Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 31, 2012

Syed Ibne Hasan 1954 – 2012

Filed under: obituary,pakistan — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

Syed Ibne Hasan: In Memoriam

Ibne Hasan
1954 – 2012

Syed  Ibne Hasan was a true inspiration in the continuing struggle for a better world. Hasan was an Associate Professor at Government Postgraduate Islamia College  in Gujranwala, Pakistan as well as an integral member of the Marxists Internet Archive Collective, building and directing a number of non-English Archives as well many English-language sections.

With the assistance of Imtiaz Hussain, Ibne Hasan published the first-ever Urdu translation of Marx’s Capital in 2006. Unlike any other previous translation of Marx in any language, this translation was first published free to the public domain in electronic form on the Internet. The same year, I was fortunate to work closely with Hasan in creating the Bhagat Singh Internet Archive for MIA.When I informed him that an online source was unwilling to provide me with permission to include Singh’s seminal work “Why I am an Atheist” in our fledgling archive, Hasan arranged for a new,original translation of the work from the original Gurmukhi text to Urdu, the latter of which was then translated to English by Hasan himself. With his indispensable help, we ultimately created a new edition of this important work which we subsequently shared on the Internet, copyright free for all to reproduce and share. Hasan also distributed books, CDs, and DVDs to students and workers throughout South Asia. In 2008, the administrators of MIA honored Hasan with a special award.

Hasan was an expert on the music of South Asia. We shared an appreciation for the Golden Age of Bollywood and provided me with hundreds of songs that he painstakingly transferred from his collection of rare 78 RPM records. He would often translate names or lyrics from Hindi movie songs at my request, sharing his perspective and interpretations on the words and melodies.

Farewell, dear friend. Though the world would benefit from many, many men like you, there will never be another Syed Ibne Hasan. Μάιος η μνήμη του είναι αιώνιος.

– Mike Bessler, 27 January 2012


Below are some articles and comments by Ibne Hasan that were posted on our old website. Despite the fact that he wrote perfect English, he always asked me to proofread his work for errors since the language was not his mother tongue. In the passages below, I have made only a handful of very minor changes.


An open letter from Pakistan   18 October 2005

Written in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated parts of northern Pakistan in late 2005, I was one of a handful of original recipients of this “open letter” from Hasan. He later permitted me to share it on the Internet through my blog.


I went to ‘Baagh’, a city 60 miles from Muzaffar Abad to visit a colleague who lost 130 members of his family. The city is reduced to rubble. A pungent smell of human corpses is felt all around. The people say that at least 50 thousand people have died in one city alone. The total number must be well above 200, 000. Thousands of trucks with relief goods are arriving here from all over Pakistan. In fact in every street and on every road common people are collecting these items and then bringing them to the quake hit areas by themselves. No one believes the government. No common man is contributing to the “President’s Relief Fund”. In spite of this huge effort on the part of the public, relief has not reached far-flung areas. Everywhere there are looters who stop the trucks and take away everything. I observed that all those who have survived are haunted by death; many have died; many are dying every moment. They cannot weep at any death that occurs for tears have dried in their eyes. Many have lost their senses. I met an educated man who has lost many relatives. He would go to the place where dead bodies are kept and lie down among decaying corpses. His friends had to drag him back every time. He recites this poem again and again:

Let me move to a place where I have no friend, no, nor any companion
No one who is kind; no one who says sympatric words to me.
Let me make a house which has no walls,
No neighbour, no one who speaks my language.
And if I fall ill, there is no one to comfort me in distress,
And if I die, there is no one to shed tears over my dead body!

At first I could not understand this cynical attitude and extreme depression. Soon I realised that all feel humiliated. A bureaucratic system of distributing relief goods has been evolved to reduce the people to a kind of beggary. One has to be either a looter or a beggar in order to get food or clothing. Nobody from the government or army reached them on the first two days. They were busy in “Margala Towers”, one of the most expensive residential areas in the capital. It is the only building that collapsed in Islamabad because substandard material had been used in the construction of it. Thanks to common people who are trying to reach everyone.

Many will squeeze money and prosperity out of it. The bus owners charge as much fares as they will. The truck fares have risen many times. When shopkeepers observe that you are purchasing clothes or blankets for the quake victims, they rob you. And our generals and bureaucrats and ministers etc, they will be earning millions. Only a tiny part of the aid that is being received from the international community will go to the people. Our Lions will receive the Lion’s share. Only yesterday a brigadier was caught red-handed selling 4 relief trucks. The government is quick to deny it. What a pity! What shame! These traders of religion; the sellers of human shrouds! Deaths of thousands of human beings will bring them billions of money.

This is the tragedy of Pakistan, or perhaps of all under-developed countries. This is, as Marx has commented somewhere, like France of Balzac’s novels, or perhaps worse than that. We are carrying the stinking carcass of feudal ages with all its decadence, moral decay, self-indulgence, corruption, depravity on our shoulders; added to it is all the greed, an intense, inordinate longing for wealth; a covetous desire for money that always comes with the bourgeois society.

This is Pakistan with its culture and civilization which is the fittest place for dictators to rule.

– I.H.

January 30, 2012

Vietnam: An American Holocaust

Filed under: Film,Vietnam — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

Clay Claiborne

Among the handful of blogs I have bookmarked and visit each day is Clay Claiborne’s at Daily Kos. I first got wind of Claiborne’s penetrating analysis when he began taking exception to an “anti-imperialism”  that sided with Qaddafi’s troops against the revolutionary people. I was staggered by the force of his arguments and his willingness to swim against the stream. You can get a flavor of his take on things by reading his latest post on Libya titled “The Current Situation in Libya“, dated January 13th:

Another thing that is becoming clear now is just how little real support Qaddafi had. While there was that one sneak attack against an oil terminal while Qaddafi was still alive, there has been nothing since. The guerilla war by Qaddafi supporters against the revolution has simply failed to materialize, and while wavers of the green flag still have had some freedom to demonstrate openly, as this video illustrates, there just haven’t been very many of them.

For a few days, those nostalgic for Qaddafi took heart at news that a revolt against the government-backed militia in Bani Walid took place under the toppled regime’s green flag but eventually it turned out that there was no support for Qaddafi, even in his erstwhile stronghold. Apparently, the real base of support is among Western leftists who resent those Libyans who had the impudence to rise up and defeat the dictator who worked with the CIA and killed 2000 prisoners at Abu Salim in one fell swoop.

I had always noticed Clay’s description of himself as a filmmaker on his blog profile but had not given it any thought until a comrade urged me to look at his documentary titled “Vietnam: An American Holocaust” that is for sale on his website. I had a chance to view it recently and want to second my comrade’s recommendation. This is a very powerful retelling of the genuinely anti-imperialist narrative of the war in Vietnam and very much worth purchasing for those of a certain age like me who became radicalized in the 1960s by this horrible war as well as by young activists today.

Narrated by Martin Sheen, a long-time progressive activist who played a deranged special forces combatant in “Apocalypse Now”, the film is a shocking reminder of what a criminal enterprise the war on Vietnam was. Using archival footage of madmen like Curtis LeMay, rank-and-file soldiers who turned against the war, and the Vietnamese themselves, it explains why so many young people became enemies of a socio-economic system that could spawn such cruelty. Among the archival footage is Dwight Eisenhower explaining why we were in Vietnam:

If Indochina goes, several things happen right away. The Malayan peninsula, the last little bit of the end hanging on down there, would be scarcely defensible–and tin and tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming. But all India would be outflanked. Burma would certainly, in its weakened condition, be no defense. Now, India is surrounded on that side by the Communist empire. Iran on its left is in a weakened condition. I believe I read in the paper this morning that Mossadegh’s move toward getting rid of his parliament has been supported and of course he was in that move supported by the Tudeh, which is the Communist Party of Iran.

Apparently, the West has still not gotten used to Iran breaking free from the rule of its oil companies as the threats over its right to develop nuclear power continue to mount day by day.

The film would be ideal for high school and college classes as an introduction to a war that still exercises a kind of restraint on American power referred to as the “Vietnam syndrome”. Indeed, it was the war in Iraq that inspired Clay to make the film since it was obvious at the time that the war would take a terrible toll on all its victims, the GI’s falling victim to IED’s as well as the Iraqis facing a new holocaust.

In exercising my usual due diligence in finding out about a film’s director, I discovered a fascinating interview with Clay Claiborne, who is an African-American and three years younger than me. You can both listen to it and read the transcript at the American Lives web pages at the U. of Washington in St. Louis, a school that Clay attended in the 1960s.  Like so many of us whose lives were torn apart by the war in Vietnam, Clay was very much a man of his times.

Asked about some of his “extra-curricular” activities, Clay answered:

I was around, now, I was in St. Louis from the fall of ’66 when I came to school here as a freshman until August of 1970. I was, I did four months in St. Louis County Jail for a demonstration against ROTC, and they paroled me to New Jersey. So, in fact, there was gonna to be a party for me at Left Bank Bookstore when I got out, but when I got out, they took me straight to the airport and put me on a plane, like I was Public Enemy Number One. I couldn’t be trusted loose in Missouri, you know, even for an afternoon. And the attitude in New Jersey was quite different. In New Jersey, my parole officer looked at my record and he said, “You’re a political prisoner. This would have never happened in New Jersey”, you know and he completely left me alone. The only thing I had to see him for was permission to come back to St. Louis, which I did a couple of times under the eyes of the Red Squad. And then a couple years later, I think ’73, ’74, I came back to St. Louis in, no, that was actually 1972, I came back to St. Louis, but by that time, my political work had almost entirely gravitated off campus. Still with a lot of the same people that are here, we formed the Worker Unity Organization and put out a newspaper called On the Line. I worked in ACF, the American Car and Foundry, a boxcar factory. I don’t know if it’s still here or not, was active in the union organization.

I read this and smile. When I reflect on the deeply evil deeds of the men running the American government during the Vietnam War, anybody being described as “public enemy number one” deserves a badge of honor. Like the young people in Germany who formed the White Rose resistance to Hitler during WWII, those who resisted the war in Vietnam constituted the country’s real democratic values. Given the continued willingness of American imperialism to wage war across the planet without even any pretenses of maintaining a “guns and butter” regime, a film like “Vietnam: An American Holocaust” is a very useful reminder of what our fight is all about.

January 29, 2012

Winter Musings

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 11:40 pm

(It is probably obvious to my readers that I do not really agree with this article but I am posting it as a courtesy to an old comrade from the SWP who at least had the foresight to see what a monster Jack Barnes was.)

 “Winter Musings” by Mike Tormey

A few reminiscences of the era covered by Alan Wald in his article “A Winter’s Tale”, focusing on Larry Trainor, Jack Barnes, the SWP, the necessity of a vanguard party, and Wald’s infatuation with “creative Marxism”.

I ran across an old photograph of Larry Trainor the other day while rereading Kropotkin’s book on the Great French Revolution, which was fitting because the picture was taken after the completion of the first 4 hour session of Larry’s class on the French revolution. I remember he closed that session by quoting Danton “Audacity, again audacity, and always audacity” a quote I scribbled later on the back of the photo.There was no better educator of the party youth than Trainor and on a plethora of subjects The French revolution, the history of the Russian revolution, the history of the american labor movement, the revolutionary epoch of 1848 and the first international etc. Primary and secondary source material was suggested and refrenced during his educationals which always had large attendance and vociferous post session discussions. After 30 odd years of building branches in Boston, Buffalo, and Seattle by the early sixties Larry was settling in as an educator and advisor to the young people entering the revolutionary movement. Larry knew it was imperative that the younger generation understand the past, foresee the future, and most importantly prepare for it.

