Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 28, 2006

Columbia expansion

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 8:23 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on April 28, 2006

Yesterday there was a picket line at the front gate of Columbia University, my employer. The Columbia Spectator reported:

Shouting slogans and waving signs, opponents of Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville expansion brought their gripes to the University’s gates in a large protest Thursday.

A crowd that peaked at nearly 200 circled behind police barricades, chanting variations of “Harlem not for sale.” Several signs read “Save our homes” and “Stop Columbia” in English and Spanish, while one suggested “Harlem is short on space, needs to expand. Let’s take Columbia’s South Lawn by eminent domain.”

This is not the first time that Columbia has clashed with its Black and Latino neighbors. In 1968 the university was going to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park, which was used primarily by Harlem residents. Anger over the Vietnam War and this racist expansion into Harlem brought the campus to a boil and students occupied Low Library, the administration building. The cops who were sent by "liberal" mayor John Lindsay to evict the students were so brutal that a massive strike broke out.

Now, nearly 30 years later, another imperialist war is happening and another racist expansion is planned. Lacking the irritant of a draft, however, I would believe that Columbia students are not inclined to go as far as they did in 1968. Also, the Black community is not as militant as it was in 1968 when the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords were on the front lines of the struggle rather than NYC Councilmen as is the case today.

I have worked at Columbia University since 1990 and have watched the institution become more and more aggressive in its bid to compete with NYU within the city and with the Ivy's beyond the city. In fact my department was scheduled to have moved to the Manhattanville campus over 2 years ago, but community resistance has put this project on hold.

Last April a document was uncovered that detailed the university's plans to spend $300,000 on a consulting project to determine whether the law of eminent domain could be applied to the Manhattanville land grab. The university tried to assure the community that this would be a "last resort".

For me the interesting question, which does not really surface that much in discussions around the proposed expansion, is what forces are driving the university to compete with other institutions. Listening to President Bollinger, it is almost a case of penis envy:

"As alumni know only too well, Columbia is both one of the great universities of the world and one of the most constrained for space. At 326 square feet per student, Columbia has less square footage per student by far than other leading research universities (compare Yale at 866 sq. ft., Princeton at 828 sq. ft. and Harvard at 673 sq. ft.)."

I have seen the same empire-building tendencies at work at my alma mater Bard College which had a single campus with about 450 students when I entered it in 1961. Now it has 1400 students on a campus that no longer has the slightly dog-eared rural charm it once had. With its icy postmodernist architecture, it looks more like a projection of Leon Botstein's id than anything else. Botstein has also made Bard the hub of a network of subsidiary institutions, including the Bard Graduate Center for Design on West 72nd Street in NYC. The school received money for this expansion and others as well in exchange for putting George Soros's wife Susan in charge.

Probably the most extreme example of using a business model for university expansion was Larry Summers' tenure at Harvard University, where he garnered as much publicity for pissing off the faculty as he did for raising capital.

In July 2001 the former head of the World Bank became President of Harvard with a mandate to expand, as the July 1, 2001 Boston Globe reported:

Lawrence H. Summers today starts what many think will be a defining and controversial presidency of Harvard University, a run likely to alter not only education on campus but also the landscape of Boston.

As he takes the helm of a university with wealth and power unprecedented in higher education, Summers by all accounts wants to dynamite the slow-moving Harvard culture that might stall his academic reforms and ventures. A Harvard economics professor in the 1980s, and treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, the 46-year-old Summers views complacency as an enemy and sees parts of Harvard as too set in their ways.

"This is a huge moment of opportunity for Harvard, and it's very important that we take advantage of it," Summers said.

But his biggest impact may be well outside Harvard Yard. With the university now owning more land in Boston than it does in Cambridge, Summers is poised to put Harvard's stamp on the city like no president before him.

Barring an economic crisis, campus sources say, members of Harvard's governing corporation are inclined toward rapid development of their huge acreage in Allston by moving prestigious professional schools across the river – including the Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government – and by making a push for prominence in the sciences by building a research park that includes academic programs, business incubators, and museums.

Since universities are by definition nonprofits, one wonders why there is such a driving need to follow what is basically the business model of a capitalist firm. As we know from reading the business press, big corporations are under tremendous pressure to add new lines of business and increase volume. But why can't Columbia University remain in a static state?

You can find answers to this question in a perceptive article titled "The Corporate University in American Society" by David Schultz that appeared in Logos Journal:

Higher education in America is being transformed by the contradictions that have historically defined and determined its existence. Seen as an educational institution, its importance lies in empowering individuals—both within the academy and outside—to become critical and knowledgeable citizens capable of self-governance in a democracy. Seen as an economic institution, its value lies in producing trained subservient workers for employers, and in socializing many of the costs necessary to sustain profit accumulation in a capitalist society.

Yet while for much of their existence colleges and universities have managed to hold these twin imperatives in balance, political-economic forces such as globalization, an increasingly conservative political agenda, and a tightening of public financial support for higher education have tipped the balance, resulting in the emergence of the corporate university. As corporatized entities, American colleges and universities are under increasing pressure to emulate other market participants and operate in ways that affect their governance and structure, as well as how they generate revenue. The result is that the new corporate university seeks to jettison many of the traditional manifestations of higher education, such as tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance, and replace them with a business model of management and more adjunct faculty who are viewed as mere employees. The need to do this is simple—less revenue to support colleges and universities is coming from the government, thereby forcing higher education to reduce labor costs and also seek financial support from private sector investors who view the traditional mission of these schools with suspicion.

In December 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole bill which gave universities the right to profit from patents on products developed within the institution. As the inventor of numerous pharmaceuticals, Columbia was able to realize 62 million dollars in licensing revenue in 1996. There is little doubt that in order to increase this kind of revenue, more laboratory space is required.

Ultimately, the ties between the university and the corporate world go back to WWII when governments turned to the university to help provide the technologies that would win the war. After all, it was Columbia's Physics Department that developed the first nuclear pile as part of the Manhattan Project that would ultimately result in the production of atomic bombs. So in the final analysis there is a dotted line connecting the Manhattan Project to the Manhattanville expansion.

April 27, 2006

The Road to Guantánamo

Filed under: Film,Islam,repression — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

Two docudramas that address different aspects of 9/11 were included in this year's Tribeca Film Festival. "United 93" tells the story of the doomed attempt of passengers to wrest control of one of the three hijacked planes that day. I didn't have to watch this film in order to surmise that its goal is just as futile as was the passengers' that day, namely to rally support for the universally discredited "war on terror."

