Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 30, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Filed under: Film,Jihadists — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

This is the time of year when I begin to get DVD’s from major Hollywood studios in anticipation of the New York Film Critics Online awards ceremony in December. While we are a lot scruffier than the Oscars jury, our picks do get a fair amount of press play since the Internet is becoming a more trusted source of movie reviews than print.

Last night I watched “A Mighty Heart,” a docudrama about the kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in February 2002 by jihadists in Karachi, Pakistan. The film focuses on the emotional roller coaster of his wife Mariane, who is played by Angelina Jolie–touted as a possible Oscar best actress.

I enjoyed “A Mighty Heart” in the same way that I enjoyed “United 93,” another docudrama that grew out of the maelstrom following 9/11. Both films avoid strident editorializing about “Islamofascism” and are content to allow the events to unfold methodically as a kind of diary. Since both films are directed by Britons, perhaps this is no accident. With such compelling subject matter, there really is no need for embellishment. They also made the wise choice to cast non-marquee actors in all the leading roles, with the exception made of course for the highly bankable Angelina Jolie. By contrast, Daniel Pearl is played by Dan Futterman, whose career has mostly involved minor television roles on “Sex and the City,” “Will and Grace,” etc.

Another important calculation in “A Mighty Heart” is to make this a movie much more about Mariane Pearl than her husband. The screenplay is based on Mariane Pearl’s book, of the same title, which is an account of her unsuccessful struggle to save her husband’s life and a relatively more successful struggle to make sense of the ordeal. You see Daniel Pearl on his way to his appointment with Omar Sheikh, the kidnapping ringleader, but never afterwards. By leaving out the ordeal that led up to and included his beheading, the film therefore reduces the element of sensationalism that typifies more mainstream movie-making.

Unfortunately, many of the deeper insights found in the book are not reflected in the screenplay, which obviously could have only been conveyed through voice-over narration. Mariane Pearl’s dialog mostly consists of impatient imprecations hurled at the Pakistani cops alternating with appeals to them to follow up leads she digs up. Not given much to work with, Jolie turns in a serviceable performance.

What drives the plot forward is the detective work of the Pakistani and American cops, who come across as morally and politically compromised throughout, working in tandem with the WSJ reporters. When Mariane Pearl first approaches a top Pakistani cop, she is told that her husband was looking for trouble by interviewing a jihadist to being with. He also wonders if he was an Indian spy, a charge that mirrors the jihadist claim that he was working for the CIA and/or Mossad. As the vice tightens on the network that organized his kidnapping, one of the arrested men is tortured by Pakistani police. The CIA agent who has been assigned to the case assures Mariane Pearl that the Pakistani cops will hang suspects by their feet and worse to get information. By revealing this dimension of the police work around Pearl’s kidnapping, “A Mighty Heart” is a reminder that the forces of law and order are often no better than the criminals they are pursuing.

If you want to really understand who Daniel Pearl was, you have to look elsewhere. I strongly recommend the HBO documentary “Journalist and the Jihadi: the murder of Daniel Pearl” that can be ordered here. This film reveals Daniel Pearl as a forthright and courageous journalist who was just the opposite of a lackey of US foreign policy. Despite the Wall Street Journal’s editorial stance in favor of the “war on terror,” Pearl was quite sympathetic to Arab and Islamic culture, so much so that he got the nickname “Danny of Arabia” in the WSJ newsroom.

Mariane Pearl’s book recounts an early encounter between her husband and Omar Sheikh, who was known to him as Bashir:

As they were leaving, Danny asked Bashir if he thought he could arrange an appointment with Gilani [a radical cleric who was meant to lure Pearl into a trap.] Bashir answered that he would try, but Danny would first have to prove first that he was “neither anti-Islamic nor anti-Pakistani” by sending a collection of his articles. Another hurdle. If the articles passed muster, the meeting would take place in the capital after our return from Peshawar.

As it turns out, the HBO website for “Journalist and the Jihadi” has a collection of Pearl’s WSJ articles that are well worth reading. Perhaps an article about a revival of pop music in Iran was “proof” of his CIA connections. Mostly they reflect an independent streak that defies any easy connection with US foreign policy–unlike the newspaper’s editorial pages. One of the more interesting pieces is a refutation of the claim that there was genocide in Kosovo in line with Edward Herman and Diana Johnstone’s articles:

British and American officials still maintain that 10,000 or more ethnic-Albanian civilians died at Serb hands during the fighting in Kosovo. The U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has accused Serbs of covering up war crimes by moving bodies. It has begun its own military analysis of the Serb offensive.

But the number of bodies discovered so far is much lower — 2,108 as of November, and not all of them necessarily war-crimes victims. While more than 300 reported grave sites remain to be investigated, the tribunal has checked the largest reported sites first, and found most to contain no more than five bodies, suggesting intimate acts of barbarity rather than mass murder.

Even if Pearl’s reporting had an anti-Arab or anti-Islamic tilt, it was a terrible error to kidnap and kill him. The tendency of jihadists to kidnap or kill reporters makes them susceptible to needless condemnation in the West. When a reporter has a demonstrable willingness to report fairly about events on the ground, as was the case with Daniel Pearl or the Christian Science Monitor’s Jill Carroll, it makes the insurgents look like barbarians. In trying to understand the difference between the antiwar movement of today and that of the 1960s and 70s, one must first of all recognize that the absence of a draft today reduces an irritant that would coalesce a much more powerful and massive movement around the war in Iraq. The other important factor is the utter inability of the jihadists to think in class terms. The Vietnamese were always thinking of possible wedges that could be driven between ordinary Americans and the ruling class strategists who were trying to conquer the country. Unfortunately, as reflected through one miscalculation after another, the jihadists end up using superglue rather than wedges. Perhaps the only thing that explains continuing resistance to the war is the fact that the ruling class strategists of today are even more boneheaded than those of the 1960s and 70s.

October 27, 2007

Lagerfeld Confidential

Filed under: art — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

When I was invited to a press screening of “Lagerfeld Confidential,” now playing at the Film Forum in New York, about six weeks ago, my first reaction was to decline the offer. What possible interest could the Unrepentant Marxist have in one of the world’s highest profile haute couture designers? I am glad that I decided to watch a screener. Not only is Karl Lagerfeld a truly compelling figure; the film also provided an entrée into the role of designer clothing in bourgeois society.

Long ago, when I worked at Goldman-Sachs on Wall Street and had money to burn, I got hooked on luxury items myself. I bought my suits at Paul Stuart and kept a Mount Blanc pen in my shirt pocket. Not long after I started working at Columbia University, I donated all the suits to a thrift shop but kept the Mount Blanc pen. I never use it because the refills are exorbitantly expensive. Although I lead a simpler life now, I do understand the mystique that such goods have. Even Fidel Castro wears a Rolex.

Perhaps the last word on dressing up comes from Thorstein Veblen. In chapter seven (“Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture”) of “Theory of the Leisure Class,” Veblen observes:

The standard of reputability requires that dress should show wasteful expenditure; but all wastefulness is offensive to native taste. The psychological law has already been pointed out that all men — and women perhaps even in a higher degree abhor futility, whether of effort or of expenditure — much as Nature was once said to abhor a vacuum. But the principle of conspicuous waste requires an obviously futile expenditure; and the resulting conspicuous expensiveness of dress is therefore intrinsically ugly. Hence we find that in all innovations in dress, each added or altered detail strives to avoid condemnation by showing some ostensible purpose, at the same time that the requirement of conspicuous waste prevents the purposefulness of these innovations from becoming anything more than a somewhat transparent pretense. Even in its freest flights, fashion rarely if ever gets away from a simulation of some ostensible use. The ostensible usefulness of the fashionable details of dress, however, is always so transparent a make-believe, and their substantial futility presently forces itself so baldly upon our attention as to become unbearable, and then we take refuge in a new style. But the new style must conform to the requirement of reputable wastefulness and futility. Its futility presently becomes as odious as that of its predecessor; and the only remedy which the law of waste allows us is to seek relief in some new construction, equally futile and equally untenable. Hence the essential ugliness and the unceasing change of fashionable attire.

Notwithstanding Veblen’s insights, there is another dimension to designer clothing that “Lagerfeld Confidential” conveys. While such clothing is not “functional” in any real sense, it is often beautiful and can even rise to the level of art as should be obvious from a trip to the Metropolitan Museum or even the Guggenheim, which mounted a controversial exhibit of Giorgio Armani clothing in 1999. Some journalists made the obvious point that the museum was blurring the lines between art and commerce:

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum announced last month that it would pay homage to the Italian designer Giorgio Armani next fall with a major retrospective of his work. The museum will turn its rotunda over to his ball gowns and pants suits and tuxedos, providing a breathtaking backdrop for an opening soiree and adding even more luster, if such a thing is possible, to the fashion designer’s name.

What the museum did not acknowledge was that some eight months earlier, Mr. Armani had become a sizable benefactor to the Guggenheim. The size of his contribution has not been disclosed, but one participant in museum meetings at which it was discussed said it would eventually amount to $15 million, an initial $5 million with a pledge to donate $10 million more over the next three years.

Asked about the gift, museum officials said it was part of a “global partner sponsorship,” gifts that can go to Guggenheim projects anywhere in the world, and denied that it was a quid pro quo for organizing the Armani show. The show is being sponsored by the fashion and celebrity magazine In Style, in which Armani is an advertiser…

But the debate began earlier. In the last three years, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, fashion designers like Dior have sponsored shows devoted to their work. When the museum held a show of Gianni Versace’s fashions, it was paid for in part by Conde Nast, publisher of fashion magazines like Vogue that depend on Versace for advertising. Next year the museum hopes Chanel will finance a show of its work. Tiffany, Faberge and Cartier also paid for shows about their products. The museum won’t say how much any of these shows cost.

–NY Times, December 15, 1999

If there is a case to be made that fashion is a form of art, Karl Lagerfeld would be prima facie evidence. “Lagerfeld Confidential” consists almost entirely of interviews with the seventy-something designer as he works in his studio, attends runway shows, dines with fashion industry muck-a-mucks, etc. Although I knew him only by name in the past (I might have even had a bottle of Lagerfeld cologne in my decadent youth), I came away from this documentary directed by Rodolphe Marconi with a deep respect for the creativity and intelligence of an admittedly cynical subject. Like his friend Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfeld is a true expression of how bourgeois decadence can be seductive, not unlike the pearl generated by an infected oyster.

As the son of Swedish merchant-banking family that grew up in Germany, Lagerfeld enjoyed material privilege and emotional hardship. His mother Elizabeth, a native German, was cold and abusive as a New Yorker profile revealed:

He was devoted to his mother, who seemed rarely to miss an opportunity to criticize him. He has said that he decided never to smoke cigarettes after his mother told him that his hands were exceptionally ugly and that smoking would only draw attention to them; she also told him that his stories were “so boring” that he should hurry up and tell them—he says this accounts for his rapid speech. Lagerfeld recounts these instances of maternal cruelty without self-pity and even defends his mother, saying that children’s stories are indeed boring. His mother was tough, he concedes, “but right for a boy with a head like this”—he throws his hands wide apart.

In adolescence, Lagerfeld became consumed with design and women’s fashion in particular. As he reveals in the documentary, he knew early on that he was gay and never made an effort to conceal that fact. He moved to Paris in his teens and launched a successful career immediately. His main complaint about the fashion world then was that it was too “bourgeois”, a term that he uses throughout the film as an epithet. Unlike Marxists, his contempt stems from his identification with the feudal aristocracy that was overthrown by a bourgeoisie that disdained the peacock dress of the royal courts. It is obvious from this excerpt from the New Yorker profile that he would like to turn the clock back:

Two decades before it became de rigueur for designers to do so, Lagerfeld haunted flea markets and thrift shops for vintage dresses, dismantling them in order to learn the secrets of their construction and design. He studied books on Madeleine Vionnet and the other pioneers of fashion from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and he translated this knowledge into his work, pairing historical references with contemporary trends. Lagerfeld became a fixation of the fashion press, which chronicled his life and style, noting the changes in his home décor, and his habit of dressing in Edwardian collars and ascots, and wearing a monocle. When he moved into the house on the Rue de l’Université, in 1977, he did not use electricity in some of the rooms but lit them with candles. Buck visited him there. “It was extraordinarily beautiful,” she says. “I slept in this bedroom with a lit à la polonaise, with a semicircular canopy—very high, with ostrich feathers on top. Next to that room was his study, and he slept in this tiny little room that had the actual lacquer furniture that had belonged to Mme. de Pompadour.”

