Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 19, 2014

Steven Salaita speaks at the New School

Filed under: Steven Salaita — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm

2014-11-19 12.57.20


After following the Steven Salaita affair with intense interest ever since news of his firing broke, I finally heard him speak in person at the New School this afternoon. I was pleased to shake his hand and to be warmly greeted by Nidhi Srinivas, a New School professor and Facebook friend who helped organize the meeting. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to meet Nikhil Singh, an NYU professor and another Facebook friend who was on the panel alongside yet another FB friend Steven Salaita. Interesting how a capitalist vulture like Mark Zuckerberg can create the technology that connects radicals. For all the scare talk from Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier, I’ll take my chances with the Internet just as I do with the telephone.

Claire Potter, a history professor at the New School (my alma mater) who blogs as “The Tenured Radical” at Chronicle of Higher Education chaired the meeting. I confess never having read her blog since it is linked in my mind with Cary Nelson’s “Manifesto of a Tenured Radical”, a book that once graced my bookshelf. As most of you know, Nelson has pretty much functioned as Police Inspector Javert to Salaita’s Jean Valjean so my reaction has been to put a minus where he puts a plus. Maybe Claire should rename her blog “Not Cary Nelson”—that would increase her readership by tenfold at least. In the meantime I will keep up with her blog from now on since she was an excellent chairperson, informing the audience of perhaps 75 people about the background on the case.

Steven Salaita was the first to speak. He took the opportunity to address points that have not received that much attention to the media coverage that was obsessed over his tweets.

Most revolved around the racism that is both implicit and explicit at the University of Illinois. To start with, the assault on the right of an indigenous studies department to hire a professor is tied to the ongoing racism there that is reflected in a number of ways. No matter how many times the department and activists who sympathize with its goals have raised the issue of Chief Illini, a racist mascot that used to be featured prominently at football games and that was as much of an affront to native peoples as the Washington Redskins moniker, his presence is still pervasive at the school.

It is not just native peoples who get the shitty end of the stick at this university with its multicultural pretensions. It is also Black and Latino professors and students. Salaita pointed out that the school has been losing people of color from the faculty for a number of years now, a reaction to the prevailing racism. With a student body of 43,000, there are only 332 Black students in the freshman class. There are also social gatherings on campus that Latino students would find most “uncivil” as the student paper reported in 2006:

A recent exchange between the University chapters of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity has sparked a controversy because it played on ethnic stereotypes of Latinos. The exchange, which happened Oct. 5, had a “fiesta” theme, said Cassie Arner, alumnae adviser of the sorority.

A Tri Delta official said one of the women at the party made herself look pregnant, and that some of the women who attended unofficially dubbed the exchange “Tacos and Tequila.”

Ashanti Barber, member of Iskra, a social justice organization, and junior in LAS, said that the men at the party wore sombreros and ponchos and claimed to be illegal aliens or farmers.

Speaking of civility, Salaita reminded the audience that the term has the same root as civilization, a word that was consciously used to draw a distinction with “savagery” when the New World was being conquered. As Nikhil Singh would remind the audience during his remarks, Gandhi had the right take on this when he was asked for his opinion on Western civilization. His reply: “I think it would be a very good idea”.

Next to speak was Ibrahim Shikaki, a Palestinian economics major at the New School who has been active in the struggle around BDS. He gave a shocking (maybe not so shocking at this point) report on how the U. Cal Berkeley student senate voted 16 to 4 for divestment in 2008 when he was a student there. To their dismay, the president of the student senate vetoed the measure after consulting with powerful Zionist organizations.

There was a lot riding on this vote apparently. Students who voted for the measure were contacted by Zionists who warned them that their names would be displayed prominently in a Google search linking them to anti-Semitism, making it impossible for them to get into a good graduate school.

He also reported on trying to enter Jerusalem. He was stopped a crossing and told that he was invited to meet with an Israeli cop to have coffee. The meeting turned into an interrogation over the many Youtube clips that featured Shakaki conducting himself “uncivilly”, in other words protesting Israeli aggression.

