Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 11, 2014

No God, No Master

Filed under: anarchism,Film,repression — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Although marred by a clumsy script, weak character development, tone-deaf dialogue, implausible coincidences, amateurish acting, and an obtrusive film score, “No God, No Master” is one of the more important films showing in New York right now. What saves it is the theme, which is the historical background to the Palmer Raids of 1919 that led to the arrest and pending deportation of 10,000 Americans in the aftermath of an anarchist bombing campaign meant as retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.

Among the historical figures that are depicted in the film are:

  • William J. Flynn, the chief of the bomb squad in New York where most of the action takes place
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Mitchell Palmer
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Emma Goldman
  • Carlo Tresca, the anarchist leader who served on the Dewey Commission to clear Leon Trotsky of the charges leveled by Stalin
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Louise Berger, an anarchist who plotted to kill Rockefeller
  • Luigi Galleani, one of Berger’s co-conspirators

As you sit watching the film, you forgive all the miscues since it is mostly faithful to historical details except for one just barely forgivable peccadillo. Played by the incomparable David Strathairn, William J. Flynn is depicted as a free speech liberal challenging Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover on the need to deport radicals simply for their ideas. The connections to today’s world are palpable.

The film was actually made in 2009 and only found a distributor five years later. One supposes if Green made a mumblecore movie about a couple of college drop-outs who decide to become pimps, it would have been jumped on immediately. Of course, it is up to malcontents like us to patronize the Quad Cinema in New York where it opens today so that Hollywood understands that indie films about serious topics have an audience.

August 17, 2013

Two confessions

Filed under: prison,repression — louisproyect @ 12:44 pm

Private First Class Bradley Manning:

First your Honor. I want to start off with an apology. I am sorry. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I am sorry that it hurt the United States. At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues– issues that are ongoing and they are continuing to affect me.

Although they have caused me considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions. I understood what I was doing and the decisions I made. However, I did not truly appreciate the broader effects of my actions. Those effects are clearer to me now through both self-reflection during my confinement in its various forms and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here.

I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was gonna help people, not hurt people. The last few years have been a learning experience. I look back at my decisions and wonder, ‘How on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better over the decisions of those with the proper authority?’

full: http://news.rapgenius.com/Pfc-bradley-manning-unsworn-statement-during-sentencing-trial-lyrics

* * * *

Personal Confession of N. Bukharin (Translated by Grover Furr)

In the present confession I wish to give the historical development of the counterrevolutionary organization of the Rights, beginning with its embryonic forms and including in the analysis its intellectual (ideinye) and organizational sources and premises

1 My general theoretical anti-Leninist views

I first of all wish to concentrate on my own theoretical anti-Leninist and anti-Marxist errors, in order to give a clear, general theoretical basis for the following exposition and in order not to repeat myself in my consideration of individual questions.

1. Lack of understanding of dialectics and substitution of Marxist dialects with the so- called theory of equilibrium. It is well known that Lenin’s “Testament” points out that I did not understand dialectics and had not studied it seriously. This was completely true. I the purely philosophical area I proceeded from the study of so-called “latest positivism” and was under the influence of A. BOGDANOV, whom I wished to interpret only in a materialist way, which unavoidably led to a peculiar eclecticism, simply put, theoretical confusion, where mechanical materialism united with empty schemas and abstractions. Abstract schematism pursues “final generalizations”, wrenching them from the multi-formedness of rapidly-flowing life, and in this dead approach to the processes of history and of historical life lies the root of my immense political errors, which grew under definite conditions into political crimes.

full: http://clogic.eserver.org/2007/furr_bobrov.pdf

 

August 6, 2013

Informant

Filed under: Film,repression — louisproyect @ 6:27 pm

In early 2009 the anarchist movement in Austin was shocked to learn that Brandon Darby was an FBI informant who had helped entrap David McKay and Bradley Crowder, two young activists from Midland, Texas, into constructing 8 Molotov cocktails. In mid-2012 it was the Marxist movement’s turn to be traumatized. Richard Aoki, the highly respected Asian studies professor and 1960s militant student movement leader, had been an FBI informant since his teen years. Last night, as I sat through a press screening for “Informant”, a documentary on and featuring Brandon Darby, I learned that the subject—like Aoki—was connected to the Black Panther Party in some fashion. Aoki was a charter member who had supplied them guns, while Darby’s entry into the radical movement was inspired by his friendship with Robert King, one of the Angola Three prisoners. Arrested for robbery, King spent 32 years in Angola prison in Louisiana (29 of them in solitary), where he headed a BPP chapter.

After Hurricane Katrina, Darby traveled to New Orleans with Austin anarchist leader Scott Crow to rescue Robert King from the floods. Not long after reaching him, the two men hooked up with Malik Rahim, another ex-Panther, to build Common Ground Relief, a group serving the mostly African-American flood victims in the Upper Ninth Ward.

As Darby states early on in this gripping documentary, he was fixated on the “tough” reputation of the Black Panther Party and ready to escalate the struggle beyond food and medical relief. Like the Panthers, he said that violence was the only remedy for capitalist oppression. Or at least that was his public image.

