Originally published on the Leftist Critic blog on June 11, 2017.
I could have written about many topics today such as US special ops troops in the Philippines, the victory of social democrat Jeremy Corbyn in Britain (which some have discussed at length), or the kerfuffle between Qatar and other Gulf autocracies, among a litany of other topics. Instead, I write here today a criticism of Matthew “Matt” C. Taibbi, a bourgeois writer who claims to care about “income inequality” or the effects of capitalism, while ignoring the system itself.
Tarzie has written about Taibbi before, who some call a “fake leftist.” While back in 2011 Taibbi was quoted in a supportive manner, when it came to criticizing neoliberal columnist Thomas Friedman, three years later, in 2014, that had changed. He described Taibbi as a Rolling Stone reporter who was “the latest trophy taken in Pierre Omidyar’s conquest of the fashionably leftish” and admitted that Taibbi’s work on Wall Street teaches him “things I don’t already know, in a style that frequently makes me laugh out loud” while the same is not the case for Glenn Greenwald (of course). He added that Taibbi has “crossed picket lines during a Writer’s Guild strike in 2008” to appear on late night TV, thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned, feels that there shouldn’t be a “Federal ban on anti-LGBQT discrimination” and considers himself a libertarian. Furthermore, Tarzie quotes from Walter Glass, and notes that Taibbi glosses over the effect of the corporate sector on places like Camden, New Jersey, and says that Taibbi is a “rich dude telling tales on the worst-behaved members of his class, while pleading the case for their reformability” and is a perfect “fit for an oligarch, just as he is.” Later that year, Tarzie criticized Taibbi again, saying he would hold a “no-holds-barred discussion” for Greenwald’s book tour.
There are only two other articles, to my knowledge, in which Tarzie criticizes Taibbi. One of them says that Taibbi left First Look by writing a piece earlier that year that “looks unmistakably like a warning and a cry for help” and that “we” missed the signs of this. The final one is written the following year, in February 2015, notes how former First Look writer, Ken Silverstein complained about the latter’s handling of “Racket” which was planned to a “satirical newsmagazine” headed by Taibbi which folded shortly after he left, wasting millions of dollars, which he called “the greatest squandering of money and example of criminal ineptitude in the history of modern journalism.” He goes on to quote Silverstein as saying that Taibbi “is definitely more likable than Glenn” who he says has a troubling role in First Look.
It is there that his criticism of Taibbi ends. From this point, this article will expand and augment what Tarzie had to say with principled criticism.
Taibbi shills for empire
Three days ago, Joe Emersberger wrote an article for Telesur English slamming Taibbi for taking the side of U.S. imperialists by calling duly-elected (but embattled due to internal and external pressures caused by the murderous empire) President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, a “dictator.” The article, reprinted on a pro-Chavista and respected news outlet, Venezuela Analysis. Emersberger notes how Taibbi attacked the Venezuelan government as a “dictatorship” by citing US-funded opposition figures like Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly, and Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of the state of Miranda, who had run against Maduro in the election. Clearly, Taibbi forgets that these individuals are working for the empire, even as he alludes that Borges “has been using his position as head to the National Assembly to try to get economic sanctions implemented against Maduro’s government.” That’s not all.
Emersberger goes on to criticize Taibbi even more harshly. He notes how bourgeois media “has almost unanimously reported from the U.S.-backed opposition’s point of view” evidenced when a “prominent U.S. progressive like Taibbi chimes in from that perspective” (I think he is over-inflating Taibbi’s importance here). Then, he goes into an example about what he would think about direct Russian interference in the US political process. He adds that the government of Venezuela “has been very tolerant of U.S.-backed subversion” and that “protests dominated the coverage and that denunciations of the government…were given ample attention.” Hence, he notes that even Reuters admits that private broadcasters give “equal weight to opposition and government leaders and supporters in broadcasts.” He argues that this does “happen in a dictatorship” even though “serious criticisms can be made about Venezuela’s democracy” which I think it too much of a concession to bourgeois media. He ends by saying that “Taibbi should know better than to trust the establishment media within this imperial club to define who should be labelled a dictator.”
