Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 2, 2015


Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 7:40 pm

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Iran

Paradoxically, Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi” is now the third film the Iranian director has made despite the twenty-year ban on making films imposed by his nation’s morality police. What keeps him out of prison, you might ask? It is likely a function of his enormous prestige. Since he is widely recognized as one of Iran’s leading directors along with Abbas Kiarostami, with whom he has written two films, and Asghar Farhadi, it would be unacceptable to put him in prison. As a sign of the delicate balance between acclaim and censure, the state-controlled Cinema Organisation, congratulated Panahi for winning the Berlin Film Festival while at the same time accusing it of undermining the Iranian state. Its top executive Hojjatollah Ayyubi stated, “I am delighted to announce that the director of Taxi continues to drive in the fast lane of his life, freely enjoying all of its blessings.”

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September 25, 2015

Chess as Metaphor

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:47 pm

More importantly, the game has entered the parlance of political science as a metaphor for the Cold War and its lingering traces with Washington and Moscow pitted against each other. If you Google “Geopolitical Chess Game”, you will encounter 363,000 results. Not surprisingly, Michel Chossudovsky’s Global Research is at the top of the heap, a website that sees every struggle on earth as involving pieces moved about on the board. Pace Chussodovsky, can we say that the white pieces stand for Moscow and the black ones for Washington? It is impossible to determine why the game’s inventors allowed white to move first but a preference for that color springs to mind.

“Pawn Sacrifice”, a film that opened in September and that is playing at middle-brow theaters everywhere, is about as close to the geopolitical metaphor as you are going to get since it is based on the historic showdown between the 29-year old Bobby Fischer and the reigning world champion Boris Spassky, who was six years older. As the title of the film suggests, Fischer was a foot soldier in the Cold War at the time even though he was one with superpowers. Arguably the greatest chess player that ever lived, Fischer had a burning hatred of the Russians based more on their Bill Belichick bending of the rules than anything that mattered to policy-makers in Washington. Indeed, despite the fact that his mother was a Communist Party member, his hostility to her was based not so much on politics but on his generally contrary nature. In an early scene in the film, Fischer, who is in his early teens, throws his mother and her boyfriend out of the house because their lovemaking noises seeping through the thin bedroom walls did not allow him to concentrate on his game.

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September 18, 2015

BRICS: the anti-capitalist critique

Filed under: Counterpunch,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

Thick as BRICS: an Illusory Alternative to Neoliberalism

Author of Revitalizing Marxist Theory for Today’s Capitalism and other books written in defense of classical Marxism, University of Manitoba professor Radhika Desai probably spoke for the majority of the left when she wrote a Guardian op-ed piece titled “The Brics are building a challenge to western economic supremacy”. Key to this challenge was the creation of a Development Bank that can serve as an alternative to the IMF and the World Bank. As she put it:

The Brics countries do have a mortar that binds them: their common experience, and rejection, of the neoliberal development model of the past several decades and the western-dominated IMF and the World Bank that still advocate it. Their rapid development over the previous couple of decades was despite, not because of, this. Countries whose governments were able and willing to resist this model developed faster.

At the heart of her analysis is the notion of “development”, a term somewhat distinct from the socialist aspirations of earlier generations but one clearly in sync with a chastened left that while not quite agreeing with Margaret Thatcher’s TINA, does see some good in putting people to work on state-sponsored projects that generate tax revenues and raise the standard of living. If it isn’t socialism, at least it is some kind of New Deal. If a capitalism based on “neoliberalism” is to be avoided at all costs, why not opt for a more progressive and humane capitalism that is the “lesser evil”? If this sounds like the argument that some activists make for voting for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or even Bernie Sanders, you may be on to something.

