Bulletin N°226


20 March 2006
Grenoble, France

Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
In the heat of an historic social upheaval against the export of capital that is creating fewer and fewer "real jobs" in France,
a non-violent Student Movement has sparked a larger social movement that carries the force of an earth quake, and already it is receiving much international attention. The social class lines defining this conflict of interests between capital and labor have never been more clearly drawn, and the freedom to export French capital into cheap labor markets is the quintessential question. The traditional engine of capitalism, the private profit motive, is caught in a conundrum: to maximize short-term profits the traditional consumer markets in western societies must be destroyed by the permanent formation of underemployment. Part-time, temporary, low-paid jobs must continue to replace "good jobs", and a plethora of cheap commodities must push durable products out the market. A fools’ paradise of trinkets and gadgets await those of us lucky enough to snag a "sometimes job". The rest of us must wait and pray in this casino economy for the next deal, from the same old deck of marked cards.

Meanwhile, CEIMSA has been in daily contact with an international array of Scholars and Peace Activists, many of whom will be attending our large 3-day International Colloquium on
"The History of Pacifist Movements in the U.S. and France" next month at the University of Savoy in Chambéry. Friends of CEIMSA will be hearing more about this important meeting in the near future.

But today, in this Bulletin we would like to share with you a series of essays brought to our attention by American scholars, who have attempted to describe and analyze the current problems produced by recent power shifts within the capitalist world and come to terms with the transnational nature of social movements today as expressions of democratic self-defense against capitalist violence.

A. is a paper by Bertell Ollman, who long ago developed the wit, the courage, and a talent for "speaking Truth to Power". This economic analysis was delivered to Chinese scholars at Nanjing Normal University, in October l999. Here we can witness a democratic socialist confrontation with the advocates of Market Socialism in that "Middle Kingdom of Market Socialism" which is contemporary China .

B. is an article by Serge Halimi on the Walmartization of "post-industrial" society in his review of Robert Greenwald's documentary film, Wal -Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

In item C. we have a new article by investigative reporter, Robert Fisk, on the biases of news reporting from Iraq , and the intellectual consequences of this one-sided reporting on the American public.

D. is an essay co-authored by historian Staughton Lynd and former Marine Sergeant Carl Mirra, a soldier who refused to fight in the First Gulf War. Here they discuss the falsification of history by the ruling elite in America.

Finally, item
E. is an attempt by Noam Chomsky to synthesize events in today's tri-polar world, where the United States of America is rapidly loosing control of important markets.

Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université Stendhal-Grenoble3

Bertell Ollman
Subject: Old wine in new skins.
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2006

Francis -
    Careful. You're going to drop it all and become a Marxist philosopher if you don't watch out. And there are not very many organizers on the academic left as good as you... and me.
    Am very excited by the events in France . The problems at the center of the revolt are class problems (related to class rather than human interests) so the link with the rest of the working class is more organic and easier to understand, and therefore potentially much more dangerous to the system that the main triggers for '68. Your students are also marching for us all and should be helped to understand that. The economic problems of youth and students all over the capitalist world are the basically the same. Youth everywhere are watching on T.V. Will a new French Spring (also the timing, coming in March - remember the "March 22nd Movement"? - couldn't be any better) give them any ideas? You bet.

Market Economy: Advantages and Disadvantages
(Talk at Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China­Oct., l999)
By Bertell Ollman

Reply to Prof. Kang Ouyang's Article on Marxist Philosophy in China :

We must all be thankful to Prof. Kang Ouyang for his clear and concise summary of the main tendencies in Marxist philosophy in China , a country whose development is becoming ever more important to the fate of the entire world. It is an impressive list. I was especially pleased to learn of the growing interest in Marx's theory of alienation and his theory of truth, and of the widespread opposition to all kinds of dogmatism. The question now arises of how to interpret and judge Kang's remarks in these and related areas. For this I can come up with no better criterion than the test of practice advanced by Kang himself (and also by Deng Xiaoping whose writings are so influential in China today). On the basis of this criterion, what is decisive is not what someone says or how well they say it, but what they do, what it gets them to do, and how "successful" that is. So what can we learn about contemporary Chinese Marxist philosophy from Kang's practice in presenting it and from the real social practices that it has in large part inspired?

Considerations of space as well as my own limited familiarity with China makes a full evaluation of Kang's wide ranging article impossible, so I will focus on only one area, market socialism or what is often referred to as "socialism with Chinese characteristics", which is also the area that I know best. My choice can also be justified on the grounds that this is the subject on which the new generation of Chinese scholars have made their most distinctive contribution and for which they are best known outside China . And here­it must be said­it is not a good sign that Kang's account of China 's market economy offers us only one side of the picture, presenting only arguments that support the market and presenting only the positive results of China 's experience with the market. "Practice" cannot serve as a criterion for determining truth, progress, justice, alienation or, indeed, anything else unless everything that counts as practice is included in our treatment of the subject. Let me suggest what the main arguments both for and against the market (socialist as well as capitalist market) look like, and sketch how using the market has effected China , both for good and for bad. Through such rhetorical practice, my aim is to provide a helpful basis for evaluating both China 's experience with market socialism and Kang's philosophical defense of it.

