Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 27, 2008

Andre Gunder Frank readings

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization,Introduction to Marxism class — louisproyect @ 7:14 pm

For those whose interest was piqued by my introduction to Andre Gunder Frank, I have now posted 3 lengthy excerpts from his “Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America” on the Yahoo Introduction to Marxism class:

1. On Chile

2. On the “Indian Problem”

3. On “feudalism” in Brazil

Eventually I will be posting commentary on the readings here as well.

September 26, 2008

Chase Manhattan Late Fee

Filed under: capitalist pig,crime,economics — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm

One of the things I inherited from my father is fiscal responsibility. I pride myself, just as he did, on paying my bills on time and not going into debt unless it is absolutely necessary. The biggest debt I ever accrued in my life was for college tuition and it was paid off promptly.

Back in 7th grade, we were taught how to balance a checking account and the lessons have stuck with me. Every time either I or my wife uses our ATM cards, we put the charge slip into a little basket on my desk and when I get a chance I enter a batch of them into MS Money. And when I get my Chase banking statement each month, I reconcile the Chase transactions against what I entered in MS Money in the same way that I learned in the 7th grade.

I also use Chase Online to pay my bills. Since more and more credit cards impose stiff penalties if you are even a day late, I make sure to check the time it takes for a payment to register. Some accounts take a day or two, but most are flagged as “same day”. So when I last paid my Chase Visa bill on September 2nd, the same day it was due, I assumed that there would not be a penalty.

So given my anal retentiveness around these questions and my hatred for banking institutions, you can imagine my consternation when I discovered that I incurred a $29 late fee. I called Chase and discovered that according to their records, my payment was received on September 3rd, not the 2nd. After insisting emphatically that their records were wrong, I finally discovered how I was snookered into a late charge following the logic of Kafka novel.

The Chase help desk operator directed me to the reverse side of the statement which has “Information About Your Account”. In the second paragraph (“Crediting of Payments”), it states that “Payments made electronically through our automated telephone service, Customer Service advisors, or our website will be subjected to any processing times disclosed for those payments.” He then added that the processing time for payments made through Chase Online usually take 2 to 3 business days even though the system tells you that it is same day. I asked where the information about 2 to 3 business days can be found since it was certainly not within “Information About Your Account”. He replied that it was on the Agreement I received after signing up for a Visa Card. I laughed bitterly when I heard this, since my Visa Card is at least 20 years old and asked him who the hell would hold on to a 20 year old Agreement form? He assured me that he would be happy to mail me one.

Does this sound like Chase is trying to rip people off? Perish the thought but it appears that big banks are relying more and more on this line of business in the face of declining profits.

The Harper’s Magazine Index for October 2008 reports:

Percentage of Citigroup profits in 2006 that came from credit cards: 18

Percentage last year: 79

That’s a huge increase. Although Harper’s does not analyze the statistics, it seems pretty obvious that traditional profit sources have dried up, most especially home mortgages one must assume.

The Naderite Public Research Interest Group reported:

SKYROCKETING LATE FEES: The survey found average late fees of $27.61. Credit card companies are reaping more profit than ever before from late fee income, for three reasons: (1) the average late fee has more than doubled in ten years, (2) companies have decreased the amount of time between when they mail a bill and when payment is due; and (3) nearly two-thirds of companies have eliminated leniency periods, and have begun to impose late fees immediately.

“Credit card marketing has become reckless and deceptive, and sometimes violates consumer protection laws,” said Mierzwinski. “These deceptive tactics are used by some of the country’s largest card issuers and affect millions of consumers each year.”

Some of the largest credit card companies have recently paid major settlements and penalties in lawsuits by consumers and civil actions by the government, for amounts ranging from $7-105 million. Alleged practices include purposely posting monthly payments late in order to increase cardholders’ APRs and to gain more late fee income. For example, Providian was found by the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the San Francisco District Attorney to have violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive practices, when it said a card had no annual fees, even though mandatory monthly fees on the card totaled $156/year. The bank agreed to settle the charges and had to pay consumer restitution of $300 million.

I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything that much different from a bank founded by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the architect of the Ludlow Massacre. On April 20, 1914, when he sat on the board of the Colorado Fuel and Iron company (his father owned a majority of the shares), the Colorado National Guard opened fire on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners. 20 people, 11 of them children, died during the attack.

Killing strikers or extorting late fees from poor schmucks like me boils down in the final analysis to the imperatives of profit-making. When you put the almighty dollar on the altar, all sorts of devilish behavior ensues. Maybe the mammoth disgust with financial institutions boiling up over the 700 billion dollar bailout will finally put these bloodsuckers on the defensive. There must be millions of other people who feel like their bank has “mugged” them, as I put it to the poor soul making a living at the Chase help desk who had to suffer the wrath of Louis Proyect.


Posted to PEN-L and Marxism mailing list by economist Michael Perelman:

In The Confiscation of Economic Prosperity, I have a short section on fees (and other costs borne almost exclusively by the poor), because such costs do not count when the government measures real income. I think it is an important subject. A former student who works for the BLS tried to interest people there in the question, but without success.

In addition, the reported income of the poorer segments of society does not account for the many extra expenses that poor people pay. For example, the data ignores the late fees that banks and other corporations charge. In 2004, banks, thrifts, and credit unions collected a record $37.8 billion in service charges on accounts, more than double what they received in 1994, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Credit Union Administration. Banks continue to raise fees for late payments, low balances, and over-the-limit charges to as much as $39 per violation. Some banks even charge for speaking with a service representative. Naturally, these fees predominately fall on the poor (Chu 2005; Foust 2005).

Insurance companies charge more for people in poor neighborhoods. The poor also find themselves at the mercy of predatory lenders. To make matters even worse, their food costs more because they lack convenient access to grocery stores. Even though the government disregards these factors in assembling its statistics about wealth and income, they can be significant (Brookings Institution 2006).

September 25, 2008

An introduction to Andre Gunder Frank

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization,Introduction to Marxism class — louisproyect @ 5:34 pm

(This was originally posted to the Introduction to Marxism mailing list on Yahoo.)

In a little while I will be posting the preface to Andre Gunder Frank’s 1967 “Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil,” a book that is clearly indebted to Paul Baran’s “Political Economy of Growth,” a key chapter of which was posted here the other day. [This is now available at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marxism_class/message/265.] As is the case with Baran, there simply is noting available on the Internet that captures their contributions to “dependency theory” so once again I am resorting to my trusty Epson scanner.

Once you have had a chance to digest this introduction and Frank’s preface, I will post 3 excerpts from “Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America”, either this evening or tomorrow:

1. The opening pages of Section One, “Capitalist Development of Underdevelopment in Chile”.

2. Section two, “On the ‘Indian Problem’ in Latin America”

3. The opening pages of Section Four, “Capitalist and the Myth of Feudalism in Brazil”

Frank’s preface begins with this acknowledgement of Baran: “I believe, with Paul Baran, that it is capitalism, both world and national, which produced underdevelopment in the past and which still generates underdevelopment in the present.” Furthermore, the book introduces the formulation that virtually defined dependency theory: the development of underdevelopment.

Although I am by no means an expert on Andre G. Frank’s evolution as a political thinker, it is safe to say that the concerns that were present in his work from the 1960s to the 1980s soon gave way to a new approach, namely “World Systems”, an academic cross-discipline associated with Immanuel Wallerstein. No longer would Frank focus on class relationships in semi-colonial societies in Latin America. He became preoccupied with “long waves” in history of the sort that made Anglo-American imperialism hegemonic at one time and that would now put Asia in the driver’s seat once again. His last book “Re-Orient” displayed not the slightest interest in socialism, but only the deep social and economic forces that would make China a hegemonic world power once again.

Many of Frank’s articles can be read at an archive maintained by Róbinson Rojas, but virtually nothing from the 1960s and 70s when he was writing book after book detailing the impact of imperialism in Latin America. You will find much more in this vein: The Five Thousand Year World System in Theory and Praxis.  When one adopts time frames of 5,000 years, it is difficult to reconcile that with the urgent task of socialist revolution. This is not to say, however, that A.G. Frank was reconciled to the status quo. Until his death of cancer 3 years ago at the age of 76, Frank remained committed to opposing American imperialism even if he seemed to have lost sight of the agency that might have had the power to stop it dead in its tracks, namely the working-class.

As a subscriber to the A-List, the mailing list launched by my friend and comrade, the late Mark Jones, Frank was full of piss and vinegar to the very end as this excerpt from a message he posted 3 months before his death would indicate:

In addition, Uncle Sam also obliges the states in the Third World to act as collection agencies or even as Repo Goons, where goons are the ones sent out to repo-ssess the Godfather’s property by any means. Only in this case, it is not even that; for he is just taking new possession, since the original debt has long since been paid off. The states raise taxes and fees from the population but lower social spending on education and health to at home to divert funds to pay the debt abroad. They also borrow in turn from private capital at home at high interest rates that the state pays to the rich lenders, but out of taxes collected from the poor. That way, income is ”recycled” from poor to rich at home as well as from these poor via the foreign debt to the even richer abroad. These literally forced savings of the poor are then sent to Uncle Sam in the form of ”service” on the $ debt that is “owed” to him.

