into God to save her, 
                      presumably from her enemies, 
                   or maybe death or hell.       Her portrait jingled
in our pockets, hung in police stations, halls, 
                                   the headmaster’s office in the schools
              where we, oblivious, learned nothing of our history.

At the end of her record reign, a few weeks before she died,
         she appeared in a final valedictory video 
                  having genteel afternoon tea 
                                  with Paddington Bear in the palace. 
He offered her a marmalade sandwich, saying he always 
                   kept one for emergencies. 

With a resounding twinkle in her eye that would shame
               any Oscar-laden method actor 
(an on-set helper standing in for Paddington), 
         she pulled one out of her proverbial handbag,
replying: So do I. I keep mine in here. For later.
          Her great-grandchildren giggled.  Paddington
ended their conversation with:  Happy Jubilee, Ma’am, 
                                  and thank you, for everything.

On a hot street in suburban Sydney in ‘54
          her procession driving past fluttered her paisley silk scarf
to your four-year-old feet.  Despite your desperate mother’s urgings,
                                you stood frozen in fear
               of this royal manna a motorized breeze had brought.
                                           Maybe it’s available on e-bay. 

On that first visit officials in rural Shepparton rushed
           to screen her history from her royal gaze,
hanging hessian on a fence, twining branches into the wire
 surrounding the overcrowded tin huts, dust, hunger,
        squalor of people dispossessed, displaced,
                 disqualified in the Crown’s imperial name.

In her humpy near Dubbo one little black girl 
                 had to quickly borrow her brother’s socks.
Barefoot, they said, no view of her majesty passing by.
         She now says she will never 
                                                    forget it. 




Ukraine – 20 Propositions

•September 17, 2022 • 2 Comments

[An attempt to clarify things for myself, following on from my previous ‘Framing Ukraine’ essay against Chomsky, Pilger, Sachs and co. Image is a bucolic Russian Tsarist-era ad for something or other, pre-tractor era obviously…]

Ukraine20 Propositions. Whatever our persuasions and stances on the Ukraine conflict, I wonder whether we can all agree on the following twenty propositions about the war?

  1. Putin’s invasion is a war of aggression within international law (like the US Iraq War 2003)?
  2. Within this illegal and unjustified war, it seems that it is highly likely that the Russian military has (like the US military in Iraq) committed war crimes?
  3. The Ukrainian people (like the Iraqis) deserve utmost international solidarity and support, especially from all who care about human rights, international law, freedom?
  4. That, morally, all theories and debates about the so-called ‘geopolitical’ or ‘national interests’ of states should never ignore or have precedence over the human rights of individuals, especially the fundamental right to live in peace and freedom?
  5. That, in general, liberal democracies or ‘elected oligarchies’ − with all their deep structural flaws and hypocrisies – are infinitely better than unelected oligarchies, autocracies, dictatorships, fascisms, and thus worth defending?
  6. The US and NATO have broken their verbal promise to Gorbachev not to expand eastwards by allowing Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to join NATO, training Ukrainian soldiers, Bush signaling eventual NATO membership to Georgia and the Ukraine?
  7. Russia has broken its signed agreement in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to respect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine? 
  8. NATO can be seen not only as a means of European defence but of maintaining US influence or hegemony within Europe, its role now much strengthened by Putin’s invasion?
  9. That there are differences of opinion and perceived interest both within NATO and the US elite?
  10. That while US defence secretary Austin has said the US should use the Ukraine war to ‘weaken’ Russia in order to prevent it invading more countries, other US and European elite voices like that of Henry Kissinger have strongly rejected that notion and argued for a negotiated settlement that concedes Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory?
  11. Biden has refused to accede to Ukraine’s demands to enforce a no-fly zone, to ‘put US boots on the ground’, to conduct international ballistic missile tests, to provide Ukraine with even stronger weapons systems that would allow deep military penetration into Russia?
  12. That, far from seeking to further weaken an already weak and autocratic Russia, it is even possible that, because of its challenging of the need for NATO, for US hawks “a strong, liberal, democratic Russia would perhaps have posed an even greater challenge to US hegemony in Europe than an autocratic, revanchist, but ultimately weak Russia” (Thomas Meaney, Max Planck Institute Göttingen)?
  13. Since Putin has previously annexed parts of the old Soviet Union (parts of sovereign Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine), Ukraine itself can be seen as next in line?
  14. Putin in various speeches has been open about his imperial identification with Tsar Peter the Great and his intentions to ‘take back’ lands of the ‘Russian world’ once occupied and ruled by the old Soviet Union or the Tsarist empire, Ukraine being just ‘New Russia’ (Tsarist ‘Little Russia’)?
  15. Putin’s official reasons for his ‘special military mission’ in the Ukraine as being ‘demilitarisation’ and ‘denazification’ of the Ukraine or even a “preemptive rebuff to aggression” since the US/NATO were “planning an invasion into our historic lands, including Crimea”, are simply war pretexts and PR lies for his domestic audience (like Bush’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq)?
  16. That Russian foreign minister Lavrov ‘s initial ‘denazification’ proposition included the cleverly antisemitic statement – strongly objected to by Israel − that Hitler ‘had Jewish blood’ and that the “most rabid antisemites tend to be Jews”?
  17. That liberal media like the Guardian Weekly have also included articles critical of NATO and any possibility of a US proxy war against Russia and pleading for concessional peace negotiations?
  18. That, as a general rule, any appeasement of imperial aggressions or bullies, or rewarding them with territory they have invaded and occupied, is likely to encourage them to further aggression and/or war?
  19. That Putin’s war and blockade or hampering of Ukraine’s food exports are now creating the real risk of famine among possibly 70 million people in poor countries, according to the UN?
  20. That it is not up to geopolitical commentators and ‘experts’ of any persuasion, but only up to the Ukrainian people themselves to democratically decide on the timing, form and content of any possible peace negotiations with the imperialist Putin regime?