A market economy has seven main characteristics: l) people buy what they want, but only if they can pay for it; 2) thus, money becomes necessary for life; 3) people are forced to do anything and to sell anything in order to get money; 4) maximizing profit rather than satisfying social needs is the aim of all production and investment; 5) discipline over those who produce the wealth of society is no longer exercised by other people (as in slavery and feudalism) but by money and the conditions of work that one must accept in order to earn money; 6) rationing of scarce goods takes place through money (based on who has more than others) rather than through coupons (based on who has worked harder or longer or has a greater need for the good); and 7) since no one is kept from trying to get rich and everyone is paid for what they do, people acquire a sense that each person gets (and has gotten) what he deserves economically, in short, that both the rich and the poor are responsible for their fates.

Whether the society is developed or underdeveloped, a market economy has several important advantages and several major disadvantages: Among the advantages, we find the following:

  1. Competition between different firms leads to increased efficiency, as firms do whatever is necessary­including laying off workers­to lower their costs;
  2. Most people work harder (the threat of losing one's job is a great motivator);
  3. There is more innovation as firms look for new products to sell and cheaper ways to do their work;
  4. Foreign investment is attracted as word gets out about the new opportunities for earning profit;
  5. The size, power, and cost of the state bureaucracy is correspondingly reduced as various activities that are usually associated with the public sector are taken over by private enterprises;
  6. The forces of production, or at least those involved in making those things people with money at home or abroad want to buy, undergo rapid development;
  7. Many people quickly acquire the technical and social skills and knowledge needed to function in this new economy;
  8. A great variety of consumer goods become available for those who have the money to buy them; and
  9. Large parts of the society take on a bright, merry and colorful air as everyone busies himself trying to sell something to someone else.

These are the main advantages of the market economy, and in his article Professor Kang gives a good account of them. But, as I said, there are also major disadvantages, and these Kang neglects. Among the disadvantages, we find the following:

  1. Distorted investment priorities, as wealth gets directed into what will earn the largest profit and not into what most people really need (so public health, public education, and even dikes for periodically swollen rivers receive little attention);
  2. Worsening exploitation of workers, since the harder, faster, and longer people work­just as the less they get paid­the more profit is earned by their employer (with this incentive and driven by the competition, employers are forever finding new ways to intensify exploitation);
  3. Overproduction of goods, since workers as a class are never paid enough to buy back, in their role as consumers, the ever growing amount of goods that they produce (in the era of automation, computerization and robotization, the gap between what workers produce­and can produce­and what their low wage allows them to consume has increased enormously);
  4. Unused industrial capacity (the mountain of unsold goods has resulted in a large percentage of machinery of all kinds lying idle, while many pressing needs­but needs that the people who have them can't pay for­go unmet);
  5. Growing unemployment (machines and raw materials are available, but using them to satisfy the needs of the people who don't have the money to pay for what could be made would not make profits for those who own the machines and raw materials­and in a market economy profits are what matters);
  6. Growing social and economic inequality (the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer, many absolutely and the rest in relation to the rapidly growing wealth of the rich);
  7. With such a gap between the rich and the poor, egalitarian social relations become impossible (people with a lot of money begin to think of themselves as a better kind of human being and to view the poor with contempt, while the poor feel a mixture of hatred, envy and queasy respect for the rich);
  8. Those with the most money also begin to exercise a disproportional political influence, which they use to help themselves make still more money;
  9. Increase in corruption in all sectors of society, which further increases the power of those with a lot of money and puts those without the money to bribe officials at a severe disadvantage;
  10. Increase in all kinds of economic crimes, with people trying to acquire money illegally when legal means are not available (and sometimes even when they are);
  11. Reduced social benefits and welfare (since such benefits are financed at least in part by taxes, extended benefits generally means reduced profits for the rich; furthermore, any social safety net makes workers less fearful of losing their jobs and consequently less willing to do anything to keep them);
  12. Worsening ecological degradation (since any effort to improve the quality of the air and of the water costs the owners of industry money and reduces profits, our natural home becomes increasingly unlivable);
  13. With all this, people of all classes begin to misunderstand the new social relations and powers that arise through the operations of a market economy as natural phenomena with a life and will of their own (money, for example, gets taken as an almost supernatural power that stands above people and orders their lives, rather than a material vehicle into which people through their alienated relations with their productive activity and its products have poured their own power and potential; and the market itself, which is just one possible way in which social wealth can be distributed, is taken as the way nature itself intended human beings to relate to each other, as more in keeping with basic human nature than any other possibility. As part of this, people no longer believe in a future that could be qualitatively different or in their ability, either individually or collectively, to help bring it about. In short, what Marx called "ideological thinking" becomes general);
  14. The same market experiences develop a set of anti-social attitudes and emotions (people become egotistical, concerned only with themselves. "Me first", "anything for money", "winning in competition no matter what the human costs" become what drives them in all areas of life. They also become very anxious and economically insecure, afraid of losing their job, their home, their sale, etc.; and they worry about money all the time. In this situation, feelings as well as ideas of cooperation and mutual concern are seriously weakened, where they don't disappear altogether, for in a market economy it is against one's personal interest to cooperate with others);
  15. With people's thoughts and emotions effected in these ways by their life in a market economy, it becomes very difficult for the government, any government, to give them a true picture of the country's problems (it is more conducive to stability to feed people illusions of unending economic growth and fairy tales of how they too can get rich. Exaggerating the positive achievements of society and seldom if ever mentioning its negative features is also the best means of attracting foreign investment. With so much of the economy depending on "favorable market psychology", the government simply cannot afford to be completely honest either with its own people or the rest of the world on what is really happening in the country);
  16. Finally, the market economy leads to periodic economic crises, where all these disadvantages develop to a point that most of the advantages I mentioned earlier simply dry up ­the economy stops growing, fewer things are made, development of the forces of production slows down, investment drops off, etc. (a close look at the trends apparent in the disadvantages of the market should make clear why such crises are inevitable in a market economy). Until an economic crisis occurs, it is possible to take the position that the advantages of a market economy outweigh its disadvantages, or the opposite position, and to develop a political strategy that accords with one's view, whatever it is. But if a crisis does away with most of the important advantages associated with the market, this is no longer possible. It simply makes no sense to continue arguing that we must give priority to the advantages of the market when they are in the process of disappearing.

