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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Is criticizing Obama "playing into the hands of" the right wing?

From time to time, we've had discussions on this blog's Comments section about whether or not President Barack Obama should be directly criticized for some of his policies; and on one or two other list serves that I participate in, I have been similarly chastised for criticisms I have made of the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela on the grounds that they "play into the hands of" U.S. imperialism.

George Orwell, the greatest political commentator of all time, had some wise words about "playing into the hands of the enemy" in his "As I Please" column for the Tribune, which ran during 1944-45. Here is an excerpt from his column of June 9, 1944. I think it is still relevant today.

A phrase much used in political circles in this country is ‘playing into the hands of’. It is a sort of charm or incantation to silence uncomfortable truths. When you are told that by saying this, that or the other you are ‘playing into the hands of some sinister enemy, you know that it is your duty to shut up immediately.

For example, if you say anything damaging about British imperialism, you are playing into the hands of Dr Goebbels. If you criticize Stalin you are playing into the hands of the Tablet and the Daily Telegraph. If you criticize Chiang Kai-Shek you are playing into the hands of Wang Ching-Wei — and so on, indefinitely.

Objectively this charge is often true. It is always difficult to attack one party to a dispute without temporarily helping the other. Some of Gandhi's remarks have been very useful to the Japanese. The extreme Tories will seize on anything anti-Russian, and don't necessarily mind if it comes from Trotskyist instead of right-wing sources. The American imperialists, advancing to the attack behind a smoke-screen of novelists, are always on the look-out for any disreputable detail about the British Empire. And if you write anything truthful about the London slums, you are liable to hear it repeated on the Nazi radio a week later. But what, then, are you expected to do? Pretend there are no slums?

Everyone who has ever had anything to do with publicity or propaganda can think of occasions when he was urged to tell lies about some vitally important matter, because to tell the truth would give ammunition to the enemy. During the Spanish Civil War, for instance, the dissensions on the Government side were never properly thrashed out in the left-wing press, although they involved fundamental points of principle. To discuss the struggle between the Communists and the Anarchists, you were told, would simply give the Daily Mail the chance to say that the Reds were all murdering one another. The only result was that the left-wing cause as a whole was weakened. The Daily Mail may have missed a few horror stories because people held their tongues, but some all-important lessons were not learned, and we are suffering from the fact to this day.



Five Days on the Digital Dirt Road. That's the title of a new multimedia report just released by internetforeveryone.org, an organization devoted to making broadband available to everyone--ie, closing the "digital divide."

3 comments:

LL said...

Since I'm conservative, my comments may not be welcome here. Making people aware of the pranks the present administration is pulling is the same thing that happened with the last one.

It's tough to say it's keeping politicians honest. How could ANYONE who crawled out from under a rock in the Chicago Political Machine ever be accused of honesty?

Andrew Hunt said...

George Orwell remains a source of great wisdom, even almost 60 years after his death. That's a great excerpt.

jqb said...

From time to time, we've had discussions on this blog's Comments section about whether or not President Barack Obama should be directly criticized for some of his policies

Hmmm ... the closest that I can recall seeing such a thing here was http://michael-balter.blogspot.com/2008/11/note-to-my-fellow-leftists-put-up-or.html, but that was your response to people like Louis Proyect whose accusation is essentially that anyone who is complimentary of Obama is a rightist.

I have been similarly chastised for criticisms I have made of the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela on the grounds that they "play into the hands of" U.S. imperialism.

Well, there's a difference between criticizing Obama from the left, as on Israel and presidential power issues -- saying things that imperialists do not say -- and accusing Chavez of being a dictatorial thug -- things that imperialists do say. In doing the latter, I think it's important to distinguish one's criticisms from those of the right and to be especially careful not to uncritically accept their rhetoric and their claims -- a care that has not been taken in some of the blog posts you have linked to.