I am becoming increasingly convinced that as the capitalist crisis deepens in the U.S., there might be a future American president who, unlike Barack Obama, will happily accept the socialist label when it is pinned on him or her. While it is unlikely that the 79 year old George Soros will be alive at that point, the massive economic/political power he has assembled will survive him and likely play a role in getting such a person elected. Of course, as is the case with just about everything Soros has touched since the early 1980s, the leftism will only be a veneer. Like his hedge fund benefactor, whether dead or alive at that point, the main goal of such a president will be to preserve the capitalist system. And what better way to preserve it than to foster the illusion that you are trying to eliminate it.
I first became aware of Soros’s ability to co-opt the left when I discovered that Christian Parenti was on his payroll, mostly in the capacity of researching and writing about prison reform. This was at the same time that Soros was pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Yugoslavia on behalf of imperialism’s quest to rid Eastern Europe of the last remnants of socialized property relations. And who was one of the most forceful opponents of imperialism’s crusade? None other than Christian’s father Michael Parenti, who-bless his soul-is the last person in the world ever to be offered a job in one of Soros’s NGO’s. Besides me of course.
I have had these concerns ever since I got wind of Soros but they have returned more wrenchingly than ever now that I have discovered that Soros co-opted Teodor Shanin, the author of “Late Marx and the Russian Road”, a book that has influenced my thinking deeply. I learned about this in Michael T. Kaufman’s hagiographic “Soros: the life and times of a messianic billionaire”. This is the second biography I am reading, having completed a comic book version written by Kaoru Kurotani last week. Despite the unconventional format, Kurotani’s treatment is as fawning as Kaufman’s. I plan to read an “unauthorized” biography by Robert Slater next week but don’t expect anything much different considering the fact that the author is responsible for no less than 4 books on Jack Welch, the scumbag who ran GE, and one titled “The Wal-Mart Triumph: Inside the World’s #1 Company”.
I am not sure how far my research will go, but in light of the importance of Soros as a major political mover in the liberal left as well as his talent for seducing some elements of the radical movement I may just try to write something myself. I am not interested in the typical biographical material such as his decision to go into psychoanalysis or the fact that he married someone half his age, etc. I am only interested in his economic record (and would even consider using a title like “George Soros: fictitious capitalist”) and the role of his “philanthropy” in turning the USSR and Eastern Europe into a huge maquiladora zone under the rubric of Karl Popper’s Open Society.
As so often happens in my amateur scholarship, I start researching one topic and then get diverted into another topic related to the first. After an associate from Swans suggested that I write a history of Bard College, I decided to begin reading about Soros since the President of Bard College is a long-time board member of Soros’s Open Society Institute. Soros is also a major donor to Bard College and has partnered with Bard in setting up Open Society type initiatives, the latest of which encapsulates Soros’s method to the tee. With some millions of dollars donated by Soros, Bard has made Al Quds University a satellite institution. While Botstein has cited this relationship as proof that Kovel’s firing had nothing to do with Middle East politics, the fact remains that the President of Al-Quds is an outspoken opponent of boycott and divestment campaigns against the Zionist state.
For those not familiar with Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marx”, I would urge you to look at John Riddell’s “From Marx to Morales: Indigenous Socialism and the Latin Americanization of Marxism” on MRzine. It makes the connection between Shanin’s scholarship on Marx’s support for rural communes in Russia just before his death and Mariategui’s Marxism. Riddell writes:
The Russian Marxist circle led by Plekhanov, ancestor of the Bolshevik party, believed that the mir was doomed to disappear as Russia was transformed by capitalist development. We now know that Marx did not agree. In a letter to Vera Zasulich, written in 1881 but not published until 1924, he wrote that “the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia.” The “historical inevitability” of the evolutionary course mapped out in Capital, he stated, is “expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe.”
The preliminary drafts of Marx’s letter, included in Shanin’s book, display essential agreement with the view of the revolutionary populist current in Russia, the “People’s Will,” that the commune could coexist harmoniously with a developing socialist economy.
These drafts drew on Marx’s extensive studies of Indigenous societies during that period, a record of which is available in his little-known Ethnological Notebooks.17 We find his conclusions summarized in a draft of his letter to Zasulich: “The vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman, etc. societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies.”
The only thing that needs to be added, of course, is Mariategui’s belief in the vitality of Incan ayllus, the Peruvian counterpart of Russian mirs.
So how does Soros get interested in Shanin’s scholarship, you might ask, especially since Soros has the same reaction to Karl Marx’s writings that a vampire has to sunlight. To start with, we should recognize that Soros is no dummy. He completed most of his work on a PhD at the London School of Economics in the 1950s and has shown himself to be far more erudite than the average hedge fund manager, even if his ideas are rotten.
