Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 28, 2010

Last Train Home

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 8:45 pm

This is the time of year when I am inundated with screeners from the public relations department of both major and minor production companies that are meant to help members of New York Film Critics Online select winners in various categories at our annual meeting in December.

Unlike most critics, I am far more interested in “minor” than “major” when it comes to films. As a reminder of why this is the case, I finished watching “Inception” this morning, an onerous task. It simply amazes me that this piece of garbage received 85 percent “fresh” ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. But then again, this is a country that elects George W. Bush and Barack Obama president.

My approach will be to report on the films in the order that they presumably interest my readers and me. Those who are regular readers will not be surprised that documentaries go to the head of the pack. Today I will be writing about “Last Train Home”, a movie about migrant workers in China and will get to “Waste Land”, “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe”, and “A Film Unfinished” (about a Nazi film made in a concentration camp) later this week. Those are my kinds of movies, not the twerp Leonard DiCaprio bouncing off the walls in a CGI orchestrated dream.

“Last Train Home” is the latest movie that departs from the globalization-is-wonderful ideology of Thomas Friedman, Jagdish Bhagwati, and other prophets of neoliberalism. Some are fictional, such as “Blind Shaft”, a movie about miners forced to work in virtual slavery. Others are documentaries like “Still Life” that depict the loss of livelihood and ties to the land that the Three Gorges Dam posed.

Directed by a Canadian Lixin Fan, whose last film “Up the Yangtze” explored the same issues as “Still Life”, “Last Train Home” focuses on a single family whose life has been torn apart by China’s rapid industrialization.

Changhua Zhan and his wife Suqin Chen both work on sewing machines in a typical export-oriented factory in the Guangdong province. Each New Year’s holiday, they take a train back to their rural village to see their teenaged daughter Qin Zhang and her younger brother Yang Zhang. This is not as easy as it seems since there are far more people trying to get a ticket than are available. The train station is a sea of humanity with cops and soldiers trying to keep order. Although the film does not comment on why this is the case (it sticks to a cinéma vérité format), it strikes this reviewer as the likely outcome of a society that no longer places much emphasis on public transportation as it once did. (There are signs that this is beginning to change recently, but one doubts that it will have any impact on the poorer migrant workers for a while.)

The parents left their children to be cared for by their grandmother, a simple woman who tends to the fields each day. Her conversation with her wards revolves around the need to study harder so that they will avoid her fate and that of her parents.

That advice is lost on Qin Zhang who drops out of high school and comes to work in the same city as her parents, but at another shop. It is obvious that they have no influence on her, having left her as an infant to go off to work in a factory. Before long Qin Zhang quits her factory job and goes to work as a bar maid in a disco. We see her and the other menial workers singing a song about how “the customer is always right”, led by their boss. It is a perfect illustration of how Maoist authoritarianism has been appropriated by the new bourgeoisie to keep the workers in line.

When Qin Zhang returns with her parents during the next New Year’s holiday, there is a bitter confrontation between her and her father. After he begins lecturing her about the need to go back to school, she explodes at him, crying out “I don’t give a fuck about what you want.” He becomes outraged by her profanity and disrespect and begins to beat her. She fights back and the two roll around on the floor to the consternation of the rest of the family and the grandmother. Whatever hold Confucian family values had on such people, it is rapidly disappearing under the hammer blows of capitalism. As Karl Marx once said: ” The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

The social relations explored in this documentary have been very much on my mind lately since an article titled China’s Poverty Reduction Gains appeared on the Socialist Feminist blog of Pilipino activist Reihana Mohideen who wrote:

China’s achievements in reducing poverty have been outstanding. From 1978 – when the restructuring of the Chinese economy began — to 2007 the incidence of rural poverty dropped from 30.7 percent in 1978 to 1.6 percent in 2007. The biggest drop took place between 1978 and 1984 when the number of rural poor almost halved, from 250 million in 1978 to 125 million in 1985. During this period the per capita net income of farmers grew at an annual rate 16.5 percent. Urban poverty, measured by an international standard poverty line of US$1 per day, reduced from 31.5% in 1990 to 10.4% in 2005. No other third world country has achieved so much and made such a significant contribution to reducing global poverty, as China has, over this period.

There is no point gainsaying these statistics but one has to do a better job of analyzing their significance or else one will fall into the Thomas Friedman trap. If you look at the example of the family in “Last Train Home”, there can be little doubt that they are a single factoid in the overall equation of upward mobility. By all accounts, the family was on the brink of starvation in rural China and that factory jobs in the export zone provided consumer goods like cell phones and televisions that were never possible before. But at what cost? At the cost of being treated like cattle in a train station? At the cost of seeing a family torn asunder?

There was a reply to Mohideen’s article in Links Magazine by Michael Karadjis who had some relatively minor criticisms of her data but questioned how exceptional China’s performance was:

Third, while China certainly should be congratulated for cutting poverty from 30% to 10% over 1990-2005 (indeed from much higher than 30% if we go back further than 1990), this is not entirely a unique achievement, especially in Southeast Asia. It certainly contrasts fabulously with the only other very large country China is comparable with in size, capitalist India, and indeed with most countries in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. However, countries such as Vietnam, but also capitalist Thailand and Indonesia, have had huge successes in poverty reduction (not to mention the more historically exceptional cases of Taiwan and South Korea). Based on the international standard, Vietnam reduced its poverty rate from over 75% before 1988 to 16% in 2005, probably the world record, and this in a country that in 1990 was in ruins, close to being the poorest country on Earth.

The reduction of poverty in China compared to other countries was also the subject of a November 23rd NY Times article titled Life Expectancy in China Rising Slowly, Despite Economic Surge by David Leonhardt who wrote:

A quick quiz: Which of the following countries has had the smallest increase in life expectancy since 1990 — Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, South Korea or Sudan?

The answer is not war-torn Sudan or tumultuous Pakistan. It isn’t South Korea, which started from a higher level than any of the others. And it isn’t abjectly poor Bangladesh.

It’s China, the great economic success story of the last two decades and the country that inspires fear and envy around the world. Yet when measured on one of most important yardsticks of all, China does not look so impressive.

From 1990 to 2008, life expectancy in China rose 5.1 years, to 73.1, according to a World Bank compilation of United Nations data. Nearly every other big developing country, be it Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia or Iran, had a bigger increase over that span, despite much slower economic growth. Since 2000, most of Western Europe, Australia and Israel, all of which started with higher life expectancy, have also outpaced China.

The moral? Economic growth makes almost any societal problem easier to solve, but growth doesn’t guarantee better lives — or better health — for everyone. That’s been true for centuries. The rate of growth and the kind of growth both matter.

China can sometimes look like the economy of the future, having grown stunningly fast for almost 30 years now, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But it, too, has real problems. Above all, its growth has been uneven. The coast has benefited much more than the interior. Almost everywhere, some aspects of life have improved much more than others.

Whether China can switch to a more balanced form of growth, as its leaders have vowed, will obviously have a big effect on the rest of the global economy. Yet it’s worth remembering that the biggest impact will be on the one-sixth of the world’s population who live in China. And arguably the best example is the fact that the country has grown vastly wealthier but only modestly healthier.

There is an intriguing parallel here to the Industrial Revolution. The eminent economist Richard Easterlin has noted that longevity and health did not improve much when economic growth took off in the early 19th century.

With rising incomes, people could afford better food, clothing and shelter. But they were also exposed to more disease because so many of them were moving to cities. The combined effect appears to have been “stagnation or, at best, mild improvement in life expectancy,” Mr. Easterlin has written.

The Mortality Revolution, as he calls it, did not occur for almost another a century. It depended on relatively cheap investments in public health, like sanitation, and on the spread of scientific methods.

Similarly, in today’s China, many more people have acquired indoor plumbing, heating, air-conditioning or other basics. Other aspects of the boom, however, have pushed in the opposite direction.

As in the Industrial Revolution, many people have left the countryside and poured into crowded cities. Accidents have become common, like the Shanghai fire last week or a series of workplace tragedies in recent months. Obesity is rising. Pollution is terrible.

I recently spent some time in China, and despite everything I’d heard in advance about the pollution, I was still taken aback. The tops of skyscrapers in Beijing can be hard to see from the street. Breathing the smog can feel like having a permanent low-grade sinus infection. For the Chinese, cancer has displaced strokes as the leading cause of death, partly because of pollution, notes Yang Lu of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Leaving aside the matter of measurable qualifiers of well being such as life expectancy, there is another more fundamental question for socialists. The general picture of life in China is one in which the individual has no control over his or her fate, except in the most atomized fashion of “getting ahead” in the individualist, libertarian sense. Not only is it a society in which family ties have been torn asunder, the state has lost the confidence of the masses and operates through a combination of bribery and violence.