In my view, A.G. Frank’s “dependency theory” was influenced just as much by the victory of the Cuban revolution as it was by Paul Baran’s “Political Economy of Growth”, written a half-decade before the guerrillas entered Havana victoriously. In making the case that capitalism was responsible for the “development of underdevelopment”, Frank was simply expressing the same ideas found in Fidel Castro’s 1962 Second Declaration of Havana:

What “Alliance for Progress” can serve as encouragement to those 107 million men and women of our America, the backbone of labor in the cities and fields, whose dark skin-black, mestizo, mulatto, Indian-inspires scorn in the new colonialists? How are they-who with bitter impotence have seen how in Panama there is one wage scale for Yankees and another for Pan­amanians, who are regarded as an inferior race-going to put any trust in the supposed Alliance?

What can the workers hope for, with their starvation wages, the hardest jobs, the most miserable conditions, lack of nutrition, illness, and all the evils which foster misery?

What words can be said, what benefits can the imperialists offer to the copper, tin, iron, coal miners who cough up their lungs for the profits of merciless foreign masters, and to the fathers and sons of the lumberjacks and rubber-plantation workers, to the harvesters of the fruit plantations, to the workers in the coffee and sugar mills, to the peons on the pampas and plains who forfeit their health and lives to amass the fortunes of the exploiters?

What can those vast masses-who produce the wealth, who create the values, who aid in bringing forth a new world in all places-expect? What can they expect from imperialism, that greedy mouth, that greedy hand, with no other face than misery, but the most absolute destitution and death, cold and unrecorded in the end?

Like just about everybody who decided to become a revolutionary in capitalist society, starting with Marx and Engels themselves, Andre Gunder Frank started out as a conventional thinker as he explains in the preface:

The analysis and conclusions of these studies also carry implications, again to use Paul Baran’s words, for the responsibility of the intellectual; and these may be clarified in the form of a personal note. My own social and intellectual background is that of middle-class North America, and my professional formation that of the most reactionary wing of the American bourgeoisie. (My principal professor and teacher of economic theory [Milton Friedman] became the chief economic adviser to Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign.) When I came to Latin America some three years ago, I thought of the problems of development here in terms of largely domestic problems, of capital scarcity, feudal and traditional institutions which impede saving and investment, concentration of political power in the hands of rural oligarchies, and many of the other universally known supposed obstacles to the economic development of supposedly traditionally underdeveloped societies. I had read Paul Baran, but I did not really understand him or any part of the world. The development policies, such as investment in human capital and discontinuous strategies of economic development, which my academic research had led me to publish in professional journals, were more or less of a piece with those of my colleagues, even if I did not go to extremes of classical monetary policy and pseudo-Weberian and neo-Freudian attitudinal and motivational analyses and policy.

In the earliest stages of his academic career, Frank had to contend with Walter Rostow’s “modernization” thesis that served as the primary ideology for liberal imperialism in the mid-1950s, against which Paul Baran’s “Political Economy of Growth” was directed. In an intellectual memoir titled ironically “The Underdevelopment of Development“, Frank recounts:

In 1958 I spent three months as visiting researcher at MIT’s Center for International Studies (CENIS) and met Ben Higgins, W.W. Rostow and the others. Rostow wrote his Process of Development (1952) and Stages of Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1962). Although Rostow and company dealt with Keynesian type macro economic and even social problems, they did so to pursue explicitly the neo-classical counter revolutionary, and even counter reformist, cold war ends. The quintessential modernization book, David Lerner’s (1958) Passing of Traditional Society, appeared while I was there. At the same time, Everett Hagen wrote his On the Theory of Social Change (1962), David McClelland his Achieving Society (1961), and Ithiel de Sola Pool his right libertarian/authoritarian political works.

But it was engagement with the problems of ordinary people in Latin America that fully converted Frank into a revolutionary, as his memoir continues:

To find out more about that [social change], I went to Cuba in 1960, looked at political change in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana (where I was disappointed to find little) and in Seku Toure’s Guinea (where I mistakenly thought that I had found more). Then, I decided to be consequential: I quit my assistant professorship at Michigan State University and went to find (out for) myself from the ‘inside’ in the ‘underdeveloped’ ‘Third’ World. Since I decided I could never become an African, I went to Latin America, where acculturation seemed less daunting.

In 1962, in Mexico, I wrote about the ‘Janus faces’ of Mexican inequality (reprinted 1969). I saw internal colonialism there instead of separate sectors in a ‘dual’ economy or society. In Peru, Anibal Quijano arranged for me to meet Marta Fuentes in Chile. We shared our concern for social justice, which would guide our concern for development with equity before efficiency. We married and had two children with whom, as with each other, we spoke Spanish. Together, but without consulting our children and at their cost, we embarked on the long journey ‘to change the world.’

To begin with, I wrote a critique of an article on land reform by Jacques Chonchol (reprinted 1969). He counseled, and later practiced, slow land reform. I argued for the necessity of fast agrarian and other revolution, to forestall counter-reform. This was probably my first explicit critique of reformism from a more radical perspective. I also foretold that any economic integration of Latin America would help foreign investors more than local ones. I increasingly saw the reformist house as no more than a remodeled capitalist one. I thought it was necessary to replace this one by a socialist house instead. Just how much tearing down and rebuilding this change might involve was less than clear.

I still welcomed any proposed reforms, but considered them insufficient if not altogether unworkable, and put my confidence instead in the Cuban way. Of course, Cuba was developing socially and visibly improving education, health, reducing race and gender discrimination, etc. It was not yet clear that this was the main forte of the Cuban way. No one yet knew that this social development was not being matched by or grounded on a concomitant development of its economic base. The inadequate or incorrect Cuban development of this economic base would ultimately make the continued social development dependent on the aid of massive foreign subsidy. This Cuban experience seems to disconfirm the Schultzian thesis (and then also mine) about the necessity and sufficiency of investment in ‘Human Capital and Economic Growth’ (1960).

Finally, I would recommend a look at Andre Gunder Frank’s personal autobiography, which is an excellent complement to “The Underdevelopment of Development”. While it would be difficult to deduce that his early years might have led ineluctably to a revolutionary path, they suggest that the revolutionary economist had as much of a bohemian streak as the motorcycle driving Che Guevara:

During summer vacations in college and for many years after that, I held down all sorts of jobs until I was fired from most of them – always for the same reason: insubordination. These jobs included building pre-fab houses in the Washington DC suburbs, digging ditches and laying the concrete sidewalk from the north-west corner of the campus of the University of Michigan campus to its library, and therefore many years later I could tell my son that I had once made a ‘concrete’ contribution to his welfare there as a graduate student. In Washington state, I worked in a saw mill and then as a logger, as well as again digging ditches and ‘gandy-dancing’, that is laying railroad track. In Michigan, I built automobiles at Willow Run [which had been built during World War II to manufacture B 17bombers], and in New Orleans I tended 32 spools in a row of twine to spin them for the International Harvester Corporation. There, I also worked as a private eye, as well as of course in the French Quarter tourist industry as a waiter on Bourbon Street, a picture painter in Jackson Square, and in the Mardi Gras parade walking around dressed as a huge paper-mache Old Gran Dad whisky bottle, on which people knocked asking for samples that I was unable to supply. Alas, I had no ”aptitude” for any of these: I had taken an employment aptitude test at the Louisiana State Employment Commission, which showed that , as they duly informed me, I had aptitude for NOthing, and especially NO INTELLECTUIAL aptitude. Therefore, they said, I should try my hand at automobile mechanic, as which they however could find no job for me. In San Francisco, I carted refrigerators and similar household equipment up three flights of stairs for a moving company, and for free concert attendance I ushered people up and down the aisles of the San Francisco Opera House. At Union Square, I wrapped Christmas presents in the basement of the fancy I. Magnin department store until I was fired for refusing to warp something too ugly for words and in my opinion for wrapping. In Chicago, I loaded freight cars at night, and in the daytime I was supposed to placate the irate customers of a furniture store whose sales personnel made their sales by promising delivery dates that were impossible to meet. Since I sided more with their innocent customer victims, the sales people had me fired.

September 23, 2008

FDR and African-Americans

Filed under: african-american,parliamentary cretinism,racism — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

Firedoglake asks: “FDR’s heir?”

With worries that the current financial crisis could lead to a repeat of the Great Depression, it should not be surprising that liberals are yearning for a new FDR. Furthermore, if the New Deal administration represented a break with the historical past through its apparent embrace of sweeping social change, who better to adopt the new mantle of FDR than Barack Obama, an African-American candidate pledged to change. Seeing the connections, the liberal FireDogLake blog put it this way:

In 1932 Hoover offered FDR a deal. FDR could take power early to deal with the crisis, if only he agreed to take care of it as Hoover wished. FDR said “no way”. This is Obama’s FDR moment. He can let Bush and Paulson define what his presidency will be about, how the crisis will be dealt with, or he can stand up and say “no way.”

For his admirers, it might not even seem like a liability if Obama’s call for change has little substance beneath it. After all, FDR was not elected as any kind of fire-breathing populist. His promises were fairly centrist, as are Obama’s. Could Obama promote economic and racial change across the board once in office, just as FDR did? Before answering this question, it might be useful to take a close look at FDR’s actual performance with respect to civil rights.

