Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 9, 2014

Motivating a subscription to Counterpunch and Critical Muslim

Filed under: Counterpunch,Critical Muslim,journalism — louisproyect @ 4:04 pm

Just by coincidence I received copies of two print publications by snail mail yesterday that include my articles. It occurred to me that it would be a good time to motivate taking out a subscription to them for my sake, the sake of other contributors, and your own reading pleasure. (Motivate—that’s a word I haven’t used in this way since my days in the Socialist Workers Party! Old habits die hard.)

The first is Counterpunch magazine, Volume 21 Number 3. My article is titled “A Hero for Our Time? The Return of Karl Marx”. The magazine has a nifty picture of Karl Marx in a Superman type uniform.

Subscription information is at http://store.counterpunch.org/product-category/subscriptions/. A year’s subscription is $55 for the print edition and $35 for the digital.

My article starts out with an examination of the renewed interest in Karl Marx following the 2007 financial crisis and proceeds to a discussion of Marx’s political legacy, something that would not come under the purview of those Financial Times and Bloomberg News contributors whistling past Lehman Brothers’ gravesite.

Here’s an excerpt:

Like the nuclear reactor that withstood a meltdown in China Syndrome, the American economy supposedly is in recovery. Of course there are those unfortunates who cannot seem to find a job, especially in the Black community, but the stock market is at an all-time high and the housing market—according to the experts—is doing quite well. GM is showing a handsome profit even if it faces criminal charges for failing to inform owners of their cars that a faulty ignition might lead to fatal accidents.

More to the point, the NY Times of March 12, 2014 reported on economist Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that would be of little assurance to anybody except the wealthy. Piketty deploys a mountain of data to prove that economic inequality will not only persist into the future but that the system itself is the primary generator, not “vampire squids” as Matt Taibbi put it. It is the very nature of the system that leads to a concentration of wealth at the top and misery at the bottom. Timesman Eduardo Porter, not a critic of capitalism after the fashion of Nouriel Roubini, puts it bluntly:

The deep concern about the distribution of income and wealth that inspired 19th-century thinkers like David Ricardo and Karl Marx was attributed to a misunderstanding of the dynamics of growth leavened with the natural pessimism that would come from living in a time of enormous wealth and deep squalor, an era that gave us “Les Misérables” and “Oliver Twist.”

Today, of course, it’s far from obvious that the 19th-century pessimists were entirely wrong.

Glancing back across history from the present-day United States, it looks as if Kuznets’s curve swerved way off target. Wages have been depressed for years. Profits account for the largest share of national income since the 1930s. The richest 10 percent of Americans take a larger slice of the economic pie than they did in 1913, at the peak of the Gilded Age.

By subscribing to Counterpunch magazine, you will be helping to sustain the website, a source of many useful articles including my own contrarian film reviews. Speaking of contrarian film reviews, in the current issue of the magazine you can read Kim Nicolini’s take on Matthew McConaughey. Kim is my film co-editor at the magazine and we frequently disagree—that’s what makes life interesting after all. But on McConaughey, I couldn’t agree more with Kim. Her final paragraphs:

Some might critique these roles as crude stereotypes. But stereotypes are derived from reality. McConaughey’s roles fit into a cultural tradition that depicts the decadence and debauchery of the South through baroque exaggeration, myth, and dark humor. Sure, not everyone living in the CSA is a pervert, racist homophobe. McConaughey shows the complexity of being a white man in the South by playing his roles to the edge of absurdity then turning them into images of tragic sincerity, not unlike the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd which plays during the violent drunken brawl in Dazed and Confused.

When McConaughey won his Oscar and thanked God and family for his success, he got a lot of shit from the liberal media. But nothing in the roles McConaughey has played over the last three years propagates a Christian agenda. In fact, they turn the Christian agenda on its head. Discriminating against him for his religious choices is the same as discriminating against anyone else for their choices. Discrimination is discrimination.