Nikhil Singh spoke next. Much of his talk consisted of glowing remarks on a book that Salaita had written, titled “The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism And the Quest for Canaan (Middle East Studies Beyond Dominant Paradigms)”. It turned out that they were extracted from a letter that Singh wrote on behalf of Salaita on his application for the U. of Illinois position. Singh stated that he only writes such letters of recommendations when he is convinced that the applicant is a strong candidate. Furthermore, nobody that he has ever recommended has been rejected. The callous and duplicitous rejection of Salaita was not only an affront to him but to Singh as well, in fact an affront to academic standards universally.

The last speaker was Ann Snitow, who is the director of Gender studies at the New School and a long time feminist activist. The axis of her talk was on the need to see past platitudes of “civility” and to understand that such calls emanate from the white and powerful figures in academia who regard people of color, women and gays a rude and unwanted presence in campuses where the status quo is rigged against them.

She talked about the Matsunaga incident at the New School when Sekou Sundiata, an African-American poet and professor at the New School, defaced a placard at an art show that he regarded as racist.

Snitow, a feminist who had fought against tendencies in the movement to “protect” women against porn even when made by women for their own pleasure, was expected to argue for the right of the artist to express himself without an intervention from Sundiata who was seen by some as tantamount to Rudolph Giuliani assailing art he regarded as anti-Catholic.

Snitow told people at the New School that the institution has protected the right of free speech for decades but not so much the right of Blacks to feel like they are part of the community. As such, she stood by Sundiata.

November 17, 2014

Tomas Young, Army Veteran, Dies at 34; Critic of Iraq War in Film

Filed under: antiwar,Iraq,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:23 pm


Tomas Young, who was paralyzed in the Iraq War, with his wife, Claudia Cuellar, in March 2013. Credit: Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star, via Associated Press

Paralyzed from the chest down, the Iraq War veteran is seen in a 2007 documentary film taking dozens of pills for spasms, pain and depression. He speaks agonizingly about his sexual problems. Viewers watch him marry and, eight months later, divorce.

In the film, “Body of War,” Tomas Young is the body. Co-directed and underwritten by the television personality Phil Donahue, the film sought to show, through Mr. Young, the devastating human cost of a war that the filmmakers argued should have never been fought.

Mr. Young died at 34 on Nov. 10 at his home in Seattle. When asked the cause, his mother, Cathy Smith, said, “His body just wore out.”

“Body of War” received the National Board of Review award for best documentary. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave it strong consideration for an Oscar nomination. Reviews were mixed, but almost all said it was hard hitting. Mr. Young spoke of his ordeal on “60 Minutes,” “Nightline” and “Bill Moyers Journal.”

But the film, though applauded at film festivals, was not released theatrically; its producers could not find a distributor. (It can be found, however, on Internet streaming services.) In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Donahue suggested one possible reason distributors shied from it. “It’s not a take-your-girl-to-the-movies movie,” he said.

Another reason may have been its polemic tone. Images of Mr. Young’s agony are interspersed with shots of the congressional debate over the resolution giving President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq in March 2003. The film shows Mr. Young in the forefront of demonstrations against the war by veterans and lobbying members of Congress to stop it.

Six years after the film came out, Mr. Young drew news media coverage when he announced that pain and depression had pushed him to decide to commit suicide. He wrote an open letter to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on behalf of “the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.”

The movie had its roots in Mr. Donahue’s antiwar commentary on his MSNBC talk show in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. In February 2003, the channel canceled his show, citing low ratings, particularly compared with its direct competitor on Fox News, “The O’Reilly Factor,” whose host, Bill O’Reilly, was a strong supporter of the war.

The seeds of “Body of War” were planted in the spring of 2004 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where Mr. Young had been taken after sniper fire severed his spine on his fifth day in Iraq. By her account, Ms. Smith asked her son, who had long been interested in politics, inspired by her liberal views, if there was anybody he wanted to meet in Washington. “Ralph Nader,” he said.