The Dialectics of Disenchantment

•September 10, 2022 • 2 Comments

[Recent essay attempt on the modern loss of the sacred or ‘vertical’, and the possibility of a new postmodern spirituality that integrates both the premodern and the rational and scientific (but not the scientistic). Took the shot of a bare persimmon tree against a wintry sky in Moss Vale dog park.]

The Dialectics of Disenchantment and the Loss of the Sacred

In all its rich diversity, the premodern worldview is largely a sacred one, i.e. one that has a spiritual or vertical dimension that secular modernity and its hegemony of science (or more exactly, scientism) have largely eliminated. This disenchantment, however, has come at a price.

In premodern Mind the cosmos and human relations are seen as grounded in a meaningful world of sacred relationships as embedded, retold and ritually re-enacted within the clan, tribe or village. Practices of hunting, foraging, growing, marrying, birthing and dying, building, healing, magic are all embedded in this sacred, magic-mythical world of the primeval ancestors, spirits, divinities. This world of mythos is both horizontal and vertical in its dimensions, felt as open to the seen and unseen, above and below, heaven and earth and underworld, ascent and descent.

This is, moreover, a sacred world with its own ambiguity: both awesome, and awe-ful or terrifying, expressing a premodern dialectic of both reverence towards and deep fear of a vast and overwhelming world.  As the only meaning-making and -negotiating animals, we need to get a handle on, seek to somehow find a sense of control over its potentially overwhelming sensory and cognitive chaos, over the omnipresent potential of trauma, suffering and, especially, death. We need to form a meaningful cosmos out of chaos. This meaningful cosmos is what we call culture. It seems culture in this sense is, at its most basic level, rooted in both wonder and fear.

Some of our earliest archeological evidence of culture and religiosity pertains to funeral rites, our cultural form of grieving and coming to terms with death. We seek order, structure, ‘cosmos’, and we find it in ‘mythos’, in story, symbol, myth. (And of course, one man’s myth, religion, solace is another man’s mere magic, superstition, fear, and, given culture’s inherent ambiguity, both may indeed be often closely intertwined).

However, modern Mind also has its own inherent ambiguities and dialectic. The price of technological progress, the transcending of fearful superstition and the modern rule of rationality or ‘logos’ has been great. As instrumental reason and its desacrilisation or disenchantment of nature and human relations, modern rationality or logos has also resulted in a widespread and increasing spiritual flatland where verticality has been lost.

Instead of creatively transcending mythos by dialectically differentiating and integrating it, the instrumental rationality of logos has, largely, ignored and suppressed it as simply ‘primitive’ and undifferentiated, as merely and totally ‘magic thinking’ or ‘superstitious nonsense’ etc. It has thrown the baby of the sacred out with the bathwater of fearful superstition.

As a result, and as Adorno and Horkheimer argued in their Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947), modernity’s instrumental reason or logos has thus emancipated itself from mythos and its sacred, spiritual verticality only by creating another form of magic thinking or mythos, namely that of secular, technocratic scientism.

Scientism, the reduction of science to a totalising ideology of technocratic utilitarianism, can be seen as the ideology of a disenchanted, quantified ‘horizontality’, the epistemic expression of market society or capitalism in which all things are ‘equal’ in the sense of being up for buying and selling according to their monetary exchange value. Abstraction, quantification, measurement, mathematics, rules. Where almost all values have been subsumed by monetary exchange values, qualities and interiority are flattened into quantities, measurable surfaces and the external relations of things. As in Bentham’s utilitarianism, morality is reduced to a ‘scientific’ quantitative calculus of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’, the social good to growth in GDP.

Scientism is the quest for total domination over an objectified, quantified and ‘demystified’ or disenchanted cosmos and nature both ex- and internal. Both external and internal nature have been increasingly made into manipulable, exploitable things and commodities to be bought and sold. Desacrilized, disenchanted, nature becomes real estate acres, forests becomes tonnes of timber, animals becomes productive machines, humans become labour power bought and sold on labour markets, culture becomes an industry. Everything becomes a measurable, exploitable, commodifiable resource.

The postmodern, final expression of this trajectory of domination, commodification and its techno-scientistic mythos is the actual elimination of ex- and internal nature in the transhuman project of an Anthropocene ‘man-machine merger’. This is the official ideology of the most advanced capital known as Silicon Valley or Big Tech.

This transhuman utopia, or rather dystopia, is a spiritual hyper-flatland of commodified, technological and quantifiable data sets in which the only remaining verticality is that of literal, quantifiable ‘space travel’ or of artificial, genetically engineered molecular machines travelling the depths of the ‘upgraded’ body-machine.