While he is totally consumed with the fashion world and his place in it, Lagerfeld is by no means a one-dimensional figure. He is devoted to fine literature and has launched publishing company that is devoted to works that he deems worthy. His tastes run to Rilke and Emily Dickinson but when he discusses his favorite writers in the film, it is not from the perspective of a literary scholar. He is the quintessential fan, who makes no distinction between high and pop culture. You can get a sense of his unique conversational style from this New Yorker snippet:

“For me, the perfect writing is E. B. White—that’s how one should write English,” he told me at his home on the Rue de l’Université. “The sound, the language, what it evokes for me. I see New York with the eyes of his book about New York. Like Colette in French. Even someone like Léautaud—whom you probably don’t know. Léautaud was the son of a courtesan and his father was a bad actor who became a souffleur in the Comédie-Française—you know, the one who sits in a box onstage and whispers lines to the actors when they forget them? Prompter! He wrote three books and then he started a publishing house, a very good one, the Mercure de France, and stayed all his life there as the editor of the Mercure literature review, and he loved cats and animals—which I’m not crazy for. Everything he did all of his life, I don’t like, but his writing, for me, his descriptions of Paris—I go to the street where he went for fifty, sixty years, and I see it only with his eyes.

Clothing has always been connected with class issues. The French Revolution attempted to uproot all vestiges of the Ancien Régime including the ostentatious costumes of King and aristocrats, even though many in the middle class adopted the style of the rulers as is the case today with rappers wearing bling.

In the nineteenth century, clothing styles became more and more bourgeois, stressing sobriety and uniformity. With the advent of the industrial revolution, clothing not only began to come off the assembly line but expressed the aesthetic of the factory, especially men’s clothing.

The abandonment of display and color was more than mere Anglomania. The new dress embodied the ideological justification for and social legitimacy of the bourgeois. Clothing reaffirmed the concepts of modesty, effort, propriety, reserve, and “self-control,” which were the basis of bourgeois “respectability.” They combined a moral rejection with their political rejection of color. “The world of colors,” writes Jean Baudrillard, “is seen as opposed to that of values. ‘Chic’ effaces appearance so that being might stand revealed. Black, white, and grey, the very negation of color, were the paradigm of dignity, control, and morality.” Ideally, the bourgeois’s rather stiff black suit, like that of a clergyman, disguised or effaced his body, allowing the wearer to distance himself from it, abandon it, and forget its embarrassing or inopportune presence. It became, as Theophile Gauthier pointed out, “a sort of skin that no man will shed under any pretext. It sticks to him like the pelt of an animal, so that nowadays the real form of the body has fallen into oblivion.”

(Phillipe Perrot, “Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: a History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century)

As class distinctions began to emerge in the 19th century, elite dress began to reflect this fact. Industrialists, bankers and their wives began to wear clothing that distinguished them from the commoners, in the same manner that the aristocrats distinguished themselves from the lower classes in the 18th century. Ironically, bourgeois clothing often had egalitarian roots despite the “conspicuous consumption” uses it now had. The top hat, which had became a symbol of bourgeois excess, typified this paradox. Turning once again to Perrot:

In nineteenth-century streets the top hat covered every bourgeois head. To trace its history would entail a story of geographical displacement (because of its Quaker origins it emigrated from England to America), of amazing diffusion (the War of Independence made it prestigious, notably among the victorious French troops who brought it back to France and turned it into an emblem of liberty), and finally, of significant monopolization (it became the prerogative of the bourgeoisie).

After the July Monarchy the top hat was made no longer of felt but of black silk, and its crown was lower and narrower. Yet, it remained exceptionally uncomfortable, even after the spring system of a new, more practical model, the gibus, made it possible to open and collapse it. It fulfilled no useful purpose: its narrow brim provided little protection from rain or sun, and its height exposed it to every wind. It had no aesthetic alibis: everyone criticized “this unattractive and unfortunate form, known as the stovepipe,” and excoriated those “responsible” for it, “the ignorant hat-makers who for fifty years have been stuck in the groove of routine.” This gleaming cylinder owed its long life to other virtues: notably, that of incorporating both bourgeois propriety, through its stiffness and funereal sobriety, and aristocratic bearing, because it made any physical activity completely impossible, and that of simultaneously integrating democratic equality, by abandoning feathers or embroidery, with hierarchical difference, through a new play of distinctive details, particularly luster and cleanliness.

Today haute couture is not what it used to be. As described by Dana Thomas in the recently published “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster,” designer clothing is no longer the province of small, specialized manufacturers who produce for the carriage trade. It has become big business for two reasons. First of all, the growth of a new middle class worldwide has created a new inexhaustible market for Gucci, Prada, Yves St. Laurent et al, especially in Japan, Russia and China. Secondly, globalization has made it possible for such goods to be produced cheaply in China and other East Asian sweat shops. If you look carefully at Coach handbags, for example, you will notice that they are made in China. Like anything else coming out of China, the workers get the shitty end of the stick, as Dana Thomas reports:

Production in China costs 30 to 40 percent less than in Italy. “So we aren’t dirt cheap,” the manufacturer said. “There is a preconception in the U.S. and Europe that if the brands move to China they’ll get it for 10 percent. Sure, there are factories that will do that, but the quality won’t be there and the brand will suffer. If we do it right and they get good products from our effort, they will make money. In the end, we are the money generator for them.”

Indeed they are. The evening after I visited the factory in China, I met some friends for a drink at the bar at the new Harvey Nichols store in Hong Kong. As I entered the store from the Landmark luxury shopping mall in the heart of the Central business district, I passed through the handbag department. To my right, on the shelf, sat the exact same bag I saw the Chinese girls making in the factory. It cost the brand $120 to produce. It was for sale at Harvey Nick’s for $1,200.

Today nearly all the designer labels that you see in advertisements in the NY Times are not independent companies, but are subsidiaries of huge conglomerates that roam the planet relentlessly in search of new markets and cheap labor. LVMH (formed as a merger of Louis Vuitton, Moët et Chandon and Hennessy) is typical. These are some of the other properties they have acquired over the years: TAG Heuer, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Donna Karan, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Kenzo, Marc Jacobs, Parfums Christian Dior, Guerlain, Parfums and Givenchy.

The CEO of LVMH is one Bernard Arnault, who is the seventh richest man in the world. Arnault has brought the MBA, bottom line mentality to all the companies in his fold and most journalists in the fashion industry, including Dana Thomas, believe that his products have suffered as a consequence. Clearly, with the same process taking place in the film and wine industries, you are seeing the decline of quality as a function of rising profits.

And each time Arnault has taken over a fashion company, someone has ended up with a bloody nose.

The story of his dramatic climb started in 1984 when he returned to France from the US after a frustrated attempt to expand his family property company overseas.

It was then that the French government let him pay the insolvent Agache-Willot textiles and stores group a token one franc to acquire all its subsidiaries, including Christian Dior. The acquisition demonstrated Arnault’s lateral thinking. While all the other companies chasing the same prize would talk only to the government, Arnault instead reached an agreement with the Willot brothers who had run Agache-Willot into the ground.

This left the government with an easy choice. If it plumped for Arnault, it could get rid of the Agache-Willot problem. If it chose one of the others, the affair would drag on for years because the Willot brothers would have challenged its decision in the courts.

Predictably, it chose Arnault – but there there was a hitch.

Although Arnault’s optimistic business plan led the government to believe he would carry on running the textile and hygiene companies with a specified number of employees, he quickly took steps to sack workers in their thousands before selling off his textile and hygiene assets at a profit.

–London Mail, November 8, 1992, Sunday

Whatever criticisms one might have of Karl Lagerfeld and his feudal pretenses, he at least has the right attitude toward Arnault as found in the article cited above. Lagerfeld, who was the head designer at Christian Dior at the time when Arnault was making a takeover bid, said that he would “rather be a beggar in the streets of Paris than work for Bernard Arnault“.

October 26, 2007

A debate with Links over the revolutionary party

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

Since early 2003 there has been an ongoing debate between Links, the theoretical magazine of the Australian DSP, and some Marxmail subscribers about how to build a revolutionary party.

The debate began in issue 23 with John Percy’s article “Looking backward, looking forward: Pointers to building a revolutionary party“. Percy, a founder of the DSP along with his brother the late Jim Percy, modeled their group after the American SWP, which was not that bad an idea in the 1960s. The Australians broke with the American party after it veered off in a sectarian workerist direction in the 1980s, but they never renounced the organizational guidelines found in SWP founder James P. Cannon’s writings. Percy’s article is a defense of Cannonism against criticisms that I and others on Marxmail–Joaquin Bustelo in particular–have made. Percy basically represented us as burnt-out cases:

The idea of a revolutionary socialist party, or one taking any cues from the Bolshevik experience, is also hotly contested in the milieu, the “party” of former members of parties, reformed Leninists who’ve seen the error of their ways. Many people pass through revolutionary parties, here and around the world. The revolution is a great devourer of people, that’s a fact, and this can be intense in difficult objective situations in which we are pushing uphill. Some comrades tire out, some have bad experiences, and some get other priorities in their lives. Most move on, some adapt to the prevailing political orthodoxy, but some still haven’t settled with their past in the revolutionary party and for a while can spend a good part of their political activity attacking their own past by attacking those still actively building a party.

The Marxism List based in the US has many people with this sort of background and outlook, who have espoused or developed a description of their perspective as “anti-Zinovievist”, although I haven’t seen any attempt by them to clearly distinguish themselves from anti-Leninism. Really, that’s what they are, even if they feel better hiding behind Zinoviev.

I should add that John Percy is no longer the central leader of the DSP. After a prolonged faction fight over perspectives for the Socialist Alliance in Australia, Percy was replaced by Peter Boyle. Both Boyle and Percy remain convinced, however, that James P. Cannon’s ideas are correct.

When I replied to Percy on Marxmail on June 13, 2003, I reminded him among other things that Morris Stein, James P. Cannon’s top lieutenant, made a statement at the 1946 SWP convention that is a formula for sectarianism:

We are monopolists in the field of politics. We can’t stand any competition. We can tolerate no rivals. The working class, to make the revolution can do it only through one party and one program. This is the lesson of the Russian Revolution. That is the lesson of all history since the October Revolution. Isn’t that a fact? This is why we are out to destroy every single party in the field that makes any pretense of being a working-class revolutionary party. Ours is the only correct program that can lead to revolution. Everything else is deception, treachery. We are monopolists in politics and we operate like monopolists.

Until the DSP or any other self-declared “vanguard” formation can come to terms with this kind of small proprietor mentality that afflicts all such groups, they will never become a true vanguard. A genuinely revolutionary party has nothing in common with car rental agencies, fast food chains, etc. as they contend for market share. Fidel Castro did not approach Cuban politics this way in 1953 and neither should we today. I should add that my ideas on such matters are strongly influenced by Peter Camejo, who admitted to me early on that he in turn borrowed them from Fidel Castro and V.I. Lenin. Camejo has endeavored mostly in vain to persuade the DSP of his approach. You can read his appeal to them to break with the American SWP model here.

In the next issue of Links, number 24, Doug Lorimer responded to my criticisms of Percy’s article:

Louis Proyect, a former member of the US Socialist Workers Party and the moderator of the Marxism List, has written a response) to John Percy’s article on that internet site. In it he attempts to defend his view that the Democratic Socialist Party’s conception of the organisational character of the Leninist party is based, not on the actual Bolshevik experience, but on the distorted interpretation of this experience imposed upon the Communist International in 1924 by Comintern president Grigory Zinoviev, after Zinoviev had formed a political alliance with Stalin in the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In my reply to Lorimer, again posted to Marxmail, I reminded him how the actual practice of the Bolshevik party differed from his own. The democratic centralism of the Bolshevik party did not preclude party members differing with each other in public. In fact, one of Joaquin Bustelo’s main contributions to this debate has been to illustrate how “discipline” in the Bolshevik party was nothing like that understood by SWP or DSP leaders.