In order to understand how such societies operate, there is a need to transcend simple quantifiers such as life expectancy and per capita GDP. If one is to compare China to Europe during the industrial revolution, it is necessary to use the same tools that Friedrich Engels did in Conditions of the Working Class in England. Engels captured the slum life and working conditions of people who had just left the farm in the same way that the family in “Last Train Home” did. This is a fairly representative passage:

But the sacrifices which all this has cost become apparent later. After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realises for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilisation which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others. The very turmoil of the streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels. The hundreds of thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other, are they not all human beings with the same qualities and powers, and with the same interest in being happy? And have they not, in the end, to seek happiness in the same way, by the same means? And still they crowd by one another as though they had nothing in common, nothing to do with one another, and their only agreement is the tacit one, that each keep to his own side of the pavement, so as not to delay the opposing streams of the crowd, while it occurs to no man to honour another with so much as a glance. The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest, becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space. And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow self-seeking, is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.

One has no way of knowing whether Lixin Fan has ever read Engels’s classic but his movie certainly channels its outrage.

Exchange with a NY Times reporter

Filed under: Islamophobia,media,repression — louisproyect @ 5:11 pm



Erik Eckholm

NY Times November 27, 2010
F.B.I. Says Oregon Suspect Planned ‘Grand’ Attack

By COLIN MINER, LIZ ROBBINS and ERIK ECKHOLM

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Somali-born teenager who thought he was detonating a car bomb at a packed Christmas tree-lighting ceremony downtown here was arrested by the authorities on Friday night after federal agents said that they had spent nearly six months setting up a sting operation.

The bomb, which was in a van parked off Pioneer Courthouse Square, was a fake — planted by F.B.I. agents as part of the elaborate sting — but “the threat was very real,” Arthur Balizan, the F.B.I.’s special agent in charge in Oregon, said in a statement released by the Department of Justice. An estimated 10,000 people were at the ceremony on Friday night, the Portland police said.

Mr. Balizan identified the suspect as Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a naturalized United States citizen. He graduated from Westview High School in Beaverton, Ore., a Portland suburb, and had been taking classes at Oregon State in Corvallis until Oct. 6, the university said Saturday.

Mr. Mohamud was charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction. “Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale,” Mr. Balizan said.

“At the same time, I want to reassure the people of this community that, at every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack,” he added.

full article

* * * *

Thank you for your thoughtful letter and your deep insight into who I am, based no doubt on careful reporting.

BTW, proud to be called a hack.

Erik Eckholm

National Correspondent
The New York Times
212 556-8819
________________________________________
From: NYTimes.com [emailus@ms2.lga2.nytimes.com]
Sent: Sunday, November 28, 2010 7:30 AM
To: Eckholm, Erik
Subject: READER MAIL: Erik Eckholm – Entrapment

To: ERIK ECKHOLM

You have received reader mail via nytimes.com. To respond to this reader, simply ‘reply’ to this message.

READER’S NAME:
Louis Proyect

READER’S E-MAIL:
lnp3@panix.com

READER’S MESSAGE:
The thing I can’t figure out is why the FBI never carried out sting operations against the terrorists who were blowing up abortion clinics in the name of Jesus. I imagine that such a question would never trouble a hack like you.

ARTICLE REFERENCED (if any):
Entrapment

November 27, 2010

2010 African Diaspora Film Festival

Filed under: Africa,Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

I first began covering the Annual African Diaspora Film Festival in New York in 2000 and looked forward once again to this year’s event with the highest expectations. After having seen six different films—three fictional and three documentaries–from the 2010 festival, I can state without qualifications that this is New York culture at its pinnacle. For those who have to put up with the cities indignities and growing class differentiation, there are still compelling reasons to live here. The African Diaspora film festival that began yesterday and ends on December 14 is at the top of the list.

Starting with the fictional films, John Kani’s 2009 “Nothing but the Truth” is a stunning departure from “feel good” Hollywood films like Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” or John Boorman’s “In My Country” in which the election of Nelson Mandela assumes messianic proportions.

Kani, regarded as the grandfather of South African theater, wrote, directed and stars in this mixture of family drama and social commentary. He plays Sipho, a sixty-three-year-old librarian who is organizing the funeral for his brother Themba, who had been living in exile in Britain for decades. When he comes to the airport to pick up the body and greet his niece Mandisa, an Oxford educated fashion designer with few ties to the homeland, he is shocked to learn that Themba has been cremated. How can the mourners pay tribute to ashes?

Sipho’s daughter Thando escorts Mandisa around Johannesburg as the funeral approaches, filling her in on life in the new South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is holding its hearings and Mandisa is shocked to discover that one of the racist regime’s top torturers will go free. For his part, Sipho’s disappointments have more to do with being bypassed for a promotion that a post-apartheid society would presumably assure.

John Kani discusses Truth and Reconciliation

In a December 30, 2002 article on the stage version of “Nothing but the Truth” that was playing at Lincoln Center, Kani expressed a view that would become generalized before long:

Mr. Kani says the government deserves much credit for building houses and for bringing electricity and running water to thousands of blacks for the first time. But he says the governing African National Congress must speed the pace of change if it hopes to stay in power.

“We’ve got the right to vote, but what does it mean?” Mr. Kani asked. “People now want to have the right to a job, the right to education, the right to medical services.

The struggle against colonialism in Zimbabwe also receives a conflicted treatment in Ingrid Sinclair’s “Flame”, a 1997 film that tells the story of two teenage girls, Florence and Nyassa, who join ZANU in the early 70s. Florence becomes “Comrade Flame” while Nyassa becomes “Comrade Liberty”.

While Sinclair is certainly no supporter of white rule, the film is nothing like “Battle of Algiers” or other radical anti-colonial films. Instead, it is a feminist critique of male domination in ZANU and the alleged widespread use of rape, represented in “Flame” by Florence being victimized by “Comrade Che”.

Sinclair insists that her screenplay was based on the testimony of numerous female ZANU veterans who were anxious to tell their story. When ZANU officials learned about Sinclair’s goals in making such a film, they did everything in their power to nip it in the bud.

You can find scholarly support for Sinclair’s perspective in Tanya Lyons “Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle”, a 2004 book that was reviewed on H-Humanities by Norma Krieger, who wrote:

While some female ex-combatants found new equality in dressing like their male counterparts and in training alongside them, others voiced resentments at inequalities, especially in not being able to fight in combat inside the country. Lyons argues that ZANU’s response to sexual relations among the combatants was to blame women’s “prostitution” and to try to control their behavior through party-certified marriages. Moreover, she asserts that the party opposed the use of contraceptives among women because it wanted women fighters to produce the next generation of soldiers and it feared fueling “prostitution”. Pregnant female fighters and those with small children were confined to separate camps, which they experienced as punishment since they wanted to return to their military duties.

I have little reason to doubt this version of events seen through the prism of ZANU’s recent history, one in which the rights of all Zimbabweans—men and women alike—is given short shrift. That being said, this is not a movie that begins to tell the story of one of the great chapters in African liberation in modern times. The struggle to emancipate “Rhodesia” involved the mass participation of rural villages of the kind that Florence and Nyassa came from. It is unfortunate that Sinclair became so preoccupied with gender issues that she neglected to give any kind of weight to class issues. That being said, “Flame” is an important film and stirring in many ways. Despite their oppression as women, the two lead characters also find emancipation as fighters and political leaders during the course of the movie.

Despite the reputation that France enjoyed in the 1950s as a kind of racially tolerant escape from Jim Crow America, there is evidence that Black GI’s were often the victims of discrimination by the French, particularly in the countryside, and by their own white officers. “Prohibited Love”, a French made-for-TV movie directed by Philippe Niang, the son of a Senagelese father and French mother, takes place in a farming village in the final days of WWII, when German soldiers have just been driven off.

When the Americans arrive, a deal is struck with a local farmer. The army will pay him for the use of his land, where a company of mostly Black GI’s will bivouac. He has no particular animosity toward Blacks, but his wife views them with disgust. Even worse, their daughter Blanche would like to see them all dead since they had a hand in killing her German soldier lover.

One of the Black GI’s is Gary Larochelle, a French-speaking Louisianan who is immediately attracted to Louise, the wife of the farmer’s son, a French soldier who she has not seen for years. Louise fends off his advances at first, but soon discovers that she is attracted to him. This “prohibited love” forms the conflict that divides the farmer’s family against itself as well as the local townsmen who make few distinctions between the Nazis and the Americans now constituted as an occupying force.

“Prohibited Love” is as much of a corrective to anodynes about the “Greatest Generation” as John Kani’s “Nothing but the Truth” is to something like “Invictus”. The notion that American GI’s were being hailed as great liberators has been challenged in a number of places. A June 5th 2009 BBC article titled Revisionists challenge D-Day story jibes with Niang’s screenplay, even if it dwells on rape rather than the consensual sex depicted in the movie:

For example, Cpl LF Roker of the Highland Light Infantry is quoted in another new book about the civilian impact of the campaign, Liberation, The Bitter Road to Freedom, by William Hitchcock.

