[Marxism] Diana Johnstone, Ordfront and the "bombing left"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 26 11:24:20 MST 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 
For starters, there is an introduction on Al Burke's web 


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.”

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