Friday, September 1, 2017

A letter from David North and a response

David North has left a new comment on your post "Worn out metaphors and tired politics":

The blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site -- which is the principal target of Google's censorship program -- is not simply one topic among many others. It is a significant political attack on the International Committee of the Fourth International, the world Trotskyist movement. It is preparing the ground for further attacks by the state on the ICFI, its sections, and the WSWS. Regardless of your political differences with the ICFI, it was your elementary responsibility to publicly oppose this attack, unequivocally and without delay.

Nearly three weeks has passed since the WSWS posted (on August 2) its first report on Google's censorship of left-wing and progressive websites, and, in the days that followed, provided detailed information on the specific targeting of the WSWS. Search terms that lead readers to the WSWS are being systematically blocked. You failed to register your opposition to this attack. You write: "I found the WSWS articles on the subject useful." A remarkable turn of phrase! The articles exposing censorship and blacklisting are "useful," but not to the extent of leading you to publicly denounce the actions of Google.

Your attempt to justify your silence on this attack -- "We are not a political party nor are we a daily online newspaper" -- is as ludicrous as it is contemptible. Your "permanent revolution" blog site, you seem to be arguing, should not be expected to respond in a timely manner, or to respond at all, to a major attack on democratic rights. What a damning self-exposure of complacency, indifference, and, permit me to add, anti-dialectical political inertia.

Your failure to condemn the attack testifies to the base and reactionary role, played by personal spite and subjective hatred in politics. So deep is your animosity toward the ICFI that you cannot acknowledge the objective political implications of the attacks directed against the Trotskyist movement. To do so would contradict your denunciations of the WSWS' "sectarian" irrelevance.

Your silence on Google's targeting of the WSWS is a continuation of your total silence on the recent vicious attacks in the German media on the WSWS, the German Socialist Equality Party (SGP), IYSSE, and on me. These attacks have been in response to the SGP's exposure of the pro-Nazi apologetics of Professor Jörg Baberowski of Humboldt University. Acting on a request by the German government, Google is blocking access to WSWS articles on Baberowski. But all the many attacks by the German press and media on the WSWS, in defense of Baberowski, are being displayed prominently in Google searches.

Despite the immense historical and political significance of the issues involved, you have not opposed the media campaign against the German Trotskyists.

The reference to your "rightward political evolution" is not, as you contend, a "smear." It is, if anything, an understatement.


Reply to David North's letter.

Mr. North,

I do not share the political universe that you inhabit.  In my political universe the International Committee of the Fourth International is not synonymous with the "world Trotskyist movement."  I also do not know for a fact that the World Socialist Web Site is being blacklisted by Google.  That may indeed be the case, but the evidence is not clear at this point. A recent article in the WSWS on the subject quoted an expert in the field who said exactly that. The article, "Evidence of Google blacklisting of left and progressive sites continues to mount",
( ) states,

"Epstein said that at this point, the question was whether the WSWS had been flagged specifically by human evaluators employed by the search giant, or whether those evaluators had influenced the Google Search engine to demote left-wing sites. “What you don’t know is whether this was the human evaluators who are demoting you, or whether it was the new algorithm they are training,” Epstein said."

I think that by posing it as a question rather than a proven fact Mr. Epstein is being more judicious than you are about the possibility of blacklisting.

In any case I certainly agree that as a result of the recent change in Google's search algorithm, lots of progressive and left-wing web sites have been harmed. And regardless of whether the WSWS was deliberately targeted or not it does appear that they have been harmed to an extraordinary degree by the change in Google's search algorithm. I got that much reading the analysis presented in some of the WSWS articles on the topic.  It's also clear that the intent of the change in Google's search algorithm was to make it more difficult to find articles in the alternative media, especially the left alternative media.

You say that it was my responsibility "to publicly oppose this attack, unequivocally and without delay." Ι think that when I signed your petition and checked the box that gave you permission to cite me and quote my comments, I did indeed go on the public record opposing Google's action.  I signed the petition in a reasonable amount of time after I became aware of it, I think within a day or two.  Whether that fits your selective criteria of "unequivocally and without delay" is quite beside the point.   As for the issues you raised about Baberowski and the IYSSE in Germany, it is not a topic that I have been following very closely.  You write:

"Despite the immense historical and political significance of the issues involved, you have not opposed the media campaign against the German Trotskyists."

