We Can’t Go On, We Must Go On

Art by Nick Roney

We can’t go on, we must go on.

This isn’t an original thought. I’ve cribbed it from Samuel Beckett and twisted it for our purposes. The line comes from Beckett’s inscrutable novella The Unnamable. It’s spoken by someone curled in a fetal position, confined to a giant jar. He’s immobile. He can’t move. But he knows he must if he’s going to survive.

Beckett’s story was unspeakably strange to me when I first read it in 1979. It seems very familiar to me now. Nothing seems to happen. Or perhaps everything that’s happening has already happened before. He’s stuck in a history that keeps repeating itself like a needle stuck in a lethal groove. If history won’t move, he must. This is our challenge, too, isn’t it? But not only must we move, we need to move others along with us.

CounterPunch went online in 1998, just in time for Clinton’s war on Serbia. Now we’re at war in Europe again. No one asked us if we wanted another war. It was imposed on us by powers that don’t ask for consent, as if we are voiceless figures stuck in a jar.

You could say CounterPunch was born in wartime and we’ve spent the last 25 years covering bloody conflicts, even when we desperately want to write about something else.

I don’t consider myself a war correspondent by any measure. That harrowing calling was taken up by writers like Robert Fisk, John Ross, Kathy Kelly, Franklin Lamb, Uri Avnery, Saul Landau, and Patrick Cockburn. People who wrote under literal fire. Writers you’ve all read here on CounterPunch.

Still, I have been writing about wars for nearly three decades now, even when I’d rather be writing about cerulean warblers or the geology of the Snake River canyon. New wars keep coming, regardless of who controls Congress or the White House, and the old ones don’t end. Not really: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Serbia, Libya, Palestine, and now Ukraine. History keeps getting recycled, only more gruesomely.

We can’t move on, we must move on.

Obama bombed more people than any Nobel Laureate this side of Henry Kissinger. Who was there to call him out? Not the New York Times or Washington Post. The wars of the last 30 years have been enabled by the very journalistic institutions that were meant to challenge them. Journalism failed when it was needed most. Worse than failed. In many ways, it was complicit. We refused to be complicit. Our critiques of Obama’s wars were just as unflinching as the ones we had leveled at Bush or Trump. War is war no matter who is programming the drone strikes

Not everyone saw it that way. We lost readers. We lost donors. People complained we didn’t give Obama a chance to prove himself. This is where we were forced to flip Beckett on his head. We must move on, we can’t move on. If we move on to a more comforting form of journalism, as so many other publications have done, who will be left to put the constraints on a military machine that is running rampant over our lives, our democracy, and the future of our planet?

The proof about Obama was right there in the escalating body count: the Afghan surge, Asian pivot, droning of American citizens, a genocidal war on Yemen, a CIA coup in Honduras, the jailing of people who blew the whistle on his wars. By the time cruise missiles were hitting Sirte and Benghazi, previously disaffected readers started returning. Damn you were right! Believe me, we took no pleasure in it.

Now here we are again in a distressingly familiar position. Every time Democrats take power complacency sets in. People were exhausted by the tumult and drama of the Trump follies. People needed a breather after Covid, assuming there is such a happy state. Readership and revenue shrink.

We feel it here, too. Becky and Deva keep a close eye on our bottom line and it doesn’t look good. Inflation is up and the economy has taken a nosedive at the very moment the world is hurtling toward a nuclear confrontation.

But this is no time to look away. There are danger signs flashing on all fronts, from the bellicose threats against China to the battle of Kherson. The marketing of liberal wars usually comes in humanitarian guises like the so-called right to protect. But these virtuous claims must be put to the test. That’s what we are here to do. It’s what we’ve done for almost 30 years now, even when people have said that we can’t go on. Even when the accounts are low and the prospects bleak. Can’t go on? We must go on. What choice do we have?

In the end, we’ve largely depended on the kindness of our readers to survive. And, though there have been some very close calls, this simple and direct approach of appealing directly to those who know us best hasn’t failed in 29 years. Not yet, anyway. After Alexander Cockburn died 10 years ago, a woman approached me at his funeral and said rather smugly, “Well, I guess this is the end of CounterPunch.” I was enraged at her remark and Cockburn would have been, too. This woman was part of a group of Nation magazine donors who’d trekked out to the funeral in Petrolia and she was convinced that we couldn’t go on. My irritation with NationLady was only in part about how dismissive she was over my own contribution to CounterPunch, which had been fairly substantial over the previous decade.

It stemmed more from the flippant disregard the remark expressed for our writers and tens of thousands of readers. CounterPunch was no longer merely a platform for stories by Cockburn and St. Clair. It was now the home base for hundreds of different writers from across the country and around the globe. I checked this morning. Since going online, we’ve published more than 5,500 different writers. CounterPunch belongs to them, as much as it does to us. Still, Mrs. MoneyBags was right about one thing. We were more broke than we’d ever been the week that Alex died. But we published the day Cockburn died, the day he was buried, and every day since then. Our readers came through, again and again, and again.

We’ve grown in the 10 years since Alex passed. The online readership is probably twice what it was in August 2012. We’re publishing more pieces each week and adding new writers every day. The website has been completely revamped into a more efficient and flexible design that even a crusty Luddite like me can’t screw up too badly. It even works on smartphones, where the analytics say nearly half of the site’s visitors read CounterPunch. To keep up, our staff (still tiny by most standards) has more than doubled in size, from three to seven: Becky, Deva and Nichole in the business office, Andrew keeping the site running and the hackers at bay, and me, Josh and Nat on the editorial side.

That means our costs have more than doubled. But we haven’t resorted to gimmicks and trickery. We still depend almost exclusively on the community of online readers who utilize CounterPunch for free: no clickbait, no ads, no paywalls. And right now, your donation of $50 or more will be matched by a generous donor. So what are you waiting for?

Can’t go on? No. We must go on. And with you, we will.

If you prefer, you mail a check or ring our office:

PO Box 228
Petrolia, CA 95558

1 (707) 629-3683

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3