She called Mr. Nader’s office, and he agreed to meet Mr. Young. He asked Mr. Donahue to accompany him. The two had met on Mr. Nader’s presidential campaign bus in 2000. Mr. Donahue said he was “blown away” by Mr. Young’s wounds and came to see the young man as a potential vehicle for showing the sacrifices the troops were making in Iraq, which he thought had been deliberately hidden from the public.

Mr. Donahue said he had considered writing a book but was persuaded that a movie would be better. He teamed with Ellen Spiro, an experienced filmmaker, who shared producing and directing duties with him. Another veteran of Mr. Nader’s presidential races, Eddie Vedder of the rock group Pearl Jam, volunteered to write and perform two songs for the film.

In the movie, Mr. Young recalls enthusiastically enlisting in the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But he became disillusioned, he says, beginning when he was sent to Iraq rather than Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden had masterminded the attacks.

“If I had been shot and hurt in Afghanistan, I’d have been upset about what I have to go through, but there would be no ‘Body of War’ film,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2008. “I’d take my government check and sit home. I would not have felt my wounds were received in an invalid war.”

Tomas Vincent Young was born in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 30, 1979, and grew up in Kansas City, Mo. His mother and father, Thomas Young, divorced when he was a boy. Tomas enlisted in the Army at 17 but was discharged because of a shoulder problem. Returning to Kansas City, he took a succession of minimum-wage jobs. Then came Sept. 11.

“I called my recruiter after hearing Bush say he was going to smoke the evildoers out of their caves,” he told the Kansas newspaper The Topeka Capital-Journal in 2007. His shoulder passed muster in February 2002, and after basic training he landed at Fort Hood, Tex., as a private in the First Cavalry Division.

He was shot in Baghdad on April 4, 2004, while lying in an open truck as it rolled through the Sadr City neighborhood. He had emergency surgery in Germany before being flown to Walter Reed.

The documentary shows Mr. Young at one point saying goodbye to his younger brother, Nathan, as his brother deploys for the first of two combat tours in Iraq. It shows him marrying his high school sweetheart, Brie Townsend, who says she can handle the challenges they will face. And it shows them divorcing eight months later.

While Mr. Young was in a rehab center in Chicago, he met Claudia Cuellar, who had volunteered to visit hospitalized veterans to cheer them up. Though his condition had deteriorated, they wed on April 20, 2012. He decided against suicide.

The couple moved to Portland, Ore., because medical marijuana was available there. They then moved to Seattle, partly because Mr. Young had come to regard Mr. Vedder, who lives there, as a friend.

Besides his mother, Mr. Young is survived by his wife, his father and his brother Nathan; his sister, Lisa Harper; another brother, Tim Weaver; and two grandmothers.

November 16, 2014

Rubén Blades in performance at Lincoln Center

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Thanks to the kindness of an old friend and comrade, I was able to attend a concert that was one for the ages. Both in terms of the participants and the program, it was one that had special resonance for me.

It was the first time I ever saw Rubén Blades perform. For anybody involved in Central America solidarity in the 1980s, Blades was an iconic figure. Track one of Canciones Del Solar De Los Aburridos (Songs From The Tenements Of The Bored), the 1981 album featuring Willie Colon and Blades, was a song called “Tiburón” (Shark) that was a wake-up call to Latin Americans and solidarity activists alike. The shark was obviously American imperialism.

Like the abortive Sandinista revolution, Blades was part of my past through no fault of his own. He continued to make records over the past twenty years but I had not kept up with them except for “Caminando” (walking), the 1991 album that was a mixture of songs about personal experience and politics. “¡Prohibido olvidar!” left no doubt about his outrage over injustice in his own country and other dictatorships:

Prohibieron ir a la escuela e ir a la universidad.
Prohibieron las garantías y el fin constitucional.
Prohibieron todas las ciencias, excepto la militar.
Prohibiendo el derecho a queja, prohibieron el preguntar.
Hoy te sugiero, mi hermano, pa’ que no vuelva a pasar,
¡Prohibido olvidar!