At least some people resting on the foundations of Marxism disagree with Desai. In a newly published collection of articles by Patrick Bond and Ana Garcia titled BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique, you can find powerful arguments making the case that this supposed alternative to neoliberalism is no alternative at all. Whatever your stance on this debate, you would be well served by reading this book since it will enable you to make an informed political decision. It should be added that Pluto Press has published both Radhika Desai and this new book so they deserve kudos for helping the left keep abreast of important theoretical challenges.

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September 16, 2015

A New Chapter in the Fascist Internationale

Filed under: Counterpunch,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 1:15 pm

A New Chapter in the Fascist Internationale

An Ominous Prospect

With an insignia of a shield crossed by broadswords on a granite background, the World National-Conservative Movement announced its birth with the declaration, “The time has arrived to take responsibility for our peoples and nations of the world!” The confluence of some 58 parties, organizations, and groups, the World National-Conservative Movement (WNCM) developed out of the efforts of the Russian radical-right party, Rodina.

While its public document declares that “Communism, Nazism, and Islamism” comprise a “false alternative to totalitarian ideologies,” the WNCM’s ideology reads like a run-of-the-mill document of the radical right, which remains inextricably linked to fascism. Lamenting the sexual perversity of the super-national organizations like the EU and NATO, and calling for the return to the traditional “family and healthy moral values,” the WNCM attacks “the erosion of nations, massive migration,” which it blames on “liberalism, multiculturalism, and tolerance.” Instead, WNCM advocates “healthy nationalism and religious beliefs, patriotism, respect of one’s own and foreign traditional moral and ethical values, in other words, national conservatism.” Subverting the “global cabal” (read: Jews) requires a chain of “conservative revolutions” that will restore nations to themselves; “Victory of the conservative revolution even in one country without fail will provide an example for other countries.”

With participants including Golden Dawn, Jobbik, the Finns Party, and the British National Party, the WNCM hosts some of the most powerful radical right populist names in Europe. However, the umbrella group also includes some overtly-fascist groups and groupuscles like Poland’s Falanga, Italy’s Millennium and Forza Nuova, and the US’s American Freedom Party. Visiting senior fellow at Norway’s Legatum Institute, Anton Shekhovtsov, who broke this story on Thursday, characterizes the group as “clearly on the extreme right, verging on neo-Nazism.” That is putting it lightly. In spite of its formal denial, the WNCM seems more like a continuation of a potentially-disastrous formula combining fascist vanguards and populist radical right parties that continues to build steam around the world.

The Origins of the Fascist Internationale

In broad terms, it a “Fascist Internationale” that seems to be in the offing in the World National-Conservative Movement. The notion of a “left-wing” fascism, or a fascist system that would respect the autonomy of different nations while working co-operatively, developed out of the original “National Bolshevik” group, Association for the Study of Russian Planned Economy (ARPLAN), which featured Ernst Jünger and Georgi Lukacs, among others. These thinkers ideated, against the Hitlerite faction of National Socialism, that a bond between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could work, because, in the words of völkisch thinker Artur Dinter, Bolshevik Russia would become “a ‘Russian National Socialism.’”

While ARPLAN found significant traction in the early Nazi Party, with Gregor Strasser featuring prominently as Hitler’s number two, their hopes would be dashed in the Night of the Long Knives. Gregor was murdered, and his brother Otto fled the country. After the war, Otto Strasser rose to prominence on the neo-fascist circuit along with French intellectual, Maurice Bardèche, Italian occultist Julius Evola, US agent Francis Parker Yockey, and Belgian odd-ball Jean-François Thiriart. These thinkers helped model a European Social Movement (known today as the “second position”) that looked to a European Nation highly influenced by British fascist Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement. The European Social Movement effectively passed out of existence by 1957, due to a split over the difference between racist politics and cultural hegemony. Although the idea of a European Nation continued, a “Third Position” would develop to carry on the banner of “neither left nor right, neither communist nor capitalist.”

