Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 29, 2009

Are worker-owned companies an alterative to capitalism?

Filed under: economics,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

This is a follow-up to my review of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: a Love Story” where I neglected to discuss his proposals for an alternative to capitalism, which boil down to worker-owned firms or cooperatives. He interviews the top guy at the Alvarado Street Bakery in California, whose website describes a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”. He also visits a robotics manufacturer in Wisconsin that operates on the same basis.

In an interview on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” radio show, Juan Gonzalez asks a pointed question that gets to the heart of the matter: “Michael, you have obviously amassed a lot in terms of the indictment of capitalism as a system, but some would say the film doesn’t offer much in terms of the alternative.” Moore replies:

I do show in the film some very specific examples of workplace democracy, where a number of companies have decided to go down the road of having the company actually owned by the workers. And when I say “owned,” I’m not talking about some ding-dong stock options that make you feel like you’re an owner, when you’re nowhere near that. But I mean these companies really own it. And I’m not talking about, you know, the hippy-dippy food co-op, and I don’t mean that with any disrespect to the food co-ops who are listening or any hippies that are listening. But I go to an engineering firm in Madison, Wisconsin. These guys look like a bunch of Republicans. I mean, I didn’t ask them how they vote, but they didn’t necessarily look like they were from, you know, my side of the political fence. And here they all are equal owners of this company. The company does $15 million worth of business each year.

I go to this bakery. It’s not a bakery really; it’s a bread factory out in northern California, Alvarado Street Bakery. And they’re all paid. They all share the profits the same. They’re all shared equally, including the CEO. And they vote. They elect, you know, who’s going to be running this and how this is going to function. The average factory worker in this bread factory makes $65,000 to $70,000 a year, which, I point out, is about three times the starting pay of a pilot who works for American Eagle or Delta Connection. And that’s another harrowing scene in the movie, where I interview pilots who are on food stamps—pilots who are on food stamps because of how little they’re paid.

As someone who has paid fairly close attention to the airline industry over the years, I could not help but remember how worker ownership did little to stave off the race to the bottom in what was once a well-paying industry with excellent benefits. On July 7th, 1996 Louis Uchitelle informed his NY Times readers that worker ownership was no obstacle to the kind of downsizing that victimized the workers at Republic Window, whose sit-in was documented by Moore. Uchitelle reported:

Or take Kiwi Airlines, founded in 1992 by former Eastern Airlines pilots. It is 57 percent owned today by its 1,200 employees. But to cut costs, 60 owner-workers were laid off in January, many of them clerks whose jobs had been automated. “If we had done these layoffs earlier, there would have been revolution,” said Robert Kulat, a Kiwi spokesman. “We still had this concept of a happy family and of employees being bigger than the company. But big losses changed that. And people realized that to remain alive, to keep their own jobs, they had to change too.”

Interestingly enough, Uchitelle claimed that a strong union allowed United Airlines, another worker-owned firm, to avoid downsizing but only four years later economic reality caught up with the company, as the January 14, 2000 New York Times reported:

Faced with rising labor and fuel costs, the UAL Corporation, the parent company of United Airlines, said yesterday that its 2000 earnings were likely to be as much as 28 percent below expectations.

United Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, is being plagued by troubles that are common to the industry and by others that are singular to its operation. Jet fuel prices increased about 24 percent last year and United predicted further jumps this year.

Adding to the carnage, several of United’s unions were demanding large wage increases, in part to keep up with competitors and to replace money generated from the company’s expiring stock ownership plan.

“UAL gave a very sobering message yesterday,” said Kevin Murphy, an airlines analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. “No airline outperforms when you’re negotiating with labor. If United gives big wage boosts to its pilots and mechanics, the other carriers may have to catch up.

In 2001 United Airlines went bankrupt as a result of the impact of 9/11 on travel and rising fuel costs and was subsequently reorganized as a regular corporation. This had nothing to do with whether the company was “democratic” or not. Even if it was the most democratic institution in the world, it could not operate as a benign oasis in a toxic wasteland. Capitalism forces firms to be profitable. If they are not profitable, management takes action to make them more profitable, including slashing wages or laying workers off. The only way to eliminate these practices is to eliminate the profit motive, something that Moore is reluctant to advocate.

It is understandable that Naomi Klein would have referred to the notion of worker owned firms this way in an interview with Moore that appears in the latest Nation Magazine: “The thing that I found most exciting in the film is that you make a very convincing pitch for democratically run workplaces as the alternative to this kind of loot-and-leave capitalism.” Klein, like Moore, has extolled the virtues of worker ownership in her own documentary “The Take”. This was my take on her movie:

In the opening moments of Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s documentary about occupied factories in Argentina titled “The Take,” we see Klein being hectored by a rightwing TV host. If she is not for the capitalist system, then what is she *for*. This is obviously is a tough question for autonomists like Klein who resist being pinned down, but she and her partner decided to make an attempt in “The Take.” Despite their best intentions, the film poses more questions than it answers. Ultimately, the film succeeds not as a political statement but as a record of ordinary workers trying to maintain their dignity.

For non-Marxist radicals like Klein, coming up with a model means first of all rejecting the USSR or Cuba which are dismissed as verticalist nightmares at the beginning of the film. The attraction of occupied factories in Argentina is that they are exercises in direct democracy, but do not involve the messy business of government, with its distasteful cops, courts and bureaucracy, etc. Of course, if you do not evaluate such institutions through the prism of class, you will never be able to operate politically on the most basic level. In the final analysis, cops will either support factories run by workers or they will evict them. Class power is the ultimate determinant of that outcome.

The film focuses on the efforts of workers to keep three factories running on a cooperative basis: Forja San Martin, Zanon and Brukman. Although Brukman, a garment shop, has only 58 workers, it is by far the best-known of these experiments. For autonomists, it has achieved the kind of mythic proportions that the St. Petersburg Soviet has for some Marxists. (It should be mentioned that the sectarian Marxist left rallied around Brukman as well, not so much because it was a model but because it was seen as an apocalyptic struggle between society’s two main classes.)

There’s a certain cognitive dissonance at work with Moore’s treatment of cooperatives. If it is a virtual panacea for what ails American workers, it amounts to a rightwing conspiracy when it is advocated as a solution to the health care crisis by Obama’s adversaries (of course, Obama is open to the idea himself.) If you go to Moore’s website, you will find an article by Robert Reich that makes a rather effective case against health insurance cooperatives: “Don’t accept Kent Conrad’s ersatz public option masquerading as a ‘healthcare cooperative.’ Cooperatives won’t have the authority, scale, or leverage to negotiate low prices and keep private insurers honest.” The same thing applies to outfits like the Alvarado Street Bakery in California or the robotics plant in Wisconsin. They lack the power to transform the American economy, just as health insurance coops would lack the power to safeguard the health of American workers. They would be nothing but tokens in a vast system operating on the basis of profit.

September 25, 2009

Capitalism: a Love Story

Filed under: Film,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 7:28 pm

Despite its formulaic quality and despite some very dubious politics, I have no problem recommending Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: a Love Story”. Since there are so few movies (or television shows) that reveal the human side of the largest economic crisis since the 1930s, we must be grateful to Michael Moore for his steadfast dedication to the underdog. Except for Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s American Casino, a documentary that covers pretty much the same terrain as Moore but without his impish humor, there’s nothing out of Hollywood that would give you the slightest inkling of the scale of human suffering.

There are two passages in “Capitalism: a Love Story” that I found particularly compelling. As an erstwhile analyst of airline deregulation, I thought that Moore’s interviews of a couple of low-paid regional airline pilots effectively illustrate how capitalism puts profits over human needs. One pilot was forced to go on food stamps while another had to take additional jobs to make ends meet. As Moore puts it, he would not want to step foot in a jet plane piloted by somebody making about the same money as a fast food employee. Other pilots, who are higher up on the salary scale working on nationwide routes, tell a similar tale of woe. After losing pensions and taking drastic pay cuts, they stick with their profession for the love of flying.

One of them is US Airways pilot “Sully” Sullenberger III, the hero who taxied his plane into the Hudson River, seen testifying before a packed audience in Congress about his rescue mission. But once he starts talking about the corporate attacks on airline workers, the politicians begin to sneak out like rats. He eventually ends up talking to a bunch of empty seats. This image–worth a thousand words–is Moore at his best. Another powerful image is the wreckage of a regional carrier Colgan Airline jet in Buffalo, New York from last February that cost 50 lives. Shortly after the plane crash, the NY Times reported that co-pilot Rebecca Shaw drew an annual salary of $16,200 a year and once held a second job in coffee shop. Both Shaw and the pilot were undertrained and exhausted much of the time. But it hardly mattered to Colgan if it remained profitable. If this isn’t an argument for socialism, I don’t know what is.

