by Danny Haiphong, originally published on Black Agenda Report’s Independent Journalist Corner, March 7, 2018
“Americans—even ‘woke’ ones—don’t know jack about their own history: the violence, the terror on behalf of white supremacy is simply a bottomless pit.”
This week I spoke with journalist and political analyst Daniel Patrick Welch (Donal Pádraig Breatnach). He is a writer of political commentary and analysis. Welch is also a singer and songwriter who lives and writes in Salem, MA with his wife, Julia. Together they run the Greenhouse School. He has traveled widely, speaks five languages and studied Russian History and Literature at Harvard University.
Welch has also appeared as a guest on several TV and radio channels to speak on topics of foreign affairs and political analysis. He is available for interview requests as scheduling permits and can be contacted at danielpatrickwelch(at)gmail.com .
Despite the price of being outspoken against US foreign policy and military adventurism–which can be steep in today’s circumstances–Welch believes firmly as did Rosa Luxemburg that “It will always be the most revolutionary act to tell the truth out loud.” I spoke with him on US imperialism’s attack on independent media and the nuances of the anti-Russia hysteria that has engulfed Washington.
Could you give readers a background of who you are and what influenced your path to independent journalism and politics?
My education started quite early. As the youngest of eight kids, my politics were probably a little ahead of my time, and I was marching against segregation in Boston and against the Vietnam War in DC almost as soon as I could walk. Later I learned that language and writing would be the tools I was best prepared to bring to the struggle. I was active in college in Central American and anti apartheid/divestment causes and began to write for publication soon after. I traveled a bit, and by sheer coincidence of history I found myself in Berlin and Yugoslavia in 1989 and reported from Managua in the elections of 1990 when the US’ long con of undermining the Sandanista revolution bore fruit at last. This defeat in particular is seared in my memory, and I returned to the US with an anger that has never dissipated. Now, in addition to teaching, I mostly write articles of commentary and analysis and make media appearances where I do my small part to counter the narrative that US and western imperialism has used to maintain a stranglehold on the world.
I want to discuss Russia. It seems the corporate media is obsessed with Russia, as is the two-party duopoly that blames the Russian government for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss. The Clinton “tent” of ruling class spooks continues into the Trump era, with former Bush II FBI Director Robert Mueller leading a “Special Counsel” to investigate Russia’s role in the use of “fake news” and other methods to undermine “American Democracy.” Could you help readers understand what this whole Russia story is about?
Politicians, corporate media and other bullhorns for the oligarchy lie absolutely, constantly, and seemingly without breaking a sweat. Here, however, it is instructive to look at their war plans in their own words—probably the only place you will catch them telling any semblance of the truth. The US national security strategy document—which only undergoes minor punctuation and stylistic changes from regime to regime, states it quite plainly: “China and Russia challenge American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”
I’m tempted to leave it there, since it is the most concise possible explanation, and the ethos that drives and justifies the entire narrative. Plus, I think that in our agitation against the trillion-dollar, trillion-watt propaganda matrix of US empire, simple is best. But I am prompted to add a few more details.
First, it is laughably stupid for anyone with a brain to argue that American “democracy” even exists, let alone that it is something worth defending. Even as milquetoast a critic as Jimmy Carter, millionaire peanut broker (and now apparently newly minted arch communist) has said openly that we do not live in a democracy but an oligarchy, with people having absolutely zero control of the policies that control them.
“The Russia narrative is complete bullshit.”
Beyond that, the Russia narrative is complete bullshit—either that $300 worth of Facebook ads in Wisconsin might have some impact on the multi-billion dollar blood-and-money circus that passes for ‘elections’ in the US, OR that it could outpace the cynical treachery of the DNC against the only marginally viable alternative in the Sanders campaign. As if it could outweigh the doomed-to-fail attempt for Clinton to shed her latest grotesque skin and molt into something other than her role as Cruella de Ville in Americans’ popular imagination OR be more of a threat than the racist, oligarchic, anti-democratic slavery holdover that is the Electoral College, which the Democrat party has done exactly *jack* to correct.