Once we have recognized all the main advantages and disadvantages of the market economy, and once we have had a chance to examine and compare them, there are three major questions that remain to be answered. First, is it possible to have the advantages of the market economy without the disadvantages? Both theory and empirical evidence argue strongly that the answer is "no". Even a quick perusal of Marx's analysis of how the market economy works reveals it as an organic whole in which each part serves as an internal aspect in the functioning of the others. Similarly, their effects, both good and bad (what I've called "advantages" and "disadvantages"), entail one another; they are extended parts and/or necessary preconditions or effects of each other. For example, market experiences produce, of necessity, market personalities in people, and market personalities become a necessary precondition for people of all classes to engage in market relations effectively, and hence for the market to work as well as it does. You can't, in other words, place people in market relations and expect them to retain very much of the socialist ideas, values and emotions that may once have had. And the same glue holds together all the economic, social and psychological aspects of a market economy.

For empirical evidence, just look at how quickly and how thoroughly China fell victim to all the disadvantages of the market once it set out to avail itself of the market's advantages. The Chinese government would have liked nothing better than to avoid these crippling disadvantages. It simply was not possible.

A second key question is­is the equilibrium between the advantages and disadvantages of the market economy stable or changing? The answer is that they are constantly changing, and if changes sometimes favor the advantages (not by making the disadvantages disappear, which is impossible, but by making them appear smaller), the movement toward economic crisis that is taking place in all market economies today makes it clear that it is the disadvantages associated with the market that are becoming its most prominent features.

The third, and final, major question is­can people change their mind about the market? And the answer is­of course. They do so all the time, moving from "against" to "in favor" or from "in favor" to "against". Just because a society opted for one approach to the market, let's say 25 years ago, when one set of problems were dominant, is not in itself a good reason to retain this approach when another set of problems become far more pressing.

If the answers I have given to these three questions are correct, then the central problem facing China today might be posed as follows: Should China stick with the market economy in order to continue to benefit from what's left of its advantages (and simply accept all the negatives that come with it), or­because the disadvantages have gotten so bad­should China now do whatever is necessary to deal with them (and treat whatever benefits it once got from the market as secondary)? It is, of course, not for me but for the Chinese people to say what should be done. I have only tried to clarify what is involved in making such a momentous decision, and, also­and now we return to Kang's article­to suggest that it is only by fully laying out the main advantages and disadvantages of market socialism that any effective solution to China 's problems can be found. Anything less, any recourse to one-sidedness in confronting this situation, is bad economics and bad philosophy, Marxist or otherwise.

According to Kang, the core of Deng Xiaoping's teachings is directed to "emancipating the mind" and "seeking truth from facts". I can't think of anything that is more important for us, for all of us, to do. The fate of China today hangs on how well the Chinese people­leaders, philosophers and ordinary people alike­can apply this advice to Deng's own words and the social and economic reforms that have followed from them.

Serge Halimi :
15 March 2006

The America Not Made For You And Me

Wal-mart, The Movie

by Serge Halimi

Robert Greenwald's documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (1), opens in a huge room packed with shareholders attending the company's annual meeting. They greet the CEO, H Lee Scott, with an ovation as he takes the podium.

He tells them: "When you come to this meeting, year after year you get to say, `We had record sales, we had record earnings, we had record reinvestments back into our company'. But you'd better get ready to be better because, today, for whatever reasons, whether it's our success or our size, Wal-Mart Incorporated has generated fear, if not envy, in some circles. And that makes it more important than ever that we focus on doing the right thing. And doing things right every time.

"There's two things we should do. Number one is tell the Wal-Mart story. And the second thing is stay the course. Wal-Mart is too important for individual families who are stretching a budget, we are too important for the suppliers who employ millions of people, we are too important for our associates for whom we have so much love, and value so much." Associates are Wal-Mart employees (2). Scott uses the word love to describe how he feels about them. The documentary reminds us, however, that in 2005 he earned $27,207,799, while the average wage of a Wal-Mart salesperson was $13,861. A salary differential of 1:2,000 seems an unusual way to show love.

Greenwald's film makes other good points. The first Wal-Mart store opened in 1962, the same year Don Hunter opened a hardware shop in Ohio, which was successful until Wal-Mart wiped him out by opening up next door. A lifetime of work and a future for his family went instantly. Yet Hunter isn't a critic of capitalism; he's a Republican, keen on firearms, who each morning raises the American flag above his workplace: an ordinary man who speaks for everyday America and for the people that Wal-Mart has destroyed throughout the land, people who are now beginning to ask questions.