Forbidden to go to school and go to college.
Forbidden the guarantees and constitutional rights.
Forbidden all sciences except the military.
Forbidden the right to complain, and to ask questions.
Today I suggest, my brother , so that does not happen again,
Forbidden to forget!

Listening to the still powerful voice of this 66-year old singer reminded me to look into the Blades recordings on Amazon.com, a reservoir of art and politics perfectly matched to each other.

Blades was backed by the house band of Jazz at Lincoln Center that is led by Wynton Marsalis. I was not only richly rewarded by hearing one of the most important salsa singers of recent decades but accompanying musicians who hearkened back to the golden age of Afro-Cuban jazz. Blades mentioned some of the more memorable practitioners, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Machito and Chano Pozo. In a very real sense, Afro-Cuban jazz united two disparate strands of the African diaspora both rooted in the mother country’s culture kept alive by slaves. In Cuba they bequeathed the distinctive clave (rhythm) that formed the basis for modern salsa and in the Deep South the blues and spirituals that found their way into New Orleans jazz.

Wynton Marsalis, a native son of New Orleans and a musician very much committed to the grand traditions, demonstrated a real affinity for the Afro-Cuban trumpet style, sounding very much like the legendary Chocolate Armenteros in his blistering solo on the opening number “Apoyete en Mi Alma”.

The concert was roughly divided into salsa tunes written by Blades for the most part and American standards that he learned at an early stage from the records that came along with the gargantuan record player his father won in a card game, including a Frank Sinatra album. Drawing laughter from the audience, Blades said that he did pitch-perfect renditions of such songs without having any idea what the lyrics meant. People who came by the house and heard the 11-year old breaking into something like “Begin the Beguine” thought he was out of his mind.

Weaving personal recollections such as these with thoughts about the need for continuing solidarity with movements for social justice in Latin America, Blades ended the concert on a fitting note—an encore called “Patria” that can be seen below (go to Youtube and search for “Rubén Blades” and Marsalis for other performancs):


Rojava: Syria’s secret revolution

Filed under: Kurd,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:37 pm

November 15, 2014

Four films of note

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 12:40 am

As powerful evidence that the spirit of the Occupy movement continues, “Occupy the Farm” chronicles the struggle of Bay Area activists to preserve the last vestige of farmland in a major metropolitan center. On May 11, 2013 a group of activists, including some who had graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in agriculture, occupied the Gill Tract, a 104 acre plot of land owned by the university after learning that the increasingly corporatized institution planned to “develop” it. Part of the development included a Whole Foods supermarket, a supremely ironic touch since the Gill Tract was producing free food for its hungry neighbors under the auspices of the occupiers.

This is the second time I have seen the disgusting behavior of the Berkeley administrators in a documentary as they take on the riffraff. A large part of Frederick Wiseman’s “At Berkeley” showed how the top brass decided to smash student protests against escalating fees under a sanctimonious defense of keeping a “great” university going. As they get ready deploy the campus cops to throw the occupiers off their land, their excuse this time is to “serve the community” by creating new housing and leasing to Whole Foods, a predatory corporation that shares the Berkeley administration’s talent for sanctimonious self-justification.

Caught somewhat in the middle between the administration and the masses are the agriculture department faculty members who have been conducting corn experiments in Gill. They too would be usurped by Whole Foods and commercial development. The more left-leaning professors become part of the occupy movement while the more right-leaning (this is relative obviously, since we are in the Bay Area) try to make an accommodation with the administration.

The film supplies ample evidence that tight budgets explain the university’s hard-nose approach to the occupiers. With less public funding, the books can only be balanced through a revenue stream of commercial real estate and research funded by BP, among other scumbag corporations. Even if corn research seems more benign than commercial development in the Grill Tract, further investigation would reveal that much of it entails GMO and biofuel research rather than feeding the hungry.