The ideology of transhumanism seeks to transcend biology by technologically ‘enhancing’, ‘upgrading’ or eliminating it. In this project, materialist transhumanism and ‘dataism’ ironically mirror occult and spiritualist traditions that deny or suppress the body and materiality as ‘lower’ or inferior. It can be seen as the triumph of Platonic-Christian body denial and the rationalist Cartesian ‘cogito’, the false identification of our identity with thinking and the brain.  We are nothing but our brains, our neurological and genetic networks. In this ideology, feeling body, psyche or soul and spirit have all been eliminated within a technologised, ‘upgraded’, digitised body machine and its corresponding artificial environment of virtual and augmented reality all directed by other machines called artificial ‘intelligence.’

What could be the alternative? Instead of romantically regressing to a premodern worldview or suppressing one or the other, can we critically integrate spirituality and science, premodern sacred verticality and modern secular horizontality? I believe so. Just as there are inklings of rational science in premodern magic, there are inklings of a new non-religious, rational-transrational verticality or spirituality in modern and postmodern science. The science and theory of cosmic, biological and mental evolution, for example, is the possible basis for a new cultural narrative and a postmodern, global spirituality differentiating, integrating and transcending the rich diversity of premodern and modern worldviews. This new spirituality would not regressively fall back below rationality into irrationality and superstition, but transcend rationality by integrating it. Meditative or contemplative insight can be a function of calm, dispassionate observation, an internal ’empiricism’ almost ‘scientific’ in its methodology.

The key issue might be to understand and overcome the egoic, anxiety-ridden and erroneous quest for control that lies behind both magic and science when the latter is reduced to hegemonic, hubristic instrumental reason that seeks to externally control, fragment, reduce reality to measurement and number. The error in this quest is, in the end, one of misplaced identity. We have identified with the ego and its anxious quest for control.

For who, one may ask, is seeking mental and technological control over what? Science answers: ‘humans over nature’, that is a separate, reified subject over a separate, reified object, or in Cartesian terms, a cogito, a ‘thinking thing’, over an ‘extended thing’ out there in some ‘objective’ space and time.

Reality as defined by science, and now most modern and postmodern ‘common sense’, is thus a simple mechanical concept of two disconnected, separate things opposing each other, with the ‘subjective thing’ (mind) attempting to measure, dominate and control the other ‘objective thing’ (nature).

In this quest, first person ‘I-am’, subjective human mind and identity, unobjectifiable interiority, has thus been objectified, reified, identified with a third-person thing (whether as subject, soul, psyche, ego or mere body or brain) acting and being acted upon in a disconnected world of other things.

First-person ‘I-am’, qualitative interiority, depth and verticality, having been turned into a third-person thing, its surface is now measurable and manipulable like the surfaces of all other things ‘out there’ in the spiritual flatland of an arid, horizontal space-time devoid not only of the sacred, but of meaning.

Another word for this disenchanted worldview resulting from the egoic and scientistic quest for control is alienation: alienation from nature, from others, from true self or identity. Our now total human/Earth crisis in the Anthropocene is the apocalyptic expression of this alienation.

However, understanding this dialectic of disenchantment and alienation enables its overcoming. The question might now be: Can we, individually and collectively, step back and see our egoic and scientistic control quest for what it is, and then drop it?

For who or what is it that then steps back, what sees?

And is not that who or what we truly are? That which sees, but cannot be seen. That which knows, but cannot be known. That which names, but cannot be named.

The silence

•September 2, 2022 • 1 Comment
[Recent poem. Painting of pine trees by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)]

The silence 

between

leaves on a tree, grasses, galaxies
the moon and its shadow
water’s undulations 


the milli-beats of a hummingbird’s wings
nucleus and electron cloud
warning creak, tree crash


portal, altar
this thought and the next
guillotine’s whish, the thud in the basket


outbreath                   inbreath
the first breath and the last
this line    and      the following


this poem and


I cannot see what I am

•August 11, 2022 • Leave a Comment
[Recent poem. Above, first photo 2019 of a cosmic black hole. Which you of course can't see. Although it may be pretending it's an eye...]

I cannot see what I am

I cannot taste my tongue
I cannot handle my hand

I cannot see my eye
I cannot hear my ear

I cannot hear silence
silence is what is listening

I cannot feel stillness
stillness is what is feeling

I cannot see what I am
what I am is what is looking

The Empty Space

•August 2, 2022 • Leave a Comment
[A poem in memory of the great theatre director Peter Brook who died recently at 97. His seminal work, published in 1968, was called The Empty Space.  It influenced me in my improvisational and street theatre work in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Image is of Brook standing among his actors in Paris on the set of his adaptation of the great Indian epic Mahabharata.] 

The Empty Space
    i.m. Peter Brook (1925-2022)
         
                          Pilgrim, pilgrimage, and Road,
                             Was but Myself toward Myself …
-	Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of Birds (c. 1177 CE)


Now you’ve left it with us, Peter, this emptiness
                   peopled with players sweating our parts

You filled the empty space of our wanting mind
         with your pure, immediate theatre of the holy,
Shakespearian Sufi Shaman of the universal gesture,
           your polyglot actors global as our one world
                        finding itself
in war, trade, meme-transforming word,
              as always, as never,
your little lamps flickering their magic hours 
          on old quarry walls transformed into world, 
                   so helping light the way, this pilgrimage
                                  we’re not aware we’re on 

Let me remember how we remembered 
        your wintry Lear, sunny Midsummer
   Night’s Dream, unhoused Mahabharata, a nine-hour trance
of war and kin, your soaring Conference of the Birds,
         as we too flew out into the reclaimed streets 
      soaring with the spirit of ’68 to strut and prance
          our rough pantomimes of pun and fun,
juggle our ancient hoops of hope, 
                            tug at complacency, hearts half-
                                                closed to their potential

Tell me, Peter, what is it about good theatre
           that can so excite, align cells, minds
into one vibrating whole, unlock something
                   not-a-thing we didn’t know we were,
make our many lying masks, charades, dramas
          our many modes of seeking,
                           our many modes of truth?  