The consistency of his roles has made his body a landscape of Southern culture and an embodiment of the Southern literary canon. As far as I’m concerned, that is “Alright, alright, alright.”

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 11.47.17 AM

I also received number 10 of Critical Muslim, a journal co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar. I first motivated a subscription to Critical Muslim in January 2014 and invite you to review that post. Instructions on how to buy single issues and subscriptions are here http://criticalmuslim.com/subscribe. Of course, I urge you to subscribe.

Issue number 10 is titled “Sects”, a reminder that it is not just Marxism-Leninism that is subject to this problem.

In fact, many of my old friends and comrades on the left will be both amused and edified by a keynote article co-authored by Sardar and MerrylWyn Davies titled “Sectarianism Unbound”:

Taz’, a new channel on the Pakistani Geo TV network, is dedicated to twenty-four-hour news. There is a rapid-fire news bulletin every fifteen minutes: hence the name, Taz, or fast. But even after an endless stream of stories about sectarian violence, terrorist atrocities, suicide bombings, ‘target killings’, ‘load shedding’, political corruption and the defeats of the Pakistani cricket team with mundane regularity, there is still ample time left in the schedule. So the slots between the news bulletins are filled with what they call tazaabi tottas – acidic bits, short satirical skits. In one particular sketch, a man, sitting on a bridge, is about to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He is spotted by a passer-by who runs towards him shouting ‘Stop! Stop!’ The two men then engage in the following dialogue:

‘Why are you committing suicide?’

‘Let me die! No one loves me.’

‘God loves you. Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you a Muslim, or…’

‘Allah be Praised! I am a Muslim.’

‘I too am a Muslim. Are you a Shia or a Sunni?’

‘Sunni.’

‘I too am a Sunni. What is your school of law?’

‘Hanafi.’

‘Me too! Do you belong to the Deobandi or Bralevi sect?’

‘Deobandi.’

‘Me too! Are you a Tanzihi (pure) Deobandi or a Takfiri (extremist) Deobandi?’

‘Tanzihi.’

‘Me too! Tanzihi of Azmati branch or Farhati branch?’

‘Tanzihi Farhati branch.’

‘Me too!’ Tanzihi Farhati educated at University of Amjair or Tanzihi Farhati educated at Noor University of Mawad?’

‘Tanzihi Farhati educated at Noor University of Mawad.’

‘Infidel, kaffir! You deserve to die!’

The man who came to help then pushes the suicidal man over the bridge.

The humorous sketch gives us deep insight into the state of the Muslim ummah – the transnational Muslim community. It is simply not good enough to be a Muslim. You have to be labelled Sunni or Shia, and from there on progressively put in smaller boxes right down to which particular institution of learning you subscribe to. And those who deviate one iota, follow a different school of thought, or a different historic tradition, or a different fatwa issuing seminary, are, by definition, kaffirs – infidels who deserve to die.

Just in case you think that the sketch deliberately takes sectarianism to ridiculous lengths, consider how the Deobandi sect describes itself. The institution that established the sect, and from which it takes in name, Darul Uloom, Deoband, which in the words of Faizur Rahman is ‘the undisputed Islamic authority in India’, defines its creed as follows: ‘religiously Darul Uloom is Muslim; as a sect, Ahl-e-Sunnatwal-Jama’at (Sunni); in practical method (of law), Hanafi; in conduct, Sufi; dialectically, Maturidi Ash’ari; in respect of the mystic path, Chishtiyyah, rather comprising all the Sufi orders; in thought, Waliyullhian; in principle, Qasimiyah; sectionally, Rasheedian; and as regards connection, Deobandi’. So it is clear! Deobandis are, in descending order: Muslim, Sunni, Hanafi, Sufi, followers of the classical School of Ashari theology, cohorts of the Indian reformer Shah Waliyullah, and supporters of the ‘principles of some marginal scholar called Qasim and partisans of an even more obscure scholar called Rasheed!’