In a special issue commemorating the New Deal, the Nation Magazine invited a number of high-profile liberals and radicals to speak about different aspects of the FDR presidency. Adolph Reed, a Trotskyist in his youth who nowadays speaks from an economistic perspective (class trumps race), was assigned to write about “Race and the New Deal,” about which he had the following to say:

But the fact is, most New Deal programs were anything but race-neutral–or, for that matter, gender-neutral–in their impact. Some, like the initial Social Security old-age pension program, were established on a racially invidious, albeit officially race-neutral, basis by excluding from coverage agricultural and domestic workers, the categories that included nearly 90 percent of black workers at the time. Others, like the CCC, operated on Jim Crow principles. Roosevelt’s housing policy put the weight of federal support behind creating and reproducing an overtly racially exclusive residential housing industry.

This barely scratches the surface. To really get to the depths of the naked racism that pervaded the Roosevelt administration, you must read Kenneth O’Reilly’s “Nixon’s Piano”, a book that derived its title from a racist minstrel-show performance in which Nixon at a piano and his vice president Spiro Agnew mocked their “Southern strategy” before journalists and guests at a 1970 Gridiron Club dinner. Basically, the book is a study of how both Democrats and Republicans always considered Black people’s interests as secondary to their own political ambitions unless political exigency forced them to bend to the pressure like bosses acceding to the wage demands of a militant trade union. In the sad state of electoral politics in the U.S., very few progressives are able to see things this way. Instead of regarding an LBJ as a boss caving in to a powerful mass movement that amounts to a kind of strike, they prefer to see him as a kind of beneficent father figure.

At first blush, the Roosevelts come across as classic “friends of the Negro”. Most people are familiar with how Eleanor Roosevelt confronted the Daughters of the American Revolution who refused to allow African-American contralto Marian Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall. She persuaded her husband to move the event to the Lincoln Memorial. This particular event has iconic value for New Deal celebrants, but when measured against FDR’s complete record, it weighs very little.

To begin with, the political reality of the Democratic Party is that it catered to the racist wing of the party based in Dixie. Roosevelt felt it imperative to retain the support of politicians like Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, an open white supremacist who proposed an amendment to the federal work-relief bill on June 6, 1938 that would deport 12 million black Americans to Liberia at federal expense to relieve unemployment.

While most people are familiar with Roosevelt naming Hugo Black, a former Klan member, to the Supreme Court, there was just as much insensitivity involved with naming James F. Byrnes, a South Carolina politician, to the same post. Byrnes once said “This is a white man’s country, and will always remain a white man’s country” and most assuredly meant it.

Enjoyed telling jokes about “darkies”

O’Reilly cites long-time NAACP director Roy Wilkins on FDR: “He was a New York patrician. Distant, aloof, with no natural feel for the sensibilities of black people, no compelling inner commitment to their cause.” O’Reilly adds some details to this portrait:

Roosevelt had few contacts with African Americans beyond the odd jobs done for an elderly widow while a student at Groton. The servants at the Hyde Park estate where he grew up were all English and Irish. When serving in the New York State Senate he scribbled a note in the margin of a speech to remind himself about a “story of a nigger.” Telling jokes about how some “darky” contracted venereal disease was a habit never outgrown. He used the word “nigger” casually in private conversation and correspondence, writing Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt of his trip to Jamaica and how “a drink of coconut water, procured by a naked nigger boy from the top of the tallest tree, did much to make us forget the dust.”

Despite her reputation as a fearless civil rights advocate, his wife Eleanor seemed to have some big-time racial attitudes as well according to O’Reilly:

Following her husband’s 1919 appointment as assistant secretary of the navy, she set up house in Washington “amid a world of people who are having fearful domestic trials . . . [But] I seem to be sailing along peacefully,” having “acquired … a complete darky household.” (In fact she kept an English nurse and Scottish governess.) In contrast to the Irish girls brought in from New York City, Eleanor found Washington’s black domestics “pleasanter to deal with and there is never any question about it not being their work to do this or that.” She was also something of a romantic here, having fond memories of her Auntie Gracie’s “tales of the old and much-loved colored people on the plantation.”

Loved tales of Southern plantation life

These prejudices melded well with the Machiavellian deal that FDR struck with the likes of Bilbo and company. The White House was not hospitable to Black people as O’Reilly points out:

At the advice of Howe, Farley, and other members of the palace guard, especially appointments secretary Marvin Mclntyre and press secretary Stephen Early, [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt initially closed off the White House. Black newspaper editors and NAACP officials could not get in, let alone an International Labor Defense delegation whose members wanted the president to meet with the mothers of the Scottsboro boys-the nine Alabama teenagers sentenced to death for the alleged rape of two white women. Mclntyre and Early either referred everyone to Howe, who looked at communist involvement in the Scottsboro boys’ legal defense as a convenient excuse for refusing White House involvement, or turned them back in the waiting room. The president’s men would ask black visitors, whether newspaper editors or NAACP officials, “What do you boys want?”

To further avoid offending white southerners, Roosevelt banned black reporters from his first press conference in 1933 and every other press conference for the next eleven years. His idea of communicating with blacks, concluded John H. Sengstacke, publisher of the Chicago Defender and founder of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, was to tell Walter White and “Walter would tell everybody else.” When Attorney General Francis Biddle “suggested that the President admit Johnson of the Associated Negro Press … he said I should take it up with Early, but I rejoined that Steven certainly would be against it. He has in mind that this might run into unfavorable congressional opinion as they have excluded Negroes from the Press Gallery.”

Early, Howe, and the rest of the palace guard preferred to share racist drivel; minimize patronage for black party regulars; and keep the quest for black votes confined to the Democratic National Committee’s loosely organized and neglected Colored Division (formed during the campaign’s early months to handle the heavy correspondence from blacks eager to flee the Republican party of Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression). Called to explain an expense account, Joseph L. Johnson, the Colored Division chief for West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, told Howe that “during the two years in which we have been in power not one thing . . . has been given to the Colored Democrats of this district. Not even a messenger has been appointed. The Colored Democratic leaders of these states know this and some of them were mad and threatening to bolt. The expense account represents a part of the amount I spent holding them in line.” Unimpressed by this plea, Howe kept Johnson’s people shut out.

With more than patronage in mind Walter White and the NAACP sought access to FDR with an end run around the Oval Office guard. “It was Walter’s idea to reach him through the First Lady. We courted her for several years,” Roy Wilkins recalled. “I had never used so much soft soap on anyone in my life.” Though White and Wilkins selected Eleanor early on because they sensed she was a good and decent person, they knew her commitment to civil rights was questionable. “Even after she moved into the White House,” Wilkins said, “there was gossip that she referred to Negroes as ‘darkies.’ ” (That word would remain part of her vocabulary for the next three decades.) Once in the White House the first lady trimmed domestic staff in economy’s name by dismissing the whites and keeping the blacks-a decision that devastated two Irish maids, Nora and Annie. Eleanor again took pride in her “all darky” household, assembling what Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman called, after a White House meal, “an army of coons.” She also insisted that maids and cooks visit the beauty parlor once a month to get their “kinky” hair straightened. This strained their budgets, particularly after FDR cut wages 25 percent as a further economy.

On the matter of what affected Black people in the 1930s on the most urgent basis as Blacks, probably nothing was more important than the right not to be lynched by a racist mob. Rather than cite O’Reilly on this issue, it would make sense to see what the NAACP has to say, keeping in mind the uphill battle it had during the 1930s to get FDR to stand up for their rights as fellow Americans:

Costigan-Wagner Bill

The NAACP hoped that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 would bring an end to lynching. Two African American campaigners against lynching, Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White, had been actively involved in helping Roosevelt to obtain victory.

Robert F. Wagner and Edward Costigan agreed to draft an anti-lynching bill. The legislation proposed federal trials for any law enforcement officers who failed to exercise their responsibilities during a lynching incident.

In 1935 attempts were made to persuade Roosevelt to support the Costigan-Wagner bill. However, Roosevelt refused to speak out in favour of the bill. He argued that the white voters in the South would never forgive him if he supported the bill and he would therefore lose the next election.

Even the appearance in the newspapers of the lynching of Rubin Stacy failed to change Roosevelt’s mind on the subject. Six deputies were escorting Stacy to Dade County jail in Miami on 19th July, 1935, when he was taken by a white mob and hanged by the side of the home of Marion Jones, the woman who had made the original complaint against him. The New York Times later revealed that “subsequent investigation revealed that Stacy, a homeless tenant farmer, had gone to the house to ask for food; the woman became frightened and screamed when she saw Stacy’s face.”

A final word should be said about FDR and A. Philip Randolph, the long-time leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, who threatened a March on Washington to press for six demands, starting with number one:

We demand, in the interest of national unity, the abrogation of every law which makes a distinction in treatment between citizens based on religion, creed, color or national origin. This means an end to Jim Crow in education, in housing, in transportation and in every other social, economic and political privilege; and especially, we demand, in the capital of the nation, an end to all segregation in public places and in public institutions.

According to O’Reilly, FDR saw the March organizers as “crude blackmailers” interfering with the war effort that was intended to make the world safe for democracy. Yes, the irony was lost on the New Dealers. FDR dispatched his wife Eleanor to lobby with the organizers to call the whole thing off. He also had J. Edgar Hoover send spies into the movement at the going rate of $40 per month, and wiretap the March offices. Randolph and NAACP president Walter White finally met with the president on June 18, 1942 and told them that “bloodshed and death” would ensue if Black people came to Washington. When Randolph said that the only way out was in an “executive order guaranteeing Negroes jobs,” FDR objected: “You issue an executive order here for your group and the Poles are going to call for one, and you’re going to have this group and that group calling for one, and there’ll be no end to it. Now I’m willing to see to it that these jobs are opened up and I think that we can do that, but I can’t issue any executive order.”

