Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 31, 2006

Four Documentary Shorts

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 31, 2006

Four documentary shorts nominated by this year's Academy Awards can be seen now at NYC's Cinema Village and in other theaters around the country. They all involve topics of interest to progressives.

The first is titled "The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang-Bang Club." It is a profile of a South African photojournalist who committed suicide two months after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. He was 33 years old at the time of his death. Although it is impossible to fully convey the complexities of such a character in a 27 minute film, suffice it to say that Carter was a tortured soul who always questioned the ethics of his profession even though it was clear that he hated oppression of all sorts. When he was in the Sudan taking pictures of starving villagers, he apparently had little interest in what became of an emaciated girl who was standing practically under the shadow of a vulture after capturing her on film. Some of his colleagues actually compared him to the vulture, even though this is not mentioned in the film. Shortly before taking his life, he wrote "I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners . . . "

The next film is titled "God Sleeps in Rwanda" and it is a grim account of life for women in post-Genocide Rwanda. It reveals that in a bitterly ironic twist, women have enjoyed a certain kind of emancipation in this period since they have been called upon to take jobs formerly restricted to men. Given the shortage of men following the bloodbath, women have become farmers, cops, judges, medical practitioners, etc. Women have responded in unexpected ways to the brutal consequences of rape, which was a central feature of the Hutu assault. Some mothers, who lost all their children to mob violence, have decided to give birth to children fathered by Hutu militia men. They explained that all children are innocent and are in need of love. When contrasted to the sanctimony of the anti-abortion Christian right in the USA, such women are a tower of virtue.

"The Mushroom Club" is an extremely powerful study of the lingering impact of radiation on the lives of people in Hiroshima today. Although modern Hiroshima seems little interested in what happened in 1945, there are activists and victims of the bombing who will not forget. We learn that there was a big problem with denial on the part of the Japanese government which refused to acknowledge that birth defects were a product of radiation. An elderly Japanese man, whose wife was pregnant in 1945, describes the burdens of raising a disabled child with no financial support from the authorities. On a more positive note, the film demonstrates that such children are making the best of their lives today, just as disabled people have learned to do worldwide under the impact of a new social movement that fights for their rights.

The last film won the academy award for best short documentary. "A Note Of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin" tells the story of the grand master of radio drama. During the 30s and 40s, Corwin wrote, produced and directed dozens of radio plays that featured some of the outstanding talent of that era, including Orson Welles, Charles Laughton and Gary Cooper. Although the film does not really provide much in the way of political context, it is obvious that Corwin was a product of what Marxist scholar Michael Denning called the "Cultural Front," which was the extremely broad movement of artists and writers grouped around the CPUSA and the Roosevelt administration.

His 1939 "They Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease" is a stinging attack on Italian fascism inspired by Corwin's reaction to his reaction to Mussolini’s son, a pilot, exulting over bombs dropped on the Ethiopians. He described the sight of the exploding bombs as "beautiful" in much the same way that the Robert Duvall character claimed that he loved the smell of napalm in the morning in "Apocalypse Now."

Corwin was hired by CBS along with Orson Welles and John Houseman in 1938 in order to bring quality drama to the air waves. Welles and Houseman were associated with the left-leaning Mercury Theater. Corwin had come to CBS's attention after producing arts and poetry programs on WQXR in New York.

Corwin would enlist the talents of a virtual who's who of the cultural left in the 1940s, including E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Earl Robinson, Millard Lampell and Josh White. In 1947 he produced "Hollywood Fights Back" that was an early response to HUAC witch-hunting. The Hollywood cast included Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, and Burt Lancaster. From New York: John Garfield, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, and Senator Wayne Morse.

In a few short years, Corwin's career was over. The documentary attributes this to his inability to find himself in television, a new medium, in more or less the same manner one might surmise that Buster Keaton failed to adapt to "talkies".

I can only wonder, however, if the witch-hunt had more to do with his declining fortunes.

 

Corwin survived all that and is still alive and active at the age of 95. He teaches journalism at the University of Southern California and attended the Academy Awards this year where he was photographed with George Clooney, who in his own way is demonstrating that Hollywood still fights back.

Norman Corwin website: http://www.normancorwin.com/

Screening information: http://www.apollocinema.com/oscars06/showtimes.asp

 

March 30, 2006

Common Dreams xenophobia

Filed under: immigration — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 30, 2006

On today's Common Dreams website (a pro-Democratic Party outlet founded by nonprofit foundation entrepreneur Don Hazen), there's a completely rancid article on immigration written by Thom Hartmann, an Air America radio host and author of such groundbreaking books as "Focus Your Energy", which is described on his website as a way to succeed in business even if you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Just what suffering humanity has been waiting for. Although I lack the patience to do a thorough study of Hartmann-thought, he strikes me as a combination of New Age hustler and woozy-headed liberal.

He basically describes "illegal immigration" as a corporatist plot to keep the wages of U.S. workers down. In order for him to establish his progressive bona fides, he invokes the late Cesar Chavez as an ally:

"The reason why thirty years ago United Farm Workers' Union (UFW) founder Caesar Chávez fought against illegal immigration, and the UFW turned in illegals during his tenure as president, was because Chávez, like progressives since the 1870s, understood the simple reality that labor rises and falls in price as a function of availability."

Actually, as Hartmann acknowledges in the very next paragraph, the actions were taken against scabs: "In 1969, Chávez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valley to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of illegal aliens as temporary replacement workers during a strike."

At any rate, given the sad state of the UFW as documented in the recent LA Times series, the last thing one would want to do is build a progressive politics based on uncritically accepting whatever Cesar Chavez did.

Hartmann believes that the elevated status of the American working class is attributable to some degree by its ability to exclude immigrants from the dining table. "[T]hey limited labor-hours by supporting laws that would regulate immigration into the United States to a small enough flow that it wouldn't dilute the unionized labor pool." Yes, we don't want to dilute our precious stock, do we?

Hartmann cites a wikipedia article to back up his argument: "The first laws creating a quota for immigrants were passed in the 1920s, in response to a sense that the country could no longer absorb large numbers of unskilled workers, despite pleas by big business that it wanted the new workers."

This dingbat doesn't seem to understand that this "sense" was driven by racism and xenophobia and not out of any desire that native workers get a better life.