Since I tend to stay on top of occupy-type protests and anything involving “Green” farming, I was surprised to learn that this exemplary movement eluded me completely. If those are the sort of issues that you find compelling as well (why else would you be here?), I recommend seeing the film at the Quad in New York starting today and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles starting next Friday. This is a documentary that will leave you feeling like the movement has power (I hope that is not a spoiler alert!)

Opening at Cinema Village today, “Drug Lord: the Legend of Shorty” recounts the efforts of two documentary filmmakers to track down and interview Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the head of the Sinaloa cartel and arguably the most powerful drug dealer in the world. Like Michael Moore searching around for GM boss Roger Smith, the dramatic tension involves major obstacles finding their subject. It is open to debate who was more of a menace to society, “El Chapo”, which means shorty, or Smith.

Director Angus MacQueen seems ambivalent about Guzman. Although it is almost impossible to overstate the damage he has done to Mexican society, he cannot help but romanticize him in the way that narcocorridos do, the genre that combines traditional music of the border region with lyrics that “toast” the gangsters wreaking havoc. At the start of the film, there are scenes from vintage Zorro films that are somewhat questionable. Zorro fought on behalf of the poor and the oppressed while Guzman was strictly in it for making money. This is not to say that his neighbors, friends and employees were not grateful for the occasional kindness, such as transporting a rancher’s son to a faraway hospital by helicopter. For every son Guzman might have benefited, there were likely a dozen other young men or women who lost their lives either through crossfire or through turf battles.

Guzman was essentially the Pablo Escobar of Mexico. He was the CEO of an immense corporation that exported goods all across the planet. The film does make clear that it was only because the government looked the other way that he managed to avoid arrest for 12 years. In 1993 he was arrested for his role in the killing of a Catholic priest who had information on his drug gang but escaped in a laundry cart in 2001, finally being captured last year.

The most interesting parts of “Drug Lord” consist of interviews with lower-level employees and associates of Guzman, whose faces were barely disguised. One imagines that this reflects the relative impunity such men enjoy in Mexico. They are frank in their assessment of the business, seeing death or arrest as a willing price to pay for a life that is almost impossible to achieve in Mexico through legal means.

Although I can recommend “Drug Lord”, I am still looking for a documentary on the Mexican drug trade that focuses on the political and economic aspects (what else would you expect from me?) It would be important to hear what Mexican radicals, especially those trained in sociology and history, have to say about the viral growth of drug syndicates over the past couple of decades. Much more could be said about the class dynamics of this terrible affliction that turned out to be responsible for the murder of 43 students. Something like this has to be reflected in a film:

Since 2006, more than 100,000 people have been disappeared or killed in Mexico, a country where more than 90 percent of crimes go unpunished. While running for president in 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto promised a new security strategy for the country, and an end to the highly militarized campaign waged by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. Since taking office, however, Peña Nieto’s strategy has focused not on the safety of its people but on the confidence of its international investors. To make Mexico more attractive to overseas capital, he has pursued a market-based reform agenda that includes a technocratic overhaul of education, a move to shake up the telecommunications sector and the opening of the energy sector to foreign private investment. New narratives about the “Aztec Tiger” won’t make the kidnappings, beheadings and mass graves disappear, but Peña Nieto is doing everything he can to make foreign investors forget about them.

The irony of touting market-based reforms as a means of sweeping the drug trade under the rug is that the cartels themselves have become some of the most ruthlessly effective multinational capitalist enterprises in Mexico. The cartels are beginning to diversify, making money not just from drugs and other criminal activities like kidnapping and human trafficking but increasingly from control over industries like mining, logging and shipping.

Meanwhile, finance and real estate sectors in Mexico and the United States are awash with cartel profits, with one United Nations analyst arguing that drug money was the “only liquid investment capital” that kept the international economy from completely imploding in 2008. Over the last few decades Mexican capitalism has become a tangled web of legal and illegal activity, and the distinctions between licit and illicit economies have become increasingly blurred. The policies of the Mexican and US governments are only accelerating this trend.

