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									New York, NY - When the recent Occupy movement emerged, I was hoping that
it might sweep away the vestiges of the old, authoritarian left that had
been a longtime fixture of the US activist scene. Unfortunately, however,
this hierarchical left still continues to exert significant influence
over both old and new media, and shows no sign of abating. That is a
pity, as this particular political tendency - which some might even call
Stalinist - has been dragging the rest of the left into the mud and
giving fellow radicals a bad name.

"When the hierarchical left encounters a situation that doesn't fit into
its normal frame of reference, it seeks to change the subject."

The lockstep left's retrograde tendencies have been placed on
particularly vivid display when it comes to the Arab Spring. At the
beginning of the revolt, in Tunisia and Egypt, it looked as if local
populations might slough off dictatorial rule backed by Washington. The
prospect of a breach with the US and its client state Israel provided
little reason for the authoritarian left to protest, but as events
unfolded further, prominent writers began to run into difficulties.

Unlike Mubarak, who maintained warm ties with Washington, Gaddafi had
been at odds with the West until fairly recently. Thus, Libya presented
something of a quandary for the authoritarians. When the hierarchical
left encounters a situation that doesn't fit into its normal frame of
reference, it seeks to change the subject. Take, for example, Robert
Dreyfuss, a columnist for The Nation magazine, who sought to shift
attention away from Gaddafi in an effort to focus the reader's attention
on other issues.

The authoritarian left and the Gaddafi conundrum

To be sure, Dreyfuss concedes in one of his columns, Gaddafi's departure
"can't be bad, as far as the long-suffering population of Libya is
concerned". He then, however, seeks to discredit the Libyan opposition,
implying that it is a mere pawn of NATO and Western interests. In another
column, the Nation columnist goes yet further, calling out the Libyan
opposition as essentially traitorous dupes who promise to "hand over
[Libya's] oil resources to its Western backers".

Another Nation columnist, Alexander Cockburn, went much further than
Dreyfuss (full disclosure: I once interned for Cockburn, and over the
years I have occasionally published articles on Counterpunch, a website
which he co-founded). Over the course of the Libya imbroglio, Cockburn
sought to minimise the brutality of the Gaddafi regime while again
casting aspersions on the opposition and its alleged ties to al-Qaeda.
"Gaddafi was scarcely the acme of monstrosity conjured up by Obama or Mrs
Clinton or Sarkozy," Cockburn rather questionably remarked.

In a bizarre twist, the veteran Nation columnist then proceeded to extol
the Gaddafi regime for taking care of the Libyan people. "In four
decades, Libyans rose from being among the most wretched in Africa to
considerable elevation in terms of social amenities," Cockburn declared,
perversely. The Nation writer might have stopped there, but opted to
soldier on by calling his readers' attention to Libya's buoyant growth
rate, literacy levels and life expectancy.

Moral jujitsu on Syria

Syria has also presented a slight moral quandary for the authoritarian
left. It is one thing to support the plight of the Egyptian people up
against pro-US Mubarak, but Syria does not fit the usual narrative of the
hardliners. Though certainly a horribly repressive country, Syria is an
Iranian ally and longtime opponent of Israel. In his columns, Dreyfuss
sought to navigate the situation by again shifting the readers' focus
away from Bashar al-Assad.

"Hugo Ch?vez has been dragging the rest of the left into the mud by
coming out in support of despotism."

Charitably, Dreyfuss remarks that it is impossible "to deny that the
government of Syria is conducting a brutal, no-holds-barred attack
against a nationwide rebellion". Dreyfuss then, however, goes on to tar
the opposition, much as he had in Libya. "Increasingly," he writes, the
rebellion is being "led by armed paramilitary forces and, well,
terrorists."

Cockburn, meanwhile, couldn't summon up much sympathy for the Syrian
opposition or civilians getting shelled in the city of Homs. In an
understatement, he declares: "There is no doubt that Assad's police state
is corrupt and brutal". True to form, however, Cockburn then lays bare
his sympathies by seeking to tie the Syrian opposition to al-Qaeda or
Gulf sponsors who "are intent on slaughtering the ruling Alawite minority
or driving them into the sea".

Chavez and the mud

Meanwhile, in South America, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has been dragging
the rest of the left into the mud by coming out in support of despotism.
For years, Chavez has sought to create a so-called multi-polar
geopolitical order free of US influence. That is understandable, but if
Russia, China and Iran were to dominate the globe, things would be just
as bad - if not worse - for peoples around the world. It is unfortunate
that Venezuela, a democracy that cannot be compared in the slightest with
the various despotisms in the Middle East, has chosen to ally with such
retrograde forces.