Mr. North, I get dozens of petitions every week, the great majority of them from very worthy causes.  I generally do not respond to 99.9% of these, not because I am not sympathetic with the causes they represent, but because,
 1. Petitions are almost always ineffective and,
 2. There is just so much time in the day to sort things out and get acquainted with the details of each cause.

I certainly oppose the campaign against the German Trotskyists and I support the effort to counter the right-wing poison Mr. Baberowski is spreading from his post at the Humboldt, but I am not sure about "its immense historical significance." That may be the case in your universe because it appears to be the primary focus of the work of the German IYSSE, but is it really more significant than, say, the closing of Germany’s borders to refugees?

If you wanted me to post something about Google's censorship of your web site, why didn't you ask me?  I would have been happy to oblige.  The same holds for a statement about the Baberowski affair. But you did not ask me. Nor it seems did you approach any left-wing organization directly.  I don't see any campaign protesting Google's censorship of the WSWS on the web site of the International Socialist Organization for example. Did you approach them?  It seems to me if you were conducting a serious campaign to build solidarity among progressive and left groups you would have approached groups like the ISO, Socialist Alternative, DSA etc. Instead of doing that you are trying to manufacture an incident by insisting that my web site, which consists of two regular contributors, is somehow required to publicize your campaign while you remain silent about all the left and progressive groups that is not doing that.

I will repeat that I am not a political party and do not run a daily newspaper so I think it is indeed a fair question to ask why you would expect me to make a public statement on all sorts of issues as soon as they become newsworthy.  And while I think the change in Google's search is an issue of serious concern to the left, I do not believe it is the issue of the day as you suggest. Is it really more important than the possibility of war with North Korea or the emergence of neo-Nazis on the streets of Charlottsville, or the continuing murder of African Americans by the police or Trump's shredding of the Constitution? Maybe to you it is more important because it directly affects the number of hits your web site gets, but I think most people on the left would not agree.

Of course I understand that you could care less about what most people on the left think since you really consider everyone on the left - except you and your followers - to be "pseudo-left" and worse. But now that you seem to want allies on the left you have suddenly dropped the "pseudo-left" appellation - for the moment at least - and are calling web sites like Democracy Now "progressive" and "left wing".

As to your claims about my "animosity toward the ICFI", this is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. If I have any animosity, it is to your sectarian politics and blatant intellectual dishonesty in dealing with criticism. As for the ICFI, Frank Brenner and I have written well over 1000 pages presenting an objective analysis of this political formation.  So when we pronounce it a sterile sectarian cult, it is a conclusion that is derived from a careful theoretical and historical analysis of the history of this organization. Our feelings are not the issue.  I certainly do not harbor any ill will toward the members and supporters of this organization.

The same cannot be said about you. You claim that you are not smearing me by saying that calling my actions "a rightward drift" is an understatement.  Let's not play games. You have in fact been smearing me and trying to destroy my reputation for over a decade.  You have spread outright lies about me and created a false narrative of my political evolution.  You have in the process falsified the history of the Workers League. Your organization practices a form of shunning no different than that practiced by certain cults and religions. You not only break political relations with those with whom you disagree but you also insist that all personal relations be broken. You have made sure that people I have known for many years will not so much as say hello to me when they see me on the street. I have received dozens of comments from Internet trolls inspired by your demonization of me calling me a supporter of imperialism and lots of other things. So be it. I accept all this as the price one pays for telling the truth to a very sick organization.

Your letter is not a serious attempt to forge a common front against censorship of the left. You do not in fact take the campaign you announced seriously at all. You are doing nothing more than engaging in political posturing and character assassination in order to shore up your reputation among your followers.

Alex Steiner
Sept 2, 2017


Anonymous said...

Thank God.
Few letters have made me giggle so much as this.
It is fortunate that I set my eyes upon this not long after waking up.
This is disgracefully from so-called a leader of World Trotskyst Movement, alas.
I went on to read Steiner's replay, just to return to the now re-convinced but pathetic mood.

