Rethinking 'opposing imperialism'


In the most recent edition of Green Left Weekly (GLW #742, links to all contributions in debate so far are below), well-known progressive anti-imperialist activist, Professor Stephen Zunes, has proclaimed that I am a liar.

Understandably, Zunes feels uncomfortable as a result of the critical scrutiny I have subjected himself and his colleagues to. I am at a loss, however, as to how he has failed to grasp that I do not argue that he is not genuinely concerned with opposing imperialism; my point of difference is in regard to his strategy for doing so.

Yet, given our evident differences, it is concerning that Zunes has been unwilling to address the substance of my criticisms.

Initially I had hoped that Zunes would consider the problems posed by the legitimation his active support (and defence) of key members of the democracy-manipulating establishment, but he has not.

His stubborn refusal to do so and total denial that his association with democracy manipulators provides sustenance for their agenda is exemplified by his most recent article, within which Zunes accuses me of outright lying and fabrication — perhaps counting on the fact that most activists reading GLW will be too busy to read my work.

Ironically, for someone well versed in the theory of conflict resolution and mediation Zunes adopts a highly adversarial debating style, and has repeatedly shown his ability to hone in on the weakest parts of my arguments, ignore my well-supported points, and misrepresent my position.

This pattern was clearly visible in his most recent article, when the most powerfully incriminating evidence that he presents is that I lied. Rather than attempt to present further material to support my case, this article simply demonstrates that there was no lie and that my intention, in scrutinising Zunes' associations, is to stimulate more critical thought within progressive circles.

The lie

Zunes writes: "Instead of trying to explain what is actually wrong with our work, [Barker] instead makes things up, like the totally false accusation that ICNC 'hosted a workshop for Venezuelans on non-violent conflict'."

Zunes then adds that he has no problem with me revealing the truth but "only [has] problems with such lies and fabrications". Yet, despite his assurances, this statement only serves to illustrate that he himself has problems with remembering the truth. Indeed, the president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), Jack Duvall, noted in the letter that sparked my exchange with Zunes (GLW#718) that: "In March 2005, we gave support to the [Albert] Einstein Institute [AEI] for a workshop it conducted on nonviolent action for Venezuelans, held in Boston.".

I interpreted Duvall's statement to mean that the ICNC hosted the workshop. In pointing this support out, my actual words were "the ICNC, 'in collaboration with the Albert Einstein Institute' hosted a workshop for Venezuelans on non-violent conflict".

I accept the possibility my interpretation of Duvall's statement could have been mistaken but, given that the ICNC funded the workshop (<>), one can hardly say that I manipulated the facts.

The same is not true for Zunes who, in an earlier article, tried to disassociate his group from the AEI by writing that the "ICNC does not 'work closely' with the Albert Einstein Institution ... and has never had a single operational meeting with anyone representing them".

This may be literally true, however, Zunes refuses to accept the importance of the implications that arise from the fact that the ICNC's founding chair, Peter Ackerman, was a former director of the AEI (along with his wife); while the ICNC's current director of programs and research, Hardy Merriman, came to this position after working for three years at the AEI.

Perhaps the strange tenor of this progressive 'debate' is best explained by the ongoing and ever accelerating NGO-isation of all aspects of modern day life — including the theorising of nonviolent action. The imperialists have seduced the left with funding. It is difficult to criticise what gives you sustenance.

Indeed, it was Upton Sinclair who once wrote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary [or in this case nonviolent career] depends on his not understanding it."

To be clear, it's not my objective to convince the readers of GLW that Professor Stephen Zunes is acting as an agent of the CIA, or the Bush Administration, or that his work as an activist is unimportant. What I am trying to demonstrate is the way in which important work can be weakened by the left's own refusal to genuinely consider what it compromises by accepting funding from foundations that have imperialist agendas.

I am not advocating that Zunes must renounce his associations. Rather I call on him to examine them and criticise them where necessary.

The reality is that progressive activists will accept money from liberal foundations like the Ford Foundation, and even Orwellian groups like the US Institute of Peace. I do not say, "don't take it". What I do say is, "take it, but use it to raise awareness" that The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (INCITE!, 2007), and that majority of the work of such liberal philanthropists actively supports "humanitarian" imperialism.

Without such criticism the left leaves itself open to co-option and ultimate ruin.

[Previous contributions to this debate are: Michael Barker — "Promoting 'democracy' through civil disobedience",; Stephen Zunes — "Inaccurate and unfair attacks on the ICNC",; Michael Barker — "A fair and accurate critique of the ICNC",; Stephen Zunes — "Additional inaccurate and unfair attacks on the ICNC",; Michael Barker: "False accusations and major leaps of logic",
Stephen Zunes — "Opposing imperilaism",]