Conspiracy Theories and Nonviolence

The Real News

January 6, 2014

by Michael Barker



In his December 2013 article published by The Real News as “Analysis of STRATFOR leaks misrepresents nonviolent movements,” professor Stephen Zunes correctly acknowledges the “inexcusable collaboration with the global intelligence company STRATFOR” undertaken by his former colleague, the Serbian activist Srdja Popovic. In retrospect Zunes observed, that: “Even prior to the recent revelations, Popovic’s activities were being increasingly recognized as problematic within the network of proponents of strategic nonviolent action, including many of us who had worked with him in the past.” Here Zunes might have been referring to my 2011 article “CANVAS[ing] for the nonviolent propaganda offensive,” but this seems unlikely, especially given the fact that in his latest article he chooses to falsely label me as being “notorious” for “conspiracy-mongering.”

Either way if criticism of Srdja Popovic were taken seriously amongst progressive circles committed to non-violence, I would imagine that it would have been a good idea for some of Zunes’ colleagues to publicly distance themselves from Popovic — a man that Zunes describes as a “left-of-center Serbian nationalist” who “believes more in himself more than any ideology…” I  make this recommendation because Popovic is still included upon the advisory board of Waging Nonviolence, a web-based project (for which Zunes is a regular contributor) where our problematic friend Mr Popovic sits alongside a number of Zunes’ colleagues from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).

Unfortunately, in spite of my ongoing dialogue with Zunes and his co-workers which go back to 2007, Zunes continues to misrepresent my carefully laid arguments. Thus vis-a-vis the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, he says that my work downplays the Serbian uprisings indigenous roots. This simply is not true, as can be demonstrated by a quick perusal of the article he is referring to which I published through ZNet in 2006 as “Promoting polyarchy in Serbia.” Here Zunes repeats the tired refrain of accusing me of being “notorious” for “conspiracy-mongering”; an accusation I rebutted at-length in 2008.

Re-appropriating Zunes’ own mis-analysis of imperial interventions into the peace community: “It is unfortunate, therefore,” that his own contributions to the theorizing of nonviolence have been “so compromised by [his] lack of understanding of this phenomenon.” For a detailed outline of the resulting problems resulting from such a compromised analysis, see “Blinded by people power: Stephen Zunes on the ousting of dictators.”

None of this implies that Peter Ackerman’s nonviolent activism is part of any sinister conspiracy. On the contrary he is quite open about it all; although it is rare that anyone draws attention to his shadowy hobbies.All this is quite ironic given the well-established imperial connections of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) whose academic advisory board Zunes has headed since 2006. We are after-all talking about a Center which is led and funded by a member of the ruling-class named Peter Ackerman, whose more anti-democratic activism I examined last year for Counterpunch; whose commitments to breaking unions in New York are ongoing, as are his efforts to escalate counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of this implies that Peter Ackerman’s nonviolent activism is part of any sinister conspiracy. On the contrary he is quite open about it all; although it is rare that anyone draws attention to his shadowy hobbies.

Although it is perhaps pedantic, I would also like to add that my 2008 article about “democracy promotion” in Serbia was not self-published on the ZNet bloggers’ space as Zunes argues. In fact, this bloggers space did not even exist during the years in which I regularly submitted articles to ZNet, therefore all work was posted online with the support of one of ZNet’s editors. That said, major Z Magazine and Znet stalwart Edward S. Herman did post a detailed criticism of Zunes’ defence of imperial interests in his ZNet bloggers space in 2010: this must-read piece was simply titled “Reply to Stephen Zunes.”

Zunes concludes his article by drawing attention to an online petition he initiated in 2008 to address “a spate of bizarre conspiracy theories regarding nonviolent action theorist Gene Sharp…” At the time I was considered to be one of the primary instigators of such conspiracies, so in response I published “Sharp reflection warranted: nonviolence in the service of imperialism”; which in turn was followed by related criticisms from George Cicariello-Maher and Eva Golinger outlined in their excellent article “Debate on the Albert Einstein Institution and its involvement in Venezuela.” Sadly such reflections upon the troublesome relationship between imperialists and many well-meaning advocates of nonviolence has not been an issue that has been engaged with any vigour among many on the Liberal left — which is problematic to say the least. Nevertheless it is perfectly understandable why the ruling-class should seek to manipulate and intervene within progressive social movements, which makes it all the important that we discuss what actions we can take to protect our movements from such unwanted interventions.




Correction: the above-mentioned article “Reply to Stephen Zunes” was coauthored by Edward Herman and David Peterson.