Finally, as a frequent visitor to this site, I beg and plead and implore (a phrase I've seen from a Gissing's novel) Steiner to post more.
You don't seem to know how much positive influence you have on the ignobly decent like me.

Adam Cortright said...

Well, at least we have Steiner's feelings on record. Although he considers the issue serious, for now it's not worth getting too terribly excited about. After all, there are more important events going on in the world on which the corporate media will soon have a reporting monopoly. It's best to wait until Google's censorship is far advanced before we raise a fuss.

Let history be the harshest judge.


Adam Cortright

Mark said...

I kind of wonder what the actual readership of WSWS is, I mean people that return to visit the web site (someone must know), is it about the same number that signed the petition, is it slightly more? Has that been affected by the change in google's algorithm? I guess the WSWS can count me as a reader, but most of the time it is just skiming the headlines, I think the web site has been on autopilot for a number of years (see the previous article by Alex for evidence), so I don't expect much insight or a different perspective, sometimes the comments are more interesting than articles themselves.

Imagine a genuinely popular socialist web site, google would not be able to stop it, it would spread by word of mouth, social media, etc. After all, google is just another website, to be more specific, a corporate web site that uses search and other tools as a means of generating profit through advertising. Could anyone not see the inevitable here, that google would use it's position as a defacto search tool to promote corporate interests and sideline the alternative media?

I think the google censorship issue brings to the forefront once again the problem of the development of socialist consciouness -- principlally raised by this web site. It seems like the WSWS is looking for shortcuts or at least artificial indicators of this development, "website hits", and "google impressions". Maybe this is an opportunity to reeaxmine these conceptions, or maybe it is just another opportunity to dig deeper into the North dogma that has plagued that organization.

Adam Cortright said...


I ask this question with all due respect (and I sincerely wish to avoid a hostile exchange), but may I ask why it us you bother to read the WSWS at all, given your low opinion of it? Even to skim the headlines? What benefit does it bring you to do this?


Adam Cortright

Mark said...

Why check the WSWS? does it have a benefit? Perhaps not, but I'm a socialist and I take an interest in the current state of the left which seems to be in dissaray. I think there is still something of value at the WSWS, even if it is simply what not to do or what not to say, you can learn from other people's mistakes, I guess that would also be a form of dialectics.

Thomas Cain said...

The chief problem is that the SEP adapts itself to the pragmatic orientation of most workers under capitalism while giving nothing but articles in return. So the WSWS is useless when it comes to revolutionary politics. But it's still useful as a periodical, even if its attempts at analysis are becoming increasingly threadbare and predictable.

Adam Cortright said...

Mark & Thomas,

Fair enough. Thank you for your sincere replies.

It's funny, a few months ago, I sent an email to David Walsh remarking in general about my high opinion of the WSWS's work over the past year, and that I was finding it difficult to keep up. Interesting how people can interpret the same thing in such radically different ways. I think we can both agree that the political situation is heating up rapidly, and before too long the work of the SEP will be put to the test in the course of struggle. I know I'll be on the front lines.


Adam Cortright

Anonymous said...

Alex, how come you failed to compare and contrast David North's letter to Google and James P. Cannon's letter to Congress and Truman dated July 31, 1950?
"...I am setting forth the reasons for this demand in detail in the following paragraphs. But before opening the argument, I beg your permission, gentlemen, to tell you what I think of you. You are a pack of scoundrels. You are traitors to the human race. I hate your rudeness and your brutality. You make me ashamed of my country, which I have always loved, and ashamed of my race, which I used to think was as good as any."
Why don't socialists speak to power like that anymore?

Anonymous said...

The WSWS certainly does not practice democratic centralism. As you say:
"Your organization practices a form of shunning no different than that practiced by certain cults and religions. You not only break political relations with those with whom you disagree but you also insist that all personal relations be broken."

Contrast their view on unions(not recognizing the dialectical conflict between the labor bureaucracy and the rank and file) with Lenin's view in "Left-wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder: Should revolutionaires work in reactionary trade unions?"