In the inaugural 1949 issue of Monthly
Review, renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein penned
a now famous article entitled "Why Socialism?" Here
was a towering giant of the scientific community, transcending
the limits of his own nominal expertise to weigh in with a clear
political verdict: "I am convinced there is only one
way to eliminate these grave evils [of capitalism], namely
through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied
by an educational system which would be oriented toward social
goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned
by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion."
It is ironic at best and an
insult at worst that the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) bears
his name. Masquerading under the banner of "nonviolent action,"
the AEI has come to play a central role in a new generation of
warfare, one which has incorporated the heroic examples of past
nonviolent resistance into a strategy of obfuscation and misdirection
that does the work of empire. It is clear enough that Einstein
himself would not have supported this sort of apolitical and
empty "nonviolence," much less when employed toward
I recently published on Counterpunch
a review of Eva Golinger's important book Bush
Versus Chávez (recently translated by Monthly Review),
a book which deftly tracks contemporary U.S. efforts to undermine
the Chávez government in Venezuela. I immediately received
a poorly-conceived email from one Arthur Edelstein, accusing
me of libelous statements for merely summarizing Golinger's well-documented
findings. This unsubstantiated claim would be followed by a complaint
(and veiled threat) from Gene Sharp, founder and "senior
scholar" at the AEI. I attach the email in full below with
errors intact. The letter speaks for itself, but it's worth quickly
clarifying the two central points in question:
Firstly, Golinger's claim that
the AEI has received funding from the U.S. government. Sharp
is at pains to deny this below, but would no doubt concede that
the Institution has received funds from both the National Endowment
for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute
(IRI). These funding sources are reported in AEI's
own annual funding statements. It is only through the worst
of bad faith that one could claim that these are not in essence
institutions pertaining to the U.S. government, since their formally-private
status does little to hide the fact that they were both created
by the U.S. Congress in 1983 to support Reagan's covert wars.
Both, moreover, have been shown (e.g. in Golinger's first book,
Chávez Code) to have directly financed the coup-mongers
among the Venezuelan opposition.
Secondly, Golinger's claim
that AEI was linked to Venezuelans who were plotting to
assassinate Chávez. In his letter below, Sharp quarrels
with the phrase "linked to," when this is in fact not
"slippery" in the least, but rather the most precise
description of the facts. The AEI did not actively participate
in plotting to kill Chávez–it would be inaccurate to
claim as much. Rather, Cuban-born far-right opposition leader
Robert Alonso (brother of María "Conchita")
boasted of having met directly with the AEI shortly before Colombian
paramilitaries were discovered training at his estate in El Hatillo,
a few short miles from Caracas. When interrogated, they admitted
their mission was to kill Chávez.
More direct, however, was AEI's
training offered to the Venezuelan opposition toward the formulation
of what was called "Operation Guarimba" (brainchild
of Alonso himself), a series of often-violent street blockades
that resulted in several deaths. The Guarimba tactics of 2003-2004
have been more recently taken up by the opposition-controlled
student movement during 2007. According to an analysis published
by Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), Venezuelan student leaders
traveled to Belgrade in 2005 to meet representatives of the AEI-trained
opposition movement OTPOR-CANVAS, before later traveling to Boston
to consult directly with Gene Sharp himself. When these allegedly
non-partisan students hit the streets in 2007, their logo was
exactly the same as that used by OTPOR and which appears in AEI
Nowhere does Sharp bother contesting
these facts regarding AEI's role in Venezuela.
But it's worth pausing for
a moment to address Sharp's claim that his organization operates
on a "transpartisan" basis, that it is non-ideological,
and that it is "neither pro-Chávez nor anti-Chávez."
To understand the patent falseness of such claims, it is sufficient
to cite the AEI's own annual report from the years 2000-2004,
according to which Chávez "became increasingly authoritarian"
after his initial election, his "popularity began to wane,"
and he "responded
with violent repression" against opposition protestors.
Aside from the utter ridiculousness of these claims, there is
no mention of the fact that the organizers of these same protests
were the same ones who would participate in a violent and anti-democratic
coup in April 2002. The valiant people of Caracas are currently
celebrating the 6th anniversary of their popular revolutionary
victory against these nefarious forces.
In this same report, moreover,
it is admitted that Sharp himself met with Venezuelan opposition
leaders as discussed above, and that AEI staffers Robert Helvy
and Chris Miller held a "nine-day consultation" in
2003 with the same opposition, here described (in a clearly "partisan"
manner) as "democratic" despite the fact that these
were the very same people involved in and supportive of the coup
a year earlier. Despite Sharp's claims that his organization
neither supports nor opposes Chávez, the AEI's own documents
claim that "the objective of the consultation was to provide
them with the capacity to develop a nonviolent strategy to
restore democracy to Venezuela" (p. 21).
The AEI's own Robert Helvy–a
retired U.S. Army colonel with a history of government employment,
including at the Defense Intelligence Agency–puts this political
agenda best when he expresses his initial relief upon discovering
that the AEI wasn't all hippies and pacifism: "It is all
about seizing political power or denying it to others" (Newsday,
December 26th 1999, reprinted in the AEI's report for the years
1993-1999, p. 7). While Sharp presents this position in the letter
below as in some way "deeper" than others, the transparent
truth seems to be that it is far more superficial: politics are
denied as a surface gesture, obscuring what is a clear political
Albert Einstein was clear about
what his values were. He didn't hide behind the empty formalism
of "nonviolence" as a replacement for political belief,
but rather combined a socialist ethic with a clear preference
for a non-violent world. The AEI would do well to follow
this example, firstly by admitting that political values do indeed
underlie their activities, and secondly by recognizing in all
honesty that these values are quite different from those endorsed
and espoused by Einstein himself.
