An Interview with Veteran Journalist and Activist Bill Weinberg
by Jae Carico, Pontiac Tribune
This interview with CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg was conducted via email by Jae Carico of The Fifth Column Network for its organ Pontiac Tribune. It also appeared on the Patreon page of Guillotine Press.
Could you introduce yourself for those unfamiliar with your work?
I’m a 30-year veteran journalist in the fields of human rights, indigenous peoples, drug policy and war. I’ve reported widely from Latin America and am the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico, about the Zapatistas and related movements. I’m struggling to finish a follow-up book about indigenous struggles in the Andes. I was news editor at High Times magazine in the ’90s, and continue to cover the drug war beat for Cannabis Now magazine.
I was a producer on WBAI Radio here in New York for 20 years before being purged for my political dissent in 2011. Since 9-11, I have been obsessively blogging world affairs from an anarchist/autonomist point of view. You can read my daily offerings at CounterVortex.org. I have also been involved in solidarity work with the left and anti-occupation civil resistance in Iraq after the US invasion, and then the pro-democratic resistance in Syria after the revolution broke out in 2011. I was involved in similar solidarity efforts with anti-nationalist and anti-militarist opposition in all the ex-Yugoslav republics during the Balkan wars of the ’90s.
Can you give us a rundown of Eurasianism and why leftists should be keeping up with it and fighting against it?
I first came across the term when I read Walter Laqueur’s 1993 book Black Hundred, about the rise of the radical right in post-Soviet Russia. He used it to describe the tendency in Russian politics that rejects foreign influence and seeks a closed empire. It emerged under the Romanovs in the years of their decline, and then re-emerged under Stalin—especially in the Hitler-Stalin Pact period. The term has now been embraced by Alexander Dugin and his followers, and intersects with two related concepts: Red-Brown Politics and National Bolshevism. The first refers to an alliance between the radical left and radical right against the liberal order and the West. The second refers to a Bolshevism that embraces nationalism, rather than rejecting it as Lenin did (at least officially).
It is utterly suicidal for the left to be taken in by this kind of overture. But the process is well underway. The leadership of much of the actually-existing “left” in the US has more or less openly embraced the “Eurasian” agenda. I’m especially talking about Workers World Party and its various offshoots, spawn and front groups. These include ANSWER, International Action Center, People’s Power Assemblies, the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC), the Party for Socialism & Liberation (sic). They talk a good anti-fascist line to fool neophytes and suck them in, but the leadership of these groups have actually attended Duginist confabs in Russia and sat down and schmoozed with neo-fascists and white supremacists there. This is all documented, I am prepared to provide corroboration of all my assertions.
But the same ideology is starting to affect the more “mainstream” or “credible” elements of the “left” establishment, like The Nation magazine, Democracy Now, and Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (sic), or FAIR. All these have run shameless propaganda on behalf of the genocidal Assad dictatorship—painting the Syrian opposition as monolithically jihadist, implicitly justifying Assad-Russia bombardment of civilian populations, portraying Assad as the best bet for stability, etc. Worse still is Counterpunch, which is a virtual organ of Red-Brown politics. These sinister politics become more hegemonic on the “left” each day. You’ll have to forgive my use of scare-quotes, but I’m old-school and believe that words have meanings.
When the “left” is rallying around a fascist dictator like Assad, instead of opposing him as it did Franco back in the day, I don’t know in what sense it is still the left. And what’s particularly frustrating and dangerous is that the critique of this politics has mostly fallen to liberals and defenders of the West, like Laqueur. This just plays into the demonizing of its critics as liberals and globalists. A radical-left, anti-fascist critique of this politics is sorely missing. I am struggling to help fill this void.
What are some red-brown pipelines you’ve noticed?
ANSWER and Counterpunch are the two biggest in the US right now. But like I said, this ideology is proliferating. The Nation magazine is well on its way to becoming such a pipeline. And, of course, Russian state media, which have become alarmingly popular on the American “left”—RT and Sputnik, and Kremlin-supported vlogging platforms like In the Now and Soapbox.
Why are identity politics crucial for any revolutionary movement?
Because class-reductionism is an error that either fails or leads to nightmares. Human beings aren’t just oppressed by class but by gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The current stigmatization of “identity politics” is often a cover to silence Blacks and Latin@s, and re-establish white supremacy in pseudo-left guise. So “identity politics” is inevitable and necessary. It also is subject to its abuses. Exactly as class analysis is inevitable and necessary, but is subject to the abuse of class-reductionism. Ethnic reductionism is equally a trap. When you start putting ethnic loyalty ahead of principle and politics, you’ve left the left, as far as I’m concerned… And headed toward fascism. Regardless of the particular ethnicity in question. In the context of my own, for instance, I unapologetically oppose the current resurgence of anti-Semitism, but also recognize Zionism as a temptation to be resisted. I oppose that too.