“Salt of the Earth” not only shares the name of the witch-hunt period classic but also its advocacy for workers and the oppressed. Wim Wenders, the acclaimed sixty-nine year old German director, decided to make a film in honor of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado whose work he became acquainted with 25 years ago. Wenders kept one of Salgado’s most famous prints on his desk, a panoramic shot of gold miners who labored in conditions not much different from the Indians in Peru, Bolivia or Mexico 400 years ago.

Born in 1944, Salgado was trained as an economist. He and his wife, who worked closely with him on his various projects over the years, were campus radicals who managed to keep one step ahead of the dictatorship. After he took a job as an economist in Paris, Delgado took up photography as a hobby but soon discovered that this was what he really wanted to do with his life.

Most of his photos are social in nature, for example covering the working class under oppressive conditions or war zones. But he is also passionate about nature. Wenders follows him on various trips around the world, including an amazing stint in the far north photographing walruses. Probably nobody is better suited to making such a film than Wim Wenders who has demonstrated a social consciousness in films such as “Land of Plenty” as well as a singular visual style.

Suffice it to say that this is greatest film about the art of photography I have ever seen. It opens on December 31, just in time for the various 2014 awards ceremony and certainly deserves my nod for best of the year.

Tomorrow (Saturday, Nov. 15) the IFC Theater in New York is hosting a documentary short program that includes a 30-minute film titled “Embedded” slotted for 12pm.

This is another documentary about a photographer whose subjects are most often victims of injustice but unlike Salgado, the 26-year old, cigarette-smoking, prematurely balding Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini readily admits that it is not politics that puts him in harm’s way photographing the FSA in Idlib but an irresistible urge to be where the action is. He confesses to really feeling alive when he is in the war zone. One has to wonder if the cigarettes and the baldness are occupational hazards of living on the edge.

Piccolomini lives with his beautiful girlfriend in a lower Manhattan loft. Despite being quite fond of each other, Piccolomini takes great risks of losing her every time he packs up his gear and goes to someplace like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan or Egypt. He has already seen close friends killed in Syria doing the same thing he has done.

This is not a film about politics but about one man’s devotion to his profession. As such it is a good companion piece to “Salt of the Earth”. I have no idea whether Piccolomini was partial to the cause of the FSA in Syria but their cause was certainly helped—probably in a losing effort—because of his willingness to put his neck on the line. Piccolomini started off as a fashion photographer but found it unfulfilling. Check out this compelling short documentary to see how some young professionals still find taking risks on behalf of art—and perhaps freedom—worth it. (You can see his Syrian photographs here.)


November 14, 2014

Goodbye Leninism

Filed under: Lenin,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 7:50 pm
When the Books Don’t Cook

Goodbye Leninism


On August 2nd Ian Birchall wrote an article titled “Lenin: Yes! Leninism: No?” for the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (RS21) website that has touched off an ongoing debate. For those trying to create an effective anticapitalist movement, Birchall’s article makes plenty of sense since it goes a long way toward putting the icons of October 1917 where they belong, into the historical archives. For those, however, who want to trace their lineage back to the Bolshevik revolution, like the connection that the Catholic Church makes between Pope Francis (a pretty good guy by the evidence) and Saint Peter, there is a need to uphold the sanctity of “Leninism”. Yet nobody outside the ranks of a Leninist party or the Catholic Church takes the lineage claims very seriously, especially people like me who went through such a painful experience (Leninism, not Catholicism.)

Ian Birchall, like many of the people involved with the RS21 website, was a long-time member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain. This group lost many members after it failed to take action against a top leader who allegedly raped a young member, a failure that led to an ongoing crisis that I discussed in an earlier CounterPunch article. SWP leader Alex Callinicos warned members that the revolt was less about the rape charge than it was about defending the party from an attack on “Leninism”, a ploy that probably accelerated the rush to the nearest door.

