Diana Johnstone, Ordfront and the “bombing left”


Posted to www.marxmail.org on November 26, 2005


In her Counterpunch article dealing with the Chomsky-Guardian controversy that involved her as a principal player, Diana Johnstone addresses an earlier such attack from the Guardian, this time by Ed Vulliamy, a member in good standing of the Cruise Missile left, who wrote:


In Sweden, here they come again, through the pages of a magazine called Ordfront, or Word Front. Last year, it carried an interview with the author Diane Johnstone, about her book Fool's Crusade, which expresses doubts over the number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre; the authencity of the Racak massacre in Kosovo; the use of systematic rape in the war in Bosnia; and the true figure of Bosnian war dead (the official estimate is more than 200,000 - Johnstone claims 50,000). And just as before, members of the chattering classes, unbelievably, have hailed this poison as “outstanding work”, in a letter signed by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali, John Pilger, <et.al>.


Johnstone responds to Vulliamy as follows:


From this citation, it emerges that the Brockes interview was a continuation of the vicious attack on me and the managing editor of the Swedish magazine Ordfront, Björn Ecklund, following his long article in the July/August 2003 issue on "lies about Yugoslavia" which featured an interview with me and excerpts from my book, "Fools' Crusade".


The first shots in that assault were fired by Maciej Zaremba, an ex-Maoist of Polish origin turned ideological watchdog, in a flailing article published by Sweden's leading mainstream daily, Dagens Nyeter. Zaremba's sloppy attack (he admittedly never read my book, and seems not even to have read the Ordfront piece carefully) was thereupon echoed by mainstream Swedish media, in a campaign absurdly called a "debate", although replies from those being attacked (myself and others) were excluded. Among the uncorrected lies was the statement that I was a "pillar of LM", a magazine with which I have never had the slightest contact.


This shameful campaign was used to bring to heel Ordfront, which until then had been the most important left-oriented alternative to Sweden's mainstream press. It is an amazing story, excellently recounted by Al Burke, a (formerly U.S.) Swedish citizen who is well-acquainted with the Ordfront scandal and its broader political context. His document, "All Quieted on the Word Front", deserves to be read carefully by all who are concerned by the growing threats to freedom of political expression in the “democratic West”. See http://www.nnn.se/n-model/foreign/ordfront.pdf. For starters, there is an introduction on Al Burke's web http://www.nnn.se/nodel/foreign/ordfront.htm.


Full: http://www.counterpunch.org/johnstone11142005.html


Unfortunately Burke’s introduction to this very important struggle cannot really convey the magnitude of what took place, which can only be described as a full-tilt attack on democracy and the left. By the same token, the linked pdf document is about the size of a book, so I am not sure how many Counterpunch readers took the trouble to plow through it, especially since much of it is taken up with internecine struggles on the Swedish left. It is almost like inviting people in Sweden to read 150 pages on the Pacifica struggle of a couple of years ago.


Since I have committed a fair amount of time and energy in debate with people like Michael Bérubé on the liberal left and the Australian DSP on the extreme left over such issues, I decided to read the entire pdf and prepare a summary of the issues. Put succinctly, the article reveals that the Guardian/George Soros/Hitchens crusade on Yugoslavia meshed neatly with a crusade against Swedish radicalism but focused on Yugoslavia. A degraded social democracy intervened in a radical magazine’s internal struggle in order to make imperialist intervention more acceptable to Swedish society. And all this grew out of Ordfront’s decision to interview Diana Johnstone!


Subscription to Ordfront makes you a member so people feel that they have a stake in what appears in its pages, just as Pacifica donors do about what goes out on the air waves. Politically, the magazine is a few degrees to the left of the Nation and had a circulation of 30,000 in 2004. A comparable circulation this size in the USA would number about just under one million so you can see that it is not marginal. Al Burke thought that it played a role in voters rejecting the European Monetary Union. Ordfront also has a publishing house and an educational network.