“It was rather a shock to find we were not welcomed ecstatically as liberators by the local people, as we were told we should be… They saw us as bringers of destruction and pain,” Mr Roker wrote in his diary.

In his book, Mr Hitchcock raises another issue that rarely features in euphoric folk-memories of liberation: Allied looting, and worse.

“The theft and looting of Normandy households and farmsteads by liberating soldiers began on June 6 and never stopped during the entire summer,” he writes.

One woman – from the town of Colombieres – is quoted as saying that “the enthusiasm for the liberators is diminishing. They are looting… everything, and going into houses everywhere on the pretext of looking for Germans.”

Even more feared, of course, was the crime of rape – and here too the true picture has arguably been expunged from popular memory.

According to American historian J Robert Lilly, there were around 3,500 rapes by American servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war.

“The evidence shows that sexual violence against women in liberated France was common,” writes Mr Hitchcock.

“It also shows that black soldiers convicted of such awful acts received very severe punishments, while white soldiers received lighter sentences.”

Of 29 soldiers executed for rape by the US military authorities, 25 were black – though African-Americans did not represent nearly so high a proportion of convictions.

Some of the same issues about gender and power treated in the two fiction films above are explored in the documentary “Umoja, the Village where Men are Forbidden”, a 2008 documentary directed by Jean-Marc Sainclair and Jean Crousillac. It tells the story of Samburu women in Kenya who were raped by British soldiers and then shunned by their husbands in a further violation of their rights. Rebecca Lolosoli, a Samburu, decided to establish a village for these women and their children where they could live in peace and economic self-sufficiency. Despite occasional violent attacks by Samburu men, the village has thrived and serves as a testimony to the power of women’s liberation in a traditionally male-dominated society.

As the title implies, “Africa is a Woman’s Name” is another feminist documentary. It is directed by Wanjiru Kinyanjui, a Kenyan, Bridget Pickering, a Namibian by birth who was executive director of Hotel Rwanda, and the aforementioned Ingrid Sinclair. It is in three parts and recounts the efforts of a schoolteacher, a lawyer and a businesswoman in transforming the lives of women in contemporary Africa.

Finally, there is the remarkable tale told in “Hearing Radmilla”. Radmilla Cody became Miss Navaho Nation despite having an African-American father. Turned over to her Navaho grandmother as an infant by her 18-year-old mother, she was raised in traditional ways and even became fluent in the Navaho language.

Her fluency in the language and her singing prowess, including in traditional native songs, made her the first choice among all the contestants. Afterwards, there was a backlash with Navaho men writing angry letters to a native newspaper about her not having Navaho “blood”. This fixation on blood quantum has played a very negative role in indigenous society ever since the reservation system was established. In vying for handouts from the white ruling class, native peoples have used this criterion far more often than talent or leadership qualities that Radmilla Cody had in spades.

Unfortunately for her, a dependent relationship on an African-American drug dealer who pressured her and beat her into becoming part of his illegal activities alienated her even further. She eventually found redemption as a Navaho and as fully realized independent woman, just as the protagonists in the other documentaries discussed here.

Scheduling information for the 2010 African Diaspora Film Festival can be found here: http://nyadiff.org/

November 25, 2010

The brimonidine tartrate and timolol maleate solution

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

Brimonidine tartrate and timolol maleate are the active ingredients of Combigan, the first medication I have taken since April of this year that appears to have reduced the pressure in my right eye to normal levels.

In April I had laser surgery to create a kind of drainage for the fluids in both eyes that were being blocked because of closed angle glaucoma. An angle by the way is not the term from geometry. Instead, it is the part of the eye from which normal evacuation of interocular fluids normally takes place. There is something called open angle glaucoma, a more common malady. Whichever one you suffer from, the same medication is prescribed.

I started off with Xalatan in April to try to bring down the pressure in my right eye, which was at 26 after the surgery. The left eye was at 21, close to the top of the acceptable range. Of course, my left eye has a macular pucker so it can’t be used for reading, etc. If I ever lost the use of my right eye, I’d be up shit’s creek.

After 3 months of Xalatan, I went in for a check-up and was disappointed to learn that the pressure was at 27. The doctor then switched me to Lumigan, another very commonly used medication and asked me to come in for a checkup after six weeks. That took place about 3 weeks ago. The first words out of her mouth after checking my pressure were “That’s not good.” It turned out that the pressure was back up to 37, the same reading that prompted her to schedule what amounted to emergency laser surgery.

So she switched me to Combigan. I couldn’t help shaking the feeling that I was doomed. Maybe I was resistant to medication? In early October, a documentary called Going Blind came to NY, which the NY Times described as follows:

In “Going Blind,” a documentary pegged to his own glaucoma, Joseph Lovett seems largely interested in convincing himself that losing his sight won’t be so bad. That leaves the film feeling less like a hard look at the fears and challenges of being visually impaired and more like a cheerleading exercise.

Mr. Lovett, an experienced producer of television documentaries, chronicles his failing vision and various eye operations, but the bulk of the film is devoted to what are essentially mini-features on six other people who have lost all or part of their sight to various diseases — or, in one case, to a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Occasionally these segments offer interesting tidbits on what life is like for the sight-impaired. One man, for instance, explains how the simple shutting off of an outdoor fountain in a familiar spot disorients him, because the sound of the fountain helped him navigate the sidewalks. Even more occasionally, the vignettes get at something resembling real emotion.

“It’s not the cane itself, it’s what it represents,” a woman says, explaining her reluctance to use one. “It’s telling people that I’m blind.”

I couldn’t work up the nerve to go see the movie. Despite all the assurances I had received from my doctor that medication would allow me to retain the vision in both eyes, this director had slowly been losing eyesight over a 20-year period.

Frankly, despite being addicted to Google, I can barely work up the courage to research glaucoma. I am afraid to turn up something discouraging. The review of the movie left me in a funk that has stuck with pretty much up to the time of my last check-up when I was sure I would be told that the Combigan had made no difference. Indeed, I was afraid that the doctor would report a reading in the 40s. When you get to the 50s or 60s, that’s when permanent damage to the nerves begins to take place.

On Tuesday afternoon the doctor had good news. The pressure had gone down to 16 in my right eye. It had not been that low since my trials and tribulations had begun. I have no idea what it will be when I return for a checkup in mid-February but at least there is what appears to be reversal of a frightening trend.

Over the past 8 months, I have more medical appointments than in the previous 20 years combined. It has shaken me to my foundations but I guess that’s what you have to expect when you get to be 65. This is the first time in my life when I have experienced serious health problems and I guess I have to get used to it. Fortunately, I have a pretty good insurance plan at Columbia University and am fortunate enough to be living in N.Y. where there are lots of very good doctors available through my plan.

But the experience has really made me appreciate what it might mean to be without medical insurance or in a country where health care is not provided by the state or by employer insurance plans. Glaucoma impacts African-Americans especially who have a genetic predisposition to the illness as well as suffering the economic hardships that make regular checkups unaffordable.

Something has to change.

November 24, 2010

A guest post on Timothy Snyder

Filed under: anti-Communism,Fascism,ussr,war — louisproyect @ 3:02 pm

This originally appeared as comments by Dermokrat under my last post titled An American “Revisionist” Historian.  He buttresses his arguments with passages from Jacques Pauwel’s essential Myth of the Good War. Since it a major contribution to the discussion, I wanted to make sure that it received the widest attention.

Hi Louis,

I actually posted Kotz’s article on my facebook a while back, although not because of his refutation of Snyder, but because of his worthy condemnation of fanatic, anti-Soviet Baltic nationalism. Nevertheless, one of my friends took me to task over Katz’s argument vis-a-vis Snyder. I didn’t actually read the response by Snyder before I posted Katz’s commentary. My friend quickly pointed out that Snyder notes in his rebuttal:

I didn’t and don’t equate Hitler and Stalin. Katz puts ‘somewhat equal’ in quotations, but I never use any such phrase. Zuroff says that I ‘posit’ that the Soviet Union was Nazi Germany; I most certainly do no such thing. What I try to do, in the 28 September article and generally, is understand what it means for a vast east European territory and several east European peoples to have been touched by both Nazi and Soviet power. Despite some critical remarks of Bloodlands in an otherwise perceptive and generous (London) Times review of 26 September, which perhaps Zuroff and Katz read, I don’t equate Stalin with Hitler in that book either. Instead, I try to reckon with the crimes that both regimes committed in the lands between Berlin and Moscow, where 14 million people, including more than 5 million Jews, were killed in the 12 years that both Hitler and Stalin were in power.

