Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 27, 2006

Lenin’s Tomb ponders North Korea

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:54 pm

UPDATE from Lenin’s Tomb:

I’ll take these criticisms on board and read up a great deal further before even attempting to offer a serious reply, but I did want to note for the record that the author of the post at Kotaji does not in fact agree with the quote you have actually excerpted from his blog. He has replied in the comments box at the Tomb:
“I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick with my post on the South Korean ‘new right’ history book. As I said, I probably agree with most of the (very crudely simplified) propositions that I outlined from the book in question. I do not agree with that particular one that you chose to quote.

“For the record, I also get very pissed off by all the frankly racist and orientalist nonsense that often passes for news about North Korea. Kim Jong-il is no doubt a despot, but he’s not a despot of a special kind, just a plain old dictator who needs to be overthrown by his own people.”

Although I am a big fan of Lenin’s Tomb (without sharing his enthusiasm for Zizek), I am rather disappointed to read his item on North Korea today: http://leninology.blogspot.com/2006/02/capitalists-paradise.html

From it we learn that there is at least one factory there owned by South Koreans which operates in pretty much the same manner as sweatshops in China or Vietnam for that matter. Well, okay. If North Korea were such a “capitalist’s paradise” as he puts it, then there’s the little matter of explaining the fierce rivalry between North and South.

Much of Lenin’s post is a direct quote from a blog run by a chap called Owen at http://kotaji.blogsome.com/ which agrees with the claims that “Rhee was a Machiavellian politician who made progress on the political/democratic front and laid some of the foundations for South Korea’s later economic growth.” This, of course, might ring a bell:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/20/newsid_4421000/4421636.stm

General Franco successfully led the Nationalist armies against the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, with support from Hitler’s Germany and Italy under Mussolini.

Under Franco Spain has enjoyed stability and relative prosperity, especially after reforms introduced since 1959 that modernised administration and industry.

http://www.thenewamerican.com/departments/feature/2000/072400.htm

Only a few short years later, a major economic miracle had taken place in Chile. How had it happened? Pinochet began by recruiting into government a number of Chilean economists who had been schooled at the University of Chicago by Milton Friedman. His object was to eliminate poverty by spurring growth through privatization and competition. For starters, his free-market reformers exploded the widely accepted socialist idea that powerful bureaucrats at the top can guide an economy by deciding which resources should be allocated where and at what price. In order to give consumers themselves the freedom to guide the market by their own daily economic decisions, the Chicago Boys junked the entire structure of stifling statist controls.

Lenin would also appear to agree with Owen’s citation from a certain Kim Ha-yong that:

“The basis for Soviet policy towards the Korean peninsula was not revolutionary internationalism but the desire for imperialist expansion. Stalin’s ambition was to inherit the old possessions of the Tsar’s empire and to restore its former glory.”

There is so much wrong here that one doesn’t know where to begin. To begin with, although Stalin was never about “revolutionary internationalism,” by the same token he was not bent on “imperialist expansion” either. If so, he would have encouraged the CP to take power in Greece, or in France. Instead, Stalin proved all too willing to sacrifice what appeared to be such significant “expansionist” bids in exchange for less potent buffer states to his West and to his South. Furthermore, this takes place in the context of losing perhaps half of the USSR’s industrial infrastructure and millions of its citizens in WWII. One can certainly understand the desire to circle the wagons, even if this has little to do with Marx or Lenin’s concept of proletarian internationalism.

To continue, the term “imperialism” is not useful if you rip it from the economic context. Capitalist imperialism was mainly about extracting superprofits. But, COMECON, the main vehicle of Soviet trade beyond its borders was associated with a NET LOSS each year. One of the driving forces of perestroika was to cut ties to COMECON nations so that the USSR would not bleed red ink. Here’s what Vladimir Sobell has to say about capital flows in “The Red Market: Industrial Co-operation and Specialisation in Comecon”:

Although it is impossible precisely to evaluate the gains and losses in intra-Comecon trade it is generally agreed that the USSR was subsidising Eastern Europe and that over time this subsidy was rising largely because of the growing opportunity costs involved in supplying the grouping with ‘hard’ commodities such as oil. Up to the mid-1970s the Soviet Union was apparently willing to pay this price in return for politically stable and loyal allies; up to the 1973 oil-price explosion the only way in which the subsidy was reduced was the Soviet insistence that East European countries contribute to the development of its resources. During the 1970s, however, it became clear that the terms of trade of ‘hard’ goods would continue to rise and that East European countries would not be able to reduce the subsidy for the following two reasons: first, because they incurred, in some cases considerable, convertible currency debts so that their ability to buy oil in non-Comecon markets was severely restricted, and secondly, the imports of Western technology initially undertaken in the hope that the ‘softness’ of East European manufactures would be reduced did not result in a direct improvement (and could, as in the case of Poland, lead to severe strain and eventual collapse). On the other hand, the USSR is in no position to continue to subsidise Eastern Europe indefinitely. There are several reasons for this. First, the Soviet economic growth has declined to unprecedently low rates; secondly, the oil industry is experiencing difficulties in securing adequate supplies for the 1980s; thirdly, the Soviet Union is forced to continue to spend substantial hard currency outlays on the import of grain; and fourthly, it undertook to subsidise the developing members of Comecon — Cuba, Mongolia and most recently Vietnam…

Finally, on North Korean economic woes. To start with, even if there were “independent trade unions” there, I doubt that would make much difference in the standard of living. Basically, you are talking about an economy that has suffered the loss of a major trading partner and a devastating drought. If Kim was replaced by Alex Callinicos, people would still be suffering.

People who do not subscribe to Cliffite orthodoxy often find themselves repelled by what people like Mike Gonzalez have written. Frankly, I find the one-presentation of North Korean history much more offensive. Keep in mind that this nation was once considered far more advanced than its rival to the South.

Martin Hart-Landsberg, “Korea: Divison, Unification and US Foreign Policy,” Monthly Review Press, 1998:

The End of the Economic Miracle

North Korea’s economic advance began to slow in the second half of the 1960s. The government announced in 1966 that its seven-year plan would not be completed on time, and the planning period was extended for three years, until 1970. A new six-year plan was launched in 1971. Although the North announced its successful completion in late 1975, four months ahead of schedule, no new plan was presented in either 1976 or 1977. In spite of these difficulties, even CIA estimates, as summarized by Lone and McCormack, showed that, “as of early 1976, the North Korean economy was out-producing the South in per capita terms in almost every sector, from agriculture through electric power generation, steel and cement, to machine tools and trucks (but not in televisions and automobiles).” Nevertheless, the North was losing the economic race. Between 1960 to 1976, Northern per capita GNP grew by an average annual rate of 5.2 percent; Southern per capita GNP grew by 7.3 percent. The South caught the North on a per capita basis sometime in the mid to late 1970s, and then continued to pull further ahead.

North Korea’s economic difficulties had several causes. Among the most important were the decline in aid from the Soviet Union and the division impelled diversion of scarce resources into the military sector. While North Korea has always prided itself on following an economic strategy based on the traditional principle of juche (self-reliance), the country also benefited significantly from foreign aid. For example, North Korea received substantial aid from the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries in 1953 and 1956 that helped finance its three-year plan. According to one scholar: During the Three Year Plan, 75.1 percent of all capital investments of the DPRK was financed from the grants from the communist bloc. In these years 24.6 percent of the Pyongyang state budget was financed from aid from the bloc countries (including credits). Finally, aid and credits from socialist countries financed 77.6 percent and 3.9 percent respectively of all DPRK imports during the Three Year Plan.

The Soviet Union also gave substantial scientific and technical aid, almost all without charge. By 1962, the Soviets had given North Korea over 2,581 technical documents; some 935 were drawings of complete plants or machinery. This technical support enabled North Korea to produce many industrial products, including trucks, cranes, compressors, agricultural machinery, electric motors, transformers, and tractors, which greatly contributed to the country’s rapid industrialization.

Beginning in the late 1950s, relations between the DPRK and the Soviet Union grew tense. In 1956, the Soviets started pressuring the North to give up its attempt to construct a heavy industrial base and instead concentrate on producing light manufactures and primary commodity exports as part of a COMECON-structured division of labor. The DPRK did join COMECON in 1957, but only as an observer; it refused to accept any limitations on its national planning.

Complicating the dispute over economic strategy was a growing split between China and the Soviet Union. Kim had worked hard to remain friendly with both countries and was therefore placed in an awkward position by this development, especially the increasingly frequent Soviet criticisms of China. Kim actually supported the Chinese in their confrontation with the Soviet Union. He was critical of what he saw as Soviet revisionism, especially the policy of “peaceful coexistence” with the United States, the very country that had prosecuted the Korean War. Kim believed that “peaceful coexistence” reflected a racist attitude on the part of the Soviet Union toward Asia. As he saw it, détente was a policy that was developed strictly within, and had meaning only in, a European context. It could have no meaning for Vietnamese, Chinese, or Koreans, people whose countries were divided, with the socialist halves under threat of attack from the United States.

