Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 7, 2015

Swedish colonialism, part 1: the persecution of the Sami

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 8:09 pm

A Sami family, 1900

(This is the second in a series of articles on “the Swedish model”. Part one can be read here.)

It is likely that one of the reasons Bernie Sanders advocates socialism based on the Swedish (or Scandinavian more generally) model is that it does not seem to have the same awful history as British, French or American colonialism. In order to develop a critical understanding of this model, it is necessary to dig a bit deeper into Swedish history.

To some extent, there is a reasonable basis for being pro-Sweden, at least if you are old enough to remember the role of Olaf Palme in the 1960s. The Swedish prime minister was a vocal opponent of the war in Vietnam and his country became a haven for American servicemen opposed to the war and antiwar activists fleeing prosecution for misguided attempts to sabotage the War Machine, including one Robert Malecki, a Spartacist League sympathizer and general nuisance on the early days of Marxism on the Internet.

Malecki ended up in Robersfors, a tiny town in northeast Sweden that is traditionally part of what was once called Lapland, but more properly known as Sami (or Saami) territory. If Sweden had been innocent of the brutal treatment of native peoples, that certainly would have been news to the Sami who as I shall now try to point out had much more in common with indigenous peoples in North America than they did with the Swedes who swept north in the 17th century in their own version of what took place in Ireland or in Indian territories in Canada or the USA. There might not have been wholesale extermination but there was forced assimilation. Indeed, the parallel is much more with Canada where a policy pursued by the dominant nationality can seem benign in comparison to that carried out by the Wild Bill Hickocks or Andrew Jacksons to the south.

This picture of a Sami family above should give you a good indication of why such comparisons make sense.

Nobody quite knows where the Sami came from but they occupied the northern regions of what would become Norway, Sweden and Finland from at least 5000 years ago. There are also Samis in Russia who despite being designated as an indigenous people with rights guaranteed by the Soviet state are now being encroached upon by commercial interests determined to exploit oil and other mineral resources on their homeland. No big surprise there.

In his chapter on the Sami in “Colonialism in the Margins”, Gunlög Fur presents a picture of a hunting-and-gathering society not that much different from the Lenape indians in North America, who were the subjects of his 1993 dissertation earned in 1993. Among younger Swedish scholars, Fur departs from the traditional Swedish narrative of being pure as the driven snow.

Although Sweden was a bit player in the colonialism game in the 17th century, the parallels with the British were striking. Establishing a Swedish West India Company, they created something called New Sweden that extended along the Delaware River. The colony was short-lived, being conquered by the Dutch in 1655.

But in the Swedish kingdom, it was much easier to defend the interests of Gustavus Adolphus who had the same sort of territorial ambitions as other European monarchs. Throughout the 17th century this would entail bringing the Sami into the “civilized” world by hook or by crook.

Just as the Northern Plains Indians relied on the bison for food, clothing and shelter, the Sami both hunted and domesticated reindeer for the same purposes. Fur describes the communal nature of Sami society in a way that resonates with how most pre-capitalist, hunter-and-gathering bands existed. It was primitive communism, so to speak:

Hunting fur-beating animals was primarily a winter occupation while fishing belonged to the summer. Male hunting parties representing all the families in the village chased reindeer and beaver. The catch was then divided among the households according to tax burden. The old and the infirm received a full share. Reindeer caught outside the communal hunt belonged to the hunter alone, but no matter how or when it was caught, all beavers had to be shared with the whole village. Beaver pelts were particularly attractive as trade items in the early seventeenth century and also formed part of the tax payment in certain areas. Village custom regulated the hunt so as to avoid over-hunting. Each family kept some tame reindeer that they milked and used for transportation. The families guarded the domesticated animals well and sometimes brought them onto islands in the lakes where people fished during the summer.

In contrast to the sociobiological tripe found in Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Napoleon Chignon et al, the Sami were anything but warlike:

Contemporary accounts held that Saamis were “useless” as soldiers. According to these sources, Saamis were easily frightened and squeamish, and money could not persuade them to enlist as soldiers. Johannes Schefferus offers the unlikely explanation that their fear of war was due to “their diet, which cannot supply good blood and spirits.” Violence and murder, as well as daring deeds, were not unknown to them, but it is probable that the autonomous Saami villages had no tradition of concerted action against a common enemy and had no leadership who could demand such action from their people. Samuel Rheen described their “natural inclination” and physical constitution in derogatory terms. Most of them were “useless in war, because among them there is no Manly courage, instead they arc generally timid and faint-hearted: and although a few of them might enroll in the army for money, such happens rarely.”

King Gustavus Asolphus, regarded as the father of modern warfare, was able to assimilate the Sami mostly through the agencies of the Church rather than the Cannon. Of course, the cannon was always held in reserve if the Sami proved too unruly. The Crown mostly had a need in the mid-17th century for the Sami as coolie labor transporting silver and copper ore from newly developed mines in the far north. Given the ruggedness of the terrain and the brutal cold, the only possible transportation were reindeer-drawn carts that the Sami men were dragooned into operating. The Sami were called hallapar, which meant “kept men”. If you read B. Traven’s “Trozas”, about the debt peonage that forced Indians to work on ox-carts, you’ll how it was done in Mexico.

Keeping in mind that the Sami were polytheists with the men worshipping male gods and the women worshiping females, the dour Calvinist missionaries had a job on their hands. Commenting on the relationship between the silver mines and piety, the Swedish chancellor opined “since we have not be able to come there [to Sami country] per pietatem [by piety], God draws us, opens doors, and shows us the way through a new silver mind, that we may come here per vitium avaritie [through the vice of avarice].” The Queen concurred, stating “God who has blessed this Country with such a magnificent mine; He intends thus to help our subjects and Lapps [a pejorative term for Sami] out of the miserable condition in which, until this day, they have lived.”

Pastors assigned to the “Swedification” of Sami villages were instructed to impose fines on all men and women who engaged in premarital sex, something that these people preferred to making war, showing up drunk on Sunday services or avoiding the church altogether on major holidays.

Finding pastors to work in Sami country was no easy task as one observer described:

[H]e who becomes used to warm houses, feeding on bread and beer, lying in good beds, he will not be eager to live among the Lapps . . . they quickly die when they have to … refrain from bathing, drink water and eat smoke, run on skis, lie like a dog in snow and huts in the winter, withstand cold and frost, walk through rain in the summers, across marshes, swamps and mosses … put up with mosquitoes and gnats so that they may eat one alive in summer, above and around giving one peace neither day nor night.

But the key to driving the demon out of these people was getting to the youth. Like the Canadians, the Swedes forced the Samis to enrol their children in boarding schools where the native would be driven from their unclean souls. Not only were the children required to speak Swedish, they had to Swedishize their names—Pagge became Paul, etc.

One devout Swede described the efforts at conversion (ie. assimilation) as virtually hopeless:

I began by asking them about the catechism … What they understood was quite little; charged them with Idolatry and witchcraft; Intercourse with animals; incest, manslaughter, fornication, but saw no more reaction than from a log… when I more clearly repeated his [Christ’s] suffering in the garden, etc. was an equal lack of reaction, I saw only 2 or 3 that cried tears … the Pastor has scant responsibility for this, when the Lapp is like this, he can achieve little.