Of far more interest was "The Road to Guantánamo," which originally appeared on Great Britain's Channel 4. It is a stunning artistic and political achievement. It tells the story of four young British citizens of Pakistani origin from the village of Tipton near Birmingham who were swept up in the US-supported Northern Alliance offensive in Afghanistan and charged with being members of al Qaeda. After spending two years in Guantánamo, they finally won their freedom and returned to England on March 7, 2004.

In September 2001, Asif Iqbal, who was 19 at the time, traveled to Pakistan to get married to a woman his mother had picked out for him. After arriving there, he invited three friends to join him at the ceremony. The group included Monir Ali, Shafiq Rasul and Rhuhel Ahmed. For all of them including the groom, this was as much of a vacation as anything else. Monir disappeared in Afghanistan and is presumed dead. After their arrest became a cause célèbre, Asif, Shafiq and Rhuhel became known as the Tipton Three.

Once they arrive in Pakistan, their time is divided between sightseeing, shopping and horseplay. Despite being observant Muslims, they seem no different than any other late adolescent males. Two of them actually were actually convicted of petty crimes, a fact that would ironically help to win their eventual release.

While in Karachi, the youths visit a mosque with Shafiq's uncle Zahid, where they hear an Imam call for solidarity with the Afghan people. Without a clear idea of what this actually means and probably motivated more by wanderlust than any kind of Islamic radicalism, they board a bus for Afghanistan.

Once in Afghanistan, things turn sour almost immediately. The water makes them violently ill and wartime chaos surrounds them. They can't even communicate effectively since Urdu is their third language and know not a word of Pashtu or Dari. After boarding a minibus that supposedly will take them back to Pakistan, they find that the vehicle has instead traveled north to Konduz, one of the last Taliban strongholds now surrounded by Northern Alliance troops.

After being captured by the US-backed army, their lives are turned upside down. They endure constant beatings from Afghan soldiers and round-the-clock interrogation from the British and American spooks attached to the Afghan units. No matter how many times they assert their innocence, they are accused of being on a jihad.

On January 13, 2002 Asif and Shafiq are flown to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba where they are detained in the open-air cages at the notorious Camp X-Ray. Ruhel joins them on February 10. For the next two years, they endure beatings, humiliation and "soft" torture all designed to extract confessions to a crime they never committed. No matter how much they are punished, they refuse to give in to their oppressors. If simple youths such as these without any background in political revolt have the internal resources to stand up to the cop-torturers at Guantánamo Bay, one can easily imagine why the US has not been able to impose its will on the Iraqi people who have first began resisting colonialism over 80 years ago.

The Tipton Three are played by nonprofessionals, including the one playing Shafiq (Rizan Ahmed) who did attend acting school in London. In addition, the actual Tipton Three provide commentary throughout the film.

Ultimately, the three are released when it is discovered that two, who were closely monitored during the time of the probation in 2000, could not have attended a rally for Osama bin Laden that year. A comprehensive report on the Tipton Three can be read at the Center for Constitutional Right's website. It was obviously used as a primary resource for the uncredited screenplay. Shafiq's testimony included the following:

I was taken into a room and short shackled. This was the first time this had happened to me. It was extremely uncomfortable. Short shackling means that the hands and feet are shackled together forcing you to stay in an uncomfortable position for long hours. Then they turned the air conditioning on to extremely high so I started getting very cold. I was left in this position on my own in the room for about 6 or 7 hours, nobody came to see me. I wanted to use the toilet and called for the guards but nobody came for me. Being held in the short shackled position was extremely painful but if you tried to move the shackles would cut into your ankles or wrists. By the time that I was eventually released to be taken back to my cell I could hardly walk as my legs had gone completely numb. I also had severe back pains.

The 2005 Amnesty International Report included the observation that "Guantánamohas become the gulag our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law." This comparison, according to the pro-"war on terror" Euston Manifesto, is "grotesque." After watching "The Road to Guantánamo," one would conclude that Amnesty International was not exaggerating at all.

"The Road to Guantanamo" was directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross. Winterbottom was also the director of "Welcome to Sarajevo," a film that incorporated all of the demonizing tendencies that were at work in the run-up to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. One might assume that this film represents new clarity on his part. If "The Road to Guantánamo" is eventually released in the USA, it should be seen by anybody interested in alternatives to the present course of war, illegal detention and torture. In other words, everybody.

April 25, 2006

Army of Shadows

Filed under: Film,repression — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" opens at New York's Film Forum and in Los Angeles on April 28. This powerful tale about the French Gaullist resistance was first released in September 1969 to mixed critical and commercial reactions. Although the French public and the critical establishment might not have been favorably disposed to Melville's point of view that year, the film transcends time and place and will enjoy the status of a classic alongside "Le Cercle Rouge" and "Bob Le Flambeur" –two other recently re-released Melville films– as well as help to cement his reputation as one of France's greatest directors.

"Army of Shadows" is the third and final installment in a trilogy about France during wartime. All of these films draw upon Melville's own experience as a combatant in the DeGaulle-led "Free French" movement. Melville, who was born a Jew (his family name was Grumbach; he adopted Melville in honor of the American novelist), downplayed his role, stating that "being in the Resistance if you're a Jew is infinitely less heroic than if you're not."

By coincidence, "Army of Shadows" is based on the novel of the same name written by Joseph Kessel, another French Jew and a member of the Resistance. Kessel, who also wrote the novel "Belle de Jour" that the Bunuel film was based on, wrote "Army of Shadows" in 1943. When Melville came across it in London that year, he resolved to make a film about it someday. It took him 26 years to realize his dreams.

"Army of Shadows" revolves around the activities of an underground cell led by Philippe Gerbier, a middle-aged electrical engineer who remains unsmiling and impassive throughout the film. He is played by Lino Ventura, who enjoyed a career as a professional wrestler before becoming an actor frequently cast in gangster roles.

Indeed, one of the criticisms of Melville's film at the time was that it depicted the Resistance figures as criminal-like. In one scene, Gerbier and his comrades take a young turncoat to a hideout where they intend to shoot him. When they discover that the next house has become occupied, they decide that that the sound of gunfire might draw the cops and are forced to improvise. After Gerbier proposes different possibilities (a knife, a club) in neutral tones as if he were discussing how to remove a stain from silverware, they finally settle on strangulation. All the while, their fresh-faced soon-to-be victim stands cowering against the wall.

Although this suggests the bloody final scene in "Reservoir Dogs," (Tarantino and John Woo count Melville as one of their greatest influences), it really might resonate more with non-film traditions, specifically the novels of Andre Malraux, another Gaullist. "Man's Fate" used the Communist uprising in Shanghai as a backdrop but Malraux was far more interested in dramatizing the existential and psychological ordeals of his alienated revolutionary heroes than in the broader political and social issues.