"The eugenics movement persuaded policy-makers in the United States — the nation of immigrants — that unrestricted immigration was a serious threat to the nation's health. In 1924, the government passed the Johnson Act, setting limits on the number of immigrants who could come here from various nations. The limits were designed to encourage immigration from northern Europe and to discourage immigration from the rest of the world, southern Europe included. The law was effective; the number of immigrants plummeted.

"The Johnson Act turned out to be one of the most lethal bills ever passed. Fifteen years after its passage, Jews trying to escape from Nazi Germany were refused asylum in America. It is not possible to know how many Jews would have fled to the United States if they had been welcome. Of the six million Jews who died under Hitler, would 10,000 have been saved by a more hospitable policy? Would half a million people have been saved?"

Full: http://www.eugenics-watch.com/roots/chap04.html

Continuing along in his racist and ignorant fashion, Hartmann writes:

"At the same time, there are between seven and fifteen million working illegal immigrants diluting our labor pool. [Don't you love it how he is so fixated on "dilution"? Somehow I am reminded of Jack D. Ripper and his worries about "precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove.]

"If illegal immigrants could no longer work, unions would flourish, the minimum wage would rise, and oligarchic nations to our south would have to confront and fix their corrupt ways."

Excuse my profanity, but this is unvarnished bullshit.

Unions can only begin to flourish when they understand that all working people have the same class interests. Some of the most positive steps taking place in the union movement today are the direct result of the participation of "illegal immigrants" as this 3/15/2001 Christian Science Monitor article demonstrates:

Jerry Dominguez can often be found wandering the streets of New York. On this winter afternoon he stops outside a West Side grocery store where a Mexican worker is tending buckets of bright flowers.

"How much do you make here, amigo?" he asks. "How many hours do you work here?"

It turns out the worker, whose name is Elias, earns less than the minimum wage, but doesn't complain out of fear of deportation. He is exactly what Mr. Dominguez is looking for.

The founder of the Mexican-American Workers' Association, Dominguez is on the front lines of an unusual union-organizing campaign. His recruits are the largely invisible people who work long days and nights for meager pay and no benefits – the estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Mexican immigrants like Elias who work in New York.

After decades of seeing undocumented immigrants as the enemy of working-class Americans – taking valuable jobs – unions are beginning to embrace small organizing initiatives among foreign workers in a quest to expand union ranks.

Last April, more than 8,000 Los Angeles janitors, mostly undocumented Hispanics, joined the Service Employees International Union and won a pay increase of 26 percent over three years.

Simultaneously, the powerful AFL-CIO – long one of the groups most vociferous about the threat posed by illegal immigrants – reversed its position on key issues involving foreign workers. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called for an amnesty for America's 6 million illegals and an end to sanctions against employers who hire them.

Now, some unions are trying to organize undocumented workers by launching neighborhood-to-neighborhood campaigns like the one here in New York, recalling organizing efforts of 50 years ago.

"They're now going back to the model of making coalitions in communities," says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor expert at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

March 29, 2006

Enlightenment racism

Filed under: racism — louisproyect @ 3:08 pm

Selection from Kant's writings in Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, "Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader", pp. 58-64:

1. From Eze's preface to the selection:

While Kant himself edited for publication his lectures in anthropology (Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View), he wrote, concerning his lectures in geography, "it will not be possible, considering my age, to produce a compendium from my manuscript." The following excerpts are taken therefore from a posthumous edition of Kant's lectures, Political Geography, in volumes 2 and 8 of Kant's Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Reimer, 1900-66). In addition to insightful observations about Africa, Kant's opinions on the geographical distribution of peoples ("the tallest and most beautiful people…are on the parallel which runs through Germany") and his hierarchically arranged "innate" characteristics of the races ("The inhabitant of the temperate parts of the world, above all the central part, has a more beautiful body, works harder, is more jocular, more controlled in his passions, more intelligent than any other race of people in the world" or "Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites") remain the same as in the Observations.

—-

2. The selection drawn from "FROM PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY; ON COUNTRIES THAT ARE KNOWN AND UNKNOWN TO EUROPEANS; AFRICA":

Another object which interests the archeologists would be a more precise knowledge of Egypt. Besides, Africa deserves the most careful investigation, and it seems to have been better known by the ancients in its interior than by us, because they traveled more by land. Even many of the coastlines of this continent are still unknown today to the Europeans, and the center of the continent completely eludes our gaze. It is only Egypt that we know somewhat more exactly, but even here what we know is extremely little.

We have reason to assume the existence of a significant lake in Africa into which the eastern, and not as otherwise believed the western, branch of the Niger river flows. Incidentally, we also come across the largest and most beautiful animals on this continent as well as the best plants. According to some accounts, timid Portuguese believed the most beautiful interior parts of Africa to be peopled with [African] cannibals who even fattened humans up for slaughter. However, we should not attach credibility to such fables so easily because experience has taught us that these people only slaughter their prisoners of war whom they capture while still alive, and then with great ceremony. . . Whenever [Europeans] did not know much about the country, someone would say that it was inhabited by cannibals, despite the fact that there are very few of these kinds of people or even more correctly, none at all.

The number of names of countries and towns on the map of Africa is quite considerable; but one would be much mistaken if one were to believe that wherever there is a name there are inhabitants. . . The reason that the interior of Africa is so unknown to us, as if they were countries of the moon, lies far more with us Europeans than with the Africans, in that we have made ourselves suspects through slave trade. The coast of Africa is, in fact, visited by Europeans; but these journeys are very violent because Europeans carry away each year between 60,000 and 000 Negroes to America. Thus it has come to pass that even until modern times hardly 30 miles from the coast into the of this continent is known to Europeans…

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION OF HUMANS

If we begin with the inhabitants of the icy zones, we find that their color approaches that of the inhabitants of the hot zones. The Samoyeds, the Danish and Swedish Lapplanders, the Greenlanders, and those who live in the icy zone of America have a brown facial color and black hair. Here great cold appears have the same effect as great heat. Like the people in the hot his of the world they also have a very sparse beard. Their build like that of a tree-trunk. It is small, their legs are short, they have a broad and flat face and a large mouth.