Greenwald shows the views of patriots who sincerely believe in the rights conferred on them by the US constitution. With a deep sense of injustice, even disappointment, they compare the hassles they have endured to get a single building permit with the apparent ease with which Wal-Mart operates, and with its easy access to funding. This is the film's most eloquent element: a traditional, mostly rural, US, still bound in solidarity, dies a little each time a Wal-Mart arrives. When the bulldozers finish, there remain only Wal-Marts, Burger Kings and McDonald's on the hilltops around small towns; all the local businesses have shut up shop.

On the soundtrack, there is Bruce Springsteen singing Woody Guthrie's famous "This land is your land, this land is my land, this land was made for you and me". The promise has been broken, since "this land" no longer completely belongs to that "you and me".

Most of the people who appear are against Wal-Mart in the name of what they understand by America . John Bruening, who sells spectacles, is a conservative, but he pays his workers properly; he wonders if the unions might not be right to fight against the meagre wages paid by the hypermarkets. He and others like him ask themselves painful questions about artificial competition, monopolies and relocations. (It makes no sense to call a multinational "American" when, were it a country, it would be the world's third biggest importer of Chinese goods.)

He says: "It's like a Chinese company to me, with American board members. All they've done is give China a better distribution centre, whereas before [ China ] would have had to find contacts, [find out] who to sell to and develop their own markets. Now, they've got a pipeline right under everybody's living room by going through Wal-Mart."

Do Asian workers profit on an income of less than $3 a day? A Chinese worker in the film thinks not: "Do you know why you can buy cheap toys from Wal-Mart? That's because we work each day, day and night."

Explaining prices through the cost of labour doesn't work, though, when a miniature car sold by Wal-Mart for $14.96 costs a mere 18 cents to assemble.

Jim Bill Lynn had been in charge of certification for Wal-Mart in central America, and he was a good soldier who believed in perfecting the system and its social ethics. He tells the camera: "If you would have cut me, I would have bled Wal-Mart blue blood." But one day he discovered that Wal-Mart's altruistic propaganda was a lie, and moreover it had lied to him. The injustice in El Salvador had hit him: "The people were so nice, they are so good and they are working for so little money." He had called home to his wife in tears. His naivety seems strangely touching, the reaction of someone who discovers that the business he works for is not what he believed it to be, or what he made others believe, and that abuses are the norm.

Not everything in the documentary works as well at this. Sometimes it resorts to less-relevant incidents, such as a woman raped in a Wal-Mart carpark or a woman murdered because security is too lax outside the stores. The film has a happy ending, the successes of associations resisting new Wal-Mart stores. These successes make you wonder if this opposition could become a focus for joint action by those fighting the exploitation of wage-earners, green movements opposed to environmental damage and consumerism, and conservatives attached to their dream of America , as seen in old Frank Capra movies. Greenwald manages to capture the attention of all these diverse interest groups. ________________________________________________________

(1) Available on DVD from
www.walmartmovie.com \ ($12.95).

(2) See the Wal-Mart dossier in the January 2006 issue Le Monde diplomatique, English language

Fisk :
March 19, 2006

The Farcical End Of The American Dream

The US Press Is Supposed To Be Challenging The Lies Of This War

by Robert Fisk

It is a bright winter morning and I am sipping my first coffee of the day in Los Angeles. My eye moves like a radar beam over the front page of the Los Angeles Times for the word that dominates the minds of all Middle East correspondents: Iraq . In post-invasion, post-Judith Miller mode, the American press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war. So the story beneath the headline "In a Battle of Wits, Iraq 's Insurgency Mastermind Stays a Step Ahead of US" deserves to be read. Or does it?

Datelined Washington - an odd city in which to learn about Iraq , you might think - its opening paragraph reads: "Despite the recent arrest of one of his would-be suicide bombers in Jordan and some top aides in Iraq , insurgency mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture, US authorities say, because his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than they do."

Now quite apart from the fact that many Iraqis - along, I have to admit, with myself - have grave doubts about whether Zarqawi exists, and that al-Qai'da's Zarqawi, if he does exist, does not merit the title of "insurgency mastermind", the words that caught my eye were "US authorities say". And as I read through the report, I note how the Los Angeles Times sources this extraordinary tale. I thought American reporters no longer trusted the US administration, not after the mythical weapons of mass destruction and the equally mythical connections between Saddam and the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. Of course, I was wrong.

Here are the sources - on pages one and 10 for the yarn spun by reporters Josh Meyer and Mark Mazzetti: "US officials said", "said one US Justice Department counter-terrorism official", "Officials ... said", "those officials said", "the officials confirmed", "American officials complained", "the US officials stressed", "US authorities believe", "said one senior US intelligence official", "US officials said", "Jordanian officials ... said" - here, at least is some light relief - "several US officials said", "the US officials said", "American officials said", "officials say", "say US officials", "US officials said", "one US counter-terrorism official said".

I do truly treasure this story. It proves my point that the Los Angeles Times - along with the big east coast dailies - should all be called US OFFICIALS SAY. But it's not just this fawning on political power that makes me despair. Let's move to a more recent example of what I can only call institutionalised racism in American reporting of Iraq . I have to thank reader Andrew Gorman for this gem, a January Associated Press report about the killing of an Iraqi prisoner under interrogation by US Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jnr.

Mr Welshofer, it transpired in court, had stuffed the Iraqi General Abed Hamed Mowhoush head-first into a sleeping bag and sat on his chest, an action which - not surprisingly - caused the general to expire. The military jury ordered - reader, hold your breath - a reprimand for Mr Welshofer, the forfeiting of $6,000 of his salary and confinement to barracks for 60 days. But what caught my eye was the sympathetic detail. Welshofer's wife's Barbara, the AP told us, "testified that she was worried about providing for their three children if her husband was sentenced to prison. 'I love him more for fighting this,' she said, tears welling up in her eyes. 'He's always said that you need to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do'".

