Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 15, 2014

In response to Timothy Shenk

Filed under: economics,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:42 pm

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On The Nation magazine website there’s a 9500 word article by Timothy Shenk titled Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality  that will require far fewer words to dismantle. As Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit and all the more so when it comes to Marxist polemics.

Shenk’s article is a survey of Jacobin Magazine and three books. One is Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century”, ordered from Amazon two weeks ago. Apparently it is back-ordered, a propitious sign given its sweeping indictment of the capitalist system. I know vanishingly little about Piketty’s analysis except that he does not care much for Marx, according to Doug Henwood whose word on such matters I trust implicitly. The other two books are written by N+1 editors, Nikil Saval’s “A Secret History of the Workplace”, a work that examines cubicles and the like, and Benjamin Kunkel’s “Utopia or Bust”.

Shenk is a doctoral student at Columbia University who somehow managed to write a biography of Maurice Dobb in his spare time, no mean feat. For those of you unfamiliar with Dobb, a word or two should suffice. He was a British CP’er who wrote a book on the history of capitalism titled “Studies in the Development of Capitalism” that I highly recommend. Dobb took part in a debate with Paul Sweezy in the 1950s defending a somewhat Anglocentric analysis that put the emphasis on primitive accumulation in the countryside as opposed to the expansion of global trade—Sweezy’s perspective. But unlike Robert Brenner, who took up the cudgel against Sweezy later on, Dobb stated that colonization and slavery was also essential.

It is rather unusual for The Nation to publish such a long article so focused on Marxist theory. The standard fare there is something about the nefarious Koch brothers or the need to hold Obama to his promises, etc. In the back of my mind I wondered if The Nation ever got over Jacobin editor’s Bhaskar Sunkara’s Letter to ‘The Nation’ From a Young Radical, a piece that can best be described as biting the hand that feeds it.

Shenk starts off with an observation that probably looms more importantly in his own mind than in the general left public, namely that Karl Marx preferred to use the term “capitalist mode of production” rather than capitalism. This distinction strikes me as more semantic than theoretical but if it is important to the author, why quibble?

Much more serious is our author’s contention that ”All…socialists needed to seal their victory was a revolution, which capitalism’s contradictions would deliver to them.” In reality, Marx and Engels thought that the tasks were far more challenging. In Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx writes: “What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” Doesn’t that sound like the conditions that have prevailed in every post-revolutionary society over the past 100 years or so? If Marx was referring to a heavily industrialized country like England, where he expected the revolution to occur, what could he possibly have thought about Cuba’s prospects? Shenk talks about capitalist contradictions delivering a revolution like Pizza Hut, when in fact it is after the triumph of the people that the hard work really begins. I say that as someone who was deeply involved with providing technical aid to Nicaragua in the late 80s.

After another thousand words or so on the history of the use of the term capitalism, a word that had lost its sting in the prosperous 50s and 60s except among the hard-core Marxist left, Shenk zeroes in on the ostensible purpose of his review, which is to evaluate the magazines and books under consideration.

For Shenk, the new generation of Marxists such as the Jacobin and N+1 editors made the transition from college to the revolutionary cause rather seamlessly, aided by social media:

Many had just left college, carrying with them fresh memories of an academic world that doubles as Marxism’s heartiest stronghold…The commitment was lighter, but easier to share, maybe with a post on Facebook.

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Yes, I quite understand. Most of my Marxist FB friends will regale me with a singing dog Youtube clip one day and a status post the next about a David Harvey lecture the next. This is not exactly the sort of thing that will get you an FBI file but neither will this, I suppose.

After some more excursions (was The Nation paying him by the word?), Shenk finally gets down to brass tacks:

Cloaked in the moral authority of Occupy and connected by networks stitched together during those hectic days in 2011, a contingent of young journalists speaking through venues both new and old, all of them based in New York City—Jacobin, n+1, Dissent and occasionally this magazine, among others—have begun to make careers as Marxist intellectuals.

When Shenk had earlier referred to Marx as a descendant of rabbis who never fancied himself the leader of a religion, the subtle implication was that this was exactly had transpired—socialism as a secular religion. Given that line of thought, it of course logically leads to the conclusion that “cloaked in moral authority” is a jab at the people under consideration who Shenk wants to cut down to size as bible-thumpers–the holy book being Capital:

Combine all this with some fondness for navel gazing and with the fortunes of geography—politics aside, New York writers are New York writers, and they like to talk about each other—and the pieces are in place for the articles declaring the rebirth of Marxism that have become a minor genre in the last year. Like a puffer fish temporarily ballooning to vastly larger sizes, the Marxist revival can seem more imposing than it is. For a certain type of reader, however, it’s easy to forget the illusion when there are so many withering tweets to skim.

As an example of the puffer fish inflating itself, Shenk refers to a Jacobin editorial in 2011 that blasted the Obama administration for seeking to roll back the New Deal and Great Society, a claim he felt was “clear to almost nobody anywhere.” Hmm. Now I am beginning to understand why The Nation would put down the red carpet for him. Melissa Harris-Perry could not have been more scornful of such puffer fish impudence.

Turning to the books under review, Shenk dismisses Saval’s work as breaking little new intellectual ground. Since I only know Saval’s analysis from an excerpt in “Harpers”, I will defer commenting on whether it does or doesn’t.

Shenk is more generous to Kunkel’s “Utopia or Bust”, a book that he describes as “playful and unfailingly lucid”. When one hand giveth, the other taketh away, however:

Precisely because of its clarity, however, Utopia or Bust reveals some of the more peculiar aspects of a group that can seem more inclined to recite Marx than to rethink Marxism, or move beyond it.

Shenk regards Kunkel’s reference to a “near unchallenged global capitalism” as a “fixation”, something I suppose that’s akin to a neurotic obsession. Since Shenk regards “investments gushing in from China today” as an exception to global capitalism, I suppose I’ll have to count myself among the neurotically obsessed.

As I stated earlier, I have not yet read Piketty’s book so I am no position to weigh his Shenk’s critique. That being said, I do have to wonder about his characterization:

Though not a Marxist, Piketty is firmly of the left. A supporter of France’s Socialist Party, he has said that he “dream[s] of a rational and peaceful overcoming of capitalism.”