Taibbi’s article is even worse (do not read this unless you really want to) than Emersberger makes it out to be. It is titled “Two Vile Names, One Sweetheart Deal: Goldman Bails Out Maduro” with the subtitle “The Vampire Squid rescues an infamous autocrat.” For a magazine like Rolling Stone which has basically lost most if not all of its credibility from the fake rape story to other problematic stories, it is not a surprise that he wrote this op-ed. His short piece makes it seem that Goldman Sachs AND Venezuela’s government are “amoral and corrupt institutions.” This is utterly false. While he makes a valid point that Goldman Sachs is the “symbol of international predatory capitalism,” he seems to miss the point that Venezuela is bad straits because of the murderous empire. He does call Maduro an “infamous left-wing dictator” but he also calls the government of Venezuela “authoritarian,” citing sources such as the New York Times, Forbes (which Taibbi admitted years earlier was “very bank-friendly“), The Telegraph, New York Post, Miami Herald, Times of London, and so on.
That’s not all. He seems to mock the idea that Venezuela’s problems are part of a US “economic war” and calls the government of that country “Maduro’s regime,” even though he is only one figure in the government. He then goes on to mock Goldman Sachs as well,and almost “legitimize” the protests against Venezuela’s government by saying “More than 50 people have died in protests over the past two months, with many more injured and arrested.” He also claims that Maduro’s action represents the “ultimate in cynicism, and one likely to have dire consequences for a country already on the brink.” He then snarls at this attempt by the Venezuelan government to save itself…
It’s a good thing Karl Marx is dead, because otherwise this metaphysical mind-loop of a news story would make his head explode. Is this a corruption of capitalism, a corruption of socialism, both, or neither? Maduro himself would probably say this transaction is a perfect example of the “savage capitalism” he says he despises.
Again, this should be no surprise coming from a man such as Taibbi who cannot seem to think beyond capitalism in any way, shape, or form. Saying he is glad Marx is dead is anti-communist in the fullest extent, there is no doubt. As a result, he probably has NOT read the Communist Manifesto and hence does not know this part of the manifesto:
…the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In each of these moves they bring to the front, as the leading question in each case, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time…they labor everywhere for the union and agreement of democratic parties of all countries.
In my interpretation, countries such as Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, the DPRK, Zimbabwe, and Cuba would fall into a “revolutionary movement” which can be expanded to cover revolutionary governments. Hence, it would be a duty of comrades to engage in international solidarity with these states and any others that stand “against the existing social and political order of things” which does NOT include the snivelly “good” Kurds.
Of course, as Marx and Engels said in the Communist Manifesto, the bourgeoisie, represented by Goldman Sachs in this case, as the need of gaining an expanding market for its products and hence must “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” Hence, countries like Venezuela, that resist US and Western imperialism, are not unaffected by global capitalism, so they end up making agreements like this one with Goldman Sachs for their survival. While some may cringe, rightly so, as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Taibbi who you (should) love to hate
A skimming of his Rolling Stone contributor’s profile shows him as “pro-Democrat,” favoring the milquetoast “resistance” of the orange menace in more ways than one, especially by embracing the whole “Russiagate” cloud of nothingness which is a distraction from the other horrible events instigated by the Orange Menace. Furthermore, he seems to think Vladimir Putin is a horrible, nasty person, again, embracing the Russia hysteria, along with giving social democratic imperialist Bernie Sanders accepting him as “genuine.”