Those who live closest to them in the temperate zones (except the Kalmucks and the peoples related to their tribe) have a blond or brownish hair and skin color and are greater in stature. The and most beautiful people on dry land are on the parallel the degrees which run through Germany. . . In the northern parts of Mongolia, Kashmir, Georgia, Mingrelien, and Circassien far as the British-American colonies, one finds people of blond color, well formed, with blue eyes. The further south one goes, there increases the brunette color, the thinness, and the small stature which degenerates into the Indian-yellow or Moorish figure.

One can say that the only true Negroes are in Africa and New Guinea. Not just the evenly smoked-black color but also the black woolly hair, the broad face, the flat nose, and the thick lips constitute the characteristics of these people, in addition to clumsy large bones. In Asia these blacks have neither the deep black color nor the woolly hair, unless they are descended from people who have been brought over from Africa. There is no native black person in America, where the facial color is copper and the hair is straight. However there are large groups of descendants of the African slaves.

In Africa one calls Moors those brown people who are descendants of the Mauren. The actual black people are the Negroes. The above-mentioned Moors stretch along the coast of Barbary to Senegal. In comparison, from there to Gambia are the blackest Moors, but also the most beautiful in the world, above all the Wolofs. The Fuli are black-brown. On the Gold Coast they are not so black and have very thick lips. Those from Congo and Angola to Cape Negro are a little less so. The Hottentots are only black-brown but they have an otherwise quite Moorish appearance. On the other side (of the Cape). namely the eastern side, the Caffers like the Abyssinians, are not true Negroes.

A FEW CURIOSITIES ABOUT THE BLACKS

1) The Negroes are born white apart from their genitals and a ring around the navel, which are black. During the first months of life the black color spreads out from these parts over the whole body.

2) When a Negro burns himself the spot turns white. Long illnesses also turn the Negroes quite white; but a body that has become white through illness turns blacker in death than it ever was before.

3) The Europeans who live in this hot belt of the world do not become Negroes after many generations but rather retain their European figure and color. The Portuguese on Cape Verde, who should become Negroes in 200 years, are Mulattos.

4) The Negroes, if they do not mix with white people, remain over many generations Negroes, even in Virginia.

5) White and black mixed produces Mulattos. The children that the latter have with whites are called in Spanish America Terzerons; their children out of a marriage with a white person a Quarteron, their children with whites Quinteron, and their children with whites are then once again called white. However, when a Terzeron marries a Mulatto woman, the children are generated backwards along this color-chain.

6) The inhabitants of the Cordilleren resemble the Europeans; in Ethiopia, they look brown. Occasionally there are white Moors or Albinos who come from black parents. They are Moorish in figure, have curly, snow-white, woolly hair, are pale and can only see in moonlight.

7) The Moors, like all inhabitants of the hot zones have a thick skin; when one disciplines them, one cannot hit with sticks but rather whip with split canes, so that the blood finds a way out and does not suppurate under the skin.

OPINIONS ON THE ORIGIN OF BLACKNESS

Some people imagine that Ham is the father of the Moors and that God made him black as a punishment which now all his descendants have inherited. However, one can provide no proof of why the color black should be the mark of a curse in a more fitting fashion than the color white.

Many physicians believe that the color black comes from the epidermis and the black substance of which it is stained. Still others trace it to the reticular membrane. Because the color of mans goes through all the shades of yellow, brown and dark until it becomes black in the hot parts of the earth, it is clear that the reason for it is the hot climate. However, it is certain that a great number of generations has been needed for to become part of the species and hereditary.

It appears that the drying up [by the hot sun] of the vessels at carry the blood and serum under the skin brings about the tic of a beard and the short curly hair. Likewise, because the sunlight that falls through the surface skin into the dried up vessels eats up the reticular membrane, there arises the appearance of a black color.

How such a coincidental thing as color could, however, become part of a species cannot be explained so easily. But one sees from other examples that this is the situation in other parts of nature. The reason why some hens become quite white in color can be explained by the difference in food, air and the way in which they are raised; and if one chooses only the white chicks from the many chicks that come from one set of parents and puts them together, one finally achieves a white race — a result which does not easily turn out differently. Is this not the way that English and Arabian or Spanish horses raised on dry land generate themselves, so that they finally create foals of a quite different build? All dogs that are brought from Europe to Africa become dumb and bald and produce only similar offspring thereafter. Similar changes occur with sheep, cows and other species of animal. The fact that Moors occasionally have a white child happens for the same reason that, now and again, there appears a white raven, a white crow or blackbird.

The fact that it is the heat of the area — rather than a particular set of parents — that causes blackness can be seen by the fact that in the same country [Africa] those that live in the flat parts are far blacker than those who live in the high altitudes. That is why the blacker people live in Senegal than in Congo, and blacker people live in Angola than in Upper Ethiopia or in Abyssinia.

INNATE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE HUMAN BEING CONSIDERED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE WORLD

All oriental nations that lie towards the East on the meridian of Bengal have something of the Kalmucks or Tartars about them. They are made in the following way: a face that is wide on top and narrow and flat below, almost no protruding nose, very small eyes, very thick eyebrows, black hair, thin and sparse tufts of hair instead of a beard and short legs with fat calves. Shaped in this manner are the eastern Tartars, the Chinese, the Arak, the Siamese, the Japanese, etc., although they all make themselves more beautiful on occasion.

Without taking any notice of the superstitious opinions about the origins of certain forms [Bildungen] one can make only the following remark with certainty: namely, that in this area of Meliapur on the Coromandel coast, there are many people with very fat legs. A few sensible travelers trace the fat legs to the constitution of the water, in the same way as goiters in the Tyrol and Salzburg are similarly supposed to stem from the water, which contains sinter. The giants of Patagonia are, at least as a people of giants, fictitious. The same fictitious origin could be ascribed to the people with raw and huge lips that are supposed to live in Senegal, who hold a cloth in front of the mouth and communicate without speech. The people Plinius spoke of, the one-eyed, bumpy, one-footed people without a mouth, dwarves and the like, also belong to this category.

The inhabitants of the coast of New Holland have half-closed eyes and cannot see into the distance without tilting their heads right back. They accustom themselves to this because of the many mosquitoes that are always flying into their eyes. Some peoples, like the Moors of Sierra Leone and the Mongols who are within the area of China, spread an evil smell.