Even the question of the insurrection was debated publicly. Lenin quite rightly objected to that, and especially to Zinoviev and Kamenev having taken their disagreement, which given the nature of the proposed step needed to stay INSIDE the central committee, to the non-party press. He proposed to expel them, but even being Lenin with his enormous prestige in the Bolshevik leadership, he couldn’t get a single other member of the CC to support him, and the question was never formally taken up. For his part, Lenin was waging a political campaign against what he feared was indecisiveness on the question of insurrection among the top Bolsheviks. Arguably, in retrospect, Lenin was a little off on this. He was underground, in hiding, and didn’t have his finger on the pulse of the political situation like Trotsky and some of the others did. In the end, it was Trotsky’s tactical plan that was followed. Despite Lenin’s misgivings, Trotsky and the others more intimately involved were the ones who had to lead it.

Is that the spirit and tradition of today’s “Leninist” parties? I don’t think so. The Bolshevik majority didn’t split with fellow revolutionaries even over the question of insurrection and even after the gravest of breaches of discipline. But we split over anything and everything, and then, refusing to learn from experience, the splinters split again and again.

In issue 26 of Links, the debate continued with French LCR member Murray Smith’s article “Some remarks on democracy and debate in the Bolshevik Party“. It begins with a swipe at me:

I would like to make some comments on Doug Lorimer’s article, “The Bolshevik Party and `Zinovievism’: Comments on a Caricature of Leninism”, published in Links 24.

Louis Proyect’s affirmation that there is no such thing as Leninism reflects an idea that is now quite widespread on the left. Like many mistaken ideas, it has a kernel of truth. This kernel resides in the fact that the post-Lenin leadership of the Communist International invented the term “Leninism” in 1924 as what Daniel Bensaïd has called “a religiously mummified orthodoxy”.

Despite Smith’s rather patronizing attitude, most of his article repeats many of the points that I have made. (Unfortunately, the French Trotskyists seem unable to implement an approach based on Murray Smith’s insights and appear bent on continuing with a less offensive version of Morris Stein’s small proprietor approach to revolutionary politics.) Smith made a point of agreeing with my and Joaquin’s understanding of the internal norms of the Bolshevik party, which were far more elastic than any “Marxist-Leninist” party hence.

Not only was debate public, but breaches of discipline were not uncommon. Lorimer gives the example of Riazanov and Lozovsky voting against the banning of bourgeois newspapers. [Actually Lorimer was responding to my reference to Riazanov and Lozovsky, which was found in John Reed's "Ten Days that Shook the World." I was demonstrating that the Bolsheviks argued publicly about whether or not the bourgeois press should be shut down, a matter that today's "Leninists" would regard as the province of the top leadership body.] His explanation that they were “recent recruits” is unconvincing. In the first place, Riazanov and Lozovsky were hardly new; they both had about twenty years of party membership, and Lozovsky had been a Bolshevik from 1903 to at least 1909 before becoming primarily involved in the French workers’ movement. Secondly, they were far from isolated examples. The same two publicly opposed the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Zinoviev and Kamenev’s much more serious breach of discipline in October is well known. Immediately after the conquest of power, a major debate broke out in the Bolshevik Party over the question of a “government of Soviet parties” (i.e. a coalition with the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries). The “Bolshevik right” (all longstanding Bolsheviks) comprising Kamenev, Zinoviev and other opponents of the insurrection as well as some who had been in favour of it not only publicly opposed the majority of the leadership but resigned from their party and government posts to try to exert pressure on the party. In the spring of 1918 Bukharin and the Left Communists not only publicly opposed the majority position on the Brest-Litovsk peace but brought out fifteen issues of an opposition journal, Kommunist, at first daily, then less frequently.

The latest contribution to the debate is in Links issue number 30, hot off the press. Doug Lorimer once again defends Cannonite orthodoxy in a reply to Murry Smith titled “The Bolshevik Party and democratic centralism: A response to Murray Smith“.

Lorimer’s article consists mainly of a sterile defense of “Leninist” orthodoxy, which boils down to cherry-picking Bolshevik history in order to vindicate the DSP’s organizational methodology. I have heard it a thousand times and don’t think it is necessary to refute it point by point.

But I do want to conclude with a word or two about Paul Levi, the German Communist leader of the 1920s who became a bone of contention between Lorimer and Smith. Once again, the reference to Paul Levi was made originally by me. Lorimer considered Levi to be nothing more than an “anarchist intellectual,” an epithet hurled at him by Lenin after Levi became an open and vocal critic of disastrous Comintern meddling in Germany in the early 1920s.

Lorimer’s reference to Levi in his Links #24 article completely ignored the historical context for the falling out between Levi, the Comintern leaders and the German Communists who had become its obedient servants. Basically Levi was struggling against his party being turned into an appendage of the Comintern. If Lorimer was a bit more sensitive to and knowledgeable about the early history of the Communist movement, he would have recognized Levi as a kindred spirit in light of his own party’s efforts to defy SWP attempts to dictate its political line.

Smith was content to treat Levi in the same patronizing manner as he did me, but of course I would never consider myself to be in Levi’s league. Smith wrote:

Levi was probably the most talented of the KPD leaders after the murder of Luxemburg, to whom he was very close. Unfortunately, his behaviour and judgment as a leader were not on a par with his capacity for political analysis. He made a serious error of judgment in launching his attack [on the KPD]. Even then, had he been capable of retreating from his public opposition and accepting discipline, he could not have been kept out of the party. Lenin was in favour of him being readmitted under those circumstances.19 Unfortunately, he chose to form his own group and ultimately rejoined the SPD.

Let me conclude by rendering my own judgment on Levi:

Paul Levi, who had resigned as party chairman earlier in the year, would emerge as the sharpest critic of the March Action [a putschist bid by an inexperienced German Communist Party in 1921] and a key critic of Comintern interference in the German party. He had become embroiled in a dispute between the Italian Socialist Party and the Comintern over the infamous 21 conditions. The Italian party was divided into 3 factions–right, center and left–, but only the right was consciously reformist. The Comintern representatives to the Italian party convention in January 1921, as would be expected, ordered the Italians to throw out the right wing. The leader of the center faction, Giacinto Serrati, did not want to alienate the Comintern but he was equally unwilling to break with the right faction on the spot since these party leaders had a strong union base. To Levi’s consternation, a Comintern-engineered split took place and the remaining left faction formed the Communist Party of Italy.

When Levi returned to Germany to sit down with the Zentrale (Central Committee) to discuss the Italian events, one of the two Soviet emissaries who engineered the split, a Hungarian by the name of Matyas Rakosi, invited himself to the meeting. He defended the split and threatened that other parties, including their own, could get the same treatment if they didn’t toe the line. The cowed Zentrale took a vote on the Italian events and Levi’s position lost 28 to 23, whereupon he resigned as party chairman.

This left the Germany Communist Party in the hands of one Heinrich Brandler, a total mediocrity whose only claim to fame was some trade-union experience and commanding an armed detachment of workers in Saxony during the fitful 1919 uprising. Brandler had few strong convictions of his own and soon found himself accommodating to a rather aggressive ultraleft faction led by Ruth Fischer. Fischer and her followers thought that the Communist Party should be a party of action, an approach that stripped of its Marxist verbiage was pure Blanquism.

The German Communists received a surprise visit from a three emissaries from the Comintern, who at this point were covering as much territory per month as modern-day jet-setters. They were led by Bela Kun, who had led an unsuccessful revolt in Hungary 2 years earlier and was now on official duty in Germany to give the Communists there the benefit of his wisdom.

The party, Kun advised, must take the offensive even it had to resort to provocative measures. Once the Communists launched an offensive, 2 to 3 million German workers were bound to follow their bold lead. When he revealed his ideas to veteran Communist Clara Zetkin, she was shocked. She went immediately to Paul Levi and stated that a witness must be present at all future conversations with Kun, who she regarded as an adventurer despite his Comintern credentials.

Kun and the Fischerites were successful in winning Brandler to their ultraleft schema and he announced in early March 1921 that “…We have in the Reich today two to three million non-Communist workers who can be influenced by our Communist organization, who will fight under our flag…even in an offensive action. If my view is correct, then the situation obligates us to deal with the existing tensions at home and abroad no longer passively; we must no longer exploit…them merely for agitation, but we are obligated…to interfere through Action in order to change matters in our sense.”

This ultraleft putschism bore rotten fruit in the next few weeks when tens of thousands of workers in Central Germany were thrown into a ill-prepared battle with the police and army. The Prussian province of Saxony and the neighboring states of Thurngia and Saxony formed a powerful industrial base that had recently been the scene of pitched battles between strikers, especially coal-miners, and the state. Otto Horsing, the head of Prussian Saxony, decided to provoke the workers into a major battle so as to vanquish them once and for all. He called for their disarmament while turning a blind eye to right-wing militias in neighboring Bavaria.

On March 17, word of Horsing’s provocation reached Brandler’s Central Committee who decided to turn the local fight into a revolutionary struggle for power. To say that they had no idea how one thing would lead to another is the understatement of the century. What followed was a series of miscued confrontations that left the workers defeated and demoralized.

The Communists summoned the workers to battle with words drafted by Bela Kun himself:

The bourgeoisie stands in arms and refuses to surrender them… and the German workers have no weapons!.. Now the law means nothing any more; nor does Versailles. Weapons will decide, and the counterrevolutionaries refuse to surrender theirs…Every worker will simply ignore the law and must seize a weapon wherever he may find one.

This is an utterly cavalier attitude to take to the armed struggle, to say the least. What happened is that the call to arms was largely ignored by the Social Democrats and the Independent Socialist rank and file, while being actively opposed by their leaders. No significant armed actions were mounted by the Communists themselves. The most successful insurrectionary activity was organized by one Max Hoelz who had been thrown out of the party in 1919 after getting on Brandler’s wrong side.

Hoelz was a fire-breathing adventurer who had a real talent for Action. He formed shock troops almost immediately and began robbing banks, burning down buildings, dynamiting trains in a bold but strategically insignificant campaign. For example, the repeating dynamiting of passenger trains filled with workers going off to their morning factory jobs tended to alienate them and the people who worked on the railroads.

The German Communists could not control this insurrection which did take on a certain life of its own. Many deeply frustrated unemployed and lumpen elements joined in the rioting and looting. Neither were they capable of spreading the struggle to other parts of the country. In Berlin, despite their most inflammatory slogans, the masses remained uninvolved. This was a purely Communist Action and regarded with polite curiosity at the best. In most cases, it earned bitter resentment.

Heavy fighting continued for several days until the government won the upper hand.. Despite the defeat, the Communists viewed the events as a qualified success. They put all the blame on the “treacherous” non-Communist workers parties. The March Action left hundreds of workers dead, while thousands of others lost their jobs and prospects for future employment Only two leaders, Brandler and the adventurer Hoelz, were jailed. Most of the retribution was directed against their followers. It is not surprising that in the aftermath, the Communist Party of Germany shrank from 350,000 to 180,000 by the summer of 1921.

Paul Levi wrote a scathing criticism of the March Action which Clara Zetkin supported completely. At this point the German party was divided sharply between critics like Levi and ultraleftists like Ruth Fischer who stood by the “strategy.”

A German delegation arrived in Moscow for the Third Congress of the Comintern in 1922. On the agenda of this gathering was to be an assessment of the German events. Lenin had become pessimistic about the prospects of revolutionary upheavals in Europe and was thinking of ways to weather the storm. The NEP was a strategy fit for an ebb in the global class struggle. If the mood in the Kremlin had become conservative, this meant that the German ultraleftists were bound to be repudiated. While storming the barricades might have been an appropriate form of revolutionary activity during War Communism and Trotsky’s march into Poland, new realities would call for moderation.