I am not sure what I am going to make of Piketty’s book but the notion that France’s SP will play any role in the “peaceful overcoming of capitalism” strikes me as absurd, and almost equally absurd is Shenk’s taking this claim seriously. Hadn’t he read the NY Times article dated April 11th on the party’s new leader?

On Tuesday, Mr. Valls offered the most detailed summary yet of how the government intends to meet its promise to enact $69 billion in spending cuts by 2017. He called for $26 billion in cuts to the central government bureaucracy, $13.8 billion to the national health care system and $13.8 billion to local governments — an element at which many legislators on the right booed loudly, having just won control of a number of local governments. He did not specify how the remaining $15.4 billion in cuts would be made.

One hopes that there was an equivalent of Jacobin in France raising hell about the country’s version of Obama no matter Shenk’s credulous take on the Socialist Party.

Finally, after a tsunami of words, Shenk gets to his real point in the concluding sentences:

Reflexive grasping at the language of the past, vividly displayed in the Marxist resurgence, brings a sense of order to what would seem like chaos. But a more promising alternative might be on the way. Marxism is one kind of socialism, but history suggests a much richer set of possibilities, along with some grounds for hope. So does a work like Capital in the Twenty-First Century—a sign that another lost tradition, the postcapitalist visions in abeyance since the 1970s, could be poised for a return; or, even better, that we might put aside old pieties and chart our own path.

Call me grasping reflexively at the language of the past, but history does not suggest a much richer set of possibilities to me. Instead I see a deepening of class conflict with the eventual renaissance of Marxism and the revolutionary socialist movement. I have been committed to that project for 47 years now and see nothing to change my mind at this point. With a nod to Piketty’s book, one that rejects socialism in favor of neo-Keynesian half-measures (I don’t have to read it to know that this is his outlook), Shenk makes clear why he is so fed up with those who live in the past. In my view, you have to live in the past to some degree if you want to live in the future. Capitalism, or whatever word you want to use, is destroying the planet no matter what The Nation and its hired guns would have you believe.

Before Jews like Trotsky divided us.

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 12:31 am

Pro-Russian militias fill the vacuum as Kiev’s control in eastern Ukraine slips

Andrey Krischenko, Horlivka chief of police, who was badly beaten after trying to hold off the mob

Andrey Krischenko, chief of police in Horlivka, who was badly beaten after trying to hold off the mob as it seized the police HQ in the eastern Ukrainian city. Photo: Rex

On the steps of Slavyansk’s occupied town hall a group of armed men in fatigues posed happily for photos. They were equipped with Kalashnikovs – military-issue AK-74s – commando knives, flak jackets and walkie-talkies. Round the back, close to the main square with its Lenin statue, was a green military truck. It bore no insignia.

Who exactly were they? “We’re Cossacks,” one of the group explained. “It doesn’t matter where we are from.” He declined to give his name. Instead, he offered a quick history lesson, stretching back a thousand years, to when Slavic tribes banded together to form Kievan Rus – the dynasty that eventually flourished into modern-day Ukraine and its big neighbour Russia.

“We don’t want Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t exist for us. There are no people called Ukrainians,” he declared. “There are just Slav people who used to be in Kievan Rus, before Jews like Trotsky divided us. We should all be together again.” The man – a middle-aged commando with a bushy beard – said he had come to Slavyansk “to help”. He didn’t intend to kill anybody, he said. Producing a long knife, he said: “I can’t kill my brother Slavs.”

The mysterious “Cossacks” arrived in Slavyansk, 40 miles (65km) north of Donetsk, on Saturday. Similar “Cossacks” popped up in Crimea too, soon after Russia invaded and then annexed the territory. According to Kiev’s hapless interim government, Russia is behind the apparently co-ordinated takeover by masked men in military uniforms of government buildings all across eastern Ukraine. The US and EU agree. Moscow denies the charge. It says that the west blames it for everything.

One of the “Cossacks”, however, admitted on Monday that he had just arrived from Crimea, where he spent a month “helping” with Russia’s takeover there. How had he managed to travel from Russian-controlled territory to the east of the country? And from where did he get his Kalashnikov? He declined to answer but claimed the weapon had come from a seized police station, although Ukraine’s police use different, smaller ones.

According to Igor Todorov, a professor of politics at Donetsk University, Vladimir Putin‘s goal is simple: to ramp up tensions ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election next month, with a view to wrecking them.

Over the past few days pro-Russian activists have seized the city administration in almost a dozen places. They are now camped out in a succession of late Soviet municipal buildings. On Monday an angry crowd armed with sticks hijacked the police HQ in the city of Horlivka, badly beating a policeman and smashing in the upper windows. Occupations continue in Donetsk, and a string of other Russophone eastern towns in the Donbass region.

full: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/14/prorussian-militias-fill-vacuum-kiev-control-eastern-ukraine-slips

April 13, 2014

Donetsk in context

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk

For many on the left, capitalist Russia today serves the same purpose as it did when it was the USSR, namely as a foil to imperialism. Perhaps one of the more revealing expressions of that came from long-time Marxist Roger Annis in Canada who wrote:

Russia’s independence, and that of other, rising capitalist powers such as China and Brazil, is of considerable political consequence for the international working class. The frictions and conflicts between competing capitalist blocs create political and economic fissures through which peoples and countries can assert and defend their independent interests.

http://www.rogerannis.com/what-stand-for-progressives-on-events-in-crimea-and-ukraine/

Implicit in this statement is that it is probably best for the rights of the Ukrainians to be violated if Venezuela’s are respected. In the geopolitical chess game, sometimes a pawn has to be sacrificed to advance major pieces.

One can imagine the excitement of such people when they read the Guardian article titled “East Ukraine protesters joined by miners on the barricades” that at first blush would lead you to believe that something like a Paris Commune was taking shape in Donetsk:

Word spread quickly through the few hundred pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine: “The miners are coming!”

