Groupuscules, or
The New Old Left

In 1999, members of the paranoid Left were hard put to find explanations for the NATO aerial campaign against Serbia. What on earth could the NATO imperialists be trying to seize? Well, perhaps it was the mineral wealth, exemplified by Yugoslavia's principal mineral water company which was located in Kosovo.

One member also discovered that there were coal deposits in Croatia, and postulated that Tony Blair, having closed numerous British coal mines, was hell-bent on seizing more in the former Yugoslavia, presumably in order to close them.

Finally, there was the universal explanation, a sort of Philosopher's Stone of Marxist-Leninist analysis: plans for a future oil pipeline. Since Yugoslavia is not even on the same continent as the Caspian Sea or the sands of Arabia, plain geography made this explanation a little weird. Perhaps our Marxist-Leninist thinkers had just confused Belgrade with Baku. No matter.I was reminded of these scholastic exercises a few nights ago, when I joined a gathering of Progressive Thinkers to discuss the September 11 events and the ensuing American military action. Part of the discussion probed that great mystery --- how to explain the American attack on the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.

Surprisingly, nobody mentioned the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, although that country is legendary for its large supply of rocks. The consensus was, rather, that the American onslaught came about because of plans for a future oil pipeline. The possibility that U.S. behavior might have had something to do with the incineration of a few thousand Americans in Manhattan by close associates of the Taliban was barely mentioned.

Most of the congregants believed that the US had its predatory eye on Afghanistan long in advance of September 11, and some could not help suspecting that US ruling circles had actually colluded in the attack on the World Trade Center --- or at least knew about it in advance and did nothing to stop it. There were knowing references to the precedent of the Reichstag fire in 1933.

They conceived of many ways in which the U.S. was itself responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center. And the U.S., it transpires, is also responsible for every other negative event in recent history. One of the congregants explained that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 had really been the fault of the US, because the Carter administration had tricked the Soviet Union into invading. I was reminded of similar conversations in 1999 with people who explained how the U.S. had brought about the collapse of Yugoslavia into its murderous civil wars.

I resisted the temptation to ask whether Herbert Hoover had tricked Stalin into ruining Soviet agriculture through forced collectivization or whether Warren G. Harding had bamboozled Lenin into setting up the first Arctic forced labour camps.

There was a lot of white hair in the room --- (old Old Left, as distinct from the grey-haired old New Left) so elaborate arguments to exculpate the late lamented Soviet Union would not have been unwelcome. Had I asked these questions, I am sure they would have been soberly discussed.

I was struck by the amount of energy in the room --- the energy of sheer indignation against the U.S. It was a meeting ostensibly about the September 11 attacks on the U.S., so this lent a certain surreal quality to the discussion. This emotional dissonance went unnoticed, because the people in the room were so filled with indignation. It was an indignation of long standing, a source of deep emotional satisfaction to them --- and in some cases, it was obviously part of their definition of self.

I sensed an intense, addictive pleasure in firing up this indignation. No wonder they remain on the margin and cannot persuade others. Persuading others is not what these meetings are for. Taking out one's indignation and stroking it is what the meeting was all about.

As a thought experiment, I wondered how this group would respond to the discovery of an asteroid in orbit headed directly for the earth. They would need no evidence to perceive that the CIA and the NSA, together with the IMF, must have created the asteroid, probably as part of a plan to build an oil pipeline to the planet Jupiter. American society warrants criticism, God knows, but in order to make any difference the criticism needs intellectual standards more serious than those of self-stimulation.

--- Dr. Phage

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