As it turned out, the pressure mounted by the threatened March had the effect of finally getting FDR to take some progressive action. On June 25th, with the March barely a week away, the president issued the first presidential directive on race since the Reconstruction. Executive Order 8802 prohibited discrimination in defense industries and established a Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC).

The moral of this story is the following:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.

Frederick Douglass, “An address on West India Emancipation”, August 4, 1857

September 22, 2008

Jesse James: the myth and the man

Filed under: african-american,parliamentary cretinism,popular culture,racism — louisproyect @ 12:49 pm

Jesse James: The Myth And The Man
by Louis Proyect

(Swans – September 22, 2008)   After watching a DVD of The Assassination of Jesse James last November in anticipation of the yearly New York Film Critics Online awards luncheon, I was struck by director/screenwriter Andrew Dominik’s version of the famous 19th century outlaw. As played by Brad Pitt, this Jesse James was an unpredictable psychopath who reminded me of another character Pitt once played, the serial killer Early Grayce of Kalifornia.

Just after the movie ended, I searched for a review of a Jesse James biography that I had posted to the Marxism mailing list some years ago and that had remained in the back of my mind. This “revisionist” treatment of the bandit who loomed as an American Robin Hood in the popular imagination turned out to be T.J. Stiles’s biography Jesse James, about which Janet Maslin had this to say in the October 10, 2002, Sunday Book Review:

T.J. Stiles went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., a town famous as the site of the James-Younger Gang’s final showdown. Not until much later would Mr. Stiles realize what deep interest the place held for him. He is now the author of a fascinating revisionist biography of Jesse James, one that takes issue with the traditional image of the “Wild West outlaw, yippin’ and yellin’ and shooting it out with the county sheriff,” and with the folk-hero notion of James as a prairie Robin Hood.

In place of that, Mr. Stiles sees something more troubling and complex: “a transitional figure, standing between the agrarian slaveholding past and the industrial, violent, media-savvy future, representing the worst aspects of both.” In his intricate, far-reaching portrait of this legendary desperado, Mr. Stiles presents James as a Confederate terrorist caught up in the wild political turbulence of his times. In the secessionist stronghold of Clay County, Mo., “he learned that his enemies were not invading Yankees, but the men who lived next door.”

If T.J. Stiles had a personal connection to the James gang through Carleton College, so did I. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, which is just south of Clay County, where Jesse James was born and raised. I always found it hard to reconcile my birth state’s geographical location with the existence of Confederate guerrillas and decided to read T.J. Stiles’s book to help me understand Civil War Missouri and to separate the man Jesse James from the myth.

As an amateur but scholarly film critic, I also wanted to survey Jesse James movies in order to see how he was depicted in popular culture over the years. This article is the fruit of that labor. It also led me in directions that I had not anticipated. To put it as succinctly as possible, the career of Jesse James and men like him had a profoundly reactionary and racist effect on American politics that continues to this day. It might be said that the two-party impasse of today grows out of the hell raised by Jesse James and his gang over 130 years ago.

The Wikipedia article on Jesse James lists 27 movies on the outlaw, including two silent movies starring his son Jesse James Junior! But the movie that had the biggest impact in establishing Jesse James as the American Robin Hood was the 1939 Jesse James, a production featuring Tyrone Power as Jesse and Henry Fonda as his brother Frank. Since it was written by Nunnally Johnson, who would go on to write Grapes of Wrath two years later, it should not be surprising that the James brothers had a lot in common with Tom Joad, the Okie hero played by Henry Fonda. In both movies, the narrative pits misunderstood farm boys against the rich and the powerful. There are also echoes of Grapes of Wrath with Jesse James’s mother played by Jane Darnell, Tom Joad’s mother in Grapes of Wrath.

Central to the narrative of the 1939 movie is a struggle between powerful Yankee railroad barons and humble, mostly ex-Confederate, farmers defended by the James brothers. It was no accident that this conflict was played up since it is easier to identify with men and women fighting against a rapacious rail baron rather than for the preservation of slavery. In this movie and virtually all Jesse James movies, even the revisionist Brad Pitt opus, slaves are nowhere to be seen.

Well, not exactly. The James brothers have a loyal servant named Pinkie who used to be a slave until the rotten Northerners upset the apple cart. Played for laughs by Ernest Whitman, Pinkie is a shuffling, grinning racist stereotype straight out of Gone With the Wind, also made in 1939, where Whitman played a Carpetbagger’s partner — a villain in this racist classic.

Another important character is Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull), a newspaper editor who champions the James brothers’ fight against greedy railroad barons. This fictional character was clearly based on Major John Newman Edwards, a Confederate veteran and journalist who founded the Kansas City Times and who devoted himself to promulgating the myth of Jesse James as chivalrous fighter against Yankee oppression.

Apparently one American who made the connection between the 1939 movie version of Jesse James and contemporary struggles against plutocracy was folksinger Woody Guthrie, who like Tom Joad hailed from Oklahoma. Guthrie composed an ode to the bandit after seeing the movie. His lyric includes the following:

It was Frank and Jesse James that killed many a man,
But they never was outlaws at heart;
I wrote this song to tell you how it come
That Frank and Jesse James got their start.

They was living on a farm in the old Missouri hills,
With a silver-haired mother and a home;
Now the railroad bullies come to chase them off their land,
But they found that Frank and Jesse wouldn’t run.

Even before he had a chance to see the movie, Woody Guthrie was talking it up in the Daily Worker, the voice of the Communist Party:

Jesse James is a good picture –’Course I have to wait till it gits down to the dime shows, but it’s a good picture anyhow — (After all, I reckon a dime is worth 40c to me… they must be awful scarce. I see where the Finance outfits are charging four bits for a dime.) The Railroad Racketeers hired Hoodlums & Thugs to beat and cheat the farmers out of their farms — and make em sell em for $1 an acre. Frank & Jesse robbed the train to get even. They robbed it so often that the engineer was disappointed on days they coodent get there.

Concurring with Woody Guthrie’s take on the famous bandit was one Earl Robinson, the Communist songwriter best known for The House We Live In. As cited in Irwin Silber’s Songs of the Great American West, Earl Robinson accepts the Robin Hood version:

He stole from the rich and he gave to the poor,” they sang in later years…. And the folklore was based on fact. There wasn’t much point to stealing from the poor. Not unless you could work out a system the way the landlords did. And Jesse undoubtedly gave to the poor, and won loyalty, safety and shelter in times of need.

To the hard-pressed plains farmers of the 1870s, Jesse James indeed may have appeared as the agent of destiny’s vengeance. The outlaw’s victims were usually those twin traducers of the farmers’ labor and land — the railroads and the banks.

The legend of Jesse James loomed large in Woody Guthrie’s imagination. Not content to liken him to Robin Hood, he eventually wrote another song that implicitly compared Jesus to Jesse James. Based on the melody and lyrics of the traditional Jesse James ballad, Guthrie commemorates suffering scapegoats:

One dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Has laid Jesus Christ in his grave
He went to the sick, he went to the poor,
And he went to the hungry and the lame;

This is a variation on the original:

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward,
I wonder how he did feel,
For he ate of Jesse’s bread, and he slept in Jesse’s bed,
Then he laid poor Jesse in his grave.

In 1972, it was much harder to sustain these misty-eyed Popular Front illusions in Jesse James. After five years of brutal war in Vietnam, the U.S. had become a lot more hard-edged and cynical. That mood was reflected in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, an altogether forgettable movie based on the James gang’s ill-fated robbery attempt on a Minnesota bank tied to an abolitionist politician.

With Robert Duvall playing Jesse James as a kind of wanton thug, it points more in the direction of historical accuracy but as is the case with all movies based on the bandit, there is no attention paid to his white supremacy. Directed and written by Philip Kaufman, the movie has much in common with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Missing entirely from Kaufman’s version is any sense of Jesse James the historical figure. Unlike the rather crude figure played by Robert Duvall, the Jesse James of history had a very real sense of his historical purpose. The motivation to go hundreds of miles to Minnesota to rob a bank had less to do with access to money and more to do with a kind of last hurrah for the Confederate cause. James was a fully conscious counter-revolutionary and the Northfield bank was a symbol of Yankee domination.

Some films do try to tie Jesse James to his bushwhacker past. In Missouri, slavery was permitted as a result of a rotten compromise that was supposedly designed to preserve the Union. When the Civil War broke out, militias fought to determine whether the state would be free or slave. The pro-slavery militias were called bushwhackers and were led by men like William Anderson and William Quantrill of Quantrill’s Raiders fame. Pro-Union militias based in Kansas, a free state, were called Jayhawkers.

In 1950, Audie Murphy played Jesse James in Kansas Raiders, a movie that treated the Jayhawker-Bushwhacker struggle as essentially one over clashing visions of a “way of life.” Like just about every such movie, the daily lives of Missouri slaves do not enter the picture. The movie revolves around the relationship between Jesse James and William Quantrill played by Brian Donlevy as a kind of gentleman soldier who functions as a surrogate father to Jesse James. The dramatic conflict flows from Jesse James’s growing disgust with the killing of unarmed civilians. Initially, Quantrill encourages such behavior since his underlings demand blood vengeance, but eventually grows more inclined to adopt Jesse James’s Geneva Conventions approach to conducting war. The movie has nothing to do with the real lives of Quantrill and Jesse James, as we will soon see.