The crowd parted as a group of a dozen or so burly men in orange work helmets marched past barbed-wire and tyre barricades into the 11-storey administration building, which protesters seized last weekend as they demanded greater independence from Kiev.

“Glory to the miners!” the crowd began chanting. “Glory to Donbass!” they shouted, much as protesters at Kiev’s Euromaidan demonstrations had shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” before they ousted the president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February.

The Guardian article mentions in passing that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, owns most of the major mines in Donetsk. He has played a balancing act ever since the crisis in Ukraine began. Although he was one of President Yanukovych’s main backers prior to the crisis, he turned against him as the crisis deepened and instructed the Party of Regions parliamentarians he controlled to vote for his removal. Right now he is working with the governor of Donetsk to keep a lid on the revolt even as he is pushing for a settlement that is in line with Russia’s, namely a loose federation that would exclude NATO.

In the political calculations of the pro-Putin left, Akhmetov becomes an asset in the anti-imperialist struggle. That he and Putin can been seen in this fashion is a worrisome sign that the left has lost its way. A close look at his role in the formation of the Party of Regions and the class realities of the Donetsk region might help to wake these people up, although given the advanced stage of their condition, the prognosis is guarded at best.

To begin with, despite John McCain’s reputation as an archenemy of the Kremlin, it was the consulting firm of his campaign manager that proved instrumental in helping Yanukovych’s Party of Regions to take power in 2006. Akhmetov paid Davis-Manafort $3 million to run his underling’s campaign. (Rick Davis was McCain’s campaign manager in his unsuccessful presidential bid.) Once Yanukovych took power, it was possible for the oligarch to return to the Ukraine from a self-imposed exile after fleeing a murder investigation.

Akhmetov, like a number of the oligarchs that Kyiv has appointed to run local governments in the eastern region, made his billions exactly like the Russian oligarchs, namely through their ability to leverage their bureaucratic positions in state industry to become CEO’s of newly privatized companies. Since the eastern regions were deeply intertwined with the Russian economy, they saw their fortunes tied up with Russia rather than Europe. So, in effect, the alignment with the Kremlin had more to do with protecting capital investments than advancing the working class’s interests.

Unlike the eastern half of the country, the west only became part of the USSR in 1939. The east, especially Donbass that included Donetsk, was a major development site for the USSR, which staffed its mines and factories with ethnic Russian workers and pretty much assigned management positions to Russian party chiefs. It was out of this administrative elite that the current-day oligarchs emerged.

For those inclined to nostalgically link the Donetsk miners with the USSR, it is useful to remember that in 1991 they were the battering ram that Boris Yeltsin used to topple Gorbachev and proceed rapidly toward the elimination of state-owned property. The Washington Post reported on June 30, 2011:

Russia’s leader, Boris Yeltsin, allied himself with the miners and credited them for forcing Gorbachev to agree on negotiating a new union treaty among the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, one that would replace the enforced union of 1922 with a voluntary agreement. Power would be vested in the republics — Russia, Ukraine and the others — rather than in the Soviet government.

“The miners have turned out to be the initiators of the destruction of the old command-administrative system,” Yeltsin said that May, “and creators of a new system of economic management.”

Once the USSR fell apart, the Donetsk miners learned that capitalism was no picnic. The mines remained as dangerous as ever. On average each million tons of Donbass coal costs two lives. By contrast, China has a rate of 0.7 deaths per million tons and just a tenth of this (0.02) in the United States. Like miners in the USA, however, the focus of Donetsk miners is preserving jobs no matter the consequences. Opposition to the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan rests on a fear that a tilt toward the EU will leave them high and dry.

Yet there were ample signs that the people of Donetsk were ready to say goodbye to Yanukovych long before Euromaidan. Akhmetov’s decision to cut the strings to his puppet must have taken his narrow base into account, much more so than Right Sector violence. On October 27, 2012 the Washington Post described a president that had lost his most reliable voters:

Dismay with Ukraine’s ruling party has reached this eastern city [Donetsk], its strongest redoubt, yet the party is nonetheless on the verge of cementing its grip on power in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

This is coal-mining territory, Russian-speaking and industry-laden. It is President Viktor Yanukovych’s home town and home to those who have prospered enormously during his presidency, known throughout Ukraine as The Family. Here, there is little but disdain for the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which thwarted Yanukovych’s first bid for the top job after widespread voter intimidation and fraud.

Here, he capped his wobbly comeback in 2010, when he took the presidency. Once, his Party of Regions could have counted on 70 percent of the vote in Donetsk.

Those days are over. Polls suggest the party has about 30 percent support here now – but that will be enough.

His two years in power have taught ordinary Ukrainians not to expect much from Yanukovych.

“Nothing has been done to help the coal miners,” said Anatoly Akimochkin, a leader of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine. There’s a feeling of “betrayal,” said Yevgeny Stratievsky, who writes for a political Web site. People are dismayed by corruption, which sees the city paying double the market rate for nursery school lunches and about $2 more per gallon of gasoline than the pump price, said Yevgeny Senekhin, an activist with a group called the Democratic Alliance.

In some ways the Ukraine is like another country that starts with U—the United States. It has a two-party system in which you have the rough equivalent of the Democrats and the Republicans. The Party of Regions is supposed to be for the working people, even though oligarchs are in the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, the politicians of the west are supposed to be worse because they are pals with the fascists (think in terms of the Tea Party) and are even more anxious to cut pensions and close down factories. So the poor voter holds his nose every few years and votes for the lesser evil.

In 2008 I saw many people who should know better urging a vote for Obama because he was supposed to usher in a new New Deal. It did not matter to them that his chief economic advisers were U. of Chicago neoliberal economists. If you opposed Obama, you were naturally for Romney. This was the argument of the Communist Party that not surprisingly is one of the top defenders of Kremlin policy today. Opportunism has a way of seeping into every pore of the body politic.

 

Fred Ho, Saxophonist, Composer and Radical Activist, Dies at 56

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 2:35 pm

NY Times, April 13 2004

Fred Ho, Saxophonist, Composer and Radical Activist, Dies at 56

Fred Ho, a composer, saxophonist, writer and radical activist who wrote politically charged operas, suites, oratorios and ballets that mixed jazz with popular and traditional elements of what he called Afro-Asian culture, died on Saturday at his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was 56.