Lenin and Trotsky turned the Congress into a campaign against ultraleftism, the German party’s in particular. Trotsky’s final speech evoked the new approach perfectly:

…In a word, the situation now at the time of the Third Congress of the Communist International is not the same as it was during the First and Second Congresses…Now for the first time we see and feel that we are not so immediately near to the goal, to the conquest of power, to the world revolution. At the time, in 1919, we said to ourselves: ‘It is a question of months.’ Now we can say: ‘It is perhaps a question of years.’

There was one problem, however, in getting to the bottom of the German fiasco. The Comintern, including Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev, the three main leaders, refused to acknowledge their own responsibility in the events. It was Bela Kun, after all, who had proposed the ultraleft course. It was Karl Radek who had endorsed these actions as well.

When it came time to hand down an official verdict on the German events, the Comintern produced a mealy-mouthed document that let everybody off the hook, especially itself. It stated that the German party was forced into an offensive by the Prussian state and that, despite mistakes, did the best it could to advance the struggle. An honest appraisal would have said nothing like this. It would have been a ruthlessly honest critique of the Comintern and the German Communists. This would have been the only way for the party to learn from its mistakes.

Instead, Paul Levi, the only Communist who warned about the foolishness of the strategy in advance, was expelled for his efforts. He was charged with “indiscipline” since he went public in his attack on the March Actions.

The Communists who were responsible for the March Actions, like so many Communists who followed them in history, were convinced at the gathering of the “error of their ways” and soon became the most vehement defenders of cautiousness. They decided to out-Lenin Lenin. The March Events and their aftermath, including Levi’s expulsion, would signal the beginning of the end of German Communism as an independent revolutionary force. The next two years brought further intrigues and reversals, as the spiral descended. This would all culminate in the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, the “Bolshevization” Congress. In my next post, I will cover the events that led up to the fateful congress which sealed the fate of all attempts at building revolutionary parties for decades to come.

October 25, 2007

Alexander Cockburn versus Al Gore

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize has triggered a new spasm of global warming denial from Alexander Cockburn. Articles in the Nation Magazine and Counterpunch with overlapping material appeared soon after Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC–a United Nations network of scientists that Alexander regards as practically genocidal) received the award.

While his articles contain many useful points about Gore’s duplicity, they are outweighed by unsubstantiated claims about global warming that can only deepen Alexander’s reputation as a crank.

The Counterpunch article sets the tone:

The specific reason why this man of blood shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC is for their joint agitprop on the supposed threat of anthropogenic global warming. Bogus science topped off with toxic alarmism. It’s as ridiculous as as [sic] if Goebbels got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938, sharing it with the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for his work in publicizing the threat to race purity posed by Jews, Slavs and gypsies.

I guess a little hyperbole never hurt anybody but I would be a bit hesitant to make analogies with fascism if I had hyped Zbigniew Jaworowski, a regular contributor to Larouche publications, the way that Alexander did. I should mention that the Larouche Political Action Committee was happy to see their boy Jaworowski getting the nod from Alexander and reciprocated in a June 2007 article titled “A British Flagellant Attacks LaRouche on Global Warming.” Mostly, the article warmly concurs with Alexander’s dismissal of peer review as a consensus-forming mechanism, like the kind found in mind-control cults. (If I were them, I wouldn’t throw the term mind-control cult around so loosely.) Here’s some relevant paragraphs from the article:

Counterpunch’s Alexander Cockburn makes a useful point in his rebuttal to Guardian science scribbler George Monbiot’s continued hysterical rants against 21st Century Science & Technology (the magazine associated with U.S. economist and statesman Lyndon LaRouche), by noting that “peer review” is hardly the definition of science…

The control of science itself by “peer review,” a method of mind control borrowed from the Venetian [could they possibly mean Venusian?] repertoire, and the unleashing of an anti-science cult among youth were the means selected. This appeared first in the form of Bertrand Russell’s Ban the Bomb movement. It was soon followed by the mass environmental hysteria, which surfaced at the April 22, 1970 Earth Day celebrations from ground that had been amply seeded by Aldous Huxley and Gregory Bateson’s mass drugging project.

The Larouchites and Cockburn fave Zbigniew Jaworowski are huge fans of nuclear energy. Despite Cockburn’s best efforts to portray Al Gore’s global warming crusade as a subterfuge to promote nuclear power, the energy industry itself has no problems denying global warming and pushing for nuclear power at the same time. Indeed, the politician most associated with global warming denial and expanded nuclear power usage resides in the White House.

Most importantly, Gore is not quite the nuclear power devotee that Alexander’s febrile prose would lead you to believe. In an interview with Grist, Gore comes across as reasonably agnostic:

Grist: Let’s turn briefly to some proposed solutions. Nuclear power is making a big resurgence now, rebranded as a solution to climate change. What do you think?

Gore: I doubt nuclear power will play a much larger role than it does now.

Grist: Won’t, or shouldn’t?

Gore: There are serious problems that have to be solved, and they are not limited to the long-term waste-storage issue and the vulnerability-to-terrorist-attack issue. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that both of those problems can be solved.

We still have other issues. For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal — which is the real issue: coal — then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale. And we’d run short of uranium, unless they went to a breeder cycle or something like it, which would increase the risk of weapons-grade material being available.

When energy prices go up, the difficulty of projecting demand also goes up — uncertainty goes up. So utility executives naturally want to place their bets for future generating capacity on smaller increments that are available more quickly, to give themselves flexibility. Nuclear reactors are the biggest increments, that cost the most money, and take the most time to build.

In any case, if they can design a new generation [of reactors] that’s manifestly safer, more flexible, etc., it may play some role, but I don’t think it will play a big role.

While this is not exactly Helen Caldicott territory, it is certainly not nearly as bad as Zbigniew Jaworowski, who never saw a rod of uranium that he didn’t love.

Turning once again to the Counterpunch article:

[T]he notorious “man-made” greenhouse gasses comprise about 0.26 per cent of the total greenhouse gas component of the earth’s atmosphere and the influence of this component remains entirely unproven, as I have pointed out on this site many times, and will be doing so again in reflections that will be published early next year in my forthcoming book, A Short History of Fear.

So if man-made emissions are less than one percent of total greenhouse gasses, while water vapor amounts to up to 95 percent according to some denialists, why get worked up over oil, coal and gas combustion? Like the weather, there’s not much you can do about water vapor. Another global warming denialist that Cockburn has cited blames increased solar activity for increased temperatures. With evidence such as this, you might as well develop a sense of fatalism and just enjoy life on a carpe diem basis, which would include tooling around the country in antique cars one presumes.

For those interested how climate scientists deal with water vapor, I recommend the RealClimate website. It explains very clearly that water vapor is a “feedback” rather than a “forcing” factor. This means that even though it constitutes a major portion of greenhouse gas, it is far more transient than man-made gases like carbon dioxide. Water vapor soon disappears from the atmosphere in the form of rain. Its presence, however, can be multiplied by manmade emissions like carbon dioxide which remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Once the atmosphere becomes heated up, H2O concentrations will persist. Unfortunately Alexander has never really bothered to deal with such questions but prefers to invoke water vapor as a way of evading a real dialog with his critics.

The Nation Magazine article, which is unfortunately available only to subscribers, repeats the claim that the Kyoto Accords would lead to genocide in the Third World:

If the Kyoto Accords were ever implemented, and they never will be, the net impact on greenhouse gases–99.72 percent of them natural in origin–would be imperceptible, but the devastation to Third World economies and life expectancies would rival that caused by Borlaug’s seed strains.

If the stand one takes on the Kyoto Accords is a litmus test for whether one is opposed to the devastation of Third World economies, then Alexander has some odd bedfellows. In fact when George W. Bush explained why he refused to support the Kyoto Accords, he used arguments that sounded as “developmental” as a UN economist:

Our country, the United States is the world’s largest emitter of manmade greenhouse gases. We account for almost 20 percent of the world’s man-made greenhouse emissions. We also account for about one-quarter of the world’s economic output. We recognize the responsibility to reduce our emissions. We also recognize the other part of the story — that the rest of the world emits 80 percent of all greenhouse gases. And many of those emissions come from developing countries.

This is a challenge that requires a 100 percent effort; ours, and the rest of the world’s. The world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol.

India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was also exempt from Kyoto. These and other developing countries that are experiencing rapid growth face challenges in reducing their emissions without harming their economies. We want to work cooperatively with these countries in their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and maintain economic growth

Well, if Christopher Hitchens can give President Bush critical support for his war on Islamofascism, then maybe Alexander Cockburn can follow suit on the issue of global warming. Since both celebrity journalists are dead-set opposed to “genocide”, why not accept the necessity for the US acting on behalf of the suffering masses. In one case, it is the Kurdish struggle against their Arab oppressors. In the other, it is the right of the Chinese government to “develop” full steam ahead.

Although China blocked with the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and India two years ago to create an alternative to Kyoto, which would be based on nonbinding and therefore toothless goals, there have been signs recently that the government is beginning to take environmentalism seriously, including the threat of global warming. In a December 12, 2006 article titled “Global warming threatens plateau,” China Daily reported the following:

The environmental condition of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, seen as a barometer for the world’s health, is worsening due in large part to global warming, according to a geological survey.

The survey, conducted by the Remote Sensing Department of the China Aero Geophysical Survey, showed the plateau has shrinking glaciers, a rising snow line, dwindling wetlands, and more serious desertification compared with 30 years ago.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which accounts for nearly one quarter of China’s landmass, stretches into the Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

It is the highest and youngest plateau in the world and has been dubbed “the third pole.” It is also home to the source of many big rivers in Asia, such as the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers, giving it the nickname the “water tower” of China.

“As the ‘thermometer’ of the global environment, any slight environmental change in the plateau is a reflection for the globe,” said Zhang Hongtao, deputy director of the China Geological Survey.

The survey, which used remote sensor technology, is intended to provide an overview of the plateau’s geological conditions and help its future economic development, Zhang said.

“The direct harm is the threat of the loss of the country’s fresh water resources,” said Fang Hongbin, senior engineer at the Remote Sensing Department. “Furthermore, we won’t have any shield to protect ourselves from the sand blowing from the plateau if the desertification trend is not checked.”

Although the Chinese government is clearly committed to capitalist development, there is a growing recognition that pollution, including the uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases, will destroy the possibility for the accumulation of capital. This was first identified by James O’Connor as the “second contradiction” of capitalism, but it is doubtful that it can be resolved within the framework of capitalism. Given the Chinese capitalist class’s control over the economy and the government, it appears more likely that the country will continue lurching toward Armageddon. It is up to socialists to confront this contradiction and resolve it on a higher level. If we fail, humanity will certainly face the prospects identified by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

October 22, 2007

Two Turkish films

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Just by coincidence, the two movies in this year’s New York Turkish Film Festival that I was able to fit into my busy schedule had to do with the plight of young people.

The first is a comedy titled “Sınav” (Exam) that revolves around the efforts of a group of five underachieving high school seniors and friends to steal the onerous college entrance exams that are the Turkish version of the American SAT’s. While there are plenty of laughs in this movie, there is also a serious questioning of the need for a test that condemns those who fail it to a life of economic uncertainty. This Youtube music video clip drawn from scenes in “Sınav” likens high school students facing the exam to race horses competing with each other. As they say, “They shoot race horses, don’t they.”

The other is titled “Beş Vakit” (“Times and Winds” in the subtitled version, however, a more accurate translation would be “Five Times,” a reference to the five calls to Islamic prayer during a 24 hour period.) For the main characters–two boys and one girl just entering puberty–life in a remote mountainous village on the Black Sea presents many difficulties, not the least of which is how to deal with sexual awakenings in a world that discourages freedom of any sort. For those would romanticize Islamic culture–or any ultra-orthodoxy–this film is a bracing reminder that an Imam can be as heartless and as hypocritical as any other sky pilot and as such is a good companion piece to Ousmane Sembene’s classic “Ceddo,” with its slave-trading Muslim clerics.