In "Melville on Melville," the director explains why, unlike the book, two brothers in the Resistance are unaware of each other's participation. He replies:

I wanted to avoid melodrama. You don't see it? Perhaps you’re right. But go and see Army of Shadows at your local cinema. The moment the big boss comes down the ladder into the submarine and they realize he’s Jean-François's brother, the audience can't help going “Aaaahhh!” The two brothers' failure to meet is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Fate is shuffling the cards for all time: shot under a false name by the Gestapo, Jean-François will die without ever knowing that Saint-Luc is the head of the Resistance, and Saint-Luc will never discover what happened to his brother. The circumstances make the disappearance of Jean-François all the more tragic.

Although "Army of Shadows" is virtually free of politics in the conventional sense, it is very much a tribute to the Resistance movement. If the characters are forced to resort to ruthless tactics, we understand that this is forced on them by a ruthless occupation. Films like "Battle of Algiers" and "Army of Shadows" will remain topical as long as occupation armies are sent to impose Vichy-like regimes on a proud people.

Army of Shadows website: http://www.rialtopictures.com/shadows.html

April 24, 2006

Arctic Son

Filed under: Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 5:56 pm

Film crew with Stanley Njootli Jr. and Sr.

Alongside "Smoke Signals" and "Atanarjuat the Fast Runner," the new documentary "Arctic Son" is distinguished by its depth of understanding about indigenous life as well as its ability to tell a story, a sine qua non for any film.

"Arctic Son" refers to Stanley Njootli Jr., a young member of the Gwichin Nation that is spread across Alaska and the Yukon Territory. When the film starts, we see Stanley Jr. getting drunk in a Seattle bar. As is the case with far too many Indians, the temptation to abuse drugs and alcohol is enormous. Although he calls this "partying," one can only feel pity for this deracinated youth. When he is seen weaving across the street after leaving the bar, some friends shout out to him from a passing car, "Go get treatment, Stanley, get treatment." He stands in the middle of the street and curses them out.

The movie documents his visit with his father Stanley Njootli Sr., who tries to live according to Indian customs in Old Crow, a tiny village in the Yukon that is home to the "Vuntut Gwichin," which means "People of the Lakes." After learning about his son's dissolute life-style, his father (who is separated from the mom who lives in Seattle) invites him up to Old Crow to wean him away from drugs and alcohol and to teach him Indian ways. There certainly will be fewer temptations in Old Crow as the town has a drinking ban. We do eventually learn that there are ways around this as there would be in any Indian reservation. People desperate enough will make their own home brew with anything that is handy, including potatoes.

Although Stanley Jr. has little to live for, he holds out hope that he can become an artist. Throughout the film, we see him almost constantly at work on drawings. His work incorporates elements of hope–such as a rainbow–mixed with hellish imagery. It certainly can be said that his work mirrors his life experience.

Stanley Sr. lives in a Spartan fashion in a Spartan village, where indoor entertainment consists mostly of telling anecdotes, playing cards or listening to the radio. This is not to say that he is ever bored. He is far too busy mending fishing nets or tending to his dog team to ever complain about boredom. Moreover, he can always entertain himself by singing traditional (but not Indian!) songs like "In the Pines":

In the pines
In the pines
The sun never shines
And we shiver
When the north wind blows

That song sets the mood completely for life around Old Crow, which is inaccessible by road. To get around you need a boat, a plane or a dog sled. You can also use a snowmobile that for the Gwich'in serves the same purpose as the horse served for the Northern Plains Indians in the 19th century. It is an essential tool for navigating and making use of the environment, just as is the rifle and the flashlight.

In the film's main action, father and son travel by snowmobile across miles and miles of deep snow to get to the Yukon River where they will fish and hunt for Caribou. Stanley Sr. makes expert use of both new technology and ancient ones as he shows his son how to live off the land. It is just another demonstration of the ability of native peoples to adapt to the modern world while preserving values that sustained them before they were colonized by the Europeans.

Although they never once discuss issues of their relationship to each other as father and son, it is obvious that this is on their mind every moment they are together. Stanley Sr. takes a gruff attitude toward his son, but it is obvious that he loves him. While Stanley Jr. complains constantly about the lack of entertainment in Old Crow, it soon becomes obvious that he is bonding both with his father and this remote, foreboding but extremely beautiful wilderness.

Although the film focuses almost exclusively on the father and son relationship, there are occasional references to the outside forces that threaten indigenous life. The most acute of these is global warming which is rapidly changing the ecology of the region and threatening the natural balance between wildlife, the land and water that sustain them and the native peoples who seek to co-exist with them. Stanley Sr. says that the temperature has begun to reach 80 degrees in summer, the first time in his memory. When it gets hot in an urban area, one can always turn on an air conditioner. In the Yukon, the consequences are much direr if your livelihood depends on Caribou herds.

There are other threats as well that like so many others in the world today are connected to the deadly nexus of fossil fuel production and consumption:

Scotland on Sunday, June 17, 2001

Rajesh Mirchandani Visits The Gwichin Indians Who Fear Bush's Plans To Allow Oil Exploration In Alaska In Defiance Of Kyoto

By Rajesh Mirchandani

"WHEN we have a new class," says 22-year-old Tonya, "we have to stand up and say who we are. I always say I'm Gwichin."

Tonya studies in Alaska's second city Fairbanks but comes from Arctic Village, a tiny community of Gwichin Indians 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Around 120 people live here in a ragged cluster of log cabins in a wide valley bordering the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The snow is knee -deep, although the sunshine means it's not cold: in fact, the sun won't set from now until the end of summer.

There are no roads to Arctic Village; the only way in is by small plane: the nearest settlement is half an hour's flying away. The only buildings with running water are the village's 'washeteria' and the small school house. More than half the population is of school age and take lessons here. Some of the older ones go on to college in cities like Fairbanks and Anchorage but choose to return.

Tonya explains: "There's nothing to do in Fairbanks, just go to the movies or the mall. Here we are always busy, there are people visiting or there are community things going on."

The Gwichin – sometimes called the Caribou People – used to be nomadic but were forced to settle by the need to have contact with a modern infrastructure, namely a landing strip. They are fiercely independent and suspicious of strangers. Their history is bound up with the porcupine caribou, a type of reindeer. The herd numbers more than 100,000 and every spring they migrate from north-west Canada to the coastal plain of the ANWR, turning south into Gwichin lands in the summer.

Village elders talk of dreaming of the caribou and being able to predict their arrival. One of them, Trimble, told us: "We know this valley so well that the slightest change will be a sign to us that the caribou are on their way. When they come we are happy."