Yes, I guess torture is tough on the torturer. But try this from the same report: "Earlier in the day ... Mr Welshofer fought back tears. 'I deeply apologise if my actions tarnish the soldiers serving in Iraq ,' he said."

Note how the American killer's remorse is directed not towards his helpless and dead victim but to the honour of his fellow soldiers, even though an earlier hearing had revealed that some of his colleagues watched Welshofer stuffing the general into the sleeping bag and did nothing to stop him. An earlier AP report stated that "officials" - here we go again - "believed Mowhoush had information that would 'break the back of the insurgency'." Wow. The general knew all about 40,000 Iraqi insurgents. So what a good idea to stuff him upside down inside a sleeping bag and sit on his chest.

But the real scandal about these reports is we're not told anything about the general's family. Didn't he have a wife? I imagine the tears were "welling up in her eyes" when she was told her husband had been done to death. Didn't the general have children? Or parents? Or any loved ones who "fought back tears" when told of this vile deed? Not in the AP report he didn't. General Mowhoush comes across as an object, a dehumanised creature who wouldn't let the Americans "break the back" of the insurgency after being stuffed headfirst into a sleeping bag.

Now let's praise the AP. On an equally bright summer's morning in Australia a few days ago I open the Sydney Morning Herald. It tells me, on page six, that the news agency, using the Freedom of Information Act, has forced US authorities to turn over 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. One of them records the trial of since-released British prisoner Feroz Abbasi, in which Mr Abbasi vainly pleads with his judge, a US air force colonel, to reveal the evidence against him, something he says he has a right to hear under international law.

And here is what the American colonel replied: "Mr Abbasi, your conduct is unacceptable and this is your absolute final warning. I do not care about international law. I do not want to hear the words international law. We are not concerned about international law."

Alas, these words - which symbolise the very end of the American dream - are buried down the story. The colonel, clearly a disgrace to the uniform he wears, does not appear in the bland headline ("US papers tell Guantanamo inmates' stories") of the Sydney paper, more interested in telling us that the released documents identify by name the "farmers, shopkeepers or goatherds" held in Guantanamo.

I am now in Wellington, New Zealand , watching on CNN Saddam Hussein's attack on the Baghdad court trying him. And suddenly, the ghastly Saddam disappears from my screen. The hearing will now proceed in secret, turning this drumhead court into even more of a farce. It is a disgrace. And what does CNN respectfully tell us? That the judge has "suspended media coverage"!

If only, I say to myself, CNN - along with the American press - would do the same.

Lynd and Carl Mirra :
March 15, 2006

I Am A Revisionist Historian

by Staughton Lynd and Carl Mirra

One hundred years ago, three officers of the Western Federation of Miners were indicted for murder.  President Theodore Roosevelt declared that they were “undesirable citizens.”  Working people and radicals all over the country responded with insignia stating, “I am an undesirable citizen.”

According to popular legend, during World War II the Nazis occupied Denmark and ordered all Jews to wear the Star of David.  King Christian thereupon appeared in public wearing the six-pointed symbol.

Something similar is now required of historians in the United States .  In June 2003, President Bush told a group of business leaders that “This nation acted to a threat from the dictator of Iraq ,” but “now there are some who would like to rewrite history­revisionist historians is what I like to call them.”[1] Following Bush’s Veteran’s Day speech in November 2005, the BBC news featured a story, “Bush slams Iraq War revisionism.” Bush’s sanctimonious posturing compels the responsible historian to declare: I AM A REVISIONIST HISTORIAN.

The president’s critique of revisionism needs to be rejected both as a specific comment on the origins of the Iraq War, and as a general proposition.


In the Veterans Day speech, Bush declared that, “Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq ’s weapons programs.”[2] The whitewash panel that Bush is likely referring to is the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. On the one hand, it noted that analysts working on the WMD issue did not experience pressure. On the other, the report noted, “It is hard to deny that the intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”[3] It is difficult to explain this discrepancy; perhaps the commission was, well, under pressure. Elsewhere, former Chief United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, bemoaned that “the [Bush] administration leaned on us.”[4]

Bush believes that “it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how [the Iraq ] war began.”[5] Of course, it is the Bush administration that is trying to rewrite the history of how the war began. Responsible observers are now forced to revise Bush’s rewritten version so that it is closer to the facts. Four well-know examples should suffice to show that the Bush administration deceived the U.S. public, and that “Revisionists” are those who simply want to keep the record accurate for future historians of the Iraq War:

1. Bush (in a March 2003 speech on the eve of invasion): There is “no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”[6]

Revisionist correction: The International Atomic Energy (IAEA) Update for the Security Council Pursuant to Iraq Resolution 1441 stated that: “In the first eight weeks of the IAEA inspections, the IAEA has visited all sites identified by it or States as significant. No evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities at those locations has been detected.”[7]

In early March 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, reported that “there was no evidence Iraq had a nuclear development program,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.[8]

In February 2001, Colin Powell acknowledged that Iraq “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction.”[9]

Demonstrators and “revisionists” across the globe also challenged this now fully discredited claim. Recall that the administration’s own inspection team confirmed that Iraq did not possess WMD.