Although Jesse James does not appear in Ang Lee’s 1999 Ride With the Devil, it certainly deserves mention here as a serious if completely misguided bid to dramatize the Bushwhacker-Jayhawker conflict. Like the young and rather chaste character played by Audie Murphy in Kansas Raiders, Tobey Maguire of Spiderman fame is cast as Jake Roedel, a 19-year-old son of an abolitionist German farmer who decides to join up with William Quantrill to defend the Southern “way of life.” Once again, slaves do not enter the picture. The movie is close in spirit to the 1950 Kansas Raiders with the central drama revolving around Jake Roedel’s struggle to break with the Bushwhackers after seeing Quantrill’s brutality in action, especially in Lawrence, Kansas, the scene of a horrific massacre.

Based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Woe to Live On, the movie is riddled with foolish inconsistencies and unexplained behavior. There is no attempt to explain why the son of an abolitionist father would join up with a pro-slavery militia, especially since he is the butt of xenophobic cracks the minute he joins their ranks. They call him Dutchy in reference to his German heritage but much worse depending on the amount of alcohol they have in their bloodstream. It also makes very little sense for somebody to risk his life on behalf of a “cause,” when there is no material interest in doing so. The men who joined Quantrill owned slaves. They bitterly resented the Yankees who would rob them of their property. Without such property, Jake Roedel is an unlikely recruit.

Even more muddled is the inclusion of a former slave named Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright) who fights alongside his one-time master in Quantrill’s guerrillas. He is motivated to do so because of his love for the man who always treated him like a brother. Now it is true that blacks were part of the Confederate army toward the end of the Civil War but almost exclusively as valets and cooks, etc. Unfortunately, with the exclusion of any black slaves as characters in this film or any other based on the Jesse James legend, the net effect is confusion especially since Daniel Holt has so little to say about why he would want to be surrounded by racists who see him as subhuman. Nor does it try to explain why his master would fight for Quantrill after emancipating his slave. The movie is mostly about male bonding rather than anything else. For Ang Lee, the Missouri wars were about “America’s Bosnia,” a telling failure to understand the underlying class issues. A struggle to abolish slavery has little to do with ethnic-based militias fighting over territory, except in the mind of a confused postmodernist director.

Jesse James was born in 1847. His father was a preacher and hemp farmer named Robert James who left his wife Zerelda and family behind in 1850 to join the California gold rush. After he died out west, Zerelda remarried twice. The second marriage was to a physician named Reuben Samuel, who began farming with Zerelda soon afterwards. Farming was very lucrative in that period, especially when you could rely on the unpaid labor of Africans. Understandably, Zerelda became passionately devoted to the cause of slavery since her very livelihood depended on it. In all of the Jesse James movies, she is depicted as a doting and benign figure, but after reading Stiles you gather the impression that she had more in common with Ann Coulter.

Under the terms of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, slavery was permitted in a state whose economic foundations were quite different from that in the Deep South where very large plantations existed. The typical slave-owner tended to be like the James/Samuel family but just as committed to preserving the system as the Southern Bourbon class. It should also be stressed that the party in Missouri that fought most vigorously to protect the interests of slave-owners like Zerelda James Samuel was the same Democratic Party that has just nominated Barack Obama.

Once the Civil War began, Missouri turned into a battlefield between slave-owners and radicals. Unlike the war that raged toward the Eastern seaboard, the fighting was often done by “irregulars,” especially on the pro-slavery side. It also often spilled over the border between Missouri and Kansas, a free state. One of the early combatants was John Brown, who led an attack on slave masters four years before the war began.

Frank James, Jesse’s older brother by four years, joined a pro-slavery militia in 1863. After Union soldiers led an attack on the James/Samuel farm in search of Frank James, Jesse decided to become a combatant himself at the age of sixteen.

Despite filmic accounts, Jesse James did not take part in the Lawrence, Kansas, massacre although Frank James certainly did. On August 18, 1863, Quantrill’s Raiders conducted what can only be described as a terrorist attack on the abolitionist center, where black troops were recruited on behalf of the Union cause. Over 200 men and boys died that day. One of Quantrill’s men was heard to say, “One of them damned nigger-thieving abolitionists ain’t dead yet. Go and kill him.” This bit of dialog and nothing like it was ever heard in a Jesse James movie to be sure.

Eventually both of the James brothers joined William T. Anderson’s militia. Nicknamed Bloody Bill, Anderson was infamous for taking the scalps of his victims, civilian and military alike. Anderson led an attack on Centralia, Missouri, on September 27, 1864, that had all the earmarks of the Lawrence raid. They wreaked vengeance on an outnumbered Federal troop guarding the town. Stiles writes:

The bushwhackers now celebrated, becoming “drunk on blood,” Goodman [a Union sergeant] thought. Pool danced across a cluster of bodies, hopping from one to the other. “Counting ‘em,” he explained. The rebels walked among the dead, crushing faces with rifle butts and shoving bayonets through the bodies, pinning them to the ground. Frank James bent down to loot one of the corpses, pulling free a sturdy leather belt. Others slid knives out of their sheaths and knelt down to work. One by one, they cut seventeen scalps loose, then carefully tied them to their saddles and bridles. At least one guerrilla carved the nose off a victim. Others sliced off ears, or sawed on heads and switched their bodies. Someone pulled the trousers off one corpse, cut off the penis, and shoved it in the dead man’s mouth.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/lproy47.html

Red Inside, Green Outside: Our Great Loss

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,socialism — louisproyect @ 12:41 pm

Red Inside, Green Outside: Our Great Loss
Peter Camejo (1939-2008)

by Louis Proyect

(Swans – September 22, 2008)   Peter Camejo, one of the outstanding leaders of the U.S. left, died after an 18-month battle with lymphoma on September 13, 2008, at the age of 68. As a testament to the respect he had earned far and wide, the mainstream media praised him as a fallen warrior, including The New York Times:

Active in the Free Speech Movement and in protests against the Vietnam War as a student at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s, Mr. Camejo landed on then-Gov. Ronald Reagan’s list of the 10 most dangerous people in California. School officials eventually expelled him, two quarters shy of a degree.

“The spark of activism stayed with him as he became a leader in the movement to give voice to third-party candidates. He fought for universal health care, election reform, farmworker rights, living wage laws and against the death penalty and abortion restrictions.

Missing from these obits, however, is any engagement with Peter’s revolutionary socialist beliefs that remained with him as he ran as a candidate for the Green Party and even while holding down a day job as a stockbroker. For Peter, the transformation of American society would not take place by waving a magic wand and uttering some words about the need for communism. He always understood that radical politics were useless unless you could get people to listen to you, and getting people’s attention was one of his greatest gifts.

Peter came from a wealthy family in Venezuela of the sort that serves as a breeding ground for the politics that have been manifested in periodic uprisings against Hugo Chávez. But he was outraged by the injustices he saw all around him, just as Che Guevara turned against class inequality in Argentina a few years earlier, and decided to cast his lot with the working people.

Once at a dinner party hosted by his father that included top officials from the Venezuelan government, Peter made some disparaging remarks about Perez Jimenez, the dictator who ran the country with an iron fist. Everybody was shocked by Peter’s intervention, which his father tried to dismiss as the words of an impetuous youth. The Camejo family was fortunate not to face reprisals from the dictatorship since not even wealthy families were spared in this period. When Perez Jimenez was overthrown in 1958, Peter was impressed by the power of a mobilized people.

That year Peter was a freshman at M.I.T. and a new member of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), the youth group of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Despite his initial orientation to the Communist Party (CP), Peter joined the Trotskyists because of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolt two years earlier.

Soon one of the most important developments for the revolutionary movement would tap Peter’s talents as a skilled debater. After the triumph of the Cuban revolution, some of the top leaders of the Young Socialist Alliance would develop a hostile attitude toward Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who they regarded as typical caudillos, the Spanish term for paternalistic strongmen. Peter argued convincingly for the pro-Cuban position and the victory of his faction helped orient the Trotskyists to new openings on the left. Support for Cuba, the civil rights movement, and opposition to nuclear arms were issues that many young campus activists were responding to and the SWP and YSA tried as best as it could to relate to these developments despite being hampered by sectarian conceptions. In a conversation I once had with Peter in the early 1980s, I raised the question of whether he would have benefited from leaving the SWP earlier. I expected him to say something like the mid-1970s, but he told me that he should have quit in 1959 — one year after joining. That was his way of saying that he lost opportunities to build a genuine movement. As political people fully understand, hindsight is 20-20 vision.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/lproy48.html

September 20, 2008

Taking Father Home

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 5:06 pm

Unlike my colleagues in NYFCO (New York Film Critics Online) who review movies for a living and have to put up with the latest dreck out of Hollywood, I can pick and choose what I watch and write about. Even not having movies like Neil Labute’s racist garbage to use as a benchmark, I am confident that there is nothing more worth seeing than “Taking Father Home,” a Chinese movie made without governmental approval for less than $5000.

The plot revolves around 17 year old Xu Yun’s search for his father, who abandoned his impoverished rural Sichuan family six years earlier for a better life on his own as a construction worker in the city of Zigong. In other words, the movie describes the current reality for hundreds of millions of Chinese families.

Xu Yun is played by a nonprofessional actor named Xu Yun. His character is not “dramatized” for the conventional expectations of most movie-goers but instead is presented as a sullen, inexpressive youth on a single-minded mission. It is clear that filial devotion means much less to him than simply tracking down somebody in the style of a bounty hunter, with pretty much the same goal: to get his family’s hands on some income.