Eventually Darby took a trip down to Venezuela in the hope that he could persuade Hugo Chavez to provide funding for Common Ground Relief. In one of the film’s reenactments that features Darby with actors, he is seen with officials from the oil industry that supposedly instructed him to go to Colombia and fight alongside the FARC. The reenactment made me laugh out so loud that other critics at the screening might have wondered whether I was having a psychotic episode. I suppose that unfamiliarity with the politics of the region would lead them to this conclusion but anybody knowledgeable about the Chavistas would understand how ludicrous the scene was. Despite rightwing accusations that the Venezuelan government was behind the FARC, Hugo Chavez as well as Fidel Castro, were anxious to see the insurgency come to an end. The Guardian reported on October 13, 2012:

The ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, together with Venezuela’s recently re-elected leader Hugo Chávez, played a critical role in bringing the Colombian government and the deadly Farc guerrilla group together for peace talks that could end one of Latin America’s longest-running civil wars…

This hoked-up account by Darby, a born fabulist, anticipates his service to the FBI and current work on behalf of the Tea Party movement. He, like David Horowitz, saw the light when the Black Panther Party turned out to be a bunch of thugs in his eyes. (There was thuggery, of course, but there was also Common Ground type service to the Black community. Unfortunately, the Panthers never figured out a way for the Black working class to develop its own political clout.)

Darby eventually grows disillusioned with the ex-Panthers who are around Robert King. They invite him to a top-secret meeting in a minivan, where he hopes to go through some initiation into an armed cell. It turns out that the purpose of the meeting was to recruit him into an Amway type sales network. Thank goodness, they did not make the mistake of involving him in anything illegal or else they would have ended up in a prison cell next to David McKay and Bradley Crowder.

Back in Austin, Riad Hamad, a local activist, approaches Darby for help in laundering money to be sent to Palestinians. For Darby, since this amounted to supporting suicide bombers, there was no other option except to work with the FBI as an informant to stop a terrorist conspiracy. People who knew Hamad describe the accusation as groundless.

David McKay and Bradley Crowder, the typical action-oriented young people attracted to the Occupy movement later on, were 10 years younger than Darby and easily goaded into doing something that showed that they “had balls”, like making Molotov cocktails. While they admit to making the weapons, they claim that they never would have used them against people—only property.

Although I have huge respect for Scott Crow and Lisa Fithian, two Austin anarchists who worked closely with Darby, I had problems with their observations toward the end of the film that a little property damage is no big deal. Since Fithian has openly condemned the black bloc tactic, I don’t want to make too big a deal about this but the issue is not property damage but damage to the democratic functioning of our movement. When a small subsection of the movement arrogates to itself the right to make decisions about breaking windows, overturning dumpsters, setting fires, etc., the movement is weakened. Our enemy is certainly united, as Obama’s consultation with local police departments over how best to smash the Occupy movement would indicate. We must be united as well.

I urge everybody to see the film, although I do have somewhat of a criticism over director Jamie Meltzer’s decision to turn the film into an exploration of Brandon Derby’s psyche. While nowhere near as off-putting as “The Act of Killing”, the documentary based on the gloating testimony of Indonesian death squad leaders, 81 minutes of Darby justifying himself does become a bit wearisome. I could have lived with 20 minutes of Darby being replaced by scholars of the left discussing the profile of agent provocateurs so as to steel the movement against future interventions by scum like Darby. Of course, it must be said that anybody who watches “Informant” should be wary of macho types in the movement urging violence.

In preparing this review, I ran across Fithian’s account. Although I strongly advise people to see it at the Elinor Bunin Munro Film Center at Lincoln Center and on VOD on September 13th, Lisa Fithian’s article is absolutely mandatory:

This passage is fundamental:

Brandon was a master of manipulation, and worked both women and men. He would draw them into his sometimes-twisted perspective by cultivating them through coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, revolutionary rhetoric, emotional neediness, or his physical presence — either seductive or intimidating.

Young women are often attracted to Brandon. At Common Ground, his unrestrained sexual engagement with volunteers was a problem. His “love for sex” became part of the organizational culture. His leadership role set a tone that led to systemic problems of sexual harassment and abuse at Common Ground.

When a group of the women in leadership challenged his behavior and asked that he stop sleeping with volunteers, he said “I like to fuck women, so what.” Our concerns were disregarded. The abuse became so rampant that Common Ground had to issue a public statement in May of 2006 acknowledging problems of sexual harassment in the organization.

I think it is particularly important in consideration of Darby’s worship of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s. Despite their heroism and despite their service to the Black community around the breakfast program, the party had a big problem with sexism.

From a review of “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown” and “This Side of Glory” by David Hilliard and Lewis Cole.

As early as 1969, Brown realized that women “would have to fight for the right to fight for freedom.” By 1975, she concluded that “the value of my life had been obliterated as much by being female as by being Black and poor.”