I first met Larry Trainor on a Friday evening in the late summer of 1963, when I dropped in on a Militant Labor Forum. That Friday I was in the Corn Hill bookshop and purchased a first edition of “Laughter in Hell” by Jim Tully, even in 1963 a scarce book. They had a leaflet in the store promoting that days MLF and I decided to attend. I walked from Corn Hill near old Scollay square down Tremont st. to the Boston Common then through to the Public Gardens and picked up Huntington ave. at Copely square. In those days the MLF was on Huntington a few hundred yards beyond Symphony hall. I carried my book into the MLF dropped a dollar in the contribution basket and took a seat in the rear. A minute later a grey haired gent sporting old fashion suspenders sits down and asks me what I’m reading, I show him and off we go into a discussion of Jim Tully, who he is very familiar with, from there we jump to Frank O’conner and his great short story “Guests of the Nation” then proceeding on to the Easter rising and then ” O’casey’s Juno and the Peacock” from which Larry is able to recite several passages. About this time Steve Chase walks in, whom I had met about 10 days before at Boston University. His parents and mine had known each other in the CP USA, although I had not met him before we spoke at BU where he was selling the Militant. He sat down on the other side of Trainor and full introductions were made. After the MLF we adjourned to a local tavern to hoist a few beers, after an hour of chewing the fat Larry asked me what I’m doing on Sunday, as it happened I had tickets to the day game at Fenway park but had no plans after that. He then invited me to supper on Sunday evening at his house and he would meet me at the headquarters on Huntington after the game. I accepted the invite, and walked from Fenway park through the Fens and to the Museum of Fine Arts and down Huntington to the hall where Larry and Gusty were waiting for me. Larry didn’t drive so Gusty had to ferry him around, a task she did not always find agreeable. Yet we proceeded to their abode on 27 Vineland in Brighton without incident. Once we get inside Larry takes me in to his living room and to a large bookcase by the stairs and he then opines “you can tell alot about a person by his library or lack there of” a statement I’ve found to be spot on over the years. I take my first look at Larry’s books, he had a copious amount of volumes by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky including “Wither Russia” in a dust wrapper published by International publishers in 1926, I’m sure the last book by Trotsky they ever published. He also had a wide selection of “proletarian literature”, “The Disinherited” by Jack Conroy, “Somebody in Boots” by Nelson Algren. “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell, “Young Lonnigan” by J.T. Farrell and “Deathship” by B. Traven among others. Although I didn’t notice it at this time he also had an inscribed copy of John Brooks Wheelwright’s first book of poetry “North Atlantic Passage”, which I believe Wheelwrights mother got published in Florence Italy in the 1920’s. I don’t know what ever happened to that volume which today would be worth many thousands at auction. Larry was very friendly with Wheelwright and played a major part in his recruitment out of the Socialist party. Unfortunately Wheelwright was hit by a car and died in 1940 just a scant 3 blocks from where I was born in Boston. I asked Larry what his favorite book of fiction was and he said “War and Peace” hands down. He then went on a 1/2 hour soliloquy on “War and Peace” with special attention to the battle of Austerlitz and its aftermath. He then picked up a volume on an end table next to his chair and stated “This book gives me the greatest comfort and I read from it most evenings”. The volume was the “Correspondence of Marx and Engels” and he could quote from it like a fundamentalist preacher can quote bfrom Leviticus.

Supper that night was a home made lasagna complete with ricotta cheese, a specialty of Gusty. Gusty as it turned out was employed for several years as the chief cook and bottle washer for Alfred Baker Lewis, one of the major leaders of the Socialist party and League for Indusrial Democracy in New England, well known at the time now a footnote at best. As we started eating I noticed Larry was consuming a plate of baked beans with a pair of hot dogs while Gusty and I had the lasagna. I asked if Larry was being punished but no, Gusty remarked he never eats any on my “exotic creations” and only ever eats meat and potatoes and other simple faire. I noticed a copy of “The Feminine Mystique” on the counter and we started a discussion of the book. Betty Friedan had been a UE organizer and writer after WWII until McCarthyism and redbaiting hit the UE and she ran for cover. Gusty thought it was an important book and struck a chord with women. This led us to a discussion on women in society, women workers, and women in the SWP and to another person all but forgotten who played the pivotal role in the political development of Larry Trainor. That was Antoinette Konikow, referred to by Larry as “The Old Lady”. Antoinette Konikow was born in Russia a year before Lenin, she was a member of Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labor Group. She emigrated to the USA in the mid 1890’s and joined the Socialist Labor Party, after the failure of the revolution or 1905 she joined the socialist party. She was in the left wing of the Socialist Party and a founding member of the Communist Party and in fact a delegate to the Chicago convention. During this time she put herslf through college and medical school graduating from Tufts medical school in Medford Mass. She was as well known at the time as Margret Sanger in the movement for birth control. In fact she invented some form of birth control spermicidal opntment. She was invited to the USSR in 1926 to educate both politically and clinically on birth control. Her stay in the USSR was cut short after becoming won over to the ideas of the united opposition. Back in the USA she was expelled from the CPUSA for Trotskyism in 1928 and left with a handful of people. She was close to Martin Abern at that time and joined the Communist League of America.

After supper we adjourned to the living room and had a lively discussion about the trade union movement. Larry wanted to know what my outlook was and how I would proceed given the current state of affairs. I told him I thought the bureacrats of the C.I.O. were in accommodation mode and were becoming more conservative and less combative almost daily. I thought a struggle would emerge between the rank and file and the bureaucrats over maintaing the standard of living and improving real wages which the leadership of the AFL-CIO was unwilling to lead. I thought there were opportunities in the UAW. Steelworkers, IUE especially the Lynn GE where the UE barely lost an election, and even in the ILA where they still had the shape up at Castle Island in Boston. Larry didn’t disagree but pointed out a second dynamic that I had not considered. That manufacturing jobs were on the wane and that trend would continue and the next wave of union organization would be among service workers, food workers, hospital workers, transportation workers, and government workers. He pointed out that this sector would not only continue to grow but would encompass a lot of women and minority workers all of whom would come in with to a situation with sub-standard wages and conditions. He continued that while the service workers were not at the point of production withholding service at the delivery point is powerful. As it turned out Larry was prescient. The last 25 years of my working life was spent at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Almost all of that time I was on the executive board of the local and elected to the negotiating committee and the withholding of train service or the threat helped secure the best contract with wages and benefits in the ATU including a portable retired medical plan that I enjoy today.

Larry felt it was critically important for the student youth entering our ranks to either become workers or thoroughly identify with the working class before joining the SWP and in looking back he was spot on again. As I was leaving the Trainor home that evening Larry gave me a copy of Engels “Ludwig Feurbach and the outcome of classical German philosophy”. He mentioned “its a good introduction to dialectical materialism and we’ll discuss it the next time you come over”. Keep in mind now that I was not yet a member of the SWP nor the YSA and had just met Trainor two days ago. That was the first of over 40 meetings I had at Larry’s house over the next seven years, he truly was the best of his generation as an educator, an agitator or a popularizer of socialist concepts. One of the problems of the SWP was there were not enough Trainor’s.

George Orwell once wrote that “people are always better than we think they are. They are more kind, more loving, more brave and decent. They keep their mouths shut in the torture chambers and go down with decks awash and guns blazing”. Orwell never met Jack Barnes. I joined the YSA the next week and my first assignment was to arrange speaking engagements for Jim Bingham one of the indicted Bloomington students. I arranged a tour that included all the major campuses in the area plus a few local union meetings and even a presentation before the Workmens Circle that was still functioning in Boston at the time. The most interesting time I spent with Jim Bingham was between engagements and his explanation of the history of the YSA in Bloomington. Initially the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) dominated the campus. It was one of the larger YPSL chapters in the country and included Leroy Johnson a member of the I.U. varsity basketball team and Walt Carnahan a member of the I.U. varsity wrestling team. Strangely and almost simultaneously two Fair Play for Cuba committees were formed on the Bloomington campus each with no knowledge of the other. Jim Bingham and Ralph Levitt joined the committee organized by Phil Weigand the other committee was organized by George Shriver. Eventually the two groups merged and Shriver was able to build a large viable YSA that could challenge YPSL and eventually eclipse it, not only did the YSA have Bingham, Levitt, and Morgan, but Bill and Paulann Groninger ,she was I.U. student of the year, Jack Marsh, JerryFoley, Don and Polly Smith, David Fender etc. Jack Barnes in the meantime had built a very successful YSA at Carlton College. Then did some obvious good work in Minneapolis and then in Northwestern and Chicago further building the YSA in the midwest. Make no mistake on a number of levels Jack Barnes did an excellent job of establishing the YSA in the midwest. However, he had no real role in building the most dynamic YSA in the midwest, that of Bloomington. Additionally, Barnes had one obvious weakness he kept a coterie of sycophants around him like vassals around a lord. These vassals consisted of people he recruited at Carlton and Northwestern and all of them seemed to have been granted a most favored nation status. As a group they were C+ in talent but A+ in obsequiousness. Barnes also kept a group of people on his periphery that could be useful to him the way a box of toothpicks is useful to a glutton. Historically, Dick McBride would best represent this bunch of servile tools that hung in Barnes orbit like a group of junior Faust’s seeking alms from Mephistopheles, of the two groups the second was more contemptible.

The Bloomington local was the first to both feel and articulate suspicions of Jack Barnes. Don Smith was the first one to communicate his doubts he felt there “was a taint to Barnes from the beginning” and it manifested itself initially in subtle differences on tactics, strategies, organization, and character. Jim Bingham expressed it as “the guy just gives off a bad vibration”. Unfortunately the leadership of the Bloomington YSA was indicted for sedition in the spring of 1963 and a giant and successful defense case was launched on a national level. I remember speaking to Betsy Barnes and a few of the minions that winter they were trying to educate me on how ultra left the Bloomington local was and how they lacked control and leadership, “if we were down there none of this would have happened”. What Barnes didn’t like was that Levitt, Bingham, and Morgan were on national speaking tours and heroes of the YSA and none of them had much use for Jack Barnes.

After WWII the SWP had almost 2000 members and overwhelmingly workers with functioning fractions in auto,steel, and maritime. I believe at that time the SWP was approaching becoming a vanguard party, for many reasons it did not happen what did happen over the next 20 odd years did not augur well for the SWP. The social composition of the SWP membership started deteriorating from the high water mark in the years following WWII. By the mid 1960’s the social composition of the directing organs of the party both locally and on the national level had also drastically deteriorated. By the end of the 60’s and with the full cooperation and participation of Kerry, Dobbs, Novak, Breitman etc. Barnes had at least six of his minions on the political committee, Betsy Stone, Mary-Alice Waters, Lew Jones, Larry Siegle, Joel Britton, Doug Jenness, and Gus Horowitz who worked closely with Barnes in Chicago was also on and at this time fully enamored with Barnes. I don’t remember the exact date maybe 1967 David Suskind had a television show and on this particular episode he was interviewing the “radical” youth, what they were doing and why, what there program for change was and what were the differences between them. It was a great opportunity to put our program before a national audience. Diedre Griswold was on the show representing Youth Against War and Fascism, someone was there representing Dubois Club,and Suskinds producer wanted someone to represent the YSA. So Barnes sent his minions down one after the other to be interviewed by Suskinds producer he rejected them all. In desperation Barnes asked Ralph Levitt to go interview, he of course was accepted, Suskinds producer asking Ralph “why did you send me all those vapid dolts”? The amazing thing is it took Suskinds producer 20 minutes to figure out the worth of Barnes vassals, it took Tom Kerry more than 20 years.

Major political differences didn’t manifest themselves until the summer of 1970, between convention years at Oberlin, where Barnes and company sped up their journey on the treadmill to oblivion. They asserted that the present radicalization was the biggest, deepest, broadest, radicalization of the century and furthermore, was the most threatening to the ruling class. They listed the anti-war movement, Black movement, Chicano movement, and feminism and abortion rights as proof positive of there biggest, deepest, broadest, most threatening theory. The working class was not mentioned, nor its relative quiescence, nor the lack of class consciousness among the workers. The class struggle became past tense. It was against this fatuous nonsense that the POT was formed. At the 1971 SWP convention Barnes even expanded on the biggest, deepest, broadest, radicalization by imbuing it with a permanence and ever deepening quality. The POT recognizing the deterioration of the working class composition of the SWP as a whole and proposed some modest demands; to send non student comrades into industry where feasible and to orient to a class perspective. During the debates it seemed like the majority believed that the coming revolution would be made by some amalgam of Black and Chicano militants, feminists, homosexuals, and people that marched in the anti-war demonstrations, it was truly a circus. Barnes report carried by 90% compared to 10% for the POT.

The only old time member of the SWP that supported the POT was Larry Trainor. The Brietmans, the Lovells, the Winesteins, etc.supported Barnes right down the line. Of course i take a small degree of solace in that those old timers who lined up behind Barnes in the early 70,s belatedly saw the error of their ways in the early 80’s. When they finally tried to take a stand against Barnes they were mowed down like Eton boys at Paschendale. I’m only sorry Larry didn’t get to see it, although he knew it was coming. I foolishly thought the POT would have several years to operate and over time we would become more homogeneous and the correctness of our position be more obvious. The POT wasn’t a homogeneous tendency and had only about to 15% workers at the time. Barnes was not going to let the POT “co-exist” and led an all out faction fight against us from which we were not able to survive.

There were also divisions within the POT itself the essence of which is contained on page 7 of Wald’s piece “A Winters Tale”, namely he asserts that a major flaw in the POT was it was tied to the older SWP proletarian tradition of the party and in that it was backward looking and therefore was too much in the frame work of an outmoded form of politics. Wald was wrong then and he is still wrong now. That was our strength, the proletarian traditions of the SWP were built on Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. Marxism has three parts : Philosophy where Marx took Hegel’s dialectic casting out its idealism and turning it over as as a theory of dialectical materialism, which when applied to society became a theory of historical materialism. In economics Marxism is based on the theory of value as labor and then he worked out the theory of surplus value and the laws of accumulation of capital analyzing both the structure and evolutionary functioning of capitalism. In politics he grasped the principles of class struggle and developed a thesis leading to a new system of society, that of course is communism attained by the working class carrying out its historic mission and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Simply put classes are bound up with particular historic phases in the development of production, the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that the emancipation of the working class is a task for the working class itself.