There our sundry spaces resonate like two drums 
          tuned to the silence, emptiness we all are
                        where, birdlike, never leaving, you have returned




Framing Ukraine

•July 26, 2022 • 3 Comments

[Critique of some leftist framings of the Ukraine War, e.g. by Noam Chomsky and John Pilger. Took the photo of the dog poo bin in my local dog park at Moss Vale.]

FRAMING UKRAINE

Briefly, by way of personal background: I have researched and written a hundred-page dossier on the hidden holocaust of millions of global victims of western imperialism and our liberal democracies since the mass terror bombings of World War II. I protested US imperial invasions and bombings from Vietnam to Iraq. I opposed NATO bombings of Serbia and Libya. I have also long appreciated and learned from the writings of radical leftwing social critics like Noam Chomsky and John Pilger.

Now their framings of the Ukraine war, as I have understood them, and despite sharing some of their opinions on secondary issues, generally appall me. I now wonder if they, in old age and unconsciously caught in their broken-record mental patterns, might have perhaps lost their moral compass. (At 73, I can sympathize with the personal challenges of repetitive old affective response- patterns, increasing cognitive rigidity, the difficult work of remaining mentally young, flexible and open to changing one’s sedimented opinions in the face of new evidence and circumstances).    

On the one hand Chomsky and Pilger manifest some of the usual strengths of much leftist analysis and interpretation —

Critical analysis of US imperialism and militarism, its economic, social and imperial decline, its many human rights abuses, hypocrisies and double standards regarding human rights and its own purported values, the verbal promises to Gorbachev to not expand NATO eastwards broken. Neo-Marxist David Harvey has in my view also correctly criticized the total US failure to financially and significantly aid the establishment of a thriving economy in post-Soviet Russia as they did with postwar Germany and Japan.

(To briefly digress on that point. In, probably utopian, theory, Soviet failed-state Russia could have been integrated into the EU and NATO dissolved. Instead, neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ − then pushed by neoliberal-progressives like Jeffrey Sachs who now shares much of the Chomsky and Pilger line on the Ukraine war – helped further disastrously crash the Russian economy and deliver it into the hands of the new ruling class of plutocrats, gangsters, KGB operatives and oligarchs that Putin emerged from and is a part of.)      

On the other hand, however, Chomsky and Pilger also manifest the frequent and long-standing weaknesses of much leftist framing of political issues —

A general unwillingness to apply similar radical and critical analysis to other tyrannies and imperialisms like Putin’s and Xi’s, their jingoistic militarism, oppressions and flagrant human rights abuses, either ignoring, ex- or implicitly playing down or even exculpating them in some fashion. There is a long tradition of this with respect to the Soviet Empire, Maoist China, Cuba, Venezuela etc.

At best systemic oppressions and abuses in such nations are merely briefly acknowledged in passing, sometimes almost with a sense of gritted teeth, before getting back to their one and only concern with the US and western imperialism in rhetorical ‘yes, but’ fashion (thus, as usual, Chomsky: the Ukraine war is a ‘criminal war of aggression, yes, but the West…’ etc.). For them there is only one imperialism and oppression of interest and that is US/Western. Some of this one-sided US-fixation was also appallingly apparent in some leftist views on Syria, its brutal, democratic movement-crushing dictator Assad, and various brutal foreign military interventions including Assad-ally Putin’s.

To me this evinces an outrageous double standard regarding the question of oppression, human suffering, human rights and their abuses. In not being impartially universal, it is a strange mirror-image of the double standards often displayed by liberals, conservatives and much of the mainstream media regarding western and western-supported, and/or ignored, human rights abuses.     

Furthermore, this kind of leftist analysis almost always stays on the academic level of armchair geopolitics, states and domestic power politics without displaying much or any interest in the actual people and victims caught up, usually against their will, in these lethal conflicts and power machinations of the ‘big players’. Their suffering, their feelings, their views and wishes are ignored. (When they then massively vote with their feet and try to flee the oppressions of ‘communist’ or ‘leftist’ regimes as in the ex-German Democratic Republic, Cuba or Venezuela, they are passed over in silence or written off as deluded).  

In a wonderfully heartfelt and radical article, Syrian blogger Leila Al Shami (leilashami.wordpress.com) in 2018 called this ‘the anti-imperialism of idiots’. She notes:

The first thing to note from the three major mobilisations of the western ‘anti-war’ left is that they have little to do with ending the war. More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance.

There is no outrage or concern feigned for this war, which followed the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators. There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically self-organized communities or target hospitals and rescue workers. Civilians are expendable; the military capabilities of a genocidal, fascist regime are not. In fact the slogan ‘Hands off Syria’ really means ‘Hands off Assad’ and support is often given for Russia’s military intervention. This was evident yesterday at a demonstration organized by Stop the War UK where a number of regime and Russian flags were shamefully on display.