The cause was complications of colorectal cancer, his student and friend Benjamin Barson said. In books, essays, speeches and interviews, Mr. Ho said he had been at war with the disease, his preferred metaphor, since 2006.

Mr. Ho, who was of Chinese descent, called himself a “popular avant-gardist.” He was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and by the ambitious, powerful music of African-American bandleaders, including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and especially Charles Mingus. But he rejected the word jazz, which he considered a pejorative term imposed by Europeans.

Self-reliance was a priority for Mr. Ho. He rarely played in anyone else’s band. Among the exceptions were stints with the arranger Gil Evans and the saxophonists Archie Shepp and Julius Hemphill. Describing himself as a “revolutionary matriarchal socialist and aspiring Luddite,” he never owned a car and made many of his own clothes from kimono fabric.

Despite his determination to stand outside the mainstream, he found support from grant-giving organizations, academic music departments, which hired him as artist in residence, and nonprofit arts institutions, including, in New York City, the Public Theater, the Kitchen and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Born Fred Wei-han Houn on Aug. 10, 1957, in Palo Alto, Calif. — he changed his surname in 1988 — he moved with his family when he was 6 to Amherst, Mass., where his father taught political science at the University of Massachusetts. He felt a powerful attraction to the art and rhetoric of black culture. As a teenager, he audited college classes taught by Mr. Shepp, the drummer Max Roach and the poet Sonia Sanchez, who were all putting progressive politics in their art. He never formally studied music, but began teaching himself baritone saxophone when he was 14.

In interviews, Mr. Ho recalled that his father physically abused his mother. “One of my first insurrections,” he told Harvard Magazine, “was to defend my mother against his physical beatings and give him two black eyes.”

He joined the Marines in 1973 and learned hand-to-hand combat before being discharged in 1975 because, he said, he had fought with an officer who had used a racial slur. In his 20s, Mr. Ho briefly joined the Nation of Islam and then the I Wor Kuen, a radical Asian-American group inspired by the Black Panthers. Like his two younger sisters, Florence Houn and Flora Houn Hoffman, he attended Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1979.

His sisters and his mother, Frances Lu Houn, survive him.

Mr. Ho moved to New York in the early 1980s to pursue a career as a musician. He formed the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and became associated with other Asian-American musicians working on a newly emergent hybrid conception of jazz. They included the pianist Jon Jang and the saxophonist Francis Wong. His first records, “Tomorrow Is Now!” and “We Refuse to Be Used and Abused,” were released by the Italian jazz label Soul Note.

In 1989, Mr. Ho had his first work performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the bilingual opera “A Chinaman’s Chance.” He then created two ballet operas based on the Chinese novel “Monkey,” by Wu Ch’eng-en, “Journey to the West” (1990) and “Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey.” Both used Mandarin Chinese in their librettos, and both reimagined Monkey, a trickster figure, as a political agitator, upsetting the power structures of the gods. Mr. Ho called them “living comic books.”

Other ambitious works, many of which were recorded, were on the subjects of Chinese folklore, physical combat, domestic abuse, the black power movement and revolutionary feminism — and sometimes all of those subjects together, as in the opera “Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors” (1991), written with the librettist Ann T. Greene.

That work imagined a meeting of Fa Mu Lan, the Chinese fighter who was the subject of a sixth-century folk ballad; Yaa Asantewaa, who in 1900, in what is now Ghana, led the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism; Sieh King King, a young Chinese-American woman who agitated for women’s rights in early-20th-century San Francisco; and Assata Shakur, the Black Liberation Army activist.

After learning in 2006 that he had colorectal cancer, Mr. Ho documented his fight against the illness in a book, “Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level,” followed by another, more prescriptive one, “Raw Extreme Manifesto: Change Your Body, Change Your Mind and Change the World by Spending Almost Nothing!” He wrote about his treatment in a blog, naming the doctors he mistrusted, thanking his friends and theorizing about his illness.

In “Future’s End,” a lecture from 2010 that he published at the site of the artists’ collective Commoning, he wrote that the cause of cancer is “capitalist industrialism” and “social toxicity,” and praised Luddism, his philosophical passion, as the only alternative: “The opposition to technology (any of it) that is harmful to people or to the planet.”

Even in his final years, as Mr. Ho underwent multiple operations, he was still working: on “Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!,” a choreographed martial-arts opera based on the 1970s manga comics of Kazuo Koike, performed for two weeks at La MaMa in May and June 2013, and on “The Sweet Science Suite,” for a 20-piece band and dancers. Dedicated to Muhammad Ali, it had its stage premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October 2013.

April 11, 2014

No God, No Master

Filed under: anarchism,Film,repression — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Although marred by a clumsy script, weak character development, tone-deaf dialogue, implausible coincidences, amateurish acting, and an obtrusive film score, “No God, No Master” is one of the more important films showing in New York right now. What saves it is the theme, which is the historical background to the Palmer Raids of 1919 that led to the arrest and pending deportation of 10,000 Americans in the aftermath of an anarchist bombing campaign meant as retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.

Among the historical figures that are depicted in the film are:

  • William J. Flynn, the chief of the bomb squad in New York where most of the action takes place
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Mitchell Palmer
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Emma Goldman
  • Carlo Tresca, the anarchist leader who served on the Dewey Commission to clear Leon Trotsky of the charges leveled by Stalin
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Louise Berger, an anarchist who plotted to kill Rockefeller
  • Luigi Galleani, one of Berger’s co-conspirators

As you sit watching the film, you forgive all the miscues since it is mostly faithful to historical details except for one just barely forgivable peccadillo. Played by the incomparable David Strathairn, William J. Flynn is depicted as a free speech liberal challenging Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover on the need to deport radicals simply for their ideas. The connections to today’s world are palpable.

The film was actually made in 2009 and only found a distributor five years later. One supposes if Green made a mumblecore movie about a couple of college drop-outs who decide to become pimps, it would have been jumped on immediately. Of course, it is up to malcontents like us to patronize the Quad Cinema in New York where it opens today so that Hollywood understands that indie films about serious topics have an audience.