What I share with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Cannon, and Trainor is an abiding faith in the working class to carry out its historic mission. That is the part of the looking back to the tradition of earlier SWP I embrace. Barnes and his retinue never had faith in the working class to carry out its mission. By the same token the same can be said about that long list of “creative Marxists and leaders of “contemporary’ Trotskyist thought Wald thinks so much of namely Eagleton, Anderson, Rowbotham, Jameson, Althusser, Wood, Mitchell, and lets not forget Tariq Ali who last I heard was off stumping for John Kerry for president. Those people are not creative Marxists at all but left pragmatists that is pragmatists covered with a patina of Marxism which becomes a substitute philosophy for Marxism among intellectuals who operate on the fringes of the workers movement. This left pragmatism is not even new Sidney Hook espoused it 75 years ago when he attempted to harmonize pragmatism with Marxism see “Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx” by Hook, Wald most likely has a copy. So if they have no faith in the working class then these left pragmatists have to look for another road to travel, to get to socialism, not to much different than Barnes in 1971, look at the roads traveled by creative thinkers of “contemporary Trotskyist thought” Maoism, Titoism, Ben Bella, Castro, guerrilla warfare, Black nationalism, Grenada, Sandinistas, feminism, homosexuals, etc. Substitutionism and opportunism can be the by-products traveling down these roads. One thing certain among these “creative Marxists” they do not believe in the inevitability of the dictatorship of the proletariat and they want nothing to do with a Leninist combat party capable of leading the working class to seize government power in open combat. Oh, no that is “an outmoded form of politics”. The revolution of 1905 started in Jan. with Father Gapon at the head of the Petersburg workers, by Oct. leading the Petersburg workers was the elected council of workers deputies the Soviet. From Oct. 13-Dec.3, the Soviet became an organ of public authority, when the Soviet held authoritative power it made use of it; when the power was in the hands of the military or monarchy the Soviet fought to obtain it. The Soviet became an organization whose purpose was to fight for revolutionary power. In 1905 the executive committee of the Soviets had been created from a strike wave which the conscious workers led, in Feb. 1917 due to the revolt of the army after the strike waves started by the International Women’s Day demonstration, the February revolution was victorious before the workers created the Soviets. Immediately the Soviets started functioning as an organ of public authority by occupying the state bank, the treasury, the mint, printing offices etc. with revolutionary guards. At this time the Mensheviks and SR’s were the overwhelmingly leading voices in the Soviets with the Bolsheviks of Feb-March becoming the left flank of “revolutionary Democracy”. Lenin changes all this on April 3-4. Lenin excoriates Pravda (Stalin, Kamenev, & Molotov) for consolidationism with the “defensists”. “The proletarian revolution is imminent, we give no countenance to the provisional government, we don’t need a parliamentary republic, we don’t need bourgeois democracy, the only government we need is the Soviet of workers, soldiers, & peasant deputies”. The proletariat did not seize power in Feb. because the Bolshevik party was not equal to its objective task and could not prevent the “compromisers from expropriating the masses politically for the benefit of the bourgeoisie”. As we know, Lenin presented the April theses which the executive committee of the k party opposed including Kamanev, Rykov, Stalin, Tomsky, and Zinoviev. Supporting Lenin were the Vyborg workers and the Kronstadt sailors. From this time until the actual seizure of power in Oct. there was a division in the Bolshevik party with Lenin & Trotsky heading one group and Kamanev, Zinoviev, Stalin, & Rykov the other. Sukhanov qoutes a naval officer who took part in the Bolshevik party conference on April 4 “Ilyich laid down a Rubicon between the tactics of yesterday and today”. This division was in many ways similar to the division between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks before the Mensheviks joined the Government.

What does it all mean today, Lenin defined our age as the age of war and revolution, he also pointed out that a new social system of planned economy based on nationalized property with a state monopoly of foreign trade can not co-exist with imperialist states for any length of time in the end one or the other must triumph.

However, it is not the end; the class struggle of workers in the capitalist countries goes on and must inevitably culminate in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialist society. Today world capitalism is in deep trouble not only in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland other obvious places but in the USA itself. The National debt is over 15 trillion dollars, the real unemployment figure is approaching 20%, what these numbers express is a degradation of the living standards of workers and the “middle class” and the complete pauperization of the unemployed, the under employed, and in fact the entire underprivileged population. All this while the now famous 1% utilize the crisis to grab an even greater share of the nations wealth. Now we must go back to Marx not Alan Wald’s “creative” Marxists but the man himself and take note “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself, a seminal thought. By absorbing this we can see the future and best prepare for it. Faith in the working class to carry out its historic mission must be as strong as ever. What exact form it will take we do not know the workers when the IWW called in 1905 did not move, despite some episodic success by 1929 the IWW was moribund. Less than 3 million of a work force of 35 million were organized and many of them in the old craft unions. For the vast majority of workers if they knew unionism it was through company unions, but by 1946 there were 2 million CIO workers with little union experience all on strike at the same time. The next step will be the big one the political education of the American workers and that education may come fast as conditions continue to deteriorate. Wald closes his essay “A Winter’s Tale” with a search to discover wisdom. I would suggest you have to long been searching for it in the wrong place. Maybe you and the devotees of “creative” Marxism should look back to “older SWP proletarian tradition you reject on page 7 of your essay. You could start by learning from Larry Trainor a man who stood head and shoulders above Breitman, Novak, Dobbs, Kerry, and all of his generation. Start with the educationals Larry delivered in the 60’s some of which you can hear on the internet and hopefully you can glean some kernels of unadulterated Marxism to help you on your journey toward wisdom!

Mike Tormey, Fort Pierce Florida

January 27, 2012

Come Back, Africa

Filed under: Film,South Africa — louisproyect @ 11:58 pm

Starting a one-week run tonight at the Film Forum in New York, a new 35 mm restoration of Lionel Rogosin’s “Come Back, Africa” is a truly special event. Made in apartheid South Africa in 1959, it is the first film to lift up a rock and expose the racist system to the light of day.

In defiance of the prevailing Cold War conformity and the Hollywood film industry’s assembly-line production of schlock, Rogosin became a guerrilla fighter using a Bolex camera rather than a machine gun. He had pledged to resist racism wherever he saw it and apartheid South Africa was about as tempting a target as could be imagined.

The National Party had won the elections in 1948 and instituted the system that was finally abolished with the legalization of the ANC and Nelson Mandela’s presidency. But in 1959 the system was in full bloom. Just a year after Rogosin and his tiny crew wrapped up production, the Sharpeville Massacre took the lives of 69 peaceful protesters. It was a reflection of the reactionary mood of Cold War America that he found it virtually impossible to book the film in theaters. Fortunately, his family wealth enabled him to buy a theater in New York where, paraphrasing A.J. Liebling, he acted on the precept: “Freedom of the motion picture is guaranteed only to those who own a theater.” That theater was named the Bleecker Street Cinema, a temple of fine art beloved by everybody who attended it over the decades until its demise.

“Come Back, Africa” is a mixture of documentary and fiction inspired respectively by two of Rogosin’s idols, Robert J. Flaherty and Italian neo-realism. Using a non-professional cast, Rogosin sought to tell the story of the Black working class whose lives had been destroyed by a system that was symbolized above all by the pass law.

The main character is Zachariah (Zachariah Mgabi), who has been forced to seek for work in Johannesburg after famine strikes his native KwaZulu. The film opens with crowds of whites and Blacks on the streets of Johannesburg going about their business filmed on location by Rogosin. The class differences are manifested by their dress. The whites are in business suits and dresses and the Blacks are dressed shabbily. Zachariah, who we spot among the crowd, is wearing a threadbare suit and a weather-beaten fedora.

His first stop is a gold mine, where sympathetic co-workers tell him that without a permit, he will be fired. His only recourse is to look for work in the informal sector as a “house boy”. In a scene that is highly reminiscent of Ousmane Sembene’s “Black Girl”, a film about the super-exploitation of a Senegalese maid by a French couple, he goes to work for a brutally racist white woman who insists on calling him “Jack” after deciding that “Zachariah will not do.” When he accidentally discards some mushroom soup she had cooked, she speaks out loud to her husband about how backward the natives are.

Ironically, the woman who plays Zachariah’s boss was a South African Communist named Myrtle Berman. Monty Berman, also a Communist and a Jew, played her husband. All of the whites cast in the film were leftists of one sort or another. (Myrtle Berman is interviewed in “An American in Sophiatown”, a 2007 documentary about the making of “Come Back, Africa” that was directed by Lloyd Ross and that should be showing up in theaters sometime this year. Look for it.)

For men like Zachariah, a work permit functions like the bicycle in De Sica’s masterpiece. Without it, he is forced to wander from one low-paying insecure position to another, depending all the while on a network of fellow Black South Africans trying to survive in an oppressive system.

One of the pillars of that support network is the shabeen, a kind of speakeasy where Blacks felt comfortable talking about their plight without having the gaze of the white oppressor upon them. In perhaps the most remarkable scene in an altogether remarkable film, we see Zachariah listening in on a conversation by a group of Black intellectuals in a shabeen. Among them are Lewis Nkosi and William “Bloke” Modisane, the co-authors of Rogosin’s script. Their discussion about racism, the limits of Alan Paton-style liberalism, and other topics appear unscripted and certainly reflect the state of mind in Sophiatown, the neighborhood in Johannesburg that was home to many Black activists and artists. In a crowning scene, the men welcome a very young Miriam Makeba into their midst and listen to her sing two songs. When Steve Allen saw Rogosin’s film, he was so mesmerized by her performance that he pulled strings to get her admitted into the U.S. so she could perform on the Tonight show.

As Rogosin filmed in Sophiatown, you can see evidence of an “urban removal” underway as the Afrikaner government sought to eliminate a semi-autonomous presence that had the same relationship to Johannesburg that Harlem had to New York City. Even if Sophiatown was hospitable to Rogosin’s progressive filmmaking project, he had to keep a close eye on the presence of cops. His stay in South Africa depended on a clever ruse, namely that he was there to film street musicians as part of a travelogue for a tour company. Indeed, the footage of various musicians, including a pennywhistle band, serves as a kind of connective tissue in a somewhat rambling plot.

“Come Back, Africa” was Rogosin’s second film. In “An American in Sophiatown”, he describes “On the Bowery”—his first—as a kind of preparatory work that enabled him to learn how to use a camera and organize a production. That’s quite a mouthful considering the fact that “On the Bowery” is also a classic. (All of the Rogosin films mentioned in this review are part of the inventory of Milestone Films, a 21-year-old company dedicated to making classic cinema available once again.)

Rogosin was part of a cadre of filmmakers in the New American Cinema Group who decided to buck the Eisenhower era trends and make politically and artistically audacious works such as “Come Back, Africa”. Their contribution cannot be overstated. Formed by Jonas Mekas, the founder of Anthology Film Archives, they issued a statement on September 30, 1962 that included a comment on the film scene of the day that still has currency unfortunately:

The official cinema all over the world is running out of breath. It is morally corrupt, esthetically obsolete, thematically superficial, temperamentally boring. Even the seemingly worthwhile films, those that lay claim to high moral and esthetic standards and have been accepted as such by critics and the public alike, reveal the decay of the Product Film. The very slickness of their execution has become a perversion covering the falsity of their themes, their lack of sensibility, their lack of style.

For an idea of the rebellious spirit that animated this group, look no further than “Come Back, Africa”, a film that symbolizes a marriage between art and radical politics so necessary for the period we are living in today.

January 25, 2012

Mangling the Party: Vol. 1 of Tony Cliff’s Lenin By Pham Binh

Filed under: democratic centralism,Lenin,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 4:07 pm

Mangling the Party:
Vol. 1 of Tony Cliff’s Lenin

By Pham Binh
January 24, 2012

 The following is dedicated to anyone and everyone has sacrificed in the name of “building the revolutionary party.”

Tony Cliff’s Lenin: Building the Party published in 1975 was the first book-length political biography of Lenin written by a Marxist. As a result, it shaped the approach of subsequent investigations by academics like Lars T. Lih as well as the thinking of thousands of socialists in groups like the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP, founded by Cliff), the U.S. International Socialist Organization, and Paul LeBlanc, author of Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and former member of the American SWP (no relation to Cliff’s group).

Cliff begins his biography by debunking the U.S.S.R.’s official state religion of Lenin-worship that “endowed [Lenin] with superhuman attributes.” Yet throughout the book Cliff refers to these “superhuman attributes”:

 Lenin adapted himself perfectly to the needs of industrial agitation.