2. Bush (State of the Union 2003): “ Iraq recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”[10]

Revisionist correction: UN inspectors almost immediately disputed the allegation. One letter used to prove the purchase was signed by someone who last served in the Nigerian government in 1989.[11] One would hope that the Bush administration was capable of detecting such obvious errors. Bush shifted blame to George Tenet, then head of the CIA, who allegedly allowed the statement to enter the State of the Union Address. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the CIA sent a memo to Condoleezza Rice that “challenged the African uranium sale” before the speech. Rice accepted responsibility for the “error,” the article notes.[12] Rice was not reprimanded; instead she was promoted to Secretary of State in 2005. Of course, Joseph Wilson also disputed the uranium claim and now Cheney’s Chief of Staff is under indictment surrounding the outing of Wilson’s wife who worked in the CIA.

3. Bush in October 2002: “I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary.”[13]

Revisionist correction: In July 2002, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain ’s M16, reported that, “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.”[14]

4. Dick Cheney: Iraq constitutes “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”[15]

Revisionist Correction: Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, which even Bush and Rumsfeld admitted. Al Qaeda operatives in custody spoke of the conflict between Hussein and the organization.[16]

This last piece of propaganda is especially disconcerting. A Zogby Poll has found that 85% of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq stated that the U.S. mission is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks.” Cheney’s propaganda has infiltrated the minds of our long-suffering troops. Despite the administration’s attempts to mislead its own troops, they are not simply vassals of administration propaganda. The same Zogby Poll has found that 72% of U.S. troops in Iraq believe that the U.S. should withdraw from the country within a year. In fact, 29% of these soldiers felt that the U.S. should leave immediately, adopting a position once reserved for the so-called “radical left.”[17] Are U.S. troops becoming “revisionists”?

The Iraqi people also feel that the U.S. forces should leave. A poll by the British Ministry of Defence revealed that 82% of Iraqis are “strongly opposed” to the U.S. led occupation and 45 % of Iraqis felt that the attacks on U.S./U.K troops were justified.[18] In 2003, a Gallup Poll, once cited by the Bush administration to illustrate that Iraqis welcomed the U.S. forces, showed instead that 94% of Iraqis felt Baghdad was more dangerous since the U.S. “liberation.”[19] Even if we allow for a wide margin of error, these polls reveal that U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi people oppose the occupation.

In the buildup to the Iraq War, most of the world’s citizens and governments disputed the administration’s WMD claims. Bush, a so-called champion of democracy, dismissed world opinion. It was the revisionists who said Iraq did not have the WMD in March 2003.  Revisionists of the world unite and declare: I am a revisionist historian!


There is a second, more general reason to resist the president’s attack on “revisionism.”

History is revisionist.  It is precisely the task of the historian to correct, that is, to revise, the popular misconceptions of the moment.  Every responsible historian is perpetually in the position of the little child who sees that the emperor has no clothes, or, to take an example from the life of the mind, of Galileo when he is said to have muttered, “'Eppur si muove.” (yet it does move).

The responsibility to revise falls especially on the historian of foreign policy.  United States history is replete with controversy over reasons initially offered for going to war.  Congressman Abraham Lincoln challenged President Polk as to the “spot” where the armies of Mexico and the United States first fired on each other in the 1840s.   The circumstances causing the battleship Maine and the steamship Lusitania to be sunk are still debated.  Within living memory, it now seems, the Johnson Administration deliberately falsified the alleged events that occasioned the so-called Tonkin Bay Resolution in August 1964.

And it is not only official explanations of the reasons for going to war that require revision.   The underlying assumptions of policy makers are often enough, from an historian’s vantage point, simply false.  One of the authors, after a trip to Hanoi in the mid-1960s, had the opportunity to meet Robert Kennedy.  If memory serves, Kennedy said that “everybody knows” that Communists can’t win democratic elections.  But in fact, former President Eisenhower’s memoirs prove that ten years earlier the United States had sabotaged the Geneva agreements which ended the French war in Indo-China  because American policymakers knew that if nationwide democratic elections were held in Vietnam , Ho Chi Minh would win.  The same fallacy – that the “bad guys” are bound to lose in a fair election -- now plagues United States foreign policy in Iran, Palestine, Venezuela, Haiti, and elsewhere.

A debate that has no obvious “politically correct” answer but that desperately requires to be joined concerns the question, How new is the Bush administration policy of “preventive” or “preemptive” war?  Writing in The New York Review of Books, Professor Arthur Schlesinger opines that preemption represents a “fatal change in the foreign policy of the United States .”   During the long years of the Cold War, Schlesinger assures the reader, “preventative war was unmentionable.  Its advocates were regarded as loonies.” [20] Yet some of Schlesinger’s colleagues in the administration of John F. Kennedy explicitly advocated attacking Communism in Vietnam while it was still relatively weak:  McGeorge Bundy “concluded that a preemptive strike was desirable.” [21]

On the one hand, commentators point to the brazen way in which policymakers in the Bush administration destroy multinational agreements that have been painful decades in the making, and blithely leap from rationale to rationale in seeking to justify United States aggression.  This, it is suggested, is something new under the sun.  On the other hand, any one viewing the history of treaties with Native Americans might conclude that both in style and substance, neo-conservatism began with the extermination of the Pequot Indians.