Since so much of the current crisis involves the housing market and its injustices, Moore hits a home run by demonstrating how politicians are bought off by the big players in the industry, especially Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage broker. He interviews an assistant to CEO Angelo Mozilo, who administered the “Friends of Angelo” program. This was a way of allowing elected officials to get discounted mortgages, including Senator Christopher Dodd, a Democrat with populist pretensions. As was the case with “Sicko”, there has been a major PR effort on behalf of the capitalist class trying to undermine Moore’s reporting. If you Google “Mozilo” and “Michael Moore”, you will find thousands of articles emanating from the same source that try to clear Dodd’s name as well as discredit Moore’s other claims. This one from Yahoo news is typical:

THE FACTS: Dodd has acknowledged that he participated in a VIP program at Countrywide, refinancing loans on two homes in 2003. One was a 30-year adjustable rate loan for $506,000 with an interest rate of 4.25 percent and a fee of 0.45 percent. He also got a 30-year adjustable rate mortgage for $275,042 with an interest rate of 4.5 percent and a fee of 0.73 percent.

Both interest rates and fees were within industry norms for that time, according to data provided to the AP by Bankrate.com.

Last month, the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics cleared Dodd and Kent Conrad of North Dakota of getting special treatment on the mortgages. But the bipartisan panel also said the senators should have “exercised more vigilance” in their dealings with Countrywide to avoid the appearance of sweetheart deals.

One has to chuckle about the idea of a Senate Select Committee on Ethics clearing Dodd and Kent Conrad, another pig at Mozilo’s trough. It reminds me of how when the New York Police Department “investigates” an incident of police brutality, the malefactor is always cleared as well. The best tribunal for Dodd and company is the nation’s movie theaters where there are no special interests, except a desire to see bad guys nailed by the famous radical movie director.

I also got a big kick out Moore’s attempts to bust into the offices of AIG, Goldman Sachs and other financial corporations that received tax-payer bail-outs. As a former employee of Goldman who walked through the gilded doors at 85 Broad Street for about 2 years in the 1980s, I had to laugh at the spectacle of the bearish, baseball-cap wearing Moore trying to weave through security guards and into the lobby of by now the country’s most despised corporation.

Like “Roger and Me”, “Capitalism: a Love Story” contains autobiographical material about growing up in Flint, Michigan as the son of an auto worker. Moore’s father, who is still alive, escorts the director to the site of the auto parts company that employed him. Now it is nothing but a two mile wide vacant lot. Nowadays, the main industry of Flint is sending out foreclosure notices to the victims of the latest economic upheaval. Moore observes that the United States is rapidly turning into one big Flint, Michigan.

For Moore, the 1950s were a kind of Paradise Lost for the American working class. His father enjoyed four weeks of vacation every year and had enough money to participate in the post-WWII consumerist bonanza. Except for Jim Crow and the occasional imperialist war such as Korea or Vietnam, this was an unblemished society. Like many young people coming of age in the 1960s, Moore was deeply affected by these blemishes, so much so that he seriously considered becoming a Catholic priest, following the example of a Phillip Berrigan.

Moore’s revelations about his early religious leanings clarified for me what kind of compass he has been using from the very beginning in his career as a documentary maker. He has a deeply moralistic sensibility that is most often reflected as a kind of yearning for a more innocent and more egalitarian America, symbolized by his father’s good fortunes as an auto worker and the New Deal.

Although some critics have compared Michael Moore to Charlie Chaplin, I associate his moralism with the movies of Frank Capra, especially “It’s a Wonderful Life”. With the banks in his gun-sight, Moore evokes the struggle in this movie between an idealistic banker James Stewart and the evil banker Lionel Barrymore. There is a strong sense that Moore’s problem with capitalism is not that it is based on a class system per se but that it has broken a social contract established during the New Deal. His enemies are of course the Republicans but also the Democrats who abandoned FDR’s vision, starting with Jimmy Carter who is seen delivering a speech in 1979 with these words:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Moore understands that the business about “piling up material goods” was a green light for American corporations to cut wages. What better way to get workers to become more spiritual than to reduce their earning power, after all.

Unfortunately, the Capraesque vision is ill-equipped to explain exactly why Flint and other rust belt cities hemorrhaged jobs from the 1970s onwards. Or why the banking sector was deregulated in a kind of New Deal reversal, leading to the marketing of derivatives and securitized mortgages. Were such decisions ultimately a failure of leadership at the top, when businessmen stopped behaving like good Christians?

There are glimmers of understanding in “Capitalism: a Love Story”. In one key segment, Moore shows exactly why General Motors earned the kind of profits that allowed his family to live well. He shows footage of the devastation in Japan and Germany following WWII. No wonder so many people bought Chevrolets. The competition had been bombed into rubble.

A real examination of the capitalist system would be far more systemic than Moore is capable of delivering. It would lead to the devastating conclusion that the groundwork for prosperity in such a system is war and nothing else. Periodically the system has a deep convulsion that leads to millions of deaths. If the current economic crisis is as intractable as the Great Depression, then the logical outcome would be a new global bloodletting with the unleashing of nuclear weapons. If this sounds suicidal, you must remember that an Adolph Hitler was ready to sacrifice every German life for his mad quest to build a thousand year empire. With the US in a far more prosperous state today than 1920s Germany, it is still capable of churning up the kind of madmen hounding Barack Obama. Imagine what this nation would look like if the unemployment rate ratcheted up to 20 percent.

There is one scene toward the end of “Capitalism: a Love Story” that really piqued my interest. For Moore, the formation of the UAW was a key historical step forward, an insight that naturally would come to somebody growing up in Flint. He reveals that his uncle was a sit-down striker in 1937, one of the biggest labor struggles of the 1930s. For Moore, a key element in winning union recognition was FDR’s deployment of the National Guard to Flint. Supposedly, FDR—unlike other presidents past and future—saw the National Guard as a pro-working class force. In February 1937, for the first time in history, the Guard protected strikers from the Flint police on FDR’s instructions and the battle for union recognition was won.

I have an interest in Flint labor history as well, mostly as a comrade of the late Sol Dollinger, a long-time UAW member and revolutionary socialist. Although not a participant in the sit-down strikes, Dollinger was married to Genora Dollinger who was a leader of the Woman’s Emergency Brigade in Flint in 1937. She was known as Genora Johnson at the time, married to Kermit Johnson at the time, a strike leader and socialist like her.

Sol Dollinger’s “Not Automatic”, a book about the Flint strike that depends heavily on Genora’s papers and recollections, paints a somewhat different picture from Moore’s. I reread Genora’s report on the sit-down strike, which is contained verbatim in Sol’s book. I also looked at the chapter on Flint in Art Preis’s “Labor’s Giant Step”, a book I read shortly after joining the Socialist Workers Party in 1967, Jeremy Brecher’s “Strike!”, and N.Y. Times articles from February 1937. Here is what all this material adds up to, from my admittedly far-left-of-center perspective.

To start with, the decision to send in the National Guard was made by Governor Frank Murphy, a Democrat who did have strong New Deal sympathies but those sympathies were not exactly in sync with the deepest aspirations of the strikers. Murphy’s intention was to get the strikers out of the factories and not to defeat General Motors. He hoped for a peaceful settlement of the strike and negotiations at the table. To put pressure on the sit-in, the Guard was instructed not to allow food to be sent into the factory. To my knowledge, the same pressure was not applied on the men and women who owned General Motors, who continued to enjoy three square meals a day.

Not long after the Guard was mobilized, Genora Johnson formed an Emergency Brigade of women who not only put their bodies on the line but dramatized the willingness of the entire community to come to the aid of the workers. Workers flowed into Flint from all around the industrial heartland in caravans, each one ready to confront any armed force that would be used against workers, either the local police or the National Guard. Additionally, many of the National Guardsmen were workers themselves who could not be relied on to shoot fellow workers. All in all, Murphy had to step gingerly around what was arguably the greatest display of working class militancy in the 1930s.

Flint auto strike, Genora Johnson at 2:33

The role of women in the formation of the UAW

To give some credit to Moore, he certainly does understand the need for such actions. A fairly lengthy portion of his film is shot in Chicago at Republic Windows, where workers were being screwed out of severance payments after the owners decided to shut it down. They sat in, determined to force the bosses to pay what was owed to them. However, in keeping with his tribute to FDR, Moore makes sure to credit the candidate Barack Obama who said that the workers deserved what the company owed them. At the time, many leftist supporters of Obama interpreted this as the second coming of FDR. In a way they are correct insofar as FDR came into office with the same loyalty to the big bourgeoisie as Obama. It was only the militancy of a desperate working class that forced him into taking a modicum of progressive actions.

However, these actions in and of themselves were not sufficient to break the back of unemployment. It took the hellfire of WWII and the cranking up of the arms industry to finally have the stimulus effect that led to postwar prosperity and all the rest that looms so idyllically in Moore’s memory. Humanity can not afford another cataclysm like this in order to sustain a consumerist economy that will eventually lead to ecological crisis of a scale never experienced before. In critical times such as these, it takes a deeper and broader vision of society than that found in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It will require a willingness to break with class society and go deeper into the roots of the crisis than any Hollywood producer might be willing to bankroll.