This left exhibits deeply authoritarian tendencies, one that places states themselves at the centre of political analysis. Solidarity is therefore extended to states (seen as the main actor in a struggle for liberation) rather than oppressed or underprivileged groups in any given society, no matter that state’s tyranny. Blind to the social war occurring within Syria itself, the Syrian people (where they exist) are viewed as mere pawns in a geo-political chess game. They repeat the mantra ‘Assad is the legitimate ruler of a sovereign country’.

Despite its radical humanist and egalitarian roots, much of ‘this left’ thus seems state- and power-, not people-centered. People are just pawns in the ‘big game’ of power. It is an old problem of the left throughout its often depressing history. It is the authoritarian leftist tradition fixated on top-down power and the state that, as anarchist Rudolf Rocker classically argued in his ‘Absolutist Ideas in Socialism’ (1950) goes right back to the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks and has always been associated with terror, tyranny or totalitarianism. (Rocker’s text is available in my translation at my website Passing on the Flame. It is no coincidence that a leading US journal in this authoritarian tradition is called ‘Jacobin’). 

Thus Chomsky, once a self-proclaimed anarchist, now agrees with the Machiavellian Realpolitik of a Henry Kissinger and lauds Putin-pal Trump for both suggesting Ukraine should reward Putin’s criminal war of aggression (a term which Chomsky himself concedes as fact) by simply giving up its industrial base in the Donbas to Putin as the basis of a putative peace deal.

I imagine Putin would no doubt be pleased with this welcome help from this left-right coalition of ‘influencers’ Chomsky, Trump and Kissinger. As he would with Chomsky on Russian-occupied Crimea, for the latter has also imperiously decided that Crimea should simply be ‘off the table’ in any negotiations (and also that Georgia should remember it is within what he, in best academic-armchair fashion, calls the Russian ‘geostrategic sphere of interest’).

Stephen Heller (‘Harsh Critique of Chomsky on Ukraine’ at New Politics online 18/4/22 ) notes Chomsky’s ‘leftist’ Realpolitik and total absence of any expression of solidarity for the people of Ukraine or Russia right through a recent interview in which Chomsky ignores questions, always blames the US and finds understanding for Putin’s actions, even when criminal:

The title of the event should have been “Chomsky Calls for Realpolitik for the 21st century.” All the authorities he quoted in support of his arguments were strategists, diplomats, and ambassadors, like George Kennan, Jack Matlock, Chas Freeman, CIA directors and the like.  These are “realists,” political theorists in a tradition going back all the way to Machiavelli that rejected talking about how states should act and instead talked about how they did act and how a “prince” or statesman had to be realistic and not try to go against the flow.  Realists want nations to respect great powers’ “spheres of influence,” “national interests,” the balance of power, etc. and rail against human rights, democracy, equality or other moral considerations as a major concern for foreign policy.

Now, what has any of that have to do with us on the Left?  Where are the matters dear to us like democracy, equality, class and national self-determination? In fact, not a single leftist was mentioned by Chomsky in his hour-long interview.

Moreover, what Ukrainians, including socialist, anarchist and feminist ones, might think of all this does not seem to interest Chomsky in his comfortable armchair geopolitics. Might not many or most Ukrainians, including leftwing Ukrainians, legitimately, and in my view correctly, see their resistance as an anti-imperialist war against an autocratic, neo-fascist aggressor, one they at this stage insist on resisting at all costs, including with weapons they can get from anywhere? Their collective memory of the delights of living under Soviet-Russian oppression and penury are probably still fairly fresh. My guess is that they might view Chomsky’s lack of solidarity with them and backing Putin on ceding the Donbas and Crimea as something of an outrageous betrayal.  

In contrast to armchair Realpolitik a la Chomsky and Pilger, perhaps Ukrainian activist Taras Bilous’ ‘Letter to the Western left from Kyiv’ on the first day of the Russian invasion (published online at Open Democracy) might help focus minds on what progressive Ukrainians actually feel and want. Here he is, for example, on NATO’s eastward expansion and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum between the US and Russia guaranteeing Ukraine’s borders in return for Ukraine’s giving up its nuclear weapons (which ironically would have no doubt now prevented Russian re-occupation):

How many times did the Western Left bring up the US’s informal promises to the former Russian president, Mikhail Gorbachev, about NATO (“not one inch eastward”)), and how many times did it mention the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty? How often did the Western Left support the “legitimate security concerns” of Russia, a state that owns the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal? And how often did it recall the security concerns of Ukraine, a state that had to trade its nuclear weapons, under the pressure of the US and Russia, for a piece of paper (the Budapest Memorandum) that Putin trampled conclusively in 2014? Did it ever occur to Leftist critics of NATO that Ukraine is the main victim of the changes brought about by the NATO expansion? […] A large part of the Western Left should honestly admit that it completely fucked up in formulating its response to the “Ukrainian crisis”.

And Bilous concludes his letter not with any ‘realistic’ diplomatic proposal in the pro-Putin vein of Chomsky, Kissinger and Trump but with:

The struggle will last until Russia gets out of Ukraine and pays for all the victims and all the destruction. Hence, my last words are addressed to the Russian people: hurry up and overthrow the Putin regime. It is in your interests as well as ours.