He then pointed out that Katz undermines his own argument that Snyder fails to distinguish between the two when he writes:

And finally, it is not possible to ignore Snyder’s certainty that ‘Jews could not help but see the return of Soviet power as a liberation. Soviet policy was not especially friendly to Jews, but it was obviously better than a Holocaust.’

Indeed, in his rejoinder, Snyder writes: “I am not saying that [Soviet atrocities] were equivalent to the Holocaust. I am saying that a number of German and Soviet policies meet the standard of genocide.”

I pointed out to my friend that having read Snyder’s original piece and his response, I agreed that both Katz and Zuroff had somewhat exaggerated or misinterpreted Snyder’s arguments in the original article (excerpted from Bloodlands), but nevertheless make valid points re: the kind of historiography to which you refer at the beginning of your article (the kind that Baltic nationalists have adopted wholesale).

All that said, however, Snyder’s arguments about Soviet “genocide” are still unconvincing. To be sure, Stalin was a totalitarian monster who presided over mass slaughter of many innocent people, but it is difficult to claim that he was committing “genocide” as it is conventionally understood; i.e. “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.” While the Ukrainian nationalists and American/British anti-communists have long claimed that Stalin intentionally engineered the famine to punish Ukraine or even exterminate Ukrainians, there is simply no evidence for this. The last most serious inquiry into this question was carried out by Terry Martin in his Affirmative Action Empire. After exhaustively examining the documentary record (including all of Stalin’s correspondence with Kaganovich and Molotov during those years), Martin concluded:

The Poliburo’s development of a national interpretation of their grain requisitions crisis in late 1932 helps explain both the pattern of terror and the role of the national factor during the 1932-1933 famine. The 1932-1933 terror campaign consisted of both a grain requisitions terror, whose primary target was the peasantry, both Russian and non-Russian, and a nationalities terror, whose primary target was Ukraine and subsequently Belorussia. The grain requisitions terror was the final and decisive culmination of a campaign begun in 1927-1928 to extract the maximum possible amount from a hostile peasantry. As such, its primary targets were the grain-producing regions of Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Lower Volga, though no grain-producing regions escaped the 1932-1933 grain requisitions terror entirely. Nationality was of minimal importance in this campaign. The famine was not an intentional act of genocide specifically targeting the Ukrainian nation (quote on p.305 but see 282-307 for the full explanation).

The famine is still to be blamed on Stalin and his henchmen, since it stemmed from the policy of forced collectivization, which in turn was pursued not out of a kind of Marxist orthodoxy (as anti-communists like to claim), but in order to facilitate grain exports to Europe to acquire the hard currency needed for industrialization (this was inspired by Preobrazhensky’s socialist primitive accumulation – see Kagarlitskii’s Empire of the Periphery for a good summary). In this way, the Ukraine/Kuban famine was very much like what the British did in India as documented so well by Mike Davis in his Late Victorian Holocausts (ironically, this would have been a nice comparative study for Conquest back when he was writing Harvest of Sorrow!). At any rate, the famine caused by collectivization and terror requisitions was indeed a small ‘h’ holocaust of sorts, but it was not genocide.

Moving on, Snyder writes: “It is hard not to see the Soviet “Polish Operation” of 1937-38 as genocidal: Polish fathers were shot, Polish mothers sent to Kazakhstan, and Polish children left in orphanages where they would lose their Polish identity. As more than 100,000 innocent people were killed on the spurious grounds that theirs was a disloyal ethnicity…”

There’s a lot to unpack here. Unfortunately, it was not just the Poles who were subjected to this. Many “diaspora” groups living along Soviet borders were subjected to this kind of treatment – basically any national minority groups that had a “national homeland” outside the USSR, especially those living along the borders, were considered suspect. Like the Polish and Germans, many members of these “alien” communities were forcibly relocated and/or arrested and shot. The Poles and Germans living in the Ukrainian borderlands were particularly targeted because they had been the most prone to insurrection during collectivization and the years that followed. In fact, throughout the early 30s many Polish and German rebels did make appeals to the German and Polish government for aid and hoped they would intervene against the Soviet government on their behalf. Obviously this resistance was blowback from the collectivization campaign, and change in Soviet policy should be compared with what Terry Martin terms “the Piedmont Principle” of 1920s, whereby the Soviets hoped these border communities would become a sort of showcase for their national comrades living across the border.

Unsurprisingly Soviet officialdom’s views changed rapidly in the post-collectivization years – a period that also coincided with a decidedly hostile international relations environment, where the Nazis and Polish governments made no secret of their desire to do the Soviets in (see Affirmative Action, passim and Craig Nation’s Black Earth, Red Star, pp. 74-112; and Hirsch’ Empire of Nations, pp. 273-308 for more details on these things). Ironically, Soviet nationality policy in the Ukrainian borderlands was a victim of its own success, which led to the paradoxical situation where the Soviets officially promoted all the trappings of national life (national education, newspapers, theater, etc), but then accused local officials in charge of these things of promoting nationalism. This situation is not irrelevant to understanding what happened in the region in the runup to the war. While Snyder is right that Poles were increasingly being deported from the borderlands in the mid to late 30s simply for being Poles (and not for “class” reasons), not all the Polish communities living in the border regions were affected. As Kate Brown points out in her study of Soviet nationalities policy in the Ukrainian borderlands:

Some commentators on Soviet history have interpreted the deportation of national minorities as a plan ordered from Moscow and motivated in large part by a growing ethnic xenophobia and Russian chauvinism, led in large part Joseph Stalin (himself, of course, member of a minority far from mainstream Russia). The 1935-36 deportations, however, did not emanate from a racial or biological understanding of the deported population. Despite the order to deport specifically Poles and Germans, security agents did not deport ALL Germans and Poles in the borderlands, but only Germans and Poles with suspicious biographies or personal connections. Instead of an encompassing racial conception of nationality, national categories informed existing political and class categories to determine who should go and who should stay. About half of Soviet Poles and Germans were deemed dangerous for the border zone, but the other half was cleared to stay. In 1936, to be Polish or German was still dependent on one’s actions, biography and personal connections…Border cleansing was not a universal policy. As mentioned above, Poles and Germans were not shipped from Belorussia at this time although its profile was very similar to that of Ukraine: both had mixed populations, a long history of a leading Polish elite, a substantial number of German colonists and other scattered groups. Both bordered on Polish territory and had volatile and rebellious records during the 1930 collectivization campaign. The major difference between the two territories is that Ukraine established its national minority program in 1925, while the Dzerzhinskii Polish Region in Belorussia was formed in 1932. The people in Belorussia had only a few years to live in nationalized space and create national behavior. Rather than a universal plan from Moscow to deport all diaspora borderland populations, this disparity suggests that policy grew out of a more specific connection to how land and populations were configured in various territories of the Soviet Union (A Biography of No Place, p. 147).

This probably explains why there were still roughly 200,000 Poles living in these borderlands in 1959, all still granted certain “national rights” – albeit highly circumscribed by that point, as they were for all national minorities. Yet if we believe Snyder, the Soviets engaged in a campaign with the Nazis to eliminate all educated Polish people in a bid to undermine their continued existence as a people (the Soviets then went on to maintain a Polish state after WWII – thoroughly Stalinized, of course, but that’s not the point).

By the way, it’s worth noting that the United States adopted a similar policy of deportation and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Although it did not, to my knowledge, include summary executions, many peoples lives were ruined due to the fact that they were forcibly uprooted and sent to the camps. Does Snyder consider this American policy as genocidal?

Lastly, we should keep in mind that, despite Stalin’s seemingly best attempts to deform the sciences in the USSR, the Soviet Union – in stark contrast to Germany and much of the West at that time – was adamantly opposed to eugenics and race science. In fact they broke all research ties with Germany once such a science took root in German universities. According to Francine Hirsch:

…in 1931 the Soviet regime prevailed on its anthropologists and ethnographers to disprove German race theories. In particular, the Soviet experts were to wage a war against biological determinism: to prove to audiences at home and abroad that ‘all narodnosti can develop and flourish’ and that ‘there is no basis whatsoever for supposing the existence of some sort of racial or biological factors’ that would make it impossible for certain peoples to participate in ‘socialist construction’. Soviet ethnographers and anthropologists, most of whom were themselves troubled about the German turn to ‘Nordic race science’, and none of whom wanted to be accused of anti-Soviet tendencies, set out to refute German claims in scientific terms and prove that the Marxist vision of historical development – grounded in sociohistorical, not sociobiological, laws – was the correct one (empire of nations, p. 232).

