When one of the richest men in the world, Pierre Omidyar, recently committed a quarter of a billion dollars to finance Glenn Greenwald’s propaganda operation Intercept, he provided a tremendous boost to a heretofore shadowy and uncertain resurrection of the Stalinist tradition in American culture. And the new Stalinism has an entirely new twist: it has embraced a currently fashionable anti-Semitism, or what its adherents term “anti-Zionism.”
But in all his public pronouncements, Omidyar says that he acts only for the public benefit. He stands for freedom of the press and all the other freedoms. He stands for a better world. True, he’s got a few dollars. But he wants to share his fortune with the rest of us. He wants us all to be happy. As it happens, of course, the old Stalinists also said that they wanted a better world. More of that later.
The new Stalinism has been with us for some years. Using the veneer of concern for human rights, as did the old Stalinism, it wages an assault on democracy worldwide, as did the old Stalinism, and it gives aid and comfort to repressive regimes abroad, as did the old Stalinism. But never before has it been able to establish itself as a major player, at least not financially. That is what the Omidyar money has now changed.
As I have suggested, the old and the new Stalinisms are not identical, and we will need to pay attention to the differences as well as the similarities.
The Old Stalinism
Centered secretly around the Communist Party of the US [CPUSA], this movement exerted its influence primarily through its vast network of “front organizations,” most of which had no ostensible connection with the CP but were secretly controlled by it. Here is a small sampling, as of 1949, taken from the list of sponsor organizations of the notorious “Waldorf Peace Conference:”
American Committee on Democracy and Intellectual Freedom
American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born
Civil Rights Congress
Greater New York Emergency Conference on Inalienable Rights
New York Conference for Inalienable Rights
In Defense of the Bill of Rights
National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners
National Federation for Constitutional Liberties
School for Democracy
Southern Conference for Human Welfare
Voice of Freedom Committee
This particular group of fronts carried professions of democratic commitment in their titles; not all front groups did. But the claim that they were “fighters” for peace and democracy and civil rights constituted the main public theme of the old Stalinist world.
During the very worst time of Stalinist repression in Russia, Stalin’s devoted follower in America, the CP leader Earl Browder, assured his listeners that Communism is no more than “20th century Americanism.” His followers, party members as well as fellow travelers in the front organizations, developed an unctuous self-righteousness. The CP-organized “folk singers” specialized in the affectation and grimaces of song-as-struggle in which the staging of Communist propaganda songs was accompanied by facial mannerisms (comical to an outsider) to suggest heroic personal struggle. Here is an example of the style, as presented by Pete Seeger and comrades. The book by Aileen Kraditor, Jimmy Higgins, is perhaps the best insider’s account of what it meant to be an American Communist in mid-twentieth century.
Actually the American Stalinism of the 20th century was more than the kumbaya of self-righteous “democratic struggle.” Hidden far away from its public face in the Party and front organizations, there was the secret Stalinist work on behalf of the Soviet Union, most particularly espionage. The literature on this aspect of the old Stalinism is now vast, as a quick Google search will confirm.
The central hypocrisy of this old Stalinism, then, lay in its bountiful verbal affirmations of democracy on the one hand, and its total, uncritical support of the Stalinist dictatorship on the other. As we shall see, a similar bifurcation underlies the neo-Stalinism of our day.
The old CP — except as a ghost of a ghost on 23rd Street in Manhattan — is dead. It had a slow, painful death, complete with various schisms and recriminations (we are talking Marxism here) during the last decades of the twentieth century, and then all but gave up. But there is a bit of an afterlife: The Nation magazine, which exists to our day. Financed in part by wealthy old-time Stalinists (so-called Nation Builders), this magazine has succeeded in creating a newer generation of bitter and resentful radical writers and readers. Like the Stalinists of old, these newer “progressives” are unhappy with American democracy. Unlike their forebears, they are also very unhappy about the existence of Israel, and happy, or happy enough, with contemporary Islamism. The bulk of Omidyar’s team on Intercept have served in some capacity at The Nation. There is also, overlapping with The Nation in personnel and political orientation, the radio organization Democracy Now !, with Amy Goodman as its leading personality.
Outside of The Nation and Goodman’s group, there are a number of key individuals who have shaped the new Stalinism. Perhaps first and foremost is Noam Chomsky about whom I have already said just about all I can in previous postings. There are others in academia who have played supporting roles, like Judith Butler, winner of an incomprehensibility prize, and other academics like her. Many of these latter-day Stalinists, but by no means all, are also active in gay rights movements. Some of the most prominent come from Jewish backgrounds and use this circumstance — no matter how tenuous — for propagandistic purposes.