I imagine the anti-war Russian left might see it the same way. We should in stand in solidarity with and massively support them.   

Both Ukrainian and Russian anti-authoritarian progressives, feminists and queers know that Putin ticks almost all the definition boxes for fascism from militarism, jingoism, imperial expansionism, political murders and imprisonments of opponents and protestors, sham elections, a state-run judiciary, abolition of free media to masculinism, misogyny, homophobia and the open support and financing of the far right in western democracies (French National Front recipient Marine le Pen thus endorsed Putin’s annexation of Crimea). Chomsky and Pilger seem to pass over this fascist tendency in silence, or else with their proverbial broken record of ‘yes, but the US etc…’   

Some of these leftist framings are indeed just plain wrong factually or heavily skewered hyperbole. Before the Russian invasion, Pilger for example apparently repeatedly called any suggestion that Putin’s massed armies might actually invade Ukraine ‘pure western propaganda’, saying that ‘the war mongering of Biden and his UK echoes is exposed, like Blair’s, as a crime’, then calling ‘the absence of a Russian ‘invasion’ a bitter disappointment to its most avid promoters in London’ and comparing the Biden administration’s rhetoric to the Bush administration’s lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Despite this egregious blunder, Pilger also continues to assert western mainstream reporting on the Ukraine war is almost all pure ‘propaganda such as he has never seen’ in all his long war-reporting, much of it of course cleverly influenced by Ukrainian intelligence.

This seems to be simply echoing Putin’s propaganda, but if this is so, it would seem strange that Pilger’s journalistic forensic skills have not been rigorously applied to providing substantial evidence for his undifferentiated, sweeping assertion. He would also need to refute all the mainstream media-reported evidence so far for there being some minor evidence of limited Ukrainian war crimes in contrast to the monumental number of egregious Russian war crimes within its major war crime of waging a war of aggression against a sovereign state. Perhaps the investigators on site from the International Criminal Court (a court recognized by the Ukraine but of course not by imperial US, Russia or China), are also Ukrainian stooges?

Of course, both Pilger nor Chomsky also lose not a word about the obvious jingoistic manipulations and propaganda onslaughts on Russian TV where even the word ‘war’ is now banned from use with respect to Ukraine and the term ‘special military operation’ officially ordained. Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky describes the Russian state media’s role in legitimizing Russian military interference in eastern Ukraine in 2014, a true Chomskyan ‘manufacture of consent’ if ever there was one:

The Russian media did not just distort reality – they invented it using fake footage, doctoring quotes, using actors (sometimes the same actor would impersonate both the victim and an aggressor on different channels). […] By planting stories about children crucified or tortured by Ukrainians, Russian propaganda deployed the same time-tested mechanism of arousing hatred as the one used in Jewish pogroms in prerevolutionary Russia. (The Invention of Russia, 2015, p. 319)         

Also echoing nationalist, neo-fascist Putin’s narrative since 2014, Pilger also regards Ukraine as ‘infested with Neo-Nazis’. He should again provide some evidence that there are more there than in western Europe or the US and that they exert any sort of influence on a Ukrainian government run, what’s more, by a Russian-speaking Jew. The far-right party in Ukraine polled about 4% in the last elections. (The term ‘infested’ by the way also eerily echoes classic fascist and Stalinist vocabulary of ‘vermin’, ‘rats’ etc.).

Perhaps we can be charitable here and see Pilger as simply deeply uninformed and unaware, for example, that, in response to legitimizing Kremlin propaganda about Ukrainian fascist ‘infestations’, in 2014 the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine published an open letter saying Putin’s assertions about the rise of anti-Semitism in their country ‘did not match reality’ and ‘might have confused Ukraine with Russia where Jewish organizations registered a rise in anti-Semitism last year.’

Garry Kasparov, chess master and himself a liberal Russian Jew in exile and from whose Winter is Coming this quote is taken, also adds (on p. 125):

Ukraine also has a lower rate of anti-Semitic incidents than nearly every other country in Europe where statistics are recorded, including France and Germany. At the same time, stories about Jewish oligarchs ‘running Ukraine’ have also been part of the Kremlin’s information war, apparently in an attempt to provoke Russia’s fellow Slavs in Ukraine to rise against them, or perhaps to let Putin do the job.      

Moreover, all this leftist confusion has disastrous implications for progressive political campaigns and strategy. Too often in such leftists’ one-sided focus on western collusions and hypocrisies, on the statements and machinations of US neocons, CIA and other Machiavellian imperial strategists, the baby of liberal democracy and freedom is implicitly thrown out with the bathwater of hypocrisy and imperialism. Instead of actively working for their increasing implementation and radical extension, the liberal values of freedom and democracy are too often ignored or derided as nothing but mere hypocrisy by such authoritarian leftists.  

This is reactively infantile, intellectually and morally confused, and politically dangerous. For then the increasingly important political question for progressives of when liberal democracies, despite all their limitations, corruptions, systemic faults and hypocrisies might be worth defending against infinitely worse autocratic or fascist threats from within or without, is ignored. Big mistake, both intellectually and morally.