These genocide equivalencies, however, were not Snyder’s principle claim. It was that the Soviets enabled Hitler’s Holocaust(s):

We all agree that Hitler had the horrible aspiration to eliminate the Jews from Europe. But how exactly was Hitler to do so in summer 1939, with fewer than 3% of European Jews under his control? Hitler needed war to eliminate the Jews, and it was Stalin who helped him to begin that war. As I said in my original article, we don’t know how the war would have proceeded without the treaty on borders and friendship; what we do know is that the war as it actually happened, with all of its atrocities, began with a German-Soviet alliance. What if the Soviets had simply opted for neutrality in 1939? How exactly would the Germans have overcome the British blockade without Soviet grain? Or bombed London without Soviet oil? Or won their lightening victory in France without security in the rear?

I think we can all agree that this is really cute. As the German historian Bernd Martin pointed out “Hitler’s fundamental political conviction, his self-imposed duty from the moment he had embarked on his political career was the eradication of Bolshevism [which he defined as a Jewish conspiracy].” This was understood by Western elites. As Jacques Pauwels points out:

Everywhere in the industrialized world there were statesmen, corporate leaders, press barons, and other influential personalities who encouraged him openly or discreetly to realize his great anti-Soviet ambition. In the United States, Nazi Germany was praised as a bulwark against communism and Hitler was encouraged to use the might of Germany to destroy the Soviet Union by people such as Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt’s predecessor in the White House (The Myth of the Good War, p. 44).

Pauwels points out, though, that “It was primarily in Europe itself that the social and political elites expected great anti-Soviet achievements of Hitler. In Great Britain, for example, the eastern ambitions of the Fuhrer enjoyed at an early stage the approval of respectable and influential politicians, such as Lloyd George, Lord Halifax, Lord Astor and his circle of friends, the so called “Cliveden Set”…The Duke of Windsor even traveled to Berchtesgardern to have tea with Hitler…and encouraged him in his ambition to attack Russia: ‘[Hitler] made me realize that Red Russia [sic] was the only enemy, and that Great Britain and all of Europe had an interest in encouraging Germany to march against the east and to crush communism once and for all…I thought that we ourselves would be able to watch as the Nazis and the Reds would fight each other (p.45).’”

This explains the so called appeasement strategy. Per Pauwels:

And so it came to the infamous “appeasement” policy, the theme of a brilliant study by two Canadian historians…The quintessence of this policy was as follows: Great Britain and France ignored Stalin’s proposals for international cooperation against Hitler, and sought by means of all kinds of diplomatic contortions and spectacular concessions to stimulate Hitler’s anti-Soviet ambitions and to facilitate their realization. This policy reached its nadir in the Munich Pact of 1938, whereby Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to the Fuhrer as a kind of springboard for military aggression in the direction of Moscow. But Hitler ultimately demanded a higher price than the British and the French were prepared to pay, and this led in the summer of 1939 to a crisis over Poland. Stalin, who understood the true objectives of appeasement, took advantage of the opportunity and made a deal of his own with the German dictator in order to gain not only precious time but also glacis – a strategically important space – in Eastern Europe, without which the USSR would almost certainly not have survived the Nazi onslaught in 1941. Hitler himself was prepared to deal with his arch-enemy because he felt cheated by London and Paris, who refused him Poland. And so the appeasement policy of Great Britain and France collapsed in dismal failure, first because the USSR did not disappear from the face of the earth, and second, because after a short blitzkrieg in Poland, Nazi Germany would attack those who had hoped to manipulate in order to rid the earth of communism. The so-called ironies of history can be extremely cruel indeed (pp.45-46).

Even after the debacle in Poland, however, the French and British kept hoping Hitler would turn his guns on Russia. Pauwels writes, “The French and British governments and high commands busily hatched all sorts of plans of attack during the winter of 1939-1940, not against Germany, but against the USSR, for example in the form of an operation from the Middle East against the oil fields of Baku (p. 48). Similarly, “after Germany’s victory in Poland…the American ambassador in Berlin, Hugh R. Wilson, expressed the hope that the British and French would see fit to resolve their inconvenient conflict with Germany, so that the Fuhrer would finally have an opportunity to crush the Bolshevik experiment of the Soviets for the benefit of all ‘Western civilization’ (p.48).

Moreover, Snyder makes a big deal of the Soviet’s assistance to Germany in the form of trade, but this was marginal compared to the assistance the Reich received from America’s business elite (who, by the way, were no friend of the Jew), some of whom were actually receiving medals of honor from the Germany government (such as Mooney of GM, Henry Ford and Watson of IBM). On American business’ invaluable assistance to Hitler, Pauwels writes:

Without trucks, tanks, planes and other equipment supplied by the German subsidiaries of Ford and GM, and without the large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber as well as diesel oil, lubricating oil, and other types of fuel shipped by Texaco and Standard Oil via Spanish ports, the German air and land forces would not have found it so easy to defeat their adversaries in 1939 and 1940. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and wartime armament minister, would later state that without certain kinds of synthetic fuel made by US firms, Hitler ‘would have never considered invading Poland’. The American historian Bradford Snell agrees, alluding to the controversial role played by Swiss banks during the war, he comments that “the Nazis could have attacked Poland and Russia without the Swiss banks, but not without General Motors.’ Hitler’s military successes were based on a new and extremely mobile form of warfare, the blitzkrieg, consisting of extremely swift and highly synchronized attacks by air and by land. But without the aforementioned American support and without state of the art communications and information technology provided by ITT and IBM, the Fuhrer could only have dreamed of blitzkrieg and blitzsiege (p.37).

Oh by the way, re: Churchill, Johann Hari reviewed a new book that examines his unsavory role in maintaining the British Empire:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/books/review/Hari-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, an instant of doubt. He realized that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead that they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill.”

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, writing: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages.”

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When the first concentration camps were built in South Africa, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering” possible. At least 115,000 people were swept into them and 14,000 died, but he wrote only of his “irritation that kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men.” Later, he boasted of his experiences. “That was before war degenerated,” he said. “It was great fun galloping about.”

After being elected to Parliament in 1900, he demanded a rolling program of more conquests, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” As war secretary and then colonial secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tans on Ireland’s Catholics, to burn homes and beat civilians. When the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq, he said: “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” It “would spread a lively terror.” (Strangely, Toye doesn’t quote this.)

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody in Britain think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as standing at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.

November 22, 2010

An American “revisionist” historian

Filed under: Academia,Fascism,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 7:39 pm


Professor Timothy Snyder, breathtakingly stupid and reactionary

I am not sure how many of my readers are aware of this trend, but there is a “revisionist” school of German historiography that tends to minimize Hitler’s crimes and maximize Stalin’s, to the point of designating Stalin as one of Hitler’s main inspirations. I first stumbled across this trend when reviewing the movie Downfall, about Hitler’s last days. I wrote:

Nolte and other such “revisionists” were frequent contributors to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a conservative daily newspaper that Joachim Fest [Downfall was based on his book] edited. When Jurgen Habermas and other left-leaning scholars lashed out at the neoconservatives, Fest came to their defense. In the August 29, 1986 FAS, he laid out an argument that is central to the revisionist school, namely that Hitler was driven to extremes by the Russian Revolution. In other words, Nazism was a defensive although excessive measure.

Fest quotes a 1918 speech by Martyn Latsis, a Latvian Jew who was a Cheka official: “We are in the process of exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class.” From this quote, Fest concludes that the Bolsheviks were determined to carry out a genocide on a class basis rather than a race basis. Since his remarks are generally not available in the original but from a version that appeared in Harrison Salisbury’s “Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions, 1905-1917, we don’t really know what Latsis was getting at. It is far more likely that he meant that their property had to be liquidated on a class basis, rather than exterminated as individuals. Of course, for the rich, this is a fate worth death.

Timothy Snyder, a bright young thing in the Yale history department (don’t let your children grow up to be ivy leaguers), echoes Joachim Fest’s sentiments in a Guardian article titled The fatal fact of the Nazi-Soviet pact:

As for the Soviets, Rafal Lemkin, who gave us the term “genocide”, saw Stalin’s application of famine and terror to Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s as a “classic case” of genocide. During the campaign to collectivise Soviet agriculture, Stalin spoke of “liquidating the kulaks as a class”. Soviet agitators send to enforce collectivisation spoke of beating prosperous peasants “into soap”.

In a highly touted (in the bourgeois press) and newly published tome titled Bloodlands, Snyder advances the thesis of a Molotov-Ribbentrop Europe–a carcass devoured by a two-headed Red and Nazi vulture. In a far too generous review of the book in the Nation Magazine, Columbia professor Samuel Moyn writes:

By choosing a geographical approach to how death undid so many “between Hitler and Stalin,” Snyder courts two contending risks. One is that he is simply spelling out on the ground the familiar thesis that totalitarian regimes and despots are uniquely evil. Is it any surprise that in the zone where such titans clashed, and the most massive war in human history took place, there was a lot of civilian carnage? A second risk is that a geographical focus could dislodge the wide variety of explanations historians have offered to put the Holocaust in some sort of context, ones focusing, for example, on the circumstances of the war, notably its economics, and food policy behind the lines, or on the imperial aspirations of the contenders in a common space. Snyder avoids the second risk by integrating many of the existing arguments into his own.