My own article is a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam”, a book that makes the case that the victims of Obama’s drone attacks have more in common with the Apaches or the Lakotas than al-Qaeda.

An excerpt:

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

April 4, 2014

Noah

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film,religion — louisproyect @ 5:28 pm

Noah, Revised

A Hard Rain

by LOUIS PROYECT

More Tolkien than Torah, Darin Aronovsky’s “Noah” is a cinematic tour de force that combines breathtaking CGI-based imaginary landscapes with a film score by Clint Mansell that hearkens back to Hollywood’s golden age of Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner. Even without a single minute of dialog, the film achieves the mesmerizing quality of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy, especially the last installment Naqoyqatsi, the Hopi word for “Life at War”.

Like other films that view the bible as a theme to riff on in the manner of Miles Davis improvising on a banal tune like “Billy Boy”, Aronovsky takes the material of Genesis 5:32-10:1 and shapes it according to his own aesthetic and philosophical prerogatives. As might be expected, the Christian fundamentalists are not happy with the film since it turns Noah into something of a serial killer on an unprecedented scale, acting on what he conceives of as “the Creator’s” instructions, namely to bring the human race to an end. Religious Jews who have a literalist interpretation of the bible have been far less vocal, no doubt a function of the Hasidic sects viewing all movies as diversions from Torah studies. (For those with unfamiliarity with Jewish dogma, the Torah encompasses the first five books of the Old Testament that are replete with fables such as the Great Flood, many of which have inspired some classic cinematography, such as Charlton Heston splitting the Red Sea.)

Unlike the fable it is based on, Aronovsky’s Noah never received instructions about being fruitful and multiplying. His intention is to leave the planet to the animals and wind down the human race’s participation in the tree of life, to use the title of Terrence Malick’s overrated 2011 film. In my view, Aronovsky has much deeper thoughts and more sure-handed cinematic instincts than Malick could ever hope for. To pick only one scene, the massive moving carpet of animals headed toward the Ark is a CGI tour de force. Instead of a stately procession in circus parade fashion, it is more like a zoological tsunami that anticipates the great tsunami soon to follow.

read full article

March 28, 2014

The ISO’s secrecy fetish

Filed under: Counterpunch,Lenin,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 1:25 pm
It’s Time for an Open and Transparent Left

The ISO’s Secrecy Fetish

by LOUIS PROYECT

The International Socialist Organization published an article on March 6th by Tim Koch titled “Openness” and the left that opposed making their internal documents public either voluntarily or involuntarily as was the case recently when digital versions of the bulletins from their most recent convention were circulated on the Internet. I can understand why this aspiring Leninist group was aggravated over this violation of their confidentiality because there were some rather embarrassing revelations about the ISO’s stagnation, as well as what some regarded as a damningly inadequate response to a party member’s sexual attack on a non-party member.

I dealt with the stagnation question in an earlier article for CounterPunch and will now turn to the questions raised by Tim Koch since they go to the heart of what kind of left needs to be built in 2014. As a general rule, I do not think that modeling yourself on the Russian Social Democracy is a very good idea, but that being the case maybe the ISO should reflect on how “internal” the discussions were in the party they are supposedly emulating.

In 1905 Lenin wrote an article blasting the Russian liberals for making their party documents secret:

We Social-Democrats resort to secrecy from the tsar and his blood hounds, while taking pains that the people should know every thing about our Party, about the shades of opinion within it, about the development of its programme and policy, that they should even know what this or that Party congress delegate said at the congress in question. The enlightened bourgeois of the Osvobozhdeniye fraternity surround themselves with secrecy… from the people, who know nothing definite about the much-talked-of “Constitutional-Democratic” Party; but they make up for this by taking the tsar and his sleuths into their confidence. Who can say they are not democrats?