 [Lenin] combined theory and practice to perfection.

If these passing remarks were the main flaws of Cliff’s book it would still be useful to read, full of political and historical lessons. Sadly, this is not the case.

Cliff’s errors and distortions begin with Lenin’s political activity in mid 1890s. According to Cliff:

Ob Agitatsii had a mechanical theory of the relation between the industrial struggle, the struggle against the employers, and the political struggle against tsarism, based on the concept of “stages.” … [W]hatever the official biographers may say, the truth is that in the years 1894-96, [Lenin] did not denounce Ob Agitatsii as one-sided, mechanical, and “economist.” His writings of the period coincide exactly with the line which it put forward.

To show that Lenin’s writings of this period “coincide exactly” with the arguments of Ob Agitatsii, Cliff quotes Lenin’s 1895 draft Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) program and cites his article What Are Our Ministers Thinking About? in which Cliff claims “Lenin urged the expediency of leaving the Tsar out of the argument, and talking instead about the new laws that favored employers and of cabinet ministers who were anti-working class.”

Cliff later states in Building the Party that “[n]ot to point out the direct connection between the partial reform and the revolutionary overthrow of Tsarism is to cheat the workers, to fall into liberalism.” Did Lenin fall into liberalism at this early stage of his career?

Anyone who reads either document will find that Lenin’s views do not “coincide exactly” with those of Ob Agitatsii. Neither the draft program nor the article Cliff cites are mechanical, one-sided, stageist, or “economist.” In What Are Our Ministers Thinking About? Lenin did not “urge the expediency of leaving the Tsar out of the argument.” Lenin did not fall into liberalism.

These egregious misrepresentations of Lenin’s views occur throughout Building the Party.

“Bending the Stick”

Cliff closes chapter two by claiming that Lenin’s penchant for “bending the stick” was “a characteristic that he retained throughout his life.”

[Lenin] always made the task of the day quite clear, repeating what was necessary ad infinitum in the plainest, heaviest, most single-minded hammer-blow pronouncements. Afterwards, he would regain his balance, straighten the stick, then bend it again in another direction.

Throughout the book Cliff makes reference to Lenin’s “stick bending,” by which Cliff means deliberately and one-sidedly overemphasising something one day and then the opposite thing the next day in different circumstances.

If “stick bending” was Lenin’s political method, it would mean that none of his writings should be taken at face value. Each piece would suffer from one-sided overemphasis and distortion. Such a method would also call into question Lenin’s intellectual and political honesty. How could anyone be sure what Lenin really meant or thought if his arguments were always exaggerated in some way? Furthermore, why would anyone in the Russian socialist movement take what Lenin had to say seriously if the only thing that was consistent about his message was its exaggerated character? Such a method would create a culture of disbelief and cynicism among Lenin’s followers that would grow more toxic with each “bend.”

Lenin’s letter to Georgi Plekhanov on the economist trend that Cliff uses to illustrate “stick bending” tells us something very different from what Cliff claims:

The economic trend, of course, was always a mistake, but then it is very young; while there has been overemphasis of “economic” agitation (and there still is here and there) even without the trend, and it was the legitimate and inevitable companion of any step forward in the conditions of our movement which existed in Russia at the end of the 1880s or the beginning of the 1890s. The situation then was so murderous that you cannot probably even imagine it, and one should not censure people who stumbled as they clambered up out of that situation. For the purposes of this clambering out, some narrowness was essential and legitimate: was, I say, for with this tendency to blow it up into a theory and tie it in with Bernsteinism, the whole thing of course changed radically … The overemphasis of “economic” agitation and catering to the “mass” movement were natural.

Here, Lenin’s real method emerges. The one-sidedness Cliff lauds is not Lenin’s but a feature of a particular stage of the Russian socialist movement’s development, namely the transition from study circles and propaganda to the field of mass action and agitation. In this transition some mistakes were inevitable and “one should not censure people who stumbled as they clambered up out of that situation.” However, when people elevated inevitable mistakes, errors, and stumbles into a full-blown theory and then connected it with Bernstein’s revisionism “the whole thing of course changed radically.” Once the whole thing changed radically, Lenin wrote A Protest by Russian Social Democrats in 1899.

Cliff conflates features and stages of objective development with Lenin’s subjective responses to them:

[F]ear of the danger to the movement occasioned by the rise of Russian “economism” and German revisionism in the second half of 1899 … motivated Lenin to bend the stick right over again, away from the spontaneous, day-to-day, fragmented economic struggle and toward the organisation of a national political party.

Lenin did not transform from an armchair revolutionary in a study circle into an economist factory agitator, from economist factory agitator into top-down party-builder, and from top-down party-builder into a proponent of building the party from the bottom up around the elective principle in the name of the spontaneously socialist working class in 1905, attacking his own former positions all along the way. He continually grappled with the development of Russia’s worker-socialist movement through each of its distinct stages, each of which had unique challenges and opportunities (or “tasks”). Together, these stages were part of a single process that Lars T. Lih described as Lenin’s “heroic scenario” — the RSDLP would lead the workers, who, in turn, would lead the peasants, oppressed nationalities, and all of the downtrodden, exploited, and oppressed people of Tsarist Russia in a revolution that would destroy the autocracy, setting the stage for international socialist revolution.

In polemics Lenin typically reminded his readers about the importance of keeping the whole process of development in mind and instead of isolating its individual elements:

That which happened to such leaders of the Second International, such highly erudite Marxists devoted to socialism as Kautsky, Otto Bauer and others, could (and should) provide a useful lesson. They fully appreciated the need for flexible tactics; they themselves learned the Marxist dialectic and taught it to others (and much of what they have done in this field will always remain a valuable contribution to socialist literature); however, in the application of this dialectic they committed such an error, or proved to be so undialectical in practice, so incapable of taking into account the rapid change of forms and the rapid acquisition of new content by the old forms, that their fate is not much more enviable than that of Hyndman, Guesde and Plekhanov. The principal reason for their bankruptcy was that they were hypnotised by a definite form of growth of the working-class movement and socialism, forgot all about the one-sidedness of that form, were afraid to see the break-up which objective conditions made inevitable, and continued to repeat simple and, at first glance, incontestable axioms that had been learned by rote, like: “three is more than two”. But politics is more like algebra than elementary arithmetic, and still more like higher than elementary mathematics. In reality, all the old forms of the socialist movement have acquired a new content, and, consequently, a new symbol, the “minus” sign, has appeared in front of all the figures; our wiseacres, however, have stubbornly continued (and still continue) to persuade themselves and others that “minus three” is more than “minus two”.

It was Lenin’s appreciation for the totality of development, not “stick bending,” that led him to write polemics against economists, Mensheviks, followers of Bogdanov, liquidators, “left” communists, and Karl Kautsky, all of whom did not make the transition from one stage of the “heroic scenario” to the next by adapting themselves to the new “tasks”.

In chapter three, Cliff continues his “bending the stick” narrative:

It was fear of the danger to the movement occasioned by the rise of Russian “economism” and German revisionism in the second half of 1899 that motivated Lenin to bend the stick right over again, away from the spontaneous, day-to-day, fragmented economic struggle and toward the organisation of a national political party.

This is totally false. The 1895 draft RSDLP program Lenin wrote and Cliff cited in chapter two proves that Lenin sought to build a national political party years before the economist trend emerged:

The Russian Social-Democratic Party declares that its aim is to assist this struggle of the Russian working class by developing the class-consciousness of the workers, by promoting their organisation, and by indicating the aims and objects of the struggle. The struggle of the Russian working class for its emancipation is a political struggle, and its first aim is to achieve political liberty.

Anyone who reads Lenin’s draft program will know where he stood on the party question in 1895. Fear had nothing to do with Lenin’s commitment to organizing a national political party.

Lenin and Party Rules

Cliff’s chapter on Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? is unremarkable except for the section dealing with Lenin’s attitude towards party rules. Cliff quotes Lenin’s 1902 Letter to a Comrade on Our Organizational Tasks that was circulated as an RSDLP pamphlet in 1904 to show that Lenin had a “distaste for red-tape and rule-mongering.” Cliff goes on to say:

Lenin’s faction was for a long time very informal indeed. He started to build his organisation through Iskra agents. When, after the second Congress, as we shall see, he lost the support of his own Central Committee, he reorganised his supporters around a newly convened conference that elected a Russian Bureau.

There are a number of errors here.

The first is that the purpose of Iskra agents was to build the RSDLP, not an organization loyal to Lenin (another falsehood that runs throughout Building the Party is the notion that Bolsheviks and/or the central committee were “his”).

The second and more serious error is to use Lenin’s actions in the aftermath of the RSDLP’s second congress that gave birth to the Menshevik-Bolshevik split as proof of Lenin’s preference for informal or loose rules. One of the central charges that Lenin and his Bolshevik co-thinkers levelled at the Mensheviks was that their resignations, boycotts of party institutions, refusal to call a third congress despite the expressed will of the majority of the 1903 congress delegates, and declaration that the League of Social Democrats Abroad was autonomous from the RSDLP all violated the rules adopted at the 1903 congress.

Anyone who reads Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back will find that Lenin paid very close attention to rules, regulations, procedural minutiae, and abided by them. One of the central reasons why Lenin spent years working to convene the 1903 congress in the first place was to eliminate the informal rules and procedures that prevailed in the socialist circles and replace them with the formal rules necessary to govern the workings of a professional political party. In contemporary terms Lenin sought to overcome what feminist Jo Freeman described as “the tyranny of structurelessness.”

Lenin’s Letter to a Comrade on Our Organizational Tasks proves the opposite of what Cliff claims. In that letter Lenin writes:

It would be all the less useful to draw up such Rules at present [1902] since we have practically no general Party experience (and in many places none whatever) with regard to the activities of the various groups and subgroups of this sort, and in order to acquire such experience what is needed is not Rules but the organisation of Party information, if I may put it in this way. Each of our local organisations now spends at least a few evenings on discussing Rules. If instead, each member would devote this time to making a detailed and well-prepared report to the entire Party on his particular function, the work would gain a hundredfold.

 And it is not merely because revolutionary work does not always lend itself to definite organisational form that Rules are useless. No, definite organisational form is necessary, and we must endeavour to give such form to all our work as far as possible. That is permissible to a much greater   extent than is generally thought, and achievable not through Rules but solely and exclusively (we must keep on reiterating this) through transmitting exact information to the Party centre; it is only then that we shall have real organisational form connected with real responsibility and (inner-Party) publicity. For who of us does not know that serious conflicts and differences of opinion among us are actually decided not by vote “in accordance with the Rules,” but by struggle and threats to “resign”? During the last three or four years of Party life the history of most of our committees has been replete with such internal strife. It is a great pity that this strife has not assumed definite form: it would then have been much more instructive for the Party and would have contributed much more to the experience of our successors. But no Rules can create such useful and essential definiteness of organisational form; this can be done solely through inner-Party publicity. Under the autocracy we can have no other means or weapon of inner-Party publicity than keeping the Party centre regularly informed of Party events.

Here Lenin stressed the importance of reporting and inner-party publicity as opposed to rules because he believed (correctly) that proper decisions about rules could only be made if the RSDLP’s leaders were fully aware of the work each of its members engaged in. (Lenin viewed the centralization of information regarding members’ activity into the hands of the party leadership as a response to operating as an illegal organization; presumably information would be decentralized among the membership as a whole through the medium of a newspaper if the party was legal.)

Lenin closed this letter with the following words:

And only after we have learned to apply this inner-Party publicity on a wide scale shall we actually be able to amass experience in the functioning of the various organisations; only on the basis of such extensive experience over a period of many years shall we be able to draw up Rules that will not be mere paper Rules.

So while it is true that Lenin detested rule-mongering, it is equally true that Lenin spent the better part of 1904 and 1905 fighting in defense of the rules adopted by the 1903 congress and against the informal methods that the Mensheviks proved unwilling to part ways with.

Chapter five on the 1903 congress is again replete with errors. In discussing the famous debate between Lenin and Martov over what the definition of a party member should be, Cliff attacks Martov and Trotsky for supporting Lenin’s organizational plan as laid out in What Is To Be Done? and then opposing Lenin’s formulation on membership, writing:

To combine a strong centralist leadership with loose membership was eclecticism taken to an extreme. … [T]he revolutionary party cannot avoid making strong demands for sacrifice and discipline from its own members. Martov’s definition of party membership fitted the weakness of his conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Cliff fails to note that Martov’s membership definition became the basis for recruitment into the Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP for three years until the Mensheviks agreed (in conjunction with the Bolsheviks) at the 1906 party congress to a formulation in line with Lenin’s 1903 wording. According to Cliff’s logic then, the Bolsheviks during 1903-1906 were guilty of “eclecticism taken to an extreme” for combining “strong centralist leadership with loose membership” and “weakness” with regards to proletarian dictatorship, while the Mensheviks were innocent of these things after 1906 because they supported Lenin’s definition of party membership.