A Turkish student’s nightmare

The first few minutes of “Sınav” consist of nightmares that the five students have as the pressure to pass the exams mount in the final months of their senior year. One is shown in a police station being slapped around by cops who ask questions like “In what year did the battle of Lopanto take place?” or “How can you use the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the hypotenuse of a right triangle?” When he fails to come up with the answer, they pummel him.

At a student assembly, they meet one their high school’s most famous graduates, a hugely successful businessman named Levent Lemi (Okan Bayülgen), who got the nickname “No Arms” when he was a student. He came up with the brilliant idea to fake arm injuries so that he could wear a cast with crib notes interspersed throughout the signatures during the exam that escaped notice from the Principal. Even after it became common knowledge that Lemi cheated, that did not prevent the Principal from welcoming him as a homecoming hero. With the generous contributions he has made to the school, it would be foolish to ostracize him, especially when the Principal himself is using the school’s backrooms for his own shady business deals.

Criminal protagonists of Sınav

The climax of the film involves the five students using cell phones to coordinate a burglary in the school that amounts to a send-up of films like “Oceans Eleven.” Their mastermind is Uluç (Volkan Demirok), a short, chubby and baby-faced actor with a real flair for comedy. When his four confederates discover that the music teacher is in the faculty room where the tests are stashed, Uluç calls on his cell phone and convinces her that he is a recording executive who wants her to come down immediately to his studios to sign a contract. Their dialog is far wittier than anything I have heard in a Hollywood movie since “Some Like it Hot”.

As should be obvious from this report in the June 28, 2006 Financial Times, “Sınav” is dealing with serious issues while being entertaining:

For the past couple of weeks, hundreds of thousands of Turkish children have been sitting school-leaving examinations, distracted by the usual baking summer heat, football on the television and the difficulty of recalling what they have learned, mostly by rote, in the classroom.

It is, as in other countries, a rite of passage. But in Turkey it has a special significance, given the importance that the state places on education – for historical and ideological reasons as much as for the creation of a developed nation.

Some of this year’s children will be either bright enough or rich enough to secure a place at one of the country’s 76 state or private universities or at its leading science and technical schools.

Others will make up for the shortcomings of their state education by attending a dershane, a cramming school that prepares students for university entrance examinations.

For the majority, however, there is no guarantee of a university education or a job. With up to 20m children in the system at any one time, state education in Turkey is overcrowded, under-funded, and uninspiring.

This is a serious shortcoming in the development of Turkey, and also a contradiction. The state is present in every community in this big, mountainous and difficult-to-navigate country in two ways – a police station and a school.

Yet, until two years ago, the budget for Turkey’s armed forces (run by the ministry of national defence) was higher than its education budget (run by the ministry of national education).

Even if the vast majority of Turkish children get an education, it is often rudimentary, especially in remote areas in the east and south-east. School buildings are often drab, lacking technological facilities and sports fields. Teachers are in short supply.

It was only in 1997 that a compulsory eight-year basic education was introduced. Even now, the average Turkish child spends only four-and-a-half years in school, according to Enver Yucel, an entrepreneur in the booming private education sector. The average German child spends 13 years in school, he notes.

“We did something wrong in Turkey,” Mr Yucel says. “We spent our budget in the wrong way. Turkey cannot say its priority is education with comparisons like these. Our politicians have never given it enough attention, just short-term solutions.

One can only add that given Turkey’s headlong rush to spend an inordinate amount of money on the military, adopt neoliberal institutions, and substitute Islamic charity for traditionally state-sponsored institutions such as the public schools, things are likely to get worse before they get better.

There is a powerful disjunction in “Beş Vakit” between the beautiful nature that surrounds the three young friends and the hidebound patriarchal family structures that confine them. Like youngsters everywhere, including me when I was their age, nature affords an escape from an oppressive situation at home. They seem happiest when they are sitting on a mountain top looking off into the Black Sea. When they return home in the evening for supper and for homework, it is like a descent into hell. You can get a pretty good feel for the content of “Beş Vakit” from this youtube trailer, even though there are no subtitles.

 

A scene from Beş Vakit: three friends on a mountaintop

The unhappiest of the three is Ömer, the son of the local Imam who constantly reminds him that he is inferior to his younger brother. Ömer is driven to plot ways that he can kill his father without detection. After the Imam develops a bad cold, he secretly empties his cold capsules of their medicine. After his father manages to recover, Ömer hunts for scorpions that will sting him to death. Meanwhile, the Imam belittles and taunts the son every opportunity he gets. The film makes it clear that within poor farming villages there is very little premium placed on affection.

Ömer’s best friend is Yakup, who has developed a crush on their teacher. He looks forward to any opportunity he can get to deliver something to the teacher at her home, where she is often seen in a robe or other revealing clothing. If Islam teaches that a woman’s body must not be seen by anybody but her husband, this is a precept that Yakup does not place much value in. Meanwhile, his father is also fixated on the teacher. One day as Yakup is making a delivery to the teacher, he spots his father peeping through her bedroom window. Although the film eschews any kind of didactic commentary on the relationships between young and old, one cannot escape feeling that “traditional values” in this remote village are taken as seriously as they are by bible thumpers in the US.

The third friend is Yildiz, a girl who is forced to look after her baby brother as if she were a nanny. At the age of thirteen or so, she already has the burdens of a housewife. Like Yakup, she is also feeling a sexual longing for the first time in her life, but when she hears her parents having sex in the next room, she feels put off. She must have wondered, as Peggy Lee did in that classic song: “Is that all there is?”

All three children are not above laughing in glee at the sight of barnyard animals copulating, although Ömer chases Yildiz away when he spots her taking in some goats going at it. When it comes to sexual mores, he is apparently his father’s son.

“Beş Vakit” is very much the art film, with stunning cinematography by the Frenchman Florent Herry and a score by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian minimalist. It is reminiscent of recent Iranian films, with all their pluses and minuses. When you choose to make a film about characters whose psychological states and beliefs are so remote from what you are used to, there is a certain tendency to feel somewhat estranged from their situation. When the director, in this case Reha Erdem, deliberately adopts an almost Brechtian distance, the effect is multiplied.

In either case, “Sınav” and “Beş Vakit” are films to reckon with and a reminder that the most advanced films in the world are being made in “semiperipheral” countries like Turkey, Argentina, South Korea and Brazil. If you ever get the opportunity to see such films, grab it. You will be the better for it, I assure you.

October 18, 2007

Meeting Resistance

Filed under: Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 3:56 pm

Opening at theaters around the country starting tomorrow (screening information is here), “Meeting Resistance” is a film that gives a voice to the shadowy Iraqi resistance that has fought the world’s most powerful imperialist country in history to a standstill. With an economy of means, this documentary accomplishes what all great art strives for, namely the humanization of its principals. With so much hatred directed against Sunni insurgents, who lack the socialist credentials of past insurgencies that attracted the solidarity of the Western left, “Meeting Resistance” takes a giant step forward in making the “enemy’s” case. After watching this powerful film, one will have to agree with George Galloway’s assessment in a speech given at the al-Assad Library in Damascus on July 30, 2005:

These poor Iraqis — ragged people, with their sandals, with their Kalashnikovs, with the lightest and most basic of weapons– are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars, with 145 military operations every day, which has made the country ungovernable by the people who occupy it. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know their names, we never saw their faces, they don’t put up photographs of their martyrs, we don’t know the names of their leaders. They are the base of this society. They are the young men and young women who decided, whatever their feelings about the former regime — some are with, some are against. But they decided, when the foreign invaders came, to defend their country, to defend their honor, to defend their families, their religion, their way of life from a military superpower, which landed amongst them.

Co-directed by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham, “Meeting Resistance” allows a group of insurgents in the Al Adhamiya district in Baghdad to explain why they decided to fight the occupation, how they are organized, and–perhaps of the greatest interest–what kind of backgrounds they have. Among the most interesting revelations is that only a small percentage can be described as Baathist “dead-enders”, the description that was offered by the Bush gang early on and that was accepted by some sectors of the left. A political science professor in Baghdad, the only interviewee who is not actually part of the resistance, estimates that less than 10 percent are Baath Party activists.

If they do have connections, they tend to be like “The Warrior” (his facial features are obscured, as is the case with all other fighters) who was a special forces officer in the Iraqi Army and part of a thousand man suicide squad sent to Kerbala and Najaf in the first Gulf War in 1991 to put down the Shia rebellion. When he returned alive, he was charged with dereliction of duty and sentenced to death. (Saddam was obviously influenced by Stalin’s defense at Stalingrad, but a corrupt Baathist “socialism” was hardly a sufficient motivation to fight until death.) His sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and commuted after 3 ½ years in prison where he suffered torture, including broken legs. After the US invaded Iraq, he joined the resistance immediately. Even though he hated the top brass of the Iraqi government and military, he hated occupation more.

In another interview, we learn that one young man who had almost no interest in politics launched what was in effect a one-man resistance after he was humiliated by American soldiers. While he was sitting in a coffee shop with three other friends late one night, two Humvees pulled up. Soldiers poured into the shop and lined them up against the wall where they were cursed and slapped. The young man was so aggravated that he spent his own money on an RPG the next day and destroyed the Humvees. Not satisfied, he bought a rocket launcher next and attacked a tank all on his own. As the interviewer put it, you cannot suppress the Iraqi’s sense of “gallantry.” One of the enormous pleasures “Meeting Resistance” offers is the discourse of the Iraqi people, who are a race of Dylan Thomases based on the evidence of the film.

Addressing the topic of Sunni-Shia conflict, the film makes it pretty clear that the resistance, at least the contingent based in Al Adhamiya, is totally opposed to attacking Shia pilgrimages and mosques. They surmise that the occupation forces, or even the Israeli Mossad, organize these attacks in order to divide the Iraqi people. They also explain that many Sunnis and Shias in Iraq are married, so that it is impossible to view the conflict as purely tribal. That being said, they are not happy with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s refusal to issue a fatwa against the occupation. If he did, the occupation in their opinion would end in a week.

One of the fighters, whose face is covered by a kefiya, has come to Iraq from Syria out of a sense of duty to Allah and a feeling of Arab nationalism, two themes that unite the resistance above all else. He is a deeply religious young man who explains that if Iraq is defeated, then Syria will be next. This belief appears vindicated by the recent Israeli attack on an alleged nuclear weapons facility in Syria, a preparation perhaps for an attack on Iran. One might hope that the Iranian government would eventually develop a sense of solidarity with all under attack from American imperialism. Indeed, they might follow the example of this Syrian fighter, who is Shia himself.

Molly Bingham, Steve Connors

Directors Steve Connors and Molly Bingham deserve enormous credit for having the courage and the dedication to conduct these interviews. Both had worked as free-lance photographers in Iraq from March to June 2003. After the occupation began, they were struck by the rising level of resistance despite Bush’s claim of “mission accomplished.” They became convinced that there was a “fundamental story to the war that was not being significantly covered,” according to an interview contained in the press notes, and began work on the film in August of 2003.

The project obviously contained great personal risk, as they explain the interview:

To the dismay of our families, the short answer is that we didn’t really have any guarantee of safety while we worked on this story. Like all other journalists working in Baghdad at the time we were the possible victims of random violence, being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an ambush occurs, an IED or a car bomb are detonated, being killed by coalition forces either during combat or like many civilian Iraqis, during the response to an attack, or being kidnapped. But we were also exposed to the specific dangers of this story; that the fighters we were interviewing would turn on us, or that one of the many intelligence services, militaries or militias in the country would find out what we were doing and decide to rough us up or kill us to find out what we knew. We are very lucky that none of the possible things that could have gone wrong did. Not all journalists who have been working in the country have been lucky.

Steve Connors hails from Great Britain and served in the British army in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, a stint that obviously prepared him for the film project. “Meeting Resistance” is his directorial debut.