Tim Koch and his comrades are used to thinking that Lenin’s faction—the Bolsheviks—was the real party in Czarist Russia as opposed to the fake socialists. However, its own members did not regard the Russian social democracy in such purist fashion, particularly Lenin who viewed the right-leaning Mensheviks and the centrists grouped around Leon Trotsky as part of the same plucky but unhappy family. From 1903, the time when factional divisions began to emerge, to 1917 when a definitive (and harmful, in my view) break occurred between the left and the right internationally, debates took place in the party newspapers on an ongoing basis, resembling a Marxist version of the food fight in “Animal House”. To get a flavor of the acrimony, just consider the title of Lenin’s 1911 article Judas Trotsky’s Blush of Shame. It was an ongoing flame war in full view of all Russian social democratic members, just the sort of thing that would give our present-day “Leninist” leaders nightmares.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/28/the-isos-secrecy-fetish/

March 7, 2014

From Both Sides of the Aegean

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Greece,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:52 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 7-9, 2014

Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean”

In the Wake of the Ottoman Empire

by LOUIS PROYECT

It would be hard to imagine a documentary making more of an impact on the mind, the heart and the eye than Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey-Greece: 1922-1924” that opens at the Quad in New York on March 21.

When I ran into Ms. Iliou before a press screening at the Quad on Tuesday, she described her new film as a follow-up to “Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City”, a film that I reviewed for CounterPunch almost a year ago.  The first paragraph of that review referred to my personal connection to the terrible tragedy of September 1922:

In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.

As in the first film, Iliou draws upon a treasure trove of historical photos and film footage, interviews with academic specialists in Greek and Turkish history, and reminiscences of the children and grandchildren who were driven from their homeland both through naked terror and through “legal” decisions made at the top by cynical politicians. Given the pain—both physical and emotional—visited on the Greeks and the Turks, the distinction between illegal and legal becomes moot.

While the film would be of particular interest to someone like myself, it has a universal message for those who cannot but be aware of the toxic after-effects of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims fought to defend statehood claims like vultures fighting over dead meat.

full article

February 28, 2014

The Obedient Assassin

Filed under: Counterpunch,literature,Stalinism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 1:45 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition Feb 28-Mar 02, 2014

John Davidson’s “The Obedient Assassin”

Killing Trotsky

by LOUIS PROYECT

Although the movement he created is on its last legs, Leon Trotsky is still a compelling figure for the artist based on the evidence of three novels focused on his sojourn in Coyoacan that have appeared in the last several years.

Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” came out in 2009. Like the 2002 film “Frida” (screenplay by CounterPunch regular Clancy Sigal), Kingsolver put Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo into the foreground. For her the two characters enabled her “to examine the modern American political psyche, using artists as a vehicle”, as she states on her website. The World Socialist Website frowned on the novel’s treatment of Trotsky and its deficiencies in the dialectical materialism department, which I suppose is reason enough to recommend it.

That very same year Leonardo Padura, a Cuban, wrote “The Man who Loved Dogs”, a nearly 600-page novel about Trotsky now available in English translation. Naturally the N.Y. Times reviewer, a Mexican novelist named Álvaro Enrique, saw it as a parable on Cuban society with the artist in mortal danger of being killed by a state inspired by the Moscow Trials: “Cuba may be the last place in the Americas where being a writer means living in terror.” One must conclude that Enrique does not consider reporters to be writers since a hundred have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, with most of the cases being unsolved.

I imagine that I will get around to reading Kingsolver and Padura at some point, but I had a keener interest in what John P. Davidson had to say about Trotsky in the brand new “The Obedient Assassin”, a novel that turns Ramon Mercader—Trotsky’s killer—into the major character.

I was surprised if not shocked to discover that this was the same John P. Davidson who had written a supremely witty and thoughtful account about going to butler’s school in the January 2014 Harper’s titled You Rang?, where he writes:

For some time, becoming a servant had been one of those idle dropout fantasies I entertained, along with becoming a shepherd or joining a monastery. Now, having sold my house and spent ten years and a great deal of money writing a novel that my agent hadn’t been able to sell, I had a somewhat more urgent interest in the six-figure jobs the Starkey Institute dangles before prospective students.