Among the Hottentots, as Kolbe reports, many women develop a piece of leather on their pubic bone which partially covers their reproductive organs, and which they are supposed to cut off from time to time. Ludolph reports the same of many Egyptian (Ethiopian) women. (See Le Vaillant's Travels.) The people on Formosa, in the interior of Borneo etc., who possess the beginnings of an ape's tail…seem to be not completely fictitious.

In the hot countries the human being matures in all aspects earlier, but does not, however, reach the perfection of those in the temperate zones. Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites. The yellow Indians do have a meagre talent. The Negroes are far below them and at the lowest point are a part of the American peoples.

The Moors and the other peoples between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn can run quite astonishingly. They as well as other savages have more strength than the other civilized Peoples, which stems from the free movement allowed them in their childhood. The Hottentots can perceive a ship with the naked eye at the same distance as a European can with a telescope. The women in the hottest parts of the world already produce children at the age of 9 or 10 and finish before they are 25 years old.

Don Ulloa remarks that in Cartagena in America and in the surrounding areas people become clever very early but they do not continue to grow in intelligence at the same rate. All inhabitants of the hottest zones are exceptionally lethargic. With some this laziness is somewhat mitigated by rule and force.

When an Indian sees a European going somewhere, he thinks that he has something to accomplish. When he comes back, he thinks that he has already taken care of his business, but if he sees him going out a third time he thinks that he has lost his mind, as the European is going for a walk for pleasure, which no Indian does; he is only capable of imagining it. Indians are also indecisive, and both traits belong to the nations that live very far north. The weakening of their limbs is supposedly caused by brandy, tobacco, opium and other strong things. From their timidity comes superstition, particularly in regard to magic, and the same with jealousy. Their timidity makes them into slavish underlings when they have kings and evokes an idolatrous reverence in them, just as their laziness moves them rather to run around in the forest and suffer need than to be held to their labors by the orders of their masters.

Montesquieu is correct in his judgment that the weakheartedness that makes death so terrifying to the Indian or the Negro also makes him fear many things other than death that the European can withstand. The Negro slave from Guinea drowns himself if he is to be forced into slavery. The Indian women burn themselves. The Carib commits suicide at the slightest provocation. The Peruvian trembles in the face of an enemy, and when he is led to death, he is ambivalent, as though it means nothing. His awakened imagination, however, also makes him dare to do something, but the heat of the moment is soon past and timidity resumes its old place again…

The inhabitant of the temperate parts of the world, above all the central part, has a more beautiful body, works harder, is more jocular, more controlled in his passions, more intelligent than any other race of people in the world. That is why at all points in time these peoples have educated the others and controlled them with weapons. The Romans, Greeks, the ancient Nordic peoples, Genghis Khan, the Turks, Tamurlaine, the Europeans after Columbus's discoveries, they have all amazed the southern lands with their arts and weapons.

March 28, 2006

Yang Ban Xi

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 5:08 pm

Opening at NYC's Film Forum on Wednesday, March 29, "Yang Ban Xi: The Eight Model Works" takes a fresh look at the "model opera" of the Cultural Revolution. Drawing upon interviews from both the aging participants and younger devotees of the genre, as well as excerpts from films based on the eight most famous works such as "Red Women's Detachment," it clearly demonstrates a kind of "Ostalgie" for China's revolutionary past. Since the top leadership of the Communist Party is now at least paying lip-service to their Maoist roots and calling for a halt to capitalist excess, it should not come as a surprise that the once-reviled Maoist culture is also being reevaluated in a more positive light.

Director Yan Ting Yuen was born in Hong Kong and moved to Europe with her family at the age of five. Her point of view is obviously ambivalent. Despite a clear, postmodernist distrust of propagandizing, she cannot help but make the case for works that defy her own sensibility. This tension makes for a riveting documentary.

The power of the model operas is undeniable. No matter how stilted the propaganda that comes out of the mouths of the singers, it has the same sort of raw power as some of Shostakovich's more explicitly political works. His oratorio "Song of the Forest" is an obvious inspiration for the Chinese socialist operas. Using upbeat harmonies in major keys and simple rhythms, such works can appeal to a mass audience in a way that more cerebral works cannot. The music and dance are wedded perfectly to themes involving virtuous peasants struggling collectively against evil landlords and fascists.

Yuen's interviews with some of the most famous principals of Yang Ban Xi reveal a mixture of pride and remorse. Xue Qinghua, a ballet dancer, became the lead in "Red Women's Detachment" at the age of 18. It is made clear through her reflections back on this period that she was committed to the politics even though her main goal was success on the stage, as would be the case for any young artist. After the "Gang of Four" was toppled, her career went into a tailspin because she was so closely associated with them artistically. Just as the Cultural Revolution would find scapegoats, so would the movement that replaced it. After Xue Qinghua was forced to work as a seamstress, she was denied a raise after co-workers denounced her as a collaborator with the "Gang of Four".

The "Gang of Four" included Mao's widow Jiang Qing, who serves as a kind of commentator throughout the film. Using a voice-over based on what she purportedly believed in, she comes across not surprisingly as a shrill and monochromatic dictator. Although it is difficult to make the case for her today, one might be inclined to be a bit more forgiving in light of the sheer ambition of her goal, which, as the film makes clear, was nothing less than the creation of a uniquely Chinese popular art.

Perhaps the best way to approach the model opera is in the same vein that recent scholarship on the left by people such as Alan Wald has approached socialist realism and the proletarian novel. If the tendency in the 1950s was to reject such works out of hand as kitschy or unimaginative, a second look at Mike Gold's novels, for example, reveals a powerful indigenous and authentic voice of the working class. One might encounter Chinese Maoist opera in the same terms.

That at least is how Xu Yi Hui, a young conceptual artist in Beijing, sees it. Famous for his porcelain versions of The Little Red Book, which are a postmodernist interpretation of socialist kitsch, he admits being a huge fan of the Yang Ban Xi growing up. He explains that part of the attraction was being able to watch beautiful women in revealing costumes. For pubescent youths in China at the time, these operas seemed to have served the same role that Playboy did in the U.S.