Reading Richard Seymour in the Age of Austerity

Filed under: economics,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 11:48 am
Strategies of Resistance

Reading Richard Seymour in the Age of Austerity

by LOUIS PROYECT

Dating back to the overthrow of Salvador Allende, financial austerity has been the watchword of the capitalist class. Frederick Hayek supplanted John Maynard Keynes in the ideological driver’s seat, as the free market became sacrosanct. Adding to the neoliberal momentum, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused Karl Marx to lose his official status for a third of mankind. Despite the hiccup of interest in Karl Marx following the 2007 financial meltdown and rueful reflections by Francis Fukuyama that it might not be the end of history after all, the mantra of balanced budgets and eliminating “waste” was taken up by politicians and pundits alike. To paraphrase W.H. Auden, we seem to be living through an Age of Austerity.

As perhaps the first study to take these issues head-on, Richard Seymour’s “Against Austerity” is a must-read primer for old hands in the class struggle and newcomers alike. Leaving aside the merits of his arguments—and they are plentiful—Seymour would be worth reading if for no other reason than his elegant and witty style. At the risk of inflating the young man’s ego, I regard him as the most compelling prose stylist on the left since Alexander Cockburn in his heyday and Christopher Hitchens before he turned into Mr. Hyde. Also, unlike most people who write for leftwing publishing houses, Seymour has a brash but self-effacing manner that is as refreshing as a cold beer on a sweltering summer night. From the book’s preface:

There is also a certain familiar use of esoteric political theory and rococo ornamentation that some readers will find off-putting. I hope so anyway. Those readers would be far better off reading something else. (Or, alternatively, stay and have your middlebrow sensibilities challenged.) This book comes with swearing and unapologetic intellectual swagger.

I imagine you’re scanning this page while still in the bookshop calculating whether you’d be willing to be seen reading this book on the train. If the above appeals to you, you’re probably a bit ‘wrong’ in some way, but I welcome you. If it doesn’t, then make your way the holy apotheosis of bookshops that is the ’3 for 2′ section. And buy yet more inconsequential shit with which to line your shelf of good intentions.

Read full article

April 9, 2014

Separated at Birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 8:56 pm

Paleontologist Neil Shubin, host of new PBS series on “Our Inner Fish” that traces evolutionary history

Louis Proyect (with Daisy)

Arthur Smith Dies at 93; Wrote ‘Dueling Banjos’

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 8:45 pm

It turns out that the “Dueling Banjos” composer was a gifted guitarist who influenced Les Paul. In the clip below you will see the obvious influence of Django Reinhardt.

NY Times, April 9 2014

Arthur Smith Dies at 93; Wrote ‘Dueling Banjos’

Arthur Smith, a country musician known for the hit “Guitar Boogie” and for “Feuding Banjos,” a bluegrass tune that became “Dueling Banjos” in the film “Deliverance,” died on Thursday at his home in Charlotte, N.C. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his son Clay.

A nimble guitarist and banjo-player, Mr. Smith was a virtuoso with an approachable manner. Inspired by Broadway show tunes, the gospel tradition and jazz artists like Django Reinhardt as well as by country music, he became popular playing on Southern radio stations as a teenager.

“Guitar Boogie,” an instrumental with a deft solo released in the late 1940s, was his first major hit, recorded when he was 24 and serving in the Navy. The song, a precursor to the rock ’n’ roll of the coming decades, has been covered by musicians like Les Paul, Chuck Berry and Alvino Rey.

Mr. Smith recorded the call-and-response banjo song “Feuding Banjos” with Don Reno in 1955. Another version of it appeared as a deceptively amiable musical duel in “Deliverance,” the 1972 film starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds.

Mr. Smith was not credited as the writer and filed suit against Warner Brothers after a version of the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart in 1973. The studio offered a $15,000 settlement, Clay Smith said in an interview, but Mr. Smith wanted to go to trial. The judge ruled in his favor.

“He recouped all past royalties and all future royalties, and the credit was changed” to show he had written the song, Clay Smith said. He added that the song has since been used in many commercials advertising, among other things, the Mini Cooper and Mobil and Mitsubishi products.

Arthur Smith was born on April 1, 1921, in Clinton, S.C. His father, a mill worker, taught music and played in a band. Arthur grew up in Kershaw, S.C., and was playing cornet with his father’s band by the time he was 11. By 14 he had a radio show in Kershaw, and by 15 he had made his first record, for RCA Victor.

He turned down two college football scholarships and an appointment to the Naval Academy to focus on his radio work. He moved to Charlotte in the early 1940s to work for a CBS affiliate radio station, WBT, then performed with the Navy band during World War II.

From 1951 to 1982 he hosted “The Arthur Smith Show,” a syndicated television country variety show that featured guests including Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. At its peak it was seen in 87 markets. He also wrote or collaborated on hundreds of songs, many recorded in his Charlotte studio, where James Brown recorded the 1965 funk hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

Mr. Smith married Dorothy Byars in 1941. She and his son survive him, as does another son, Reggie; a daughter, Connie Brown; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

More than a decade after “Guitar Boogie” was released, a nervous young guitarist bungled the solo during his first performance with a Liverpool group called the Quarry Men.

“When the moment came in the performance, I got sticky fingers,” Paul McCartney recalled in a documentary series whose title, “The Beatles Anthology,” bore the Quarry Men’s subsequent name.

He added, “That’s why George was brought in.”

 

The view from Donetsk

Filed under: Fascism,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:38 pm

From “The Exiled” 10 years ago:

Much has been made of eastern Ukraine’s support for Yanukovych, the pro-Russian prime minister who tried to steal the election. The Western and the Russian press both play up the issue, albeit for different reasons. Others, like my good friend Olya, who is an editor at a respected Ukrainian magazine, claimed everyone in Donetsk was just brainwashed.