UPDATE

How Goldman Sachs bankrolled “Capitalism: a Love Story”

September 23, 2009

In Search of Beethoven

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

For those who are familiar with the marvelous 2007 documentary “In Search of Mozart”, my recommendation of director Phil Grabsky’s latest—“In Search of Beethoven”—might seem almost redundant. If you loved the Mozart movie, you will surely love this one that opens at the Cinema Village in New York today.

As with the Mozart movie, Grabsky has assembled a stellar cast of musicologists and performers who all share a love for Beethoven’s music. They offer commentary on Beethoven the artist and the human being, as the cameras pan in on various locations where Beethoven lived. Throughout it all, the portrait of a complex human being emerges. By turns suffering, transcendentally happy, and misanthropic, this is a Beethoven who practically comes to life as we listen to his music and hear the words of his letters that form a kind of narrative unity. And most of all, we marvel at his ability to make some of the greatest music ever composed while he was stone deaf.

Like most people, I had become somewhat jaded after hearing Beethoven’s warhorses on the FM radio for the better part of 50 years. But the movie gave me the sense of discovery I felt after listening to Toscanini’s performances of the 9 symphonies, a multi-disc album I received as a bonus after joining the RCA Victor Record club when I was 14 years old. This was before the days of Amazon.com, needless to say. My exposure to classical music prior to this was limited to Ravel’s Bolero and the like. Hearing the Eroica symphony for the first time was like being struck by lightning.

You get the same sense of wonder from an interviewee like Emmanuel Ax who sits at a piano demonstrating how Beethoven changed the rules of the game. He says that Beethoven was the master of the repeated note that he used to create a sense of tension, almost like a knock on the door at midnight.

The musical historians are filled with the same kind of excitement as they make the case for Beethoven as the innovator par excellence. Challenged to take his place alongside Haydn and Mozart, if not to surpass them, Beethoven first of all sought the freedom from the feudal system that musicians had customarily operated in. Although he relied on the kindness of aristocrats throughout his life, he was able to make a decent living by publishing his compositions and by performing them in public concert halls.

His longing for economic and creative independence went hand in hand with his deeply felt republicanism. He followed developments in France closely just as young men and women looked to Moscow in the 1920s. At first he looked to Napoleon as a symbol of his yearnings, but turned his back on him after he declared himself Emperor. We see the original score of the Eroica symphony, dedicated originally to Napoleon, with a neat little tear in the manuscript where Beethoven removed the dedication.

The culmination of Beethoven’s democratic sympathies can be found in “Fidelio”, an opera that pitted its imprisoned hero against an evil tyrant. It was the counterpart of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, another anti-authoritarian masterpiece. A musicologist speculates that the opera might have been an indirect commentary on Beethoven’s deafness which kept him in a kind of captivity for most of his adult life.

This deafness had a devastating impact on his personal life as it prevented him from forming close personal relationships, including with the opposite sex. His loneliness was exacerbated by his tendency to fall in love with aristocratic women, a sign of his social ties to a class that he no longer had much identification with except on the level of intimacy.

As he grew older, Beethoven became more isolated, cantankerous and more neglectful of his personal demeanor. Friends worried so much about his appearance that they snuck into his apartment late at night and replaced his worn-out clothing with new garments. So wrapped up was he in his personal creative world that he never even noticed that a change had taken place in his wardrobe. At one point while strolling about the city streets in some worn-out clothing, he was picked up by the cops on a vagrancy charge—a misadventure that also befell a 21st century musical genius named Bob Dylan.

Don’t miss “In Search of Beethoven” if you love classical music and good stories about tormented geniuses!

September 20, 2009

Food imperialism: Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution

Filed under: farming,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 9:19 pm

Norman Borlaug

When Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, died last Monday at the age of 95, I could not help but wonder if special issues of the Nation Magazine and the Monthly Review, the authoritative voices of American liberalism and radicalism respectively, might have caused the old buzzard to croak. The September 21 issue of the Nation was titled “Food for All” and took on the myths of the Green Revolution, just as does the July-August issue of Monthly Review. The MR has the added distinction of being co-edited by Fred Magdoff, Harry’s son, who is one of the leading Marxist experts on sustainable agriculture.

Borlaug was very clear about his political goals, as were his acolytes in the bourgeois press. Take, for example, the moniker Green Revolution. The term was a conscious alternative to the Red Revolutions that were driven by a desire for Bread in the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese countryside. The imperialists thought they had discovered a philosopher’s stone in Borlaug’s wheat and rice hybrids. Now every poor person could enjoy three square meals a day and forsake the need to take up arms.

The bourgeoisie rewarded Borlaug with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, a choice that recognized the obvious connection between an adequate diet and social peace. Given the turmoil of the Vietnam War, Borlaug’s research seemed like an exit ramp from the colonial revolution that was now in full bore across the world. Although the Oct. 22nd New York Times concurred with majority opinion that Borlaug was some kind of saint, it did worry a bit. “Through increased productivity, the green revolution may mean less employment in Asia—and scores of millions are already living in tragic misery. So far there has been no outcry to stop the insistence on birth control as a means of dealing with overpopulation.”

Indeed, Borlaug had come to the neo-Malthusian conclusion that birth control was a necessary handmaiden to his agricultural breakthroughs. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he warned: “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.” This position has been embraced by Lester Brown, a founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, both nominally “environmentalist” organizations. This is just a sign of how difficult it is to lump all environmentalists together without a class analysis. The approach of radical environmentalists like Fred Magdoff has been to both attack the intellectual and scientific foundations of the Green Revolution as well as defend the right of poor people not to have birth control rammed down their throat. It is just a reminder that you cannot figure out the environmental movement without an ideological road map.

Borlaug got started in the 1940s under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation, which despite its philanthropic pretensions, was worried about threats to its holdings both in Mexico and in the rest of Latin America.  It should be mentioned that the Rockefellers also provided the initial funding for Lester Brown’s Worldwatch Institute. The Rockefellers have consistently been in favor of “preserving” natural resources as well as preventing poor people from having too many babies.

Today, Bill Gates has taken up the same mission as the Rockefellers, hoping to deploy Borlaug’s technologies to Africa—a continent held hostage to missionary incursions of one sort or another going back to the Victorian epoch. Apparently, he is just as sold on population reduction as Borlaug, Brown and the Rockefellers based on this report from the London Times on May 24th of this year:

SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America’s wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.

They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global cabal,” he said.

George Soros’s participation in this global cabal (sorry, that’s the way I see it) makes perfect sense because he can give good advice to Gates about how to bribe academics in the Third World to become spokesmen for this sordid venture. With his billions, Soros was able to wine and dine Eastern European dissidents and convert them to the dubious wisdom of Karl Popper’s Open Society, a socio-economic framework most amenable to Soros’s forced penetration of closed markets.

In an earlier generation, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations spent millions on putting Third World agronomists in training programs at American universities where they would become converts to the Green Revolution. They certainly understood that becoming converts for corporate farming was almost a guarantee for continued success in an academic world that was awash in money from the Monsantos of the world.

In an article titled “The United States Intervention in Third World Policies” that appeared in the April 1986 Social Scientist, Jagannath Pathy drew attention to the massive seduction of academics by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. This involved sending our “experts” overseas to help the benighted peasants as well as recruiting theirs for special training at places like Cornell and MIT.

Indo-U.S. co-operation in agricultural research dates back to the efforts of the U.S. government to help India increase food production. In 1953, F.W. Parker of the Technical Co-operative Mission arranged a number of studies determining the fertility status of soils. This laid the basis for the establishment of a chain of soil testing laboratories aided by USAID which subsequently paved the way for the introduction of chemical fertilisers in India. In 1955, Rockefeller Foundation and five U.S. land grant universities assisted Indian agricultural universities and research institutions and suggested a curricula appropriate to reorienting scholars to meet the challenge of introducing HYVs of maize, sorghum and millets. The U.S. gave $ 35 million for laboratory equipment and libraries. Every year 35 fellowships were instituted for training Indian students at U.S. institutions. Rockefellers provided $ 21.3 million up to 1973 and arranged for several visiting professors to visit India. It also provided travel grants for Indian government officials and university administrators to go to the U.S. In 1982, Ralph W. Cummings, the Director of Rockefeller Foundation’s Indian agricultural research programme laid down guidelines for the establishment and development of agricultural universities. These guidelines focussed on higher agricultural productivity through diffusion of fertiliser responsive varieties. The narrow genetic base of HYVs, disease and pest suspectibility of some of the parent varieties and the existence of vast monoculture soon exposed the crops to attacks by pests and diseases. As noted earlier, in the mid-1960s, USAID provided large loans to import much needed fertilisers. The U.S. and World Bank put pressure on the Indian government to encourage MNCs investment in local fertiliser production. Such a strategy could not have been pursued smoothly without the support of Indian agricultural scientists trained in the service of American interests (Abrol, 1983).