What does real international solidarity against despotism look like?
I wish I knew… There is so little of it today. I now work with Syria Solidarity NYC. We hold a weekly vigil for Syria, in support of the revolution and civil populace, every Friday in Union Square. This will be our second year. We also recently did a forum at Bluestockings Books, where we screened the film Impossible Revolution, by the Syrian left-opposition figure (and survivor of Assad’s prisons) Yassin al-Haj. We will have our own contingent, with the Syrian revolutionary flag, at the upcoming May Day march. So we are doing what we can to raise a voice of dissent to the increasingly pro-fascist posture of the American left. But we get lots of hostile reactions, as you might imagine… As well as positive reactions from local Syrians and Arab Americans.
Why do so many on the left buy into counter-imperialism as neoliberalism falls into autocracy?
Because they have been conditioned to support whoever the US is attacking—or seems to be attacking. (Because the US has actually tilted to Assad in the Syrian war, another assertion I am prepared to defend.) Now, when we were talking about the Sandinistas in the ’80s or the Vietnamese communists in the ’60s, it made sense to support those the US was attacking—although, even there, I reject the notion of “uncritical” support. Our criticisms should be tempered by an acknowledgement of our comparative privilege. But neither do I think it is our business to support the conscription of 16-year-olds, or to cover up or make excuses for human rights abuses. However, what we are looking at now is a whole other level of pathology. It began with the flirtation with the war criminal Slobodan Milosevic as an icon of anti-imperialism in the Balkan wars of the ’90s. And today the embrace of the even bloodier Bashar Assad is practically universal on the left.
Inevitably, we are told that it is not our responsibility to protest Assad’s abuses. Well certainly, it is out first responsibility to protest abuses carried out in our name and with our tax-dollars—that is, abuses by the US and its direct client states and proxies, like Israel. But we have responsibilities as human beings as well as responsibilities as Americans. We are not obliged to maintain a hermetic silence on Assad’s abuses. And we certainly have a responsibility not to cover up or make propaganda for Assad’s abuses. This makes us complicit with them, no less than it would with abuses carried out by the US or Israel.
And I really have to call out Chomsky here, who laid the groundwork for this kind of double-standard thinking, with his relentlessly one-sided critique. It’s a form of perverse patriotism, really—still placing the US at the center of the universe, only as a force of unique evil instead of unique good. I don’t see that it has anything to do with class analysis or a critique of power relations. It is just a kind of Oedipus Complex with Big Daddy US Imperialism.
How do we make anarchist spaces less white-centered?
I’m always slightly amused by this question. The white left (including the anarchist left) is always wringing its hands about how white it is, but also always frames the question in terms of how do “we” (meaning the white kids with the correct politics) reach “them” (meaning the non-white masses in need or our leadership). Now, this framing is of course not explicit, but those are the unspoken assumptions. The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that non-white communities, those most impacted by Trumpism, are already organizing and fighting back, and perhaps we should look to leadership from them. Show up at their events and put our asses on the line in the streets alongside them, as started to happen during Black Lives Matter and the immigrant mobilizations here in New York before that. Then organic ties will start to emerge—the kind that last, as opposed to the weak and formalistic ties won by what is euphemistically (and condescendingly) called “reaching out.” Our Syria Solidarity NYC group is made up of both local Syrians and Syrian-Americans and “white” folks like me (tho I try not to identify as “white,” being a New York immigrant-stock mutt). I should emphasize that our group is not anarchist, although I am personally, and some of our other members lean in that direction. Others are simply pro-democracy. We all oppose Assad and his genocide. For me, that’s where it begins.
Can you give us your take on the following folks… Bashar Assad.
Genocidal and fascistic dictator supported by ultra-reactionary forces on the global stage. The Francisco Franco of our times. If he is allowed to get away with what he has done and is doing, it will set a precedent to be emulated by others in the years to come, possibly on an even greater scale—exactly as last time around.
One of those ultra-reactionary forces, probably the principal one. A KGB veteran and Great Russian chauvinist who wants to rebuild the empire and get revenge on the West for Russia’s perceived humiliation since the Soviet collapse. Supporting far-right and xenophobic movements across Europe even as he plays to anti-fascism by baiting the Ukrainians as Nazi-nostalgists. Of course the Russo-nationalist forces he is supporting in Ukraine are just as reactionary as the worst elements on Kiev’s side. This is what I call “paradoxical fascist pseudo-anti-fascism.” It is critically important that the left in the West realize that we don’t have a horse in this race—meaning Putin’s design against the West. Despite the calumnies of his pseudo-left apologists, opposing Putin need not imply embracing the US State Department and NATO. Similarly, opposing US imperialism need not imply rallying around the rival imperialisms of Russia and China… I hope.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A wannabe dictator, who is well on his way to actually establishing a dictatorship in Turkey. Enemy of Kurdish autonomy and self-determination, attacking Kurdish revolutionary forces both in Turkey and in Syria. It is a tragedy that his sponsorship of the Syrian rebels has won him some sympathy from large elements of the Syrian opposition. This relates to the Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule strategy that both Erdogan and Assad have been pursuing. But perhaps his recent coziness with Putin will cost him some support among the Syrian opposition, which would be nice. I also hope that the Rojava Kurds reject the temptation of a separate peace with Assad. I thoroughly understand the pressure they are under, but I also see the potential for a general Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria, which could be an even bigger disaster than we have yet seen. I oppose both Assad and Erdogan.
