I first started reading Andre Vltchek on the website CounterPunch, which is a truly great leftist website… even though I will probably never get published on there, even if I was relaying the cure for cancer: CounterPunch appears totally opposed to working with any state media, and I work for Iran’s PressTV.
Rather anarchist and ivory-tower, but… whatever.
Reporters have only two choices: work for either privately-owned or state-owned media. I.e., you can work for shareholders, a patrician family (whether urban giants or rural petty tyrants), or some billionaire whose new sports team is in the middle of a boring rebuild, or you can work for the People.
I chose the People. Even if this closes a million doors to me – and the fact that I work for the Iranian People closes a million others – I have zero regrets.
(Blogging – working for Yourself – is now a third choice, but I don’t have the tech savvy to make that economically viable, and the vast majority of blogging journalists say the same thing.)
But what happened to Vltchek on CounterPunch? I don’t see anything from him on CP for more than a year? It is a truly top dissident media site, and they carry great thinkers, but I know they didn’t find someone better – at least not by much. I’m not the only one who has noticed this.
Is it because he has a Russian background and CounterPunch was duped on a few articles by a troll allegedly from Russia?
That was hardly the end of the world and quickly forgotten: I think every reader of CP viewed them as the victim, and thus CP could not lose any integrity. If CounterPunch thought this reduced their reputation in the Mainstream Media, well, much like state media with CP, CounterPunch has no chance of ever being appreciated by them. I would assume CP is fine with that, as the Mainstream Media can only reach the mere heights of fake-leftism on their very best days.
What is far more weighty is: given the 2+ years of a dangerous, misleading and appallingly stupid Russophobia campaign, US-based CounterPunch has an obvious obligation to promote Russian-linked leftists even more strongly now. That seems so obvious from a leftist analysis that I don’t think it requires much explanation. And yet… this is when CounterPunch chose to drop Vltchek?
The reason Vltchek is especially valuable to CP is because he’s actually going to myriad places and defending / unveiling leftism, whereas a lot of their contributors are leftists discussing leftism from their living room or discussing countries where they have never set their boots upon. That is not an insult, but is simply to show that both theoretical and practical knowledge is necessary.
Isn’t the US left supposed to be fostering a push to the left in the Trump era? That was supposed to be the best thing about Trump: he would pull the sheet off of American fascism – which has never been domestically discredited, unlike in Europe – to reveal that Trump is no different than Dronebama, the Clintons, the Bushes, et al.
Many Americans are more hungry and receptive to leftism than ever, and leftist journalists should gladly feed them the political nutrients they have been long denied by the Mainstream Media. So how could Vltchek’s work have been spiked by CounterPunch during this particular era? One would think that leftist interest in Vltchek’s work would spike during this time, not that he would get spiked!
Maybe it’s just an oversight by CounterPunch – I’m sure they get many submissions.
The solution is obvious: Bring back Vltchek, and perhaps tap some of his compatriots and colleagues at the superb New Eastern Outlook (full of Russian communist intelligentsia who have practical knowledge of socialism) for contributions. They could also run the superb analyses of The Saker, who is a courageous anti-imperialist and also Russian. Adding these Russian worthies would emphatically show that Russia is not the enemy.
But does CounterPunch believe that…?
Is it telling that CounterPunch’s website advertises the book Russia Without Putin? Putin is centre-right in the Russian context, sure, but check your local magazine stand – surely some US journal has a cover vilifying Putin this week. The book is clearly predicted on a fantasy; it has also found a way to not be only anti-Putin, but “non-Putin”. Regardless, it seems like a interesting read, and I hope somebody reviews it on Amazon.
But, at first glance, this seems like more fantasist thinking from Western leftists, which I find particularly aggravating. Just as Western leftists know nothing, investigate nothing, will not tolerate anything which challenges their fantasies on socialist-inspired Iran, the dumping of Vltchek seems like more Western leftism which refuses to see Russia as it really is, but instead as how Western leftists wish it would be. There is PLENTY of socialism in Russia, still; there is PLENTY of socialism in Iran, since 1979.
CounterPunch gets major kudos for having run Vltchek before, because Western Leftists generally have no interest in learning from the practical experiences of leftists in the Old World, and certainly not from the two main enemies of the US – Russia and Iran.
US animosity towards the “continent” of China is nowhere near as strong as towards Iran, but the socialist achievements of all three of these socialist-inspired nations are not just denied by Western leftists, but denigrated as well.
For whatever reason, Latin American leftists are deemed more acceptable to Western leftists – seems like an anti-Asian thing? We can certainly add in North Korea and especially Vietnam, whom Western leftists rallied around in the 1960s but whom they strangely and completely ignored once Vietnamese leftists won. Vietnam has the 2nd highest economic growth rate since 1990 (probably since 1981), China is #2 in increasing their UN Human development Index from 1970-2010, while Iran is #2 from 1990-2014) but – nothing for Western leftists to learn here, right?