Eclecticism indeed!

In this regard, Cliff is like most other “Leninists” who invest the 1903 membership debate with an artificial and ahistorical significance. If Lenin did not mention the issue in his discussion on the “Principle Stages in the History of Bolshevism” in Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder  written for foreign communist audiences unfamiliar with RSDLP history it could not have been a terribly important issue from his point of view.

Cliff’s next egregious error comes in his discussion of Lenin’s actions after the 1903 Congress that gave birth to the Menshevik and Bolshevik trends within the RSDLP:

With the aid of Krupskaya in Geneva, and a group of supporters operating inside Russia, [Lenin] built a completely new set of centralised committees, quite regardless of Rule 6 of the party statutes, which reserved to the Central Committee the right to organise and recognise committees.

He goes on to say that these “completely new” and “centralised committees” began to agitate for a new RSDLP congress in 1904 to resolve the disputes that arose between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks at the end of the previous congress.

If Cliff’s statement is true, then Lenin was a hypocritical and ruthless faction fighter who attacked his political opponents for not playing by party rules that he exempted himself from. If true, it would have fatally undermined the whole basis of post-1903 Bolshevik agitation for a new congress because it was based on the following rule adopted by the second congress: “The Party Council must call a congress if this is demanded by Party organisations which together would command half the votes at the congress.” If Lenin himself violated these rules by creating “completely new centralised committees” it would have been impossible for him to attract support within the RSDLP for his claim in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back that it was the Mensheviks who were making a mockery of the RSDLP’s rules.

Cliff’s assertion has no footnote, so it is unclear what the source of his claim is. What is certain is that there is no mention of illegal (in the sense of being against the RSDLP’s rules) and “completely new set of centralised committees” in Krupskaya’s memoirs. Surely if Lenin had done what Cliff claims the Mensheviks would have pounced on this monstrous fact and included it in their bitter attacks on Lenin in the pages of the post-congress Iskra.

Another element that appears in this chapter and throughout Building the Party is Cliff’s “truisms” about a variety of topics that have no basis in things Lenin said or did. For example:

[T]he leadership of a revolutionary party must provide the highest example of devotion and complete identification with the party in its daily life. This gives it the moral authority to demand the maximum sacrifice from the rank and file.

Lenin certainly appreciated the sacrifices people made for the revolutionary movement, but this was not limited to those who were party leaders or even party members (for example, his attitude towards earlier generations of Russian revolutionaries, the Narodniks and Decembrists). At no time did Lenin use his position as a party leader to demand “maximum sacrifice from the rank and file.” This sounds like something from the Stalin era or from Mao’s Little Red Book which is full of timeless, moralistic phrasemongering.

Cliff’s references to Lenin’s imaginary disregard for rules serves an important purpose in the Building the Party narrative: Lenin has to constantly circumvent rules and fight against his own followers who become “conservative” and “formalistic” in their approach to politics by resisting Lenin’s continual “stick bending.” This narrative reaches its climax in chapter eight which celebrates Lenin’s fight at the third RSDLP congress held in April 1905 against the Bolshevik committeemen over two issues: recruiting workers to party committees and democratizing the party in the midst of the 1905 revolution. According to Cliff, “[b]uttressing themselves with quotations from What Is to Be Done? [the Bolshevik commiteemen] called for ‘extreme caution’ in admitting workers into the committees and condemned ‘playing at democracy.’”

The problem with Cliff’s account is that Lenin and the Bolsheviks never fought about either recruiting workers to party committees or democratizing the party at the third congress. It simply did not happen. Lih discovered that this episode in Building the Party was “lifted wholesale from Solomon Schwarz,” a Bolshevik-turned-Menshevik who wrote The Russian Revolution of 1905: the Workers’ Movement and the Formation of Bolshevism and Menshevism (“wholesale” meaning copied word for word).

Cliff’s plagiarism is a relatively minor issue compared to the real scandal: he evidently never bothered to read Lenin’s Report on the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party written in May 1905! Had Cliff read Lenin’s account of the third congress he would have discovered that Lenin makes no mention of any conflict, debate, or friction over whether to recruit workers and democratize the party in light of the new conditions created by the 1905 revolution. The report is positively glowing about the results of the third congress, which included more clearly defined party rules (so much for Lenin’s alleged informality) and a series of resolutions guiding the RSDLP’s conduct during the 1905 revolution.

The conclusion is inescapable: either Cliff did not read what Lenin said about the 1905 third congress or he knowingly repeated a falsehood taken from someone else’s work in order to support his narrative of “Lenin versus the party machine he built.” Neither is acceptable for a political biographer of Lenin.

It is in this chapter that the contradictions embedded in Cliff’s “Lenin must continually fight the party machine he built” narrative become most apparent. Suppose that Cliff was right that the committeemen did indeed defeat Lenin on the issue of recruiting workers at the third congress and stubbornly resisted such recruitment efforts. The question then becomes: how did the Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP grow so rapidly? How could workers join the party against the will of the people who were the party? Cliff does not explain this impossibility but exclaims, “nevertheless it moves” and quotes figures showing the rapid growth of the Bolsheviks in 1905 and after. Cliff’s Lenin was evidently a magician who could make the party take actions the people who constituted the party opposed.

“Democratic Centralism” and Party Discipline

In chapter 15 Cliff’s litany of errors continues. The 1905 revolution created strong pressure from the RSDLP’s rapidly growing ranks to unite the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions. This unity was consummated at the RSDLP’s 1906 congress held in Stockholm. Cliff neglects to mention that this congress elected a central committee of three Bolsheviks and six Mensheviks. He recounts that an RSDLP conference in Tammerfors held in 1906 decided to create an electoral bloc with the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets), a liberal party backed by big business. Lenin insisted that the decisions of this conference were not binding on local party bodies. A surprised Cliff writes:

What had happened to the democratic centralism so dear to Lenin? For years he had argued for the subordination of the lower organs of the party to the higher, and against the federal concept of the party. In One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, written February-May 1904, he had said that “the undoubted tendency to defend autonomism against centralism … is a fundamental characteristic of opportunism in matters of organisation.”

What Cliff means by “democratic centralism” is “subordination of the lower organs of the party to the higher” and a non-federal party. What Lenin meant by “democratic centralism” was altogether different.

The quote Cliff cites from One Step Forward, Two Steps Back is misplaced because Lenin was arguing against those, like Trotsky, who held that the editorial board of the party’s newspaper should be autonomous and not subject to the democratic control of the party congress, a very different issue from the autonomy of local committees or local party branches to make decisions regarding local work. The notion that local autonomy was a new element in Lenin’s thought in 1907 is mistaken. Lenin noted that the third congress of the RSDLP in 1905 affirmed this principle:

The autonomy of the committees has been defined more precisely and their membership declared inviolable, which means that the C.C. no longer has the right to remove members from local committees or to appoint new members without the consent of the committees themselves. … Every local committee has been accorded the right to confirm periphery organisations as Party organisations. The periphery organisations have been accorded the right to nominate candidates for committee membership.

The principle of autonomy was first affirmed at the RSDLP’s second congress in 1903:

All organisations belonging to the Party carry on autonomously all work relating specially and exclusively to the sphere of Party activity which they were set up to deal with.

Another element missing from Cliff’s account of “democratic centralism” is the following rule, also adopted at the second congress:

Every Party member, and everyone who has any dealings with the Party, has the right to demand that any statement submitted by him be placed, in the original, before the Central Committee, or the editorial board of the Central Organ, or the Party Congress.

This rule seems to have been designed to prevent secret expulsions and other abuses of power by party officials that plague all “Leninist” organizations, abuses which are almost always justified on the grounds of “democratic centralism.” The term has been abused to such an extent that it no longer conveys the organizational norms that prevailed within the RSDLP among Mensheviks (who first coined the term) and Bolsheviks alike until the 1917 revolution.

Lenin famously defined “democratic centralism” as “freedom of discussion, unity in action.” Cliff appropriately quotes Lenin on what this meant in practice:

After the competent bodies have decided, all of us, as members of the party, must act as one man. A Bolshevik in Odessa must cast into the ballot box a ballot paper bearing a Cadet’s name even if it sickens him. And a Menshevik in Moscow must cast into the ballot box a ballot paper bearing only the names of Social Democrats, even if his soul is yearning for the Cadets.

Note what “freedom of discussion, unity in action” did not mean. It did not mean that the minority had to publicly champion the “line” or argument of the triumphant majority. “Unity in action” for a dissenting minority simply meant acting in concert with the majority, not singing their tune or arguing for their “line.” Nowhere did Lenin say “a Bolshevik in Odessa must argue with his workmates that supporting the Cadets is the way to go,” or “a Menshevik in Moscow must convince everyone he knows to vote Social Democrat even if his soul is yearning for the Cadets.” A line of action and a line of argument are two different things; “unity in action” did not mean unity in argument or political position.

Given this understanding of what “democratic centralism” meant to Lenin and the RSDLP, the following lines by Cliff are wildly, unfathomably wrong:

A couple of months later, in January 1907, Lenin went so far as to argue for the institution of a referendum of all party members on the issues facing the party – certainly a suggestion that ran counter to the whole idea of democratic centralism.

Polling the party to determine the party’s course of action is antithetical to “democratic centralism” only if we use Cliff’s definition of the term and not Lenin’s. The answer to Cliff’s question, “What had happened to the democratic centralism so dear to Lenin?” is simple: nothing.

Cliff’s failure to understand the meaning of “democratic centralism” becomes a problem again in chapter 17 when he discusses a Menshevik-led party trial of Lenin in 1907. Surprisingly, Cliff agrees with the Mensheviks that Lenin was guilty of violating party discipline, writing:

Lenin’s behavior at the trial is very interesting, because it shows the relentless way in which he conducted a faction fight against the right wing of the party. As the trial opened, Lenin calmly acknowledged that he used “language impermissible in relations between comrades in the same party,” but he made absolutely no apology for doing so. Indeed, in fighting the Liquidationists and their allies in the movement, he never hesitated to use the sharpest weapons he could lay his hands on. Moderation is not a characteristic of Bolshevism.

The incident that precipitated the trail occurred after the Mensheviks in St. Petersburg created an electoral bloc with the Cadets in defiance of the majority of the local RSDLP organization. Lenin wrote a pamphlet attacking the Mensheviks for doing so. The Mensheviks retaliated against Lenin by having the RSDLP central committee, on which they had a majority, charge Lenin with violating party discipline. So it was the Mensheviks who were violating the rules of the RSDLP, not Lenin.

The Bolshevik Party: Not Formed in 1912

In chapter 17, Cliff discusses Lenin’s fight against the liquidationist trend in the RSDLP. He notes that a January 1910 RSDLP conference vote forced Lenin to disband the Bolshevik faction, close its newspaper, and break off relations with the “boycottists” in their ranks while the Mensheviks were obliged to do the same: disband their faction, close their newspaper, and break with the liquidators in their midst. Lenin dutifully complied. His Menshevik counterparts did not.

After the Mensheviks proved unwilling to follow through with their obligations, Lenin launched a new weekly paper at the end of 1910, Zvezda. Cliff omits this fact and instead picks up the story with the Prague Conference held in January 1912. He also omits the fact that this conference elected a pro-party Menshevik (one of two who attended) to the RSDLP’s central committee. This is important because the 1912 Prague Conference is almost always referred to as the beginning of the Bolsheviks as a separate party from the Mensheviks. Cliff evades this issue by referring to those elected to the central committee in 1912 as “hards,” a term used nowhere else in Building the Party.

After chapter 17, Cliff claims the RSDLP’s daily newspaper Pravda played “a central role in building the Bolshevik Party,” declares that the Bolsheviks became “a mass party” in 1912-1914, and says that the Bolshevik Duma deputies “finally ended” relations with their Menshevik counterparts in late 1913 (when World War One broke out the deputies issued a joint statement, so this is false). Based on these claims it is clear that Cliff adheres to the myth that the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks separated into two parties in 1912.

However, a cursory glance at Lenin’s writings in 1912 reveals how wrong this view is. Shortly after the 1912 Prague Conference, Lenin wrote the following in an explanatory note to the International Socialist Bureau:

In all, twenty organisations established close ties with the Organising Commission convening this conference; that is to say, practically all the organisations, both Menshevik and Bolshevik, active in Russia at the present time.

The 1912 Prague Conference separated pro-party Mensheviks and Bolsheviks from the liquidators. The Menshevik-Bolshevik divide did not culminate in two separate parties until the 1917 revolution. Cliff’s account of the 1912-1914 period is terribly flawed because it is predicated on falsehoods. The Bolsheviks were not a party, therefore they could not “become a mass party,” nor could Pravda have played “a central role in building the Bolshevik Party” because such an entity did not yet exist. This explains why, when Lenin referred to Pravda’s success against its liquidationist rival Luch he wrote, “four-fifths of the workers have accepted the Pravdist decisions as their own, have approved of Pravdism, and actually rallied around Pravdism” instead of using the terms “Bolshevist” and “Bolshevism.”