With all due respect to those who admire the Swedes, I’d have preferred to live like a Sami.

Now you might assume that these were the bad old days and that the Swedes straightened out their act under a benign and enlightened social democracy in the 20th century when Sami rights would finally be respected. Well, let’s take a look at the record.

Roger Kvist, a faculty member in the Department of Saami Studies at Umeå University, wrote a paper titled “The Racist Legacy In Modern Swedish Saami Policy” that demonstrates the continuity between the 17th century and the modern era.

Despite the fact that reindeer was a key to the cultural survival of the Sami ethos just as the bison was to the Lakota, the Swedish government has consistently tried to impinge on the right to hunt and to tame the beasts. Social Democrats like  Gunnar Sträng (Minister of Finance) and Torsten Nilsson (as Minister of Agriculture, responsible for Saami Affairs, Roger Kvist Minister of Foreign Affairs) were for strict control of reindeer grazing.

In the 1980s, even after Norway had passed legislation favorable to Sami self-determination, the Swedish social democrats failed to pass a similar bill. Also, the government would not sign the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, concerning Indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries. Ironically, despite the social democratic pretensions to being concerned about the rights of the downtrodden, it has been non-social democratic governments in Sweden that have been more forthcoming.

But this is not the half of it. On August 29, 1997 the Washington Post reported on how “Sweden Sterilized Thousands of ‘Useless’ Citizens for Decades”:

The victims were young and mostly female, judged to be rebellious or promiscuous, of low intelligence or perhaps of mixed blood. One was a young woman whose priest believed she had not learned her confirmation lessons well enough, another who couldn’t read a blackboard because she did not have eyeglasses and was deemed to be retarded.

In the eyes of Swedish authorities, they were misfits in a forward-looking nation, and for that they paid a terrible price: sterilization at the hands of the state, often against their will. From 1934 to 1974, 62,000 Swedes were sterilized as part of a national program grounded in the science of racial biology and carried out by officials who believed they were helping to build a progressive, enlightened welfare state.

Now the collective history of the victims, brought back into public view by a sharply written series of articles in Sweden’s largest morning newspaper, has stirred the public consciousness of a country that has often ignored the darker corners of its past.

The policy weighed heaviest on the Roma who were specifically targeted by the social democrats who were heavily into eugenics but there is little doubt that Sami women were victimized as well, not so much for being Sami but for being rebellious or promiscuous—in other words the same kind of behavior that offended Calvinist pastors 300 years earlier.

In my next post, I will deal with the Swedish social democrats and Africa.

July 5, 2015

Greece by the numbers

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 6:19 pm

I am sure my readers have been following the referendum but just to make sure, “Oxi” means “no” to the German pig bankers and their regime thugs:


Turning to another matter involving Greece and the numbers, there’s a book review in today’s NY Times of “The Full Catastrophe” by WSJ reporter James Evangelos about the Greek crisis. It was reviewed by Joshua Hammer, a one-time Newsweek bureau chief. You can probably figure out that the book and the reviewer were on the same page ideologically.

While Hammer refrains from the open hostility toward the Greek government that you’d expect from a Times contributor, there was one passage that struck my eye:

To understand what led Greece to such a predicament, Angelos visits Zakynthos, off the western coast of the Peloponnese, mockingly anointed the “Island of the Blind” after nearly 2 percent of the population — nine times the estimated rate for most European countries — was found to be receiving benefit payments for sightlessness. Angelos discovers a scheme to defraud the ministry of health that extends from the single public hospital’s sole ophthalmologist to the former prefect who signed off on the payments, one of many such social-welfare scams that cost the Greek government billions of euros.

On the island of Hydra, Angelos tells of an undercover raid on a portside taverna that drew national attention to a common Greek pastime, tax evasion, and the halfhearted and inequitable attempts of the government in the post-bailout era to crack down on cheats. “The pervasiveness of the habit, and the government’s enduring unwillingness to do anything about it, was more than any other factor the cause of Greece’s financial troubles,” Angelos observes, citing one European Commission study in which uncollected consumption taxes were estimated at 10 billion euros a year. Another study, by two American academics, estimated that self-employed workers failed to report about 28 billion euros in taxable income in 2009.

Well, of course there was and is tax evasion in Greece but why single out a study that claimed “self-employed workers” failed to report about 28 billion euros? Who are these waiters and waitresses that are largely responsible for the nation’s plight? When you read the relevant passage in Evangelos’s book, you can spot his bias immediately: “People in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland—eurozone countries that had, with great reservation, participated in Greece’s bailouts—read the stories about the swimming pools, or others about an apparently high per capita number of Porsche Cayennes in Greece…were perturbed.”

Evangelos did not really clarify what kind of  “self-employed workers” he was talking about and Hammer was all to happy to take him at his word that “workers” were bleeding the country dry. However, I invite you to read an article about the study that appeared on the website Keep Talking Greece that will put things into perspective. It states:

The chief offenders are professionals in medicine, engineering, education, accounting, financial services and law. Among the self-employed documented in the report are accountants, dentists, lawyers, doctors, personal tutors and independent financial advisers.

Odd that the professional classes can be described as “workers” unless you want to prejudice WSJ or NY Times readers against them. In fact, it is completely understandable why lawyers, doctors and accountants would want to avoid paying taxes. They are not part of the labor force but small proprietors who have the same class outlook as the rulers of society.

In terms of the authors of the paper, who clearly were anxious to represent all Greeks as tax cheats even if their words don’t exactly support Hammer’s description of them as “self-employed workers”, it is worth mentioning their affiliation. Adair Morse and Margarita Tsoutsoura are from the University of Chicago. The minute I saw U. of Chicago, alarm bells went off. It seems that Morse is a fellow at the Friedman-Becker Institute. I am sure you know that Friedman is none other than Milton Friedman, while Becker is Gary Becker, an economist who once described Friedman as “the greatest living teacher I have ever had”. Right. There’s not much information on Margarita Tsoutsoura that would shed light on her ideological leanings but I suspect that she found Morse’s views congenial.

The third author is Nikolaos Artavanis from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. a contributor to http://greekeconomistsforreform.com/, a group blog that urged a “yes” vote on today’s referendum. Enough said?

Now I am sure that the numbers the authors dredged up were fairly accurate but we can be sure that they would understand the political impact. The report was used mainly as a cudgel against the Greek nation to make the poor pay for the thievery of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. Here is just another example of how it served a political agenda:

How Greek tax evasion helped sink the global economy
By Brad Plumer July 9, 2012

The euro crisis first started roaring in late 2009, when auditors inside the newly elected Greek government discovered that the country had a much—much—bigger deficit than anyone realized. That, in turn, inflamed fears that Greece couldn’t wiggle its way out of its debt trap so long as it was tethered to the euro. It also exposed structural problems within Europe’s currency union. Worries soon spread to Ireland, Portugal, and eventually Italy and Spain. Now the entire global economy is on edge.

Nice place. Wonder what sort of property taxes they pay? (Petros Giannakouris / AP)

But why did Greece have such a massive budget deficit in the first place? One factor (among many) was rampant tax evasion, which had starved the Greek government of funds. As it turns out, this was a very big deal indeed. The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart points to a new paper (pdf) by three economists who estimate that the size of Greek tax evasion accounted for roughly half the country’s budget shortfall in 2008 and one-third in 2009.