But there is more to Taibbi than that. Tarzie referenced this interview of Taibbi by the libertarian Reason back in 2007. Within this, Taibbi shows that he is a horrid libertarian and supportive of the capitalist system, along with not understanding socialism:
…I think Roe v. Wade should be overturned because I believe in the federalist model; I believe that states should be able to make their own drug laws. The more democracy you have, the more people can make decisions for their own communities, the more freedom people have…There’s more on-the-ground energy for Ron Paul than there is for the rest of the candidates combined…It’s [the war machine] not capitalism at all. It’s more like an authoritarian socialism. It’s forcibly extracting money from the customers and distributing the profits to companies that aren’t selected by market choice but government fiat. Critics call it the free market, but it’s not that at all…America is about getting the government off your back, a reprieve from having your life interfered with, and we keep forgetting that.
With this, not only he endorsing the capitalist ideology but he is also embracing the idea of American exceptionalism as some call it. Basically he is not OK with progressive efforts to stand against fast food industries or even moves that increase government control in a way to help people’s lives. Of course such governments are usually not socialist and these measures are reformist, but they are not inherently “evil” or “bad.”
There are further viewpoints of Taibbi which are repugnant. For one, he admires Andrew Breitbart to an extent, apart from accepting the story of the orange menace-Russia collusion he thinks that the Attorney General would be “better” if there is a “career investigator, career law enforcement official in that job” which denies the fact that such individuals are just part of the capitalist system, moving it forward. This so-called “award-winning journalist” buys into the Sanders deception, describing him as a politician who is “completely honest….really interested in…standing up for regular working people” even though he has not done this just like other bourgeois progressives, praising the DOJ as having “political” and “talented and aggressive lawyers”and called Molly
Crabapple Klein Crapple a “great artist” even though she doxxed someone  for supporting Russian intervention in Syria (which was done with the approval of the Syrian government unlike US-led coalition efforts). Crapple also supported white nationalist Weev/Andrew Auernheimer as OLAASM has pointed out on varied occasions (see here and here). Hence, this endorsement by Taibbi is disgusting to say the least.
This is only scratching the surface of his beliefs. He also grumbles about the “government interfering in a market process” (why is this bad?). Even more than that, he whitewashes slavery as the driving force of US capitalism:
You know, America used to be—especially the American economy was built upon this brick-and-mortar industrial economy, where we had factories, we built stuff, and we sold it here in America, and we exported it all over the world. That manufacturing economy was the foundation for our wealth and power for a couple of centuries…whereas the old manufacturing economy had the sort of negative effect of spreading around to the entire population
As Edward Baptist writes in The Half Has Not Been Told (scholarship which was started by Eric Williams in his book Capitalism and Slavery), slavery was tied to every aspect of the US economy, with almost a million enslaved laborers moved from the “Upper South” (like Maryland) to “Deep South” (Georgia and Louisiana) in coffles. Furthermore, the industrial workers in the North were making products out of cotton, the same cotton that enslaved laborers had worked all day to pick from fields under the whip of the White slavemaster who whipped them if they disobeyed. Hence, Taibbi is acting like slavery was not part of this, or even mentioning indigenous genocide as a further foundation for settler colonialism in the United States as the “enlightened” empire grew with its tentacles reaching across the continent.
There are other aspects of Taibbi that make one cringe. He seems to accept the “goodness” of corporations in and of themselves, endorses some austerity (“if someone has to tighten a belt or two, let’s start there”), and strangely called Mitt Romney “a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky,” bemoaning the “roots of the radical economic changes” despite the fact that he is using the word radical incorrectly while portraying Romney in a weird way. He is also a person who has said that “private equity firms aren’t necessarily evil by definition” and seems to have a soft spot for “businesses that were America’s original industrial cornerstones” whatever that refers to. Apart from endorsing the Occupy movement despite its bourgeois nature (as we all know by now), he calls the high-ranking people at Bank of America “not bankers or capitalists, but a class of person that was never supposed to exist in America: royalty.” Again, his lack of class analysis and any semblance of radicalism means that he makes bizarre and worthless statements like that which are of no use to anyone. The same goes for his declaration that “we’ve just got to get the right people in the right jobs” if that will really change anything at all.