In the early 1960s, when the Soviets started openly criticizing the DPRK for its economic plans and unwillingness to condemn China, Kim stood his ground. The result was the sudden withdrawal of Soviet aid and technical support and, from 1962 to 1965, a reduction in trade between the two countries. Not surprisingly, this had a serious impact on the North Korean economy.

Ian Buruma: what an embarrassment

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:51 pm

Although I have gotten used to the Islamophobic musings of Bard professor Ian Buruma, his think-piece (or stink-piece) in Saturday’s Guardian under the heading “Can sexual inadequacy or deprivation turn angry young men into killers?” really reaches new depths.Buruma writes, “Sexual deprivation may be a factor in the current wave of suicidal violence, unleashed by the Palestinian cause as well as revolutionary Islamism. The tantalising prospect of having one’s pick of the loveliest virgins in paradise is deliberately dangled in front of young men trained for violent death.”

He adds, “It is said that Mohammed Atta visited a striptease bar before crashing a plane into the Twin Towers. Perhaps he craved one nibble at the forbidden fruit before his earthly extinction.”

Gays are also suspect. Buruma finds himself in agreement with fellow Islamophobe Johann Hari regarding the “overlap” of homosexuality and fascism. “Gay men,” Hari wrote, “have been at the heart of every major fascist movement that ever was …”

Sigh.

I am embarrassed to tell people that I went to Bard College after reading such tripe.

This is the result of hiring NY Review of Books intellectuals in prominent positions at Bard College. Leon Botstein added such people to his staff in the same way that people buy Gucci loafers. It is a symbol of having “arrived”. Frankly, Bard would be better off it were the obscure liberal arts college it used to be before it was transformed into a dubious powerhouse for intellectuals like Ian Buruma. Back then, professors were smart enough only to act the fool “down the road” at the college pub after one drink too many. Now they do it in the British press.

Cliff Conner’s A People’s History of Science

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:21 am

Book Review

Conner, Cliff: A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives and ‘Low Mechanicks’, Nation Books, New York, 2006, ISBN 1-56025-748-2, 554 pages, $17.95 (paperback)

(Swans – February 27, 2006) Cliff Conner’s A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives and ‘Low Mechanicks’ does for science what Howard Zinn did for American history. It is an altogether winning attempt to tell the story of the ordinary working person or peasant’s contribution to our knowledge of the natural world. Just as scholars like Zinn remind us that a slave, Crispus Attucks, was the first casualty of the American Revolution, so does Conner show that humble people were on the front lines of the scientific revolution.

Over the course of this 500 page encyclopedic but lively effort, we learn about unsung heroes and heroines, like Antony Van Leeuwenhoek, a seventeenth century Dutch linen draper who began using magnifying lenses to examine fabrics but went on to pioneer the use of microscopy in the scientific laboratory. He was looked down upon by the scientific establishment as “neither a philosopher, a medical man, nor a gentleman… He had been to no university, knew no Latin, French, or English, and little relevant natural history or philosophy.”

In addition to telling their stories, Conner challenges conventional thinking about how science is done. At an early age, we are indoctrinated into thinking that science starts with pure ideas and then descends into the practical world. In reality, many of the greatest breakthroughs in our knowledge of the world were a result of the practical need to solve a pressing problem, some of which were related to mundane matters of trade and bookkeeping.

Perhaps no other example in Conner’s book dramatizes this as perfectly as the rise of numeric symbols, which came out of the “routine economic activities of farmers, artisans and traders.” Specifically, Sumerians devised symbols to keep track of grain. Rather than repeating the symbol for each grain multiple times, they devised a shortcut where the grain symbol would be drawn once, and prefixed with a numeric symbol. This technique was developed in lowly counting rooms rather than in the court hierarchy.

The next big breakthrough, positional numeration, also had common traders as midwives. This technique makes a digit’s value dependent on its relative position in a number. For example, “9” in the number 2,945 means nine hundred but it indicates “90” in 2,495. Imagine how difficult it would be to do simple calculations without such a system. Try adding the Roman numerals MMCMXLV to MMCDXCV without cheating (converting to positional numbers) and you will see how difficult it is. This is not to speak of the daunting task of multiplying them!

The introduction of the place-value system (together with the symbol of zero to hold “empty” columns) is particularly relevant to Conner’s mission in creating a people’s history of science. To begin with, it democratized arithmetic by making it accessible to all levels of society. Secondly, it did not originate with elite mathematicians but with anonymous clerks — perhaps ordinary accounting clerks — in India between the third and fifth centuries AD. Finally, this revolutionary innovation relied not on mathematics journals or other scholarly venues, but was transmitted by merchants pursuing their trade on routes between India and the rest of the world.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy34.html

February 26, 2006

Barney Ross and the “tough Jew”

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

In the mid-1950s, my family lived in an apartment above the Kentucky Club, a nightclub catering to NY Jews who stayed at bungalow colonies and small hotels during the summer. Most of the acts were veterans of the Jewish stage like Molly Picon or Moishe Oysher but the biggest draw was the Jewelbox Revue, a group of men who performed in drag. One day I came home to find one of the performers in our living-room, where my mom was sewing some sequins on his costume as a favor. She nonchalantly introduced this charming Black man as “Miss Peggy”, as he preferred to be called.

The Kentucky Club had hired famed ex-boxing champion Barney Ross as a “greeter” one summer, which one I can’t exactly remember. But I do have vivid memories of spending time with him on the street corner in the evenings as he took a break from his duties. Resplendent in a tuxedo and puffing on a cigarette beneath a streetlamp, he cut a dashing figure. He was always happy to chat with me, as were many of the people at the Kentucky Club who treated me like their mascot.

Since that time, I have learned few details about Ross’s life, other than the obvious fact that he was a Jewish boxer and that he had kicked a morphine addiction developed as a way of suppressing the pain of wounds suffered at Guadalcanal. His struggle was dramatized in the 1957 biopic “Monkey on My Back.”

When I learned that a new biography of Ross by Douglas Century had been published, I would have bought it even if it were nothing but a standard sports biography. I was really curious about who Barney Ross was and how he compared to the image of him that lingered with me all these years.

“Barney Ross” is the third volume in a joint project of Schocken and Nextbook publishers called “Jewish Encounters” that seeks to promote Jewish literature, culture, and ideas. Although a biography of Barney Ross might be the last thing to expect in the same series of already released studies of King David and Maimonides (Moses, Spinoza and others to follow), Century does achieve a kind of monumentality. Century connects Ross not only to legendary figures that preceded him, like Daniel Mendoza the British Jew who was the champion of the London Prize Ring in 1792, but to a host of important cultural and political figures such as Saul Bellow, who came out of the same hardscrabble Chicago streets. Additionally, Century draws out all the interesting political and social implications of Barney Ross’s amazing tendency to cross paths with controversial Jewish personalities from Irgunist Peter Bergson to Jack Ruby.

Beyond the interest that is sustained in Barney Ross as an individual, Century also addresses a phenomenon that is the subject of two earlier works by other writers, namely the “tough Jew.” In considering Barney Ross and the Jewish boxer in general as an example of this phenomenon, Century contributes to a debate on the “Jewish Question” that will remain unresolved until contradictions between Jews and their ostensible antagonists are resolved on a higher level.

Dov Ber Raskofsky, who would assume the name Barney Ross after launching a career as a boxer, was born to Itchik and Sarah Rasofsky on the Lower East Side on December 23, 1909. Although his father had taught Hebrew back in Brest-Litovsk, he made a living as a small grocer. This was a trade he would continue once he arrived in the USA, following his departure in the aftermath of state-sanctioned pogroms in 1903.

Within two years of his birth, Ross and his family would depart for Chicago to take over a grocery store in the Maxwell Street ghetto, also the home of bandleader Benny Goodman, future Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, actor Paul Muni and William Paley, who would one day run CBS.

Maxwell Street was a poverty-stricken rat’s nest that was a breeding ground for pneumonia, TB and diphtheria. It also bred many Jewish criminals, who, like the Jewish boxers of the time, were considered “tough Jews.” This included Jacob Guzik, who was Al Capone’s financial adviser and Samuel “Nails” Morton, who provided protection to Jewish businessmen against marauding gangs from other ethnic groups. In 1917 Morton was arrested for nearly beating to death several members of a Polish gang.

Barney Ross began running with young Jewish hoodlums at an early age and soon gained a reputation for being an effective street fighter despite his small size–his nickname was “Runt.”