The connection is ancient and spiritual, but a necessity too: caribou meat makes up nearly 80% of the Gwichin diet. In the late summer whole families spend up to a month living on the mountains hunting the animals, storing all the meat they can to see them far into the harsh winter.

But the Gwichin fear that disaster looms for the caribou herd because their breeding ground, the coastal plain of the ANWR, is the exact region earmarked for oil exploration.

Exploration has shown, as Bill van Dyke of the Alaskan division of Oil and Gas put it, "the right rocks are there." Estimates suggest there may be enough oil in the ANWR to supply 5% of America's needs for around 30 years.

President Bush is adamant that America must cut its dependence on foreign oil. Adverts on American TV paid for by the oil lobby talk of states like "Iraq holding the key to the US economy." Add to this increasingly frequent power cuts in big cities like Los Angeles and raising domestic energy production seems an obvious solution.

But the environmental lobby argues that such wilful destruction of a pristine environment is avoidable. Deborah Williams of the Alaska Conservation Foundation said: "It would take only a 1-2% increase in the fuel efficiency of the American vehicle fleet to obviate the need to develop the ANWR."

Back in Arctic Village Sarah James takes one tea bag and dunks it by turn into three cups. The water has been heated up in her microwave because she doesn't have any propane to fuel her stove. Now in her 60s, she is the feisty matriarch of this community and has heard every single argument for and against oil development in the ANWR.

"Of course the caribou will be hurt," she says. "It is a breeding ground, it is sacred, every mother knows. The caribou cannot breed anywhere else because there are too many predators. They have nowhere else to go." It is clear she believes the same is true for the Gwichin.

In a large, warm cabin further up the village, Tonya is making sandwiches and putting them in a big box: tuna on one side, peanut-butter-and-jam on the other. They are for the local Gwichin chiefs, arriving that day for a meeting to discuss the ANWR. On the stove is moose stew. It looks like beef but tastes like lamb.

"If we were to lose this way of life I don't know how I would be able to define myself. I would lose my self-identity," she said, laughing nervously as if it's a thought she has never had to entertain before.

Sitting watching her is 14-year-old, Gerald, who tells me his favourite pastimes are duck-hunting and ice-fishing. Asked if he will stay in Arctic Village, he says: "Dunno, can't tell the future. But I'd like to. It's quiet… you can hear the birds."

 

April 22, 2006

Ecofascism?

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 10:48 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on April 22, 2006

I have been following with some interest a series of articles by Jack Conrad on Marxism and ecology in the pages of the Weekly Worker, the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Despite its name, this group was never the official party recognized by the Kremlin but a new group launched by young people trying to "go back to Lenin", it would appear. The party has both good and some not so good aspects, in my opinion. While it makes frequent calls for unity on the left, it has engaged in strident attacks on its opponents–especially the SWP. Whatever else that may be said about it, the newspaper makes for a lively read.

I may have something more to say about his articles after they are concluded, but want to immediately respond to the latest installment which is titled "Darker Shades of Green" and has the following lead: "Jack Conrad questions the romantic images presented by green primitives and cautions against the seductive lures of ecofascism." Whenever I hear a reference to the term "ecofascism," I fully expect to read something about Nazi ecology somewhere along the line. Conrad did not disappoint.

As somebody who has been reading and writing about Green issues for the past 15 years or so from a Marxist perspective, I tend to think of growing ties between "deep ecologists" and skinheads as unlikely at best. Let me explain why.

Conrad begins his analysis with a discussion of the role of anarchist John Zerzan, who achieved some notoriety for refusing to condemn the Unabomber. This current certainly has a misanthropic character but can it really be said that nostalgia for the pre-industrial world is tantamount to fascism? Conrad describes Zerzan and his co-thinkers' program in the following terms: "Their promised land is the endless wilderness. A suitably humbled, repentant humanity must return to the Palaeolithic ways of the ancestors and live in perfect harmony with nature."

Whatever else one might say about such ideology, it is inconsistent with the futuristic aspirations of 20th century fascism. It rather evokes the "back to nature" leanings of many 19th century Utopian Socialist experiments, including the one that is the subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Blithedale Romance" or even these sentiments:

The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

–Henry David Thoreau, "On Walden Pond"

After he is done with the deep ecologists, Conrad shifts his attention to a historical survey of rightwing appropriation of ecological themes. While the erudition is impressive, the logic is less so. He writes:

The Soil Association in Britain counted Jorian Jenks amongst it founding members. He edited its journal Mother Earth till his death in 1963. In the 1930s he was the agricultural advisor to the British Union of Fascists and remained throughout his life a close associate and disciple of Oswald Mosley.

Now Jorian Jenks did oppose the use of chemical fertilizers and urged organic farming. This makes perfect sense, of course. The fact that he hooked up with Mosley should not serve as a warning, however. Agronomists with exactly the same sort of outlook have worked with left parties as well. Indeed, the Mosley website states:

His "Green" views were not all fully shared by all his old comrades, understandably perhaps, at a time after the war when the pressing need was for food in greater quantities. The Editor of "Union" and Secretary of Union Movement once told him wittily "people can forgive one eccentricity, but not two."

Conrad next turns his attention to Germany, which in the eyes of anti-environmentalists like Anna Bramwell and Luc Ferry, is the spawning ground of ecofascism. Indeed, I was somewhat dismayed to discover a reference to Bramwell in Conrad's footnotes. Her work and Ferry's has had a disorienting effect on some very well-intentioned Marxists besides Jack Conrad, not the least of whom is David Harvey. Fortunately, Harvey has pulled back from hunting non-existent ecofascists in recent years.

Conrad makes much of the "Wandervögel" movement of the late 19th century which was a revolt of sorts against industrialization and called for a return to nature. There was also, according to Conrad, "a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism." For Conrad, this might lead to fascism in the same way that marijuana leads to heroin. You start off on nature walks, graduate to gay sex and the next thing you know, you are beating up pawnbrokers.

German "Wandervögel" youth: incipient fascists?

Finally, Conrad gets around to the question of "Nazi Greens", a subject that has been of long-standing interest to me after first hearing it raised by Frank Furedi's posse over ten years ago. Somehow this never sat right with me, when I thought about the mad rush to development that characterized the Nazi regime with its uniquely anti-environmental autobahns, its feverish war preparations and its slave labor production. I guess the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian matters more.

I have addressed these questions in some detail in the past and would urge those who are interested to check:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/ecology/nazi_ecology.htm

http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/mar_04/mar_04_19.html

The War Tapes

Filed under: antiwar,Film — louisproyect @ 5:16 pm

I love being a soldier. The only bad thing about the Army is you can’t pick your war.