Finally there is Glenn Greenwald, sometime lawyer and gay pornographer, prolific polemicist against the American government and the state of Israel, regular speaker for the Trotskyist International Socialist Organization, now famous as possessor of the Snowden stolen government documents. Greenwald, of course, is the one chosen by Omidyar to run his Intercept.
The Crusade of Intercept
Nominally, Intercept is part of Omidyar’s First Look Media. But since there are (so far) no other such parts, these two entities are in fact one and the same. Now FLM, according to its website, is organized as a nonprofit 501c3 organization. Why pay taxes, especially to a government that Omidyar and Greenwald despise ? Of course the law requires that 501c3 organizations restrict themselves to IRS-approved nonprofit activities, viz. those that are “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.” The IRS does not include anti-Semitic agitation as one of these. As we shall see, Omidyar and Greenwald (who is a lawyer) would seem to be in violation of IRS regulations. But that is only one of their problems.
Intercept first appeared online on February 10 of this year. Since then it has published just over seventy items.
As I have shown elsewhere, whatever can be verified in these Intercept postings turns out to be false. For instance, Greenwald cites Goebbels and Netanyahu (7/21/14), claiming the two are congruent, when, once the contexts of these citations are examined, the two turn out to be diametrically opposed.
In this same posting Greenwald pontificates on a point of law. Citing no statute, no law case, no legal authority, he states baldly that “in Anglo-American law” recklessness on the part of an accused in a murder case is the equivalent of proven intent to kill. Since Greenwald had gone to law school, this is obviously a piece of intentional misrepresentation. Get a treatise on criminal law, any such treatise, and look up mens rea in murder cases.
The bulk of these Intercept postings contain claims and accusations that cannot be verified: what it says are exposures of US government secrets. Intercept claims that it has obtained these secrets largely from Edward Snowden, who, it says, turned them over to Greenwald. Apparently there are many thousands of these alleged secret US documents in this Snowden trove, but so far Greenwald has published only a very small proportion — maybe one or two percent — of what he says he has. He has repeatedly claimed that, as a member of the press, he has the unlimited right to publish any or all such documents, at his own sole discretion, at times and places of his choosing. And yes, he is a lawyer.
Of course the public has no independent access to these alleged secret documents, so the reader is asked, on Greenwald’s sole say-so, to believe that the documents that he “reveals” are indeed genuine US secrets; that the texts have not been tampered with and/or misrepresented by him; and finally that there is nothing in the trove as a whole that limits or vitiates the particular document that he publishes. Even if his personal record for veracity were spotless, which it not exactly is, that would be a tall order.
While the reader, as I say, cannot independently check the content of Greenwald’s trove, there are reasons to be suspicious. In all its alleged revelations of government secrets, Intercept claims to have learned that the US invariably acts in a deeply malevolent manner. To believe Intercept, these ostensible secret documents never show that the US government acts benevolently or that it is any way even able to act in good faith. Never ever does the US government act to help the poor, or to alleviate distress, or to promote education, or to promote democracy. To believe Greenwald here, you have to be like the Stalinist of old, who could believe only the worst about the US and only the best of the Soviet Union. As Greenwald has explained in numerous publications and Youtube talks, he sees the US government as a vast conspiracy for evil, while, at the same time, he sees no reason to complain about Islamist behavior anywhere in the world.
And now we come to what may indeed be the darkest aspect of the Omidyar-Greenwald enterprise: its anti-Semitism. As Robert Wistrich (e.g. in From Ambivalence to Betrayal) and other scholars have explained, the current version of anti-Semitism takes the following form: carefully collect all real or imagined shortcomings of the Israeli government, carefully ignore all human rights abuses in the Islamic world, and then loudly denounce Israel as a war criminal.
In the period from July 14 to August 11 of this year, Intercept published five separate strident pieces against Israel. To summarize its position: Israel is deeply and criminally at fault in Gaza; Hamas is completely, innocently victimized. In the same period some of the worst human rights abuses in history took place: in Syria, to which Intercept turned a blind eye; in Nigeria, a country which does not exist in the world of Intercept; in Iraq, involving the Yaziti, which Intercept apparently has heard of, because it denounced the American aid there. So Israel (and, incidentally America) is criminal, nobody else’s actions deserve even the slightest criticism. Which is what defines the modern anti-Semitism.
Those of us who have followed Mr. Greenwald’s public agitation before he became Snowden-famous, particularly his work with the Trotskyist Independent Socialist Organization over the years, cannot be surprised by his deep animus against the Jewish people. But what has moved Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire overprivileged of the overprivileged, to finance this disreputable war against decency ?