In 1923, Itchik Rasofsky was shot and killed by robbers in his store. Shortly afterwards, Barney Ross dropped out of high school and started hustling on the street. His younger two brothers and sister were put into an orphanage. Two years later, at the age of fifteen, he began hanging out at Kid Cross’s gym where Jackie Fields (born Jacob Finkelstein) trained. Fields would win the gold medal at the Paris Olympic in 1924 before turning pro. In this period, it is estimated that 30 percent of all professional fighters were Jewish. Despite the deep prejudice against sports in general and especially fighting in the Jewish community, many men became boxers for the same reasons that Irish, Italian and Blacks would: to escape poverty. But other nationalities would not have to overcome the psychological hurdle created by a millennium of Jewish traditions. Century writes:

The Hungarian-born historian and sociologist George Eisen, who boxed as a young man in Budapest, has written of the “imperative to acknowledge that in the hierarchy of Jewish religious values, feats of physical prowess were invariably relegated to the ‘secular’ and the ‘mundane.’ There has always been a strong aversion in Jewish culture and tradition toward violent or blood sports that often were the hallmarks of neighboring tribes, societies and cultures.” The antipathetic attitude toward sport goes back at least as far as the conquest of Judea by Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E., when Jews were first exposed to the sports of boxing and wrestling. One of the more overt signs of Hellenization was the establishment in 174 B.C.E. of a gymnasium in Jerusalem where athletes engaged in sporting activities in the nude. According to the First Book of Maccabees, some Jewish participants even underwent medical procedures to conceal the fact that they were circumcised. The fact that all Greek games were dedicated to cults deemed idolatrous to Jews–gifts and sacrifices were made to the god Heracles in particular–exacerbated the sense that, for the observant Jew, sport was inextricably linked to the threat of a foreign, pagan culture.

Ross began training at Kid Cross’s gym himself and also began to fight in Golden Glove tournaments, where he beat all opponents with ease. After turning pro, he fought a series of classic battles in the light and welterweight divisions against Tony Canzoneri and Jimmy McLarnin. Ross prevailed over these and lesser opponents until 1938 when he was defeated by Henry Armstrong, an African-American.

Fighting as a professional allowed Ross to get his siblings out of the orphanage and to buy a home for his mother. But in an all too familiar pattern, the rest of the money was pissed away on the kind of wastrel life-style that other champion boxers, including Mike Tyson, succumb to. Ross was the quintessential party guy who could be seen at popular nightspots every night of the week buying drinks for the house. Most of the money, however, went to feed what can only be called a gambling addiction. Ross was a permanent feature at the racetrack where he had an uncanny ability to bet on losing horses. His friend Al Jolson, also a big racing fan, once told him not to sit near him: “Stay away from me–I don’t want to catch your poison.” After beating Bobby Pacho on March 27, 1934, Ross blew his entire purse in a single day of betting.

Ross made no effort to hide the fact that he was an observant Jew but was uncomfortable with how the promoters turned every bout into a kind of ethnic rivalry. Along with Detroit Tiger baseball player Hank Greenberg, Ross was now the most famous Jewish athlete in the country. In the bout with Armstrong, sportswriters tried to exploit the fact that Ross’s father’s killers were Black and turn it into a race war. The articles angered Ross who had one of the writers booted out of his training camp at Grossinger’s hotel in the Catskills, not far from my village.

For his part, Armstrong once commented “You can’t Jim Crow a left hook.” Long before Mohammed Ali, Armstrong was also writing poems. “In Contemplation of May 26″ (the night of the fight) contained these lines:

Two fighters of oppressed races fighting each other
just like that
It doesn’t seem exactly sensible or right

We’re not mad at each other; we’re just fighting for
the things we need
It comes right back, the same old thing–to live, man
must fight

After losing to Armstrong in a completely one-sided bout, Ross retired. He couldn’t adjust to life outside the ring, however. He continued to piss money away on the horses and on nightlife but no longer had money coming in from fighting. His show business connections and fighting past made it easy for him to audition for a role as lead in Clifford Odets’s “Golden Boy,” a leftist play about a Jewish youth who has to choose between a career in boxing or playing the violin. He soon realized that even if this part was not far from his own life experience, delivering lines on the stage was more difficult than warding off Henry Armstrong’s blows.

At the age of 33, Barney Ross inexplicably enlisted in the Marines. He needed special permission to join since he was far over the age limit, as well as being out of shape. Douglas Century believes this was motivated as much by Ross’s lack of direction than by a gung-ho desire to fight. He ended up on Guadalcanal and in the midst of some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific. On November 19, 1942, Ross was involved in a bloody battle that convinced him–according to an Esquire article he wrote later on–that “fighting wasn’t a game.” Century recounts the action that would lead to Ross being a decorated war hero and ultimately to morphine addiction:

He calculated the range of a Japanese machine-gunner. He didn’t dare rise, so, lying flat on his belly, he lobbed three grenades in fast succession. The machine-gun fire halted. He crawled over to the trench in which Heavy Atkins and Freeman lay bleeding. He unhooked the grenades from their belts. As he crawled forward again, a mortar shell burst and shrapnel tore into his side, arm, and leg. In the darkness, he did his best to dress his own shrapnel wounds.

The low-hanging leaves began to patter with a hard rain. He gathered the rainwater and did his best to give Monak, Atkins, and Freeman a few drops to drink. The Japanese infantrymen were setting up at closer range, no more than thirty yards away. One of the infantrymen was struck again. A slug tore through Barney’s left ankle and, screaming, he had to cut his boot away with his knife.

The pain was so intense that he felt himself losing consciousness. Delirious, feverish, shaking–he didn’t yet realize he was suffering from the malaria that would plague him for years to come–he was convinced that if he blacked out he’d never awaken. He had twenty-two grenades–in some versions of the firefight it is twenty-one–and threw all except one, which he planned to hold in reserve should the Japanese soldiers storm into the foxhole, ready to die like Eliezar, baring his blade under the lead war elephant in 1 Maccabees.

Barney lay in the foxhole for some thirteen hours–a cruel “lifetime,” he would later call it–watching over the wounded Marines and infantrymen. “I never expected to get out. I was crying, and praying, and shooting, and throwing grenades, and half the time, I guess, I was out of my head.” Throughout the night he had comforted himself by repeating the Sh’ma Yisroel–“Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.” He prayed for himself, the wounded Marines and infantrymen, and “anybody else who was ready to die.” In his delirium he saw the visage of a living dead man, bearded, in soiled apron, surrounded by paper sacks in the nameless grocery on Jefferson Street. “You have no idea how I talked to Pa throughout that night,” Barney later told his brother George.

Ross would be treated with morphine in a military hospital. His misery was compounded by recurring bouts of malaria. Later he wrote in a memoir that “The morphine lifted me out of the snake pit and let me climb into the clouds.” After returning to civilian life, he discovered that he could not do without it. He began to spend whatever money he had left after the gambling fiascos of years past on drugs. He later recalled, “I spent $250,000 on drugs in four years. Some of it was for buying silence. I paid through the nose.” When he wasn’t prowling around for his next fix, he was being feted at banquets as a war hero. In November 1944, he met with FDR for a Rose Garden ceremony. The President cited him for “his great personal courage and sincere devotion to his comrades.”

Despite the battle he was fighting to kick the habit, Ross was still able to become active in something called the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, which was led by Peter Bergson (née Hillel Kook). The committee sponsored a pageant titled “We Shall Never Die” at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 1943 that would go on to tour the country. The culmination was an all-star “Show of Shows” once again at the Garden that featured Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Paul Robeson, the Count Basie Orchestra and others. Ross bought tickets for 150 servicemen.

Despite his tireless work or perhaps because of it, Bergson became ‘persona non grata’ in official Jewish circles, if not considered a fascist. Since Bergson was affiliated with Jabotinsky’s Irgun, this charge was not so far-fetched. According to George Raskofsky, Ross’s younger brother who supplied valuable information to Douglas Century before his own death, Ross was involved in running guns to the Irgun. One time he discovered a cache of machine guns in his brother’s closet and was told to look the other way.

Since rightwing Zionism of the sort associated with Jabotinsky has such a well-deserved bad reputation on the left, it might come as a surprise to discover that Peter Bergson comes off fairly well in chapter 24 of Lenni Brenner’s “Zionism in the Age of Dictators”. Unlike the Jewish establishment, Bergson was not afraid to rock the boat. Brenner quotes the December 12, 1942 issue of the Militant newspaper to explain why so little was done to resist the Holocaust:

“Truth to tell, these organisations, like the Joint Distribution Board and the Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Labor Committee, feared to make themselves heard because they were afraid of arousing a wave of anti-Semitism here as a result. They feared for their own hides too much to fight for the lives of millions abroad.”

Yesterday I received the following from Lenni Brenner in reply to my query as to his view of Bergson’s legacy:

Only one Zionist group understood that rescue had to be their priority during the Holocaust. Irgunist Peter Bergson realized that the US announcement of the gassing meant that they had to push Roosevelt to act. Ben Hecht, author and script-writer of Front Page, the classic 30s newspaper-man book and film, wrote a pageant, We Shall Never Die, bringing it into a full Madison Square Garden, March 9, 1943, and toured it to California.

Kurt Weill orchestrated the musical accompaniment. Edward G. Robinson and other film stars worked on it. A Trotskyist journalist complained that it was too pious and memorial. Indeed recordings of it sound ponderous to later ears. But that was the state of show biz political consciousness at the time. They did the best they could think of.