As neo-Marxist broadcaster and writer Paul Mason notes: ‘Today we have a left which, still, by and large, views liberalism as its main enemy, even though the fascist threat is plain. […] we have to admit that the [historical] fascists’ greatest weapon was the confused ideas in the heads of their opponents.’ (How to Stop Fascism, 2021, pp. 124-125). Are Chomsky and Pilger reducing or themselves contributing to such confusion, I wonder. Their writings on right-wing populism, Trumpism, proto-fascism are also usually strangely muted or absent, almost as if they consider the difference between liberals and the far-right negligible or non-existent.    

Beyond that, on a state level the inordinately difficult security and defence questions around the inherent balances confronting any politicians of any stripe between the exigencies of diplomatic negotiation, compromise, cooperation, détente, red lines, and actual encouragement of military aggression through general appeasement, are all just swept under the carpet of a simplistic, non-differentiated ‘US/Western imperialism’ and attendant naive black-and-white binaries of good and evil. The conservatives’ ‘evil empires’ are simply reversed.

Which, on the other hand, is not to say that evil does not exist. Here history might be relevant, as always. Having already ceded Austria and the Czech Republic, should Hitler, like Stalin or Mao, surely meeting any moral and political definition of evil, have been further appeased by western democracies in 1939?  

We remember that the Russian state, both Tsarist and Soviet, of course has a strong imperialist history of its own. We remember that Putin has already reduced the Chechnyan capital Grozny to rubble, attacked Georgia in 2008, both actions as good as ignored by the ‘evil encirclers’ or ‘Russia destroyers’ of the west, and began his war of aggression on Ukraine in 2014 by simply swallowing Crimea (to only relatively mild economic sanctions on the part of the west in response), and sending his operatives into eastern Ukraine to encourage  and arm pro-Russian separatists (who then shot down a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew).

What Chomsky and Pilger seem to willfully ignore is that Putin, an avowed militarist and jingoist who has now even threatened nuclear war over Ukraine, has been quite open about his intentions in this ‘special military operation’. He has expressly declared that Ukraine has no right to exist as a sovereign state, that it is part of what he delusionally calls ‘New Russia’ (‘Novorossiya’, a historical term describing the southern part of the Russian Empire), that it is ‘time to take back the Russian lands’, and that he is the new Tsar Peter the Great to do it. Moldova next? Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia?  No wonder Finland and Sweden have hurried to join NATO (with majority popular support). Putin’s war of aggression has of course strengthened NATO.  

Given all this, is this kind of left like Chomsky and Pilger seriously seeking to buy into his self-serving nationalist propaganda and frame Putin as a pure victim of NATO/US containment/encirclement? Good grief.

Thankfully, however, there are many other leftists, probably the great majority, who have not lost their moral compass and universal humanist values and are standing in solidarity both with the Ukrainian people and the brave Russian anti-war movement, and, crucially, are not buying into Putin’s transparent propaganda. Let’s conclude this piece with some of their voices.

Here, for example, Stephen Shalom, Dan La Botz and Thomas Harrison from New Politics (US) criticize the Democratic Socialists of America International Committee pre-invasion statement on Ukraine which echoes the positions taken by Chomsky, Pilger and other authoritarian leftists:

To be sure, Ukraine is a country with many deep problems. On Transparency International’s corruption scale it ranks as highly corrupt – but better than Russia. Its political system is far from democratic. But since 2014, voters have thrown out incumbent presidents at each election – something not likely to happen in autocratic Russia, or in the breakaway Donbas ‘republics’ or Crimea. Human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social justice advocates have been subject to terrible abuses in Ukraine, as they have in Russia, Crimea, and Donbas. We stand with all these embattled activists. And we stand against all nationalist bigotries toward ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities in Ukraine.

The DSA-IC dismisses the Maidan Protest of 2014 as the “U.S. backed Maidan coup.” It thus associates itself with others on the left – we call them ‘campists’ – who claim that all popular insurgencies against leaders who seem to oppose U.S. imperialism are incited, manipulated, or controlled by Washington. There is a degree of condescension and even racism in the notion that movements from below of ordinary Ukrainian, Chinese, Iranian, or Nicaraguan working people are U.S. puppets.  These people are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves and fighting back, even if they do so against overwhelming odds. Do the U.S. State Department and the CIA and NATO attempt to influence and, when they can, direct such movements? Of course. It is clear, however, that the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan uprising were fundamentally expressions of the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people – fed up with the brutality of their government’s treatment of protesters – and their wish for self-determination, and not because they were being directed by Washington or by neo-Nazis.

Similarly Stephen Heller at New Politics, critiquing Chomsky’s remarks in a recent interview:

Then he [Chomsky] goes on to justify what Russia did in 2014, repeating the now familiar charge that there was a coup “with direct U.S. involvement.”  Essentially this man of the Left claims that Ukrainians had no right to overthrow a government that banned protest and shot into crowds, and whose president was notoriously corrupt.  Then he gave a justification for Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory […]

Similarly Stephen Zunes on this Maidan 2014 uprising (in a discussion dissenting with Richard Falk and Lawrence Davidson at ZNet 16/3/22, ‘The Politics of the Russo-Ukrainian War’):

Similarly, the 2014 uprising against Yanukovych was not a ‘US coup’—it was a popular, largely non-violent,  uprising mostly led by liberals, which would have succeeded anyway despite the limited amount of U.S. funding provided some opposition activists and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s efforts to influence the makeup of the interim government following Yanukovych’s ouster. The general strike and mass protests which brought down the government utilized classic nonviolent resistance tactics, even though the government they were bringing down had been democratically elected and compromise agreement had just been reached. Yanukovych’s notorious corruption, increasing repression, and close ties to Putin had alienated most of the population by that point.