Abstract nonviolence is a recipe
for continued domination, for turning a blind eye to the violence
that runs through the veins and capillaries of the empire. It
is no substitute for the struggle for a truly peaceful world.
As the unsurpassed saying goes, "No Justice, No Peace."
George Ciccariello-Maher is a Ph.D. candidate in political
theory at UC Berkeley. He is currently writing a people's history
of the Bolivarian Revolution, and can be reached at gjcm(at)berkeley.edu.
Dear George Ciccariello-Maher,
We have not met, and to the
best of my knowledge we have not been in touch in any way. I
note, however, that you are working toward a Ph.D. in political
theory at Berkley. In the early 1960s I did similarly at Oxford.
I note, however, with considerable
distress, and also concern for you, about your apparent lack
of caution and credulity in concluding that Eva Golinger is correct
in her accusations against the Albert Einstein Institution.
She claims to show that the Albert Einstein Institution is "directly
supported by the State Department (135), and linked to prior
attempts to train Colombian paramilitaries to assassinate President
I am shocked that you apparently
have in this case not exercised appropriate scholarly and political
caution that would normally be expected of a Ph.D. candidate
in political theory, by failing to check whether the accusations
are accurate. You have committed both errors of fact and of
logic. This action by you reflects badly on your credibility,
as well as political judgment. This does not reflect well on
your university, either.
Your wording in your article
about Eva Golinger's book makes it clear that you accept her
apparent false statements and you repeated them as true.
The gravity of your statements
is not reduced by your using the slippery phrase "linked
The Albert Einstein Institution
provides information and consultations about nonviolent alternatives
to persons and groups, only when requested, and even to those
that use violence and may do so in the future, as we have done
with groups hostile to the Rangoon military dictatorship.
Neither the Albert Einstein
Institution, nor we individually, are responsible for any violence
that opponents of President Chávez might commit despite
our efforts to inform them that nonviolent means of action exist
that can be used in acute conflicts.
Only with greater knowledge
of this nonviolent option is there a chance that such persons
and groups might chose to adopt it in place of violence. If
we had refused the request for a workshop for the Venezuelan
resisters, some of them would possibly have concluded the "only"
option to be another coup d'état, riots, assassinations,
or even a foreign invasion, as in Iraq.
Unfortunately, you have now
placed yourself among others that have attacked the Institution,
its publications, or me personally, with whom I would have assumed
that you had nothing in common. These include the military dictators
of Burma (then called the SLORC) and the FSB (formerly the KGB)
of Putin's Russia.
You find it distressing that
some Venezuelans learned from the successful nonviolent undermining
of the cruel Milosovic dictatorship of Serbia, where our writings
on nonviolent struggle were influential. Would you have recommended
that the dissident Venezuelans instead use violence?
I regret that Mr. Chávez,
unfortunately, repeated similar accusations when he read in virtual
quotations from the writings of Thierry Meyssan, also apparently
without checking their accuracy. Please see our open letters
to President Chávez and Thierry Meyssan on the AEI website,
Neither the Institution nor
I personally is a tool of, or apologists for, Unites States'
government policies and actions. Many of these I personally
find to be quite unacceptable. As a young man I did prison
time for opposing US military policies.
The Albert Einstein Institution
has never received funding, advice, suggestions, requests, or
instructions from the State Department.
We have had nothing to do with,
or knowledge of, any attempts to assassinate President Chávez
or to train Colombian paramilitaries to do anything.
Our research and policy studies
are "transpartisan," in the sense that we welcome interest
in obtaining greater knowledge about nonviolent struggle from
diverse persons and groups across most of the political spectrum,
except fascism. The Albert Einstein Institution is concerned
about the problems of war, dictatorship, oppression, and genocide.
We have writings about the
relevance of nonviolent struggle for all of these. You will
note in my open letter to President Chávez that I called
his attention, if he anticipates a coup d'état, to our
publication "The Anti-Coup" on our website, www.aeinstein.org
To my knowledge this is the only program in existence for deterring
and defeating coups d'état from any source. We also have
programs for resisting invasions and occupations that were used
in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991.
We are in no way ideological.
We do not participate in ideological campaigning. We are neither
pro-Chávez nor anti-Chávez. We operate on what
we regard as a deeper level. We focus on the technique of nonviolent
action as a substitute for both violence and passivity. Nonviolent
struggle has political consequences, principally through empowering
In addition to research and
policy studies, we prepare and provide, when able, educational
information about nonviolent conflicts to groups engaged in conflicts.
We do not campaign or participate in on-going conflicts on any
side. We do not give advice on what any side should do in a
You have a choice. You can
reaffirm your own and Ms. Golinger's false accusations, or you
can personally retract and correct your own false statements
and strongly urge CounterPunch to publish your corrections prominently.
The latter will help to improve your credibility.
I look forward to learning
what corrective action you are taking.
CC: Jeffrey St. Clair, Alexander