“The WZO forces were forced to organize a Garden event, to head off their rivals. Instead of uniting with Bergson, they pressured auditoriums in Pittsburg and other cities, who refused to rent to the pageant. Purblind hostility culminated in Nahum Goldmann of the World Jewish Congress, the international equivalent of Wise’s AJCongress, going to Washington to demand action – against Bergson, not Hitler.

The WZO element did nothing to pressure Roosevelt to loosen rules restricting 30s German-Jewish immigration, and were incapable of self-starting in the time of castastrophe. The Irgunists, as terrorists, understood, at least for a time, that they had to act, in this case, to mobilize public opinion, or Roosevelt would do nothing.

In his later years, Bergson broke with Zionism, becoming a major voice in the chorus of its Israeli critics, and a vital source of information on America during the Holocaust. Goldmann never broke with Zionism, but his remorse for his role in that era is recorded in a later document.

(Brenner’s observations were made in connection with a State Department memo about Bergson and his rivals.)

Throughout his life, Barney Ross would not allow public opinion to dictate who would be his friend or ally. If Peter Bergson was doing the right thing to agitate for the survival of European Jewry, he didn’t care whether or not Bergson was on the a-list of prestigious Jewish organizations.

He felt the same way about Jack Ruby, a life-long friend he met during his hustling days on Maxwell Street. Ruby, of course, would eventually move down to Dallas and open up a strip club. Shortly after the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, Ruby entered Dallas Police Headquarters and shot Oswald to death. Ruby’s mob connections have always suggested to some that the original plot against JFK was orchestrated by the Mafia rather than the CIA, let alone Soviet or Cuban spy agencies.

Ross was a character witness at Ruby’s trial in what amounted to a lost cause. Another character witness, Hyman Rubinstein, Ruby’s Warsaw-born older brother, testified that Jack had “hung around Barney Ross all his life. He liked Barney Ross. Everybody liked Barney Ross.”

* * * * *

When Ross was undergoing detoxification at Lexington Hospital (more of a prison), he was crushed to discover that Hollywood had cancelled plans to make a movie based on his life. While it was one thing to make a rags-to-riches tale about a Jewish boxer who then becomes a war hero, drug addiction was still a taboo to depict on the silver screen. They did go on to make a movie based loosely on his life called “Body and Soul.” There were so many obvious connections to the Barney Ross story that the studios were forced to cough up $60,000 to the boxer for what amount copyright infringements.

Since this was a film written, directed and starring a number of figures who would eventually be blacklisted in the 1950s and since it is regarded as a ‘noir’ classic, I watched it shortly after finishing Douglas Century’s biography for comparison’s sake.

The film was written by Abraham Polonsky, who was one of the Hollywood Ten and one of the industry’s finest writers. In teaming up with director Robert Rossen, it was clear that two of the major talents on the left were joining forces. In his biography of Polonsky titled “A Very Dangerous Citizen,” Paul Buhle describes Rossen’s impressive past:

Rossen came with considerable personal as well as artistic baggage, the grandson of a rabbi and the nephew of a Hebrew poet, this sometime amateur boxer was raised on New York’s Lower East Side. He began his theatrical career there, writing and directing a number of uccessful political plays in the thirties (including, in 1932, “Steel,” produced by the Daily Worker as a fund-raiser) before coming to Hollywood. Rossen’s script-writing high points included They Won’t Forget (1937), a courtroom drama about a false accusation of murder in he South, with Lana Turner in her first dramatic role; Blues in the Night (1940), a musicians’ saga with an extraordinarily strong and independent-minded woman played by Priscilla Lane; Sea Wolf {1941), arguably he best Jack London adaptation ever done, with Garfield as the proletarian, Ida Lupino as the hardened girl, and Edward G. Robinson as the totalitarian ship’s captain (now noticeably fascist); Out of the Fog (1941), a proletarian saga from an Irwin Shaw play with Garfield as a hoodlum who nearly destroys the lives of a Brooklyn family (including Ida Lupino as the daughter, Garfield’s sometime girlfriend trying to break away from her slum life) before fate gives them a second chance; Edge of Darkness (1943), a classic antifascist film marking Norwegian resistance against Nazi occupation; A Walk in the Sun (1946), perhaps the most realistic major war film to that time; and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), a taut postwar drama with Barbara Stanwyck as a factory owner hiding an old secret, Van Heflin as the childhood pal who comes back to wreck her, and Kirk Douglas, in his starring debut, as Stanwyck’s weakling partner-in-crime.

John Garfield was born to play the role of boxer Charlie Davis. Like Rossen, Garfield (née Jacob Garfinkel) was a denizen of the Lower East Side who was an amateur boxer in youth and an early convert to the radical movement (although he would deny membership in the CPUSA when the witch-hunt was in full blast.) Like Ross, the character Charlie Davis is a Jew whose grocer father is killed in a stickup. Also, like Ross, he begins to piss away all his money once he becomes champion. Unlike Ross (but more like Jake LaMotta), Charlie Davis is tempted to take a dive in order to pay off debts and comply with the demands of Roberts, his crooked promoter. (Roberts is played by Lloyd Gough, who would be blacklisted. He eventually returned to work in the 1960s and played the role of a blacklisted writer in “The Front.”)

Although “Body and Soul” incorporates many plot elements that at this point seem shopworn now (keep in mind that this film was one of the first to depict the rotten cash nexus that underlay professional boxing), Polonsky’s writing will always remain fresh. In one memorable scene, the promoter offers a handout to Ben Chaplin, Charlie Davis’s cornerman.

Chaplin is a Black boxer (played by blacklistee Canada Lee) who Davis had wrested the championship from and nearly killed in the process. Roberts had set up a bout between the two men despite knowing that Chaplin had a blood clot that might lead to a fatality in the ring. Not long after Chaplin is on the skids, Davis invites him to go to work in his corner.

When Chaplin declines Roberts’s handout, the promoter throws the bills on the gym floor. After Roberts leaves, Davis picks up the bills and hands them to Chaplin with these words: “Go ahead and take it. It’s only money. It doesn’t think. It has no memory. It’s not people.” In these few words, Polonsky says more than a thousand leaflets. No wonder the redbaiters were anxious to throw such people out of work.

In 1952, columnist Ed Sullivan, who would go on to host the famous TV variety show that premiered Elvis and the Beatles and who started out writing for NY’s socialist daily “Leader,” identified “Body and Soul” as a threat to the burgeoning television industry. It set “the pattern that the Commies and their sympathizers in TV networks, agencies, and theatrical unions would like to fasten on the medium.”

Charlie Davis’s mom is played by Ann Revere, who would also be blacklisted. In a minor but crucial role, blacklistee Shimen Ruskin plays Shimen the grocer who drops in on Charlie and his mom shortly before the climactic fight of the movie, in which Charlie has agreed to take a dive. Shimen tells Charlie that he is so proud to see a Jew defending his title when it is such a dark time for his brethren in Europe. After Shimen leaves, Charlie complains that he isn’t fighting for anybody any more and is only interested in a big payoff, even if that means taking a dive. Once the thirteenth round arrives, Charlie has a change of heart, fights like a lion and defends his title successfully. The film ends with the clear message that it is possible to withstand the cash nexus.

Despite the efforts of people Ronald Radosh (Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance With The Left), there is little evidence of any sort of monolithism at work in the production of this film despite the fact that the principals were Communists. Rossen favored a tragic entry with Roberts having Charlie rubbed out as punishment for not taking a dive. Polonsky insisted on a happy ending. There were filmed versions of each ending, but Polonsky’s was used. Buhle describes the artistic and political differences between the two:

The prospect of this Hollywood happy ending left director Rossen dissatisfied. He wanted Charley to be killed in revenge for betraying the boxing mob, and his version called for a final shot of Charley lying in an alley with his head in a garbage can. Both endings were shot. But in the collaborative atmosphere of Enterprise, where nearly all of the film workers on both sides of the camera were leftist comrades or sympathizers, the writer’s view could prevail over the director’s, at least if he had the artistic respect of both the producer and the star. Polonsky got his way.

Polonsky’s insistence on using the closing scene of Body and Soul as he had written it, despite its superficially happy ending, was emphatically political. Charley’s recognition of the need for a sense of decency in human affairs begins with the unmistakable suggestion that the boxing business had lynched Ben. Narratively and politically, Polonsky’s need for a defiant ending with a shout of hope derives in part from the social context of Charley’s awakening at the moment of Ben’s “lynching” as expressed metaphorically in the swinging body bag.

With Rossen’s ending, the only meaning in Charley’s awakening is personal: Charley glimpses his likely future as a discarded fighter who dies penniless in the ring. His awakening is the American individualist’s realization that it is time, in the lingo of another genre, to strap on his guns and clean up the gang that has taken over the boxing business. For Charley to die in a hail of bullets is entirely logical from that view. But that would be mere naturalism, little more than an inverted happy ending suited to the weary wisdom of the postwar audience, a knowing noir grimace.