In the middle of this fascinating documentary and at its conclusion, director Yuen makes the supremely wise decision to allow young artists in China to convey her own ideas through music and dance. Using a rock adaptation of Yang Ban Xi music, a troupe of dancers does their own hip-hop interpretation.

Young dancers interpret Yang Ban Xi

Without a doubt, she has accomplished the goals set forward in the press notes that accompanied the screener I watched:

"I wish to state that I hope to create another image, that of an urbane culture in a modern China. A China that has won the Olympic Games of 2008 (and is tearing down all the old housing districts in the capital to present a clean and modern capital to the world). A China in which virtually all the teenage girls and boys drink Starbucks coffee on every street corner at a hefty price (because as an only child they each receive considerable allowances from the incomes of not only their father and mother, but also that of two pairs of grandfathers and grandmothers). A China in which nothing is allowed, but therefore everything is allowed (as long as you know the right way of getting it). A China filled with contradictions, which tries to unite the old with the new and therefore, pragmatic as it is, has to rewrite history again."

March 27, 2006

Letter to Paul Krugman on immigration

Filed under: immigration — louisproyect @ 5:47 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 27, 2006

Dear Paul Krugman,

I was dumbfounded to read your op-ed piece in the NY Times today echoing many of the themes of the nativist right.

You refer to a number of "facts" that should strengthen the case for a "need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants." They include:

1. A questioning of the economic benefits immigrants bring to the economy, which in your estimation has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent since 1980.

2. An assertion that immigrant workers have depressed the wages of unskilled native-born workers, such as U.S. high school dropouts, who would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration.

3. Worries about low-skill immigrants threatening to unravel the safety net of the U.S. welfare state by taking advantage of our generous medical care and educational system.

Although I understand that you have earned many awards for your writings and have been appointed to some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., I would have to give you a failing grade for omitting the most important economic factor in the immigration debate. I speak specifically of your failure to examine why people such as the Mexicans pour into the United States in search of jobs. By calling for stricter enforcement (implicit in your demand that the "inflow of low-skill immigrants" be reduced) without examining the root cause of the flight from Mexico and other such countries, you are adopting the same kind of stance as politicians who want to crack down on Islamic terrorism without looking at the oppressive conditions that breed extremism.

Fundamentally, immigration is a result of too few jobs in Mexico and elsewhere. People come to the U.S. because it is preferable to starvation. Free trade agreements of one sort or another have devastated the Latin American economies. The real solution to reducing immigration is economic development, not Draconian laws.

And why have jobs disappeared in Mexico? It is because the U.S. has disappeared them. When NAFTA began, nearly 8 million people were involved in farming, but that number fell to approximately 6.5 million by 2003, according to a report on the Public Citizen website. One can surmise that in the succeeding 3 years, things could have only gotten worse.

Turning the clock back 6 years to July 5, 2000, you wrote a column hailing the election of Vicente Fox which you described as a "cause for rejoicing, not just for Mexico, but for everyone who hopes that this time around we may be getting globalization right." You also saw it as a vindication for NAFTA.

Turning the clock back another 3 years to February 13, 1997, we find you boosting globalization just like your colleague Tom Friedman. In making your own case for "the world is flat," you scoff at worries about job loss in the U.S.:

"Of course, international competition plays a role in some downsizings, but as Newsweek's list makes clear, it is hardly the most important cause of the phenomenon. To my knowledge there are no Japanese keiretsu competing to carry my long-distance calls or South Korean conglomerates offering me local service. Nor have many Americans started buying their home appliances at Mexican stores or smoking French cigarettes."

However, this is a rather U.S.-centric view of the problem which ignores the impact of globalization on other countries. By focusing on whether Americans will buy home appliances at Mexican stores, you seem to miss the other side of the equation, namely the impact of free trade inside Mexico rather than inside the U.S.

An October 30, 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article filled in the details that were woefully neglected in your op-ed pieces:

Alonzo Moran earns more money driving a fork-lift in a cotton gin in Missouri's Bootheel than he could make in almost any job back home in Mexico. But after 13 months as a migrant farm worker, Moran is eager to return to the 30 acres he owns in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

There, his land lies fallow, not worth planting because of depressed corn prices he blames on the North American Free Trade Agreement. "What is my dream for the future? I want corn prices to be high again so I can go back to Mexico to farm," said Moran, 42. "But I don't know if that will happen"

There are many reasons for the recent record migration from Mexico to the United States. But many Mexicans say a prime motivation is the difficulty in making a living on small farms in rural Mexico. A favorite destination is Missouri, where migrants — legal and illegal — find farm work in fields and slaughterhouses.

Many stay. From 2000 to 2004 alone, Missouri's Hispanic population — mainly Mexican — grew by nearly 25 percent, after a 92 percent increase from 1990-2000, according to U.S. Census data. Illinois' Hispanic population grew 16 percent in the first four years of this decade after a 96 percent increase in the '90s.

And those are just the Hispanics who get counted.

 

The Demonization and Death of Slobodan Milosevic

Filed under: imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

(Swans – March 27, 2006) In the days following the death of Slobodan Milosevic, every newspaper made sure to find him guilty of charges that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) could not prove in court. Typical is the pontificating Washington Post editorial of March 14, 2006:

The life of Slobodan Milosevic offers another lesson in how one individual can shape the course of history. Yugoslavia, the country whose disintegration he inspired, emerged from communist rule at the end of the 1990s resembling many nations (Iraq comes to mind) in the throes of transition: Ethnic and sectarian rivalry was real in a cobbled-together state, but few people expected, much less wanted, a civil war. Mr. Milosevic, a Communist Party apparatchik in Serbia, deliberately and methodically nursed this latent tension from a flicker to a conflagration and used it to consolidate a criminal regime in
Belgrade.

The demonization of Milosevic has a long and sordid history. A LexisNexis full-text search for "Milosevic" and "Hitler" aborted since the resulting 1000+ articles exceeded the system limit. A more restrictive search within the headline and lead paragraph returns 307, with this item from the May 15, 1991 Independent being typical:

As the crow flies, she was only four miles from Kosovo. As the B-52 bomber speeds, she was only a few minutes from the village of Korisa, where Nato warplanes were accused of killing about a hundred civilians a few hours earlier.