–Sergeant Zaher Bazzi

As one of the features of this year's Tribeca Film Festival (a project initiated by Robert DeNiro), "The War Tapes" has the distinction of being a documentary about Iraq that was filmed by the GI's themselves. In February of 2004, director Deborah Scranton was invited to "embed" with the New Hampshire National Guard. Instead, she proposed that video cameras be allotted to the soldiers so they could–in her words–confront the wall of "objectivity" and smash through it.

Considering the fact that the three men whose footage comprises the bulk of the film had no professional training, the work is a technical achievement. Scranton has taken their raw material and transformed it into a polished work of art. On another level, it succeeds as providing a kind of insight into the terrible waste of lives and treasure–both Iraqi and American–that dominates the headlines today and that has made George W. Bush the most unpopular president in a generation.

Those who are looking for explicitly antiwar statements from the soldiers might initially be disappointed as they watch the film, since it mostly projects the gung-ho attitude that marked the war and occupation from the early period. However, as the film and the men's tenure drags on, there is more and more of a sense of futility about the whole project.

For students of popular culture, the film will evoke two other works almost immediately. When the GI's speak about their "job" in Iraq, they will remind you of the principals in "Cops," Fox TV's long-running "reality show". Speaking into the camera, the cops talk about how much their career means to them, even if it involves being immersed in their city's underbelly and being forced to confront "bad guys" on a daily basis at the risk to life and limb. This basically is the attitude that the New Hampshire National Guardsmen exhibit throughout the film, except that the "bad guys" are insurgents rather than crack dealers.

The film also reveals the basis for GI's feeling this way, since most of their day-to-day activity consists almost exclusively of what might be regarded as police work. Mostly, they patrol the streets of Baghdad in HUMV's or provide escorts for trailer trucks loaded with food and other necessities. The sole provider of such goods is Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton for whom the soldiers have little use despite their general support for what amounts to Halliburton's war.

You will also be reminded of "The Perfect Storm," another film about working class New Englanders filled with bravado and stoicism on another doomed mission. In close quarters either in a tent or in a HUMV, the New Hampshire National Guardsmen trade jibes with each other in dialogue that is strikingly evocative of the characters in "The Perfect Storm." Although all of the major characters in "The War Tapes" eventually arrive home safely, there is no question that their lives will never be the same.

Like many other National Guardsmen, Sergeant Steven Pink joined the military to help pay for college. After graduating, he worked for a local newspaper in Massachusetts or as a carpenter. His reading tastes include Charles Bukowski and Kurt Vonnegut, two authors who never wrote a gung-ho word in their lives. Of the three soldiers, Pink clearly has the greatest ability to render the horror that is present-day Iraq in words that are the likely product of his reading habits:

Today was the first day I shook a man’s hand that wasn’t attached to his arm. I was the first one there and immediately clamped Reggie’s brachial artery. I looked down and he had his hand dangling from the exposed bone that used to be his elbow like a child’s safety clipped mitten dangling from their winter coat.

Specialist Mike Moriarty was a Harley-Davidson mechanic before volunteering for duty in Iraq at the age of 35. His occupation clearly marks him as the sort of person who would be the least to think critically about his mission. Like Pat Tillman, the professional football player who was a casualty of "friendly fire" in Afghanistan, Moriarty joined up as a response to September 11, 2001. But unlike Tillman, who was making millions of dollars, Moriarity hadn't worked in a year.

Like Sergeant Pink, Moriarity comes back from Iraq with assorted long-term physical and disabilities. Looking back in retrospect, the mission now seems like a mixed bag:

I’m so glad I went. I hated it with a God awful passion and I will not go back. I have done my part and I feel like it’s someone else’s turn. My views of the war haven’t changed. You’ve heard people say, you know, “We’re over there for the oil.” You know. “It’s the only reason we’re over there in Iraq. It’s oil, it’s oil, it’s oil.” Well listen, no. We’re not there for the oil. If it were for oil, would that not be enough reason to go to Iraq? You bet your ass it would be! If you took oil away from this country tomorrow, what do you think would happen to this country? It would be, it would be devastating. So let’s all stop crying about whether we had reason to go in there or not because we can fight about that forever. It’s a done deal. We’re in Iraq. Support what it takes to make this thing work, or shut-up!

Even the Vonnegut-reading Sergeant Pink feels that the pursuit of oil is sufficient grounds to have fought the war:

Why the fuck are we there? We better get that oil, right? The US Army is not the fucking Peace Corps. The Marines are not the Peace Corps. That’s not why we’re in Iraq. We’re in Iraq for money and oil. Look at any other war in the history of the world and tell me it’s not about money. This better be about money and if we don’t get that oil and that money then all the lives that are gone right now, what is it? 1800 it’s at, something around there? They’re all in vain. You don’t put 150,000 troops from all over the country in there and say we’re there to create democracy. We’re there to create money, you know? We’re there to make money for us, you know. Somebody other than Dick Cheney better be getting their hands on it pretty soon.

Of course, now that oil is over $3 per gallon, one assumes that the war has been fought in vain. Perhaps one of the reasons that Bush's popularity ratings have gone subterranean is the fact that ordinary working class Americans–although by no means anti-imperialist–have long concluded that the war is not justified even on the naked utilitarian motives articulated by the two soldiers.

The most interesting soldier is Sergeant Zaher (Zack) Bazzi, a Lebanese-American Shi'ite, who escaped from the Lebanese civil war with his family as a child. He has memories of Lebanese soldiers commandeering his apartment and firing on militia men from his bathroom window, a scene that would remind him of his present-day service in Iraq. Unlike the others, Bazzi is a career military man who fought in Bosnia and Kosovo with the 101st Airborne. He is also more sophisticated politically than the other men (he describes himself as a political junky) and films some of his reading material, including the Nation Magazine. He is the polar opposite of the patriot Mike Moriarty and simply sees his deployment as another part of his job and not some mission to protect "our freedom and our way of life."

One of his most probing comments on Iraq has to do with his decision not to serve as a translator in Iraq any longer since it made him feel like he was violating his own ethical standards:

Most soldiers, they want to think that they’re there for a good cause, something noble. You’re fighting for freedom and everything that’s right. It was tough, because you have to do some not so nice things sometimes. I remember one time…My platoon became attached to a different military police battalion and the order was nobody is allowed on this road. There’s like a hospital on one side, a lot of people live on the other. Obviously it became very apparent that I was the one who spoke their language. This guy comes up and he’s like, “I got a sick baby, can I just cross the road to go to the hospital?” We’re a disciplined army, so I had to say “No.” But it didn’t make any tactical sense. It got to the point where I stopped translating, because the squad leader would come up to me and say “Hey, well tell this guy here that he can’t take a sick baby to a hospital.” Well, you know what, I’m just not gonna do that.