Taibbi and the past
To close out this article I’d like to look at a few articles looking at Taibbi’s past. The first is a 2010 Vanity Fair article titled “Lost Exile” focusing on the death of a Russian newspaper of the same name co-edited by Taibbi and Mark Ames (who now works for PandoDaily). The article notes that both of them would “prove the hardest-partying Moscow media celebrities of their time” and end up embodying post-Soviet Russia’s “hedonism.” It also claims that Taibbi was a “born journalist” but a person who speculated about a possible “connection” between “apartment-building bombings and Putin’s ratcheting up of the Chechen War” which is used by anti-Putin individuals to this day. The article goes onto say that Taibbi has earned a “reputation as the premier bullshit detector and absurdist on the campaign trail” among many, with some saying like Hunter Thompson he also hated politicians. Later, in response to the writer of the story asking Taibbi questions, he grew increasing agitated after they called his book crap, throwing his coffee over their face, which is actually a bit hilarious.
Farther back are a set of articles in 2005. One claims he has a “fairly sophisticated knowledge of the inner workings of Congress” while others criticize his article for the New York Press titled “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” panned by organizations and politicians as “hate speech,” “ugly,” and “disgusting.” Maybe this isn’t a surprise for a person who is an “expatriate-journalist-turned-New-York-writer” who “identified with Russia and its writers Nikolai Gogol, M. Saltikov and Leo Tolstoy” growing up, while “Taibbis popularity” rose that year.
Taking all of this into account, Taibbi no doubt has a developed ego which supports his self-promotion on places like Democracy Now! and other places. In those secluded areas, no one dare questions him. He is part of, as some have put it, the “Celebrity Left” or the professional left, individuals who are in a sense “above” others, in terms of criticism and status. Some, like Charles Davis (“Chuckles”) only aspire to this level, while others like Ta-Nahesi Coates and Snowden are already at this level.
There really isn’t much else I’ll say about Taibbi at this time. Some may say that an article like this is unnecessary. I disagree. I think it is important to criticize public personalities like this. Too often, these people are barely criticized and given a free pass. That is not OK under any circumstances. Everyone, including this writer should and can be criticized, but fairly and justly. Self-criticism is important for radical and revolutionary politics as the Black Panthers realized, as did Mao and students of Maoist thought. Perhaps I’ll write another criticism of Glenn Greenwald next (or even “The Intercept”), or about some international issue. But for now, I think this article will stand. As always, I look forward to your comments.
 The person who this seems to refer to is a woman named Taryn Fivek, a deserving comrade. Tarzie seems to have a beef with her. He first accused her of “smearing for Soros” calling her a “Twitter nuisance, shameless liar and justifiably failed citizen journo” (along with “outright troll”) and wanting to shut down debate on this topic of Soros’s influence on “the Left” in his view. He seems to have forgotten these later tweets (standing by his flawed analysis in another post), showing that Tarzie is having problems of his own with analysis without much of a basis:
Later, on Tarzie’s blog, one user describes Fivek is a “self professed red who I’ve not really known but from time to time posted at the same places…she wrote a book under a pseudonym (Emma Quangel) which was essentially a direct attack on Molly Crabapple. Crabapple responded by doxxing Fivek” and that in the fallout of this, someone said that she should “monetize it, leading to whatever this nebulous cesspits” and told Tarzie, “knock this stupid transparent bullshit off because we really don’t need this right now. You can, you know, actually work a job instead of hustling mentally ill people on the internet. And if you actually can’t see through the bullshit start reading everything here to start.” Tarzie responded by saying that “Fivek doesn’t need Hopkins because she knows better” and what she is doing looks “like a paid performance.” Hence, he is still stuck in the mud of Fivek. For a person who defended Fivek and then turns on her for saying the “wrong” things about Soros is cruel and pathetic. This is where Tarzie is wrong. He may have good analysis in other realms, but on Fivek he is completely and utterly wrong. Hence, I’d rather stand with Fivek than with Tarzie, with some saying she supports white nationalism (or something) although I have seen no evidence to support that claim whatsoever.