From 1952-72, the Ford Foundation spent $ 16 million providing generous grants to persons, institutions and government on a wide variety of nation building activities. It established and/or funded the Institute of Economic Growth, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, National Council of Applied Economic Research, Indian Statistical Institute and Institutes of Management at Calcutta and Ahmedabad. The Foundation trained about 50,000 extension workers. The National Institute of Community Development was established with the help of USAID and Michigan State University. The whole pattern of education and research was thus modelled on the philosophy and value system of the donor country. U.S. experts provided advice on how to organise and develop science and technology, decided the priorities of research, recommended developmental models. Performance of major research and educational institutes like UGC. CSIR, ICAR, etc. is reviewed by experts from the U.S. and Western Europe. This delinking of science and technology from the concrete socio-political contexts has proved to be stultifying.

The Nation Magazine was particularly insightful in identifying Bill Gates’s affinity for genetically modified crops, the leading edge today of the Green Revolution. Just as Monsanto’s seeds are intellectual property, so are Microsoft products. And both are bad for you. In a superb dissection of the Gates Foundation’s ambitions in Africa, authors Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck draw the parallels between GM and software patents:

The preference for private sector contributions to agriculture shapes the Gates Foundation’s funding priorities. In a number of grants, for instance, one corporation appears repeatedly–Monsanto. To some extent, this simply reflects Monsanto’s domination of industrial agricultural research. There are, however, notable synergies between Gates and Monsanto: both are corporate titans that have made millions through technology, in particular through the aggressive defense of proprietary intellectual property. Both organizations are suffused by a culture of expertise, and there’s some overlap between them. Robert Horsch, a former senior vice president at Monsanto, is, for instance, now interim director of Gates’s agricultural development program and head of the science and technology team. Travis English and Paige Miller, researchers with the Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, have uncovered some striking trends in Gates Foundation funding. By following the money, English told us that “AGRA used funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to write twenty-three grants for projects in Kenya. Twelve of those recipients are involved in research in genetically modified agriculture, development or advocacy. About 79 percent of funding in Kenya involves biotech in one way or another.” And, English says, “so far, we have found over $100 million in grants to organizations connected to Monsanto.”

This isn’t surprising in light of the fact that Monsanto and Gates both embrace a model of agriculture that sees farmers suffering a deficit of knowledge–in which seeds, like little tiny beads of software, can be programmed to transmit that knowledge for commercial purposes. This assumes that Green Revolution technologies–including those that substitute for farmers’ knowledge–are not only desirable but neutral. Knowledge is never neutral, however: it inevitably carries and influences relations of power.

Besides the special issues of the Nation and Monthly Review, I can also strongly recommend the Food First website (http://www.foodfirst.org), which has been one of the most consistent and powerful critics of agribusiness going back to the mid 1970s. Francis Moore Lappé launched the think-tank not long after her “Diet for a Small Planet” was published, a book that serves as effective anti-venom for Borlaug’s Green Revolution. Although the entire website consists of information that debunks the claims of people like Borlaug, there is one in particular that is must-reading if you are trying to understand the issues. I am speaking of Peter Rosset’s article “Lessons from the Green Revolution” published in April 2000. (It may be of some interest that Peter is the son of Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press, and has obviously inherited his willingness to take on the powers that be.)

Rosset is particularly cogent on the reliance of Green Revolution farming on petrochemicals, a dependency that obviously is fraught with peril in a period of rising prices (whether a product of “peak oil” or speculation is pretty much besides the point.) He points out:

With the Green Revolution, farming becomes petro-dependent. Some of the more recently developed seeds may produce higher yields even without manufactured inputs, but the best results require the right amounts of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and water. So as the new seeds spread, petrochemicals become part of farming. In India, adoption of the new seeds has been accompanied by a sixfold rise in fertilizer use per acre. Yet the quantity of agricultural production per ton of fertilizer used in India dropped by two-thirds during the Green Revolution years. In fact, over the past thirty years the annual growth of fertilizer use on Asian rice has been from three to forty times faster than the growth of rice yields.

Because farming methods that depend heavily on chemical fertilizers do not maintain the soil’s natural fertility and because pesticides generate resistant pests, farmers need ever more fertilizers and pesticides just to achieve the same results. At the same time, those who profit from the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides fear labor organizing and use their new wealth to buy tractors and other machines, even though they are not required by the new seeds. This incremental shift leads to the industrialization of farming.

Once on the path of industrial agriculture, farming costs more. It can be more profitable, of course, but only if the prices farmers get for their crops stay ahead of the costs of petrochemicals and machinery. Green Revolution proponents claim increases in net incomes from farms of all sizes once farmers adopt the more responsive seeds. But recent studies also show another trend: outlays for fertilizers and pesticides may be going up faster than yields, suggesting that Green Revolution farmers are now facing what U.S. farmers have experienced for decades-a cost-price squeeze.

In Central Luzon, Philippines, rice yield increased 13 percent during the 1980s, but came at the cost of a 21 percent increase in fertilizer use. In the Central Plains, yields went up only 6.5 percent, while fertilizer use rose 24 percent and pesticides jumped by 53 percent. In West Java, a 23 percent yield increase was virtually canceled by 65 and 69 percent increases in fertilizers and pesticides respectively.

Also of interest  is Harry Cleaver’s “The Contradictions of the Green Revolution“, which despite my differences with his autonomist brand of Marxism I can recommend as one of the more penetrating critiques of Borlaug’s techniques that is rooted in political economy. As such it is a good complement to Rosset’s article that is much more focused on the ecological dimensions. For Cleaver, the key to understanding the impact of Borlaug’s “revolution” is how it has transformed class relations as well as the mode of production. He writes:

But if increased food production has been the principal thrust of the new strategy it has not been the only one. Closely tied to the effort to increase output has been the transformation of agrarian social and economic relations by integrating once isolated areas or farmers into the capitalist market system. This “modernization” of the countryside, which has been an important part of so-called nation-building throughout the postwar period, has been facilitated by the dependency of the new technology on manufactured inputs. The peasant who adopts the new seeds must buy the necessary complementary inputs on the market. In order to buy these inputs he must sell part of his crop for cash. Thus the international team widens the proportion of peasant producers tied into the national (and sometimes international) market as it succeeds in pushing the new technology into the hands of subsistence farmers. Obviously in the case of commercial producers, adoption only reinforces existing ties to the market.

These development experts, however, apparently feel that widening the market by pushing new inputs is not always enough. Along with their recent admiration for the “progressive” peasant who jumps at any opportunity to grow more, they have been making an effort to teach personal gain and consumerism. In his widely read handbook, Getting Agriculture Moving, ADC president Arthur T. Mosher insists on the theme of teaching peasants to want more for themselves, to abandon collective habits, and to get on with the “business” of farming. Mosher goes so far as to advocate extension educational programs for women and youth clubs to create more demand for store-bought goods. The “affection of husbands and fathers for their families” will make them responsive to these desires and drive them to work harder.

A new study by another elite group, Resources for the Future (RFF), done for the World Bank on agricultural development in the Mekong Basin, also recommends substantial efforts to change the rural social structure and personal attitudes of peasants in such a way that new capitalist institutions can function more efficiently. The RFF, like others before it, suggests massive doses of international capital and more Western social scientists to help bring about the necessary changes. These tactics of the ADC and RFF are more than efforts to bring development to rural areas. They are attempts to replace traditional social systems by capitalism, complete with all its business-based social relations.

For those whose reading of Karl Marx does not extend much beyond the Communist Manifesto, a question might pop into their head. What’s so bad about replacing “traditional systems by capitalism”? After all, doesn’t Karl Marx write:

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.

I mean, who wants to be a village idiot or a barbarian? Wouldn’t it be better to effect a bourgeois revolution in the countryside and release agrarian labor into the cities for industrial jobs? Furthermore, if the Green Revolution is more productive than traditional agriculture, at least measured in terms of sheer output, who would want to stand in its way? Indeed, in Walden Bello and Mara Baviera’s article in the Monthly Review special issue, they call attention to Eric Hobsbawm’s observation in The Age of Extremes that “the death of the peasantry” was “the most dramatic and far-reaching social change of the second half of [the twentieth] century,” one that cut “us off forever from the world of the past.”

Their reply to Hobsbawm should remind us that facile comparisons between the industrial revolution and agriculture are unwarranted. If the introduction of more and more machinery is the key to the productivity of labor and hence the creation of conditions amenable to a socialist society, agriculture is a partial exception to this rule as Bello and Baviera point out:

The food price crisis, according to proponents of peasant and smallholder agriculture, is not due to the failure of peasant agriculture but to that of corporate agriculture. They say that, despite the claims of its representatives that corporate agriculture is best at feeding the world, the creation of global production chains and global supermarkets, driven by the search for monopoly profits, has been accompanied by greater hunger, worse food, and greater agriculture-related environmental destabilization all around than at any other time in history.