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September 11, 2015

The Communist Condition in Film

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:51 pm

The Communist Condition in Film

Each in their own way, three new films set in North Korea, China and Russia deal with Communism and its aftermath. As an experiment that will mark, but probably not celebrate, its centennial anniversary in October 2017, it is only Cuba that seems to have some affinity with the very early years of the Russian Revolution when everything good seemed possible. Today, we can talk about 21st century socialism and take heart from the continuing determination of the Bolivarian Revolution to defend the interests of working people, but there are few signs that any nation on earth is about to undergo a socialist revolution. As films, the three under consideration in this review can hardly substitute for the kind of rigorous analysis that a Marxist scholar can put forward about why this is the case but for anybody who has either dreamed about or worked to realize an alternative to capitalism, the films deserve your consideration and in one case demand it.

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Trailers for films under review:


September 4, 2015

The Golden Dream

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:37 pm

Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”

Opening at Village East Cinema in New York on September 4th, “La Jaula de Oro” (The Golden Dream) is the latest in a series of films I have seen about immigration going back to 1983 when I was deeply moved by “El Norte”. Like that film, “La Jaula de Oro” is about Guatemalans going to the USA but under circumstances far more dire. With the three main characters in their teens, they are far less able to navigate the treacherous path toward an illusory freedom and prosperity. All that sustains them is solidarity borne out of a need to move collectively toward an elusive goal as an older man from Mexico on the trail with them articulates in the very beginning of this gut-wrenching film:

You learn a lot along the path. Here, we are all brothers. We all have the same need. What’s important is that we learn to share. Only in this way can we move ahead, only in this way can we reach our destination, only a united people can survive. As human beings, there is no place in the world where we are illegal.

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August 21, 2015

The Maids

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

Maid to Order: Scenes of Class Struggle in the Household

August 14, 2015

Cenk Batu; Salamander

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 2:50 pm

Probing the Deep State — On TV

Back in 2012 James Wolcott told Vanity Fair readers “the action has left the Cineplex and headed for broadcast and cable.” In making the case for television, Wolcott offered up “Downtown Abbey” and “Mad Men” as fare that trounces Cineplex flicks geared to the 14-year-old comic book fan. With all due respect to Wolcott, my preference would have been for the European TV series that I have covered for CounterPunch in the past starting with Swedish Marxist detective stories such as Wallander and more recently Danish shows such as Dicte, which by no means Marxist were certainly superior to anything coming out of Hollywood, including the typical Oscar honoree.

Now moving southerly into Europe, I am once more struck by the artistic superiority of a couple of TV series that thankfully are freely available on the Internet. Hailing from Germany, “Cenk Batu, Undercover Agent” is a police procedural that can be seen on Youtubewhile “Salamander”—a tale of the Belgian Deep State that should appeal to Stieg Larsson fans—is available on DailyMotion, a video sharing website that was launched by a couple of Parisians in 2005.

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July 31, 2015

Merchants of Doubt

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 12:49 pm

Manufacturing Denial

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”, the 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, is required reading in order to understand the threats to our health and overall survival posed by the well-funded pseudo-scientific think-tanks that have their origins in Cold War anti-Communism. As unlikely as it might seem, the very scientists who ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers pay to cast doubt on climate change are part of a network that got started in the 1950s when scientists, including those who worked for the tobacco industry, were at last coming to the conclusion that smoking causes cancer. The tobacco companies needed “experts” to obfuscate the issues just as they need them today to cast doubt on climate change.

How and why this kind of bogus science was rooted in the anti-Communist crusade of the post-WWII era is laid out in compelling detail in “Merchants of Doubt”, a book that combines investigative reporting by a couple of science historians with a flair for detective work that would impress Agatha Christie.

As a companion piece, I can also recommend the 2014 documentary of the same name that the book inspired. Ably directed by Robert Kenner, it can now be seen on Amazon.com streaming. Both the book and the film will leave you with the conclusion that some of America’s richest and most powerful corporations prostituted a group of scientists into betraying science to boost their patron’s profits. But on further reflection, it is likely that these men would have lied even if they had never received a penny since their ideological predispositions made them the perfect tools to carry out the corporate mandate. And on even further reflection after that, it probably does not make sense to refer to prostitution since it is an honorable profession compared to what these scientists were up to.