It turns out that Moyn is not the only person to have found fault with Snyder’s methodology (I, of course, do not count except among the sans culottes). The Guardian article cited above was in response to two of Snyder’s critics, Efraim Zuroff and Dovid Katz. Amazingly enough, Efraim Zuroff, who is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, made an eloquent point about the folly of equating Molotov and Ribbentrop:

Timothy Snyder’s article stresses the significance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of 23 August 1939 as the primary facilitator of the second world war, and therefore attributes major responsibility for the atrocities of the war to the Soviet Union. Such a reading of the historical events which preceded the outbreak of the war appears ostensibly plausible, and would, as Snyder suggests, prompt a reassessment of the generally-accepted western narrative, which, while not blind to Soviet misdeeds during the war, exclusively blames Nazi Germany for the horrific and unprecedented loss of human life during the second world war.

The problem with this analysis, however, is that it completely isolates the signing of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact and ignores the broader context behind the outbreak of the second world war and its continuation. Thus, it is clear that there was a tremendous disparity in the motives of the two countries that signed the pact. While the Nazis did so as an integral part of their grand strategy to conquer most of Europe to obtain their goal of Lebensraum (living space) for the superior Aryan race, the Soviets were basically forced into signing the agreement when their talks with Britain and France regarding the possibility of forming an alliance against Nazi Germany broke down, and when Poland, understandably, refused to allow Soviet trops to march through its territory. Given the disarray in which the Red Army found itself in the wake of the purges of the late 1930s, it was patently clear, moreover, that at this point, the Soviet Union would have definitely been defeated in any military confrontation with the Germans and their allies. So, Stalin had no other viable option but to sign the treaty, which at least would allow him to gain the time necessary to try to prepare the Red Army for the inevitable clash with the Wehrmacht.

Dovid Katz’s credentials are just as impeccable as Zuroff’s. He is the chief analyst at the Litvak Studies Institute and editor of the HolocaustInTheBaltics website and formerly professor of Judaic studies at Vilnius University and research director at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, which he founded. He too refuses to demonize the USSR:

The steps taken are eerily Orwellian in a well-planned sequence (but not, let it be stressed, a conspiracy: all of it was very public to anyone interested enough to follow events here in the Baltic region). The notion “genocide” was redefined by legislation to include deportation, imprisonment, loss of freedom and much more. This, then, made it possible (in local terms – necessary) to argue that, with the new definition in play, Nazi and Soviet crimes were obviously “equal”. The “slight inconvenience” of the Holocaust then fades away naturally into the new grand paradigm of double genocide in which everybody was killing everybody, in the ultimate postmodernist mush.

Not to mention that the (understandably) Russia-fearing countries that were under Soviet yoke for so long are also not “uninterested” in a big new stick with which they hope to beat Russia down in western eyes to the status of a genocidal equivalent-to-the-Nazis regime. In other words, the policy is being driven not only by ultra-nationalism (“We have a perfect history”), antisemitism (“the Jews were basically communists and got what they deserve”), and anti-Russianism (“they are the same as Hitler”), but by a perceived set of current geopolitical concerns that should not (whether right or wrong) be converting history into a one-opinion discipline with the foregone conclusions being dictated by the state’s apparatchiks.

Here in Lithuania, the powers-that-be have carried all this to absurdity. From 2006 onward, prosecutors, who had the most abysmal record of pursuing Nazi war criminals deported by the United States after extensive legal proceedings, somehow managed to find the energy to pursue Jewish survivors of the ghettos who fled into the forests to join the anti-Nazi resistance. There were no British or American troops in these parts, and yes, the Soviets were the only hope for the tiny number of escapees of the Nazi death machine during the years 1941-45 when the United States, Great Britain and the USSR led the allied coalition against Hitler. None of these Holocaust survivors was charged with anything specific – because there is nothing to charge them with. These were rather campaigns to change history, part of an expensive, extensive effort, slowly but surely, to change the narrative of history to suit the local ultra-nationalists.

One wonders how a place like Yale University can possibly hope to turn out ideological custodians of the capitalist system when the task is assigned to bumbling idiots like Timothy Snyder. A genuine intellectual is always forced to contend with ideas that challenge his or her own at the most fundamental level.

If I were sitting on Professor Snyder’s dissertation committee, I would pose a couple of questions to him.

First, I would ask why he decided not to include the 21 invaded “democratic” armies in the Russian Civil War that came to the aid of the Whites, who were arguably the first fascist movement of the 20th century. By most reckonings, including that from arch-anti-Communist Rudy Rummel, that invasion cost the lives of over 9 million Russian civilians. So why limit yourself to Ribbentrop and Molotov? Why not characterize it as Molotov-Ribbentrop-Woodrow Wilson Europe?

I would also ask why he appears so little interested in the holocaust of 1943 precipitated by that great friend of democracy, namely Winston Churchill. The Bengal Famine caused the death by starvation of 3 million Indians. Was their deaths somehow forgivable because the British enjoyed the right to vote for Mr. Churchill?

But you can get the full dimensions of Professor Snyder’s stupidity from an op-ed piece he wrote in the NY Times on November 16th (but only in the IHT edition). Titled No, They’re Not a ‘Hitler’ or a ‘Stalin’, Snyder rehashes the kind of garbage I heard in Junior High School social studies classes:

Communism has never once arisen — not in the U.S.S.R., not in China, not in Cambodia, not in Cuba, not in Vietnam, not in North Korea — as the cumulative result of social reforms. It was always brought by violent revolution carried out by a fanatical minority, usually during or right after war. Once in power, committed revolutionaries sought to transform agrarian countries such as Russia or China into modern industrial states by oppressing peasants and applying political terror.

The history of the welfare state is actually part of the history of the struggle against communism. After World War II, wise Europeans and Americans supported social reforms precisely as a way to hinder the spread of Soviet power. The Red Army had brought communism to Eastern Europe; the question was how to prevent its further spread to the nations liberated by the Western powers.

Thank goodness nothing like this ever happened in the United States or Britain. In the United States, industrial society came into existence largely through the benign efforts of southern cotton planters who sought nothing but the happiness of their chattel slaves.

With respect to Britain, there’s that nasty little business called “primitive accumulation” with its enclosure acts, its child labor, its poorhouses and all the rest. Of course, none of this counts because the very foundations of Yale University rest on the ill-gotten gains of the cotton planters and the enclosure acts.

Bayrampaşa Lawsuit and December 19th Massacre In Prisons

Filed under: repression,Turkey — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

In 19th of December 2000, 28 prisoners and convicts died in the operation called “Return to Life”, which was carried out simultaneously against 20 prisons. A total number of 122 people died and over 600 people became permanently disabled in the ongoing process and during the death fasts. Within the scope of this operation, 12 people died and 55 people became permanently incapacitated alone in Bayrampaşa Prison. In operation, the phosphor bombs were used. Many arrested and convicted people who had been under the aegis of the government died in the operation so-called “Return to Life”.

In the course of this operation, two soldiers, Nurettin Kurt, specialist sergeant in Ümraniye Closed Prison and Mustafa Mutlu, in Çanakkale Closed Prison, also died. Primarily, it was declared that Nurettin Kurt was shot by the convicts who returned fire to the calls to surrender. However a weapon with “high kinetic energy” caused the wounding that led to death, showed an autopsy that was performed over Kurt. There was not any long barreled weapon considered to have a “high kinetic energy” among five weapons which were claimed to be taken out from Ümraniye Prison. Besides it was identified that the weapon in question was a long barreled weapon which did not belong to the convicts and it was indicated that the weapon leading to the death of Kurt was not among the weapons asserted to be obtained from the convicts. In the report, it was remarked that the weapon leading to the death might be only AK-47 or G-3 infantry rifle and it became definite that Kurt died because of the soldiers` weapon.

It become evident that the explanation made by official authorities about the operation and many news in the press were lies and fake as well. Minister of Justice Minister the current period, Hikmet Sami Türk said that “the prisoners killed by soldiers engaged in combat with soldiers” in his speech and he made a claim that some deaths occurred because of the conflict between prisoners. According to the reports of the forensic science experts, it was exposed minister Türk’s statements (“they fired shots with Kalashnikov”) about the operation in BayrampaĢa Prison were groundless. The report says that, the bullets were not fired from the wards and the gas bomb was used over the lethal doze.