Somewhere along the line he got his hands on Shanin’s writings on peasants and decided to recruit him to Open Society. Kaufman, who is a really crappy writer, does not bother to explain what value Soros found in the writings, a serious lapse in light of the fact that Soros’s major orientation is to cities in those countries where he seeks to establish a beachhead.
Soros made contact with Shanin when he was a sociology professor at the University of Manchester in the early 1990s and the two struck a deal to pay for Russians to come study there. Kaufman mentions that Shanin had fought for “an Israeli state in Palestine”, a sign that his sympathies for peasants did not extend to the unfortunate Palestinian fellahs. In the initial phases of their work in Russia, much attention was paid to lifting up the Soviet sociologists from their savagery as the Independent reported in August 16, 1990:
IN AN English language class at the University of Kent, a group of young sociologists from the Soviet Union are learning how to ask directions and how to turn down an invitation to tea without causing offence.
”You must ask politely,” stresses their teacher, Christina Danilewicz. ”Remember what we said about verbal stroking.”
”Verbal stroking” means getting not just the words right, but finding a suitably pleasant intonation – something the Soviet academics find difficult, according to Ms Danilewicz. ”The problem with them is that they are very direct . . . they are not good at asking questions in a non-aggressive way, and this upset their lecturers to begin with.”
There are 21 Soviet sociologists, all under 30, in Canterbury for instruction at what might be described as a finishing school for academics. The object of the exercise, which runs from July to September, is to turn them into accomplished ”international scholars”. It involves lessons in computing, a heavy lecture programme and work on individual projects – all in English…
It is a vitally important discipline for the Soviet Union at a time of social upheaval, according to Professor Teodor Shanin, who held the first Soviet sociology summer school at Manchester University last year. Among the topics he believes Soviet sociologists need to confront urgently are criminology, welfare and agricultural reform.
Shanin told Kaufman that “one reason he liked him [Soros] was that he could not be explained by the simple Homo economicus formula since he was plainly doing things that were not maximizing his wealth.” One wonders if Kaufman clued Shanin in during the interview that there was a bit more economicus than met the eye. In page 170 of his book, Kaufman explains why Soros first looked into philanthropy:
A charitable lead trust is a very interesting tax gimmick. The idea is that you commit your assets to a trust and you put a certain amount into charity every year. And then after you have given the money for however many years, the principal that remains can be left [to one's heirs] without estate or gift tax. So this was the way I set up the trust for my children.
Shanin and Soros decided that a Transformation of the Humanities Program is just what the Russians needed to wean them from the Marxism-Leninism that had clouded their minds. One imagines that during these discussions, Shanin did not broach the subject of how favorably he viewed Lenin once upon a time, especially since that might have spoiled a perfectly lovely evening at the kind of 5-star restaurants Soros used to take poor schmucks like Shanin to in order to impress them.
The program focused on getting texts into Russia that Kaufman described as “unavailable classics”, including those of Friedrich Hayek. Apart from the tax breaks that philanthropy afforded him, Soros was certainly astute enough to understand that Hayek’s “classics” would serve as manure in the fields he was plowing in Putin’s Russia. What more could a hedge fund operator hope for than intellectual elites who took Hayek’s cut-throat libertarianism to heart except a bumper crop in profits?
Eventually the funding for Shanin’s project reached 20 million dollars. This was only a couple of years after my own non-profit went defunct. We were such dopes to send computer programmers and engineers to revolutionary Nicaragua, where Shanin’s beloved peasants were getting health care for the first time in our lives. If we had instead proposed sending Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper books to Nicaragua, we would have been rolling in dough.
After a few years, Soros ran an audit on Shanin’s project which found serious corruption and the ties between the two men grew tense. Shanin told Kaufman, “We had a row. I do not react calmly when someone implies I am a thief.” I personally would have advised Shanin to call Soros a thief in return. After all, a French court had found him guilty of insider trading as the IHT reported in 2006:
The highest court in France on Wednesday rejected a bid by George Soros, the billionaire investor, to overturn a conviction for insider trading in a case dating back nearly 20 years, leaving the first blemish on his five-decade investing career.
The panel, the Cour de Cassation, upheld the conviction of Soros, 75, an American citizen, for buying and selling Société Générale shares in 1988 after receiving information about a planned corporate raid on the bank.
Ron Soffer, his lawyer, said Soros planned to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, saying that the length of the proceedings had prevented his client from having a fair trial.
“The investigation started in 1989,” he said. “The appeals trial occurred in 2004. How can you call witnesses and ask them about what happened in 1988?” The French stock market regulatory authority investigated the matter separately and concluded that Soros had not violated the law or any ethical rules, Soffer said.
In a March 2005 ruling, a French appeals court confirmed a fine of €2.2 million, or $2.8 billion, set by a lower court for the illegal purchase of 95,000 shares in Société Générale. The Cour de Cassation ruled that the fine would be adjusted to reflect Soros’ profits, and it ordered the case returned to the appeals court to clarify the amount.
Now that’s what I really call homo economicus.