But Hillary Clinton did not talk of the latest dead or wounded when she toured this camp in northern Macedonia yesterday. Perhaps she had not yet been informed. Instead, she referred to past atrocities, notably those carried out by Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic, comparing the Yugoslav leader's "ethnic cleansing" to the Holocaust.

Mrs. Clinton was not to be outdone by her husband who accused Milosevic of systematically promulgating doctrines of racial supremacy in a 1999 Memorial Day speech: "In Kosovo we see some parallels to World War II, for the government of Serbia, like that of Nazi Germany, rose to power in part by getting people to look down on people of a given race and ethnicity and believe they had no place in their country and even no right to live."

But when one goes to the trouble to track down Milosevic's speeches, the words sound more like the sort of thing heard in a multicultural training workshop at a liberal arts college than anything heard from Der Furher:

Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of
Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity. In this respect Yugoslavia does not stand out from the social milieu of the contemporary, particularly the developed, world. This world is more and more marked by national tolerance, national cooperation, and even national equality. The modern economic and technological, as well as political and cultural development, has guided various peoples toward each other, has made them interdependent and increasingly has made them equal as well. Equal and united people can above all become a part of the civilization toward which mankind is moving. If we cannot be at the head of the column leading to such a civilization, there is certainly no need for us to be at its tail.

Now, of course, these words can simply be rhetoric intended to pull the wool over the world's eyes, but they don't bear out Clinton's claim that Milosevic openly employed racial supremacist doctrines. Perhaps the wily Milosevic had trained the Serbs to go on killing sprees whenever they heard words in favor of tolerance, just as the Red Chinese had trained Frank Sinatra to kill their enemies whenever he saw the Queen of Diamonds card in The Manchurian Candidate.

The occasion of the speech was the 600th anniversary of the defeat of the Serbs by the Ottoman Turks, an opportunity that Milosevic took to reassure Serbs in Kosovo that they would no longer be victimized. For the Cruise Missile Left, this speech would eventually take on the dimensions of a Hitler speech to a Nuremberg Rally. Needless to say, the actual words never appeared in these attacks. Before the lynch mob against Milosevic had been fully assembled, the liberal press was quite capable of describing him accurately.

The Independent, a liberal British newspaper that would eventually lead the wolf pack against Milosevic, described the 1990 election, on December 11th of that year, as one pitting him and "his communist allies" against Vuk Draskovic, a "right-wing nationalist." As the 1990s dragged on, with the Western press moving toward the propaganda consensus that Milosevic was Satan, there would be a growing tendency to describe him as the counterpart of Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, despite Milosevic's ongoing clashes with Draskovic, Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and other such ultra-nationalists. But once the capitalist press decided to stick the nationalist label on him, nothing could remove it. If Milosevic was determined to defend Serb interests in a context of anti-Serb racism, then that was proof enough that he was embarking on a new Holocaust.

When Milosevic assumed power, he embarked on a tentative series of economic reforms of the kind that were sweeping Eastern Europe. Those who are anxious to represent Milosevic as being identical to the Croatian and Slovenian rightist rulers exploit these measures as proof that there was nothing "socialist" about Milosevic's party except the name. Since Titoist Yugoslavia (a political tradition that Milosevic was determined to uphold despite the "End of History" type message being propagated in the West) was characterized by a high degree of marketization, it might at first seem difficult to figure out exactly where Milosevic stood. Since Milosevic was more of a pragmatist than a Marxist, who veered left and right in the course of sustaining a social base in Serbia, there was little in the way of "The Thoughts of Slobodan Milosevic" to identify him ideologically.

But the local anti-Communists had no such problems. On March 14, 1991, New York Times reporter Stephen Engelberg described enormous crowds of anti-Communist protesters out in the streets calling for his resignation. As was obvious to anybody who listened to their chants or read their leaflets, we were dealing with "the same sort of popular upheaval that toppled most of Eastern Europe's Communist governments in 1989."

By this point, The Independent had joined the crusade against Milosevic. Despite its liberal reputation, earned mostly through the inclusion of reporter Robert Fisk on their staff, the paper made sure in a March 25, 1991 article that its readers understood that the Serb Communist brontosaurus stood in the way of genuine freedom and progress:

The irrational and autocratic Serbian leader is effectively preventing Yugoslavia's federal government from implementing the economic reforms which could rapidly turn it into a thriving country. Although in the past he has shown an interest, at least verbally, in Western-style reforms, Mr Milosevic is now clinging firmly to the old Marxist state system which gives him immense power and support from many people, like pensioners, who would suffer from change. The impact of privatisation and a free market, says Professor Veselinov, "would overthrow Milosevic and socialist ideas."

Full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy35.html

 

 

March 26, 2006

Walkin’ to New Orleans (from Stan Goff)

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:23 am

Photos and videos of the “Walkin’ to New Orleans” Veterans and Survivors March:  Enjoy.
http://homepage.mac.com/nateg/files/Veterans%20Gulf%20Coast%20March.mp4
http://grantsurf.com/March%20to%20New%20Orleans/index.html
http://stangoff.com/?p=268

March 25, 2006

Mondovino

Filed under: imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 5:57 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 25, 2006

There has been a bumper crop of documentaries on globalization in recent years, including “Life and Debt”, “The Corporation” and “The Take”. But it would be difficult for me to imagine anything topping the 2004 “Mondovino” in terms of dramatic and political depth. Taking as its theme the power of Mondavi and other huge wine multinationals to run roughshod over much smaller but superior vineries, it would not evoke the same sense of outrage as films devoted to the plight of landless peasants or sweatshop workers. In addition, unlike a Naomi Klein or a Michael Moore, director Jonathan Nossiter does not editorialize. He simply allows his villains, such as they are, to make the case against themselves through their obsessive concerns with “marketing” and “brands”. All in all, one is left with the rueful sense of the inexorability of Walmartization into every nook and cranny of the planet, including French and Italian vineyards dating back to the early Middle Ages.

The film is basically a tour of the world’s great wine-producing regions, from France to Italy to Argentina. Everywhere he goes, Nossiter interviews principals on either side of the barricade. There are men and women, usually elderly, who see wine-making as a kind of blend of art, agriculture and religion in which “terroir” is the key element. This term can be described as a “sense of place” that is critical in the production of wine grapes, coffee beans or tobacco or anything that satisfies the palate while stimulating the nervous system. These substances have been with humanity from the dawn of history. When they convey the mysterious combination of soil, water and sunlight of their native roots, they remind us of where we come from in the deepest sense. However, this “sense of place” collides with the needs of big wine-making businesses to produce a product that can be delivered to the marketplace anywhere in the world and at a price that will eliminate the competition. In that process, civilization’s greatest treasures will also be eliminated, in the same fashion as a museum being looted.