How is it even possible to estimate taxes that aren’t ever paid? The economists, Nikolaos Artavanis, Adair Morse and Margarita Tsoutsoura, cleverly exploit a discrepancy. Few people in Greece want to report their real income to the government, since that would mean paying more taxes. But Greek banks have very solid estimates for how much income people are actually raking in — the banks need this info to make loans or to issue mortgages.


The phrase “”Lies, damned lies, and statistics” was first used by Mark Twain who attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli even though it is likely he never said it. Probably history will record that if Twain had lived as our contemporary thanks to some youth elixir, he would have used it as an epithet for mainstream reporting on the Greek economy.

July 4, 2015

Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, and the American Indian

Filed under: bourgeois revolutions,indigenous — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

An excerpt from:

“We hold this truth to be self-evident, that God created all men equal, and one of the most prominent features in the Declaration of Independence and in that glorious fabric of collected wisdom, our noble constitution. This idea embraces the Indian and the European, the Savage and the Saint, the Peruvian and the Laplander, the white man and the African.” So spoke Philadel phia’s prosperous black sailmaker, James Forten, thirty-seven years after the declaration first received printer’s ink.7 Was Forten mistaken that white Americans of the revolutionary generation subscribed to the notion that inalienable rights were universal, not limited just to white European males? Many historians believe that men such as Forten were wrong, that the founders really meant all white men are created equal, that only they were entitled to the fabled “unalienable rights.” Conventional wisdom has it that white revolutionary leaders believed Africans–even those who were free—were not endowed with fully human attributes and therefore were not considered to be among “all men” claimed in the declaration to have been created equal.8

To be sure, many white Americans did not intend to include African-Americans and others (such as women) under the canopy guaranteeing inalienable rights and equality as a birthright. But many did. Forten did not misremember the days of his early service in the Revolution; nor did he invent the climate of opinion in his hometown of Philadelphia. Hardly any writer who attacked slavery in the 1760s and 1770s imagined that Africans were not part of the human race. James Otis made this explicit in his Rights of the British Colonists in 1764, and a decade later the Massachusetts Genera Court debated a bill premised on this principle. Abigail Adams expressed the same view in 1774, insisting that black Americans had “as good a right to freedom as we have.” In the same year, Tom Paine insisted that “the slave, who is the proper owner of his freedom, has a right to reclaim it.”9 Samuel Hopkins, writing in 1776 from Newport, Rhode Island, the center of New England slave trading, made it his business to keep the matter squarely before the Second Continental Congress. The enslaved Africans, he exhorted, “behold the sons of liberty oppressing and tyrannizing over many thousands of poor blacks who have as good a claim to liberty as themselves, [and] are shocked with the glaring inconsistence.” Hopkins warned that if the leaders of the nation struggling for independence did not erase this “national sin,” the American people would never survive God’s wrath. Almost simultaneously, the New York legislature stated that slavery was “utterly inconsistent with the avowed principles in which this and other states have carried on their struggle for liberty.”

In southern as well as northern colonies important leaders acknowledged the universality of rights proclaimed by the declaration. As early as 1767, Virginia’s Arthur Lee stated baldly that “Freedom is unquestionably the birthright of all mankind, of Africans as well as Europeans.” Two years later, Jefferson argued before Virginia’s highest court, in a case involving a mulatto consigned to thirty years of labor, that “under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own: person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will.” Nearly all Virginia leaders admitted as much as they began drafting a constitution for the state in 1776. George Mason’s draft, in the very first article of the Declaration ration of Rights, stated “that all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are, the enjoyment of life and liberty.” Objections immediately arose for fear that the first clause would “have the effect of abolishing” slavery or might be “the forerunner of … civil convulsion.” The language had to be manipulated “[so] as not to involve the necessity of emancipating the slaves.”12

Edmund Pendleton, a shrewd lawyer and expert wordsmith, rescued the Virginia leaders from the problem of making the essential claim of natural inborn rights while not giving slaves an opening. The accepted revision averred that “All men are by nature equally free and independent,” but acquired rights only when they enter into a state of society.” The last clause solved the problem because it could be said that slaves were not in a state of society. Such sophistry would do for the moment, though many Virginians were already on record saying that Africans were part of humanity and therefore as possessed of natural rights as Europeans, Asians, or anyone else. Though Jefferson would use many of the key words in the natural-rights proposition in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, he knew better than to slip in the weaselly clause about “when they enter into a state of society.

Virginia’s crafty circumlocution later proved useful in legal matters, but it did not change the minds of many southern leaders that Africans were born with natural rights, including the essential right to freedom. John Laurens, the son of South Carolina’s largest slave trader and one of the colony’s la slave owners, believed the half-million slaves in North America were justly deprived of the rights of mankind.”13 The young Laurens, infected by study in the Enlightenment hub of Geneva, Switzerland, made this statement in 1778. But most white southerners held negative views of Africans’ attributes, and some, like Jefferson, speculated that such negative qualities were innate. But even in disparaging descriptions of African moral and in intellectual capacities, and even in arguments that abolishing slavery was impractical, the claim was rarely made that Africans—or any other caste or clan people—were born without unalterable rights. The revolutionary generation’s problem was not in its conception of universal rights, as expressed in declaration, but rather its inability to honor them.

British writers, fellow inheritors of the Enlightenment, agreed. “How that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” inquired England’s Samuel Johnson, a former schoolteacher and creator of the Dictionary of the English Language, the masterpiece that today still commands such encomiums as “a portrait of the language of the day in all its majestic beauty, and marvelous confusion.” Johnson asked this question in 1775 in the context of his disapproval of American pretensions to independence, a position he spelled out piquantly in his Taxation No Tyranny, where he flummoxed American colonists by calling them selfish, ungrateful children—”these lords of themselves, these kings of Me, these demigods of independence.” Lind, a British government writer equally eager to unmask American hypocrisy, put it as strongly: “It is their boast that they have taken up arms in support of these their own self-evident truths—that all men are created that all men are endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” If so, why were they complaining to the world “of the offer of freedom held out to these wretched beings [by the British], of the offer of reinstating them in that equality which, in this very paper, is declared to be the gift of God to all; in those unalienable rights with which, in this paper, God is declared to have endowed all mankind?”15

If Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence blithely absolved American colonists from complicity in the slave trade, he was equally dishonest in his blanket indictment of Native Americans. The charge that Jefferson buried in the declaration among the long list of grievances against king and Parliament must have astounded Joseph Brant, Attakullakulla, Logan, Daniel Nimham, or any other Indian leader whose stories we have followed. They would surely have agreed with the charge that “the king had blocked new appropriation of lands,” since they knew full well that Parliament had issued the Proclamation Act of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774 to create a buffer between the land-hungry colonists and the interior Indian nations. But they must have been deeply offended at the assertion that the king had “endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian sayages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” These pungent words from Jefferson’s hand, “submitted to a candid world” and borrowed exactly from his preamble to he Virginia constitution, were left untouched by drafting committee members Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and by the Continental Congress sitting it as committee of the whole.16 The silence of historians on this disingenuous charge is deafening in the most notable studies of the Declaration of Independence spanning more than eighty years. In Carl Becker’s The Declaration of Independence (1922), in Garry Wills’s Inventing America (1978), and in Pauline Maier’s American Scripture (1997), not a word appears on this vicious caricature of the American Indians, who had been trading partners, military allies, and marital consorts as often as enemies for two centuries.