* * * * *

John Garfield
Barney Ross
Jack Proyect 1

Jack Proyect 2
When my father was a young man, people used to tell him that he looked like John Garfield. As I began looking deeper and deeper into Barney Ross and the movie based loosely on his life starring John Garfield, the more their images and lives began to blur with my father’s.
Like Barney Ross and John Garfield, my father was the son of Yiddish speaking parents who came out of poverty. My father drove a truck in the late 1930s and joined the army for the same reasons that many men and women join today. It was a step up.

My father was also involved in combat during the Battle of the Bulge and received a Bronze Star for carrying an officer to safety while under attack by Nazi fire. He was also a heavy gambler, mostly poker, who was forced by my mother to quit. In their rocky 25 years of marriage, I sometimes wonder if he would have been better off if he had stayed in the army where he seemed right at home.

I was born when my father was off in Belgium dodging German bullets. When he returned, I was nearly six months old. Like many fathers whose children are born when they were overseas in the service, he never really bonded with me. As I grew older into a combination of Woody Allen and Stephen Dedalus, he grew even more remote. As a “tough Jew,” he had trouble relating to somebody so different and perhaps effete.

In his Afterword, Douglas Century reflects on the “tough Jews” in his own family:

From 1940 through the late 1960s, my mother’s family was in the restaurant business. They owned a popular twenty-four-hour delicatessen called S&L–for my grandfather, Willie (Velvel) Smith, and my uncle, Abe Levy–located on Kedzie and Lawrence avenues in Albany Park. By the time I was old enough to visit Chicago, the family had sold the “store” and all that remained were a few black-and-white photographs, receipts for corned beef sandwiches and 10-cent chocolate phosphates, and Uncle Abe’s stories of obsessive gamblers, cops on the take, and young draftees bound for combat in Europe and the Pacific.

They were the characters from Barney Ross’s world, and my uncle–born one year after Barney, in 1910, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side–could summon them like smoke-shrouded genies in his den in West Rogers Park. He told me about Jewish gangland characters who had dressed in police uniforms–procured by a certain Captain Shapiro at the Albany Park precinct–in order to go pick up a visiting Nazi official who was coming to Chicago to address the Bund; the Jewish police “escort” met the Nazi at the train station, drove him to a secluded street, beat him half-dead with pipes and baseball bats and sent him back to Germany. He told me about one pathetic gambler who won a small fortune with the bookies across the street from the restaurant, wooed and wed the sexiest woman in Albany Park, and promptly lost everything–his gleaming car, furnished apartment, and glamorous wife–when his lucky streak deserted him.

By the mid-seventies, when I was a boy, my uncle was out of the restaurant business and had returned to his original career–for which he’d been trained in the 1920s in Staten Island–as a pharmacist. His den was filled with mementos from his stint as a pharmacist in the United States Army during the second world war, his staff sergeant’s stripes, Asiatic-Pacific campaign ribbon with four bronze campaign stars denoting service in New Guinea, Leyte, Luzon, and Hollandia, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. There were photos of Abe and his buddies posed in the jungle of Corregidor, my uncle holding a bazooka and a friend hanging from the barrel of the largest artillery gun I’d ever seen.

To Century’s credit, he does not take the conventional approach to answering the question of where all the “tough Jews” have gone. Obviously, there are no professional boxers today, except for a smattering of Russian immigrants who differed very little from their gentile counterparts in the former Soviet Union. Nor are there are Jewish gangsters, although there are a whole slew of crooks from Jack Abramoff to the neoconservatives who broke international law in the course of invading Iraq.

This, of course, leads to an examination of the role of Israel in creating a new “tough Jew” archetype based on figures such as Moshe Dayan or Ariel Sharon. Israeli paratroopers are certainly as brutal as any Chicago gangster, although the turf they are protecting has less to do with protecting meek shopkeepers than it does in building a sub-empire in Arab homelands.

There are two books with “tough Jew” in the title. Paul Breines’s “Tough Jews: Political Fantasies and the Moral Dilemma of American Jewery” appeared in 1990 and Rich Cohen’s “Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams” appeared 8 years later.

In a review of Breines’s book that appeared in the Washington Post on September 23, Edward W. Said wrote:

In this remarkably interesting and suggestive essay in cultural analysis, Paul Breines shows how after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War the image of the Jew in American popular culture as a gentle, meek and even saintly figure changed dramatically. The new image to emerge was that of a tough and lethal fighter, one prepared to do battle with hostile non-Jews — Arabs usually — who are equated with Nazism and anti-Semitism. Breines connects this change directly with the politics of Israel and Zionism, arguing subtly that the new image was addressed paradoxically to non-Jews who had rejected anti-Semitism; the tough Jew image foreclosed the options culturally available to outsiders who were now to be confronted almost exclusively with the Jew as a savage macho fighter. This figure’s origins in the 20th century were to be found in people like Vladimir Jabotinsky, patriarch of the Revisionist Zionism that has lately brought Menachem Begin and Itzhak Shamir to unchallenged prominence in contemporary Israel.

Breines claims that the change in image derives from a change in attitudes to the body, once conceived of as weak and unimportant, now transformed by history and fantasy into an all-encompassing and threatening muscularity. The irony, says Breines, is that the tough Jew now peopling the novels of Leon Uris, Ken Follett, Howard Hunt, John Fredman, Marge Piercy and others (not an impressive roster of talents) is connected exclusively to Israeli tough guys: in a compact chapter, “From Massada to Mossad,” he presents an alternative historical record of Jews as warriors, gangster and the like. “In reality,” he says, “Jewish Americans did not need Zionism and Palestine to demonstrate Jewish toughness in the period before 1948.” Jews were historically tough and gentle, depending on the circumstances.

Cohen’s book is more narrowly focused. He is exclusively interested in Jewish gangsters like Bennie “Bugsy” Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Dutch Schultz. In a July 8, 1998 Washington Post review, Jonathan Groner writes:

But Cohen wants to tell us about the Jewish gangsters, not the Jewish intellectuals or the Jewish businessmen, and is he ever proud of those gangs. To him, the criminals — notorious national figures like Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky and Louis Lepke, as well as countless anonymous street-corner thugs — were role models of a sort, symbols of the notion that the People of the Book can be doers, not just thinkers. Never mind what kind of actions they took: They were men of action, to be admired, at least for that.

“As bad as the gangsters were, as far outside the law as they lived, they thought they were, in some way, more in touch with Jewish experience than uptown Jews like the Schiffs,” Cohen writes presumptuously. Or: “The fact that they were gangsters, that they operated beyond the law, past what is acceptable, gave them a kind of legitimacy, the instant credibility of the outsider.”

As difficult as it would have been for someone like me to have made a career as a boxer or a professional hit-man, there is still a way to maintain some kind of connection with the best traditions of the “tough Jew.” As a long-time radical, I too know what it means to feel outside the law. During World War Two, the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party were sent to prison for violations of the Smith Act. At Sandstone Prison, party leader James P. Cannon would get into conversations with other prisoners who were mystified why these men were in prison. If you were going to end up behind bars they argued, you might as well do something that at least has a payoff worth the risk–like robbing a bank. Cannon’s response went along the lines that the socialists weren’t interested in a bank or two. They wanted the whole thing! I always chuckle when I think about that response. Deep in my heart, I believe that being a revolutionary in the USA makes you the biggest criminal that ever lived. Bigger than Robin Hood even. That’s the kind of toughness that this Jew at least wants to embrace.

February 24, 2006

Spiked online denies corporate funding charges

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:24 pm

Over the years, there have been frequent allegations that rightwing millionaires or security agencies have funded Frank Furedi’s sect, which has morphed from believers in a sort of neo-Kautskyist belief in capitalist progress into full-bore libertarians. In other words, they have retained the breathless “Better Living Through Chemistry” and “What’s Good for General Motors is Good for America” part of the equation but dropped the inconvenient business about socialism.In today’s spiked-online, sect leader Brendan O’Neill tries to fend off these charges, which is something of a first for the sect, as far as I know:

There have been a fair few articles and rumours over the past few years accusing spiked’s editor Mick Hume and managing editor Helene Guldberg, as well as contributor Frank Furedi and Institute of Ideas director Claire Fox (with whom spiked shares an office), among others, of being involved in various conspiracies headed by everyone from the Serbian government to the drugs companies. Many of the arguments made by contributors first to Living Marxism and LM and later to spiked, all of which were edited by Hume, have been challenged, not substantially or politically, but by a kind of muck-raking search for the secret financer [sic] behind the arguments. Those who oppose what some of our writers have said about Western intervention, environmentalism and free speech have not taken up the arguments head-on but rather have said, ‘Well look who’s funding them….look who they have meetings with….what do you expect?’ These attacks should be understood as part of the broader climate of conspiracy-mongering today, where robust political debate has given way to a kind of cowardly dinner-party whispering campaign about individuals’ motives or personal interests and private lives.

To begin with, it has been years since anybody has attacked them for what they have written about Yugoslavia. Mostly, it is people like Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti and Edward Herman who are the target of the Cruise Missile Left. In a way, it is unfortunate that there is so little in the way of anti-imperialism in spiked-online nowadays of any sort. Granted, they are anxious to put all that in the past, but there is no contradiction between being libertarian and being against the war in Iraq. Take a look at antiwar.com for one example.