The limited amount of aid to some opposition groups from the United States, the EU, and various Western foundations were no more responsible for the 2014 uprising against Yanukovych as was the limited amount of Soviet aid to leftist rebels in Central America caused those revolutions take place.

After which Zunes, against much leftist NATO encirclement/aggression theory, then provides a highly plausible hypothesis on a key element in Putin’s real motivation to invade Ukraine, namely the ‘threat of a good example’:

Zelensky was elected in 2019 with 74% of the vote as an ethnic Russian promising to clean up the corruption riddling both the pro-Russian bloc and the main pro-Western bloc. He has failed to do so thus far, but it seemed that in many ways Ukraine was stumbling towards a more functional government and economy that could eventually transform it into a modern EU state. Perhaps this is what Putin is upset about. Just as the United States could not tolerate what Noam Chomsky has called ‘the threat of good example’ in the form of successful socialist models in the Western hemisphere, Putin may similarly be troubled by the prospects of a successful liberal democratic alternative among a people with such close geographical, cultural, and historical ties.

Stephen Heller concludes his critique of Chomsky as follows:

Finally consider what isn’t in Chomsky’s remarks.  For one, the words “solidarity with Ukraine” are absent. He never suggests we in the Left ask Ukrainians what they want, whether they think they’re American pawns or whether want to fight on to defend their country. Chomsky, a self-described anarchist, does not mention what any Ukrainian anarchist or socialist is thinking, and he never talks about weapons, whether Ukraine has any right to get weapons to defend itself.

Noam Chomsky’s exercise in realpolitik is depressing.  He should know that the Left should not be involved defending notions of spheres of influence or geopolitics.

‘Depressing’? Amen to that.

Winter Winds 2014

•July 22, 2022 • 2 Comments
[We have just passed the eighth anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 by Russian or Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.  All international 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed. Their relatives are still to get any justice against the perpetrators. Wrote the poem at the time, in our winter here in the southern hemisphere. Image of Ukrainian soldiers in a sunflower field from NBC news.] 

Winter Winds 2014
 
Winter winds, been blowing
for weeks, in from the west
like wild waves of knives
 
Still it’s been warm as, no
rain for weeks, the sheep
more closely nosing bare-
 
skinned fields moon-pitted
by rabbits. Some memento  
mori virus has taken up rental 
 
in your lung room having
couch-surfed your son’s.
El Niño summer back-
 
casts infernos into dreams, 
but for now still silence 
& shock at the sun’s silence  
 
on polished floorboards
a fulminate emptiness,
the pump in the ceiling 
 
faintly humming wood
warmth through pipes
of wall-water. The world
 
as ever full of mourning,
burnt bodies suddenly 
falling from summer sky 
 
with teddy bears into 
a Ukrainian field of smiling
sunflowers, dead children 
 
in rabid rubble, freed 
by men with stetho-
scopes, men with guns
 

Sparrow

•July 19, 2022 • 2 Comments
[Recent cafe poem. Photo from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK.]

Sparrow
…sparrows are eternity’s frail emblems
-	Adam Zagajewski, ‘Joseph Street’ 
 
Sparrow, in from Europe, alien
opportunist, red-listed there 
 
diminutive bard in dun fatigues,
indefatigable, head-cocked, pogo-
 
hopping for usable crumbs here
at the café, disjecta we so-so sapiens 
 
emit talking our caffeinated way
into ourselves, this sodden summer 
 
humming now ambiguous air
our flimsy masks obstruct.  Ah
 
sparrow, like the displaced child
skipping through ruins, bunkers,
 
camps power-blind kidadults cause, 
you warm me. Sparrow, frail, eternal,
 
spontaneous as sorrow, restlessly 
resilient, non-local as One-World’s
 
painful birth, we’ll get through this,  
you twitter in analogue, together.

Lach-Newinsky and I

•July 15, 2022 • 2 Comments

[Recent poem. Took photo in shop window in Bamberg, Germany, on our last return in 2019.]

Lach-Newinsky and I

are quite a couple,
 he acting out his sundry parts,
      I looking on

together a walking, talking 
        dramathon of tacit texts,
             subtexts, contexts
entangling, interpreting themselves
     as they speed along
the diverse highways 
               of his days & nights

He shaves what the mirror tells him
  is himself. I’m unshaveable as the sea

Mirrors in fact seem important
   to him, others, eyes, opinions
       wallpaper his mind
with incessant chatter, an old pianola
rippling through its predictable holes

Mirror-mazed, he seems made of time,
   that imperious combustion engine
of entropy, memory-fuel driving
    along long lanes of moments
stored, replayed with relish, remorse
helps him orient his seeming self
       in his seeming world
of overwhelming space & things
  that go bump in the day
      or call him by the name
given at big bang
     that sits on him askew
like a clown’s jaunty cap

Mostly thinks he’s really there
    as thought, minor aches & pains,
   conversations that affirm, annoy,
set off his RAM to course
      the busy circuits in his little corner
of the great collective brain

He seeks me a lot, always has,
                     lone rider seeking the horse
he’s sitting on, a greedy eye
            seeking to see itself

then writes poems about it
             in which, like him,
                   I pretend to be