Cliff’s treatment of the history of Lenin and Pravda is just as error-ridden as the rest of Building the Party. For example, he claims, “Lenin practically ran Pravda.” What he neglects to mention is that 47 of Lenin’s articles were rejected, and that many of Lenin’s published articles were heavily edited to weaken their factional content. If Lenin “practically ran Pravda,” why would he reject so many of his own articles and censor himself politically?

Pravda was run by a team of editors, not by Lenin, and the initiative for it came from the lower ranks of the party. It was not “Lenin’s Pravda” as Cliff claims, but a workers’ paper to which Lenin was one contributor among many (Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg, and Kautsky also wrote for it). The overwhelming majority of Pravda’s content, including poems and humor columns, was written by workers, not by higher-ups in the party or the paper’s editorial team.

Conclusion

Building the Party
has so many gross factual and political errors that it is useless as a historical study of Lenin’s actions and thoughts. This conclusion is inescapable for anyone who reads the book closely and compares it with the writings of Lenin and the historical record. Those who read Building the Party and take it seriously will need to unlearn the falsehoods and misinformation contained in its pages if they want a reasonably accurate picture of Lenin’s work in the context of the Russian socialist movement of the early twentieth century.

Bookmarks in Britain and Haymarket Books in the U.S. should think twice before republishing, selling, and profiting from Building the Party since it contains so many errors, falsehoods, and lies about Lenin.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Occupied Wall Street Journal, The Indypendent, Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch and thenorthstar.info, a collaborative blog by and for occupiers from across the U.S. His other writings can be found at www.planetanarchy.net

January 24, 2012

The bipartisan attack on democracy and human rights

Filed under: Islamophobia,Obama,ultraright — louisproyect @ 7:14 pm

Three articles appearing on page one of today’s NY Times overlap with each other in terms of what they say about the deepening erosion of democratic and human rights in the United States since the “war on terror” began after 9/11. It is difficult to decide which one is more outrageous. You can judge for yourself.

From the article titled “In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims”, we learn that a viciously Islamophobic film titled “The Third Jihad” was shown to 1489 N.Y. cops as part of their official training. When Tom Robbins, described as a former Village Voice columnist, was tipped off by a cop that the film was being shown, the police brass lied about it, saying that it had been mistakenly shown only a “couple of times” for a few officers. It should be stated that Robbins left the Voice under conditions very much related to the political morass the country finds itself in. When the newsweekly fired Wayne Barrett, a ferocious critic of metropolitan political abuses just like the one taking place in the police department today, Robbins resigned in protest. Nowadays the only full-time columnist for the paper is one Michael Musto, whose “La Dolce Musto” covers the gossip beat. His most recent column was titled “Keira Knightley Reveals the Secret Behind Her Spanking Scene!” There’s a place for that sort of thing, of course, but not at the expense of hard-hitting investigative journalism.

A half-hour version of “The Third Jihad” can be seen on Youtube:

The film is narrated by Zuhdi Jasser, a “devout Muslim” as he describes himself, who is a fixture on rightwing television and radio shows. Media Matters reported:

Jasser is also conspicuous in his willingness to appear on Fox News to mitigate the effects of their pundits’ anti-Islamic rhetoric. After Fox host Bill O’Reilly went on The View and declared that “Muslims killed us on 9-11,” triggering a walk-off of the show’s hosts, he turned to Jasser, who declared that he was “absolutely not” offended by O’Reilly’s comments and actually thanked the Fox host for making them. Likewise, after NPR fired Juan Williams for his own controversial comments about Muslims, Fox hosted Jasser, who was again “absolutely not” offended.

The Times reports that the film was produced by the Clarion Fund, a group bankrolled by Sheldon Adelson, a gambling casino magnate and ultra-Likudnik who is described in one of the other three NY Times articles as a major funder of the super-PAC that helped Newt Gingrich defeat Romney in the South Carolina primary. Zuhdi Jasser appeared in another ultraright film titled “America at Risk: The War with No Name”, a joint product of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United and Gingrich Productions.

The police department is stonewalling efforts by Faiza Patel, the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School, to get to the bottom of its sordid ties to the Clarion Fund’s political agenda. The Times states: “None of the documents turned over to the Brennan Center make clear which police officials approved the showing of this film during training. Department lawyers blacked out large swaths of these internal memorandums.”

For its part, the Clarion Fund has resisted efforts to come clean:

Repeated calls over the past several days to the Clarion Fund, which is based in New York, were not answered. The nonprofit group shares officials with Aish HaTorah, an Israeli organization that opposes any territorial concessions on the West Bank. The producer of “The Third Jihad,” Raphael Shore, also works with Aish HaTorah.

Sheldon Adelson is the perfect symbol of American support for Israel today. Against a backdrop of declining support by secular Jews, particularly the younger and college-educated, it naturally rests on the shoulders of a man who became a billionaire in the gambling casino business. He is the 8th richest person in the U.S. and 16th in the world, sitting atop a fortune of $21 billion. As the owner of the non-union Venetian hotel and other properties in Las Vegas, Adelson has staked out a viciously anti-labor position vis-à-vis the city’s militant trade union movement. In a profile on Adelson, Connie Bruck told New Yorker Magazine’s  readers:

Like all major Las Vegas hotel casinos, the Sands was a union hotel when Adelson bought it, but the Venetian was non-union. This sparked a singularly bitter war with the Culinary Union, which had for many years maintained good relations with most hotels on the Strip. (Adelson has said that the benefits he gives his employees are superior to union benefits.) After a rally in which a thousand union supporters picketed in front of the Venetian, Adelson tried to have them removed by the police, and when that failed he went to court, arguing that the sidewalks outside the Venetian were private property, and not subject to the First Amendment. The Venetian lost in the district court and the appellate court, and in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Using his ill-gained fortune, Adelson has become a major player in Israeli politics as one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters. Bruck reports:

Adelson is also funding, with a $4.5-million grant, a think tank, the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, at the right-leaning Shalem Center, in Jerusalem. Netanyahu allies are on its staff. Natan Sharansky, the chairman of One Jerusalem, also chairs the Adelson Institute. Sharansky helped organize a “Democracy and Security” conference last June, in Prague, which was attended by President Bush. Iran was a major topic of discussion. A month after the Prague conference, Adelson attended a fund-raising event at the C.A.A. talent agency, in Los Angeles, for Steven Emerson, an investigative journalist specializing in Islamic extremism and terrorism, who was showing a ten-minute trailer for a film he wanted to make. Emerson introduced Sheldon and Miriam to the overflow crowd in C.A.A.’s two-hundred-seat theatre, saying that they were his generous supporters. After Emerson’s presentation, Pooya Dayanim, a Jewish-Iranian democracy activist based in Los Angeles, chatted with Adelson. Recalling their conversation, Dayanim observed that Adelson was dismissive of Reza Pahlevi, the son of the former Shah, who had participated in the Prague conference, because, Adelson said, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” According to Dayanim, Adelson referred to another Iranian dissident at the conference, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, whom he said he would like to support, saying, “I like Fakhravar because he says that, if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” Dayanim said that when he disputed that assumption Adelson responded, “I really don’t care what happens to Iran. I am for Israel.”

Given his predilections, it is no surprise that Adelson would rally around the candidacy of Newt Gingrich who announced recently that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. While some might be tempted to describe Mr. and Mrs. Adelson’s donation of 10 million dollars to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC as a kind of bribe, the reality is that Gingrich needed no bribing. His Islamophobic views would be dispensed for free, although he could always use an extra 10 million dollars or so given his expensive tastes, including shopping sprees at Tiffany’s.

In the article titled “‘Super PAC’ for Gingrich to Get $5 Million Infusion”, N.Y. Times reporter Nicholas Confessore informed his readers:

A wealthy backer of Newt Gingrich will inject $5 million into a “super PAC” supporting his presidential bid, two people with knowledge of the contribution said on Monday, providing a major boost to Mr. Gingrich as he seeks to fend off aggressive attacks from Mitt Romney, his main Republican rival.

The supporter, Dr. Miriam Adelson, is the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich friend and a patron who this month contributed $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future. Dr. Adelson’s check will bring the couple’s total contributions to Winning Our Future to $10 million, a figure that could substantially neutralize the millions of dollars already being spent in Florida by Mr. Romney and Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting him.

Confessore connected this sordid business to the Supreme Court decision on behalf of the Koch-funded Citizen’s United, a co-producer of the Gingrich Islamophobic documentary “”America at Risk: The War with No Name”:

The contribution also underscored how the advantages built by Mr. Romney’s campaign, including a potent get-out-the-vote operation in Florida and tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions raised in chunks of no more than $2,500, are being challenged by new forces, including the high-profile debates that have elevated Mr. Gingrich and the emergence of new campaign finance rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling.

That decision paved the way for super PACs, including the kind that have spent more than $30 million in the Republican primary so far: political committees run by each candidate’s former aides and financed by a few wealthy supporters. Because they are technically independent of the candidate, the groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, rendering less relevant the limits that Congress imposed in the 1970s on contributions to candidates.

As might be obvious at this point, even a lobotomized goose could connect the dotted lines between Adelson, the Likud, the NY Police Department, and Gingrich.

Now, lest anybody mistake me for the hysterical liberals at MSNBC who are rehearsing to get out the vote for Obama in 2012 as America’s last best hope for forestalling the Republican Party’s fascist bid, the last article on the front page of the N.Y. Times should dispel such illusions.

We learn from Charlie Savage’s article titled “Ex-C.I.A. Officer Charged in Information Leak” that one John Kuriakou has been arrested:

The Justice Department on Monday charged a former Central Intelligence Agency officer with disclosing classified information to journalists about the capture and brutal interrogation of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah — adding another chapter to the Obama administration’s crackdown on leaks.

In a criminal complaint filed on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused John Kiriakou, the former C.I.A. officer, of disclosing the identity of a C.I.A. analyst who worked on a 2002 operation that located and interrogated Abu Zubaydah. The journalists included a New York Times reporter, it alleged.

“Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of C.I.A. officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a statement.

While not exactly a Julian Assange, Kuriakou is being made an example in order to intimidate anybody in the intelligence corps who might be tempted to reveal one or another of America’s torture state infelicities. Ironically, despite being depicted by Holder as a threat to national security, Kuriakou was an advocate of water-boarding and not some latter-day Philip Agee.

However, the real eye-opener in the article is something buried within it and mentioned almost casually:

At the same time, the department on Monday cleared of wrongdoing a legal defense team for inmates at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for its efforts to identify officials involved in the coercive interrogations of “high value” suspects. The effort was a project by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to bolster the representation of detainees facing death sentences in military commissions.

I did a double-take after reading this. Why in the world would a legal defense team for inmates at Guantánamo Bay be under any kind of legal threat for trying to identify torturers? A legal defense team, I should add, that was made up of military men trained as lawyers. Given the legal reasoning underpinning the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, the real wrongdoing would be torture itself and Holder’s stubborn defense of the right of the torturers to remain free of the consequences of their actions. What kind of society are we living in when the President of the United States, a constitutional lawyer trained at Harvard University, ends up threatening lawyers in the same way that they are in countries like China, Zimbabwe or Iran for defending “enemies” of the state?

The ACLU was threatened back in 2009 as a result of showing some photographs to prisoners at Guantanamo as the Times reported:

The Justice Department is investigating whether three military defense lawyers for detainees at the Guantánamo prison illegally showed their clients photographs of C.I.A. interrogators, two leaders of civilian legal groups that are working with the defense lawyers said Thursday.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation approached the three lawyers with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps nearly two weeks ago, said Anthony D. Romero, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping the military lawyers defend the detainees in military commissions.

The agents informed the uniformed lawyers of their right to remain silent, and then questioned them about whether they showed their clients pictures of Central Intelligence Agency officials — possibly including covert agents — that came from an “independent investigation” by the A.C.L.U. and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Romero said.

The lawyers were trying to identify the torturers not so much as an effort to have them arrested, as just as this might be, but to prevent their clients from being executed. If the torturers could be forced to testify to their deeds in court, then the court might have decided that their confessions were extracted illegally. What an amazing statement on life today in the U.S.A. when an African-American president and his African-American attorney general behave like a couple of goons from Pinochet’s Chile or some other rotten torture state.

If you want to get some insight into how Obama manages to sink to such depths, I recommend an article by Ryan Lizza in the latest New Yorker magazine. Lizza is a conventional liberal and supporter of the President but he is also a very good reporter. He has made a very convincing case in all of his articles on Obama that the man is about as progressive as Joe Lieberman, a politician he stumped for in his last election in Connecticut before voters decided they had enough of the creep.