All this is of course in addition to the big enchilada, which is or should be our most valuable teachable moment: Who the hell is the US, drenched in blood with a veritable bottomless pit of coup attempts failed and successful, wars and humanity-crushing “meddling,” to say anything about foreign intervention?? Sit down and shut up. Not us—we should be shouting this from the rooftops. But more on this later, I suppose. Since I did say simple is best, it helps to revert to the governing National Security text: “China and Russia challenge American power…”
You have appeared several times on Russia Today (RT) and RT America for interviews. RT has since been accused by US intelligence and its political allies in the two-party duopoly as “foreign agents” that intentionally sewed discord to favor Trump during the 2016 elections. It is my understanding that many independent left political thinkers and activists share this view. What is your take on the two-party duopoly’s attack on RT and Russian media?
Well I’ll start again with the simplest view. That way readers who tire of my so-called wit can front load the important part—and it also makes sense for the reasons I stated earlier. RT publishes embarrassing stuff about the US. Therefore, it must be neutered and demonized to maintain the near total monopoly the empire maintains over the narrative in the belly of the beast. Sadly, most Americans have no clue how tightly restricted their access to information really is, believing that the AstroTurf of corporate spinoff channels somehow means variety. It is an essential part of the full spectrum dominance of empire to maintain as tight a reign on access to information as possible.
Again, the cloak and dagger spookophobia of “foreign agents” is a cold war relic as silly as the “meddling” charge in elections. In true sociopathic form, the US info matrix excels at accusing others of the very sins of which they are the most culpable—with a propaganda flair that would make Goebbels blush.
Beneath the surface, of course, RT and other foreign media are a mixed bag. Even friends of mine who work for the “Propaganda Bullhorn” (in Kerry’s famous words) notice its schizophrenic character, saying that it is turning into a “half Fox news.” Very astute analyses on Vietnam or police brutality in the US share space with the most vitriolic and repulsive crap on migrants that you will find anywhere. It is apparent that Russia is willing to use a variety of weapons to undermine western governments—except that in its case—as opposed to the US—it is a matter of its very survival against an all-out war from an enemy bent on its destruction at any cost. (“China and Russia challenge American power…”)
“RT publishes embarrassing stuff about the US. Therefore, it must be neutered and demonized.”
Naturally, and pragmatically, I suppose, they use formations that already exist that are tearing western European society apart at the seams. I don’t have to agree with the tactics of a people, culture and government defending their very existence. In fact, a special humility is called for, I think, when I am still paying taxes to the entity funding the war against them. Sure, we can ask the rhetorical question of why Russia doesn’t support left wing formations to advance instability in Europe—the beauty of rhetorical questions is that they require no answer, though the answer is as obvious as it is beyond the reach of a western left that can’t even tie its own shoes.
Besides, it is worth noting that they did when they had the chance. A friend and Old China Hand pointed out, almost poetically, a sort of rhythmic historical pattern. At its peak, the old western communist parties in say, Italy and France, in the 1960s or 70s, reached a critical mass of around 30%. These were heavily supported by the Soviet Communist Party, and, while never on the verge of taking power, were a valuable thorn in the side of the enemy, serving to keep it just a bit off balance. This trend is mirrored in the current period, in a sense, by formations this time on the right.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes, as Twain is reputed to have said. Left dogmatists, like other clunky thinkers, are uninterested in the confluence of poetry and history. For me, this is an essential component of how I break down history. Maybe I continue to appear on RT and other platforms because, like the Russians, I feel options are limited. My motto I guess would be something like every rooftop, every mic, every platform. As they say, until lions have their own historians…
The attack on Russian independent media has spread to left independent media in the US as well. As you may know, large corporations such as Google and Facebook have changed their algorithms to make it more difficult for users to find content from sites such as MintPress News and Black Agenda Report. Few in America have made the connection between the anti-Russia narrative peddled in Washington and the attack on independent left media. Why do you think that is and what are the consequences of such silence?
Well first of all I might not use the term “spread.” I think this is part and parcel of the original design. The noose is tightening around all access to critical thinking and independent thought. While there are some aspects of all the platforms I have appeared on with which I disagree—sometimes vehemently—I won’t conflate this with the empire’s narrative of ‘fake news’ and the obvious drive toward censorship that is afoot. It is useful to keep in mind that, in virtually every field where the propaganda matrix operates, US and imperial history provides a wealth of counter examples that give the lie to the sociopathic trait I mentioned earlier. Remember that the original Fake News was the CIA psy-op Operation Mockingbird, planting false news stories for propaganda purposes—a black ops program not only revived but effectively *legalized* by the outgoing Obama Justice Department.