Jefferson, like most signers of the declaration, knew that this inflammatory charge was duplicitous. The first part of it—that the king had incited Indians against white settlers—had been charged in grievances expressed by several colonies and in Congress’s “Declaration on Taking Up Arms” in 1775. Rut the second part of the loaded sentence—that the known rule of destruction followed by Indian “savages,” where no woman, child, or person of any condition was spared, was Jefferson’s own formulation. To write this, Jefferson had to bury recent memory. Fourteen years before, finishing up his study at the College of William and Mary, the nineteen-year-old Jefferson had been spellbound by Chief Outacite, one of the Cherokee leaders who passed through Williamsburg on their way to take ship to London, where he hoped to find justice for his people. After spending two days in Virginia’s capital,Outacite gave a farewell speech that Jefferson remembered so vividly that he described it in detail, even to the phase of the moon, fifty years later in a letter to John Adams. “I knew much the the great Outacite, the warrior and orator of the Cherokees,” Jefferson told Adams. “He was always the guest of my father on his journeys to and from Williamsburg. I was in his camp when he made his great farewell oration to his people the evening before his departure for England.” It was a moment burned into Jefferson’s psyche, though he buried it while writing the Declaration of Independence. “The moon was in full splendor, and to her he seemed to address himself in his prayers safety on the voyage, and that of his people during his absence, his sounding voice, distinct articulation, animated actions, and the solemn silence of his people at their several fires, filled me with awe and veneration, though I did not understand a word he uttered.”17

What had happened to this awe and veneration when Jefferson drafted the declaration, sitting in a rented room looking down on bustling Market Street in Philadelphia? Of course, it was no time for Jefferson to sentimental. In drafting the declaration, he was all too aware that he was writing a propaganda missive, a legal brief to justify American independence from his own experiences in Virginia’s piedmont region that attributing a genocidal urge against “all ages, sexes, and conditions” to Indian more appropriately described the “rule of warfare” practiced by Virginia’s frontiersmen. We can never know how his sleep at night might disturbed by his suppression of the recent atrocities against peaceable Americans, for example the massacre led by the Paxton Boys in 1763 and the slaughter of Logan’s family in 1774. Jefferson knew of these heinous attacks in all their gory details, but in the flush of finding stirring rhetoric to voice the sentiments of an aroused colonial people, Jefferson ignored his deep respect for native people. A few years after penning the Declaration of Independence, he returned to his remembrance of Outacite’s stirring oratory and noble composure. In summing up his drama-filled years during the Revolution, he decided that nobody could find in the “whole orations Demosthenes and Cicero and indeed in all of European oratory” a “single passage superior to the speech of Logan.”18

Jefferson’s reduction of half a million Native Americans east of the Mississippi River to “merciless savages” had propagandistic value, but many who read the toxic words in the declaration at the time knew that most of the troubles with Indian nations began with white land hunger, unscrupulous trading, and arrogance. The judgment of Thomas Pownall, the governor of Massachusetts only a few years before, was well known and uncontested: that “the frauds, abuses, and deceits that these poor people have been treated with and suffered under have had no bounds.” Nor were Jefferson members of the Continental Congress unaware of the much circulated report of 1755 that proposed a plan for biracial comity. Edmond Atkin, the trader of South Carolina who had years of intimate contact with southern Indian nations, wrote that “In their public treaties, no people on earth are more open, explicit, and direct. Nor are they excelled by any in the observance of them…. With respect to … all ruptures of consequence between the Indians and the white people, and the massacres that ensued … the latter were the first aggressors, the Indians being driven thereto under oppressions and abuses, and to vindicate their natural rights”.19

Many colonists agreed, admiring the Indian traits of morality, generosity, bravery, and the spirit of mutual caring. Indians seemed to embody these Christian virtues almost without effort while colonizing Europeans, attempting to build a society with similar characteristics, were pulled in the opposite direction by the natural abundance around them—toward individualism, disputatiousness, aggrandizement of wealth, and the exploitation of other humans. “As a nation,” wrote John Brickell of the Delawares, with whom, he lived for more than four years, they may be considered fit examples for many of us Christians to follow. They certainly follow what they are taught to believe more closely, and I might say more honestly, in general, than we Christians do the divine precepts of our Redeemer.”20

Whether members of the Continental Congress who pored over Jefferson’s draft of the declaration considered the effect the insulting language used to describe Native Americans might have on the Indians themselves is not clear. But as historian Daniel Richter points out, they knew that England, as the war clouds loomed in 1774-75, had neither attempted to make formal military alliances with Native Americans nor encouraged them to descend on iIlicit frontier settlements. To be sure, English ministers were discussing how to mobilize Indian support if the undeclared war mushroomed into a full-scale fight. So was the Continental Congress. In fact, Congress had already enlisted the support of the Christianized Mahicans, Wappingers, and Housatonic Indians living in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1775. Seventeen Stockbridge warriors fought with the Americans at Breed’s Hill in June of that year.21 A few months later, commissioners of the Continental Congress met at Pittsburgh with the Shawnee, Wyandot, Seneca, and Delaware to secure their pledge of neutrality. Once again, just as Congress was declaring independence, American commissioners at Fort Pitt received a renewed Six Nation pledge of neutrality. Creating a generic, colonist-hating Indian might be useful in kindling ears of a British-Indian conspiracy, but how could it serve to woo Indians to the American side or even convince them to remain neutral? The Ame seizure of Sir John Johnson, son of William Johnson (who was beloved by Mohawks), and the imprisonment of his wife and confiscation of his pro gave the Iroquois further reason to distrust the Americans.

July 3, 2015

Axis of Resistance or Axis of Compliance?

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

“Moscow’s long-standing policy of trying to be friends with everyone.”

Back in 2011, just around the time that the Arab Spring began, a section of the left became convinced that the revolts in Libya and Syria were not genuine. Instead they were attempts by the West and its allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, to topple legitimate nationalist and even radical governments as part of a strategy to isolate and then destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran, which despite its flaws, was a key member of the “Axis of Resistance” (AOR). Of course, once Iran fell into the hands of the brie-eating and white wine-sipping Green Movement, that would increase the pressure on Russia that was in the final analysis the major obstacle to American imperialist designs.

Somewhere along the line reality got in the way even though the AOR left has not allowed that to get in its way. To some extent it is impossible to ignore evidence that this schema did not and could not match up to the byzantine geopolitics of the region. For example, in today’s CounterPunch, there’s an article by Jason Hirthler titled “Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg” that reprises AOR talking points such as a reference to Putin being pressured to abandon Assad to step down, something that reflects “the chief imperial aim of the West” even though there are copious reports on America demanding that the rebels they train take no action against the Baathists.