Just being “anti-Putin” is not a very leftist stance from a leftist media like CounterPunch – right now is the time for CounterPunch to stand up for Russian leftism (and for the leftist insistence on internationalism), and not after the FBI finally admits they have nothing on Trump and Russia. However, it is very typical of Western leftists to be merely “anti-” (although being “non-” is indeed an original stance), but it’s not enough to sustain leftist-inspired revolutions, and this helps explain why the West has none.
CounterPunch should re-add Vltchek, and then add other Russian leftists as well (I think the “West Coast hippie” viewpoint can afford to lose a couple slots). This will help set many good examples, and it will counter the widespread belief that Western leftists can only push their own regional version of leftism, and are so individualistic and ethnocentric that they often appear incapable of being true internationalists.
But Vltchek is no affirmative-action hire: He is one of the very, very few open and unrepentant socialist journalists who have been around the world, burned the lying flag of imperialism, and kept the leftist flag upraised. Vltchek’s journalism helped gave me the confidence to do leftist advocacy journalism, and he can do the same for others.
I have limitations, as PressTV is a hard-news, daily journalism gig. Hard-news daily journalism has fundamental limitations: our main task is to provide as many facts as possible (and to decide which facts are the most important). At heart, I am just a sucker for from-the-street, daily, hack journalism, but Vltchek’s example shows how leftist advocacy journalism can and should be done.
I bring up CounterPunch because Vltchek was on there, and he deserves to be broadcast as widely as possible – that’s why I’m happy to write a review of his book: Exposing the Lies of the Empire.
‘Exposing the Lies of Empire’ – constant inspiration + massive information
I once read that a good critic doesn’t just bash what he doesn’t like – he sings the praises of that which he does like.
The book, a huge compilation of nearly 70 articles, is Vltchek serving as the world’s best socialist tour guide. It’s an encyclopedia of leftist, on-the-ground reporting from… nearly everywhere.
It’s especially fascinating to read because he seeks out reports, which overturn the Mainstream Media accounts. He goes to the places the West vilifies and lies about (Out and About in Zimbabwe’s Capital: Harare – Is It Really the Worst City on Earth?), or totally ignores (Eritrea: African Ideological Ebola for Imperialists). Zimbabwe never gets a good write-up in the West – they nationalized White farms, after all; Eritrea never gets positive press – it’s a unique socialist state, which has massively uplifted its People.
But he also goes to the West and intellectually scorches them with equal vigor. He demolishes what they incorrectly hold up as worthy of emulation (Shameful, Cowardly European Art) and he shows how hollow their own alleged “democratic successes” are, as well as those of their allies, such as Indonesia and Nigeria.
Vltchek does things like going to North Korea to make a 25-minute documentary, which the West would surely love to ban entirely and which should be on CounterPunch, but it’s his writing style which really sets him apart from other leftists: he is not telling you a story, but relating a human being’s history. Even if that person was sacrificed to capitalism-imperialism 400 years ago, Vltchek seems to feel as though it just happened and right in front of him.
I would say that Vltchek writes with the conscience of a 13-year old, and that is quite a compliment: these idealistic, freshly-minted adults are not only absolutely certain that something better should be done immediately, but that they could do it if only they could hold the reins for a time.
You see the same words over and over in Vltchek’s reports, and they are completely foreign to the daily hard-news journalism I was trained in: words like “compassion”, “humane”, “dehumanization”, “nightmarish”, “struggling”, “conscience”, “miraculous”, “beautiful”, “shameless”.
When is the last time you read a report in a newspaper – not in an editorial – which described an economically right-wing policy’s outcome as “shameless”? Vltchek uses it when talking about free-market fundamentalism, capitalism, US foreign policy, etc. Unlike the absurd, rabid, Russophobic anti-Trumpers, Vltchek is no fake-leftist – he knows it’s all about class & economics, and the permanent link between capitalism & imperialism.
Another favorite word of Vltchek’s is one which journalists don’t utter, and which they feel is their duty to ignore, is ”humiliation”. France’s protesting Yellow Vests, for example, apparently never feel “humiliated” by their 10-year, austerity-enforced, slow descent into borderline / real poverty, even though they are, and even though this explains their anger and violence (which was only marginally exceptional in France solely during the first 6 weeks of the movement).
One is struck by Vltchek’s insistence on the fact that third worlders actually do deserve to not live in humiliation – in a just media world, such a sentiment would be in every story about the developing world… but that would undermine the false idea that capitalism & neoliberal globalism is working great / has learned from the most recent crisis / could never be the reason for a foreign army base.