What’s happening in Donetsk is the real key to figuring out what’s going to happen in Ukraine. The general situation in Ukraine has gotten plenty of coverage, but a brief outline of the facts is in order. Basically, Ukraine has always been divided into east and west, with the east Russian-speaking, heavily industrialized, and Russia-friendly; and the west Ukrainian-speaking, agrarian, and nationalist. Yanukovych is the east’s candidate, Yushchenko the west’s.

Almost all of Ukraine’s oligarchs are from the east or Kiev, and they almost exclusively lined up in support of Yanukovych, a Donetsk native. There are a few exceptions, notably Petro Poroshenko, the owner of car and candy factories and a ship-building yard. He also owns Channel 5, which was an invaluable tool in helping Yushchenko compete. In recent weeks, Channel 5 is the only Ukrainian channel to show news and propaganda 24 hours a day. A large part of the programming consists of watching Yanukovych’s team make asses of themselves. They often repeat a speech Yanukovych gave where he was gesturing with his fingers in the air, “paltsami,” a classic bandit gesture. Another favorite clip of theirs is of Yanukovych ally and Kharkov governor Kushnyarov gesticulating wildly and declaring, “I’m not for Lviv power, not for Donetsk power, I’m for Kharkov power!” Still, the biggest and most powerful clans are still behind Yanukovych, who is their man.

Yanukovych is a truly loathsome character. Most Ukrainians agree that if a more palatable candidate had been given the nearly unlimited access to “administrative resources” that Yanukovych had, he would have won handily. But Yanukovych twice served jail time in the Soviet Union, he has no charisma, and is obviously a tool of powerful Russian and Ukrainian interests. Yushchenko, on the other hand, is considered by most western Ukrainians to be something between Gandhi and Christ, while many people in the east worry he has it in for everyone who speaks Russian. Many people who voted for Yanukovych did so out of suspicion of Yushchenko, not because they like Yanukovych (except perhaps in his home turf, Donetsk).

While the country is relatively evenly divided, it’s a fact that Yushchenko would have won the election if it had been violation-free. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool or getting paid by the Russians. Even Putin, who called Yanukovych to congratulate him before all the votes were counted, recently said he’d be willing to work with any elected leader and seemed to acknowledge that there’d be a re-vote. Thanks to ballot-stuffing, Donetsk and the neighboring Lugansk oblast had by far the highest voter turnout in Ukraine (Donetsk had 97 percent turnout, of whom 97 percent voted for Yanukovych, and Yushchenko actually lost votes in between the first and second rounds of voting) and it’s on the basis of thousands of violations that the Supreme Court recently ordered a new round of voting. Channel 5 has plenty of footage of election observers getting the shit beaten out of them, and Yushchenko observers weren’t allowed anywhere near the polls in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

The blatant falsifications, combined with an extremely well-funded and coordinated protest movement, have brought us where we are today, gearing for another round. The protests have come under fire as an American-funded coup, particularly in the Russian media. And there’s some truth to it — the US has been bringing in Serbs and Georgians experienced in non-violent revolution to train Ukrainians for at least a year. One exit poll — the one finding most heavily in favor of Yushchenko — was funded by the US. The smoothness and professionalism of the protest, from the instant availability of giant blocks of Styrofoam to pitch the tents on to the network of food distribution and medical points, is probably a result of American logistical planning. It’s certainly hard to imagine Ukrainians having their act together that well. The whole orange theme and all those ready-made flags also smack of American marketing concepts, particularly Burson-Marstellar.

But the crowds in Kiev, which can swell up to a million on a good day and are always in the hundreds of thousands, are there out of their own homegrown sense of outrage, not because some State Department bureaucrats willed them there. The meetings that happen every day in virtually every city in Ukraine (and in literally every western Ukraine village) are not the result of American propaganda. Rather, they are the result of the democratic awakening of a trampled-on people who refuse to be screwed by corrupt politicians again.

While you wouldn’t know it by watching Russian TV, maybe the only two cities in Ukraine where there are not Yushchenko rallies that outnumber the Yanukovych rallies are Lugansk and Donetsk. According to my friends in the heavily Russian Kharkov, for example, active Yushchenko supporters outnumber active Yanukovych supporters four to one. One reason why Lugansk and Donetsk are an exception is because every time Yushchenko’s people try to organize a rally there, they get beaten. Another is because the vast majority of those two regions really do support Yanukovych. So what gives?

* * * *

The Tuesday rally, which I witnessed in full, was like watching a farce of a Nazi rally. This time they introduced Ludmila Yanukovych but made sure not to give her the mike, lest she say something as ridiculous as her spiked-orange theory. However, the other speakers weren’t much more sane. One speaker after another spewed venomous anti-Kiev, anti-western Ukrainian, and anti-American rhetoric at the crowd of several thousand. One of the more famous, Natalya Vitrenko, is sort of a Zhirinovsky without the slapstick element. Vitrenko argued that the US planned to colonize and enslave eastern Ukraine and would use NATO as its muscle. Another speaker warned that east Ukraine would beat back the Americans like they had the Germans, and reminded the audience that western Ukraine welcomed the Nazis with bread and salt, keeping in the theme that Yushchenko’s the fascist here. Some of the other arguments were just silly; one doctor said that Yushchenko was destroying the nation’s health by forcing students to spend long hours in the cold, thereby causing a public health crisis (a line echoed on Russian state television). Another said under Yushchenko people would be jailed for speaking Russian and that the “orange plague” was a terrorist organization. Another popular theory was that western Ukraine was planning on raping the riches of the east and only regional autonomy could save them. Every speaker was fear-mongering and totally detached from reality.

Everyone in Donetsk repeats the same figures and statements obsessively. 15 million voted for Yanukovych, he is the legitimate president, and Yushchenko is an unchecked fascist. People in Kiev are brainwashed and undemocratic; Russian-speaking centers Odessa, Kharkov, Dneipropetrovsk and the Crimea will leap at the chance to form a breakaway republic with them; American money is behind everything. Funny they never mention a word about Russian funds used by Yanukovych, although estimates of Russian contributions reach up to $300 million.