The article tries to square the circle. Even though its intention is to portray Putin as the number one enemy of imperialism, it has to acknowledge the purpose of the meeting in St. Petersburg—to bring together the American corporate elite with the Russian government officials in order to discuss business deals, even if WSWS.org warns about nuclear Armageddon in the next few months. Hirthler writes:

Filled with thousands of businessmen cutting deals with the Russian state, it provided a platform for Russia to reshape the dominant western narrative that Russia is an international pariah.

For those of us still old-fashioned enough to take Marx’s writings seriously, it is a mystery why Hirthler can’t make the connection between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the state that acts in its interests. As Marx put it in “The Communist Manifesto”: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” So as long as people such as this get the red carpet treatment in St. Petersburg, I doubt that there will be much need to find a nearby air raid shelter. The NY Times reported on June 19th that 12 CEOs were in St. Petersburg to discuss deals, including Jim Rogers, chairman of the Miami financial company Beeland Interests; John Wories, president of Amsted Rail; and Jacob Frenkel, chairman of J. P. Morgan Chase International.

The European corporate executives were even more anxious to do business.The heads of BP the French bank Société Générale showed up. Meanwhile, nothing would appear to stand in the way of Royal Dutch Shell Gazprom’s plans to  build a third liquefied natural gas plant on Sakhalin Island in Siberia. Someone remind me. Is this the sort of irreconcilable conflicts Lenin described in “Imperialism: the latest stage of capitalism”? I must have missed something.

Even Saudi Arabia is getting into the act as Hirthler refers to it signing a raft of agreements with Russia during the powwow. For a more detailed account of the growing affinity between the Kremlin and the Mideast’s most reactionary power, you can read Fred Weir in the latest issue of the Christian Monitor. For those of you unfamiliar with Weir, I can assure you that he is a long-time Marxist even though his first-rate journalism avoids any kind of editorializing. He writes:

Mr. Putin and Prince Salman sat down for a friendly meeting on the sidelines of a St. Peterburg economic forum last month, where they reportedly signed six deals, including a nuclear cooperation agreement that could see Russia helping to build up to 16 atomic power stations in the desert kingdom. They also are reported to have inked contracts on  space cooperation, infrastructure development, and a deal on high-end Russian weaponry.

For the Kremlin, the effort to establish good relations with a major Mideast player that has long shunned Russia comports well with what Ms. Zvyagelskaya calls “Moscow’s long-standing policy of trying to be friends with everyone.”

Does this business about trying to be friends with everyone ring a bell. It should because it is essentially another way of expressing what Kissinger said: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

Meanwhile for all the talk of “sticking it to the man”, one has to wonder why Russia does not come to the aid of Greece that is locked in a battle with the European bankers, the IMF and the EU, which supposedly are part of the economic and geopolitical forces that want to turn Russia into a Yeltsinite colony. One would think that helping Greece to withstand these vultures would be in Russia’s interests.

Ertugrul Kurkcu, a parliamentary representative of the HDP, a leftist party that emerged out of the Kurdish struggle that has been called the Syriza or Podemos of Turkey, has shown the kind of solidarity that is absent from the Kremlin. The Washington Post reported on June 30:

On Tuesday, support for Greece and its leftist government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras came from a rather unlikely place. Across the Aegean Sea in Turkey, one member of parliament urged his government to help bailout their neighbors.

“It is the biggest help that Turkey can do for its neighbor when times are tough,” said Ertugrul Kurkcu, of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, known by its Turkish abbreviation HDP.

Kurkcu, who hails from the western Turkish port city of Izmir, urged Ankara to extend a 1.6 billion-euro “zero interest loan” to Greece to help repay its debts to international creditors, according to the Daily Sabah.

“Turkey’s humanitarian help in 2013 was $1.9 billion. Turkey’s resources are sufficient enough to make this aid to Greece,” Kurkcu said.

Russia’s GDP was equivalent to 2.097 Trillion dollars in 2013, which is about a thousand times the amount that Greece is being forced to deliver to the IMF. If Putin really was the leader of the “Axis of Resistance”, you’d think he’d pony up with the dough. What explains this reluctance? Are we dealing with the “Axis of Resistance” or maybe the “Axis of Compliance”? Maybe Putin was not cut from the same cloth as the Turkish HDP leader who understands what it means to struggle against oppression and exploitation. Maybe Putin has more in common with the businessmen he has put down the red carpet for rather than the pensioners and workers of Greece, at least that’s the conclusion one would draw from forexlive.com, a news aggregator geared to investors:

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Native Land

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,workers — louisproyect @ 5:46 pm
A Triumph of the Cultural Front

On Native Land


Recently I have begun a project that should be of some interest to radicals, particularly film buffs like me. I will be creating a database of links to radical films that can be seen on the Internet for free, or for a nominal fee. Most of these films will be viewable on Youtube but one that I saw this week is available on veoh.com, a Video streaming website that is part of qlipso.com, a social networking company that was launched out of Israel. My advice is to not let this stand in the way of watching “Native Land”, a 1942 documentary co-directed by Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand, two leading figures in the Communist Party-led cultural front that was so brilliantly analyzed in Michael Denning’s “The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century”.

The film was a virtual who’s who of the CP artistic community. In addition to Hurwitz, who was blacklisted during the 1950s, and photographer Paul Strand, who was not a party member but embodied their esthetic, it featured Paul Robeson as narrator and music by Marc Blitzstein best known for his musical play “The Cradle Will Rock” that was directed by Orson Welles. (In 1999 Tim Robbins directed a serviceable film based on the play’s difficulties getting staged.)

“Native Land” consists of a series of dramatic reenactments of how corporate America used gun-thugs and spies to crush the trade union movement, especially in the Deep South. The technique might be familiar to you if you’ve seen Errol Morris’s “The Thin Blue Line” or Andrew Jarecki’s “The Jinx”, which had actors reprising the alleged crimes of real estate heir Robert Durst. In one reenactment, Howard Da Silva plays a snitch named Jim hired by the bosses to secretly take down the names of trade union members for blacklisting purposes. (This was a time when the CIO was nothing close to the immensely powerful machine it would become.) There was an immense irony in this since Da Silva was a CP’er who was blacklisted in the 1950s. Jim’s fellow spy was played by Art Smith, another victim of the witch-hunt whose career effectively came to an end in 1952.

read full article

July 2, 2015

In reply to an Islamophobe

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

A.J. Caschetta

Today I found myself embroiled in an ongoing confrontation between a pro-Palestinian professor named Jonathan Judaken at Rhodes College in Tennessee and an Islamophobe named A.J. Caschetta who teaches English at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It all started with an article that Caschetta wrote on Daniel Pipes “Middle East Forum” on behalf of JihadWatch, a blog associated with David Horowitz’s Freedom Center. So right off the bat you can figure out that Caschetta is bad news.

Titled “Are Muslims the New Jews?”,Caschetta’s article denounced a Judaken lecture at the University of Rochester as being soft on Islam. He described Judaken’s lecture as exaggerating the Islamic contribution to Western civilization and crediting Islam with having “preserved, elaborated on and indeed expanded upon Western thought” in Judaken’s words. He also took exception to Judaken’s claim that Jews were ”treated much better” in the Muslim world after expulsion from Christendom. Now this is a topic that I have devoted a fair amount of research to, culminating in an article titled “Jews in the Maghreb”. The whole question of how Jews got treated in the Muslim world is highly politicized with people like David Horowitz and A.J. Caschetta likening it to Nazi Germany and others moored to the planet Earth agreeing with famed Jewish historian Shelomo Dov Goitein that Jewish life “flourished” there.