Molly Bingham was born in Kentucky and graduated from Harvard in 1990. In March 2003, while working as a freelancer in Iraq, she was detained by the Iraqi security forces and spent eight days in Abu Ghraib. Her father is Barry Bingham Jr., the former publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Bingham family, a dynasty really, includes many notable characters, including Barry’s sister and Molly’s aunt, Sallie Bingham who had become a radical feminist in the 1970s. There was a monumental feud in the paper in 1989, when Sallie battled Barry over what she regarded as sexism at the paper. The paper was sold when the differences reached the breaking point. Like her aunt Sallie, Molly Bingham clearly has the courage of her convictions and we are all the better for that as demonstrated by the remarkable “Meeting Resistance.”

Official Film Website

October 14, 2007

Can Marxism offer anything to Arabs and Muslims?

Filed under: Islam,socialism — louisproyect @ 4:17 pm

Political Alternatives:

                Osama Bin Laden                                                        Amilcar Cabral

An article by Sukant Chandan titled “Secularism and Islam in the Arab World” appeared originally on the Conflicts Forum website and has been posted to MRZine as well.

The only conclusion that one can draw after reading it is that Marxism has little future in the Arab and Muslim world. This is a rather odd outlook for socialists, but not that surprising given the growing pressure on our movement to adapt to a seemingly far more powerful force. With the end of the Cold War, most of the ferocity of the imperialist ruling class is directed against political Islam. That being the case, perhaps it makes sense to hitch our wagon to a movement that has the power to keep our enemies awake at night. I am far from convinced that this a useful approach for socialists, however.

Chandan begins with a reference to Saladin:

Salahuddin al-Ayoub, more popularly known as Saladin, who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the twelfth century is probably the Islamic leader most widely known outside of the region. Saladin’s legacy remains a profound source of inspiration for Arabs, especially so for radical Islamists who not only see the parallels with today’s military invasions and occupations, but directly employ this history in their political agitation in their fight against what they consider as the modern-day Crusaders.

Perhaps it is only of interest to pedants, but when Saladin overthrew the Shiite rulers of Egypt and instituted Sunni rule, that act lived in infamy for Shiites throughout history. The August 3rd 2006 International Herald Tribune reports:

Extremist Sunnis like Al Qaeda have tried to portray their struggle as parallel with Hezbollah’s. But underneath the flood of support some Sunnis worry that their supremacy is threatened for the first time since a Shiite dynasty ruled a large swath of the region between the 10th and 12th centuries, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Saladin, the commander who captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders, overthrew the dynasty. Hence Shiites revile him and avoid comparing [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah to him.

In other words, the idiotic divide that allows US imperialism to play one Moslem sect against another in Iraq has been around for over 7 centuries. I am not one to offend religious sensibilities, but it seems far more important to throw out the imperialists and allow Iraqi working people to enjoy the wealth that nature has provided them than kill each other over the question of who should have succeeded Mohammad. The political philosophy that would allow working people to unite with each other against their class enemy still seems worth pursuing even if political Islam looks like a winner in the war of contending ideologies.

In characterizing non-Islamic political theory as an “outside” influence, Chandan reminds me of some Black nationalists in the 1960s who dismissed Marxism as a “white” and “European” ideology. I am dismayed to see this recycled in defense of political Islam:

While one can trace back the influences on modern Islamism from the region’s own history, making it an integral part of the political identity of the people and their struggles, in contrast it was the cultural and political influences from outside of the region in Europe that influenced modern secular Arab Nationalism. The founding father of modern secular Arab Nationalism was Syrian Sati al-Husri, who was inspired by French republicanism and nineteenth century German nationalism. Arab Nationalism became the ascendant political force in the post Second World War period.

Of course, this is a rather narrow understanding of Islam. It neglects the importance that Islam placed on Western texts in a period when Europe was in the “dark ages”. Under Moorish control, southern Spain was noted for the respect it paid to classical Greek philosophy. The books of Aristotle were studied by Islamic (and Jewish scholars), including Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) and Muslim Judge Ibn Rushd (1126 – 1198); who both lived in Cordoba, Spain. Cordoba had 70 libraries, one of them with over 40,000 volumes; the two largest libraries in non-Arab Europe each had only 2,000 volumes. Thomas Aquinas used the writings and comments of Aristotle (“the philosopher”), Albert, Maimonides (“the Rabbi”) and Ibn Rushd (“the commentator”) and many others. Cross-fertilization between Islamic and non-Islamic thinkers was rife in this period and is a more useful example for us today than resentment of “outside” influences put in an improbably positive light by Sukant Chandan.

Continuing with his historical survey and hurdling forward to the mid 1950s, Chandan portrays the FLN in Algeria as “an Islamist nationalist movement as much as one inspired by the ideas of Fanon, Mao, and Che Guevara, although the Islamist current was purged shortly after independence.” I am not so sure that this particular purging of Islamists is of much interest to those of us who are trying to figure out how to change the world. The real purge that matters involved Ben Bella, who was an obstacle to a section of the FLN that sought to consolidate capitalist property relations under a radical façade. As this current took Algeria further and further away from its revolutionary roots, an Islamic revolt developed that was never able to provide an alternative to the new bourgeoisie. For those who are so enthralled with political Islam, a review of recent Algerian history would be in order.

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which had initially been aligned with Ben Bella, won the elections in 1990 whereupon the army instituted a dictatorship. The FIS responded with a terrorist campaign that reflected the anger of the masses but that was ineffective politically. In January 28th 1994, Robert Fisk reported on the type of struggle that FIS was conducting:

How else, secular Algerians might ask, can an Islamic revolution and civil war be averted after 30 years of largely socialist and equally corrupt government? Yet the families of security force personnel – and in some cases the officers themselves – have already been forced to retreat into government compounds each night for their own protection. And despite wholesale battles with the ‘Islamists’, the Algerian army and paramilitary police have been unable to reduce the number of victims cut down so savagely each day.

The word ”cut” is all too accurate. Many of those assassinated by the ”Islamists” are dispatched with knives, left on rubbish heaps or roadsides with their heads almost severed from their bodies. Five nights ago, a 24-year-old unemployed man in the village of Kasr el-Boukhari was decapitated and his head left on the steps of a disused cinema. ”An example,” his murderers said in a leaflet pasted on village walls, ”to all those who violate the morality of Islam.” On the eve of this week’s conference, a policeman was stabbed to death in front of a group of children in Anaba. On the night the conference ended, ”Islamists” assassinated six civilians in Djidjel province, one of them Ferhat Chibout, a professor of history, who was shot in front of his parents, his wife and two children.

As usual, the outside world has cared more about foreign than domestic victims of the war, a fact shrewdly grasped by the Muslim activists. Their promise to kill all citizens of ”Crusader states” culminated two weeks ago in the 26th murder of a Westerner in Algeria, a French consular official whose death led at once to the temporary suspension of all visas to France. Monique Afri’s murder was followed by the killing of Raymond Louzoum, 62, a Tunisian-born Jew who had been living in Algiers for 30 years. An optician who had married a Muslim woman and was seeking Algerian citizenship, he played French officers in a series of films about the Algerian independence war. Two bullets were fired into Louzoum’s head in Didouche Mourad street in central Algiers.

Needless to say, such tactics were less than effective in rallying the entire population against the corrupt FLN elites and the army that protected its class interests. It would have been far better if the FIS had a more adroit and more class-based approach to politics, but that was not likely to be found in Islamic religious texts. Of course, between the army and the FIS, progressives would support the Islamists. Trotsky never had any problem making such choices in Brazil or Ethiopia, but that does not oblige us to prettify Vargas or Haile Selassie. Moreover, the bigger task facing us is the construction of Marxist parties everywhere that can apply a scalpel to the class struggle rather than the crude ax blows of terrorism, just as was the case in Russia in the early 1900s. Some things never change.

Chandan also hails al Qaeda in terms that display a certain indifference to what Marxists call strategy and tactics:

In an ironic twist of history it was the Western and Chinese-supported Afghan mujahideen who fought against the Soviet army and pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan that gave further impetus to the development of modern militant Islamism which was soon to become a powerful force against neo-colonialism in the region. The Afghan jihad allowed militants to overcome the rivalry among militants that existed along national and ethnic lines. Overcoming these divisions and forging Pan-Arab and Pan-Islamist unity were some of the main strategies of Bin Laden and Zawahiri in the construction of their organization that was to become the violent “World Islamic Front for Jihad against Crusaders and Jews” or commonly known as Al-Qaeda, meaning “The Base,” formed in 1998. Initially for Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and others, Afghanistan was the base for international jihad, today it is mainly Iraq.

If Bin Laden and Zawahiri are supposed to be about overcoming “rivalry” and “divisions” in the Arab and Islamist world, they are certainly not doing a very good job of it in Iraq. The “jihadist” groups in Iraq that appear to be most strongly influenced by al Qaeda have antagonized Iraqi Sunni villagers to such an extent that they have opted to join forces with the US military. By imposing Wahhabi values on a resentful population, they follow the FIS and the Taliban’s examples of religious transformation from above. For a movement to genuinely challenge imperialism, it has to learn to draw in all sectors in a united struggle as the National Liberation Front in Vietnam did. That, of course, is one of the major differences between Iraq and Vietnam, the very absence of something like the NLF with its “secular” ideology imported from Europe. One would only hope that the people of the Middle East would be open to such imports, which are far more useful than Coca Cola or Mercedes Benz.

To some extent, the allure of political Islam for Chandan has much more to do with muscle than brainpower:

Today one sees the shift from secular nationalism to Islamism nearing the final stages of completion. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writing for The Guardian on June 12th from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon vividly described this transition, contrasting the “ailing, ill-equipped and ill-fed fighters of the old secular factions” and “muscular, bearded and well-equipped jihadis” funded through the network of Islamist organizations that spans the Middle East, and describing the migration of Palestinian radicals, both young and middle-aged, from the former Marxist camp to the Islamist.

One hardly knows how to react to this. I am reminded Reagan-era election campaign propaganda, when the wood-chopping ex-actor was always portrayed as being more muscular and more virile than the likes of Walter Mondale.

Chandan has little to say about Marxist groups in the article and is content to draw distinctions between a collapsing left nationalist/secularist current versus vibrant, bearded and muscular Islamists. When Marxists do enter the picture, they appear to be driven more by market opportunities than principles:

As one Marxist in his 50s told Abdul-Ahad, “I have never lost my political compass. Wherever the Americans and the Israelis are, I am on the other side. So if Hizbullah and the Iranians and the Islamists are against the Americans now, so I am an Islamist.” Highlighting the continuities between armed secular groups of bygone times and armed Islamist groups of today, a PFLP leader explains to Abdul-Ahad that “most of those jihadis were once fighters with us and other Palestinian factions . . . if you come to me and give me $100,000, I will split from the PFLP and form the PFLP: Believers’ Army. It’s so easy.”

I guess if you can switch affiliations for such a small price, then one wonders how deeply rooted the Marxist convictions of the PFLP were. As is the case with most Palestinian guerrilla groups, the emphasis has been on bold actions such as skyjackings. Emerging in the 1980s as the Mideast equivalent of groups operating in Argentina, the sole criterion to measure success was the amount of press coverage garnered by a political/military operation. When this strategy failed to produce the desired result–the overthrow of the Zionist state–some groups moved in an opportunist direction–symbolized by the Oslo Accords.

Unfortunately, the Arab resistance oscillates between “exemplary” actions and back door negotiations with the imperialists. Even Hamas, despite the reverential attitude of Chandan’s article, is not above cutting deals according to Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah: “Hamas tried to enter mainstream politics through the front door – explicitly modelling its policies on those of the IRA in the context of the Irish peace process.” Of course, even if Hamas was interested in following the example of Sinn Fein, the Israelis would remain unresponsive. While I am not in the business of making recommendations to revolutionaries in other countries, I would not be above urging them to become grounded in Marxism. Many of these questions (terrorism, alliances with bourgeois nationalists, etc.) have been subjected to deep analysis in our movement and much can be learned from the likes of Amilcar Cabral, et al.–certainly much more so than reading religious tracts I am sure.