In the summer of 2003, Ordfront ran an interview with Diana Johnstone which focused on her “Fools’ Crusade.” A month or so later, Dagens Nyheter, the NY Times of Sweden, opened up a full-scale assault on the magazine for having the temerity to interview Johnstone, which in their eyes was tantamount to interviewing David Irving. Leading the attack was one Maciej Zaremba, a transplanted Pole and fan of US foreign policy who once called Ben Linder, the martyred Nicaragua volunteer, an “odd duck” and nothing else.


When Zaremba was interviewed on Swedish public radio some time later, he confessed to not having read “Fools’ Crusade.” He also stated that Ordfront did not have the right to give her a hearing because “freedom of expression which is used to confuse us contradicts the purpose of freedom of expression.” Despite his anti-Communism, one imagines that Zaremba learned a few tricks from a Stalinist hack like the former dictator of Poland Edward Gierek. Eventually Zaremba’s crusade was joined by Gellert Tamas, an Ordfront author and, as Burke puts it, a charter member of the “bombing left.”


The pressure mounted by Dagens Nyheter eventually forced the editorial board of Ordfront to cave in and they published a ‘mea culpa’ open letter in that newspaper that charged Diana Johnstone with holocaust denial. Dagens Nyheter refused to publish rebuttals by Johnstone, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, which do however appear in the pdf. Eventually Björn Eklund, who had interviewed Johnstone, was fired. His reply to the charges against him were not published in the magazine. He had become an “unperson.”


After Eklund’s departure, the magazine deepened its support for NATO’s war in Yugoslavia using the sort of arguments found in Dissent Magazine. Imagine Paul Berman as editor of the Nation Magazine and you’ll get the picture of what was going on.


The assault on Diana Johnstone eventually spilled over into Sweden’s public television and radio. A kind of “thought police” mentality overcame social democratic opinion. Anybody who questioned the “party line” on Yugoslavia became another David Irving.


Outraged Ordfront subscribers came to the 2004 annual meeting with a determination to reorient the magazine away from Serb-bashing and to restore free speech. In the past 30 to 40 people would show up. This year 200 did! By a sizable margin, the body approved a motion that stated, “It is the opinion of the annual meeting that it was wrong to repudiate publication of the interview with Diana Johnstone. In keeping with the organization’s stated purpose, the board should instead have defended the provision of a public space for critical debate on controversial issues.” They also repudiated the firing of Björn Eklund.


The next day Ordfront editor Christina Hagner, a “bombing leftist,” took to the pages of Dagens Nyheter to denounce the unruly mob that insisted on democracy at the annual meeting, which she characterized as being “completely out of control.” She eventually brought in a professor of commercial law from the Swedish equivalent of the Harvard Business School to render a negative judgment on the pro-democracy faction that had shown up at the annual meeting. Eventually Hagner and her supporters managed to purge Ordfront’s board of directors and staff of anybody who was outspokenly to the left of Marc Cooper. Those who did have such politics, but who lacked the stomach for a fight, were silenced into submission.


For me the biggest revelation in Al Burke’s article was the degree to which Sweden has moved inexorably to the right, just as its economy has slid into neoliberalism--all under the watch of successive social democratic administrations. This is no longer the country of Prime Minister Olof Palme, who referred to Nixon’s bombing as “torture” of the Vietnamese people and linked it to Lidice, Guernica and Babi Yar.


Sweden’s current prime minister is one Göran Persson, a ‘pragmatic’ social democrat who despite criticisms of the war on terror has seen fit to allow U.S. agents onto Swedish soil, where they hauled off two political-asylum seekers and sent them to Egypt where they were tortured.


It is also of some note that some of the most outspoken ‘bombing leftist’ members of the Ordfront board and staff were, as Burke puts it, “reformed veterans of the lunatic Left of the 1960s and 70s.” (I myself prefer to remain an unrepentant Marxist, even if people like Marc Cooper or Leo Casey think that I am a 60s style lunatic.) His following words seem most apt in describing the “repentant” nature of such people.


The theory is that, having in middle-age joined polite society, they have been battling with their inner demons from the past by projecting them in some strange and destructive way upon the democratic majority which dared to challenge their embrace of USA/NATO propaganda, their submission to the mainstream press, etc. That explanation may appear a bit weird; but it is certainly no weirder than the behavior in question.