Crackpot + $8,5 Billion = Potential for Mischief
When Comrade Glenn Greenwald Meets Mr. Pierre Omidyar
I The Main Characters
Pierre M. Omidyar
II The Supporting Characters
Chorus: International Socialist Organization
“If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men [but now I am very important]” wrote the anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti (of Sacco and Vanzetti fame) after what he considered his unjust conviction for murder in 1927. Similar words could today be written by the (London) Guardian’s columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Up to now, Greenwald’s message was hardly newsworthy. It proclaims that Snowden, Assange, Noam Chomsky, and yes, Leon Trotsky are the great heroes of modern times. And it holds that America and Israel are the greatest villains ever. Concerning Russia, China, Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad: no complaints there. In other words, cranky views hardly distinguishable from those of so many others in little fringe groups and fringe publications. Like Julian Assange of “Wikileaks,” Greenwald obtained a certain amount of notoriety for himself by retailing the leaks of secret US government documents that were provided by Edward Snowden and Private Bradley (now Chelsea Elizabeth) Manning. Notoriety yes, but no real influence.
If it took a death sentence to propel Sacco and Vanzetti to popular attention, Greenwald’s leap from mere notoriety to a potentially major nuisance came as a result of an unexpected financial coup: the decision by the super-rich Pierre Omidyar (net worth = $8.5 billion) to bankroll him.
Born of Iranian parents in France, educated in the US, founder of eBay, Mr. Omidyar has announced that he is committing about $250 million to a new online publication to be run by Greenwald and like-minded publicists Lauro Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. Why would a multi-billionaire who owes so much to his adopted country bankroll a cranky malcontent who sees no greater evil than Uncle Sam ? Search me.
The major newspapers have reported the plans for the Omidyar-Greenwald enterprise in some detail, and have also given some of the background of the two protagonists. But with regard to Greenwald, the media have pulled their punches. There is an under-reported story of Greenwald’s work in a pornographic enterprise, revealed by the Daily News
but ignored everywhere else, to which Greenwald has taken umbrage. (Not all secrets should be revealed, it seems.)
And speaking of secrets that should not be revealed, it must be said that neither Greenwald nor Snowden nor Assange has ever broached the problem of Chinese or Russian, or, for that matter, Ecuadorian secret spying activities. These fearless fact-revealers blow their whistles only against the United States (and, of course, Israel).
But back to what the papers have failed to tell us about Greenwald. All the information that I am about to mention is freely available on the internet. It does take a certain amount of willingness to dig.
For at least three years now Greenwald has been a featured speaker at the annual “Socialism” conference of the International Socialist Organization. At these events he invariably stresses his solidarity with the ISO. To understand the wellspring of Greenwald’s project we must look at this group.
The ISO is the most active and energetic of the remaining Trotskyist grouplets in the United States. Its ideology follows one particular stream of the Trotskyist movement, that initiated by Tony Cliff (Yigael Gluckstein) of Britain, which holds, contrary to its Trotskyist rivals, that the Soviet Union was not a “degenerated workers state” but rather a kind of “state capitalism.” The dogmatists of the various Trotskyist grouplets still dispute one another on this and similar fine points. (Of course all Trotskyists agree on the wonderful achievements of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, on the need for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, on the “imperialist” nature of American capitalism, and on other axioms of contemporary revolutionary Marxism.) In any case, the American ISO holds an annual get-together to thrash out fine points; such concerns are called “Marxist theory” and, the ISO tells us, “Marxism matters.”
But theory spinning is far from the only thing that happens. These annual meetings are also occasions for hyperventilating in noisy chantings of what the group considers its most important slogans of the day. Some of the recent slogans, chanted for amazingly long periods at the meeting, include “Intifada! Intifada!”, “Free Abortion on Demand !,” “Disarm the Police !,” “Free Palestine, From the River to the Sea.” I have included some materials on ISO agitation in a previous blog
As I have said, Glenn Greenwald has addressed annual ISO meetings for at least three years. These addresses are available on Youtube; the last one, in 2013, is shown here.
It is quite a spectacle to watch. There is the ISO agitator Sherry Wolf (described by Wikipedia as “an American socialist, Jewish anti-Zionist, independent journalist and author …. openly lesbian …”) to introduce the proceedings. Then Jeremy Scahill, The Nation writer and collaborator of Greenwald in the new Omidyar enterprise, introduces the featured speaker, Greenwald, who speaks to the conference by Skype from London. Greenwald, as he has done at other Socialism conferences, stresses his complete solidarity with the ISO. He shows, with the chorus of the ISO as backdrop, where he stands, what his mission is. This stance — aiding all those who would subvert and overthrow democratic society — is not in any way hidden. As I mentioned, it is there for anyone to discover on the internet. (For Greenwald’s use of anti-Semitic tropes, see this important article by Jeffrey Goldberg. For the ideological background of Greenwald’s antipathy toward Jews, see my article on Trotskyism and the Jews.)
Now what about Pierre Omidyar ? Why would he bankroll Greenwald ? Omidyar has signed the “Giving Pledge” initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, a non-binding commitment by billionaires to give most of their fortunes to charity. But in the meantime he has committed a big chunk of his wealth to the cause of malice. Why would he do this ? Who can explain ? Does he really wish to go down in history as the Henry Ford of the 21st century ? As a bow to Ford’s Dearborn Independent, will Omidyar’s new enterprise be dubbed the Honolulu Independent ?
Greenwald on Chomsky and vice versa: a mutual admiration society. All you need to know about them is right here.
Addendum, February 2014
These documents reveal that
1) the group is smaller than I had assumed, apparently having no more than about 500 active members.
2) These five hundred comrades quarrel among themselves endlessly, rarely bothering with politeness. Hence,
3) They do not seem to have realistic prospects of ever achieving much influence.
Hat tip: Leslie Evans
Addendum, June 10, 2014
1) As he has in years past, Greenwald will again address the Trotskyist International Socialist Organization
this year. Here is the ISO announcement.
2) Greenwald’s No Place to Hide
has received scathing criticisms in the press. The one I recommend the most is by George Packer, and can be seen here.