“The real target always is and will be black activism and left dissent more generally.”
Suppression of dissent is essential to an empire not only whose narrative, but also whose economics, institutions and social compacts are blowing apart at the seams. It is no surprise—and far from new—for the black left to know that no matter what other feints are on offer, the real target always is and will be black activism and left dissent more generally. It is completely impossible to overstate this point. George Jackson concluded in 1970(!) that for black and brown Americans, as well as the nonwestern world in general, fascism had already arrived. White leftists, and the western left in general, seem to suffer from a bit of exceptionalist hubris inherited from the broader pathology in which they live. Here again, a bit more humility would be instructive. Some might actually think they have more freedom to operate than they do, unaware (or unconcerned) that the degree of freedom they enjoy is exactly proportional to the actual threat they represent—in essence, how “nonwhite” they are. That’s why I find it problematic to start with—or prioritize—attacking the same targets the imperial propaganda has already identified. It feels a bit lazy and smug to me. Of course, it can seem boring—like beating the same drum. But the history and the narrative are so sculpted that our plate is full to the brim with the task of countering it. People simply don’t know the basic historical facts, or even current reality. We could hammer away at this 24/7 and never run out of moles to whack. It is absolutely essential work.
Some leftists have even embraced the Russia narrative emanating from the power structures of imperialism, even when those who have devised the narrative also told us that Gaddafi in Libya was butchering his own people in 2011 or that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction in 2002, both of which were found to be lies justifying US invasions. Much of the American left’s critique centers on Russian President Vladimir Putin. What is the context for the animosity toward Putin from American leftists? Is there anything legitimate to it?
Well of course. I mean there is something to everything, isn’t there? The question is one of scale. But again, we should start with simple. Your analogs are completely on point. Within the context of managed opinion, Putin as baby-eater-du-jour is simply a new (using the term loosely) installment in this tired script. And it is very much worth hammering this to death. Not only do they never change the script—they barely bother to change the damn font. This has become so tired, so predictable, that it almost seems like low hanging fruit. But it is still successful, millions of people buy into it, and the wars keep on coming. That’s why they don’t change the script. If it ain’t broke… That’s why it is still as important to knock down as the Saddam-is-worse-than-Hitler meme of yesterwar whenever it arises.
It may be that some leftists bristle at the repetition, or balk at something so obvious. So they want to look for nuance, or fancy themselves intellectuals and deeper thinkers—probably more of a problem endemic to the western left. But hey, I am as deep a thinker as any of them, and I feel no shame at all in hammering home the same buried truths time after time. I don’t feel it is beneath me; on the contrary, I see it as a duty. So this Putin fella becomes a lightning rod for the West because he punched the bully back and refused to stay down—precisely the same reasons for which he earned the admiration of such a large percentage of his people and hundreds of millions worldwide. Whatever else is at play, the historical thumbnail will be of a man of immense courage and dignity who stood up to empire. And while this is obviously a cardboard cutout, it is worth bearing in mind as a counterweight to the imperial smear campaign. Do you think these mouthpieces and shills care if he is a homophobe? They don’t. In fact, virtually all of them were homophobes themselves, right up until it became expedient and fashionable to stop admitting it in public.
“Putin becomes a lightning rod for the West because he punched the bully back and refused to stay down.”
Beyond the simple, of course there is a broader picture—there always is. The question important to me is what to prioritize or focus on while keeping our eyes on the prize—that prize, at least in my view, being to stop or reverse the murderous chokehold that US imperialism has on the mass of humanity. In the first place, he is apparently not a communist. Who knew? I think we are all quite aware that a capitalist oligarchic state will not be a revolutionary ideal, nor even a permanent ally. Nationalist movements do not necessarily lead to revolutionary arrangements, even those movements aimed at national liberation. As the great Irish communist James Connolly said, “Hold on to your rifles, lads—we’ll need them for the Fenians.” That said, the continuing and deepening alliance and integration between China and Russia is perhaps the most massive step toward the aforementioned prize and does more than anything western leftists have ever even thought of doing toward bringing it within reach. Why some leftists miss this absolutely central fact is puzzling. The empire certainly gets it (“China and Russia challenge American power…”)
Deeper, of course, there is more to it, though I continue to think that the broader brush focus is important in the context of the geopolitical picture. Leftists rightly cringe at the popularity and influence of a character like Dugin, whose latest rerebranding of National Bolshevism might be unflatteringly summed up as something like, “the world will be just fine if the darkies keep to their countries and whitey stays put.” There is also the well-known history of pogroms in Russia, the legacy of the Black Hundreds, racism, etc etc.