Moreover, they assert that the superiority in terms of production of industrial capitalist agriculture is not sustained empirically. Miguel Altieri and Clara Nicholls, for instance, point out, that although the conventional wisdom is that small farms are backward and unproductive, in fact, “research shows that small farms are much more productive than large farms if total output is considered rather than yield from a single crop. Small integrated farming systems that produce grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products outproduce yield per unit of single crops such as corn (monocultures) on large-scale farms.”

When one factors in the ecological destabilization that has accompanied the generalization of capitalist industrial agriculture, the balance of costs and benefits lurches sharply towards the negative. For instance, in the United States, notes Daniel Imhoff,

the average food item journeys some 1300 miles before becoming part of a meal. Fruits and vegetables are refrigerated, waxed, colored, irradiated, fumigated, packaged, and shipped. None of these processes enhances food quality but merely enables distribution over great distances and helps increase shelf life.

Industrial agriculture has created the absurd situation whereby “between production, processing, distribution, and preparation, 10 calories of energy are required to create just one calorie of food energy.” Conversely, it is the ability to combine productivity and ecological sustainability that constitutes a key dimension of superiority of peasant or small-scale agriculture over industrial agriculture.

Contrary to assertions that peasant and small-farm agriculture is hostile to technological innovation, partisans of small-scale or peasant-based farming assert that technology is “path dependent,” that is, its development is conditioned by the mode of production in which it is embedded, so that technological innovation under peasant and small-scale farming would take different paths than innovation under capitalist industrial agriculture.

But partisans of the peasantry have not only engaged in a defense of the peasant or smallholder agriculture. Vía Campesina and its allies have actually formulated an alternative to industrial capitalist agriculture, and one that looks to the future rather than to the past. This is the paradigm of food sovereignty, the key propositions of which are discussed elsewhere in this collection.

Although there is not much point speculating on what a future world socialist system would look like, there is little doubt that the technologies introduced by Borlaug would begin to recede into the background, or at least be used in a way that is not destructive to the environment and to labor.

Ironically, despite Marx’s comments about the idiocy of rural life, he eventually came to an understanding that the city and countryside would have to be re-integrated in order to resolve the environmental crisis of his day, namely the decline of soil fertility. To put it succinctly, the byproducts of human and animal excretion would replenish the soil rather go to waste as it did in the streets of London in the 19th century. This “metabolic rift” was in fact apparent to Marx even when he was writing the CM with its seeming hostility to peasant life. Marx wrote a set of demands to be raised by Communists that included: “Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”

This demand reflected his awareness that the current arrangements would not suffice. In volume three of Capital, he elaborated on the problems of capitalist farming that would only increase in the 20th century despite all the technical fixes recommended by Borlaug and company:

All criticism of small-scale landownership is ultimately reducible to criticism of private property as a barrier and obstacle to agriculture. So too is all counter-criticism of large landed property. Secondary political considerations are of course left aside here in both cases. It is simply that this barrier and obstacle which all private property in land places to agricultural production and the rational treatment, maintenance and improvement of the land itself, develops in various forms, and in quarreling over these specific forms of the evil its ultimate root is forgotten.

Small-scale landownership presupposes that the overwhelming majority of the population is agricultural and that isolated labour predominates over social; wealth and the development of reproduction, therefore, both in its material and intellectual aspects, is ruled out under these circumstances, and with this also the conditions for a rational agriculture. On the other hand, large landed property reduces the agricultural population to an ever decreasing minimum and confronts it with an every growing industrial population crammed together in large towns; in this way it produces conditions that provoke an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself. The result of this is a squandering of the vitality of the soil, which is carried by trade far beyond the bounds of a single country.

It should of course be emphasized that Marx’s reference to small-scale landownership is linked to the conditions that obtained in the Europe of his day. It was nothing like the case made by Walden Bello, which would have to be part of a general program of social emancipation. It might look much more like the rural cooperatives that Lenin hailed toward the end of his life that would have been a far cry not only from the monstrous schemas promoted by Borlaug but ironically emulated by Stalin through his forced collectivizations that reduced agricultural labor to a cog in a machine. Lenin wrote:

Two main tasks confront us, which constitute the epoch—to reorganize our machinery of state, which is utterly useless, in which we took over in its entirety from the preceding epoch; during the past five years of struggle we did not, and could not, drastically reorganize it. Our second task is educational work among the peasants. And the economic object of this educational work among the peasants is to organize the latter in cooperative societies. If the whole of the peasantry had been organized in cooperatives, we would by now have been standing with both feet on the soil of socialism. But the organization of the entire peasantry in cooperative societies presupposes a standard of culture, and the peasants (precisely among the peasants as the overwhelming mass) that cannot, in fact, be achieved without a cultural revolution.

The failure of the USSR to adopt such an approach had tragic consequences as forced collectivization created the backlash that would lead to Stalin’s merciless repression of the kulaks and a weakening of the Soviet infrastructure. Fortunately, a new approach to socialism being adopted in Cuba is more in line with Lenin’s hopes in 1923, as well as consistent with the concerns Marx had about the metabolic rift:

Cuba has developed one of the most efficient organic agriculture systems in the world, and organic farmers from other countries are visiting the island to learn the methods.

Due to the U.S. embargo, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was unable to import chemicals or modern farming machines to uphold a high-tech corporate farming culture. Cuba needed to find another way to feed its people. The lost buying power for agricultural imports led to a general diversification within farming on the island. Organic agriculture has become key to feeding the nation’s growing urban populations.

Cuba’s new revolution is founded upon the development of an organic agricultural system. Peter Rosset of the Institute for Food and Development Policy states that this is “the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known.”

Not only has organic farming been prosperous, but the migration of small farms and gardens into densely populated urban areas has also played a crucial role in feeding citizens. State food rations were not enough for Cuban families, so farms began to spring up all over the country. Havana, home to nearly 20 percent of Cuba’s population, is now also home to more than 8,000 officially recognized gardens, which are in turn cultivated by more than 30,000 people and cover nearly 30 percent of the available land. The growing number of gardens might seem to bring up the problem of space and price of land. However, “the local governments allocate land, which is handed over at no cost as long as it is used for cultivation,” says S. Chaplowe in the Newsletter of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association.

The removal of the “chemical crutch” has been the most important factor to come out of the Soviet collapse, trade embargo, and subsequent organic revolution. Though Cuba is organic by default because it has no means of acquiring pesticides and herbicides, the quality and quantity of crop yields have increased. This increase is occurring at a lower cost and with fewer health and environmental side effects than ever. There are 173 established ‘vermicompost’ centers across Cuba, which produce 93,000 tons of natural compost a year. The agricultural abundance that Cuba is beginning to experience is disproving the myth that organic farming on a grand scale is inefficient or impractical.

A Project Censored report, 2001

September 19, 2009

Rosh Hashanah

Filed under: Jewish question,music — louisproyect @ 10:16 pm

Today is the Jewish New Year, a holiday that I last celebrated in 1958 when I was still a somewhat observant Jew. The clip above features Moishe Oysher, a legendary cantor who sang downstairs at the Kentucky Club, a cabaret in my home town in the Catskills, when I was very young. The Kentucky Club’s greeter was none other than Barney Ross, the great Jewish boxer who I used to chat with late at night when I was about 10 years old. Here’s the Youtube write-up on the movie, which sounds very much like “The Jazz Singer”.

From the 1939 Yiddish film “Overture To Glory” (Der Vilner Shtot Khazn “The Vilnius City Cantor”).

Questionably described by Hal Erikson in his “All Movie Guide” as “one of the last Yiddish-language films produced in the United States” (and the first American film of German director Max Nosseck) Overture to Glory stars the great musical performer and Cantor, Moishe Oysher. Starring Helen Beverly and Florence Weiss (Oysher’s wife), with a musical score by Alexander Oshanetsky, Oysher is the “Vilner Balabesl”, a cantor in Vilnius, with a renowned voice. Two men come from the Warsaw Opera to hear him sing in the Rosh Hashanah service and are so impressed that they introduce him to European classical music and to reading sheet music; they convince him, against the wishes of much of his family (and especially his father-in-law) to become an opera singer in Warsaw.

He leaves his job as the Vilnius cantor, and seems at first to be on the path to fame and fortune as an opera star in Warsaw, when the news arrives that his son has died. Grief-stricken, he stumbles over the aria he is supposed to sing, starting instead into a lullaby he used to sing to his son. In disgrace, he also loses his voice; he tries to return to his life in Vilna; finally, his voice comes briefly back to him on Yom Kippur. He sings the first few lines of the “Kol Nidre”, then dies of a heart attack.