In the course of his odyssey, he runs into two adult benefactors. One is a petty criminal he meets on the bus who warns him about the need to toughen himself up in order to meet the challenges of the city. The other is a cop who began to look after him after the criminal misled Xu Yun into moving into a supposedly rent-free apartment. When the landlord shows up and discovers the unintentional squatter, he calls the police.

As grim as the story sounds (and much of it is grim), it is also a laugh-out-loud comedy for those who prefer their laughs martini-dry. In other words, it is for Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki fans. In a continuing visual joke, Xu Yun carries a basket filled with two geese that he intends to sell in the city in order to keep him afloat. The geese deserve an Academy Award far more than “comedians” like Robin Williams or Adam Sandler ever did.

There are also comic scenes that have a kind of whacked-out sensibility associated with minimalist films everywhere. When Xu Yun finds himself on a bench in the local jail, he is witness to the cops trying to rein in one of their prisoners, an intoxicated middle aged man who has been charged with defecating near a public statue. He runs around the station threatening to commit the crime once again, since it is good to “observe nature”.

Xu Yun is in a race for time, since an impending flood threatens to swamp the city and deter him from his goal. Dramatizing this plot element was clearly abetted by the experience director Ying Liang had making the movie in Sichuan province at the very time the earthquake struck. Liang and his producer Peng Shan assumed duties helping others. The press notes for the movie states: “Peng Shan and I didn’t take one single shot during our half-month stay in the disaster area. Instead, we participated in organizing medical teams; psychological treatment teams and helped in saving whatever crops we could. We were glad to be able to help. Over the next few years, I would not make any film related to the earthquake. Film should always remain humble in front of life.”

“Taking Father Home” is now showing at the Pioneer Theater in New York and should not be missed by anybody the least bit curious about life in China today and who enjoys sophisticated comedy.

The fact that such an excellent movie can be made for less than $5000 has also gotten me thinking about the film industry in the last day or so. For movie-goers like me who came of age in the early 1960s, it is difficult to accept that the age of Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa et al is gone forever. The movies they made, however, could only be made with budgets that would be far out of reach for somebody like Ying Liang. 35 millimeter cameras, tracking shot trollies, lighting for night-time and indoor scenes, and a large staff of technical assistants would require millions of dollars. But digital cameras today make the playing field much leveler, just as the Internet does for journalism. The accomplishments of Ying Liang and many others like him in the developing world is testament once again that history moves two steps forward and one step backward.

September 19, 2008

Paul Baran as dependency theorist

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization,Introduction to Marxism class — louisproyect @ 4:21 pm

(This post originally appeared on the Introduction to Marxism mailing list at Yahoo.)

Paul A. Baran

Paul Baran had exactly the kind of credentials shared by fellow MR editors Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff. Like Sweezy, who once taught at Harvard, Baran was an established academic who managed to hold on to a teaching job at Stanford until his death by heart attack in 1964 at the age of 54. He was established enough to have even co-authored an article on the consequences of the Allied air assault on Germany with J. K. Galbraith in 1947. Of course, some of their detractors might tend to write off Sweezy and Baran as post-Keynesians to begin with.

And all three had jobs in Roosevelt’s administration. Baran was with the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA!) for two and a half years and then moved on to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (hence the article alluded to above.)

Paul A. Baran was a Russian Jew whose father, a physician and Menshevik supporter, moved the family to Germany in 1920. Paul did his undergraduate work in Germany, but earned his Economics PhD in Moscow in 1928 before moving back to Germany. After Hitler’s rise to power, he found his way to the U.S. and taught at the New School before taking military-strategic jobs in the Roosevelt administration. In 1949 he became a professor at Stanford where he remained until his death.

In 1961, Baran wrote an article for Monthly Review on “The Commitment of the Intellectual” that should serve as an inspiration for everyone:

The desire to tell the truth is therefore only one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead, to undertake “ruthless criticism of everything that exists, ruthless in the sense that the criticism will not shrink either from its own conclusions or from conflict with the powers that be.” (Marx) An intellectual is thus in essence a social critic, a person whose concern is to identify, to analyze, and in this way to help overcome the obstacles barring the way to the attainment of a better, more humane, and more rational social order. As such he becomes the conscience of society and the spokesman of such progressive forces as it contains in any given period of history. And as such he is inevitably considered a “troublemaker” and a “nuisance” by the ruling class seeking to preserve the status quo, as well as by the intellect workers in its service who accuse the intellectual of being utopian or metaphysical at best, subversive or seditious at worst.

When Baran wrote “The Political Economy of Growth” in 1955, it was clearly in the spirit of a “readiness to carry on a rational inquiry to wherever it may lead.” This was a year in which the American Colossus straddled the globe even more than it does today. Unlike today, however, the promise of capitalist modernization was far more seductive. With the 10 year expansion following WWII, why would any developing country refuse to follow the development path urged by the U.S.?

In John Bellamy Foster’s excellent review of this book, you can find the historical context for Baran’s challenge to mainstream economics:

The best known mainstream work on development to be published in the early post-Second World War period was W. W. Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth, significantly subtitled A Non-Communist Manifesto. Rostow described five stages that all countries had to pass through: (1) traditional society, (2) the preconditions for take-off, (3) the take-off, (4) the drive to maturity, and (5) the age of high mass consumption. The key stages in this process were of course the preconditions for take-off, during which the cultural and technological foundations for an industrial revolution were laid, and the take-off itself, which in Rostow’s theory could be explained primarily by the sudden increase in savings from 5 percent to 10 percent. The final result was not in question; the only real issue was when countries would pass through these various stages. The conditions allowing for a take-off could be speeded up, Rostow argued, through the diffusion of Western culture, know-how, and capital, overcoming legacies of economic and cultural stagnation.

If some benighted 3rd world country like Vietnam decided not to follow Walt Rostow’s advice, then there was no other recourse than to force them at gunpoint to do so. As Henry Kissinger once said of Salvador Allende’s Chile, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

The importance of Walt Rostow in the mid 1950s cannot be minimized. In the latest issue of the Nation Magazine, there’s a review of several books under the title “Mandarins, Guns and Money,” including David Milne’s “America’s Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War.” Reviewer Mark Mazower writes:

Theory alone guaranteed nothing, unless politicians and their staffers listened. Rostow’s connections boosted his advancement. From his Yale undergraduate days he knew Richard Bissell (the Bay of Pigs and other CIA achievements still before him) as well as the man who brought him to MIT, his old friend Max Millikan. Like Rostow, Millikan had been involved as an economist in the European reconstruction effort of the late 1940s–in his case as assistant to the Marshall Plan administrator Paul Hoffman. Between joining MIT and setting up the Center for International Studies, Millikan also served briefly as assistant director of the CIA under Walter Bedell Smith. All these connections proved vital. The center grew out of Project Troy, an early State Department commission to research radio jamming and psychological warfare against the Soviet Union. When State’s money dried up, Millikan turned to his old employers, the CIA, and to the Ford Foundation (by now run by his former boss Hoffman). Harvard stood aloof; led by sociologist Talcott Parsons, its social scientists were engrossed in the loftier goal of creating an entirely new theory that would unite all the social sciences. MIT was happy to do the nitty-gritty problem-solving for the government, and it got the loot. In 1953 Ford assured the center’s future with an enormous $1.8 million grant. For MIT it was a bargain: it put in almost no money and got terrific input into the shaping of foreign policy.

Millikan had wanted Rostow at the center because they basically agreed on what America needed. In the early 1950s the cold war suddenly became a global competition for influence in the decolonizing world, and many felt that Washington needed to compete much more aggressively. In 1954, a week after the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Rostow and Millikan took part in a conference to generate a “world economic plan” that would ensure the triumph of freedom. The two men wrote the resulting report, forwarded to Eisenhower, emphasizing development aid as the key to securing American foreign policy goals: it had worked in Europe, and now America needed to spend in the Third World. This got nowhere with Ike: he was too much of a fiscal conservative, and his inner circle disliked Rostow’s boosterish tone. But others were listening, especially a young senator from Massachusetts. Rostow wrote some speeches for Kennedy, then joined his Administration, whose Alliance for Progress, the centerpiece of what Kennedy proudly proclaimed to be the Decade of Development, marked the modernizers’ moment. In Washington, as assistant to McGeorge Bundy–Kennedy’s national security adviser–Rostow was given special responsibility for Southeast Asia. Vietnam was his bailiwick, a chance to show what modernization theory could do to win the cold war. After Kennedy’s death, Rostow replaced Bundy as Johnson’s national security adviser–”my goddamn intellectual,” the Texan growled. Rostow’s hour had come. No wonder Professor Pool was gung-ho.

(The review can be read in its entirety at: http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2008w37/msg00278.htm)

So, as you can see, Paul Baran had his work cut out for him when he challenged the idea that every country could become prosperous simply by following sound free-market principles. The core of his idea around this question can be found in Chapter 5 of “Political Economy of Growth”. It is titled “On the Roots of Backwardness” and can be read on the Introduction to Marxism mailing list at Yahoo. It is one of those seminal texts that can only be read by getting one’s hands on the book either from MR Press (that I strongly recommend) or from your better local library. Chapter five introduces the remainder of the book, which is basically an examination of the failure of Rostow’s and other such capitalist economics formulas in the real world.