The question of corporate ties to drug, petroleum and chemical companies is much more complex. I think it is wrong to look at spiked as simply a bunch of whores who write things whatever evil corporations pay them to write. That is much more the model of their frequent collaborator, the Hill and Knowlton PR firm. You’ll recall that Hill and Knowlton developed the propaganda campaign for the first Gulf War, which included the false allegation that Iraqi troops were pulling Kuwaiti infants out of their cribs in a hospital nursery and throwing them on the cold floor. I imagine that if the Iraqi government had been able to put together a bigger bundle of cash for Hill and Knowlton, they might have written something that Michael Moore would be proud of.

No, I don’t think we are dealing with payoffs here. Instead, it is a matter of deep conviction that anything that gets in the way of Exxon, Pfizer and Monsanto is an obstacle to progress. When Monsanto came up with GM crops, I am sure that created as much excitement in their ranks as did Cuban victory over South African soldiers at the battle of Cuito Carnevale for people like us. Once you are absolutely convinced that capitalism = progress, why would you refuse to discover ways to finance your activities through contributions from the Exxons, Pfizers and Monsantos of the world? Frankly, if a search of tax records revealed that Furedi’s various think-tanks were being funded by such outfits, my reaction would be similar to Claude Rains’s (as Colonel Renault) in “Casablanca”: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

February 23, 2006

Nation Magazine continues rancid coverage of Haiti

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:39 pm

It is common knowledge that Nation Magazine contributor Amy Wilentz has been hostile to Father Aristide for years now. Most of what she has written is in line with the Marc Cooper/Time Magazine “balanced” journalism approach to Hugo Chavez. You mentions a couple of good things about the subject and then heap a ton of abuse.

Wilentz’s shoes have apparently been filled by somebody named Kathie Klarreich, who has written for Time Magazine herself, the Christian Science Monitor and been a reporter for NPR. Exactly the background one might expect.

In the current online edition of the Nation, there’s an article by her titled “The Fight for Haiti” that states:

“The most polarizing figure in Haiti’s recent political arena, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had twice won the presidency and had twice been forced out, first in a 1991 military coup d’état seven months after taking office and then again in 2004, two years shy of the end of his five-year term. Although the former president currently lives in exile in South Africa with his wife and two daughters, the distance hasn’t diminished his influence on the Haitian political scene. He remains wildly popular at the same time that he is feared and despised, a contradiction that accurately reflects Haiti’s fractured society and that was played out again in the allegiances of the thirty-three presidential candidates.”

Of course Aristide has been “polarizing”. That is like saying that two men kissing on the quad at Oral Roberts University is polarizing. If you don’t want to be polarizing figure in Haiti, just accept the continued super-exploitation of 95 percent of the population with equanimity. Despite being a priest, Aristide would have none of that.

She also writes:

“How things play out over the next five years depends in large part on Préval’s leadership, which doesn’t seem to be a trait critics and even some of his friends say is strongly developed, yet was evidenced in his handling of the electoral crisis. While he is credited with building roads, beginning the implementation of a national agrarian reform program and lowering the price of fertilizer during his 1996-2001 term, he was also perceived as a puppet of Tabarre, the area where Aristide settled after his first five-year term ended in 1996.”

You’ll note the clever formulation “puppet of Tabarre”. What does this mean exactly? That Tabarre is infiltrating Haiti? This kind of language, of course, is exactly what you learn to use at whorehouses like Time Magazine. Why Nation Magazine editors permit is another question altogether.

Two customer reviews on amazon.com of David Horowitz’s “The Professors”

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

One Star
Close, but no falafels, February 22, 2006
Reviewer: Gen. JC Christian, patriot

I studied under one of the professors profiled in this book. It was during the eighties. He was truly an evil man, always running down President Reagan’s support of the Salvadoran death squads. He gave me an F on a paper I almost finished. He also laughed when I said that Daniel Ortega was possessed by Satan.

It got worse after that. He started to look at me in a strange way. I couldn’t break his gaze no matter how much I tried. I now realized that he was using his special powers to turn me into a communist.

I eventfully grew out my hair, bought a beret and fatigues, and told everyone to call me Che. That confused a lot of my friends. They couldn’t understand why Che would accessorize his uniform with a bright red feather boa. I tried to explain that red was the color of revolution, but they just couldn’t get it.

They finally abandoned me when they caught me painting the Alpha Gamma Rho goat red while whistling the Internationale and wearing a crimson bra and panties. They really hated Stanford.

Anyway, Mr. Horowitz failed to mention the mind control this professor exercised over students like me. That’s the most important part of the story. I can’t give the book more than one star.

===

One Star
Not Hard Enough!!!, February 23, 2006
Reviewer: Philbert Suggs

I’m a patriotic, right-wing Christian and an avid biblical styled animal killer for sports. These are my values and these are my valuables!! And while I agree with David Horowitz’s premise, his book does not ever once go deep enough into the darkness that is the academic world of academia.

These teachers and professors are pro terrorists, anti soldier, and many of them actual murderers and dozens upon dozens are child molesters who are protected by a veil of secrecy that covers the face of their identities and hides their eyes from the those needing to look at them in the eyes and see who they are looking at!!

The problem really lies in the fact that the majority of students are passive and are easily indocrinated into the left-winging world of socialness and pacifisting! Both philosophies which destroyed great strong European societies, including our own very own U S of A!

Mr. Horowitz never goes into any of these evils, he barely touches the texture of the skin on the surface of the arm that may one day try and block our rights to bare arms!!!. Instead he lashes out at many issues, but also never lashes out at the horrors of teaching kids today about the peace and social justice movements!! Why…why not show these movements for what they are??? Why not show and discuss the thousands of professors who teach not only the history of these sissy and freedom stomping ideologies.

One of the main problems of this book is that David never ever never explains really why their are so many filthy lefties teaching in the colleges today. Or the Universities!! Its because they are disgusting pedophiles who would rather brain wash the children than make money. These type of anti-capitalists are never really concerened about becoming a millionaire or owning a large corporation that makes products that keep our society strong and on the move….like a merry go round that can’t be stopped!!!!

Take a look at the successful men of the Wall Street….you won’t find a liberal amongst them!!! Why??? Because they would RATHER DO… THAN TEACH…and the doers are doing it for themselves!!!!!! That is what power and this country is about!!!

I’m only giving this book one star also because David H never goes into the issue about hunting either!! He never sites that 99% of most professors (if not some of them) are against killing animals for the pleasure we sportsMAN achieve hunting for pleasure achieving!! Its part of our right-wing God given heritage of Dominion!! God gave Americans Dominion and the liberals want to turn back the clock to some ideal time in the future where everyone including animals will be happy!

Come on David, your ideas are good…close even, but you’re way off target!

I’m with you in spirit ( although your last name sounds a bit jewish) butt you need to be more John McCarthy on these liberal anti gun anti violence types and less, way less Paul McCartney.

That’s all I got!

God Bless America!!!!

Carlin Romano: racist

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:35 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on February 23, 2006

Each day I take a look at Denis Dutton’s “Arts and Letters Daily” to keep up to date with what’s on the front burner of an important segment of the conservative movement, although one that does not enjoy as high a profile as Fox News, David Horowitz’s Frontpage, etc.

Dutton is a fellow traveler of Frank Furedi’s libertarian sect in Great Britain that is grouped around spiked-online.com. Like Furedi, Dutton is a big fan of DDT, “development” in the Amazon rainforest, the importance of High Culture, etc. Basically we are talking about a rather toxic mixture of ABC television’s John Stossel, infamous for his “news” reports on the dangers of organic food, etc. and Hilton Kramer’s New Criterion.

Dutton, a smooth operator, sold his website to the Chronicle of Higher Education a few years ago for more than a million dollars reportedly. This was a time of superinflated dot.com stocks. I doubt that anybody would now pay 10 cents for this idiotic website.

Today, Dutton has a link to an article that appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Carlin Romano, their staff book reviewer who is also a frequent contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Since Romano has never struck me as a screaming lunatic in the Dutton/Furedi mold, I was curious what earned him a link in aldaily.com.

Apparently, Romano has joined the Islamophobic current now coalescing around the Danish cartoons controversy. In an article titled “Author sees growing Muslim enclaves hoping to rule Europe,” Romano finds much to agree with in Bruce Bawer’s “While Europe Slept How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within,” the subject of his review. Romano also reports on Alan Jamieson’s “Faith and Sword: A Short History of Christian-Muslim Conflict” and Efraim Karsh’s “Islamic Imperialism: A History” (Karsh is a long-time Zionist apologist).

Bawer, according to Romano, is a gay, neoconservative American literary critic from New York who has lived in Amsterdam. This might ring a bell. Pim Fortuyn was another Dutch gay who considered Moslems a threat, stating “if it were legally possible, I’d say no more Muslims should ever enter this country” Gay Islamophobia is a growing phenomenon internationally apparently. In Great Britain, Peter Tatchell has charged George Galloway with homophobia despite a voting record on gay rights that is quite progressive. Tatchell’s slanders have been picked up in the USA by Doug Ireland who repeats them on his blog.