Nossiter accompanies wine consultant Michel Rolland as goes on his rounds in the Bordeaux wine producing region. Rolland is a supremely smug and self-amused individual given to laughing at his own jokes to the point of annoyance. Traveling around the world, he dispenses advice on how to make wines that are more marketable. This often involves “micro-oxygenation”, a technique that involves introducing bubbles into fermenting wine in order to shorten the traditional aging cycle, which obviously gets in the way of efficient profit-making.

Rolland is also a forceful advocate of “Napa-izing” the French vineyards, which in his eyes are filled with uneconomic practices. But when Mondavi came to Languedoc with plans to buy up huge amounts of land, they were stopped in their tracks by the Communist Mayor Manual Diaz who understood it quite rightly as a typical imperialist incursion. When asked for his opinion on why they rejected Mondavi’s bid, Michel Rolland dismisses them as a bunch of “dumb peasants.” Also interviewed is the previous Mayor, a Socialist, who was all too happy to do business with Mondavi. Some things apparently never change when it comes to social democracy.

Languedoc vineyards
The Mondavis, like all of the other “bad guys” in “Mondovino”, are not cardboard figures. They clearly got into the wine business because they had a love for wine, but as their business grew they became transformed. Robert Mondavi, the patriarch, eventually found himself in bitter disputes with his sons about the direction of the business, which were only resolved, as son Michael puts it, when they became incorporated and put the “family” side of the business behind them.

Nossiter interviews the Staglin family, another major Napa grower, who are somewhat easier to detest. The husband Garen was in the air force during Vietnam and flew bombing missions for over a year. Afterwards, he was an aide to Henry Kissinger whom he described as a major inspiration. His wife Sheri claims that they get along famously with their Mexican vineyard workers who they treat like “family,” which amounts to bestowing t-shirts with the company logo at Christmas time.

It turns out that the Mondavis have an easier time doing business in Italy, which is blessed by having an Prime Minister who is on record as stating that Mussolini was “not that bad.” If anything the Italian aristocrats who partner with Mondavi are even more sleazy than the Staglins. When Nossiter asks their opinion on Mussolini, Dino Frescobaldi points out that “the trains ran on time.” Albiera Antinori, another Mondavi partner, says “What you need to know is that Italy, at that time, needed a strong, energetic hand, and fascism did bring about a certain order.”

We learn from the documentary that the big-time trade publication “The Wine Spectator” is totally committed to the Napa-ization of the wine industry worldwide. It’s European bureau chief James Suckling is a perfect twit who compares the French unfavorably to the Italians, who are not burdened with a socialist government.

But the most repellent figure has to be Robert Parker, the powerful wine critic who has spearheaded the homogenizing process decried by the film. In a March 22nd NY Times profile on Parker, the paper’s own wine critic Eric Asimov (nephew of the science fiction author) referred his appearance in “Mondovino”:

Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary “Mondovino,” released in the United States in 2005, juxtaposed Mr. Parker with a Burger King sign and portrayed him as an emblem of opulent globalized wine and an enemy of diversity, terroir and nuance. A 2005 biography, “The Emperor of Wine” by Elin McCoy (Ecco), expressed concern about a world dominated by “the tyranny of one palate.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/22/dining/22pour.html

Given the NY Times’s general embrace of globalization, symbolized most dramatically by Thomas Friedman’s obnoxious columns, it should not come as a surprise that Asimov’s article is basically an opportunity for Parker to defend himself against such criticisms.

The film ends with a trip to Argentina where it contrasts two growers, one a bourgeois businessman who has brought in Michel Rolland for advice and the other an indigenous peasant who grows wine grapes for love rather than profit. He makes about $60 per month. The businessman blames “laziness” for Argentina’s problems, while the Indian makes wine in the same way that indigenous peoples in the Americas cultivated tobacco, chocolate, and alcohol from time immemorial–as a way of celebrating their humanity and their connection to the Eternal. When Nossiter drinks a glass of the Indian’s white wine, he reacts as if he has tasted the nectar of the gods.

(“Mondovino” is available on DVD/Video from your better stores and on the Internet.)

March 24, 2006

More on Shia attacks on gays

Filed under: Gay — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm

From March 24 “Informed Consent,” the website of Juan Cole:

Readers have been asking me about the stance of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani regarding homosexuality. I take it they are inquiring about this entry at my colleagues’ great Pandagon site.

Let me begin by saying that the charge leveled by some, and mentioned at Pandagon, that Sistani has called for the killing of Sunnis, is completely untrue. The implication given by exiled gay Iraqi, Ali Hili, of the London-based gay human rights group OutRage, that Sistani has called for vigilante killings of gays, is untrue, though it is accurate that Sistani advises that the state make homosexual activity a capital crime; it is also accurate to call this “sick.”

In traditional Islam there was no conception of the “homosexual” as a permanent identity or social role. As in ancient Greece, the real distinction in sexuality (as Michel Foucault showed) was between the penetrator and the penetrated. Medieval and early modern Islamdom were like the Greece of Plato. Adult males were the penetrators. In premodern Muslim society, women could be penetrated if they were legally married to the man or if they were his slaves. Likewise, slave-boys (catamites) could be penetrated, although it was typically disapproved of by the Muslim clerics. Exclusive adult male-male sexual relationships are not recorded, and a taste for a slave-boy did not stop a wealthy man from being married or from having liasons with his female slaves, as well. About half the famous love-poems of the medieval Baghdad literary figure, Abu Nuwas, appear to have been addressed to boys.

As slavery was forbidden in the Ottoman Empire in the course of the mid- to late-nineteenth century, obviously the keeping of slave-boys by wealthy men ceased. As society modernized, notions of sexuality moved away from the penetrator/penetrated model similar to that of the ancient Greeks, and toward a modern male-female binary. Many Muslim societies in the course of the twentieth century also moved away from polygamy toward a model of one man, one woman as the family unit.