Titled “The Obama Memos“, Lizza’s article describes the President as a right-leaning politician motivated both by ideology and a desire to win elections based on cynical calculations. Lizza writes:

Obama’s homily about conciliation reflected an essential component of his temperament and his view of politics. In his mid-twenties, he won the presidency of the Harvard Law Review because he was the only candidate who was trusted by both the conservative and the liberal blocs on the editorial staff. As a state senator in Springfield, when Obama represented Hyde Park-Kenwood, one of the most liberal districts in Illinois, he kept his distance from the most left-wing senators from Chicago and socialized over games of poker and golf with moderate downstate Democrats and Republicans. In 1998, after helping to pass a campaign-finance bill in the Illinois Senate, he boasted in his community paper, the Hyde Park Herald, that “the process was truly bipartisan from the start.”

Given the stupendously reactionary character of the contemporary Republican Party, this really tells us all that we want to know about Obama. His fence-straddling approach explains the bipartisan assault taking place today on democracy and human rights. The Republicans steam ahead to the right and Obama chases after them like a dog after a car, trying to catch up.

If the existing left can’t figure out a way to break with this filthy system, then some other left must come along and do a job we are incapable of carrying out. The future of humanity rests on it.

January 23, 2012

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

Filed under: anti-Semitism,music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

(Hat tip to David Shasha of the Sephardic Heritage mailing list.)

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

By: Rachel Amado Bortnick

I first heard of Can Bonomo less than a year ago, in an interview with him in the Istanbul Jewish weekly Şalom on the occasion of the release of his first CD, Meczup (Lunatic). But what drew my attention then was not that a Jewish boy was a popular musician (there have been, and are, many Jews that are popular musicians in Turkey) but that he was from Izmir, the city where I was born and raised. I thought, in fact, that he was probably the great grandson of the Mr. Bonomo who owned a bicycle repair shop in our neighborhood, as there was only one Bonomo family in Izmir. When later on, in June of 2011, I read that Can (pronounced as John) got a prize in the musical competition Altin Kelebek (golden butterfly) organized by the Turkish daily Hurriyet, I was happy, as I would be for a young relative who had done well.

But when I learned, on January 10, 2012 that Can Bonomo was nominated by the Turkish Television Network TRT to represent Turkey at the next Eurovision song competition – to be held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan – I was truly proud.The buzz about Bonomo’s nomination continues daily with the posting of a widely-seen You Tube video of his performances, and on Turkish websites, articles, TV and radio features and commentaries and interviews. In most cases, the commentators or interviewers are kind and happy for him, ignore or downplay his Jewishness, and just ask him about the songs he will submit, about his musical training, and so on, and wish him good luck.But unfortunately there has also been a barrage of Anti-Semitic articles and comments, some going as far as accusing the musician of being part of the Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world! Can has been very dignified, and to all those that bring up his Jewish background as an issue, he has replied that “Music has no language, religion, or race”, and explaining that his family has been here for 540 years, he is a Turk, and can represent Turkey.

The Eurovision song contest, though not well known in America, is a big deal every year among the participating nations (its website states that approximately 125 million people watch it on TV) and winning it is a cause of national pride, akin to winning a “Miss Europe” contest. Jewish Americans probably heard about it in the years that Israel won (it did 3 times: 1978, 1979, and 1998) and are reminded of it especially when the popular song “Halleluyah” is introduced as “the Eurovision winner of 1979.” But this year Eurovision is in the Jewish media because a Jewish boy is going to represent a Muslim country!But it is not pride in a Jewish person’s achievement that is motivating the coverage, but rather criticism of Can’s statements regarding his Judaism, and countering the possible notion that Turkey is a tolerant country. At least this seems to be the case in the recent JTA article titled, “Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion”

http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/01/17/3091233/turkish-jews-celebrate-countrys-eurovision-pick-but-singer-would-prefer

The article objects to Bonomo’s statement, citing it as: “My family came from Spain 540 years ago. I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag … I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

The writer, Ron Kampeas (who is probably Sephardic also, judging by his last name) writes:

“Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.”

The fact is that Bonomo’s statement, which even referred to his people’s history in Turkey, had no “hesitancy” about his Jewish roots. Nor has he ever tried to hide his Jewishness. Even though his first name, Can, is Turkish (it means “soul”), his surname is clearly is Sephardic, and, as probably everyone knows by now, means “good man” in Italian. (Some have mused that he may be a relative of the famous American clarinetist Benny Goodman!)

Mr. Kampeas has never interviewed Bonomo to find out what the musician knows about what “informed his music.” And who were the “Jewish cafe singers [who] drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s …?”

There is no tradition of Jewish café singers in Turkey! Perhaps Mr. Kampeas was thinking of Roza Eskenazi, star of Rebetiko music, who is the subject of the movie “My Sweet Canary.”

[You can read her story in: http://www.mysweetcanary.com/PDF/bio.pdf ]

Roza is not typical of Sephardic women, who traditionally did not perform in public. The many Jews who were Turkish classical musicians and composers in Ottoman times were not “café singers” either.  Nor did Mr. Kampeas have to refer to Israelis who sing in Ladino today. There are wonderful Ladino musical groups and singers in Turkey, including Los Pasharos Sefaradis, Janet and Jak Esim, and the world’s only Ladino children’s chorus, Las Estreyikas d’Estambol. Additionally, the group Sefarad, made up of Jewish musicians, performs in Ladino and Turkish, has recorded several CDs, and remains extremely popular. But none of this adds or detracts from Bonomo’s personality as a Jew or a musician.

I agree with the interviewee Saporta in the article, who said that the antisemitic verbal attacks on Bonomo come from “political factions that deride minorities in general,” but unfortunately their pronouncements concerning Jews are as Anti-Semitic as one finds anywhere. Yet, Can Bonomo‘s popularity has prompted thousands in Turkey to express outrage at the racism and discrimination in the country, and to promote the traditional kindness and humanity of the Turkish people. As Jews, we have had a long history of living peacefully with and among Turks. We hope that Can Bonomo will win first place with his song in the 2012 Eurovision contest, and bring glory to Turks and Jews, with ripple effects for good will everywhere.

A blog worth bookmarking

Filed under: economics,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 3:38 pm

http://unitedstatesofmarxism.com/

Rent and the Crisis of U.S. Capitalist Production

“The old is dying and the new cannot be born: in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear.” Antonio Gramsci

The Crisis and Its Sources

Believe it or not, but Bloomberg does publish mildly interesting articles every once in a while, and by coincidence this one on the stagnation of U.S. manufacturing appeared last week (Carl Pope is a former chair of the Sierra Club):

America’s Dirty War Against Manufacturing

Put aside the author’s no doubt special pleading for low tax, unregulated “green and clean” manufacturing.  The fundamental point is correct, and supported by the statistical evidence: the bulk of manufacturing jobs have been lost “the old-fashioned way”, by the replacement of labor power by machines, and less so by the so-called neoliberal “wage arbitrage” of existing technique to low wage countries.  Remember this the next time a Democrat or an American trade union official starts into beating on “China” with their chauvinistic and implicitly racist demagoguery.  “The old-fashioned way” – in historical terms actually a new-fangled way of extracting a surplus product that emerged in force only in the mid-19th century – is what Marxism has called relative surplus value extraction, tending to raise the average organic composition of capital – the ratio of constant to variable capital, with “constant” representing the value of machinery, technique, raw materials, and manufactured means of production generally, and “variable” representing wages.   This raises the productivity – the volume of commodities a single capital can put out with a given variable capital – of those capitals who can successfully reduce their variable capital with new technique, thereby raising the rate and mass of their individual profit at the expense of their competitors.  It was counterposed by Marx to absolute surplus value extraction by means of lengthening the workday or workweek, and/or deepening the intensity of labor in any given work period.  This latter is the true “old-fashioned way” of the capitalist extraction of surplus value, and the predominant way of the capitalist mode of production throughout its history before the 19th century.

The problem that Mr Pope is pointing to, translated into Marxian terms, is quite real: the conditions of production in the United States work against advancing capitalist production along relative surplus value lines.  In other words, an “advanced capitalist” country where half the adult population believes a personal guardian angel watches over them, day in, day out, according to The Baylor Religion Survey (2008), may not be the most conducive to the advance of science and technology in production. These conditions are therefore both superstructural – involving the structures of the State, law, custom, ideology, culture – and infrastructural – this latter boiling down to the use of the land, water, air and ecosystem as a whole.  These two aspects are dialectically interrelated as a whole with their fulcrum in the State – this after all the final arbitrator both the of the use of infrastructure and preservation of the existing superstructure – and have as their antithesis the reproduction of labor power in the form of wage labor.  The question of all of these conditions for carrying on capitalist production in its specific “industrial” manufacturing sense are essentially those of the qualitative nature of the use values that comprise those conditions, and whose “solution”, should these conditions be a barrier to the advance of capitalist production –  is therefore not immediately reducible to applications of the law of (exchange) value, a.k.a. neoliberal “market solutions”. As will be seen, the neo-liberal approach has been leading to a very different and even opposed result.  The solution in historical fact requires the intervention of agencies operating outside the law of value:  either the existing State, in what Antonio Gramsci called “passive revolutions”, conservative reforms “from above”, or the intervention of the masses, and especially the subject of the capitalist mode of production and the law of value, the proletariat, in a social revolution.  Interventions from above and below occur simultaneously, of course, with the question being which class will get the upper hand. That is what the United States is facing today in the present crisis.  Ever since the Civil War – and beginning with that war – the U.S. ruling class has solved the problem of the conditions of capitalist production (whether or not the ruling participants understood what they were doing is besides the point here) through a series of conservative “passive revolutions” that run through the Progressive Era – rightly called the “Triumph of Conservatism” by Gabriel Kolko (1963), though not for the reasons he thought – and most of all, the New Deal era, the greatest conservative triumph of them all, as can be seen when we observe the social terrain at present.

full: http://unitedstatesofmarxism.com/2012/01/22/rent-and-the-crisis-of-u-s-capitalist-production/

January 20, 2012

The City Dark; Windfall

Filed under: Ecology,energy,Film — louisproyect @ 7:53 pm

Two new documentaries resonate with me on a personal, political and more deeply philosophical level. The first is “The City Dark” that is now playing at the IFC Center in NY. It examines the phenomenon of “light pollution”, the seemingly benign phenomenon of electric lighting that makes star-gazing in places like New York virtually impossible. As someone who grew up in a tiny village in upstate New York in the 1950s with a breathtaking view of the starry sky, the film made me realize how much I miss this natural work of art that inspired Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting.

Opening on February 3rd at the Quad Cinema in New York, Laura Israel’s “Windfall” is a cautionary tale about wind power, the “green” source of energy almost universally accepted as a sane alternative to fossil fuels. As it turns out, windmills, especially those that are 400 feet tall and financed by Goldman-Sachs using generous tax breaks, are not exactly that benign.

The two films complement each other politically and philosophically since they confront in their own ways the cost of maintaining what passes for “civilization” in an epoch of dwindling natural resources and stresses on the environment and the human body engendered by living on the grid. Viewing them raises the question of our future as a species on the most fundamental level even if the intention of their makers was more narrowly focused on a specific socio-political problem.

Growing up on a farm in rural Maine, Ian Cheney enjoyed the same vista I did in the Catskills. So captivated was he by the night sky as a young man that he built his own telescope and spent hours each evening gazing at the stars. I had the exact experience when I was 12 or 13 years old and begged my parents to buy me a telescope. But nothing prepared me for what I saw in the summer of 1962 when I was at home from my first year at Bard College when a display of northern lights appeared at around 10pm one evening. For about two hours I stood in wonderment on my front lawn at the green lights dancing across the dark sky.

Like me, Cheney ended up in New York City to pursue a career. He fell in love with the city’s dazzling skyline and the neon lights on Broadway even if it meant not being able to see more than a dozen or so stars at night. At one point in the film there is a sage observation that the modern city is an inversion of the natural order. The stars have fallen from the sky, only to appear as the streetlights and neon signs of the boulevards.

The longer Cheney lived in the city, the more he missed the starry skies of his youth. The loss was not just esthetic and spiritual. As he looked deeper into the problem of “light pollution”, the more aware he became of the environmental and health costs of living in an urban environment crowned by supposedly one of civilization’s brightest jewels: electrification.

When I was involved with Tecnica, a volunteer program for revolutionary Nicaragua, we worked closely with a young engineer from Portland named Ben Linder who was killed by contras while working on a small-scale hydroelectric dam that would generate electricity for isolated and impoverished rural villages in the north. There was nothing that better expressed our hopes for a new Nicaragua than the possibility of people being able to have lighted homes in the evening. It was the age-old dream of socialism to make this possible, symbolized by the poster below that includes the slogan “Communism is Power of the Soviets Plus Electrification” beneath a light-bulb.