Most fundamentally and grievously of all:  Radical historians, anxious to prove the meticulous character of their scholarship, have too often confined the scope of their research to small, “manageable” topics.  Creation of the master narrative is defaulted to professors who view the world broadly, but from the parochial perspective of Ivy League departments whose tenured members – think of the Bundys, the Rostows, Professor Wolfowitz – in even years make the policy that in odd years their scholarship grandly justifies.

For example, Tony Judt finds such parochialism and “triumphalism” in the sweeping Cold War history of Yale Professor John Lewis Gaddis.[22]  Among the topics he finds lacking substantial treatment in Gaddis’ work are:  the sources and psychology of Soviet strategy;  the degree to which United States diplomats like Harriman, Acheson, Kennan and Bohlen brought to the table a “worldly, cosmopolitan” outlook just as cold and hard as that of their Marxist counterparts; the Third World, including the overthrow of elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile;  Polish Solidarity and Hungary in 1956; Soviet intelligence; the fact that McCarthyism did not occur in Western Europe despite spying in those countries at least as serious as that charged to the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss;  DeGaulle; Eurocommunism; the international New Left; the prehistory of the Cold War from 1917 to 1945; and its posthistory, including the invasion of Iraq.    One might pardonably conclude that this master narrative is not just Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark , but Hamlet without the entire court at Elsinore.

To revise is more than to criticize.  Revisionist historians must take risks that will expose them, in turn, to criticism.  Revisionist historians have a responsibility to reconstruct the master narrative as well as to polish particular tiles in the mosaic.    Since William Appleman Williams, few if any historians on the Left have had the chutzpah to try to tell the whole story of United States foreign policy, or even the whole story of United States foreign policy since World War II.  That should be next on our agenda.


[1] Bush quoted in “Bush raps ‘revisionist historians’ on Iraq ,” CNN.com, posted 16 June 2003.

[2] “President Commemorates Veterans Day, Discusses War on Terror.” Tobyhanna Army Depot,
Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, 11 November 2005,

[3] Scott Shane and Daniel Sanger, “Bush Panel Finds Big Flaws Remain in U.S. Spy Efforts,” New York Times, 1 April 2005, p. A10.

[4] “Blix: U.S. Leaned on Us,” Newsday, 12 June 2003, p. A48

[5] “President Commemorates Veterans Day, Discusses War on Terror.” Tobyhanna Army Depot,
Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, 11 November 2005,

[6] “President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours: Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation” (Washington, DC: Office of the Press Secretary), 17 March 2003.

[7] IAEA Update Report for the Security Council Pursuant to Resolution 1441 (2002).

[8] “No Evidence of Nuclear Weapons Program: ElBaradei,” Sydney Morning Herald, 8 March 2003.

[9] Secretary Colin L. Powell, “Press Remarks with Foreign Minister of Egypt Amre Moussa,” U.S. Department of State, 24 February 2001,

[10] “President Delivers State of the Union,” 28 January 2003,

[11] Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung, “CIA Questioned Documents Linking Iraq, Uranium Ore,” Washington Post, 22 March 2003. See also “Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq ,” Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate, 7 July 2004. The report finds numerous agencies challenging the documents regarding the Nigerian uranium sale to Iraq . Among the responses were that it was “highly suspect”; “lacks crucial details”; and was “completely implausible.”

[12] Jeanne Cummings, ‘Security Advisers Now Share Blame In Intelligence Row,” Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2003, p. A4.  Note that the CIA’s initial challenge led to the removal of the uranium claim from an October speech. See Ken Fireman, ‘Warning Unheeded,” Newsday, 23 July 2003.

[13] Mark Danner, “The Secret Way to War,” The New York Review of Books, 9 June 2005.

[14] Ibid.  This quotation is from the infamous Downing Street memo. For more details and responses to Bush supporters, visit http:www.downingstreet.org, which explains that, “The Downing Street Memo is actually meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister's meeting on July 23, 2002. Published by The Sunday Times on May 1, 2005 it was the first hard evidence from within the UK or US governments that exposed the truth behind how the Iraq war began.”

[15] See Stephen Shalom, “ Iraq White Paper,” for reference and more details in Enduring Freedom or Enduring War? Prospects and Costs of the New American 21st Century (Maisonneuve Press, 2005), Carl Mirra, ed., pp. 173-6.

[16] Ibid, p. 174.

[17] “ U.S. Troops in Iraq : 72% Say End the War in 2006,” Zogby International, 28 February 2006,
http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1075. To be sure, withdrawal does not mean abandonment. UN consultant, Johan Galtung, suggests a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East, chaired by Jordan or a party in the region: Ongoing concerns such as the Israel-Palestine crisis, Kurdish independence, and a Middle East common market should be part of this dialogue. A U.S. aid package to rebuild the infrastructure along with a pledge that Iraqi resources belong to the Iraqis are also in order. The presence of U.S. soldiers is not necessary to begin repairing Iraq ; a multinational force coupled with significant aid is more desirable than a U.S. occupation that is opposed by the Iraqis themselves. See Johan Galtung, “Human Needs, Humanitarian Intervention, Human Security and the War in Iraq ,” (February 2004), posted at http://www.transcend.org

[18] Sean Rayment, “Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British Troops,” Sunday Telegraph, 23 October 2005.

[19] “Iraqis Not So Happy,” Newsday, 29 September 2003, p. A12. Furthermore, the Brooklings Institute identifies a February 2005 poll in which 71% of Iraqis “oppose the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq .” For this poll and several others with similar data, see Abigail Fuller and Neil Wollman, “Should the U.S. Withdraw? Let the Iraqi People Decide,” Professors for Peace, 13 October 2005

[20] Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “Eyeless in Iraq ,” The New York Review of Books, 23 October 2003.