Modern homosexual identity has only slowly emerged in the Middle East, and has sometimes faced great hostility. I say sometimes because real-life Muslim societies are not as puritanical as outsiders or local elites imagine. It is obvious that American writer Paul Bowles liked living in Tangiers precisely because anything went as long as it stayed fairly private. In cosmopolitan Muslim cultures like Egypt, at best the modern gay subculture is winked at, but sometimes there are crackdowns. The situation resembles the US in, say, the 1930s and 1940s, when the police would arrest gays. In a radical Muslim regime like Taliban Afghanistan, gays were executed. This was in part an attempt to keep discipline in the Taliban military ranks, which were notorious for gay liaisons. So there is a spectrum. It should be underlined that Taliban Afghanistan was weird and not like most of the Muslim world.

So on to Sistani, who upholds a slightly modernized version of medieval Muslim canon law. The first two fatwas he gave on the subject have to do with adult men penetrating boys. That is, Sistani appears to take as the connotation of lawat that it is an adult man penetrating an under-age boy. Unsurprisingly, he deeply disapproves. The first two fatwas, however, come in response to questions about what this sexual relationship means for later marital relations between the two families. Say a 21-year-old man from Khazraj had relations with a 17-year-old boy from Ruba’i? Then, say the first man’s family wanted to marry him off to a girl from the Ruba’i family. Can they? And to what degree of relatedness? Can he be the husband of his former lover’s sister? The answer is “no.” In contrast, Sistani would allow a man who had an affair with a girl to later on marry her sister. Personally, I think the gay guy is getting the better advice here; having a brother-in-law or sister-in-law who is your former lover would be awkward at family reunions. Sistani does say that if a man has an affair with a married woman, and fathers her child, and she later gets divorced, he cannot in good conscience marry her, as a punishment for the earlier sin.

Russell Jacoby versus Eric Lott

Filed under: Academia — louisproyect @ 8:36 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 24, 2006

There’s a rather negative book review of Eric Lott’s “The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual” in the latest Nation Magazine by Russell Jacoby. Jacoby pokes fun at what he sees as Lott’s academic pretensions, even if they are ostensibly tied to a worthy goal, namely carving out “a space for radicals to the left of detestable ‘boomer liberals,’ who have seized the limelight and distorted politics.”

These ‘boomer liberals’ include Todd Gitlin, Michael Lind, Joe Klein, Martha Nussbaum, Paul Berman, Stanley Crouch, Greil Marcus, Sean Wilentz and Henry Louis Gates Jr. I myself am not sure about Stanley Crouch’s “liberalism” since most of his writing nowadays seems consumed with bashing Black Nationalism and making the ideas of Booker T. Washington popular once again. On most days, Crouch sounds dismayingly like Clarence Thomas–that is, if Thomas actually would ever say anything.

Summarizing Lott’s thesis, Jacoby puts it this way:

For Lott this “new liberal front” oozes with a “piecemeal, reformist self-satisfaction.” The new reformers represent a “bone headed degeneration of the radical spirit.” They have “created the political fog that obscured the left from view” and buried the “liberal alternative to hawkish conservatism.” These liberals pander to state power and American nationalism. They yearn for the “old-boys’ left” that was largely white and that claimed to be universal. Their work is “anti-corporate” rather than anticapitalist. (Disclosure alert: Along with Mark Crispin Miller and Thomas Frank, I am listed as suffering from this particular ailment.) They turn politics into adjuncts of the John Kerry presidential bid. They are a “secret sharer of neoconservative ideology,” and they legitimate the Bush White House and its politics. They constitute an intellectual and political “disaster.”

I don’t know. This sounds like a book that should have been written long ago. Lott obviously has a handle on the Dissentoid left and anybody else who wants to turn back the clock to a New Deal type politics that long ago lost any objective basis for its existence, if there ever was one.

Since Jacoby is a sworn enemy of post-Marxism and anything remotely smacking of academic obscurantism (he was seen as an ally of Alan Sokal in a Lingua Franca article on the fight against jargon, while Lott has taken Sokal down a notch or two in the pages of the Village Voice), it is to be expected that he would attempt to smear Lott with alleged connections to figures such as Etienne Balibar (there are surely much worse than Balibar) and a propensity for terms like “intersectionality” and “the praxis potential of antinormativity.” Frankly, with what I have learned about Alan Sokal and his anti-postmodernist rightwing allies over the past 8 years or so, I am more inclined to line up with the winners of Denis Dutton’s Bad Writing Contests of yore.

Improbably invoking Lenin, Jacoby suggests that Lott’s work smacks of ‘infantile leftism,’ but when “Lenin used the term he was referring to new political parties, not professorial posturing.” I don’t quite know how to put this, but there should be a law against somebody like Russell Jacoby invoking Lenin. This is what the Turks call chutzpah.

But you can really figure out where Jacoby is coming from through his defense of Todd Gitlin’s and other “old fogies” call for a “universal left.” Let’s get something straight. This “universal left” has nothing to do with reconstituting the Communist International. All it is a call for rebuilding the Labor-Civil Rights-Democratic Party coalition under the leadership of a latter-day Hubert Humphrey. Gitlin voted for Humphrey in 1968 and will never forgive the radical movement for telling the truth about Humphrey, namely that he was a warmonger and a corporate stooge.

Russell Jacoby is coming from the same place ideologically as Gitlin and others who have complained about how multiculturalism (ie, uppity women, gays and Blacks) alienates blue collar workers from voting Democrat. It is really a tiresome litany that has appeared in many guises, from Gitlin’s “The Twilight of Common Dreams” to Robert Hughes’s “The Culture of Complaint.”

I think that Eric Lott has it right. In many ways, the “culture wars” involving postmodernism and its detractors (Russell Jacoby, Alan Sokal, et al) are basically reflecting genuine problems facing the mass movement that have to be resolved in order for fundamental change to occur in American society. They are actually not new debates, since Marxism has always had to grapple with tendencies within it that pit some “universal” working class against “sectoral” impediments thrown up by forces outside the point of production. In a previous lifetime, I used to refer to this phenomenon as “workerism” and it is unpalatable coming from within the dogmatic left or from tenured professors like Russell Jacoby.

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