In his writing he is appalled by horrid living conditions, by lack of worker safety, by infrastructure so dilapidated it creates a lack of citizen safety, and by other conditions people just write off as “normal for those people”. For Vltchek, people riding on the tops of trains in Jakarta (and getting maimed or killed) is not the chance to run a bemused photo, but it always is for Western Mainstream Media. Whereas most of us gloss over it, he relates to the reader like it was the first, worst time he has ever seen poor governance, the abuses of capitalism, the rapes of imperialism, etc. This fresh-eyed view is incredibly inspirational.
Like any 13 year old, Vltchek has a clique of friends who are SO, SO much cooler. Vltchek goes to these places – like to doctors in the Bolivia of Evo Morales – and reports back, providing the reader with yet another heaping of inspiration. If he had not done this, perhaps Vltchek would have been like many other lefties – content just to vilify their neighbors, eventually growing embittered, superior and apathetic.
To me these sights in the middle of the Bolivian Andes were like the essence of human nature – by now almost extinct – but still the essence played in front of my eyes. I was very much aware of the fact that this was exactly the socialism in which I have believed for decades; it was right here, in action, in front of my eyes. And it was simple, natural and undogmatic.”
It is these stories, which supply the vital, other half to his work: the requited passion, the justice, the action, the promises kept, the potential fulfilled.
It is fundamentally flattering to the reader, and correct, that Vltchek appears to treat every true leftist as though they were Che Guevara: he does not overvalue the leftist figures from his own nations, and he does not see historical figures as Ubermen from a golden or Salafist era. He sees everyone standing on the same level – even if that person is barefoot and dirty. What impresses him is only moral leftist effort, struggle and sacrifice. That is the true socialist mentality, just as much as it is true leftist internationalism.
Vltchek is an opponent of the smug & cold, the poseur & the disingenuous, the elitists & those who stratify themselves away from the People. For example, Vltchek is an atheist, but that doesn’t mean he supports stupidity when it comes to those who are anti-religion (from Blaming It All on the Muslims):
She is not the only person in Istanbul I know who has those moments. In the ‘City of Dreams’ to show spite for Islam and for practicing Muslims is clearly some commonly-used secret password to the universe of what is acceptable here as brainy and hip.”
You don’t read that from the Mainstream Media because, to them, being Islamophobic IS brainy and hip; you don’t read that from a lot of leftist media because they ARE Islamophobic, which includes the fear of Islam as a political force in any definition of the term. Islam is not the danger in the Muslim World – capitalism-imperialism and Western racism-ethnocentrism are the dangers. Vltchek is an atheist, but it seems he’s not so dogmatic, superior, ruthless and politically-stupid as to think socialism can function without embracing members who also choose to be religious. In short: he’s not an idiot nor a bigot – he’s a true internationalist.
If I had to pin down his official label I would describe Vltchek’s overall view most in line with “Cuban-style” socialism: after all, no country (other than the USSR) has been more truly internationalist (there would have been no South African independence without Cuban assistance to Angola, which was not even a Spanish colony); conversely, Chinese and Iranian internationalist efforts, while extensive, vital and costly, have been limited to regional affairs.
Not much to say – only much to read
This review is not that long, mainly because there is not much I can say. Yes, I agree with Vltchek on seemingly 90% of his major points, but his book is not theoretical but practical. It is on-the-ground journalism: there is nothing to argue about. Unless you have been there yourself and can call him a liar, there is only acceptance, and then the intellectual adaptation required to accommodate new, ignored, shocking, passionately-infused facts of modern social existence. This is what CounterPunch and those unfamiliar with Vltchek’s work are missing.
Of course, If you want to visit such places and analyze their current situation from an openly socialist perspective, I would certainly love to read it… but very, very few people do this.
The book reminds me of J Is for Junk Economics, by our era’s must-read economist Michael Hudson, in that you can pick up either of these books for just 5 minutes and then have something to reflect on for the rest of the day.
In a just world, Vltchek is tapped to run a media company by a leftist billionaire. I don’t think there is such a thing, though…
However, there are leftist-influenced states – two of them are publishing me and Vltchek (NEO is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences), whereas CounterPunch is not, whatever their reasons are. Thank God for state media, eh?
Leftists writers all know: we are not in this for money, because what we propose is a guaranteed loser – writing leftist journalism in the English language. No Anglophone country is remotely socialist and most are ardently anti-socialist, so there is near-zero demand. We should pick something with slightly greater sales prospects: like selling pamphlets on atheism in Farsi, or books railing against the evils of hockey & donuts in Canada.
But if you can’t bankroll a media company, I hope you have some money to buy Vltchek’s book. The most important unsaid leftist phrase in the West is “anti-imperialist” – here is a book which tells you the state of that struggle around the world.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.
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