Read full article

November 13, 2014

Roland Boer: plagiarist

Filed under: Academia — louisproyect @ 9:34 pm

From Roland Boer’s “The ‘Failure’ Of Communism: A ‘Fall’ Narrative”:

Already in the late 1950s, real wages increased by 75 per cent, returning people to pre-war levels, while collective farm workers were the beneficiaries of the first agricultural welfare and pension scheme in Europe. By the 1960s, agricultural incomes rose by 6.7 per cent per year and industrial incomes rose by 4.9 per cent annually. Consumption of healthy foods – fruit, vegetables and even meats – increased significantly, while doctors and medical facilities became commonly available. As a result, fewer children died and people lived longer. While 138.9 in 1,000 children under the age of one died in 1939, by 1990 it was 14 in 1000. And those who survived could expect to live longer: life expectancy rose to over 68 years for men and over 74 years for women. Indeed, a reasonable number could expect to make a century: in the late 1980s, 52 people were found over one hundred years of age per one million.

And where did these numbers come from?

From here, a Wikipedia article that Boer does not credit. Whoever wrote the Wiki entry did the right thing and footnoted Library of Congress papers. I wondered how this sky-pilot knows so much about Bulgarian economic performance. Now I know, he plagiarized Wikipedia like so many mediocre undergrads and high school students do.

In the mid-1950s, Soviet-style centralized planning produced economic indicators showing that Bulgarians were returning to their prewar lifestyle in some respects: real wages increased 75%, consumption of meat, fruit, and vegetables increased markedly, medical facilities and doctors became available to more of the population, and in 1957 collective farm workers benefited from the first agricultural pension and welfare system in Eastern Europe.[7]

Increases in real incomes in agriculture rose by 6.7 percent per year during the 1960s. During this same period, industrial wages increased by 4.9 percent annually.

n 1939 the mortality rate for children under one year had been 138.9 per 1,000; by 1986 it was 18.2 per 1,000, and in 1990 it was 14 per 1,000, the lowest rate in Eastern Europe.

Even before Zhivkov, Bulgaria made significant progress in increasing life expectancy and decreasing infant mortality rates. Consistent social policies led to an increase in life expectancy to 68.1 years for men and 74.4 years for women.

Roland Boer: having his cake and eating it too

Filed under: Academia,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

My first reaction to Roland Boer getting the Isaac Deutscher Prize was one of shock, since Boer’s pro-Stalin blogging is antithetical to what Deutscher stood for, even if some Trotskyists—James P. Cannon in particular—viewed him as soft on Stalin.

In his comment on my last post, Boer stated that I am “missing even the slightest sense of humour.” I am not exactly sure what the joke is about but perhaps Boer’s blog is really a big put-on. He does say:

Do I want to rehabilitate Stalin, who was more ambiguous than the popular conception would have it? That is up to the reader to decide, although – in case the quirkiness of Australian humour is not obvious already – one should never take what is written here too seriously. Like Lenin’s jutting chin of history, I suspect that one of Stalin’s greatest achievements was that amazing moustache.

Well, it is up to the reader to decide and I decided long ago that Boer is a Stalinist. Probably the best evidence for that is that when comments appear under his posts cheering him on for defending Stalin, he has never once said anything like “Er, mate, I was only kidding.”

Plus, when Boer writes for other publications the smirk tends to disappear from his face and the Stalinism oozes forth unabashedly. For example, in an article titled “The ‘Failure’ Of Communism: A ‘Fall’ Narrative” for the Philosophers for Change website, he makes the case for Bulgarian Communism, advising his readers that the dictator Todor Zhivkov was a gentle and permissive leader who did wonders for his people. That is unless you were unfortunate enough to be a Turk. Wikipedia, which is generally deferential to Zhivkov, reports:

In December 1984, Todor Zhivkov began a campaign of forceful assimilation of Bulgaria’s Turkish minority, most notably forcing all Turks to take Bulgarian names. By 1989, resistance to this policy led to riots, which resulted in multiple deaths. In May 1989, Zhivkov suddenly granted permission of all Turks to leave the country, which led to over 300 thousand emigrating to Turkey within three months.