September 17, 2009

Mary Travers, dead at 72

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 1:20 pm

From the NY Times obituary:

Their sound may have been commercial and safe, but early on their politics were somewhat risky for a group courting a mass audience. Like Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Stookey, Ms. Travers was outspoken in her support for the civil-rights and antiwar movements, in sharp contrast to clean-cut folk groups like the Kingston Trio, which avoided making political statements.

Peter, Paul and Mary went on to perform at the 1963 March on Washington and joined the voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

Over the years they performed frequently at political rallies and demonstrations in the United States and abroad. After the group disbanded, in 1970, Ms. Travers continued to perform at political events around the world as she pursued a solo career.

“They made folk music not just palatable but accessible to a mass audience,” David Hajdu, the author of “Positively Fourth Street,” a book about Mr. Dylan, Joan Baez and their circle, said in an interview. Ms. Travers, he added, was crucial to the group’s image, which had a lot to do with its appeal. “She had a kind of sexual confidence combined with intelligence, edginess and social consciousness — a potent combination,” he said. “If you look at clips of their performances, the camera fixates on her. The act was all about Mary.”

September 16, 2009

Distant Thunder

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,india — louisproyect @ 2:35 pm

A 1973 movie by Satyajit Ray about the man-made famine in Bengal during WWII can now be seen on Youtube. Below is part one of ten:

September 15, 2009

Max Blumenthal covers the teabagger protest

Filed under: ultraright — louisproyect @ 12:58 pm

More morons on parade

September 14, 2009

Joseph Stalin nostalgia?

Filed under: socialism,Trotskyism,ussr — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

 

My general tendency is to avoid Stalin-Trotsky debates and have even ruled them as out of order on Marxmail since they inevitably lead to flame wars and have very little relevance to politics today. As proof of the latter, my closest political associate was the late Mark Jones who was about as hard core a Stalinist as they come. But we found that our agreements about the environmental crisis and imperialism superseded whatever disagreements we had about the Spanish Civil War, etc.

If pressed, I will defend Trotsky’s analysis of fascism, the popular front and all the rest. I am sharply critical of Trotsky’s party-building methodology but have yet to read a more cogent analysis of the tragic events that led to the rise of fascism and WWII. For the most part, this analysis has achieved intellectual hegemony. If you read New Left Review, Monthly Review, and other influential Marxist journals, you will find very little special pleading on Stalin’s behalf.


Calvin Tucker

Andy Newman

It has been years since I ran into anybody on the Internet who was trying to refurbish the image of Joseph Stalin. Back in 1996, when the mailing list that preceded Marxmail was in operation, a group of about 10 people showed up all around the same time in order to advance the cause of Sendero Luminoso. Almost immediately they got into flame wars with a Spartacist League supporter and Morenoite, causing the list to eventually implode. When I launched Marxmail in 1998, I resolved to keep these kinds of fights off the list.

I should add that the flame wars did not just involve Trotskyists versus Stalinists. Among the Maoists, there was a particularly nasty fight over who was the authentic representative of Chairman Gonzalo outside of Peru. The London-based Adolfo Olaechea condemned his Queens, NY-based rival Quispe in terms that could have been lifted from Vishinsky.

In addition to his Sendero work, Olaechea was a friend of the London-based Stalin Society whose website is adorned with a flattering portrait of the deceased tyrant and these words:

The Stalin Society was formed in 1991 to defend Stalin and his work on the basis of fact and to refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him.

In the USA, this kind of pedal to the metal Stalin worship is limited to the fringes of of academia and the organized left. The best known Stalin apologist in the academy is the unlikely named Grover Furr, a Montclair State literature professor who maintains a vast library of Stalinist apologetics at http://chss.montclair.edu/English/furr/homepage.html. He has the most intriguing defense of the Moscow Trials, namely that the same standards were applied by Vishinsky that you can find in American courts:

Concerning evidence: The testimony of others, unsupported by physical evidence, is enough for conviction even in the United States. Often – as in the case of conspiracy – physical evidence is not to be expected. And physical evidence can be faked, forged, altered, etc., just as personal testimony can be.

Wow, I had never considered that. How reassuring. What a splendid case for the superiority of socialism.

Furr has a solid ally in the Progressive Labor Party, a formerly Maoist sect that was fairly influential in the 1960s. On their website, you will find inspirational material such as “Stalin’s Successes, Humanity’s Gains”. I suppose they think by invoking Stalin’s name they will eventually be transformed into a mass party bearing some resemblances to the Communist Party of the late 1930s. As I recall, Billy Batson turned into the comic book hero Captain Marvel by uttering the word “Shazam” but I doubt that saying “Stalin” will have similar transformative powers.

It should be said that a more intelligent defense of Stalin (I am being charitable here obviously) does not deny that he was a brutal dictator but tries to “contextualize” him and find the silver lining around a dark cloud in socialist history. The best exponent of this approach is John Arch Getty, the American historian who is not related to the oilman and friend of the Soviet Union, the late John Paul Getty.

Getty’s main argument is that the Soviet working class was “willing to trade free speech for cheap food”. He also insists that the number of executions that took place under Stalin was around 2 million, a figure lower the estimate of other Sovietologists. Getty is quite skilled at seeming reasonable, a must for somebody operating in academia. In an article titled “Trotsky in Exile: The Founding of the Fourth International” that appeared in the Jan. 1986 Soviet Studies,  Getty writes: “It seems reasonable to assume that Trotsky’s activities were grist to the mill of those hard-line Moscow politicians who favored repression of the opposition.” This sentence is obviously open to multiple interpretations, including one that amounts to “He had it coming”.

For reasons that not entirely clear to me (although I do have some suspicions to be outlined below), there are a couple of websites in Britain that have bought into the more sophisticated brand of Stalin apologetics that is associated with Getty. One is Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity blog that I wrote about in my last post. As a corollary to the Sir Winston Churchill boosterism there, you find a rather informed defense of Stalin’s policies by Newman and his co-thinkers, mostly in the comments section.

It stands to reason that if you endorse the CP’s “people’s anti-fascist” coalition with the blood-soaked British Prime Minister, you are likely to buy into the rest of the crapola. Two of Newman’s most vehement supporters are the brothers Calvin and Noah Tucker, who operate the website http://21stcenturysocialism.com along with Uri Cohen. Calvin Tucker and Cohen are ex-members of the Communist Party in Great Britain and split to form a group associated with the magazine Straight Left that you can read about in a wiki. They wanted the CP to be more “pro-Soviet”, a policy that seems consistent with their current beliefs.

It is quite a paradox to see these characters operating in the name of socialist unity and 21st century socialism when they seem so intent on bringing back the 1930s. Thank goodness that the Latin American left that they hold up as a model has chosen not to follow their lead. In a speech to the World Social Forum in 2005 that has been described as the first call for 21st century socialism, Hugo Chavez said: “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.” Apparently, this insight was lost on Newman and the Tucker brothers who have a kind of nostalgia for the 1930s that is best limited to the big bands and screwball comedies.

I first got the sense that something was amiss back in October 2008 when an excerpt from Georgi Dimitrov’s speech to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, 1935 appeared without comments on the Socialist Unity blog. Dimitrov is best known as the architect of the Popular Front strategy that led to a disaster in Spain, when the coalition between bourgeois parties and the CP took a hard line against the kind of radical measures that could have rallied the people against Franco.

In the comments section, Newman chided a Trotskyist for bringing up Spain since “the USSR was the biggest provider of arms to the Spanish republic by a country mile.” As somebody who spent a number of years in the British SWP, Newman obviously knew that this was not under dispute.

One of his tag-team partners Noah Tucker joined in with a burst of rhetoric that I have not seen since the 1960s:

Andy has already pointed out that the USSR armed (not disarmed) the Spanish Republican forces. Perhaps I should also remind you that it was the Soviet Union- and also China, the GDR, Czechoslovakia etc, and after 1960 Cuba, who provided the revolutionaries in the Third World with the munitions with which to fight imperialism.

Where do you think that the Koreans and the Vietnamese got their MiGs from? Who provided the ANC, and Zapu and Zanu with AK47s?

So there you have it. Revolutionary politics boils down to armaments. Who needs strategy and tactics when the Manual of Arms will suffice?

If you go to the 21st century socialism website, you will find a plethora of well-researched but mostly wrong-headed analyses of 20th century socialism in the In Depth section.  You will not find any explicit defense of Stalin but there is an implicit defense of his policies of the sort found in “The Soviet Model and the economic cold war“, written by one Marcus Mulholland. (To my knowledge, Mulholland is not involved in recruiting hedge fund managers to work in emerging markets.) It amounts to a ringing endorsement of Stalin’s economic policies:

Industries in the Soviet Union were run directly by government ministries on the basis of overall plans developed by the state planning commission, known as Gosplan.  According to Hanson, the instructions to each enterprise during Stalin’s leadership included guidelines or directions on a range of matters including:

The product mix: what to produce and in what proportions;

Output targets;

Who will supply the enterprise, with what and how much;

A labour plan: how many workers and the total wage bill;

Who are the customers and what they should each be provided with;

The prices of inputs and outputs;

An investment plan, for replacing and modernising equipment.