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July 24, 2015

In defense of Counterpunch

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 7:52 pm

Jeff St. Clair

On June 25th a guest post by Amith Gupta appeared on my blog criticizing Jewish Voice for Peace’s decision to terminate relations with Alison Weir, a supporter of Palestinian rights because of her appearances on the radio show of Clay Douglas, a reactionary racist according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Since their objection is not so much about what she said in the interview but about her mere appearance on the show, it begs the question about her views. Are you to judge someone by the venue they appear on or write for? I ask because I have now been Weired, to coin a term.

On June 19th a blogger named Elise Hendrick wrote a long attack on CounterPunch for supposedly promoting the agenda of the far right and named me as an enabler. Three days later Tony Greenstein crossposted the same article and embellished it with a nice photo of me taken by my good friend the late Fred Baker about 17 years ago. Greenstein added a caption characterizing me as an “ex-Marxist”. Very nice.

I know Greenstein by reputation as a very sharp critic of Zionism but like many pro-Palestinian activists he has the unfortunate tendency to repeat Baathist propaganda such as blaming the FSA for carrying out a slaughter of villagers in al-Houla. He followed that up with the standard pro-Assad propaganda about the Syrian rebels using sarin gas on their supporters in East Ghouta as a false flag operation. I can understand why well-meaning people like Greenstein, Tariq Ali and Robert Fisk would serve Baathist aims even if unintentionally. When so much of the left is ready to put a plus where the American ruling class puts a minus, why swim against the tide? Their heart is in the right place even if their brain is not.

Since Greenstein is a pretty smart guy (just ask him), it is astonishing why he would swallow the statistics that Hendricks put together that supposedly proved CounterPunch was promoting the far right:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.41.01 PM

This is really quite pathetic, a classic example of “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. If you really want to characterize CounterPunch, it would be necessary to conduct an analysis of all of the articles that appear there, not just a sampling. How do I and the other “left/progressives” (god, what an awful term) exhaust the inventory of all those on the left who write for CounterPunch? All you need to do is look at a typical weekend edition, like the one that came out today, to get a handle on what it stands for. There are 40 articles and not a single one has even the slightest whiff of rightwing politics. Speaking of which, one has to wonder what criteria Hendricks used to categorize some of the people as rightwingers. She includes Franklin Lamb and Paul Larudee. Unless I am missing something, they have never written anything I would associate with the Republican Party. For that matter, mostly what they do is circulate pro-Baathist propaganda after the fashion of Tony Greenstein.

It would seem to me that the bloggers at Jews sans Frontieres have served as the shock troops on all this and particularly someone known as “levi9909” (Mark Elf, I am not sure?) who posted 18 times underneath Amith’s article and who shows an alarming interest in my activity on the Internet that makes me feel like I was being stalked. To some extent, I have become a proxy for Amith Gupta who had little interest in debating someone like “levi9909” who reminds me of how James P. Cannon once described Trotskyists: the kind of people who stayed later at meetings than anybody else trying to get called on by the chair to make their point one more time, all along hoping that everybody else would get exhausted and go home.

Unlike “levi9909”who has written me frenzied emails on several occasions demanding that I confess for my sins, Amith is someone I know in real space as opposed to the lunatic asylum cyberspace can often resemble. He first came to my attention when Leon Botstein had fired Joel Kovel at Bard College. Amith, who was a leader of the International Solidarity Movement on campus, was an outspoken supporter of Kovel in a place where hipster liberalism was hegemonic. As a graduate with the class of 1965, I am always happy to be connected to someone who represents the real values of Bard College, the place that Walter Winchell called the little red whorehouse on the Hudson.