Assuming that the unsellable novel is “The Obedient Assassin”, we can only thank our lucky stars that he was a washout as a butler and that his agent finally hit pay dirt. As someone who has been a professional journalist for thirty-five years for reputable outlets like Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, Davidson brings to the table an ability to write briskly and without a single superfluous word. Nor will you find the trendiness favored by MFA graduates. Sometimes it is easy to forget that some of the greatest novels were written by men and women who started out as journalists, first and foremost among them Ernest Hemingway.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/28/killing-trotsky/

February 18, 2014

Notes on a staggering ISO

Filed under: aging,Counterpunch,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 11:03 am

Counterpunch February 18, 2014

The Slow Death of “Leninism”

Notes on a Staggering ISO

by LOUIS PROYECT

It might be obvious from articles appearing on CounterPunch (“A Response to Our Socialist Worker Critics”, to name just one) that former members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) have decided to subject the self-described “Leninist” group to a withering critique.

In a recent development, current members constituted as the Renewal Faction have joined the chorus of critics as well, something that will obviously irk a leadership accustomed to fawning approval from the ranks. Indicating the general movement toward web-based debate and discussion and away from the print-based medium favored by small propaganda groups operating in the “Leninist” tradition, the faction launched a website titled “External Bulletin”, a term that very likely challenges the notion of the “Internal Bulletin”, the members-only medium that allows such groups to conduct their discussions without the prying eyes of non-members.

Unfortunately for the ISO, the internal bulletin might have become a relic of the Leninist past after a disgruntled member or members decided to forward PDF’s of 30 (at last count) documents to selected critics of the ISO, including me. Over the past few days, I have read maybe 100 pages worth of internal discussion articles and want to offer my analysis of what is happening with the largest “Leninist” organization in the United States (I exclude the CP, which operates more as a wing of the Democratic Party.) As someone who spent nearly 12 years in the American Socialist Workers Party from 1967 to 1978 (now there’s a screenplay begging to be written: “12 Years a Sectarian”), I can recognize the pressures operating on the ISO that will inevitably generate discontent.

read full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/18/notes-on-a-staggering-iso/

February 4, 2014

The Devil and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,obituary — louisproyect @ 2:29 pm

Counterpunch February 04, 2014
Coming Off as Anybody

The Devil and Philip Seymour Hoffman

by LOUIS PROYECT

Most people probably had the same reaction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by heroin overdose that they did to Heath Ledger’s on painkillers in the same kind of posh downtown neighborhood. Why would somebody earning millions of dollars and the adulation of countless fans ever become a drug addict, and as was the case with both superstars, an alcoholic as well? The dirty little secret of the acting profession is that many people attracted to it are compensating for deep feelings of inadequacy that no amount of money or fame can relieve. When I was an undergraduate at Bard College, I became good friends with a woman who would become a film and theater star of some magnitude but most of the time she could not shake the feeling that she was not smart as the other students. When she was on stage being applauded, that was when she felt like a human being. Of course, when you are not on stage or on the silver screen, reality has a way of bringing you down.

Hoffman earned the kind of accolades that do not usually come the way of “character actors”. Most movie stars are the sorts of prime meat in their twenties and early thirties who end up on David Letterman’s sofa talking about the cute things their pet schnauzer does and promoting their next film, an exciting tale of Navy Seals rescuing San Diego from mutant flying sharks. Wikipedia says that the earliest known use of the term character actor is from the November 9, 1883 edition of The Stage, which defined it as “one who portrays individualities and eccentricities, as opposed to the legitimate actor who [...] endeavours to create the rôle as limned by the author”.