It was the first significant challenge to bourgeois “development” economics and as such had an enormous influence on United Nations economists such as Raul Prebisch and Andre Gunder Frank. It would eventually serve as the core of what became known as “dependency theory”, a debate over which began to rage in the 1970s and persists until today. Like John Bellamy Foster, I agree with this theory despite seeming evidence to the contrary such as Brazil in the 1960s and China today.

Baran poses this question this way:

The question that immediately arises is, why is it that in the backward capitalist countries there has been no advance along the lines of capitalist development that are familiar from the history of other capitalist countries, and why is it that forward movement there has been either slow or altogether absent? A correct answer to this question is of foremost importance. It is indeed indispensable if one is to grasp what at the present time stands in the way of economic and social progress in underdeveloped countries, and if one is to understand the direction and the form which their future development is likely to assume.

He begins by referring obviously to the Sweezy-Dobb debate over the origins of capitalism, but without referring to either principal by name. It should not come as any great surprise that Baran lines up with his long-time collaborator Paul Sweezy who saw the “European miracle” as very much a function of global trade and/or plunder:

In Western Europe, mercantile accumulations were particularly large, and, what is of considerable significance, highly concentrated. This was partly due to the geographical location of the Western European countries which gave them the possibility for an early development of navigation, and with it of a rapid expansion of maritime and riparian commerce. It was caused secondly–paradoxically enough–by Western Europe’s being in terms of natural resources poorer and in terms of its economic development at the relevant time in many respects more backward rather than more advanced than the parts of the world which were the objects of its commercial penetration. Hence the drive to procure tropical produce of all kinds (spices, tea, ivory, indigo, etc.) that could not be obtained nearby, hence also the effort to import valuable products of Oriental skills (high quality cloth, ornaments, pottery, and the like), and hence finally the wild scramble to bring back precious metals and stones that were in short supply at home. The resulting far-flung trade, combined with piracy, outright plunder, slave traffic, and discovery of gold, led to a rapid formation of vast fortunes in the hands of Western European merchants.

Despite the tendency of many who took Dobb’s side in this ongoing debate (Brenner and Wood come to mind first and foremost) to represent Sweezy as outside of Marxism at least on this point, Baran’s analysis is pretty close to Marx’s himself as expressed in chapter 31 of V. 1 of Capital:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.

Baran claims that left to their own devices, India, China and other countries where what Jim Blaut referred to as “proto-capitalist” institutions existed (particularly in large trading entrepôts such as Calcutta), capitalist development would have taken place through the impact of “the rising bourgeoisie everywhere [that] shook the foundations of the pre-capitalist order.” In other words, there was no particular European “genius” or “exceptionalism” at work.

Unfortunately for countries on the cusp of capitalist transformation, the penetration by European colonialism interfered with the natural economic development taking place and introduced distorted class relations inimical to capital accumulation. The classic example of this was British textile exports into India, which destroyed the local handicraft industry that could have served as a “take-off” point for manufacturing just as it did in Great Britain in the 1700s. Instead you ended up with Great Britain prospering at India’s expense. Baran notes: “The volume of wealth that Britain derived from India and that was added to Britain’s capital accumulations has to my knowledge never been fully assessed. Digby notes that estimates had been made according to which between Plassey and Waterloo–a period of crucial importance for the development of British capitalism–between 500,000,000 and 1,000,000,000 pounds worth of treasure was taken by Britain from India.”

So countries like India ended up neither with feudalism or capitalism but a wretched mixture of the two social systems as Baran put it:

Thus the peoples who came into the orbit of Western capitalist expansion found themselves in the twilight of feudalism and capitalism enduring the worst features of both worlds, and the entire impact of imperialist subjugation to boot. To oppression by their feudal lords, ruthless but tempered by tradition, was added domination by foreign and domestic capitalists, callous and limited only by what the traffic would bear. The obscurantism and arbitrary violence inherited from their feudal past was combined with the rationality and sharply calculating rapacity of their capitalist present. Their exploitation was multiplied, yet its fruits were not to increase their productive wealth; these went abroad or served to support a parasitic bourgeoisie at home. They lived in abysmal misery, yet they had no prospect of a better tomorrow. They existed under capitalism, yet there was no accumulation of capital. They lost their time-honored means of livelihood, their arts and crafts, yet there was no modern industry to provide new ones in their place. They were thrust into extensive contact with the advanced science of the West, yet remained in a state of the darkest backwardness.

Baran concludes his chapter with an interesting discussion of Meiji Japan, a kind of bourgeois revolution “from above”. Baran explained why it succeeded:

The answer to this question is extraordinarily complex and at the same time extraordinarily simple. It is simple because, reduced to its core, it comes down to the fact that Japan is the only country in Asia (and in Africa and in Latin America) that escaped being turned into a colony or dependency of Western European or American capitalism, that had a chance of independent national development. It is complex because it was only a felicitous confluence of a large number of more or less independent factors that gave Japan its lucky break.

Basic among them–reminiscent of the paradox presented by Western Europe and in particular by Great Britain–was the backwardness and poverty of the Japanese people and the paucity of their country’s natural resources. “Japan had very little to offer either as a market for foreign manufactures or as a granary of raw materials for Western industry.” Consequently the lure of Japan to Western European capitalists and governments came nowhere near the irresistible attraction exercised by the gold of Latin America, the flora, fauna, and minerals of Africa, the fabulous riches of the Indies, or the supposedly bottomless markets of China.

No less important was the fact that in the middle of the nineteenth, century, when Western penetration of Asia reached the highest degree of intensity, the resources of the leading Western European countries were already severely taxed by other undertakings. Especially Great Britain, the world’s leading colonial power, had enough on its hands in Europe, the Near East, India, and China without becoming involved in a militarily most uninviting campaign for the conquest of Japan. This strain on Britain’s expansionist capabilities accelerated the far-reaching change in the nature and orientation of its colonial policy that was afoot from the middle of the nineteenth century. Although veiled by a political debate that appeared to be mere shadow boxing–with the Tories fully accepting the essence of Palmerston’s foreign policies–it actually implied the transition from old-fashioned piracy characteristic of the mercantile phase of capitalism and of primary accumulation of capital to the more subtle and complex strategy of modern imperialism.

But what decisively affected the position of Japan was another characteristic of modern imperialism: the growing rivalry among the established imperialist whales, and the arrival on the world stage of a new imperialist power, the United States. It was that rivalry, with the resulting checks and balances in international power politics, that had much to do with preventing Britain from meting out to China all of the punishment that was suffered by India; and it was this very same international jealousy that rendered it impossible for any one imperialist power to attempt the conquest of Japan. Although in the case of Japan it was the United States that carried out the initial opening-up and that imposed upon it its first unequal treaty, neither the stage reached in the development of American capitalism nor its international status allowed the United States as yet to try to establish exclusive control over Japan. “The proximity to China gave Japan extraordinary strategic importance. The powers that forced upon Japan the unequal treaties watched jealously lest any one of them gain predominant influence in Japan, let alone be able to convert it into its colony and thus into a staging area for further advance into China.”

For further reading on the evolution of capitalist Japan, I can strongly recommend Jon Halliday’s “A Political History of Japanese Capitalism”, a 1975 MR book. As many of you know, Halliday has become a rabid anti-Communist, his most virulent work being “Mao: the Unknown Story” co-written with his wife Jung Chang. Despite this evolution, Halliday was a very sharp thinker 33 years ago and his work from that period stands the test of time.

September 18, 2008

Quilombo Country

Filed under: Africa,african-american,Film — louisproyect @ 1:46 pm

Some of you might remember the 1984 “Quilombo”, a Brazilian film that dramatized the struggles of slaves who successfully resisted their slave-masters in the 18th century and created free settlements (quilombo in Portuguese) in the north of the country. The opening paragraphs of Vincent Canby’s review of that film would serve as a good introduction to the brand-new documentary titled “Quilombo Country” now showing at the Pioneer Theater in New York:

Toward the end of the 17th century, a sizable number of slaves from Brazil’s great sugar plantations escaped to the northeast where, in Pernambuco, they formed a legendary community (or quilombo), the Republic of Palmares.

For a brief time, Palmares became the haven not only for runaway slaves but also for Brazil’s Jews, poor white farmers and all others for whom life elsewhere was hopeless. Until it was finally crushed by the armies of the Portuguese king, Palmares was, according to the Brazilian film director Carlos Diegues, ”the first democratic society we know of in the Western hemisphere.”

First time director Leonard Abrams began working on a project to document the daily lives of the contemporary descendants of these rebels in 2001 and the film is clearly a labor of love. He basically allows Afro-Brazilians from a number of quilombos to tell their story, which revolves around a number of overlapping themes:

  • the desire of the people to retain their African identity, which includes religious observances that are a syncretic mixture of Catholicism and African pantheism that the believers have no trouble reconciling.
  • a willingness to confront racism in Brazil, which in the words of one interviewee manifested itself as a refusal to call the quilombolos by their proper name. He was frequently addressed as “moreno”, the word for “darkie,” even though people knew his name. He bitterly observes that even the barnyard animals are given names.
  • the persistence of a communal mode of production using the kinds of food production technologies that their ancestors used, including fishing and hunting with very rudimentary devices. A typical meal might consist of armadillo roasted over an open fire. While this life does offer a certain sense of freedom being outside the cash economy, it comes at great costs. One quilombolo who moved to the city said that she would never go back because of the hardships, including the need to walk great distances every day for the basics of life. Only recently has electricity and fresh water been introduced into the quilombo village, thus attenuating these hardships to some extent.
  • the conflict between the quilombos and large land-owners who have used their economic power and their privileged relationship to the courts and legislatures to encroach on traditional communal land-holdings of the descendants of slaves. (Including one landlord who had the audacity to use the stolen land for an eco-tourism park.) As frequently occurs with American Indians, a quilombolo is suckered into selling his or her land at a pittance.