From RT.com, March 16 2014

Thousands picket Donetsk govt building, demand release of local governor

Published time: March 15, 2014 15:30

Pro-Russian activists hold Russian national flags during a demonstration rally in the center of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 15, 2014. (AFP Photo)
Thousands have gathered in the city of Donetsk, picketing the Security Council building. The protesters called for the current Kiev authorities to release the local governor and pro-Russian activists detained earlier, threatening to storm the building.

The protesters blocked the Security Council building trying to break the doors and smashing windows on Saturday afternoon. Activists removed the Ukrainian flag from the top of the building, hoisting a Russian tricolor.

The protesters were demanding the release of local governor Pavel Gubarev and 70 pro-Russian activists previously detained by the current Kiev authorities. They also urged local law enforcement to take their side.

The local head of the Security Council has promised the protesters to release the activists and Gubarev, according to Life news. He then reportedly escaped through the back door of the building.

More on Pavel Gubarev

Gubarev is third from the left in the bottom row.

That’s a close-up of Gubarev

And yes, that emblem is meant to look like a Swastika. It was the official symbol of the Russian National Unity group that was formed by Alexander Barakshov in 1990. Who’s Alexander Barakshov? I’m glad you asked. You might want to look at John Dunlop’s article “The Rise of National Socialism in Russia“. Here’s an excerpt:

The ideology and program of the RNYe are, like those of Hitler and the German National Socialist Party, insane and genocidal. As the instance of Hitler demon- strated, however, insane and genocidal programs can in fact be rigorously applied. Since Barkashov’s ideas and prejudices have been taken over virtually wholesale from the German Nazis—and since those ideas and prejudices are well known— a detailed discussion of them should not be necessary. I will therefore limit myself to highlighting a few of the RNYe programmatic positions. In one area—that of religion—Barkashov’s stance, as we shall see, diverges notably from that of his mentor, Hitler, resembling that of Corneliu Codreanu, the charismatic leader of the interwar Romanian fascists, who was strangled by gendarmes loyal to King Carol of Romania in 1938.

At the center of the RNYe program lie twin obsessions with race and conspiracy. It is these obsessions that render the RNYe especially dangerous from a political perspective. The Russian ethnos, in the RNYe view, must harshly assert itself as the ruling people of the Russian Republic to protect Russians from lethal internal and external enemies. In 1917, the RNYe contends, in a fiendish plot orchestrated by Jewish bankers in New York, Jewish Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Citing A. Diky’s anti-Semitic classic, The Jews in Russia and the USSR (1976), Barkashov maintains that of the 556 persons who took over the top party and state positions in the new Bolshevik state, a total of 448 were Jews, with most of the rest being “Latvians, Armenians and so forth.” “There were practically no Russians” among the early Bolshevik leaders.21

These so-called genocidal Jews who had seized power in Russia, according to the program, then set about uprooting Russians and Slavs in vast numbers, eventually slaughtering some one hundred million of them. While this crime was being perpetrated, a healthy development was, by contrast, occurring in Germany, where a vibrant German National Socialist movement had come to power under Adolf Hitler. Determined at all costs to thwart this development, the Jewish financial oligarchy of the United States and Great Britain organized the Second World War in order to prevent the rebirth of the German nation. Cunningly, the Jews of New York and London succeeded in pitting two brother Aryan peoples, the Ger- mans and Slavs, against one another. The end result of this plot was the utter destruction of German National Socialism and the continued enslavement of the Russian and Slavic peoples of the USSR.

Today, following Gorbachev’s perestroika and the fall of the Communists, Russia remains under the direst threat of extinction. The “international financial oligarchy,” directly ruled by Jews from Israel and the United States, seeks rapa- ciously to plunder Russia’s natural wealth and to turn its people into cheap man- ual labor deprived of any rights. That the United States is ruled by Jews is self- evident to Barkashov, who observes that “the pro-Zionist coalition in the U.S. Congress has reached 75-80 percent of the senators and approximately 60 per- cent of the members of the House of Representatives.”22 A certain Jim Warren, a self-declared “American nationalist” and leader of the League for the Defense of Christians USA, confided to Russkii poryadok during a visit to Russia that the United States was indeed harshly ruled “by anti-national forces.” As “proof,” Warren cited the alleged fact that “in Clinton’s government, Jews and Negroes make up 55 percent of the total.” “American nationalists,” Warren noted, were pinning their hopes on like-minded brethren in Russia. “Never lose your faith in God,” he exhorted, “in yourselves, or in your people. . . . God is with us.”23

Motivating a subscription to Counterpunch and Critical Muslim

Filed under: Counterpunch,Critical Muslim,journalism — louisproyect @ 4:04 pm

Just by coincidence I received copies of two print publications by snail mail yesterday that include my articles. It occurred to me that it would be a good time to motivate taking out a subscription to them for my sake, the sake of other contributors, and your own reading pleasure. (Motivate—that’s a word I haven’t used in this way since my days in the Socialist Workers Party! Old habits die hard.)

The first is Counterpunch magazine, Volume 21 Number 3. My article is titled “A Hero for Our Time? The Return of Karl Marx”. The magazine has a nifty picture of Karl Marx in a Superman type uniform.

Subscription information is at http://store.counterpunch.org/product-category/subscriptions/. A year’s subscription is $55 for the print edition and $35 for the digital.

My article starts out with an examination of the renewed interest in Karl Marx following the 2007 financial crisis and proceeds to a discussion of Marx’s political legacy, something that would not come under the purview of those Financial Times and Bloomberg News contributors whistling past Lehman Brothers’ gravesite.

Here’s an excerpt:

Like the nuclear reactor that withstood a meltdown in China Syndrome, the American economy supposedly is in recovery. Of course there are those unfortunates who cannot seem to find a job, especially in the Black community, but the stock market is at an all-time high and the housing market—according to the experts—is doing quite well. GM is showing a handsome profit even if it faces criminal charges for failing to inform owners of their cars that a faulty ignition might lead to fatal accidents.