read full article

January 17, 2014

The best and worst films of 2013

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 8:36 pm
Counterpunch Weekend Edition January 17-19, 2014
Why Hollywood is Incapable of Making Great Films

The Best and Worst Films of 2013

by LOUIS PROYECT

Before explaining my somewhat heterodox approach to best and worst lists, I want to follow up on my reporting on the witch hunt against Armond White, who was facing discipline over his alleged heckling of Steve McQueen at the New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony. Since then White has been expelled from NYFCC. Rather than giving you my take on this, I would refer you to an excellent article by Henry Stewart in L Magazine titled “Armond White is just a red herring”.  Stewart spoke for me when he wrote:

Armond’s ejection from the organization seems reasonable (if regrettably messy); but does the practice of bestowing honors to films and filmmakers and then hobnobbing with them at ceremonies and industry parties? “Critics should not be in the business of giving out awards,” Times critic AO Scott (who’s professionally forbidden to belong to any awards-bestowing critics groups) wrote on Twitter, continuing, “Criticism rests on the independence and integrity of the singular voice, and group voting+partying with the winners undermines that.”

I haven’t yet seen a critics-group this year recognize a film that truly needed recognition: every one praised a piece of prominently lobbied-for Oscarbait: 12 Years, American Hustle, etc., the same movies that won Golden Globes and which will likely go on to win Academy Awards. I’m a member of the Online Film Critics Society (because belonging to any group has its useful perks, like year-end screeners), which named 12 Years a Slave the year’s best movie. But it was a movie I strongly disliked, so what does the group’s award and my membership in the organization have to do with each other? This is what Scott means, I think, by voting being meaningless: consensus is by definition middlebrow, unenthusiastic, dispassionate—nothing we should want our film criticism to be.

In line with Stewart’s reference to recognizing films that truly need recognition, my picks for best films of the year will by and large never get full-page ads in the N.Y. Times and relentless public relations blitzkriegs from the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world. (I say by and large because The Weinstein Company produced “Philomena”, one of my picks.) But mostly my choices are either fiction films not made in Hollywood or documentaries, for which this was a banner year. I also tend to shy away from American “indie” movies that come out of Sundance since I find them formulaic. My critical faculties were honed by my exposure to cinema’s greatest artists who I was fortunate enough to be exposed to when I was a student at Bard College in the early 1960s. Each week a new film by Buñuel, Kurosawa, Godard, and Kubrick et al would open. Just as we will never see another Mozart; so we will never see the likes of that generation again.

full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/17/the-best-and-worst-films-of-2013/

November 22, 2013

Zombies on the High Seas

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition November 22-24, 2013

Whatever Happened to the Somali Pirate Threat?

Zombies on the High Seas

by LOUIS PROYECT

In 2013 there were no less than two films about Somali hijackings of merchant ships. “Captain Phillips”, the better-known one, is now playing at Cineplexes everywhere. The other is a Danish film called “A Hijacking” that played at art houses in June. In both the Somali pirates are like zombies in a George Romero film—symbols of unrelenting violence who crave money rather than flesh. I saw the two to stay abreast with the kind of films being considered by my colleagues in New York Film Critics Online for the December 2013 awards meeting, but with the added incentive of getting up to speed on what has been happening in Somalia. This was the push I needed to do a little research on the country’s recent history even if it meant being forced to look at Tom Hanks’s earnest puss for two hours—not to speak of the predictable Western civilization under siege message.

Read full

November 8, 2013

Make a contribution to Counterpunch

Filed under: Counterpunch,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm

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I just donated $100 to the Counterpunch fund-drive (http://store.counterpunch.org/) and strongly urge you to do so as well. At the risk of sounding like one of those annoying NPR or PBS people during their fund-drive, let me show you how little this would cost you in comparison to the reward: keeping the most important “hard left” website afloat.