Although the movie is focused on the social struggles of the people, there are joyous moments of singing and dance that reveal the African roots of much of popular Brazilian music today.

Finally, I would recommend (in addition to seeing the movie itself) downloading the very scholarly article on quilombo life written by the director from the movie’s website. It includes the following observation that strikes me as eminently reasonable and one that I drew myself after several trips to Sandinista Nicaragua in the late 1980s and early 90s:

The absence of financial means and human misery are firmly paired in the First World mind, to such an extent that even among those most open to other social systems, to suggest otherwise can constitute a taboo. The people discussed in this study are, in terms of monetary income, remarkably poor. Yet this society of quilombos appears to be quite functional, in some ways more so than certain subsets of people in the First World who are materially far richer.

September 13, 2008

Reflections on Peter Camejo (1939-2008)

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 8:57 pm

(These are some personal/political reflections about Peter Camejo. Tomorrow I will be writing an obit for Swans.)

Even though I had steeled myself in anticipation of Peter Camejo’s death, I was still shaken by the news that he was gone. For a period of time between 1981 and 1987, I considered Peter to be a very good friend. More importantly, he was the one person who helped me understand a revolution could be made in the U.S. notwithstanding American Trotskyism’s tendency to create all sorts of obstacles in the way to that understanding. Despite his long-time membership in a group that he would eventually regard as an obstacle to the creation of genuine revolutionary movement, Peter always had an ability to transcend sectarian frameworks.

In early 1970, I was in the New York branch of the SWP and kicking around the idea of going back to graduate school and putting this organization behind me. After 3 years I felt alienated from the membership and many of the arbitrary norms and was ready to pack it in. When I broached the subject with the SWP organizer in New York, he told me that the party was about to ask me to move up to Boston and work with Peter to overcome dogmatic objections in the branch to working in a “petty bourgeois” antiwar movement. I felt flattered that the higher ups would see any value in my skills and agreed to move there in a few weeks.

As some of you know, I have been working on a comic book memoir for the past few months and Peter looms large throughout the story. Here’s what I wrote about one branch meeting:

In early 1970 a memorable fight broke out at a branch meeting over what position to take on the “Shea Bill”. The 31 year old James Shea, a state legislator, had proposed that Massachusetts authorize residents to refuse combat duty in wars that were undeclared by Congress, including Vietnam. It would also authorize the state Attorney General Robert Quinn to use the powers of his office to defend soldiers who challenged the military and indeed Quinn filed suit against the war on February 12, 1970 on behalf of 12 local soldiers who refused orders to go to Vietnam.

Someone took the floor and spoke against the Shea Bill:

“Comrades, it puts undue faith in the bourgeois state to back such a law. It fosters pacifist illusions about the war ending through legislation. We know that it will take the power of the working class to end the war, not the Shea bill. We all know that Shea is only interested in getting people off the streets and supporting the Democratic Party.”

Peter got up next to reply. I remember his comments vividly now after 36 years, just like it was yesterday.

Comrades, Lenin used to stay up late at night reading the Czarist law codes to look for a loophole that would allow workers to go out on strike legally. We must take advantage of any opening that would make it more difficult for the war to continue. If the ruling class is divided over the war, we want to deepen that divide. The Shea Bill should not be seen as opposed to antiwar demonstrations, but complementary to them.

Peter’s motion to support the Shea Bill carried that evening, but in the end it was academic since the courts ruled it unconstitutional. In any case, the notion that James Shea was some kind of Machiavellian schemer trying to defuse the antiwar movement was belied by subsequent events. On May 8, 1970, in deep despair over the war, he went upstairs to his bedroom. His wife, who was worried about his depressed state, opened the door to see him raise a gun and fire a bullet into his head. He died immediately.

For the two years Peter was branch organizer, I felt that there was no better way to live one’s life than as a revolutionary socialist, which meant as a member of the SWP.

I have to confess that I developed a kind of hero worship for Peter and he probably knew it. He was five years older than me and seemed to enjoy my company. When we were up in Boston, we used to play squash together at the Cambridge Y. And when conventions or conferences were held in Oberlin, Peter and I always found time to spend on the courts. Besides his acute political intelligence, Peter was one of the funniest people I ever knew in my life. Although I don’t put myself in his league politically, I did feel that my own sense of humor helped sustain our friendship.

In late 1978, I decided to quit the SWP. I felt that the party was still going to lead the working class to socialism, but I was too burned out by the “turn” to stick around. I was going to go back to N.Y. and write the Great American Novel. (That’s my sense of humor kicking in again.)

For a couple of years I read the Militant with a mounting sense that the SWP was not really involved with actions against the U.S. war in Central America even though the paper was filled with articles about the growing conflict. After a N.Y. Times article written by Leslie Gelb predicting a new Vietnam in the region appeared in 1981, I called an old friend who was still in the party to demand an explanation. How could the party that I joined in 1967 largely on the basis of its antiwar activity sit on the sidelines, even if in the name of looming trade union struggles (that never materialized, I should add.)

In 1980 I ran into a guy named Ray Markey in a pizza parlor across from my building on the Upper East Side and asked him if he could explain the party’s abstention. I had no idea what he thought of the “turn” to industry but I always remembered Ray as a straight shooter. Ray was a colorful Irish-American with a temper worse than mine and a long-time leader of the librarian’s union in N.Y. I would eventually learn that he refused to work in a New Jersey auto plant that the party was colonizing, understanding that his leadership in the librarian’s union counted for a lot more, even if the party brass disagreed.

He told me that Peter Camejo had written something that would answer my questions. It was titled appropriately enough “Against Sectarianism“. He would send me a copy even though that broke party rules. Ray understood that he would be booted out before long himself and really didn’t care about the consequences.

“Against Sectarianism” hit me like a bolt of lightning. Peter used the same brilliant political analysis that I saw at work in Boston and applied to the party that he had belonged to for more than 20 years. It was powerfully argued and used the rapier like wit that defined him. Here is a passage that had hit home for me as an unreconstructed “petty bourgeois” element who had failed to make the turn to industry.

Barnes continued: “That is without doubt what is happening on the U.S. left as the blows against the working class come down, as the polarization deepens, and as the imperialist war pressure mounts. The difference between conditions and consciousness borne of being a worker and that produced by being immersed in a petty-bourgeois milieu is widening. And the ranks of the North American marielitos- with Susan Sontag and her ilk leading the scramble for the boats-are growing.”

At an earlier date, Barnes used the example of Jerry Rubin as an example of the marielito phenomena. Rubin, a colorful protester during the anti-Vietnam war period who was associated with the “Yippies,” took a job on Wall Street and argued in defense of capitalism. The New York Times made a great deal of Rubin’s new job and gave him plenty of space to explain his views. The New York Times was overjoyed to find at least one figure from the radicalization of the ’60s who would speak in favor of capitalism. The Times’ campaign around Rubin fooled only a few people, probably because the Times did not follow up with other examples or any comments supporting or endorsing Rubin’s outlook by other well-known leaders of the ’60s.

The radicals of the ’60s have not, as a whole, turned to the right. Caught in the beginnings of a class polarization, the generation of the ’60s has gone in various directions. Some, under the pressures of bourgeois society and without any clear orientation, have abandoned political activity or become conservatized. Others have not, and their views cover the spectrum of positions existing at this stage of the radicalization in North American society.

Sensing that Peter had developed such a critique of the party, he was prevented from assuming his duties after a year long stay at his father’s ranch in Venezuela which he understood to be a leave of absence and nothing else. He went to Venezuela to read Lenin and try to figure out how the SWP had developed a caricature of what the Bolsheviks were trying to do. Peter thought that the Bolsheviks were nothing like the SWP. For one thing, they had expelled only one person in their entire history unlike the purge-happy Trotskyist movement.

When he got back to N.Y. to begin work with the party again, they told him to get lost. They actually had a beefy ex-football player from the University of Minnesota block Peter from entering a national committee meeting.

I called Peter immediately after reading the article and asked him what he had planned next since I wanted to be a part of it. It turned out that he was starting something called the North Star Network and I began to organize meetings at my house for people who were interested. More importantly, he advised me to join CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) since that was where the action was. Peter had a keen sense of what Karl Marx once wrote to Bracke: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”

Eventually my involvement with Central America led me to a trip to Nicaragua in 1986 and participation in Tecnica, a radical version of the Peace Corps that played a critical role in Nicaragua and Southern Africa in the late 80s and early 90s.

Whenever I made it out to Berkeley to consult with Tecnica board members, I always would hook up with Peter and talk about where the movement was going. Those conversations were as precious to me as any that I have had in my lifetime and some can be found in my own memoir.

In a very real sense, everything that I am politically today was shaped directly by my apprenticeship/collaboration with Peter in the SWP and afterwards. I understand that Peter died with only half of the final chapter of his memoir unwritten. Thank god for that since I am quite sure that it will succeed both as politics to live by as well as great entertainment. Peter was a great person to be around when he was alive and his book will keep our memories of him alive as long as we live as well.

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