I hate to rain on Mulholland’s parade, but Stalin’s rule was marked mostly by a lack of planning. Despite the announcement of 5-year plans, the economy had more in common with bureaucratic fiat than scientific planning. All this is discussed in chapter 5 entitled “The Disappearance of Planning in the Plan” in Moshe Lewin’s  “Russia USSR Russia”.

The Soviet government announced the first five year plan in 1928. Stalin loyalists, like Krzhizanovksy and Strumlin, who headed Gosplan, the minister of planning, worried about the excess rigidity of this plan. They noted that the success of the plan was based on 4 factors: 1) five good consecutive crops, 2) more external trade and help than in 1928, 3) a “sharp improvement” in overall economic indicators, and 4) a smaller ration than before of military expenditures in the state’s total expenditures.

How could anybody predict five consecutive good crops in the USSR? The plan assumed the most optimistic conditions and nobody had a contingency plan to allow for failure of any of the necessary conditions.

Bazarov, another Stalin loyalist in Gosplan, pointed to another area of risk: the lack of political cadres. He warned the Gosplan presidium in 1929, “If you plan simultaneously a series of undertakings on such a gigantic scale without knowing in advance the organizational forms, without having cadres and without knowing what they should be taught, then you get a chaos guaranteed in advance; difficulties will arise which will not only slow down the execution of the five-year plan, which will take seven if not ten years to achieve, but results even worse may occur; here such a blatantly squandering of means could happen which would discredit the whole idea of industrialization.”

Strumlin admitted that the planners preferred to “stand for higher tempos rather than sit in prison for lower ones.” Strumlin and Krzhizanovksy had been expressing doubts about the plan for some time and Stalin removed these acolytes from Gosplan in 1930.

In order for the planners, who were operating under terrible political pressure, to make sense of the plan, they had to play all kinds of games. They had to falsify productivity and yield goals in order to allow the input and output portions of the plan to balance. V.V. Kuibyshev, another high-level planner and one of Stalin’s proteges, confessed in a letter to his wife how he had finessed the industrial plan he had developing. “Here is what worried me yesterday and today; I am unable to tie up the balance, and as I cannot go for contracting the capital outlays–contracting the tempo–there will be no other way but to take upon myself an almost unmanageable task in the realm of lowering costs.”

Eventually Kuibyshev swallowed any doubts he may have had and began cooking the books in such a way as to make the five-year plan, risky as it was, totally unrealizable.

Real life proved how senseless the plan was. Kuibyshev had recklessly predicted that costs would go down, meanwhile they went up: although the plan allocated 22 billion rubles for industry, transportation and building, the Soviets spent 41.6 billion. The money in circulation, which planners limited to a growth of only 1.25 billion rubles, consequently grew to 5.7 billion in 1933.

Now we get to the real problem for those who speak about “planning” during this period. As madcap and as utopian as the original plan was, Stalin tossed it into the garbage can immediately after the planners submitted it to him. He commanded new goals in 1929-30 that disregarded any economic criteria. For example, instead of a goal of producing 10 million tons of pig iron in 1933, the Soviets now targeted 17 million. All this scientific “planning” was taking place when a bloody war against the Kulaks was turning the Russian countryside into chaos. Molotov declared that to talk about a 5-year plan during this period was “nonsense.”

Stalin told Gosplan to forget about coming up with a new plan that made sense. The main driving force now was speed. The slogan “tempos decide everything” became policy. The overwhelming majority of Gosplan, hand-picked by Stalin, viewed the new policy with shock. Molotov said this was too bad, and cleaned house in the old Gosplan with “all of its old-fashioned planners” as he delicately put it.

When Stalin turned the whole nation into a work camp in order to meet these unrealistic goals, he expanded the police force in order that they may function as work gang bosses. Scientific planning declined and command mechanisms took their place. As the command mechanisms grew, so grew the administrative apparatus to implement them. The more bottlenecks that showed up, the greater the need for bureaucrats to step in and pull levers. This is the explanation of the monstrous bureaucratic apparatus in the former Soviet Union, not scientific planning.

So the question remains, what would attract radicals in 2009 to the Soviet leader who arguably was responsible for the counter-revolution of the 1990s? Given the atomization of the Soviet working class, a necessary consequence of a police state whatever J. Arch Getty writes, it was fairly easy for the bureaucrats to opt for private property. Trotsky predicted that there would be fierce resistance to such measures but he could not have anticipated how socialism would serve only as an empty vessel by the time Gorbachev came on the scene. We can thank Stalin for Gorbachev even though the naïve supporters of a Stalin revival cannot understand that the two figures are dialectically interrelated.

The answer is to be found in the impotence of the left. Frustrated by the failure of the antiwar movement to have achieved success in Iraq or Afghanistan and by a never-ending diet of neoliberal economics, there is yearning for a muscular left that could have stood up to the capitalists. Despite his history of placating the imperialists, Stalin enjoys a reputation of implacability that owes more to Cold War stereotypes than reality. It is this mythology that has mesmerized Newman and the Tucker brothers and nothing else.

September 10, 2009

Winston Churchill nostalgia?

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 6:21 pm

In recent weeks, the high-profile Socialist Unity blog in Britain (ranked 420,070 by Alexa; by comparison Lenin’s Tomb is number 363,494 in traffic) has featured articles that attempt to salvage the reputation of Winston Churchill within the context of commemorating the WWII “people’s antifascist coalition”.

My first reaction to this effort has been disgust but on a deeper level I have to wonder what would explain this retrograde development. To an extent, it might be a kind of knee-jerk reaction against the Socialist Workers Party in Britain. Since Socialist Unity has a deep animus toward these comrades, one wonders if they are simply putting a plus where their chief bogeyman puts a minus. If Alex Callinicos vilifies Churchill, then why not find nice things to say about the British imperialist warlord?

It should be stressed that the valentines to WWII and Churchill have been written by Andy Newman, who is responsible for most of the original content on Socialist Unity—for better or for worse. I have been told that Newman was a member of the SWP for a brief time (along with possibly half of the people living in Britain) so maybe we are just dealing with the case of the embittered ex-member. I for one have trouble understanding this as a political-psychological reaction. As an ex-member of the dreadful American SWP and one of its harshest critics, I am less inclined to take a position 180 degrees opposed to their own as a matter of principle. For example, if the Militant newspaper denounces the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, you won’t find me supporting it. And so on.

Andy Newman

But I think the more likely explanation for this softness on Churchill has more to do with the peculiarities of the British culture and historical memory than anything else. Although I can only state this as a kind of speculation, it would seem that Britain never went through the “revisionist” debunking of WWII that the USA did.

With the rise of the New Left in the USA, American foreign policy was subjected to a penetrating review based on new sources of information such as State Department memorandums, etc.. Since Vietnam was being prosecuted by LBJ, a veteran New Dealer, there was a tendency for WWII to be scrutinized in a way that had not taken place since progressive historian Charles Beard’s day. Although he was a bit older than some of the other “revisionists”, Howard Zinn delivered what amounts to knockout blow to the “good war” pretensions of WWII in “People’s History of the USA”.

Zinn, who developed a hatred for the war while serving as a bombardier, would probably be disgusted by the advertisements for WWII t-shirts that can be found in the post titled “Popular Front Against Fascism” and which celebrate mass killing gangs as if they were soccer teams.  One t-shirt, a snappy looking gray model with an American air force emblem, is described this way: “The roundel on this shirt is from the Pacific and features the colours and markings of a US Navy Vought F4U-1D Corsair, 152 Squadron VF-84 aboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), February 1945.” This led one commenter to observe:

One of those shirts celebrates something quite specific: the US Navy’s F4U Courier. I tried to explain the history of this aircraft, and why I think it’s inappropriate to use such imagery on your shirt. It wasn’t a tool in the fight against fascism, it was a tool of US imperialism during the War in the Pacific. And later, in the war against the people of the Korean peninsula, where it was used to pioneer the use of napalm–later “perfected” in Vietnam.

I just think you should be a little bit sensitive about the imagery you use, especially if the proceeds from the shirts go to good movement causes. I really believe that celebrating the Corsair is one step away from putting the Enola Gay on a shirt. After all, wasn’t the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki part of the “People’s War Against Fascism”, too?

I could not help but think that the low profile kept by Britain during the Vietnam war might have reduced the irritant factor that led young American historians to examine past wars ruthlessly, as Karl Marx would have put it.

I also wondered if the continuing prestige of the British CP historian’s group might have also played a role. Except for Herbert Aptheker, there were no American historians who had the prestige and influence of an Eric Hobsbawm and company.  Although none of these historians were blind followers of the CP, they were unlikely to challenge nostrums about the “good war”. In some sense this was understandable because the USSR’s war with Nazi Germany was progressive. But trying to find anything good to say about Winston Churchill would seem a hopeless task, although Andy Newman does get an “e” for effort.