As might be expected, Caschetta refers his readers to passages in the Quran that supposedly demonize Jews. Frankly, as someone who attended Hebrew school and had drummed into his head for 3 years that the Jews were the “chosen people”, something that gave them the right to occupy Palestine and ethnically cleanse the people who had been living there for millennia, this sort of scripture-quoting struck me as a sick joke.

After Judaken read Caschetta’s article, he wrote a commentary in Inside Higher Education titled “The New McCarthyism” that quite rightly places Caschetta’s article in the context of a well-funded and vicious organized attempt to silence critics of Israel:

I had a sense something had happened in the blogosphere when I began to receive anti-Islamic hate mail in my inbox, and requests for the lecture from as far away as Sydney, Australia. This happened because Campus Watch flies its flag under the auspices of the Middle East Forum, a well-financed initiative under the leadership of Daniel Pipes that monitors Middle East studies in the academy.

Campus Watch is part of a network of networks, including StandWithUs, AMCHAInitiative, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and most recently Canary Mission, linked to groups like Jihad Watch. Jihad Watch and these other fora send daily blasts to all those who sign up to receive them on their websites and use email and social media to share their message. Within this self-referential set of bubbles, each consumes the propaganda of their fellow warriors in what they describe as a war for hearts and minds. College campuses are thus key strategic territory in the battle since this is where young minds are shaped.

On June 16th I crossposted Judaken’s article on Marxmail, a mailing list that has a definite political orientation and one that is obviously sympathetic to intellectuals like Judaken, Steven Salaita et al. For some reason totally unfathomable to me, this character A.J. Caschetta emailed Les Schaffer requesting that we post his latest article on this matter that appears in todays Inside Higher Education. So this complies with his request and allows me to put in my own two cents.

Caschetta’s article is titled “The Hollow Cry of ‘McCarthyism’” and is filled with dodgy obfuscations such as the claim that his Middle East Forum article had nothing to do with Israel since the word Israel does not occur once. Maybe that’s because it didn’t have to. If you spend a thousand words arguing that Muslims have hated Jews from the time of Mohammad, isn’t it obvious that this is just another attempt to persuade people that Israel had an excuse for bombing UN schools in Gaza? If we didn’t kill women and children there, the next thing you know they would be swarming into Israel like locusts in order to carry out a genocide against the Jews because of words written in the Quran.

You have to wonder, I should add, how an RIT professor can bond with the likes of David Horowitz who is given to statements such as “We already have a lot of infiltration of Islamic jihadist doctrines into our K-12 school systems.” I can easily imagine Pipes, Horowitz and Pam Geller lining up at Sheldon Adelson’s trough to get their pay-off, but doesn’t Caschetta feel a bit soiled when he does? Aah, maybe I am giving him too much credit.

Finally, a word about Caschetta’s dismissal of Judaken’s worries that he and other pro-Palestinian professors can encounter the same sort of witch hunt that took place during the Red Scare. Since he is part of Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz’s Islamophobic brigades, this is tantamount to Walter Winchell scoffing at the idea that Communists had anything to worry about in 1953.

For my newer readers, I would recommend a look at the dossier I collected on victims of this well-organized,  well-funded and utterly reactionary crusade a while back. The first couple of pages should suffice:

NY Times October 2, 1983

ON Aug. 17, five faculty members at the State University of New York at Stony Brook met to review the evidence against Prof. Ernest Dube.

It was skimpy evidence, those five executive committee members agreed – certainly nothing they ever dreamed would attract the attention of the Governor.

In a two-page letter, a visiting professor from Israel had charged Professor Dube with using the classroom for ”the kind of sloganeering that is practiced by the anti-Semite,” including teaching that Zionism is racist.

The Israeli professor, Selwyn K. Troen, had never been to Professor Dube’s class nor made an attempt to talk with Professor Dube. He based his letter on conversations with a single student and a copy of the course syllabus and shortly afterward flew back to Israel.

”Frankly, I thought what Professor Troen said was bull,” said Joel Rosenthal, a Stony Brook history professor and head of the committee. That same day, after reviewing the evidence available, the committee decided that Professor Dube was within the bounds of academic freedom abnd had not acted improperly.

* * * *

NY Times, October 19, 2000
Columbia Debates a Professor’s ‘Gesture’

When Edward W. Said, a celebrated literary scholar, Columbia University professor and outspoken Palestinian advocate, hurled a rock toward an Israeli guardhouse from the Lebanese border in July, a photographer caught the action. The photo, which captured Mr. Said with his arm reached far behind him, ready to throw, appeared in newspapers and magazines in the Middle East and the United States.

Mr. Said’s rock-throwing occurred during a visit to Lebanon with his family last summer. He has given several explanations for it. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he said it was merely a competition with his son to see who could throw farther.

But his explanations did not satisfy critics like Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Mr. Foxman wrote to Columbia’s president, George Rupp, calling Mr. Said’s behavior ”a crude, disgraceful and dangerous act of incitement” and saying that it warranted ”clear repudiation and censure from the Columbia University community.”

* * * *

Jewish Ledger, June 26, 2002
CCSU, Tunxis institutes for teachers lack balance, Jewish leaders say
by Adam N. Schupack

Two professional development institutes to educate Connecticut public school teachers about the Middle East and Islamic world have drawn criticism from members of the Jewish community and a Connecticut congressman for their lack of balance.

At least three professors teaching at the programs at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain and Tunxis Community College in Farmington are anti-Israel activists, according to Jewish leaders.

“We feel that it is important that middle and high school teachers receive a balanced presentation of the issues, and we’re not convinced these faculty will be able to accomplish that,” said Cathrine Fischer Schwartz, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

* * * *

NY Times, November 21, 2002
Poet Who Spoke Against Israel Is Reinvited to Talk at Harvard

Citing concerns about freedom of speech, Harvard University’s English department has renewed an invitation to the Irish poet Tom Paulin to give a lecture, just a week after he was disinvited for expressing strongly anti-Israeli views.

The new invitation, approved in a vote on Tuesday night, drew sharply differing responses from faculty members and students at Harvard, which has been troubled by heated debates and demonstrations about Israel in the past year. Some expressed relief, saying the university had crossed the line by disinviting a poet because of his political views. Others were outraged and said the decision would lead to renewed protests.

* * * *

New York Sun, January 27, 2004
Hamas in Florida Classroom
by Daniel Pipes and Asaf Romirowsky

A visiting Palestinian professor at Florida Atlantic University, Mustafa Abu Sway, is “known as an activist” in Hamas, a group on the American government’s terrorism list, we reported in October of 2003. We also disclosed that his salary is being paid by the American taxpayer, via the Fulbright exchange program.

Our little scoop met with yawns or with disbelief. Mr. Abu Sway himself, in an interview with the Palm Beach Post, denounced our article as a “witch hunt.” Florida Atlantic University ignored the disclosure: “We have no reason to take any action,” the university’s president told the Post, a paper that published four skeptical responses, including an editorial insisting that “there is no known evidence” against Mr. Abu Sway.