[21] Ralph Stavins, Richard Barnet and Marcus Raskin, Washington Plans an Aggressive War (New York: Random House, 1971), pp. 34, 39, 194, 252.

[22] Tony Judt, “A Story Still to be Told,” The New York Review of Books, 23 March 2006.

Lynd is a former history professor, retired attorney, lifelong activist and author of numerous books, including Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising. Mirra teaches American Studies at SUNY College at Old Westbury and is the editor of Enduring Freedom or Enduring War? Prospects and Costs of the New American 21st Century . He is also a former marine who refused to fight in Gulf War I. Both authors are on the Steering Committee of Historians against the War. Institutional affiliation is for identification only.

March 10, 2006

New world relationships
by Noam Chomsky

03/10/06 " Khaleej Times" -- -- THE prospect that Europe and Asia might move toward greater independence has troubled US planners since World War II. The concerns have only risen as the ‘tripolar order’ ­ Europe, North America and Asia ­ has continued to evolve. Every day, Latin America, too, is becoming more independent. Now Asia and the Americas are strengthening their ties while the reigning superpower, the odd man out, consumes itself in misadventures in the Middle East.

Regional integration in Asia and Latin America is a crucial and increasingly important issue that, from Washington's perspective, betokens a defiant world gone out of control. Energy, of course, remains a defining factor ­ the object of contention ­ everywhere. China, unlike Europe, refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary reason for the fear of China by US planners, which presents a dilemma: Steps towards confrontation are inhibited by US corporate reliance on China as an export platform and growing market, as well as China's financial reserves, reported to be approaching Japan's in scale.

In January, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia visited Beijing, which is expected to lead to a Sino-Saudi memorandum of understanding calling for "increased cooperation and investment between the two countries in oil, natural gas and investment," The Wall Street Journal reports. Already, much of Iran 's oil goes to China , and China is providing Iran with weapons that both states presumably regard as deterrent to US designs. India also has options. India may choose to be a US client, or it may prefer to join the more independent Asian bloc that is taking shape, with ever more ties to Middle East oil producers. Siddarth Varadarajan, deputy editor of The Hindu, observes that "if the 21st century is to be an 'Asian century,' Asia's passivity in the energy sector has to end."

The key is India-China cooperation. In January, an agreement signed in Beijing "cleared the way for India and China to collaborate not only in technology, but also in hydrocarbon exploration and production, a partnership that could eventually alter fundamental equations in the world's oil and natural gas sector," Varadarjan points out. An additional step, already being contemplated, is an Asian oil market trading in euros. The impact on the international financial system and the balance of global power could be significant. It should be no surprise that President Bush paid a recent visit to try to keep India in the fold, offering nuclear cooperation and other inducements as a lure.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, left-centre governments prevail from Venezuela to Argentina . The indigenous populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, where they either want oil and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in their SUVs in traffic gridlock.

Venezuela, the leading oil exporter in the hemisphere, has forged probably the closest relations with China of any Latin American country, and is planning to sell increasing amounts of oil to China as part of its effort to reduce dependence on the openly hostile US government. Venezuela has joined Mercosur, the South American customs union, a move described by Argentine President Nestor Kirchner as ‘a milestone’ in the development of this trading bloc, and welcomed as a "new chapter in our integration" by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Venezuela, apart from supplying Argentina with fuel oil, bought almost a third of Argentine debt issued in 2005, one element of a region-wide effort to free the countries from the controls of the International Monetary Fund after two decades of disastrous conformity to the rules imposed by the US -dominated international financial institutions. Steps towards Southern Cone integration advanced further in December with the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia , the country's first indigenous president. Morales moved quickly to reach a series of energy accords with Venezuela .

The Financial Times reported that these "are expected to underpin forthcoming radical reforms to Bolivia 's economy and energy sector" with its huge gas reserves, second only to Venezuela 's in South America. Cuba-Venezuela relations are becoming ever closer, each relying on its comparative advantage. Venezuela is providing low-cost oil, while in return Cuba organises literacy and health programmes, sending thousands of highly-skilled professionals, teachers and doctors, who work in the poorest and most neglected areas, as they do elsewhere in the Third World.

Cuban medical assistance is also being welcomed elsewhere. One of the most horrendous tragedies of recent years was the earthquake in Pakistan last October. Besides the huge death toll, unknown numbers of survivors have to face brutal winter weather with little shelter, food or medical assistance. “Cuba has provided the largest contingent of doctors and paramedics to Pakistan," paying all the costs (perhaps with Venezuelan funding), writes John Cherian in India 's Frontline, citing Dawn, a leading Pakistan daily.

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan expressed his ‘deep gratitude’ to Fidel Castro for the ‘spirit and compassion’ of the Cuban medical teams ­reported to comprise more than 1,000 trained personnel, 44 per cent of them women, who remained to work in remote mountain villages, "living in tents in freezing weather and in an alien culture" after Western aid teams had been withdrawn. Growing popular movements, primarily in the South, but with increasing participation in the rich industrial countries, are serving as the bases for many of these developments towards more independence and concern for the needs of the great majority of the population.

Noam Chomsky, the author, most recently, of Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachussets

© 2005 Khaleej Times

Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université de Grenoble-3
Grenoble, France