“It seems a bit over the top to suggest that Russia is fueling the West’s racial divisions any more than it is undermining nonexistent ‘democracies.’”
Basically, the main thing is that there are various motives among those opposing globalism. On one side, there are those of us who reject the notion that Bechtel has the right to deprive farmers in Cochabamba from collecting their own rainwater. Others see the major threat as being that “brown men will touch *our* women.” Look, mine is an interracial, immigrant family, who sometimes lie awake at night worrying about brothers, kids, and family getting shot by cops. There is exactly *zero* chance of us conflating the latter with the former. Everyone in our communities can smell the difference a mile away. But the criticism is not baseless: there are many who are trying to do just that in some form, and “entryism” is an actual thing.
But to me anyway, it seems a bit over the top to suggest that Russia is fueling the West’s racial divisions any more than it is undermining nonexistent ‘democracies.’ Really? The inventors of phrenology, architects of Sundown Towns—the very creators of the concept of race itself—these vile creatures need meddling from the Russians to do what they have been doing for half a millennium? I don’t know, maybe it’s a confusion of the roles of agitation and propaganda, but I think our priorities are more clearly served closer to home, where the propaganda knows exactly what the problem is (“China and Russia challenge American power..”)
What do you think the American left should be focusing on when it comes to the New Cold War rhetoric, which seems has become a permanent fixture of American imperialist politics?
I try to demur when tempted to give pronouncements about what everyone should be doing. In the first place, it feels a bit dogmatic and shrill, and tends to stifle organic enthusiasm like a wet blanket. Also, it is simply a very difficult, reactionary period. We are so alienated and dispersed that I think it is crucial for people not to think that just because there is not a local battalion for them to join, that there is no role they can play.
What I do think is being missed right now is an enormous, golden teaching moment. They want to make this about some “foreign meddling” in countries’ affairs? Bring it on. Should we start with India…the Philippines? Or would you rather begin with 20th century horror stories? Their narrative only works if it is tightly controlled, and they are, frankly, losing their grip on it, which is why they are freaking out. History is ours, the stories are ours, the truth is ours. They are and have been fantastically wrong about virtually everything under the sun, and there is no shortage of opportunities to point this out at every turn.
“Their narrative only works if it is tightly controlled, and they are, frankly, losing their grip on it, which is why they are freaking out.”
Americans—even *woke* ones—don’t know jack about their own history: the violence, the terror on behalf of white supremacy is simply a bottomless pit. We can push back with a challenge to the notion of exceptionalism that infects every sphere of consciousness in the US. Not just in our own circles, but among ordinary people as well. It is essential to organize left forums, to create events for a left audience, etc. But there are also literally countless opportunities to speak out wherever and whenever the chance arises.
I would say that, without being too dramatic, we are in a sense all Robert Emmet in the dock of history. Condemned men and women pushing back with confidence, eloquence and clarity, daring and challenging power over its right to control the story. We need to be wary of the tricks and tools of our enemies who try to trip us up and distract us with inconsequential details, when the entire sweep of history shows them to be the monsters they are. Our own unwavering confidence should come from the vastness of the crimes they have committed over half a millennium. No fear of confronting our potential judges and jailers. After all, in Emmet’s words it is turning history on its head to let ourselves be judged, “…By you, too, who if it were possible to collect all the innocent blood that you have shed in your unhallowed ministry in one great reservoir, your lordship might swim in it.”
At present, are there any projects or organizations you are working that you would like to point readers to?
Most of my energy is taken up with long days and nights at my day job, though I try to make myself available as much as I can to continue speaking out. I run a small school with my wife, who is Ugandan, in Salem, Massachusetts. And while it is not overtly a political organization, we can’t help but be exponents of the values we live and choose to promote in shaping a future world free of the current madness we live in. A small patch of utopia in the belly of dystopia, you might say—a safety valve from the school to prison pipeline and a year-round sanctuary for kids and families, many from immigrant or low-income families. It is incredibly rewarding as well as difficult, and we are always struggling to make ends meet. We think it’s worth it. You can check out The Greenhouse School at www.greenhouseschool.org.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990(at)gmail.com