Actually, being named as “a known activist” in Hamas by the Israeli government — who knows terrorism better ? — qualifies in itself as “evidence,” but since October we have learned that Mr. Abu Sway also, according to Israeli sources.

* * * *

Berkeley Daily Planet Tuesday May 25, 2004
UC Lecturer’s ‘Intifada’ Comment Brings Death Threats

A recent speech delivered by a UC Berkeley lecturer during an impromptu anti-war protest in San Francisco has set off a firestorm of criticism around the country, including death threats and calls for his removal from the university.

The speech, given by Hatem Bazian of UC’s Near Eastern Studies Department, at one point noted the intifada in Palestine and uprising in Iraq and then asked the crowd why the U.S. has not had its own political intifada to protest the lies U.S. government has used to lead this country to war.

Critics took offense with his use of the word “intifada” and are claiming Bazian could be calling for an armed uprising like the ones in Iraq and Palestine. In Arabic, Intifada comes from a root word which means “shaking off,” but the word has come to be associated with the armed Palestinian struggle against Israel.

* * * *

NY Sun, October 22, 2004
Rep. Weiner Asks Columbia to Fire Anti-Israel Prof
By JACOB GERSHMAN, Staff Reporter of the Sun

A congressman from New York City is calling for the dismissal of a Columbia University professor he accuses of “displays of anti-Semitism.”

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat of Brooklyn and Queens, has written a letter to Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, urging him to “fire” Joseph Massad, an assistant professor of Arab politics and one of the harshest critics of Israel on campus.

* * * *

NY Sun, November 22, 2004
Professor Fearful of Attack
By JACOB GERSHMAN, Staff Reporter of the Sun

After receiving an e-mail from a Columbia University graduate student accusing him of anti-Semitism, the chairman of Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures told university officials he felt physically threatened by the student and urged them to alert school security.

Columbia’s provost, Alan Brinkley, told the professor, Hamid Dabashi, he was overreacting, and declined to notify security about the letter from the student, according to an e-mail obtained by The New York Sun.

Mr. Dabashi, whose department at Columbia has come under public scrutiny for its promotion of anti-Israel sentiment and its alleged harassment of Jewish students, was responding to an e-mail he received in late September from Victor Luria, a Ph.D. student who works in a Columbia genetics lab.

* * * *

NY Times, February 28, 2005
Some Limits on Speech in Classrooms

WHILE Columbia University struggles to find the line between academic freedom and unacceptable classroom behavior, the city’s Department of Education has found a facile but provocative solution: banish the guy.

Earlier this month, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein barred Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, from again lecturing to city teachers enrolled in a professional development course because of “a number of things he’s said in the past,” said Michael Best, the department’s general counsel. Asked if the department had verified those purported remarks, Mr. Best did not answer directly: “He’s denied saying certain things; he has not denied saying others.”

Set against the backdrop of a simmering campus dispute over Jewish students’ charges of intimidation by pro-Palestinian teachers, the Khalidi affair has inevitably been linked to the larger controversy. “In this feeding frenzy for finding culprits, he sort of got lumped in with others, and it’s been unfair to him,” said Ari L. Goldman, dean of students at Columbia’s journalism school.

* * * *

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
No 3, 1 September 2005, 27 Av 5765
Faculty Efforts to Combat Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Bias at the University of California, Santa Cruz
By Leila Beckwith, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, and Ilan Benjamin

The University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC), founded in 1965, is one of the ten campuses of the University of California, a public institution. The attractive campus is situated on two thousand acres of hills and redwood forests overlooking Monterey Bay. Fifteen thousand students attend, of whom about 20 percent are Jewish, the highest proportion of Jewish students among all the UC campuses.1

Nevertheless, UCSC is home to a great deal of virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric, which creates an intimidating environment for many Jews on campus. Although such hostility can be found at many other universities, what is unique at UCSC is that the animus is not directed by the usual sources, such as well-funded Muslim student groups2 or faculty in a Middle East studies program.3 In fact, the UCSC Muslim Student Alliance is not very active; nor are other pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli student groups such as the Committee for Justice in Palestine. And while there is a Jewish studies program, there is none for Middle East studies, and no known Arab/Muslim funding of university faculty or activities. Instead, at UCSC the anti-Israeli sentiment is primarily generated by a leftist faculty scattered throughout the university’s academic units.

July 1, 2015

Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist

Filed under: african-american — louisproyect @ 8:26 pm

July 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Proyect,

 As a former Pacifica producer, I write to inform you that my biography Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press, on September 29. Miller argued Shelley v. Kraemer (which overturned racial restrictive housing covenants), along with Thurgood Marshall and Charles H. Houston.  In addition, Judge Miller, a member of  the California judiciary, published the California Eagle, the oldest black newspaper in the west.  Annually, since 1977, the State Bar of California awards the Loren Miller Legal Services Award for lifetime achievement.

It is my hope that you will share news of this biography on your blog. The attachments and the link below provides more detail including endorsement by Kenneth  Mack, Harvard law professor.


The story told here in full for the first time is of a true American original who defied societal limitations to reshape the racial and political landscape of twentieth-century America. Miller, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights attorneys from the 1940s through the early 1960s, wrote the majority of the Brown v. Board of Education briefs. This biography recovers this remarkable figure from the margins of history and for the first time reveals how he changed American law and history forever.

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June 30, 2015

Samuel Farber’s dodgy reference to Cuban per capita income under Batista

Filed under: cuba — louisproyect @ 3:20 pm

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A study in mendacity

On June 10th an article titled “Cuba’s Challenge” by Samuel Farber appeared in Jacobin that was sufficiently wrongheaded to provoke me into writing a response. Not long after his book “Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959” was published by Haymarket in 2011 (the ISO publishing wing), I had plans to write a systematic critique but terminated the project after the first installment that dealt with his claim that the government had imposed a Stalinist straightjacket on culture.

Although I find Farber’s scholarship on Cuba always in need of a rebuttal, I had simply lost the motivation for the time being back in 2012 to answer him because of the Cuban government’s wretched support for the dictatorships in Libya and Syria. I was especially upset with articles that were appearing in Prensa Latina that were indistinguishable from the garbage on Global Research et al. I suppose that the naked brutality of the Baathist dictatorship plus Cuba’s rapprochement with the USA might have had the effect of toning down Cuban media. It is too bad that it had not followed an independent and radical editorial position from the start.

Turning to Farber’s article, it makes the case that despite the misery in the countryside, things were pretty good for the urban working class:

On the eve of the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had the fourth highest per capita income in Latin America, after Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina.

In terms of its material reality, the Cuba of the fifties was on the one hand characterized by uneven modernity, fairly advanced means of communication and transportation — especially the high circulation, by Latin American standards, of newspapers and magazines — and the rapid development of television and radio. On the other hand, there were abysmal living conditions in the Cuban countryside.