As it turns out, there can be too much of a good thing, including electric lights. Considering the fact that animals, including homo sapiens, have lived for millions of years without artificial lights, it comes as no surprise that mother nature can throw us for a loop. The film shows the toll light pollution takes on animals. Thousands of sea turtles newly hatched on the Florida coast mistakenly head toward the city lights rather than the ocean, which they have been programmed genetically to seek out because of its relative brightness compared to the land. As an endangered species, the idea that their numbers are decreasing at an ever greater rate because of shopping mall lights, etc. makes you reconsider the question of progress.

Since ultimately we are part of the animal kingdom, it might be expected that artificial lights will affect our health and survival as well.  Richard Stevens, an epidemiologist interviewed by Cheney, believes that disrupted circadian rhythms can affect one’s health. For example, statistics indicate that night-shift women workers are twice as likely to develop breast cancer.  As Sciencenews.org reported:

Exposure to light at night can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a brain hormone best known for its daily role in resetting the body’s biological clock. Secreted primarily in the brain, and at night, melatonin triggers a host of biochemical activities, including a nocturnal reduction in the body’s production of estrogen. Some researchers have speculated that chronically decreasing nocturnal melatonin production—as with light—might increase an individual’s risk of developing estrogen-related malignancies, such as breast cancer.

Unlike a film about genetically modified food or climate change, there are no simple solutions to light pollution. You can easily enough keep Frankenfood out of your kid’s cafeteria, for example, but what do we do about millions of people herded together in a metropolis for economic reasons? Nobody would endorse a forced march into the countryside in Khmer Rouge fashion, but “A City Dark” really makes you think about what kind of alternatives are both sustainable and feasible. There are some measures that are obviously worth taking in the short run, like putting lights into public spaces that are appropriate. However, wouldn’t we better off in the long run finding a way to stay in touch with the same thing that captivated our forefathers millenniums ago–the starry night?

Laurie Israel lives in Meredith, New York, a small farming town in Delaware County, New York just to the northwest of Sullivan County, where I grew up. Like Sullivan County, it is an impoverished area marked by the collapse of the dairy industry.

As is so often the case, impoverished areas are susceptible to environmental super-exploitation. A farmer on the edge of bankruptcy might be enticed to sign a contract to allow natural gas fracking on his land even if it results in undrinkable water.

But Meredith was not approached by a natural gas drilling company. Instead it was a company devoted to wind power, an alternative energy source that was on the leading edge of a Green revolution talked about in the press and touted by liberal politicians such as Al Gore crusading against fossil fuels. As it turned out, the windmills were not the sort of thing you would think of when it comes to an “alternative” to corporate malfeasance.

They were in fact part of the same arsenal that energy companies draw upon to make big profits for their shareholders, the public be damned—especially the citizens of Meredith. As Laurie Israel put it in the press notes:

The first proposal in Meredith called for forty 400-foot tall turbines, sited 1,000 feet from people’s homes. These were not the friendly windmills I first pictured, nor would they be far off in the distance, like ones I’ve seen in the desert. Mountains would have to be clear-cut, and turbines embedded in tons of concrete to keep them standing. Roads would be widened to accommodate the huge blades, which can be up to 180 feet long. I found out about the potential for problems in homes close to turbines, such as low frequency sound and shadow flicker when the sun gets behind the moving blades. I started to question the scale of this type of development for the area, which is both rural and residential. I talked to others in the community, and found I was not alone in questioning the proposed development. In fact, many neighbors had gone through the same transition I had – initial excitement about helping to save the world quickly changing into concern for protecting the health and wellbeing of residents and the future of their community.

As the community began to doubt whether the windmills were appropriate for their community, your first reaction might be to link them with the wealthy denizens of Cape Cod who rejected them as a blight on the landscape—something that the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world never tire of denouncing as an example of rich, liberal “not in my backyard” hypocrisy.

But it was not just a question of esthetics. Studies of industrial windmills of the sort that would be imposed on Meredith reveal that there are health hazards that are nearly as costly as the night shift work discussed in “The City Dark”. Studies reveal that the low frequency sound is not just unpleasant to the ears; it is also linked to sleeplessness, headaches and nausea. While one can put up with relatively minor ailments such as this from time to time, the thought of suffering from them on a nearly daily basis would be enough to force one to sell one’s property at a loss. For many of the people living in Meredith for generations, this would be a devastating hardship.

The town divided along fairly predictable lines. Those who stood the most to gain were large land-owners who would profit by having windmills on their land, especially land-owners whose dairy farms were not producing the income they did decades ago. But for many, especially those who treasured the natural beauty of the rolling hills and green pastures whether they had lived in Meredith for generations or were new arrivals like Laurie Israel, the money was not worth it.

As is also the case with fracking (a burning issue in my home county and one facing Delaware County as well), neighbors grew alienated from each other based on how they stood on the windmill question. The film describes the genuine pain the townspeople felt over their estrangement from one another. The costs of forced industrial penetration are felt in many ways, both in the pocketbook and in ones’ hearts.

Like “The City Dark”, “Windfall” raises fundamental questions about life on earth as conditioned by “civilization”. Keeping in mind that the root of this word is derived from the Latin for city, we must acknowledge that any political solution to our problems (war, poverty, etc.) must eventually penetrate to the very core of social relations and our relationship to nature in order to enjoy the Good Life. Our energy crisis is related very much to the demands put on the economy in order to support cities of millions of people enjoying all the amenities that electricity can support. To keep your computer powered and to provide the light necessary to look at the illuminated pixels, a steady source of electricity is necessary. That in turn can lead to a town like Meredith being swamped by 400 foot windmills that look like they stepped out of H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds”. And even if the electricity keeps flowing, there remains the problem of urban life itself which is at odds with nature in ways both known and unknown. The notion of birds bouncing off lighted buildings to their death is eerily similar to the images in apocalyptic films such as “Melancholia” and “Take Shelter”.

The only thing we can be sure of is that any solution to such intractable contradictions can only result from a society in which the wealthy no longer have the power to dictate the outcome. As was the case in Meredith, where an aroused citizenry rose up to challenge industrial windmills, a global democracy—based on political and social equality—will ultimately be the only power capable of creating a new kind of civilization that overcomes alienation between people and between people and nature.

January 19, 2012

The Financial Times on “capitalism in crisis”

Filed under: financial crisis — louisproyect @ 9:04 pm

The Financial Times is a salmon-colored British newspaper that covers the same beat as the Wall Street Journal but from a somewhat more “liberal” editorial position. Proof of that is their endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008, a sure sign that they knew what side of their bread was buttered. The Wall Street Journal once dubbed the FT as “orthodox Keynesian”, reason enough to question the value of pump-priming ideology to our current predicament.

Since things took a turn for the worse for the capitalist system in 2007, the newspaper has shouldered its responsibility for the class it represents by defending that system, even if it was forced to admit that Karl Marx was not all wrong. Last August Samuel Brittan wrote an FT article “Mistaken Marxist Moments” that despite its title accepted the possibility that “the system produced an ever-expanding flow of goods and services, which an impoverished proletarianised population could not afford to buy.” That’s quite a mouthful from an economist who defended Margaret Thatcher’s economic policy in 1981 against those 364 of his colleagues who had signed an open letter denouncing it.

The FT has once again taken up the question of capitalism in crisis, and once again concluding that despite its shortcomings it is the best economic system humanity has come up with. Considering the background of some of the contributors to this colloquium, it is not surprising that they lean that way. As “Deep Throat” put it in “All the President’s Men”, you need to follow the money.

Take for example the article titled “A letter to capitalists from Adam Smith” by one David Rubinstein that admits somewhat in a Marxoid vein that “that unfettered exuberance about wealth creation will produce unsustainable booms and inevitable crashes.” Rubinstein’s advice is about what you’d expect. Reduce debt, keep the Euro going, and educate the masses so that they will be able to fill all those openings for computer programmers.

Apparently Rubinstein thinks that after completing courses at a community college in C++ and Java, a 40 year old ex-auto worker will enter the workforce and begin to enjoy the rewards of a triumphant system that has treated Rubinstein so well:

This triumph has occurred because capitalism’s greatest strength – productive economic activity – has succeeded in creating more opportunities for more people than anyone – including me – ever imagined.

As co-founder of the Carlyle Group, Rubinstein has a leg up on the aspiring computer programmer to be sure. The Carlyle Group is a private equity firm that competes with Bain Capital and other cut-throat operations that makes its principals some of the richest bastards on the planet. Rubinstein was smart enough to line up some really qualified people on his board, people with proven track records building businesses:

[W]hen we were putting the board together, somebody came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He’s kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he’ll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth.

I said well we’re not usually in that business. But okay, let me meet the guy. I met the guy. I said I don’t think he adds that much value. We’ll put him on the board because–you know–we’ll do a favor for this guy; he’s done a favor for us. We put him on the board and spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones.

His name is George W. Bush. He became President of the United States. So you know if you said to me, name 25 million people who would maybe be President of the United States, he wouldn’t have been in that category. So you never know. Anyway, I haven’t been invited to the White House for any things.

Not surprisingly, Carlyle Group is one of the nation’s biggest investors in the military and has made deals with the Saudi ruling class worth billions of dollars–just the sort of outfit whose chairman can be relied upon for a dispassionate evaluation of the merits of private property.

If Samuel Brittan was audacious enough to refer to Karl Marx, he is trumped by FT contributor Gideon Rachman who finds something good to say about Gramsci in an article titled “We are all Austrians now”:

The old is dying and the new cannot be born: in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear.” That statement from the Prison Notebooks of the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci was a favourite of student Marxists when I was at university in the 1980s. Back then it struck me as portentous nonsense. But Gramsci’s observation does resonate now – in an age of ideological confusion.

Old certainties about the onward march of the markets are collapsing. But no new theory has established ideological “hegemony”, to use the concept that Gramsci made famous. Some ideas are, however, gathering new strength. The four strongest emerging trends that I can spot are, in very broad terms: rightwing populist, social democratic-Keynesian, libertarian-Hayekian and anti-capitalist/socialist.

One imagines that being able to quote Gramsci knowingly can’t but help an ambitious young man trying to climb to the top of the FT, a newspaper that expects more from its staff than the unsophisticated hard right ideology that pervades the editorial page of the WSJ. Of course, the whole point of quoting Gramsci is to prove that you are familiar with a writer you are about to dismiss.

As the article’s title indicates, it is really not that far from the free market garbage you can read from the WSJ hacks. Rachman confesses that despite his sympathies for social democracy, a political approach that is quite at home in the FT’s boardroom, he feels under such pressure from the pissed-off masses that he just might hook up with the current-day varieties of Reaganism/Thatcherism:

Under normal conditions I would probably sign up with the social democratic tendency. The Tea Party is not my cup of tea. But I spent the weekend reading newspaper accounts of the ever more incredible figures that may have to be poured into the bail-outs for banks and countries in Europe. Then I turned the page to read of demands for more protectionism and regulation in the EU. For light relief, I then went to see The Iron Lady – the new film about Margaret Thatcher. The whole experience has left me feeling strangely Austrian.

“Strangely Austrian”, to be sure, is just another way of saying that you know what side your bread is buttered on.

Of equal interest is how Rachman sizes up the left internationally:

The failure of the hard left to capitalise on the economic crisis testifies to how profoundly communism was discredited by the collapse of the Soviet system. But mass unemployment in Europe might yet produce the conditions for the revival of an anti-capitalist movement. Greece’s two far-left parties are currently at about 18 per cent in the polls. The diverse groups that campaign under the banner of Occupy Wall Street contain some genuine socialists. And China has a powerful “new left” movement that pays lip-service to Maoism.

Despite reading Gramsci 25 years or so ago, Rachman still has a long way to go to figure out what the great Italian Marxist meant when he wrote “The old is dying and the new cannot be born”. The collapse of the Soviet system did not discredit communism. It only discredited the monstrously bureaucratic system within whose bowels free market dogma would find hospitable conditions. Hayek and Von Mises became popular among the Soviet intelligentsia during Perestroika since it conformed to its desire for consumer goods and all the other benefits that accrued to their counterparts at the FT. If Rachman is adept at quoting Gramsci, so were they adept at one point quoting Stalin or Marx. You have to know your enemy in order to defeat him.

The Soviet Union collapsed because its ruling caste (or class—depending on the intro to Marxism class you took when young) proved incapable of resolving intractable social and economic problems exacerbated by an invasion of Afghanistan. While the USSR resisted the one solution to its problems that might have moved the country forward—direct democracy by the majority, including how and what they produced—the U.S. and the European Union are equally incapable. Communism (or socialism, the term I prefer) can only be realized when those who produce the wealth of society make the decisions about how it is allocated. That is something that frightened the bejeezus out of the state bureaucracy in the USSR and their counterparts on Wall Street today. In trying to defend the interests of the latter, the FT is playing the same kind of role that Pravda once served for the former—and will be about as successful.

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