I love being a soldier. The only bad thing about the Army is you can’t pick your war.

All in all, the soldiers of "The War Tapes" strike one as a different sort than the draftee grunts of the Vietnam era who resented service from the day they reported to duty. To one degree or another, they supported their mission and likely would have voted for Bush. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that such soldiers cannot be reached with an antiwar message. In a very fine article in the latest Nation Magazine titled "When GI Joe Says No," Christian Parenti tries to capture the new mood of the military ranks and succeeds admirably:

This egalitarian mingling and the intense camaraderie, plus decent pay, housing for family and constant training opportunities, can make military life look a lot better than the atomized, segregated, economically stagnant world outside. And all of this creates a deep-seated sense of loyalty to the military, even among those who oppose its wars.

On the other hand, Cline, Braga and other activist vets all point out that unit cohesion can cut two ways: It works like Kryptonite to stop rebellion, but after a tipping point unit cohesion can serve to make rebellion even more intense.

To illustrate the point, Braga recalls the story of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, from Rock Hill, South Carolina. In October 2004 this Army Reserve unit (Braga worked alongside them at times) refused what they called a "suicide mission" to deliver fuel in a convoy of old, unarmored trucks. Eighteen drivers from the 343rd were arrested, but the media storm that followed–a whole company had openly refused orders!–helped pressure the military into delivering armor and retrofitting its trucks and Humvees. Similarly, when Reppenhagen the sniper joined IVAW, his spotter, the guy he'd spent a year with in Iraq, also joined–they remained a team.

The rebellion of the 343rd also pointed out the pragmatism of resistance. "Hey, protesting could save your life," says Braga. "I've seen it happen. The 343rd and that soldier who asked Rumsfeld that question about the body armor, those two things got the military to pay attention and buy decent armor."

If 1960s activism was fueled by disillusioned outrage, then today's activism is fettered by a type of world-weary cynicism. Braga says most of the guys in his unit assume the war is based on lies and that it's all about oil, but they won't get involved in peace activism because "They say, 'You can't change anything.' But if you read history you see that usually people already have changed things," he says. "Movements have made lots of things happen."

"The War Tapes" website: http://www.thewartapes.com/

 

April 21, 2006

Militant Islam and the Extreme Right

Filed under: Islam,zionism — louisproyect @ 5:10 pm

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

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by U. of Virginia professor George Michael (not the gay British rocker, I don't believe) titled "Strange Bedfellows" that makes an amalgam between the far right and political Islam. It is based on Michael's new book "The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right."

South Africa's prime minister John Vorster (second from right) is feted by Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) and Menachem Begin (left) and Moshe Dayan during his 1976 visit to Jerusalem.

It is based on a cherry picking of facts about political Islam that carefully omits the far more real and far more dangerous convergence taking place, namely between that of Western governments with democratic pretensions and the skinhead right against Muslim immigrants. The most graphic example of that is the Danish cartoon incident which brought together a newspaper that urged that Denmark follow the Nazi model during the 1930s, a government which sent troops to occupy Iraq and the Danish People's Party–a first cousin to France's Le Pen, the BNP in Great Britain, etc.

Michael's article points out correctly that Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has begun to repeat some of the arguments found in the world of "holocaust denial", a calling card of the ultraright globally. He points out that after Ahmadinjad began to make revisionist arguments, David Duke, the former Klan leader came to his defense.

There are, of course, some problems with dragging in David Duke, who not only campaigned for the House of Republican as a Republican in Louisiana in 1999 but was never criticized once by the Republican governor at the time. As long as we are in the business of making amalgams, why not make one between the Republican Party, David Duke and all of the Democrats who have caved in to Bush for the past 6 years?

Professor Michael also feels that the ultraright and the Islamists are bent on creating "utopian versions of homogeneous societies." Of course, this pretty well sums up the Zionist project in the Middle East as well. In 1923, Vladimir Jabotinsky–the ideological forefather of the Likud Party–wrote an article titled "The Iron Wall: We and the Arabs" that contained the following observation:

"The vast areas of the U.S. never contained more than one or two million Indians. The inhabitants fought the white settlers not out of fear that they might be expropriated, but simply because there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country. Any native people – its all the same whether they are civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs."

Full: http://www.marxists.de/middleast/ironwall/ironwall.htm

Thus we see that the founding myths of the state of Israel were rooted to some degree in the racist extermination of the American Indian. Even today, these myths endure in a 2004 Ha'aretz interview with Israeli historian Benny Morris (an erstwhile 'progressive') who openly endorsed the concept of an "iron wall" and reminded Israelis that "Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians."

While this should not be interpreted as an apology for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it would appear that with such an identification with an exterminationist policy by the likes of Jabotinsky and Morris, there will be a tendency in the Muslim world to give tit-for-tat–at least verbally.

Dipping into the barrel of Zionist apologetics, Michael makes a big deal out of the fact that "Adolf Hitler maintained a cordial relationship with the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who spent several of the World War II years in Berlin, where he was received as a foreign dignitary after fleeing British-occupied Palestine." What this neglects to point out, however, is that the Grand Mufti was appointed to this post by the freedom-loving British in the 1920s who actually created the office to begin with. As was almost always the case in the British Empire, local flunkies were selected on the basis of a willingness to accommodate to the outside powers. Furthermore, al-Husseini was not the only denizen of the Middle East who flirted with fascism. Remember that Jabotinsky found inspiration in Italian fascism, to such an extent that even Mussolini was forced to concede to David Prato, who would later become the chief rabbi of Rome, that: “For Zionism to succeed you need to have a Jewish state, with a Jewish flag and a Jewish language. The person who really understands that is your fascist, Jabotinsky.”

Full: http://www.marxists.de/middleast/brenner/ch10.htm

For Michael, Arab support for Hitler's war against the British and French is further proof of some deeper affinity with fascism. He writes, "In Egypt a protofascist organization, Young Egypt, also known as the Green Shirts, attracted many army officers, including a young lieutenant colonel, Anwar el-Sadat, who was involved in a failed scheme to provide Rommel's Afrika Korps with secret information on British strategy and troop movements."

This is in line with the general thesis of his book that Arabs have adopted a policy of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". If this is the case, then a much longer book could be written about the United States, which went much further than any Arab state after WWII in making bedfellows out of Nazi war criminals.

The most infamous example was Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo officer recruited by the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) in 1947. But there are many other examples as well. We should also acknowledge "Operation Paperclip" which brought Nazi scientists, many guilty of war crimes, into the U.S. where they were put to work doing pretty much what they were doing under the Swastika, namely preparing war against the Russian menace.