In a post titled Sir Winston Churchill and the Anti-Fascist War, Newman describes a virtual social democrat.

… Churchill played a perhaps indispensible role in the defeat of Hitler; and his coalition government oversaw a deep radicalisation of British society, that Churchill did nothing to arrest. As he himself explained his principle was that he would support any measure that was bone fide necessary to win the war: this included an unprecedented degree of government planning and regulation of the economy. The Tory Lord Woolton explained: “We arrived at a position in which, in time of war, the practices that would be normal under a socialist state seemed to be the only practical safeguards for the country”.

When I brought up the topic of 6 to 8 million Bengalis dying because of British wartime policies that caused a famine, I was treated like a skunk at a garden party by Newman and his supporters, including Paul Fauvet, a signer of the Euston Manifesto who wrote: “Louis Proyect’s tactic is to change the subject. He doesn’t want to talk about Churchill’s role in World War II, so he talks about the Bengal famine instead.” Meanwhile, Newman also chastised me for “prioritising the entirely secondary issue of India…”

It should be understood that Paul Fauvet’s intervention was in line with the general approach of the “decent left” which is to regard WWII as a kind of authorization in advance for imperialist war ever since 1945. That is why it has been so essential for every rotten imperialist war in the past 20 years or so to be recast as a new WWII against a new Hitler, at one point Slobodan Milosevic and at another point Saddam Hussein.

As one might expect, Christopher Hitchens has been one of the fiercest opponents of the “revisionists” on WWII, since their vindication would effectively rob him of the moral justification he needed to support the war in Iraq. In a Newsweek article titled “A War Worth Fighting“, Hitchens argues:

Is there any one shared principle or assumption on which our political consensus rests, any value judgment on which we are all essentially agreed? Apart from abstractions such as a general belief in democracy, one would probably get the widest measure of agreement for the proposition that the second world war was a “good war” and one well worth fighting. And if we possess one indelible image of political immorality and cowardice, it is surely the dismal tap-tap-tap of Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella as he turned from signing the Czechs away to Adolf Hitler at Munich. He hoped by this humiliation to avert war, but he was fated to bring his countrymen war on top of humiliation. To the conventional wisdom add the titanic figure of Winston Churchill as the emblem of oratorical defiance and the Horatius who, until American power could be mobilized and deployed, alone barred the bridge to the forces of unalloyed evil. When those forces lay finally defeated, their ghastly handiwork was uncovered to a world that mistakenly thought it had already “supped full of horrors.” The stark evidence of the Final Solution has ever since been enough to dispel most doubts about, say, the wisdom or morality of carpet-bombing German cities.

Oddly enough, this item could have appeared on either “Harry’s Place” or the Socialist Unity blog—a problem for the left in no uncertain terms.

While it is unfortunately behind a subscriber’s firewall, there was an article by Ernest Mandel in the May/June 1986 New Left Review titled “The Role of the Individual in History: The Case of World War Two” that is far more interested in the relationship of class forces than in Churchill’s personal or psychological dispositions. He writes:

The case of Churchill affords another sort of corroboration for Plekhanov’s view of the relationship between decisive personalities and the requirements of class rule. Traditional historiography, whether admiring or critical of Churchill’s previous historical roles, has been almost unanimous in lauding his move into 10 Downing Street, at the head of a coalition government including the Labour Party, as a major turning point in the war. Churchill undoubtedly embodied the unshaken resolve of the British ruling class and of the broad majority of the British people not to capitulate to Germany under any circumstance. But by romanticizing his personal attributes, rather than starting from an analysis of the activities of larger social forces, most bourgeois historians fail the test of comparative example. For the central question is not what accidents of biography made Churchill as an individual more decisive than Chamberlain (or, similarly, distinguished de Gaulle from Pétain), but why Churchill was able to rally a majority of his class and people around himself while de Gaulle remained an isolated figure in France in June 1940.

Of course the fact that the French armed forces had just suffered a humiliating defeat, while the British were able to evacuate most of their defeated army to their island fortress, made a difference. But then again in 1940 most knowledgeable observers—including the American ambassador, Jospeh Kennedy—considered Britain’s position as fundamentally hopeless. Meanwhile France, while broken in the Ardennes, still possessed an undefeated fleet (the second largest in Europe), a large army in North Africa—stronger than what the British had at their disposal—a significant air reserve, and an intact colonial empire. It was, thus, by no means clear that the British had the certain means to resist invasion, or, conversely, that the French were utterly defeated or without options for continued national resistance.

In fact the real difference between the British and French situations was less their military predicaments than the predispositions of their ruling classes. The French bourgeoisie had become increasingly defeatist for sound, materialist reasons. It had shown itself economically and militarily incompetent to guarantee the Versailles system in the face of Germany’s aggressive expansion and rearmament. Even more to the point, it was primarily obsessed with containing its own working class, which had become a higher political priority than the attempt to defeat German competition. The British bourgeoisie, on the other hand, was neither demoralized nor defeatist. It had already beaten its own labour movement, first economically in 1926, then politically in 1931–35. At the same time its world position (even if rapidly being overtaken by the United States) was still stronger than Germany’s, although Hitler’s hegemony over Europe clearly endangered the British Empire. Moreover, the British elite were convinced that eventual support from the United States, together with the raw material and manpower resources of the Empire, made continued war against Germany a realistic strategy.

The moment was dramatic and full of dangers, but the future seemed largely guaranteed, provided Britain could weather the immediate crisis. ‘If we hold out for three months, we shall be facing victory in three years,’ Churchill correctly prophesied in a secret speech to the House of Commons. And Churchill was the almost ideal choice to stiffen British resolve until the Americans entered the war. That is why, after having been considered for years a maverick and has-been figure, a voice crying in the wilderness, he could be suddenly resurrected as the deus ex machina of his class. By an abrupt turn of events, and of social needs, the wilderness had been filled with millions of people.

Perhaps my antipathy toward Winston Churchill has been ratcheted up a few degrees by recent readings in Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke”, a most controversial book written in the “revisionist” spirit of Howard Zinn. While Baker is a novelist by trade, this book is nonfiction assault on the bogus reputation of the “good war” with Winston Churchill and FDR getting the brunt of his well-researched darts. I want to particularly call attention to this vignette on Churchill:

Winston Churchill was readying his book Great Contemporaries for the press. It was August 1937. In it was his article on Hitler, written a few years earlier. “Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill,

the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

UPDATE

Andy Newman apparently considered himself slandered by me. You can read his complaint here.

Since his commenting software refused to allow my entire reply to be posted (hmmm), I am posting here:

God, what a blizzard of words over a supposed “slander”. I don’t know anything about Newman’s past membership in the SWP except what Richard Seymour told me. I surmised that he was only in the group briefly because he seems to have retained nothing he learned there. A sieve would have absorbed more of the abc’s of Marxism.

With respect to the awful Eustonites, I don’t consider Paul Fauvet, who was a respectable radical journalist in a previous lifetime, to be a “supporter” of Socialist Unity politics in general. His cranky presence here should disabuse anybody of that notion. It should have been clear that he was a supporter of Newman’s position on WWII and that is all. I apologize for allowing such a confusion to take place.

Getting back to the real problem, there is still that regrettable blind spot about Empire. After angrily claiming that I quoted him out of context on India, he attempts to put his views into the real context:

Well yes, when discussing the course of the second world war, the Indian theatre was secondary. I have consulted several respected history books of the period, and the general histories rarely mention India at all. Angus Calder’s, “The People’s War” a standard history of the Home Front only mentions India once in the whole 750 pages.

Where the hell does Andy think the Bengali grain went? To throw at weddings? The god-damned grain went to British troops. The Bengali people were sacrificed in order to keep the soldiers fed. If this is “secondary” to the war, then Andy deserves an F in geopolitics.

Basically, the myth of a “people’s war against fascism” cannot be sustained when the “good guys” caused the death of more Indians in pursuit of war aims than the number of Jews killed by Hitler. Churchill and Hitler were both enemies of the working class. The British working class enjoyed a greater degree of democratic rights and welfare state provisions because its ruling class had a huge empire. The Second World War was a clash largely because of conflicting imperial goals. To bracket out the imperial question as “secondary” is Eurocentric.

Finally, Andy should stop squealing like professional wrestler who has been fouled by an opponent. When Andy accused me of colluding with Sinophobes who raise the “yellow peril”, a real slander, I handled it with aplomb since it was so obviously bullshit. I wonder if his long-winded squeal reflects an tacit understanding that my words hit their mark. Slanders tend to fall off the victim like spittle but the truth has a way of sticking to the bone.

UPDATE 2

Martin Wisse comments on the debate: http://cloggie.org/wissewords2/2009/09/12/dudefight-or-what-do-the-bengalis-matter/

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