It was identified that the female prisoners in BayrampaĢa Closed Prison in C-1 ward, died in fire resulted from tear gasses and nerve bombs used by security guards. Still, according to the forensic medicine reports, there was no armed resistance. The inquiry in the wards showed that these places were completely burnt but there were no arms inside. In addition, according to the expert reports there were intense gunshots from the administrative parts of the prisons towards the areas where the inmates were located but none from the inmates’ part to the soldiers’ location. In the report, it was written that in the C-1 ward where 12 people died, 5 of the six female prisoners were burnt to death and one of them died due to gas poisoning. The report said that “in C-1 ward 35 grams of bomb material was found” and emphasized that the 20 grams of the active matter of the bombs used in the operation can kill a person in 38 minutes.

Once again in the same ward, apart from the already exploded tens of gas bombs, 45 unexploded bombs were found. It was recorded that also shots were fired towards the C-14 ward and C-15 ward and many tear bombs and gas bombs were thrown inside all the it was written on the bombs “Do not use indoors” and “Throw the bomb to the area where there are not any people and burning materials”. The claim that the convicts killed each other were disproved by the forensic report identified that the prisoners were killed by shots fired from long distance. The report, also, found out that some evidences were obfuscated and some contradictions exist inside the records of the gendarmerie.

The only (concluded) suit for damages about the operation was the one against the Ministry of Domestic Affairs and the Ministry of Justice filed by the family of Murat Ördekçi who was killed by the soldiers in BayrampaĢa Prison. Istanbul 2nd Administrative Court decided that there should be a compensation for the operation. First decision was as the following: “There was a violation of the right to live. The family of the dead prisoner should be paid 109 billion Turkish Liras.”

A lawsuit was filed against the newspaper called Radikal because it published the Forensic Medicine reports of the “Return to Life” operation. The managing editor of Radikal Newspaper, Hasan Çakkalkurt and his lawyer Köksal Bayraktar were acquitted in the trials that took place in Istanbul State Security Court No. 5. In 2004, by the decision of the JDP government and the Minister of State, Cemil Çiçek, a “Medal of Merit” was given to Ali Suat Ertosun who was one of the ideological architects of the F-type Prisons [The concept of “F-Type” stands for the high security isolation prisons t.n.] and was then the General Director of Prisons and Detention Houses. After the operation, a suit was filed against the gendarme officers about the events in Çanakkale and Ümraniye. While the case about Ümraniye operation still continues, the gendarme officers on trial due to Çanakkale operation were acquitted.

Read full http://www.marxmail.org/Bayrampasa.pdf

November 21, 2010

United Red Army; Carlos; The Baader-Meinhof Complex

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 11:00 pm

This week I downloaded the short version of Carlos from IFC movies on demand. I should add that is long in comparison to most films (2 hours, 45 minutes) but half the length of the original version shown at the IFC Theater. It was originally a television miniseries on Canal +, a premium cable station in France. I decided that there was just not enough there for me to sit in a movie theater for 5 ½ hours. In fact, it was a chore to sit through the short version since I detest “exemplary actions” of the sort that made Carlos infamous.

As dessert, I watched The Baader-Meinhof Complex on my computer courtesy of Netflix, another bloated effort coming in at 2 ½ hours. I now have the dubious distinction of having endured three movies about 1970s terrorism, the first being the 2007 United Red Army (Jitsuroku rengô sekigun), another marathon (190 minute) semi-documentary (actors re-enact real historical events) about the group formed through the fusion of two of Japan’s most notorious terrorist organizations in the early 1970s, the Red Army Faction and the Revolutionary Left Faction. (Unfortunately, the movie is not available from Netflix but can be downloaded from bittorrent.)

Director Koji Wakamatsu made the film in an effort to humanize and possibly redeem the United Red Army (URA), an almost an impossible task. It begins by setting the context for an ultraleft development in the student left in Japan-not that different from what occurred everywhere else. Frustration over the inability of mass demonstrations, even those incorporating “exemplary” physical confrontations with the cops, to end the war led a segment of the movement to opt for Narodnik type tactics, but in the name of “Marxism-Leninism”, and Maoism more specifically.

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, such students were encouraged to use violence against their opponents on the left. Since the Red Guards were encouraged by Mao, who was ostensibly the world’s greatest revolutionist, to beat their rivals into submission, why not do it at places like the University of Tokyo?

After the URA decides to train itself in guerrilla warfare techniques, several dozen of its key members go up to a large mountainside shack where they spend their time in nearby woods and fields marching or taking target practice. In the evenings there are “self-critique” sessions in which members beat their breasts for one inadequacy or another.

When they are deemed to be inadequate self-critics by the cult leader Tsuneo Mori, who is given to exclamatory rants about the need to become “true communists”, other members take turns beating them in the face and stomach, or even stabbing them. Fourteen members of the small group died as a result of this kind of violence.

Eventually the cops found out about their location and pursued them to a ski resort near Karuizawa and laid siege to the heavily fortified lodge from February 19, 1972 to February 28, 1972. The film describes the confrontation in dramatic and convincing detail. So repugnant are the URA activists that I almost found myself cheering the cops, despite my long-standing socialist convictions.

Japan was so shocked by the behavior of the URA that the left was put on the defensive for a number of years. Although I am no expert on Japanese politics, I do have to wonder if the weakness (non-existence, almost) of the Japanese left is the price paid for the stupidity of the URA.

Carlos has the same kind of lurid fascination as United Red Army. It documents the rise of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez to the top ranks of world terrorism in the 1970s, culminating in the spectacular attack on an OPEC meeting in Vienna on December 22, 1975 and the eventual flight to Algiers with 22 hostages.

Ilich was named after Vladimir Ilich Lenin, while his two brothers were named Lenin and Vladimir. This was the bright idea of their father, a Venezuelan lawyer and CP’er. He received the nom de guerre Carlos from by Bassam Abu-Sharif, a top official in the PFLP. This was turned into “Carlos the Jackal” when cops discovered Frederick Forsyth’s spy novel Day of the Jackal at one of his hideouts. It turns out that the book belonged to the guy who had put Carlos up there.

Carlos is played by Édgar Ramírez, a Venezuelan actor with typical movie star features. I think it would have been far more realistic if he had been played by someone as unpleasantly plump as the real life Carlos but that probably would have undercut the real goal of the film which is to make Carlos “sexy” even if repellent.

As head man of the operation sponsored by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as well as being fiercely independent-minded in general, Carlos took it upon himself to strike a deal with the Algerians. In exchange for $20 million put up presumably by the Saudis, the hostages would be released.

When PFLP Wadie Haddad (Ahmad Kaabour) discovers that Carlos has not killed the hostages and has taken money instead, he is expelled from the movement. In the film, Haddad is a slogan-spouting cardboard figure just as you might expect. Carlos appears relatively more reasonable insofar as he is not ready to commit suicide for the movement.

Of course, it becomes almost inevitable that his career path develops in a mercenary direction given the decline of terrorism internationally in the 1980s. The last hour or so of the film depicts Carlos wandering from country to country trying to ingratiate himself with one “rogue state” or another as either a provider of goods and services or as an instructor in the fine arts of urban guerrilla warfare—or terrorism to be more accurate. In Khartoum, his last residence before being kidnapped and taken to France to stand trial, he is seen as a slatternly, overweight and decadent figure. One imagines that there is some kind of moral to this movie but I couldn’t detect it.

Olivier Assayas, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dan Franck, directed. In an interview on lead actor Edgar Ramirez’s website, Assayas tries to establish his leftist bona fides:

I lived in the 70s. I was a teenager. At that time it was hard not being involved in this great movement that wanted to transform the world. I also participated, without adhering to the Maoist ideas.

Somewhere along the line, Assayas dumped these “great movement” ideas overboard, at least when it comes to a defining issue of our day. He is asked about the BDS movement and Israel’s response to the Gaza humanitarian flotilla. His reply:

It’s terrible. Such is the simplification of the problems of the world today. Some find that there are other truths that the media. People are deceived. This boycott is ridiculous, in general, the incursion of politics, the simplification in the film. This is the same as saying that “it is political theater,” while it is more often social cinema.

Whatever else you might think about Carlos, he at least understood the justice of the Palestinian cause.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex has exactly the same approach as Carlos. The film studiously avoids any kind of obvious moralizing and prefers to allow the main characters to hoist themselves on their own petard, especially the awful Andreas Baader, a vile sexist who routinely refers to women as “bitches” and “cunts”. Played by Moritz Bleibtreu as a kind of charismatic street person in the style of Charles Manson, he says not a single intelligent thing throughout the film. Next to him, Carlos is Leon Trotsky.

Stefan Aust wrote the screenplay based on his 2008 book. Aust was actually part of Ulrike Meinhof’s social set back in the 1970s and even helped retrieve her daughters from a Palestinian orphanage after she had abandoned the kids in favor of the “cause”, an act that was not unheard of in the American Trotskyist movement. From 1994 to 2008 Aust was editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, a rancid newsweekly in the Time Magazine mold. Given this background, you can imagine that Aust was capable of supplying just the sort of lurid detail that will keep the reader or movie audience glued to their seats. The movie is one long string of bank robberies, bombings, kidnappings and murders punctuated by members of the Red Army Faction mouthing revolutionary jargon.

Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) was much more cultured and accomplished than others in the RAF. Early on in the film, we see her and her husband at a nude beach with their two daughters, a sign that they were part of the freethinking middle class. At a garden party, she is asked to read an open letter to the Shah of Iran’s wife on the occasion of their visit to Germany that will appear in her husband’s newspaper, where she is a regular contributor. It makes many excellent points and reminds us of what a loss it is to our movement when someone like that gets sidetracked into terrorism.

There are even less politics in this film than there are in Carlos. The dialog consists nearly entirely of discussions about how their next bloody adventure will be carried out, punctuated by accusations against each other for lacking revolutionary principles or courage. Baader is the worst, heaping invective on the members of the RAF on the slightest offense.

As someone who is two years younger than the late Andreas Baader, who committed suicide in Stammheim prison in 1977, and four years older than Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, now serving a life sentence in France, and who shares some of their motivations, I cannot help but reflect on how differently we interpreted our duty to humanity.

Carlos in particular appears not that far removed from the urban guerrillas of Latin America, who thought in their own misguided way that they were following in the footsteps of Che Guevara. Indeed, Carlos wore a beret to the OPEC meeting in 1977. Even Hugo Chavez was moved to say some kind words about his fellow Venezuelan as the Guardian reported last November:

Ramírez Sánchez, the son of a wealthy Venezuelan Marxist, gained notoriety in the 70s and 80s as the mastermind behind a series of bombings, killings and kidnappings. He teamed up with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and West Germany’s Red Army Faction.

French agents abducted him from his villa near Khartoum in 1994. He was trussed up in a sack and spirited back to Paris, where now, aged 60, he is serving a life sentence for the 1975 murders of two French secret agents and a Lebanese alleged informant.

“They accuse him of being a terrorist, but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter,” Chávez said during a televised speech on Friday.

The president has been a strong critic of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, which he has termed “genocide”. Earlier this year he expelled the Israeli ambassador and broke off relations.

Without putting too much stock in Chavez’s off-the-cuff remarks, one must say that the left really has to get this “revolutionary fighter” business straightened out since it continues to be a problem. The frustration and moral outrage of a young person like Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez forced them to substitute themselves for the masses. They hoped that bold actions would somehow changes the relationship of class forces internationally so that the Palestinians and other oppressed people might get a better deal. Unfortunately, there is little doubt that such actions helped to isolate Palestinians just as suicide bombings did in the most recent uprising.

In the final analysis, the only way that imperialism can be stopped in its tracks is by the massive intervention of the working class internationally. Mass actions such as longshoremen refusing to unload Israeli goods will have a lot more impact than any bomb set off by a commando.

This work, however, is not easy. Getting the labor movement and academia to mobilize against Israeli apartheid requires breaking down ideological habits that are rooted in the experience of WWII. Fortunately, the Israeli state is acting as a battering ram against its own long-term interests, just as happens inevitably when an ultranationalist bourgeois government thinks that it accountable to nobody.

Columbia students reenact checkpoint oppression

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 2:03 pm

November 20, 2010

The new Nixon?

Filed under: Afghanistan,Obama — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

Anderson Cooper Compares Obama to Nixon, Spotlights Declining Approval Ratings

 

* * * *

Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia
President Richard M. Nixon
April 30, 1970

Good evening my fellow Americans:

Ten days ago, in my report to the Nation on Vietnam, I announced a decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam.

At that time, I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.

Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression in all these areas, and particularly in Cambodia.

After full consultation with the National Security Council, Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams, and my other advisers, I have concluded that the actions of the enemy in the last 10 days clearly endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam now and would constitute an unacceptable risk to those who will be there after withdrawal of another 150,000.

To protect our men who are in Vietnam and to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization programs, I have concluded that the time has come for action.

full: http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/nixon430.htm

* * * *

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/19/AR2010111906268.html

U.S. wants to widen area in Pakistan where it can operate drones
By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 12:25 AM

ISLAMABAD – The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents’ continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.

Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban.

The disagreement over the scope of the drone program underscores broader tensions between the United States and Pakistan, wary allies that are increasingly pointing fingers at one another over the rising levels of insurgent violence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Senior Pakistani officials expressed resentment over what they described as misplaced U.S. pressure to do more, saying the United States has not controlled the Afghan side of the border, is preoccupied by arbitrary military deadlines and has little regard for Pakistan’s internal security problems.

“You expect us to open the skies for anything that you can fly,” said a high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official, who described the Quetta request as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty. “In which country can you do that?”

U.S. officials confirmed the request for expanded drone flights. They cited concern that Quetta functions not only as a sanctuary for Taliban leaders but also as a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to Taliban forces inside Afghanistan.

“If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out,” a senior NATO military official said.

The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has accelerated dramatically in recent months, with 47 attacks recorded since the beginning of September, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes. By contrast, there were 45 strikes in the first five years of the drone program.

But Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight “boxes” over the country’s tribal belt but not other provinces, including Baluchistan, which encompasses Quetta.

“They want to increase the size of the boxes, they want to relocate the boxes,” a second Pakistani intelligence official said of the latest U.S. requests. “I don’t think we are going to go any further.”

He and others spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the clandestine nature of a program that neither government will publicly acknowledge.

Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash. Unlike the semi-autonomous tribal territories, Baluchistan is considered a core part of Pakistan.

U.S. officials have long suspected there are other reasons for Islamabad’s aversion, including concern that the drones might be used to conduct surveillance of Pakistani nuclear weapons facilities in Baluchistan.

In interviews in Islamabad, senior Pakistani officials voiced a mix of appreciation and apprehension over the U.S. role in the region.

The high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official said the CIA-ISI relationship is stronger than at any times since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that the two spy services carry out joint operations “almost on a daily basis.”

“I wish [our] countries understood each other the way the CIA and ISI understand each other,” the official said. But he also traced Pakistan’s most acute problems, including an epidemic of militant violence, to two decisions by the government to collaborate with the United States.

Using the ISI to funnel CIA money and arms to mujaheddin fighters in the 1980s helped oust the Soviets from Afghanistan, the official said, but also made Pakistan a breeding ground for militant groups.

Similarly, Pakistan’s cooperation since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been key to the capture of al-Qaeda operatives and the success of the drone campaign. But it has inflamed radical elements in the country and made Islamabad a target of terrorrist attacks.

“We’d not have been here if we had not supported the Afghan jihad, if we had not supported [the response to] 9/11,” the official said, adding that it was “our fault. We should have stood up.”

Barring the CIA from flying drones over Quetta, the official said, is one area in which Pakistan is now taking a stand.

In other areas, CIA-ISI cooperation has deepened. The agencies have carried out more than 100 joint operations in the past 18 months, including raids that have led to the capture of high-ranking figures including Mullah Barader, the Taliban’s former military chief.

The Pakistani intelligence official said the operations have been “mainly focused on Quetta.” Teams based there rely on sophisticated surveillance technology and eavesdropping equipment provided by the CIA. When a raid or capture is attempted, the ISI is in the lead.

The aim is “to capture or arrest people based on intel primarily provided by Americans,” the Pakistani intelligence official said. The effort has been underway for a year, the official said, but “now the intensity is much higher.”

Nevertheless, U.S. and Pakistani officials acknowledged that they have no high-profile arrests or other successes to show for their efforts. The NATO military official said there had been “intelligence-led” operations against Taliban targets in Quetta in recent months but described them as “small scale” in nature.

The two sides disagree sharply over the importance of the Quetta Shura, the leadership council led by Mullah Mohammed Omar that presides over the Afghan Taliban. Some senior Pakistani officials refuse to use the term “Quetta shura,” calling it a U.S. construct designed to embarrass Pakistan.

“I’m not denying the individual presence of members” of the Taliban in or near Quetta, a senior Pakistani military official said. “But to create the impression there is a body micromanaging the affairs of the Afghan Taliban . . . is very far-fetched.”

The push to expand the drone strikes has come up repeatedly in recent months, Pakistani officials said. The United States has also urged Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan, a redoubt for militant groups including al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, considered the most lethal foe of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials ruled out a sweep anytime soon, saying the country’s military is still consolidating its hold on territory in Swat and South Waziristan, where tens of thousands of residents were displaced during operations to oust militants last year.

The senior Pakistani military official said U.S. expectations have little to do with Islamabad’s own national security calculations.

“You have timelines of November elections and July x’11 drawdowns – you’re looking for short-term gains,” the official said, referring to President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July. “Your short-term gains should not be our long-term pain.”

Correspondents Karin Brulliard in Islamabad and Joshua Partlow in Kabul contributed to this report.

 

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