I have tried to explain the rise of political Islam as a function of the collapse of the USSR, which created a political vacuum. Even if the PLO, to take one example, was an ineffective political force, it did at least have the clout of the USSR behind it. With the disappearance of the USSR, world politics has reverted to the 19th century when the British Empire faced down colonial revolts on a regular basis. From the Sepoy to the Taipei Rebellion, the inspiration was a mixture of nationalism and religion–just as is the case today. After the triumph of the Russian Revolution, nationalism became combined with Marxism even if it was a Marxism that was burdened by the Stalinist impulse to subordinate the working class to the national bourgeoisie.

In effect, the clock has been turned back to the 1800s. While one should never take the side of the Empire against those struggling to become free, it would be most unfortunate if we decided to jettison the need for Marxist theory. In an address titled “The Weapon of Theory” given to the first Tricontinental Conference in Havana in 1966, Amilcar Cabral noted:

The ideological deficiency, not to say the total lack of ideology, within the national liberation movements — which is basically due to ignorance of the historical reality which these movements claim to transform — constitutes one of the greatest weaknesses of our struggle against imperialism, if not the greatest weakness of all. We believe, however, that a sufficient number of different experiences have already been accumulated to enable us to define a general line of thought and action with the aim of eliminating this deficiency. A full discussion of this subject could be useful, and would enable this conference to make a valuable contribution towards strengthening the present and future actions of the national liberation movements. This would be a concrete way of helping these movements, and in our opinion no less important than political support or financial assistance for arms and suchlike.

This seems to be a basis for moving forward today, no matter how daunting the task. For without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.

October 13, 2007

Bryan Palmer speaks at NYU

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 4:58 pm

Last night I attended Bryan Palmer’s talk at the Tamiment Library at NYU. Palmer spoke about volume one of his newly published biography of James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism who died in 1974 at the age of 84.

Bryan D. Palmer

James P. Cannon

Due to poor subway connections, I missed perhaps the first 15 minutes of his talk but came away with the impression that Palmer has a somewhat different take on Cannon than the small propaganda groups (to put it diplomatically) who sponsored the meeting. Palmer saw Cannon as promoting the unity of disparate groups who literally and figuratively spoke different languages. In his concluding remarks, he referred to Cannon as somebody who could help us work through the problems of “revolutionary regroupment” today, a term that the Spartacist League, one of the sponsoring groups, regards as evidence of Palmer’s apostasy from Trotskyism. In hair-splitting sects such as these (to dispense with the diplomatic), Trotskyism is about nothing except fighting for “the program”, which amounts to a bundle of ideology that has almost no connection to politics. Typically, this involves how to pinpoint when the USSR became “state capitalist” or “a degenerated workers state”, etc.

Volume one is titled “James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928” and covers Cannon’s career in the Communist Party. After 1928, he devotes himself to building a Trotskyist party–the subject of the second volume that Palmer worries might encounter resistance from his publisher, the University of Illinois Press. They were reluctant to publish all 576 pages of volume one and might even be more reluctant when it comes to a topic that is even more narrow in scope.

In his presentation, Palmer focused on Cannon’s IWW past, which in his eyes accounted for much of his orientation to the new Communist movement. Revolutionary syndicalism with its emphasis on “An Injury to One is an Injury to All” translated into the CP’s united front orientation in the 1920s almost seamlessly. For Palmer, Cannon was first and foremost a defender of basic working class rights in a period of deepening repression. In order for the CP to be effective in this struggle, it required seeing “the big picture,” something that Cannon was adept at.

I want to reserve judgment on Palmer’s book until I have had a chance to read it, but I did get a sense from browsing through his discussion of Ludwig Lore that he might not be fully aware of the deeper implications of the “Bolshevization” turn of the 1924 Comintern. For Palmer, Lore is a somewhat “flaky” character who kept running afoul of the more grounded and consistent Marxists who were receiving guidance from the Comintern. My reading of the Lore affair is somewhat different. I view him as a victim of a purge of the sort that “Marxism-Leninism” would be marked by from the early 1920s onward. He was deemed “petty bourgeois” and all the rest by the Moscow loyalists, including James P. Cannon and the Dunne brothers would soon be purged themselves as the Comintern moved against Trotskyists. It should be mentioned that Lore was the first supporter of Leon Trotsky in the US, a so-called “premature Trotskyist” I suppose.

The Q&A period left something to be desired. Representatives from the five sponsoring groups got up first and made the case about how each of their groups was the living embodiment of James P. Cannon’s teachings. At this stage of the game, I will accept them at their word. They do indeed embody Cannonism and are welcome to it. As I have tried to explain over the years, James P. Cannon inherited a very problematic understanding of how to build a revolutionary party from the Soviet party, which for obvious reasons thought it was appropriate to provide organizational recipes. The 1924 Comintern codified this cookbook approach and our movement has been suffering the consequences ever since. It is only when you burn the cookbook metaphorically speaking that real progress can be made.

After growing more and more impatient with the gaseous rhetoric spilling from the mouths of the commentators, I finally left. I was struck, however, by the remarks made by Lillian Pollak, a sprightly 91 year old who had been a member of the Communist League of America, the group that Cannon initially launched as a new Trotskyist formation and that would become the Socialist Workers Party eventually. Pollak warned against taking too much of a reverential attitude toward Cannon, especially in light of his dismissive attitude toward her in the 1930s when the “French turn” was proposed by Leon Trotsky. This was a tactic that involved Trotskyists entering the Socialist Parties as a bloc and trying to engineer a leftwing split. Pollak thought that this was a mistaken approach (as do I) and spoke up at a meeting where Cannon was present. Afterwards, he came up to her and patted her on her head in a both patronizing and sexist manner as if to say that her criticisms didn’t deserve consideration.

This morning I discovered that Pollak is still active politically. Here is a book review she wrote for Against the Current on a memoir by Eva Kollisch, a veteran of Max Shachtman’s Workers Party. And here is a picture of her and other activists in the Grannies Peace Brigade from Michael Moore’s website. Long live Lillian Pollak!

Lillian Pollak (pointing her finger)

 

October 12, 2007

Camille Pissarro at the Jewish Museum

Filed under: art,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 8:41 pm

Camille Pissarro

Despite the heavy pall of Zionist propaganda that covers The Jewish Museum in New York, there are occasionally some good exhibits. Yesterday I strolled over to the museum with an old friend from my misspent Trotskyist youth to look at the Camille Pissarro show. Pissarro, a French impressionist, was a Sephardic Jew who was born to a shopkeeper in the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in 1830. Although Pissarro was about as observant as me, the museum decided to mount a show because he belonged to the tribe. I was particularly interested in seeing his paintings in light of the NY Times article titled “The Radical Eye of Impressionism’s Patriarch” by Karen Rosenberg:

He is known as the father of Impressionism, yet Camille Pissarro has always been eclipsed by his more charming brood. Last year’s Cézanne and Pissarro exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, for instance, was billed as a dialogue in the mold of Matisse-Picasso, but it quickly became a one-sided conversation. Pissarro on his own is not blockbuster material; his paintings have a muddy, homely aspect next to Cézannes or Monets or Renoirs. Yet for Pissarro, an anarchist and a Jew (albeit a secular one) in 19th-century France, Impressionism was about much more than the fleeting effects of light. It was about labor, the elimination of hierarchies and an idealized balance between urban and rural life.

The Jewish Museum’s “Camille Pissarro: Impressions of City and Country” contains few out-and-out masterpieces, but it does give us a rare look at the radical philosophies behind paintings that to a modern eye appear harmlessly bourgeois. (That most of the works in the show come from private collections suggests that anarchy is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.)

Two Young Peasant Women

Pissarro’s anarchism is very much suggestive of Kropotkin. His vision of socialism involved a return to the countryside and collective work on peasant communes. His paintings do not make any kind of obvious political statements, but are content to represent agricultural workers in a positive light. Chapter two of T. J. Clark’s “Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism” is titled “We Field Women” and is devoted to a discussion of Camille Pissarro’s 1891 painting “Two Young Peasant Women” within the context of anarchist movement politics. Clark writes:

One cannot stand in front of Two Young Peasant Women very long without wondering what the protagonists are (really) talking about, and how much more work they are likely to do before turning in. Answering the latter question would be easier if the picture gave a clue – of costume, maybe, or physiognomy – to the two women’s relation to the means of production. Are they day laborers, or servants living in a household, or members of the family? How hard is the work they are taking a break from? Who is the cider and cheap wine for? Is it for sale or use? How strong are the women? How healthy? Are they married or single? “The body’s worth more than the dowry,” as the saying had it. “Fille jolie, miroir de fou.” Idleness is ultimately a political matter. Pastoral is a dream of time – of leisure sewn into exertion, snatched from it easily, threaded through the rhythms of labor and insinuating other tempos and imperatives into the working day. I did say a dream.

They are going to take the fields and harvests from you, they will take your very self from you, they will tie you to some machine of iron, smoking and strident, and, surrounded by coalsmoke, you will have to put your hand to a piston ten or twelve thousand times a day. That is what they will call agriculture. And don’t expect to make love then when your heart tells you to take a woman; don’t turn your head towards the young girl passing by: the foreman won’t have you cheating the boss of his work . . .

Then, there will be no women and children coming to interrupt toil with a kiss or caress. The workers will be drawn up in squadrons, with sergeants and captains and the inevitable informer . . .

These words were written by one of Pissarro’s anarchist friends, Elisee Reclus, in a little pamphlet often reprinted in the 1890s, A Mon frere, le paysan. I think that some such scheme of values, and maybe even some such foreboding of the century to come – of course neither Reclus nor Pissarro could imagine the true horrors of agribusiness – lay at the root of Two Young Peasant Women, and made its dreamworld worth realizing.

While we were at the museum, we also took in a photography and video exhibit by Bruce Davidson titled “Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Lower East Side.” Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, wrote exclusively in Yiddish, a language that was spoken all around me growing up in the 1950s. Except for Hasidic Jews, the language is not spoken nowadays at all. When the state of Israel was created, there was a concerted effort to wean people off of Yiddish and to begin speaking Hebrew. Yiddish symbolized everything about ghetto culture that the new muscular state was anxious to put behind it.

Bruce Davidson photograph of Isaac Bashevis Singer

Davidson and Singer lived in the same Manhattan apartment building. In 1972, they collaborated on a humorous and surreal film, Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko’s Beard, based on a Singer story. During and after production, Davidson photographed Singer in his apartment and around the Upper West Side.

A year later, Davidson took a series of photographs on the Lower East Side that are included in the exhibit. They feature customers of the Garden Cafeteria, an East Broadway restaurant that Singer frequented on his trips to The Jewish Daily Forward, where his stories appeared over the decades. Davidson also photographed local merchants, rabbis, and storefronts on Essex and Orchard Streets. The pictures are magnificent as should be obvious from the one below:

Heshy Stolzenberg and a carp at the Essex Street Market

October 10, 2007

Kanan Makiya

Filed under: cruise missile left,Iraq,war — louisproyect @ 7:31 pm

Except for rascals like Christopher Hitchens and Oliver Kamm, most of the pro-war “left” has reversed itself (George Packer, Johann Hari)–without of course abrogating the right of the US to act as world’s cop when the cause is supposedly just (Afghanistan, Darfur, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, etc.) There is also a group that still supports the invasion but keeps a low profile. You will not find them on talk show circuits repeating George W. Bush’s talking points slathered over with references to Camus, Orwell and Koestler. Mostly they have retreated from the public scene and shake their heads at the catastrophe that resulted from “poor planning” and other blunders.

The New York Times Magazine gave a platform to one of them last Sunday: Iraqi intellectual and former Trotskyist Kanan Makiya, who is the author of a number of books with scholarly pretensions that provided fuel for the invasion in 2002 and 2003. In one of Judith Miller’s pro-war propaganda pieces written on January 12, 2003, she described Makiya’s touching faith in George Bush’s promises:

None of the Iraqi participants were willing to discuss precisely what Mr. Bush said. But Kanan Makiya, a professor at Brandeis University and a leading Iraqi intellectual, said he was “deeply reassured” by what he called “the president’s intense commitment to a genuinely democratic post-Saddam Iraq” and by Mr. Bush’s determination to press forward not only with “removing Saddam from office, but reconstructing Iraq after a military conflict.”