As early as 2009, Chavez embraced Gaddafi and remarked, bizarrely: "What
Simon Bol?var [the great liberator of South American independence against
the Spanish] is to the Venezuelan people, Gaddafi is to the Libyan
people." As if these declarations were not preposterous enough, Chavez
awarded Gaddafi the Orden del Libertador, Venezuela's highest civilian
decoration, and presented the Libyan leader with a replica of Simon
Bol?var's sword (to see a video of the sword-bearing ceremony, click
here).

Libya responded in kind, awarding Chavez the "Gaddafi Human Rights Prize"
and naming a football stadium in the Libyan city of Benghazi after the
Venezuelan leader (anti-Gaddafi rebels were hardly amused by such tokens
of esteem: When the Libyan government eventually lost control over
Benghazi, the opposition scrawled over the stadium's old title in red
graffiti and renamed the arena "Martyrs of February" in honour of the
memory of people who died fighting to overthrow the country's dictator).

Venezuela amiss on Libya and Syria

Throughout the conflict in Libya, Chavez viewed the entire imbroglio as
mere Western-led destabilisation and defended Gaddafi. Taking a leaf from
the authoritarian left, the Venezuelan put down the rebels as
"terrorists". Putting his foot in his mouth, Chavez declared: "I ask God
to protect the life of our brother Muammar Gaddafi." Grateful for
Chavez's friendship, Gaddafi sent his Venezuelan ally a letter thanking
him for his diplomatic support. Digging an ever bigger hole for himself,
Chavez proclaimed after Gaddafi's death that the deposed Libyan leader
would be remembered as a martyr. Later, Chavez refused to recognise the
new rebel government.

Chavez has been little better on Syria. Indeed, Chavez sent a message of
solidarity to Assad, even referring to the Syrian dictator at one point
as "our brother". What is more, Chavez has sent oil to the Syrian
government. The shipment flies in the face of international efforts to
isolate the Assad regime and to prod the dictator to step down from
power.

Political correctness run amok

Taking Chavez to account for his ridiculousness is a no-brainer, but the
left has been oddly silent on the Arab Spring-Venezuela debacle. In a
rather tame interview with venezuelanalysis.com, a website sympathetic to
the Chavez government, Venezuela expert Greg Wilpert almost seems to make
excuses for Chavez's behaviour, noting that the Venezuelan likes to
establish personal rapport with foreign leaders and "negative news
reports about that leader leave him completely unimpressed because he
knows only too well from personal experience how biased international
media can be".

"Far too often, Chomsky is too timid and cautious when it comes to
challenging the authoritarian left."

At another point, when asked about the political repercussions of
Chavez's Middle East diplomacy, Wilpert notes dispassionately and matter-
of-factly: "I think the danger of Chavez losing legitimacy, especially
among the international left, is significant". While conceding that
Chavez has overlooked "shortcomings" of foreign leaders, Wilpert himself
does not put forth his own personal views on the Gaddafi-Chavez
controversy.

Noted MIT professor Noam Chomsky, a foreign policy expert whom the left
adulates, shares Wilpert's unfortunate penchant for excessive political
correctness. Over the years, Chomsky has drawn the world's attention to
the various misdeeds of the US and its proxies around the world, and for
that he deserves credit. Yet far too often, Chomsky is too timid and
cautious when it comes to challenging the authoritarian left. That is
perplexing, given that Chomsky has stated that he personally identifies
with the anti-authoritarian and anarchist tradition in contrast to the
hierarchical old guard.

When discussing countries that have fallen afoul of Washington, Chomsky
may make bizarre claims, even going so far as to imply that northerners
simply don't have the right to hold an opinion. At other times, the
academic may equivocate and nonsensically change the subject by comparing
levels of injustice in the Third World to those in the United States.
Another preferred Chomsky tactic is to argue that commentators on the
left don't want to join the right in lambasting countries that are
critical of the US. Quite right, but one need not agree with Fox News and
its right-wing spin machine to bring independent judgment to bear on
world events once in a while.

For far too long, the authoritarian left has been spouting its own
interpretation of foreign affairs without much protest from other
radicals. Such a state of affairs has always been undesirable, but now,
as the left seeks to wrestle with the Arab Spring, matters have been
brought increasingly to a head. Chomsky, who holds more influence than
other commentators, could rectify the situation by wading into tricky
debates. Perhaps, instead of publishing yet another analysis of US empire
and imperial decline, the MIT professor will finally get off the fence.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise
of the New Left, and is the founder of the Revolutionary Handbook.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

								
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