For those who follow Cubanology, Farber’s article will ring a bell. The notion of Castro’s guerrillas coming in and disrupting an economy that was doing pretty good is widespread. For example, Marianne Ward and John Devereux wrote this abstract for their article “The Road Not Taken: Pre-Revolutionary Cuban Living Standards in Comparative Perspective” that appeared in March 2012 The Journal of Economic History:

We examine Cuban GDP over time and across space. We find that Cuba was once a prosperous middle-income economy. On the eve of the revolution, incomes were 50 to 60 percent of European levels. They were among the highest in Latin America at about 30 percent of the United States. In relative terms, Cuba was richer earlier on. Income per capita during the 1920s was in striking distance of Western Europe and the Southern United States. After the revolution, Cuba slipped down the world income distribution. Current levels of income per capita appear below their pre-revolutionary peaks.

You can find the same sort of thing in Manuel Marquez-Sterling’s  “Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro’s Rise to Power”:

The image of a country sunk in abject poverty and illiteracy, its people exploited by raw and rapacious American capitalism, together with a bloodthirsty and reactionary tyrant who guaranteed the exploiters the permanency of the status quo is just a grotesque myth. In 1958 Cuba was a rapidly developing country with an enterprising progressive, and well-educated middle class. And no mean part of this development and progress had been achieved during Batista’s years from 1952 to 1959.

There’s not much to distinguish Farber from these accounts except for his customary invocations for the need for democratic socialism and all the rest. It is too bad that he does not understand that in order to build a democratic socialist society, there is a need for honesty and transparency including from intellectuals who are expected to be scrupulously devoted to the truth.

When Farber writes “On the eve of the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had the fourth highest per capita income in Latin America, after Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina”, he sweeps one important detail under the rug, namely the cost of living. It doesn’t matter if the working-class in Havana was earning nearly the equivalent of an Argentine worker if the cost of living was many times greater than it was in Buenos Aires. For someone writing about the Cuban standard of living in such a decontextualized manner this is worse than being sloppy. It is a violation of the kind of intellectual honesty we expect from someone representing himself as a socialist. It rather reeks of Time Magazine or the Miami Herald.

If you want to get the real story on the urban working class in Cuba during the 1950s, I recommend Louis A. Perez Jr.’s “Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution”, a welcome antidote to Samuel Farber’s dishonest, self-serving and ideologically toxic assault on the revolution in Cuba that has largely succeeded despite repeated attempts to strangle it.

From chapter 10 of Perez (The Eclipse of Old Cuba):

Despite this appearance of well-being, the Cuban middle class was in crisis. The decade of the 1950s was a period of mounting instability and growing uncertainty. Middle-class expectations that the return of Batista in 1952 would end political turmoil proved short-lived and illusory. By the mid-1950s, Cuba was again in the grip of political violence and personal insecurity. The malaise went deeper, however, than unsettled political conditions. To be sure, by prevailing measurements of economic development Cuba boasted of one of the highest standards of living in Latin America. In 1957, Cuba enjoyed among the highest per capita income in Latin America, ranked second at $374 after Venezuela ($857). Only Mexico and Brazil exceeded Cuba in the number of radios owned by individuals (1 for every 6.5 inhabitants). The island ranked first in television sets (1 per 25 inhabitants). Daily average food consumption was surpassed only by Argentina and Uruguay. Cuba was first in telephones (1 to 38), newspapers (1 copy per 8 inhabitants), private motor vehicles (1 to 40), and rail mileage per square mile (1 to 4). An estimated 58 percent of all housing units had electricity. By 1953, 76 percent of the population was literate, the fourth highest literacy rate in Latin America after Argentina (86 per-cent), Chile (79.5 percent), and Costa Rica (79.4 percent).

The apparent affluence enjoyed by Cuba, however, concealed tensions and frustrations that extended both vertically and horizontally through Cuban society. The fluctuations of the export economy continued to create conditions of apprehension that affected all classes. The deepening political crisis of the 1950s exacerbated this uncertainty and, together with an uncertain economy, contributed to eroding the security of middle-class Cubans. They found little cornfort in statistical tallies that touted their high level of material consumption and placed the island near the top of the scale of per capita income in Latin America. The social reality was quite different. Cuba was integrated directly into the larger U.S. economic system and the concomitant consumption patterns. While Cubans enjoyed a remarkably high per capita income in Latin American terms, they lived within a North American cost of living index. Cuba enjoyed a material culture underwritten principally by imports from the United States. While Cuban currency and wages remained comparatively stable through the 1950s, consumption of foreign imports, in the main North American products, increased dramatically from $515 million in 1950 to $649 million in 1956 to $777 million in 1958. Cubans paid North American prices at a time when the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar was declining and the U.S. consumer price index was rising. The United States, not Latin America, served as the frame of reference for Cubans. And against this measure, the Cuban per capita income of $374 paled against the U.S. per capita of $2,000, or even that of Mississippi, the poorest state, at $1,000. Life in Havana, further, was considerably more expensive than in any North American city. Havana ranked among the world’s most expensive cities—fourth after Caracas, Ankara, and Manila. In 1954, Havana had the largest number of Cadillacs per capita of any city in the world.

Cubans participated directly in and depended entirely on the North American economic system in very much the same fashion as U.S. citizens, but without access to U.S. social service programs and at employment and wage levels substantially lower than their North American counterparts. It was a disparity keenly felt in Cuba, a source of much frustration and anxiety. Middle-class Cubans in the 1950s perceived their standard of living in decline as they fell behind the income advances in the United States. These perceptions were not without substance, for even the much-acclaimed Cuban per capita income represented a standard of living in stagnation. Between 1952 and 1954, the decline in the international sugar market precipitated the first in a series of recessions in the Cuban economy during the decade. Per capita income declined by 18 percent, neutralizing the slow gains made during the postwar period. In 1958, the Cuban per capita income was at about the same level as it had been in 1947. Increasingly, middle-class Cubans were losing ground, losing the ability to sustain the consumption patterns to which they had become accustomed.

No amount of favorable comparisons with per capita income in Latin America could reduce Cuban resentment over their predicament. Economist Levi Marrero expressed dismay in 1954 that while Cuba’s per capita income was twice as high as Latin America, it was five times lower than U.S. levels, and he asked rhetorically: “Why this Cuban poverty?” Three years later, writer Antonio Llanes Montes expressed a similar complaint: “Although one hears daily of the prosperity that Cuba is now experiencing, the fact is that the workers and the middle class find it more difficult each day to subsist owing to the scarcity of articles of basic necessity?’

June 29, 2015

Greeks rally for “no” vote

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 9:55 pm

From the NY Times:
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Greeks on Monday gathered in Syntagma Square outside the Parliament to support the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his call for a July 5 referendum on whether to accept proposals by European creditors that his government rejected.

An estimated 20,000 people, many waving flags and some beating drums and chanting slogans against austerity measures, rallied for a “no” vote that risks Greece’s exit from the eurozone.

The protest was peaceful, and had been encouraged by Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party.

Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada)

Filed under: Syria,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:48 pm

Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada).


The failure of the Palestine solidarity movement in the West to follow the lead of the Palestinian movement inside Syria, the vast majority of whom oppose the government despite the costs, in offering solidarity to the Syrian uprising or at least the victims of the situation, is something that will be remembered badly in history, although there is still time to change course. (http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/01/23/declaration-of-a-shared-fate/http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/01/18/while-you-were-neutral-about-yarmouk/).

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