Globalisation of McCarthyite Witch-Hunts

Prabhat Patnaik, Orinoco Tribune, October 20, 2023 —

World capitalist crisis has created a fertile ground for the growth of fascism that derives sustenance from McCarthyite witch-hunts, as seen in the case of Newsclick.

The Central government’s hounding of portal Newsclick reminds one of the children’s story about a tiger and a goat drinking water from the same stream. The tiger, wanting an excuse to attack the goat, accuses it of muddying the water it is drinking; when the goat points to the impossibility of this, as the tiger is upstream and the water is flowing not to the tiger but away from it, the tiger says: “well, your father had muddied the water I was drinking”.

The Narendra Modi government has been after Newsclick for months. The Delhi police had searched its founder Prabir Purkayastha’s office and residence for evidence of financial misdemeanour for weeks on end. Despite all its efforts it could not find evidence to bring any charges against Newsclick, not surprisingly since no such misdemeanour had been committed.

Now, it has invoked a completely fresh charge, the charge of terrorism, has harassed scores of Newsclick employees including service providers, and arrested Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakraborty under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which is so draconian that any relief for the arrested is extremely difficult, even when the charges are palpably ludicrous, as they are in the present case.

This change of track on the part of the Delhi police has not been the government’s own original idea. It has come to the government from an utterly malicious article published in the New York Times, which accused a wealthy businessman, who is a US citizen, named Neville Roy Singham, of being close to the propaganda machine of the Chinese government and of using large sums of money to disseminate Chinese propaganda through a multiplicity of outlets, among which Newsclick found a passing mention.

The NYT article is malicious, because it gives no evidence of the violation of any US law; but uses a series of suggestions and innuendos to build up a scenario of Chinese world-wide operations, allegedly mounted through persons like Singham, to push Chinese propaganda.

Singham had declared in an e-mail to the NYT: “I categorically deny and repudiate any suggestion that I am a member of, work for, take orders from, or follow instructions of any political party or government or their representatives. I am solely guided by my beliefs, which are my long-held personal views.”

The NYT article does not directly refute this claim; nor does it make any direct allegations of violation of any American laws by either Singham or any of the organisations allegedly funded by him. (See the informative article by Caitlin Johnstone in Monthly Review Online, August 12, 2023). But, it presents a set of incidental details, each without any pertinence on its own, none directly making any accusations of malfeasance against Singham or any of the organisations allegedly linked to him, but all adding up together to present an illusion of malevolence on a global sale orchestrated by the Chinese authorities.

If Singham has done nothing illegal, and even the NYT article does not directly say he has, the organisations he has supported in the US have not done anything illegal either; nor have they promoted any Chinese “propaganda” other than taking a generally anti-imperialist Marxist position. What is mischievous and dishonest about the NYT article is that it implicitly and through innuendos equates anti-imperialism with Chinese propaganda; and herein lies the scope for McCarthyite witch-hunts that it opens up.

Not surprisingly, Senator Marco Rubio in a letter to the US attorney general Merrick Garland has already demanded that American Leftist anti-war groups should be investigated because “they are tied to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and operating with impunity in the United States” (quoted in Johnstone).

Unlike the NYT article, which was constrained to making only innuendos, presumably under the instructions of NYT’s lawyers keen to avoid legal action against it, the Delhi Police has no such constraints; and it is armed with a law (the UAPA) under which it would not be called upon to defend whatever accusations it makes against individuals or organisations, for months if not years. So, it is emboldened on the strength of the same NYT article to make wild and baseless claims about Newsclick being used for promoting Chinese propaganda.

I say “baseless” because, as a regular reader of Newsclick, I have come across no instance of Newsclick publishing anything remotely linked to any specifically Chinese government position, other than what constitutes a general Left or Marxist perspective on international affairs. It has, of course, a general respect for the Chinese revolution; but every Third World anti-imperialist worth his or her salt must have such respect anyway.

This entire episode demonstrates two kinds of dialectics at work. The first is the dialectics between “liberal” and “fascistic” McCarthyism. The NYT is considered a “liberal” newspaper, even though it generally supports US imperialist wars all over the world; and a fundamental tenet of liberalism according to its proponents is the acceptance of diversity of views and opinions in society and of freedom to propagate such views within the confines of the accepted laws of the land.

For the NYT to publish an article that, no matter what constraints it imposes upon itself as a fig-leaf, clearly encourages McCarthyite witch-hunts of anti-imperialist, anti-war, Left-wing groups, and thereby strengthens fascistic elements in society, underscores the first kind of dialectics.

It is in conformity with the fact that the instruments used for repressing Left and democratic movements by the fascistic forces, when they enter government, are often forged by the liberal bourgeois elements that had preceded them. It is noteworthy in this context that the dreaded and thoroughly misused UAPA in India was first introduced by the liberal bourgeois government of Manmohan Singh, though, of course, the Modi government now uses it, after passing an amendment, against individuals and not just against organisations. This dialectics between liberal anti-communism and fascistic repression must not be lost sight of.

The second kind of dialectics is demonstrated by the fact that a “liberal” move toward a McCarthyite witch-hunt initiated in the US has its repercussions in India and is carried forward by a fascistic government here. This globalisation of McCarthyism is a phenomenon specific to the current era of globalisation.

The ‘Red Scare’ created by the fake Zinoviev Letter in 1924 in Britain, which had led to the defeat of Britain’s first labour government under Ramsay Macdonald, had been essentially a British phenomenon. Likewise, Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt in the US in the 1950s, which left an indelible imprint on American society, was essentially an American phenomenon that did not have any substantial direct global repercussions. But, in the current era of globalisation, the impact of any such “manufactured” Red Scare does not remain confined to the country of its origin; it is used, often quite viciously, in other parts of the world.

The NYT may claim that its article did not make any direct, actionable accusations against Singham or the organisations to which he may have contributed, but in any Third World country, like India under the present Narendra Modi dispensation that has been freely applying a draconian law like the UAPA, such an article can be, and has been used, to dreadful effect against individuals with progressive world views, who have the courage to speak ‘truth to power’ and keep alive the democratic spirit.

The NYT cannot be oblivious of such an impact that its article will have in the contemporary era; the fact that it nonetheless went ahead and published such an article is a telling comment on contemporary Western liberalism.

Invoking the China bogey is the form that McCarthyism takes in the present era. And the Modi government, which insists that not an inch of Indian territory has been lost to China of late, seeks ironically to exploit the anti-China mood, generated by reports of actual loss of such territory, for a McCarthyite targeting of what remains of an independent media in the country.

If liberalism is to be genuinely anti-fascist, then it must shed its propensity to generate Red Scares, and, more generally, its McCarthyite predilections. This is especially necessary in the present era when McCarthyism has a tendency to get rapidly globalised, and when the world capitalist crisis has created a fertile ground for the growth of fascism everywhere in the world, fascism that can derive sustenance from such McCarthyite witch-hunts.

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