I imagine that this would not perturb an admirer of Stalin and/or his mustache; the tyrant was quite adept at ethnic cleansing and no friend of Muslims.

Getting back to the Deutscher prize, I can only surmise that the judges have no idea that “Stalin’s Moustache” exists. Like many academics, their emphasis is on print rather than the net. Plus, you’d have to assume that Boer’s books on Marxism and theology have zero to say about Stalin. From the little I have seen from Boer on that topic, mostly on MRZine, I found them unobjectionable but not particularly useful in terms of understanding religion from a historical materialist perspective. Boer is mostly interested in how early Christians were communist. But above all, Boer’s focus is on ideas.

Typical is “Religion and Political Thought: Introduction”, an article he wrote for “Political Theology Today”.

Over the last few years, we have been engaged in an Australian project called ‘Religion and Political Thought’ – itself part of an international project known as ‘Religion and Radicalism’. Funded by the Australian Research Council, it seeks to do nothing less than kick-start an Australian tradition of political philosophy in relation to religion and theology.

Boer has received five grants from the Australian Research Council, a branch of the Australian government that advises it “on emerging issues and strategic policy challenges.” Well, who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too? Blogging on behalf of Joseph Stalin and getting handouts from a government think-tank. What a marvelous combination that certainly makes Max Horkheimer’s observation seem quaint by comparison: “a revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief.”


Full page ad in today’s NY Times for Bob Avakian-Cornel West meeting

Filed under: cults,Maoism — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

This ad costs $70,000. Where does this cult get its funding, I wonder.


Roland fucking Boer?

Filed under: Academia,religion — louisproyect @ 12:33 am

Roland Boer

The latest on the Stalin worshipper:



I discovered from a report on the HM conference in London that this asshole just received the 2014 Isaac Deutscher prize, the worst decision since it was given to Francis Wheen in 1999 for his Karl Marx bio. It was announced at a lecture by Panitch and Gindin:

The lecture started with the announcement of the winner of the 2014 Deutscher Prize, which was awarded to Roland Boer for his In the Veil of Tears: On Marxism and Theology, V, both in recognition of the book itself and of the Criticism of Heaven and Earth series of which it was the culmination. The other shortlisted works were Costas Lapavistas’ Profiting without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All, Frederic Jameson’s The Antinomies of Realism, John Saul and Patrick Bond’s South Africa – The Present as History.

I’ll take Patrick any day of the week.

Boer is a clown. His “Stalin’s Mustache” blog is the sort of garbage that could be heard at the Stalin Society in London, even more embarrassing than the junk I used to hear from Maoists in the 60s and 70s. Here’s a sample:

Screen shot 2014-11-12 at 7.31.11 PM


Here’s the HM blurb on the book:

In the Vale of Tears brings to a culmination the project for a renewed and enlivened debate over the interaction between Marxism and religion. It does so by offering the author’s own response to that tradition. It simultaneously draws upon the rich insights of a significant number of Western Marxists and strikes out on its own. Thus, it argues for the crucial role of political myth on the Left; explores the political ambivalence at the heart of Christianity; challenges the bent among many on the Left to favour the unexpected rupture of kairós as a key to revolution; is highly suspicious of the ideological and class alignments of ethics; offers a thorough reassessment of the role of festishism in the Marxist tradition; and broaches the question of death, unavoidable for any Marxist engagement with religion. While the book is the conclusion to the five-volume series, The Criticism of Heaven and Earth, it also stands alone as a distinct intervention in some burning issues of our time.

“challenges the bent among many on the Left to favour the unexpected rupture of kairós as a key to revolution”?

Where have I been? How did I miss this? I guess I was lost in the woods spending all my time on putting Lenin in context than in addressing the “unexpected rupture of kairós as a key to revolution”. I’ll pick up a hernia belt at CVS tomorrow. That should help.

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