This trope about Islam boring away from within is of course a throwback to the 1950s when there was a red under every bed and when films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” played the same sort of role as the Arab-bashing “True Lies” and “Rules of Engagement” play today.

Romano writes that “Karsh and Jamieson serve up further uncomfortable tidbits.” What might be uncomfortable to Romano? Forcing polygamy on Christians? Burning Jews at the stake? Here’s what he is worried about: “The great English historian Edward Gibbon thought Arabic might have become the language of Oxford and Cambridge if Charles Martel’s Frankish army hadn’t stopped an expansionist Arab force at Poitiers in 732.”

Oooh, what a scary idea. Speaking Arabic! One wonders if Romano has any idea of the manner in which the filthy Islamic hordes ruled in Spain.

British historian Stanley Lane-Pool has written:

“For nearly eight centuries, under the Mohamedan rule, Spain set all Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened state. Her fertile provinces rendered doubly prolific, by the industrious engineering skill of the conquerors bore fruit a hundredfold, cities innumerable sprang up in the rich valleys in the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana whose names, and names only commemorate the vanished glories of their past.

“…To Cordoba belong all the beauty and ornaments that delight the eye or dazzle the sight. Her long line of Sultans form her crown of glory; her necklace is strung with the pearls which her poets have gathered from the ocean of language; her dress is of the banners of learning, well-knit together by her men of science; and the masters of every art and industry are the hem of her garments.

“Art, literature and science prospered as they then prospered nowhere else in Europe…

“Mathematics, astronomy, botany, history, philosophy and jurisprudence were to be mastered in Spain, and Spain alone. Whatever makes a kingdom great and prosperous, whatever tends to refinement and civilization, was found in Muslim Spain…”

(Introduction to “The Moors in Spain”)

Romano continues:

According to Bawer, liberals in Europe, even more than their American counterparts, want to believe that most Muslim immigrants share Western middle-class goals: a safe place to live, opportunities for their children, and the like. That accounts, Bawer argues, for the odd mix in their attitudes to Muslims: joy in the “multiculturalism” that makes their previously homogeneous societies more “colorful,” and a nativist desire to keep Muslims in their place as exotica.

Bawer asserts that the reality – confirmed for him by the resistance of European Muslims to assimilation, and the marked presence in their communities of honor killings, homophobia, polygamy, marital rape, forced marriage, and intolerance of democracy and pluralism – is that European Muslim leaders, with demographics on their side, still harbor the millennial hope of taking power in Europe, and see the European attitude as both weak and hostile. It is “political correctness,” Bawer writes, that has “gotten Europe into its current mess.”

There you have it in all its glory. Naked racism vomited on the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer from the literary critic of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the preeminent trade publication of American colleges.

Images of dark-skinned men on the prowl with “demographics on their side”, who are “rapists” and who want to take power… Where does this come from? It is basically the same sort of filth that was found in the segregationist press during Jim Crow. Romano even repeats the kind of rhetoric that prevented Blacks from having the vote in the Deep South: “To whom does any country’s physical territory belong? Those who have been there longest? A simple majority? The best-educated?” Maybe the Danes should use property rights to makes sure that only good white people can vote.

February 21, 2006

French Trotskyism

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on February 21, 2006

Although Trotskyism as an organized tendency has pretty much disappeared, France is one place where it still seems to have a presence based on the evidence of 12 new books on the topic ranging from memoir to scholarly (and less than scholarly) material published there recently. In an article that raises leftist-spotting to the level of the sublime, British SWP leader Ian Birchall reviews them in the latest HM magazine. With no particular ax to grind, a dry British wit, and a flair for the bon mot, Birchall is just the right choice for the assignment despite interjecting his own silly state capitalist prejudices from time to time.

A word or two of introduction might be in order. There are 3 significant Trotskyist currents in France. One is the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) that is led by philosophy professor Daniel Bensaïd and that was a long-time supporter of the Ernest Mandel wing of the Fourth International. The next is the Courant Communiste Internationaliste, led by Pierre Lambert. During the 1950s, Lambert was allied with James P. Cannon and Gerry Healy against the Mandel forces, who they accused of adapting to Stalinism. The last is Lutte Ouvrière (LO), a group that has never made any attempts to project itself as part of a genuine Fourth International internationally and that has a strong orientation to trade unions that some might describe as “workerist”. In recent years, the LCR and LO have run joint electoral campaigns, capitalizing on the fact that about 10 percent of the French electorate show a willingness to vote for Trotskyist candidates.

Christophe Nick’s “Les Trotskistes” is a 583 page mess, from all appearances. It is filled with factual errors and misspellings. Max Shachtman comes out Max Chatman, which evokes for Birchall “the horrifying thought of a Shachtmanite chatroom.” Nick sounds basically like a David Horowitz clone, writing that “The Trotskyists are said to have placed their men in all the positions of power that seem to them to be of strategic importance.” Such an observation, and something that has a lot to do with the marketability of the books under review, would be borne out by the fact that Lionel Jospin was “exposed” as a member of the Lambertiste group while many of the editorial staff at Le Monde were members of the LCR in their youth.

Birchall describes Nick’s witch-hunting proclivities as follows:

“We are frequently reminded that we are never more than five metres from a rat. Apparently, the Trotskyists are nearly as close. (Rats are also reputed to be able to swim up sewers and bite our buttocks when we are sitting on the toilet; whether any Trotskyist group has yet perfected this technique is unclear.)”

Frederic Charpier’s “Histoire de l’extrême gauche trotskiste” is another redbaiting exercise with even more bizarre interpretations. Trotsky is depicted as doing “entryism” in the Bolshevik party, etc.

Despite having been a member of Lambert’s group for 5 years, Philippe Campinchi’s “Les lambertistes” is cut from the same cloth as Nick and Charpier’s books, while openly trying to cash in on the lurid “exposés” noted above: Birchall’s review copy had a bright red band around the cover marked ‘The former party of Lionel Jospin.’ Nearly everything that the Lambertistes are up to is regarded as sinister, including the posting of a security guard in front of their headquarters. Birchall notes that perhaps they do not want “simple citizens inflamed with curiosity by Campinchi’s books trampling through their offices.”

“Le veritable histoire de Lutte Ouvrière” is a series of interviews with LO leader Robert Barcia (alias Hardy). Barcia is an old-timer apparently, having spent time in prison during the German occupation. Although Birchall finds Barcia’s recollections of such events interesting, he is less taken with what he perceives as a tendency to cling to Trotskyist dogma. In particular, he takes umbrage at Barcia’s badmouthing of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group (Soub) that was led by Cornelius Castoriadis and that included Jean-Francois Lyotard in its ranks at one time. Soub’s sin, it seems, was clinging to the belief that the USSR was “state capitalist”.

It is not surprising that all of these Trotskyist groups suffer in comparison to Birchall’s:

Over thirty years ago, I attended part of an LO editorial board meeting, and I still recall Hardy haranguing members of his own leadership about how they did not appreciate what a hard time the working class had of it.

Hence the description of LO members as ‘soldier-monks’ is not wholly unfair. For the revolutionary organisation is a necessarily small group of hyperactive militants. Necessarily small, because only in a revolutionary situation will the vast majority of workers abandon their everyday pursuits in favour of politics. The revolutionary organisation is not part of the class – ‘the companion in struggle’ as Tony Cliff argued that genuine Marxists should be – but is composed of outsiders, who support workers’ struggles, aim to educate the class, but remain separate from it. (A similar view prevailed in the Lambertist organisation, summed up by Benjamin Stora as ‘the mysterious world … of the party, separated from the rest of society, but able to enlighten and organise it’ [p. 65]. If this view of the party can claim support from the Lenin of 1902, it gets none at all from the Lenin of 1905 or 1917.)

This explains LO’s notorious position of discouraging its members from having children. As Hardy puts it:

“It is scarcely possible to rear children properly and give them the affection and attention they require while at the same time leading the life of a militant at a certain level of activity.”

I must add the American SWP, which long ago disassociated itself completely from the task of constructing a Fourth International, had informal anti-children policies even more draconian than LO’s: one woman was expelled for breast-feeding at a branch meeting and another was encouraged to get an abortion so that she would be free to do political work.

“Itinéraires” is a series of dialogues between Pierre Lambert and Daniel Gluckstein, his heir apparent. We learn from Birchall that the two are contemptuous of NGO’s, antiglobalization groups like ATTAC and the campaign for the Tobin tax but he criticizes them for refusing to engage with the people involved in such efforts. (Although I have respect for the British SWP’s antiwar work, I was far less impressed with their tendency–and that of the LCR–to tail “antiglobalization” campaigns, especially the ill-fated ultraleftism of the Black Bloc et al.)