“Mr. Bush was clearly aware that Iraq was not Afghanistan, and that it has the human and financial resources needed to support democracy,” Mr. Makiya said.

Miller lost her job but Makiya’s career–at least in the US–did not suffer any consequences for such boneheaded statements. He is a professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. My advice to people trying to decide where to send their children to college is to take this place off their list.

Not only has Makiya’s political fortunes taken a turn for the worse, so has his health:

Makiya’s life is no longer what it was. In 2003, on returning to Iraq, he reunited with his sweetheart from high-school days, married and took her back to Cambridge. He also found out he has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the same disease that killed Edward Said, the Palestinian-born Columbia University professor and Makiya’s intellectual nemesis.

While it would be impossible to prove this, one wonders if living in such a heavily polluted environment such as Iraq might have led to Mr. Makiya’s cancer. In Houston, Texas, there are 56 percent more incidents of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia for families living in close proximity to the petroleum refineries. Since George W. Bush and his cronies are responsible for the woeful state of both Texas and Iraq today, there is some irony in Makiya being so afflicted.

Said never rested a moment in the final years of his life when he was battling leukemia. He did everything in his power to expose the lies that people like Makiya were churning out on behalf of the Bush White House. In a article that appeared in the November 28, 2002 Al-Ahram titled “Misinformation about Iraq“, Said directed his fire against Makiya:

The most complete version of his plans for Iraq after an American invasion that derive from his current employment as a resident employee of the US Department of State, appears in the November 2002 issue of Prospect, a good liberal British monthly to which I subscribe. Makiya begins his “proposal” by enumerating the extraordinary assumptions behind his arguments, two of which almost by definition are unimaginable. The first is that “the unseating” of Saddam should not occur after a bombing campaign. Makiya must have been living on Mars to imagine that, in the event of a war, a massive bombing attack would not occur even though every single plan circulated for regime change in Iraq has stated explicitly that Iraq would be bombed mercilessly. The second assumption is equally imaginative, since Makiya seems to believe against all evidence that the US is committed to democracy and nation-building in Iraq. Why he thinks that Iraq is like Germany and Japan after World War II (both of which were rebuilt because of the Cold War) is beyond me; besides, he doesn’t once mention the fact that the US is determined to bring down the Iraqi regime because of the country’s oil reserves and because Iraq is an enemy of Israel. So, he starts out by making preposterous assumptions that simply fly in the face of all the evidence.

The New York Times Magazine article was written by Dexter Filkins who might be described as Judith Miller lite. Along with the equally detestable Michael R. Gordon, they have been writing article after article trying to prove that Iran is behind all the troubles in Iraq. Filkins also served as a conduit for Pentagon propaganda in earlier articles blaming al-Qaeda for the insurgency in Iraq. Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post reported that the military had made a “selective leak” about al-Qaeda leader Zarqawi to Dexter Filkins. The article, making much of a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004. In other words, just the kind of reporter to rely on for an accounting of Makiya’s sins.

Filkins and Makiya alike can hardly avoid talking about the catastrophe that George W. Bush has wrought.

In the buildup to the Iraq war, Makiya, more than any single figure, made the case for invading because it was the right thing to do — to destroy an evil regime and rescue a people from their nightmare of terror and suffering. Not for oil, Makiya argued, and not for some superweapons hidden in the sand, but to satisfy an obligation to our fellow human beings.

If it sounded idealistic, Makiya went even further, arguing that an American invasion of Iraq could clear the ground for Western-style democracy. Years of war and murder had left Iraqis so thoroughly degraded, Makiya argued, that, once freed, they would throw off the tired orthodoxies of Arab politics and, in their despair, look to the West. “The removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein presents the U.S. with a historic opportunity,” Makiya told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in October 2002, “that is as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.” Two months before the war started, in a meeting in the Oval Office, Makiya told President Bush that Iraqis would greet invading American soldiers with “sweets and flowers.”

Now, of course, those dreams are gone, carried away on a tide of blood. The catastrophe in Iraq has thoroughly undermined the idea of democratic change in the Middle East. It has undercut the notion, sustained by the successful interventions in the Balkans, that American military power can achieve humanitarian ends. And it has made Makiya and the others who justified the invasion look reckless and naïve.

Filkins alludes to Makiya’s early Trotskyist connections:

Makiya, who is 58, made the toppling of Saddam Hussein his life’s work, the focus of an idealistic vision that guided him through a life of exile. In the musty yearbooks of Baghdad College, the Jesuit high school where Makiya studied, the photo shows his eyes afire: dark, focused and looking upward. As a student at M.I.T., he strummed Woody Guthrie folk tunes on an old guitar. Makiya threw himself into the Palestinian cause, signed on as a Marxist and then beat a long path back to a philosophy of democracy and human rights.

There are more details about Makiya’s youthful indiscretions in Democratiya, an online magazine that describes itself as pushing for the “renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism.” If your idea of “democratic radicalism” is finding excuses for military interventions in the 3rd World, you are welcome to it. Makiya was interviewed by fellow scoundrel Alan Johnson, who at one time served on the editorial board of New Politics, a “third camp” magazine, before jumping with both feet into the New Labour pro-war camp. Johnson was recently heard from touting the reputation of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, better known as the Senator from Boeing. In answer to Johnson’s question about his background, Makiya includes this information:

I became very active in the anti-war movement, which was burgeoning in the United States. And I was very active in supporting the emerging Palestinian Resistance Movement. I passed through the Nationalist Palestinian groups and I ended up in the Marxist one. All of this happened very rapidly. Within a span of a year I became a Marxist and was attracted to Trotskyist politics. The great influence on me was Emmanuel Farjoun, a member of the Israeli Socialist Organisation, Matzpen. He was also a student at MIT, much older than I. He had enjoyed a socialist training from day dot having grown up in a left socialist kibbutz. It was a revelation for me to meet an Israeli who was critical of his own society. He explained a) basic socialist principles which, of course, were completely new to me, and b) the nature of Israeli society, which was also a revelation for me. We became very, very close friends, almost brothers, for the next twenty-five years. (We fell out over the Iraq war but that’s another story. That’s sad, very sad.)

I started to soak up books and I became active in the Socialist Workers’ Party, the American section of the (Trotskyist) 4th International. I moved to Britain in 1974 and I became active in the International Marxist Group (IMG). I recall there was a Lebanese Trotskyist organisation, remnants of an Iraqi Trotskyist organisation, and some Egyptian and Tunisian Trotskyists. I spent a lot of time in those countries meeting those people, going backwards and forwards to Lebanon. I was a full time political activist.

I have no memory of Makiya but this explanation for his departure from the movement rings a bell:

The Iran-Iraq war broke out. Our former comrades were being imprisoned or killed in Iran. We both left organised Trotskyist politics around that time on the issue of the Iraq-Iran war. The left was saying it was a war with a good side and a bad side. We were saying a plague on both your houses because this is an ugly, nasty war that is not going to lead to progress for anyone, so victory for either side would be a step backward.

Alan Johnson asks him, “Did you find any support for that view among your comrades?”

Kanan Makiya replies:

There were individuals. Bob Langston, I remember, from the Socialist Workers’ Party. Jon Rothschild and others were very sympathetic. But their sympathy was not shared by the leadership. Afsaneh and I resigned over it. We wrote a huge document that explained the whole thing, in the usual fashion.

If I were more of an archivist than I am, I’d try to track down the document. Frankly, I can’t remember the debate or much of the SWP’s politics on Iran. This much I can remember. The Militant newspaper did tend to play up the “radical” side of the Iranian revolution and splashed news about it across the front page, including a big headline about why the students in Iran were justified when they seized the US embassy. One of our comrades, a rather outspoken and narcissistic individual, insisted on selling this newspaper rather aggressively to coal miners after being on the job less than a month. She was forced to leave the job after a rightwing miner hurled a cinder block at her from above.

I have much better memories of Jon Rothschild and Bob Langston. I first met Jon in 1969 when he came to New York from about a year in Paris working with the JCR, the youth group of the French section. Jon had adopted the style (black leather jacket and Gaulois cigarettes) and politics of the Europeans, both of which I found resistible. Langston was quite a bit older and really very intelligent. He was one of the party’s experts on economics and heir to an oil fortune. Every Militant article he ever wrote was stamped by his fecund and original mind, a trait that the party would assiduously avoid as the “turn” deepened in the 1970s.

In trying to explain to Johnson why he broke with the left, Makiya betrays a certain unfamiliarity with Trotsky’s core ideas:

I feel the left that I came from has almost become nationalist. This language of relativism has translated itself into, ‘Well, even if the regime of Saddam Hussein is so nasty, why should we go and liberate it?’ Now that is something you would have got from an American isolationist, back in the old days. You would never have got it from somebody on the left. The positive element which I carried from the Trotskyist movement, from the writings of Trotsky himself, was an internationalist spirit. It was more alive in me, I think, than in many of those who claimed Trotsky’s mantle, but did not practice that internationalism. It is a very sad state of affairs. The left has turned against its own internationalist traditions and thrown away its own universal values. The older left was able to cross boundaries and think across boundaries. That was its strength and its weakness.

If Makiya thought that Trotsky was an “internationalist” in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, or Paul Wolfowitz for that matter, nothing can be further from the truth. The idea that an imperialist power can impose its will on a colonial country in the interests of social justice and democracy is utter nonsense. In the beginning of the war in Iraq, there was much talk about how the neoconservatives were latter-day Trotskyists, in the style alluded to by Makiya above–including an article by Jeet Heer that appeared in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. I answered this absurd claim as soon as I heard it:

Jeet Heer: As evidence of the continuing intellectual influence of Trotsky, consider the curious fact that some of the books about the Middle East crisis that are causing the greatest stir were written by thinkers deeply shaped by the tradition of the Fourth International.

In seeking advice about Iraqi society, members of the Bush administration (notably Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defence, and Dick Cheney, the Vice-President) frequently consulted Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi-American intellectual whose book The Republic of Fear is considered to be the definitive analysis of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.

As the journalist Christopher Hitchens notes, Makiya is “known to veterans of the Trotskyist movement as a one-time leading Arab member of the Fourth International.” When speaking about Trotskyism, Hitchens has a voice of authority. Like Makiya, Hitchens is a former Trotskyist who is influential in Washington circles as an advocate for a militantly interventionist policy in the Middle East. Despite his leftism, Hitchens has been invited into the White House as an ad hoc consultant.

My reply: If Makiya’s “Republic of Fear” has anything to do with Trotskyism, except the fact that the author spent some time in the movement as a youth, then one presumes that Saul Bellow’s racist screed “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” must also be linked with Leon Trotsky as well, since Bellow also spent a brief time in the Trotskyist movement. For that matter, one might link orthodox Judaism with Trotskyism since Isaac Deutscher and I were both bar mitzvahed and ate kosher through adolescence.

Other than the fact that Kanan Makiya spent five minutes or so in the Fourth International, there is absolutely nothing to link him to the intellectual and political traditions represented by Leon Trotsky. Consider the interview he gave to an Argentine journalist on September 23, 1938 in which he defended a “fascist” Brazil against a “democratic” Great Britain:

In order to understand correctly the nature of the coming events we must first of all reject … the false … theory that the coming war will be a war between fascism and “democracy.” … I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of that conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally — in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains in Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship.

Or the letter wrote to an English comrade on April 22, 1936 which not only defended feudal Ethiopia against capitalist Italy, but was full of praise for the Negus, ie. Haile Selassie, who made Saddam Hussein look like Martin Luther King Jr. by comparison, and contained the remarkable formulation that “A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history”.

Indeed, the Trotsky of history has much more in common with the reviled Ramsey Clark and WWP than he does with the Cruise Missile “leftists” Heer falsely linked him with.

 

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