Whatever the Arabs did in comparison to this was small potatoes indeed.

Michael makes much of the fact that "After the war, several former German military officers and Nazi party officials, such as Otto Skorzeny, Johann von Leers, and Otto Remer, were granted sanctuary in Arab countries, most notably Egypt." He neglects to mention, however, that "According to several published accounts, including one by former U.S. intelligence agent Miles Copeland, Skorzeny, who died in 1975, helped the CIA train the Egyptian security services in the 1950s."

Full: http://archive.salon.com/news/feature/2000/05/03/nazi/index.html

So, if you are going to make amalgams between the Arabs and the Nazis, you'd better throw the U.S. into the hopper as well.

Continuing along in his merry but error-prone fashion, Michael concludes that "The rise of Palestinian terrorism in the early 1970s caused some elements of the extreme right in Europe to once again take interest in the Middle East. Members of a small German neo-Nazi group, Hoffmann-Wehrsportgruppe, for example, sought to develop an operational alliance with Middle Eastern terrorist groups."

But this was not the only alliance between Middle Eastern political actors and the ultraright. Although it might have slipped from Professor Michael's memory, others of us less intoxicated on ideology must recall that the government of Israel was building alliances throughout the world with groups just as unseemly as Wehrsportgruppe but far more powerful.

During WWII the future South African Prime Minister John Vorster was interned as a Nazi sympathizer, but three decades later he got the red carpet treatment in Jerusalem. On the occasion of that state visit, an official South African government publication stated that "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples." Meanwhile Yitzhak Rabin completely ignored Voster's Nazi-loving past and toasted "the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence". Both countries supposedly faced "foreign-inspired instability and recklessness".

This only covers half of Michael's prolix article. I could go on refuting it, but that would be like using a grenade launcher to kill a catepillar. The article serves the same purpose as much Zionist or "war on terrorism" propaganda today. It is meant not to win any new adherents to a totally bankrupt cause but to harden the ranks of the True Believers. Lord knows that they need all the help that they can get.

April 20, 2006

When U.S. Presidents act like madmen

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 4:23 pm

This morning my eyes popped out as I was reading Paul Kane's call for reinstating the draft on the op-ed page of the NY Times. Kane is identified as a Marine who served in Iraq and now is a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, a prime training ground for CIA agents, State Department flunkies and other dark forces.

Kane states that if Bush starts drafting young men and women, then Iran will get the message that we are gearing up for a major war and will step down. Back in high school, we used to call this playing chicken. It was dramatized in "Rebel Without a Cause" when James Dean bested a rival in a drag race toward a cliff. Whoever stopped first was the chicken. When his rival's jacket got caught on the car handle, Dean won by default. This kind of behavior has characterized US foreign policy since WWII. Another example was JFK's confrontation over Russian missiles in Cuba, which in his mind must have had the aspects of a touch football game played for very high stakes.

Kane takes up the sports analogy and tops it with images drawn from the world of abnormal pyschology. For him, the point of reinstituting the draft–a wildly unpopular measure–is not just to show the Iranians that we mean business, but to show them that the US President is basically nuts.

"President Bush has the perfect credentials overseas to execute this move, and little political capital at home to lose at this stage. Polls confirm that a wide majority of people in many countries view him and the United States as the major threat to global peace. Why let them down on this count? Go with the flow.

"President Ronald Reagan was the past master of using this strategy during the cold war. Reagan capitalized on his image as the madman at the helm to keep the Russians off balance, using the signs of war to dissuade our foes and avert actual war. President Bush should take a page from Reagan's playbook."

Actually, President Nixon tried out the "madman" theory long before Reagan:

National Security Archive, 23 December 2002 Nixon "Madman Theory" Alert Revealed in Declassified Documents

In late December, 2003 declassified documents published by the National Security Archives disclosed a worldwide secret nuclear alert Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, stage-managed from 13 Oct. to 25 Oct., 1969. The alert consisted of a series of actions to ratchet up the readiness level of nuclear forces hoping to jar Soviet officials into pressing North Vietnam to meet U.S. terms in peace negotiations. The move caused no change in Soviet policy towards North Vietnam.

The nuclear alert was based on a diplomacy-supporting stratagem Nixon called the Madman Theory, or "the principle of the threat of excessive force." Nixon was convinced that his power would be enhanced if his opponents thought he might use excessive force, even nuclear force. That, coupled with his reputation for ruthlessness, he believed, would suggest that he was dangerously unpredictable.

Although Nixon favored this theory more than most, threatening excessive force was nothing new. In the 1950s President Dwight D. Eisenhower, his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and then-Vice President Nixon, had overtly practiced a version of the Madman Theory by means of the "uncertainty principle" and coercive nuclear "brinkmanship."

Such is the state of the world when Harvard University fellows urge the President of the United States to act nuts. In the name of preserving peace, George W. Bush is supposed to reintroduce the draft and god knows what else. This kind of behavior was summed up in Orwell's "1984" as double-think of course: "War is Peace". You can also add a new slogan, I suppose: "Insanity is sanity".

With all proportions guarded, when I read Paul Kane's bloodcurdling prose, I am reminded of what Leon Trotsky wrote in the 1933 article "What is National Socialism."

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth of the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of National Socialism.

April 18, 2006

Paul Flewers on the Euston Manifesto

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization,Islam,zionism — louisproyect @ 1:47 pm

(This was posted on Marxmail yesterday by Paul Flewers, who is the editor of "New Interventions" magazine.)

Nick Cohen is a co-author of the Euston Manifesto, a document that sees liberal democracy as the sine qua non of political theory and practice, which has been discussed previously on this list. It signifies a retreat of various left-wingers away from any idea of transcending liberal democracy towards defending those whom it sees as defending it — which in this case means (don't laugh) Bush in the USA and Blair in Britain.

I'm not sure whether these characters are naive or malicious, whether they really believe that Bush and Blair want to see democracy arise across the world, or whether they have keyed into the whole neo-con project of US imperialist expansion. Maybe some are naive, others malicious. However, after three years of disaster in Iraq, the chances of people being naive are small indeed.

In 1940, Evan Durbin, a British labourite theoretician, stated that anyone, Marxist or fascist, who did not accept liberal democracy was beyond the pale of political norms and should be treated accordingly. In short, those who want to go further than liberal democracy (that is, Marxists) were effectively outside the law, fair game for the ruling class. This is the way these Eustonites are going.