$100 per year comes to about 28 cents a day, the amount of small change that you would barely notice if it fell out of your pocket behind a sofa cushion. I pay $2.50 per day to read the N.Y. Times but if I had a choice between Counterpunch and the Gray Lady, I would not hesitate. You could always switch to the Washington Post but there is only one Counterpunch.

On the Counterpunch home page, the editors remind us that it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary. Although most people associate Counterpunch with the web and the editorial team of Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair, it actually was launched in 1994 by Ken Silverstein as a print newsletter in the same format as Doug Henwood’s LBO. I took out a sub to Counterpunch just as soon as I learned of it from an ad in the back pages of the Nation Magazine. In the first year of Counterpunch, there’s an article based on an interview Ken did with me about the mass layoffs of IT managers at Goldman-Sachs.

After Counterpunch devolved into the capable hands of Alexander Cockburn, Ken went on to a series of jobs with different newspapers and magazines, and is now ensconced at Harper’s, a magazine that I have been subbed to since the early 80s. In fact, my staples—periodicals that I rely on—are Harper’s, Counterpunch, LBO and the NY Times.

Harper’s has a real connection to the fundraising appeal I am making here. As you probably know, the publisher John MacArthur hates the Internet, viewing it as a threat to journalism and to humanity in general. Like Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier, he views it as a plot by people like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg to turn us into slaves of the Big Machine a la Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. When I put a Harper’s article (a Terry Eagleton review of Sperber’s Karl Marx biography) on the Marxmail website, I got email from Harper’s demanding that I take it down. It probably did not occur to them that the people who read the article might have been enticed to take out a subscription to the magazine on the basis of the theft of their precious intellectual property.

MacArthur’s big complaint is that the Internet will destroy serious journalism by removing it from the commodity chain. While it is true that an article on the Louisiana oil company depredations by Ken Silverstein requires a serious outlay in terms of transportation and housing costs, not to speak of his salary, there are articles in Counterpunch that are just as vital as Ken’s. They, however, are not behind a paywall.

That is where you come in, dear readers. We need a mainstream liberal magazine like Harper’s but we need Counterpunch even more. Where else are you going to get quality articles written by a wide range of authors five days a week? The content of the Counterpunch archives are an amazing resource for any leftie doing research on some topic. For example, if you Google “fracking” using the Counterpunch domain, you will get 6,100 hits—all of them relevant to the research project of exposing the corporate polluters. This is certainly worth 28 cents a day.

Finally, I want to deal with the question of some of the static Counterpunch has generated this year, particularly with the ISO attack on “sexism”. It is very important to understand that Counterpunch—at least the way I see it—is not a party newspaper like the ISO’s. Jeff and Joshua Frank do not sit down and plot out an agenda for 2014 with the aim of establishing cells of disciplined cadre everywhere determined to win the masses to the St. Clair/Frank programme for communist revolution.

In fact it is the very undisciplined character of Counterpunch that makes it unique. What better symbol of that was the Cockburn—St. Clair partnership that persisted even when they were miles apart on global warming? I began writing for Counterpunch on the invitation of Jeff St. Clair after he read my tirade about an article supporting the jailing of Pussy Riot that had appeared on Counterpunch. Also, you may have noticed the publication of a piece about Syria I had written recently. It went against what regularly appears on Counterpunch. If the vanguard party newspapers were 1/100th as inclusive as Counterpunch, we’d all be a lot better off. If you study the real history of the Russian revolutionary movement, you will learn that Counterpunch has much more in common with Iskra or Pravda than any of these “party line” newspapers.

At any rate, in a period of deepening social and economic crisis, a publication like Counterpunch is more necessary than ever. I created the Marxism mailing list in order to allow revolutionary socialists worldwide to communicate. Not more than a day or so goes by without me linking to a Counterpunch article, totaling 3,490 at this point. That speaks volumes for its importance. I urge you to donate $100 like me or $50, or whatever you can afford. As they say, “from each according to their ability…” Then, of course, everybody needs Counterpunch equally.

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