There are also two books on the Trotskyist movement from the LCR and the Lambertistes respectively: “Les trotskysmes” by Daniel Bensaïd and “Le trotskysme et les trotskystes” by Jean-Jacques Marie. Bensaïd’s use of the plural is mildly provocative, according to Birchall. I myself find it in keeping with his generally donnish approach to politics, which is in full display in his response to John Holloway, also contained in the current HM. I remember reading translation of Bensaïd’s articles in the debates within the Fourth International in the 1970s and always wondered why he couldn’t express himself in a straightforward manner.

In Birchall’s view, Bensaïd comes across less dogmatic–no doubt a function of devoting four pages to a “generally fair summary” of Tony Cliff’s theory of state capitalism and insisting that it remains within the “parameters of Trotskyism”. In light of this, it should not come as a big surprise that the LCR and the British SWP have conducted some tentative regroupment type discussions. And not surprisingly, they have led nowhere.

Michael Lequenne’s “Le Trotskysme sans fard” (Unvarnished Trotskyism) focuses on the 1944 to 1960 period. Birchall regards his account of the 1952 split to be the most important part of the book even though Pablo’s famous “entryist” tactic into the French Communist Party was far less momentous than actually projected. After winning a battle to implement the line, only seven comrades were available to carry out the assignment. Birchall describes this as a “massive gap between grandiose perspectives and real capabilities”, which in some ways can be described as the epitaph of the Trotskyist movement.

Benjamin Stora’s “La derniére generation d’octobre” is a memoir of his life in the Lambertiste movement. Comrades might recall his name from a query posted to the list last year about histories of Algeria and the war of independence. Stora is considered one of the top scholars in the field. Frankly, it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that he was a full-time organizer for the Lambertistes in the 1970s since his book on Algeria seems fairly devoid of a sharp class analysis. This is not to say that he has turned his back on his past as his comments on the Jospin affair should indicate:

“Militancy remains a period of my life which I do not repudiate. I retain a nostalgia for these youthful commitments, as though they were a ‘paradise lost’…. Today I see my commitment as a mixture of idealism and blindness, of romanticism and a disturbing desire for purity, intelligence and dogmatism.”

Bensaïd has his own memoir, titled “Une lente impatience” (A Slow Impatience). It reveals living under the shadow of the Holocaust. (I was somewhat surprised to discover that he was Jewish since he was always understood by American Trotskyists as North African and presumably Moslem.)

As a clue to understanding the flirtation (but no consummation!) between the LCR and the British SWP, here’s Birchall’s account of a possible area of agreement:

“But Bensaïd is less helpful in disentangling the main lines of revolutionary strategy in the thirty-six years since 1968. Without raking over the debate about the class nature of Russia, he nonetheless believes that the events of 1989 were a ‘historic defeat for the working-class movement’ (pp. 370-1). And, despite a reference to Castro’s ‘outbursts of senile megalomania’, he still finds something progressive in Cuban society (pp’ 368-9).”

Senile megalomania?

Like this?

This insensitive world that spends one trillion dollars each year on the military –it’s already two trillion– this insensitive world that extracts various trillions of dollars a year from the impoverished masses, from the immense majority of this planet’s inhabitants, remains indifferent when it is told that around 100,000 people have died, among them maybe 25,000 or 30,000 children, or that there are 100,000 injured, and the large majority is suffering from bone fractures in their arms and legs of which barely 10% have been operated on, that there are children with mutilated limbs, and young people, women and men, old people.

This is the kind of world we are living in. It is not a world full of goodness, but a world full of egoism. It is not a world of justice, but one full of exploitation, abuse and pillage, where millions of children die every year –and they could be saved–, just because they are lacking a few cents worth of medicine, or some vitamins or re-hydration salts and a few dollars worth of food, enough for them to live. They die every year due to injustice, almost as many as died in that colossal war that I mentioned a few minutes ago.

What kind of world is this? What kind of world is this where a barbaric empire proclaims its right to launch pre-emptive attacks on 70 or more countries, and is capable of bringing death to any corner of the globe, using the most sophisticated weapons and killing techniques? It’s a world where brutality and force prevail, with hundreds of military bases on the entire planet. There is one of these on our soil, where they arbitrarily intervened after the Spanish colonial power could no longer stand by itself, and when hundreds of thousands of our country’s dearest sons –in a population of hardly a million– had perished in a long war lasting almost 30 years. And they left us with the revolting Platt Amendment, attached to an equally repugnant resolution that treacherously gave them the right to intervene in our country whenever they considered there to be a lack of order.

You know something, I am far more interested in hooking up with governments, parties and individuals who are inspired by the fact that a head of state utters such words than I am with people like Birchall and Bensaïd who regard them as “outbursts of senile megalomania”.

Shame on them.

February 20, 2006

The Devil’s Miner

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on February 20, 2006

Scheduled for release at the Cinema Village in NYC on March 17 (with other cities to follow) as well as PBS’s Independent Lens on May 23rd, “The Devil’s Miner” is a powerful study of a poverty-stricken Indian family trying to subsist on the nearly exhausted veins of the silver mines clustered around Cerro Rico (rich mountain) in Potosi, Bolivia.

The film focuses on fourteen year old Basilio Vargas and his twelve year old brother Bernandino, who have been forced to become miners after the death of their father two years earlier. Basilio makes $2.50 per day, his brother even less. Their mother Vanessa makes $12 biweekly guarding tools in a shed next to their stone hut at the top of Cerro Rico. The remaining member of the family is baby Valentina, who calls Basilio “papi”. Indeed, at the age of 14 he has been thrust into the position of being the family’s main provider as well as its emotional and psychological pillar.

As the film begins, words appear across the foreboding image of Cerro Rico indicating that 8 million miners have died due to accident or illnesses like silicosis in Bolivia’s mines since the arrival of the Spaniards. In addition, we learn that child labor is a fact of life in Potosi, where thousands of children can be found in the mines. The life expectancy of silver miners is only 35-40 years.

The film’s title derives from the statues that appear within all the mines in the area. Called “Tío”, Spanish for uncle, they represent the devil who is master of the underworld they work in daily. They offer propitiations to him in order to stave off accident and illness. We learn that the word “Tío” is a corruption of “dio”, the Spanish word for god. Basilio, who provides most of the narration in the film, explains that the Indians lacked a sound for “d”, so it came out as a “t” instead.

a Tío

Every day the miners make offerings to the devil, including coca which they all chew to ward off exhaustion brought on by high altitudes and exhaustion. Although coca is a sacrament to native peoples in Bolivia, it has also had a troubled history as a kind of crutch to support super-exploitation.

Basilio’s aspirations are quite modest. He wants to finish high school and become a teacher. He knows that the longer he stays in the mines, the less chance he has of survival. Combining personal courage and a strong sense of solidarity, directors Kief Davidson and Richard Kadkani accompany Basilio and Bernandino into the mines as they drill holes into the shaft to be stuffed with explosives. On one occasion, as the two boys are taking a break, they hear a series of explosions not far away. Since nobody has informed them that this was neither a planned detonation nor its scope, they make their way as quickly as possible to the mine’s exit with the cameramen and directors in tow. This is documentary film-making with real guts.

Despite being super-exploited, the miners of Cerro Rico have a strong sense of pride. They are deeply aware of their history and their role in producing the country’s wealth, even if they don’t enjoy their fair share. The older men tutor Basilio in the fine points of drilling, but hope that he can find a way to escape the mines, even if they haven’t. Their understanding of Indian oppression is keen, coming largely from tales handed down through the generations. Basilio explains how the ‘mita’ (forced labor) was used to compel the Indians into the mines, a fact that generally is the province of Latin American studies.

Although the film makes no effort to deal with how miners have collectively resisted their oppression over the years, especially through militant trade union struggles, it is safe to assume that men who work with Basilio and his brother are part of that tradition. This might lead one to wonder how trade union or socialist consciousness can co-exist so easily with superstitions such as devil worship.

June Nash provides an explanation in “We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in the Bolivian Tin Mines”:

“The cult of the Tio reinforces the solidarity of the work group. In the prenationalization days when the team operated collectively and was paid in proportion to its output, the inner solidarity of the cuadrilla [work crew] was in opposition to the other work groups. The ch’alla [offering] was performed to wheedle more output from the devil, as each group competed with other cuadrillas. After nationalization, the individual worker was paid a basic wage regardless of the mineral produced, and solidarity included not only the entire work force of the mine but all nationalized mines. The ch’alla was more a recreation than a basis for solidarity in the productive work group. However, following the military takeover of the mines in 1965, the ch’alla was repressed along with unions and Worker Control. Workers continued to perform the ritual in secret, and these sessions become a focus for discussing the problems and struggles of the workers. Just as other pre-conquest rituals, such as the warming of the earth ceremonies at the fiesta of San Juan, became more explicitly the ritual expression of the desire to live, to multiply, and to enhance the reproductive and productive sources of life, so did the ch’alla. The resistance to military repression by men and women of the mining community came from these deep wells of cultural identity that gave them a sense of worth and the will to survive when they recognized the genocidal power of the Barrientos regime.”

The Devil’s Miner website: http://www.thedevilsminer.com/index_new.html

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