I've recently put this message on Dave Ostler's website (http://davespartblog.blogspot.com/), where the manifesto has been discussed:

I've recently had the unenviable job of reading through Encounter magazine for the 1950s. This was a mag that was published by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and was funded indirectly by the CIA. Its contributors were often ex-leftists who still thought themselves as a bit radical, but who, in the Cold War, far from dissociating themselves from both imperialism and Stalinism, sided with the former, just covering their capitulation with a fig-leaf of opposition to discrimination and poverty. Any (mild) criticisms of capitalism were heavily outnumbered by stern denunciations of totalitarianism and those deemed to support it.

The Euston Manifesto is a modern-day version of the kind of programme that Encounter 'socialists' would have put out 50 years back. I think that Dave O is right — this is a land-mark on the way to neo-conism. How many will take the Hitchens route to its conclusion, I can't tell. But that's the way they're going.

There is plenty of scope for socialists to oppose US imperialism without giving a carte blanche to Islamicism or other non-socialist outlooks, just as there was a space for genuine socialists 50 years ago to promote real freedom between the opposing millstones of imperialism and Stalinism.

April 17, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization,zionism — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on April 17, 2006

No matter how badly things have turned out in Iraq, there is still a hard core of self-described leftists who continue to wave pom-poms for the war and related imperialist initiatives. One imagines that if the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Baghdad, they would find a way to put a positive spin on the smoking radioactive rubble and millions of dead bodies.

It should be added that these individuals are in an alliance with other leftists who, while offering pro forma opposition to the war, reserve most of their time and energy to castigating the antiwar movement. They are the heirs of what Lillian Hellman referred to as "anti-antifascists" in her memoir "Scoundrel Time."

This loosely knit group has almost no ability to actually move people into action, as the real left does. When they get involved in rallies or demonstrations, the results are generally pathetic such as the actions that took place several months ago on behalf of the Danish government's right to humiliate Muslims. However, through their media connections and a network of like-minded blogs, they maintain a steady drumbeat of support for imperialist war abroad and racism at home.

Their most recent undertaking has been to produce something called the Euston Manifesto (http://eustonmanifesto.org/), a document that will generate much more controversy than actual mobilization. One can't imagine a group of undergraduates at a British or American university becoming inspired to actually *do something* after the fashion of SDS's founding documents in the 1960s. For that matter, the only youth who would seem to be acting on the precepts of Euston are in uniform right now patrolling the streets of Baghdad. Of course, they take their marching orders from the Pentagon and not from professors or journalists.

One of the prime movers behind the Euston Manifesto, which takes its name from location of the London pub where it was conceived, is retired philosophy professor Norm Geras, about whom the London Times had the following to say:

AN OBSCURE Marxist professor who has spent his entire academic life in Manchester has become the darling of the Washington right wing for his outspoken support of the war in Iraq.

Despite his leanings Norman Geras, who writes a blog diary on the internet, has praised President George W Bush and says the invasion of Iraq was necessary to oust the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein.

His daily jottings have brought him the nickname of “Stormin’ Norm” from the title of his diary, Normblog. The Wall Street Journal has reprinted one of his articles in its online edition and American pundits often cite his words.

But the British left has turned on Geras, a veteran of demonstrations against the Vietnam war. He has been denounced as an “imperialist skunk” and a “turncoat” in e-mails to his blog, which has up to 9,000 readers a day.

Most mornings Geras, 61, the author of such obscure books as Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty, sits in the upstairs study of his Edwardian semi in Manchester to type his latest entry.

Last week he gave thanks to Bush, quoting an Iraqi who wants to build a statue to the American president as “the symbol of freedom”.

Full: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1472386,00.html

One of the pro forma antiwar figures endorsing the Euston Manifesto is Marc Cooper, who unabashedly identifies himself as a Nation Magazine contributor while violating practically everything that this bastion of left-liberalism stands for. On www.marccooper.com, you can find a qualified endorsement of the manifesto from the dyspeptic critic of the left: "Even as loose as it currently stands, it's still a bit rigidly 'progressive' for me." It is difficult to imagine what makes Cooper feel this way. Perhaps the declaration that "We uphold the traditional liberal freedom of ideas" was seen as contrary to his own inclination to browbeat or purge any commenter who strays too far to the left on his own blog. One imagines that if Cooper ever got in a position to wield real power, Amnesty International would have its hands filled. (Speaking of which, Amnesty International gets castigated by the Eustonians for having the temerity to link Guantanamo and other such prisons to Stalin's Gulags.)

Most of the Euston Manifesto consists of bromides about the need for "egalitarian politics", "good governance" and "global economic development." Who can be opposed to such things? Since this document is really not about challenging the main obstacle to such noble goals–namely US and British imperialism–there is every reason to suspect that this is mere window-dressing. If such words are meant to gull the innocent, there is little proof that it has succeeded. Just about everybody who has signed the manifesto is a case-hardened anti-Communist or Islamophobe, including the following:

–Kanan Makiya: ex-Trotskyist who is closely connected to Ahmed Chalabi

–Paul Berman: US journalist who spent most of the 1980s promoting the Nicaraguan contras in the pages of the Village Voice, a newsweekly that specializes in tepid liberalism and massage parlor ads.

–John Lloyd: Financial Times writer whose only connection to the left was informing his bourgeois audience how to combat it when he was the paper's East European correspondent.

Such people hardly seem the sort to go out and build support for their cause in the real world. Their role is mainly to provide free public relations (or perhaps paid, judging from the record of Frances Stoner Saunders's "Who Paid the Piper") for the real institutions acting on their beliefs, namely the Pentagon, the IMF and multinational corporations.

Lord knows that such institutions need protection from the blind rage of the non-Euston left. As they put it, "That US foreign policy has often opposed progressive movements and governments and supported regressive and authoritarian ones does not justify generalized prejudice against either the country or its people." Yes, one has to stand guard against the xenophobic mood that gripped the world after it was revealed that the CIA was dragooning people off to secret prisons where they would be tortured for months on end. During that mean-spirited time, it was impossible to sing "America the Beautiful" without getting chased down the street by student radicals agitated by Noam Chomsky's latest pamphlet.

Once you get past the empty generalizations of the Euston Manifesto, you find a number of talking points that keep coming up on blogs like "Harry's Place." We are warned that anti-Zionism leads to anti-Semitism. We are also told that the antiwar movement must renounce the Iraqi resistance with as much vigor as it denounces US occupation. Of course, such a position has a hoary past. Albert Camus, the ideological inspiration for a number of the Euston signatories, especially Paul Berman, put the French paratroopers and the FLN on the same moral plane since they both used violence. Needless to say, one could have respected Camus if for no other reason that he put his life on the line during the Nazi occupation of France when he published an underground newspaper. But the Eustonians have more in common with the Vichy collaborators that Camus sought to overthrow rather than with Camus himself.

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