I want to conclude with some words about CounterPunch, which I am proud to have written for since August 2012 (I should add that I have written 168 articles not the 59 that Hendricks counted, at least according to the grep/wc command I ran on my server.)

It really has a lot to do with my esteem for Alexander Cockburn who I count as my most important political influence next to Peter Camejo. No matter how many times I wrote attacks on his global warming denialism, he was always someone who held a special place in my heart for helping me rebound from the post-traumatic stress syndrome I was experiencing after 11 years in the Trotskyist movement. In 1979 when I moved to New York from Kansas City, I had resolved to put politics behind me but when I stumbled across his column in the Village Voice, it was like being reborn. The clarity of his prose, the sharpness of his analysis and his biting humor were like nothing I had ever read in the Militant newspaper. Three years later, when I was still sorting out my experiences in the SWP, I read Camejo’s “Against Sectarianism”, an article that had the same bracing effect as Alexander’s columns. With their help, I was able to land on my feet and keep going for another 36 years.

It is Alexander’s spirit that lives on in CounterPunch and it is to Jeff St. Clair’s everlasting credit that he has kept the ship afloat after the captain passed on. No matter how many times people complain about articles in CounterPunch, it is the essential voice of the left in the USA and one that has a global presence. When I began writing about Swedish Marxist detective stories, a Swede contacted me with his own take on the country’s darker side and remains an occasional correspondent.

The idea that it is promoting rightwing ideas is patently absurd. While everybody knows that Paul Craig Roberts was a member of the Reagan administration, there’s not a single word that he writes that can be mistaken for a Fox News report. Like Kevin Phillips, he has turned against the increasingly plutocratic nature of American politics. In fact, the idea of a left-right alliance is not limited to CounterPunch. Ralph Nader has promoted the same strategy, including on CounterPunch. In years past, he was vilified for saying things that sounded like Pat Buchanan. If we are about building a movement based on ideological purity, we might as well go the route of the Marxist-Leninist left that has largely proven itself irrelevant. In any movement with the social weight capable of confronting the ruling class, you can expect that there will be clashing ideas in our ranks. It happened in Cuba in the late 50s and it will happen here. You’d better get used to the idea.

While the Marxism mailing list is obviously more ideologically focused than CounterPunch, we try to maintain diversity even if some disgruntled souls believe I am a tyrant (don’t listen to a word they say or you’ll regret it.) Mark Jones, one of my closest comrades who died of oral cancer in 2003, was an ardent admirer of Joseph Stalin who argued that it was necessary to purge the Soviet officer corps on the eve of WWII. Despite that, our views on the environmental crisis and the character of American imperialism bound us together as comrades. Another Marxmailer, who I hold in the highest regard, was a global warming skeptic and vociferous about it (until he changed his mind.) Sol Dollinger, an old-timer who died in 2001, was a member of the Socialist Union, a group led by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman in the 1950s that I strongly identify with. During his time on Marxmail he stated his concerns about undocumented workers undermining the trade union movement on numerous occasions sounding for all the world like someone writing for VDare, the nativist magazine that Paul Craig Roberts writes for. In the radical movement we need to build in the USA, you can expect all sorts of differences to develop. That’s the kind of party we need if we are to have any possibility of attracting millions of people rather than hundreds.

I am enormously glad to have the opportunity to write for CounterPunch even though there are articles that I obviously disagree with, starting with what Franklin Lamb and Paul Larudee write about Syria. I am reconciled to the reality that my views are in a distinct minority and that those of Lamb, Larudee and Greenstein are those of the overwhelming majority.

That being said, I give Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank a lot of credit for publishing an article I had written about Syria that went against the current. For that matter, Jeff invited me to become a regular contributor to CounterPunch after I had blogged a complaint about how one article supported the arrest of Pussy Riot. Jeff said that if I disagreed with the article, why don’t I write my own. Frankly, if we had more people like Jeff St. Clair editing electronic and print media nowadays, the left would be in a lot better shape.

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