Seems to be Putin’s ideological guru, or at least his political operative. Reviving the Eurasianist project, and making overtures to so-called “leftsts” in the West, which have been alarmingly successful. Very dangerous cat.
I don’t know as much about him as I should. An ideological progenitor of Italian fascism. Seems to have have played a role somewhat similar vis-a-vis Mussolini to that played by Dugin vis-a-vis Putin, though I don’t think the alliance was ever so formalized.
Moving China from a party-dictatorship to a personalistic dictatorship, an old-style autocracy under a “paramount leader” not seen since Deng Xiaoping. Obviously playing to Mao-nostalgia but it is hilariously ironic, as China is aggressively, savagely capitalist today. Actual Marxists and Maoists in China today, who are organizing in solidarity with the ultra-oppressed workers in the industrial zones of Shenzhen, are facing a wave of repression. His mass internment of the Uighurs is truly terrifying in its pure evil. The systems of mass surveillance he is putting in place will be emulated by despots worldwide—including (count on it) Homeland Security and the FBI. He is also clearly bent on challenging the West, at least in China’s traditional “backyard” or what is called in Beijing’s official parlance the “first island chain,” including the South China Sea and Taiwan. So, again, it is important that we do not let this confuse us. I supported the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong—pro-democracy protest movements that drew direct inspiration from Occupy Wall Street, but took things much further. And I support the self-determination struggles of the Tibetan and Uighur peoples—regardless of whatever criticisms I may have of the politics of the Dalai Lama and Rebiya Kadeer. I also support the Han Chinese workers and peasants struggling for their rights and access to land—finding ways to build solidarity with them is going to be one of the key challenges for the left in the West in the coming years.
What got you involved in activism?
I always say that 1980 was the big turning point year for me. That was the year I graduated from high school, and it was also the year of the Iran hostage crisis and the election of Reagan, when the country began its big lurch to the right. President Carter capitulated to the new jingoist atmosphere by bringing back draft registration, so I was in the first crop of 18-year-olds who had to sign up. This got me politicized real fast. The ’80s were formative years for me, when I was involved in the anti-draft and anti-nuclear movements, and becoming aware that I was an anarchist.
Any advice for young journalists and activists?
Well, I would first urge young journalists to learn how to write. Command of the language comes before everything. I am deeply alarmed by the decline of literacy standards under the assault of digital technology. And, an intimately related question—learn how to think. Challenge everything. Get alternative viewpoints. It is easy to play to the crowd and build a following that way, but it is a betrayal of your intellectual responsibilities. If you find yourself agreeing with everything you read, that’s a bad sign.
I likewise urge young activists to learn how to think, first and foremost. That is, how to analyze, ruthlessly and unflinchingly. Groupthink is an inherent danger of activism, and especially in the age of social media. And—this is critical—to get off the web and organize and struggle in the meat world, in “real life.” That is where the real fights are going to have to be waged. I spend far too much time arguing on Facebook too, but I recognize it as a problem. Social media should be a tool for real-life organizing, which is where the real focus must be—in the streets, in our workplaces and communities.
This interview, conducted April 23, first ran on Pontiac Tribune on May 14.
Resources & related:
Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists
New York Times, Feb. 10, 2017
Bill Weinberg Looks to Future Without WBAI
New York Times, May 26, 2011
From our Daily Report:
Fascist pseudo-anti-fascism advances in Russia
CounterVortex, Sept. 1, 2014
Trump’s Red-Brown alliance: don’t take the bait!
CounterVortex, Feb. 7, 2017
The Nation magazine spreads lies on Syria
CounterVortex, Aug. 26, 2016
FAIR serves up more lies on Syria
CounterVortex, Sept. 21, 2015
Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky betray Syria —yet again
CounterVortex, April 25, 2017
US tilt to Assad: now it’s official
CounterVortex, Aug. 1, 2017
Odessa massacre: fascism on both sides, thank you
CounterVortex, May 6, 2014
CounterVortex Episode 9: Against Red-Brown politics
Soundcloud, May 15, 2018
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DEATH OF LITERACY: DIGITAL TOTALITARIANISM
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Reprinted by CounterVortex, May 21, 2019