More to the point, the NY Times of March 12, 2014 reported on economist Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that would be of little assurance to anybody except the wealthy. Piketty deploys a mountain of data to prove that economic inequality will not only persist into the future but that the system itself is the primary generator, not “vampire squids” as Matt Taibbi put it. It is the very nature of the system that leads to a concentration of wealth at the top and misery at the bottom. Timesman Eduardo Porter, not a critic of capitalism after the fashion of Nouriel Roubini, puts it bluntly:

The deep concern about the distribution of income and wealth that inspired 19th-century thinkers like David Ricardo and Karl Marx was attributed to a misunderstanding of the dynamics of growth leavened with the natural pessimism that would come from living in a time of enormous wealth and deep squalor, an era that gave us “Les Misérables” and “Oliver Twist.”

Today, of course, it’s far from obvious that the 19th-century pessimists were entirely wrong.

Glancing back across history from the present-day United States, it looks as if Kuznets’s curve swerved way off target. Wages have been depressed for years. Profits account for the largest share of national income since the 1930s. The richest 10 percent of Americans take a larger slice of the economic pie than they did in 1913, at the peak of the Gilded Age.

By subscribing to Counterpunch magazine, you will be helping to sustain the website, a source of many useful articles including my own contrarian film reviews. Speaking of contrarian film reviews, in the current issue of the magazine you can read Kim Nicolini’s take on Matthew McConaughey. Kim is my film co-editor at the magazine and we frequently disagree—that’s what makes life interesting after all. But on McConaughey, I couldn’t agree more with Kim. Her final paragraphs:

Some might critique these roles as crude stereotypes. But stereotypes are derived from reality. McConaughey’s roles fit into a cultural tradition that depicts the decadence and debauchery of the South through baroque exaggeration, myth, and dark humor. Sure, not everyone living in the CSA is a pervert, racist homophobe. McConaughey shows the complexity of being a white man in the South by playing his roles to the edge of absurdity then turning them into images of tragic sincerity, not unlike the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd which plays during the violent drunken brawl in Dazed and Confused.

When McConaughey won his Oscar and thanked God and family for his success, he got a lot of shit from the liberal media. But nothing in the roles McConaughey has played over the last three years propagates a Christian agenda. In fact, they turn the Christian agenda on its head. Discriminating against him for his religious choices is the same as discriminating against anyone else for their choices. Discrimination is discrimination.

The consistency of his roles has made his body a landscape of Southern culture and an embodiment of the Southern literary canon. As far as I’m concerned, that is “Alright, alright, alright.”

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 11.47.17 AM

I also received number 10 of Critical Muslim, a journal co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar. I first motivated a subscription to Critical Muslim in January 2014 and invite you to review that post. Instructions on how to buy single issues and subscriptions are here http://criticalmuslim.com/subscribe. Of course, I urge you to subscribe.

Issue number 10 is titled “Sects”, a reminder that it is not just Marxism-Leninism that is subject to this problem.

In fact, many of my old friends and comrades on the left will be both amused and edified by a keynote article co-authored by Sardar and MerrylWyn Davies titled “Sectarianism Unbound”:

Taz’, a new channel on the Pakistani Geo TV network, is dedicated to twenty-four-hour news. There is a rapid-fire news bulletin every fifteen minutes: hence the name, Taz, or fast. But even after an endless stream of stories about sectarian violence, terrorist atrocities, suicide bombings, ‘target killings’, ‘load shedding’, political corruption and the defeats of the Pakistani cricket team with mundane regularity, there is still ample time left in the schedule. So the slots between the news bulletins are filled with what they call tazaabi tottas – acidic bits, short satirical skits. In one particular sketch, a man, sitting on a bridge, is about to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He is spotted by a passer-by who runs towards him shouting ‘Stop! Stop!’ The two men then engage in the following dialogue:

‘Why are you committing suicide?’

‘Let me die! No one loves me.’

‘God loves you. Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you a Muslim, or…’

‘Allah be Praised! I am a Muslim.’

‘I too am a Muslim. Are you a Shia or a Sunni?’

‘Sunni.’

‘I too am a Sunni. What is your school of law?’

‘Hanafi.’

‘Me too! Do you belong to the Deobandi or Bralevi sect?’

‘Deobandi.’

‘Me too! Are you a Tanzihi (pure) Deobandi or a Takfiri (extremist) Deobandi?’

‘Tanzihi.’

‘Me too! Tanzihi of Azmati branch or Farhati branch?’

‘Tanzihi Farhati branch.’

‘Me too!’ Tanzihi Farhati educated at University of Amjair or Tanzihi Farhati educated at Noor University of Mawad?’

‘Tanzihi Farhati educated at Noor University of Mawad.’

‘Infidel, kaffir! You deserve to die!’

The man who came to help then pushes the suicidal man over the bridge.

The humorous sketch gives us deep insight into the state of the Muslim ummah – the transnational Muslim community. It is simply not good enough to be a Muslim. You have to be labelled Sunni or Shia, and from there on progressively put in smaller boxes right down to which particular institution of learning you subscribe to. And those who deviate one iota, follow a different school of thought, or a different historic tradition, or a different fatwa issuing seminary, are, by definition, kaffirs – infidels who deserve to die.

Just in case you think that the sketch deliberately takes sectarianism to ridiculous lengths, consider how the Deobandi sect describes itself. The institution that established the sect, and from which it takes in name, Darul Uloom, Deoband, which in the words of Faizur Rahman is ‘the undisputed Islamic authority in India’, defines its creed as follows: ‘religiously Darul Uloom is Muslim; as a sect, Ahl-e-Sunnatwal-Jama’at (Sunni); in practical method (of law), Hanafi; in conduct, Sufi; dialectically, Maturidi Ash’ari; in respect of the mystic path, Chishtiyyah, rather comprising all the Sufi orders; in thought, Waliyullhian; in principle, Qasimiyah; sectionally, Rasheedian; and as regards connection, Deobandi’. So it is clear! Deobandis are, in descending order: Muslim, Sunni, Hanafi, Sufi, followers of the classical School of Ashari theology, cohorts of the Indian reformer Shah Waliyullah, and supporters of the ‘principles of some marginal scholar called Qasim and partisans of an even more obscure scholar called Rasheed!’

My own article is a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam”, a book that makes the case that the victims of Obama’s drone attacks have more in common with the Apaches or the Lakotas than al-Qaeda.

An excerpt:

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

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