But, like many Black women, Brown believed then that feminism was strictly for well-off whites, and was put off by the predominant radical- feminist ideology of the era – that is, the idea that gender concerns are more important than race issues and that men are the enemy, not capitalism.

Brown admits that she did not always speak out against female subordination in the Panthers. Instead, she concentrated on shoring up her own tenuous leadership position, conferred on her unilaterally by Newton. To stay on top while Newton was in prison, she relied on the “normal” macho enforcement techniques.

She reports that she was finally goaded into action when Regina Davis, who managed the Panthers’ highly praised school, ended up in the hospital. “The Brothers” had beaten Davis up and broken her jaw because she reprimanded a male colleague for not carrying out an assignment.

Brown writes that when she told Newton of her anger over the attack, he refused to break solidarity with the men, challenging her to a debate in the Central Committee.

Believing the other women would collapse in a direct confrontation over sexism, Brown says, she literally ran away from the fight, leaving the problem of women’s role in the BPP unaddressed and unresolved.

What happened to Regina Davis illustrates perfectly how women’s second-class status devastated the party.

June 6, 2013

Flowers 1967 and 2013

Filed under: repression,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 8:21 pm

The Pentagon, 1967

Taksim Square, 2013

May 5, 2013

Take an indefinite vacation

Filed under: Obama,prison,repression — louisproyect @ 9:46 pm

Brian McFadden in today’s NY Times.

August 24, 2012

The Richard Aoki imbroglio

Filed under: african-american,repression — louisproyect @ 11:12 pm

Richard Aoki

Seth Rosenfeld

On August 20th an article by Seth Rosenfeld in the San Francisco Chronicle touched off a combination of soul-searching and finger-pointing on the left, particularly those segments that view Richard Aoki, a well-known activist who killed himself in 2009, as an icon. Rosenfeld claims that Aoki was an FBI informant who supplied the guns borne by the Black Panther Party in a famous photograph of the group on the steps of the state capitol building. Rosenfeld is on a publicity blitz for his new book “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power” that includes a chapter on Aoki’s alleged ties to the FBI.

For those who have a considerable stake in Aoki’s reputation, such as his biographer Diane Fujino, it became imperative to discredit Rosenfeld’s findings. It was also important for those who believe that the Panthers’ legacy is mostly positive to weigh in on Fujino and other Aoki supporters’ side. Rosenfeld became seen as a kind of gatekeeper for the 1960s who wanted to quarantine the Panthers in much the same manner as Chris Hedges was seen by black bloc supporters not only as an enemy of “diversity of tactics” but of the most effective group in the Occupy movement.

On August 23rd Rosenfeld and Fujino were the featured guests on Democracy Now where they aired out their differences. Rosenfeld stated that he has no way of knowing whether the FBI was involved in providing the guns or even if they knew Aoki was giving them to the Black Panthers. Fujino mainly urged the audience to not leap to any conclusions about Aoki based on the files obtained through FOIA since there was not enough to go on, including the incorrect reference to him having the middle name Matsui.

Fujino also raised the possibility that Aoki was the posthumous victim of “snitch jacketing”. If that was the case, one has to ask why retired FBI agent Wesley Swearingen, who reviewed the FBI files with Rosenfeld, would want to lend himself to this cause in light of what Rosenfeld reported:

One of the documents that was released was a 1967 FBI report on the Black Panthers. And this report identified Richard Aoki as an informant. It assigned him the code number, T-2, for that report. But I still wanted to find out more about it, so I spoke with a former FBI agent named Wesley Swearingen. Mr. Swearingen had been in the FBI for over 25 years. He had retired honorably. He had later become a critic of the FBI’s political surveillance, and particularly he had helped vacate the murder conviction of a Black Panther named Geronimo Pratt.

I should mention that the FBI directed Aoki to join the CP and the SWP before he ever got involved with the Panthers. Years later when the SWP sued the FBI, Swearingen proved to be more principled than the average snoop. As a witness, he revealed that the FBI was lying when it claimed that it was committed to protecting the identity of its informants. Why he would turn around years after he had retired to tarnish the reputation of Richard Aoki is something of a mystery, unless you believe that a plot is afoot to deradicalize the Occupy movement or something like that. And to establish his credibility even further, Swearingen took the trouble to write a book titled “FBI Secrets” for South End Press, with a laudatory introduction by Ward Churchill. Whew!

Scott Kurashige, the Director of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at University of Michigan, weighed in on Aoki’s behalf the day after Rosenfeld’s article had appeared in the S.F. Chronicle. Using Facebook, Kurashige claims that Aoki was exploited by Rosenfeld to serve a liberal political agenda by focusing on Aoki’s involvement with the TWLF (Third World Liberation Front) at Berkeley that was supposedly “violent” and turned off many white students. In contrast to the TWLF, Rosenfeld endorses the “good, wholesome” Free Speech Movement. This amounts to a “white liberal narrative of the 1960s that at least in part wants to blame violent activists of color (even if in this case they are steered by the FBI) for the demise of liberalism and the rise of neoconservativism.” Well, gee whiz, who wants to be part of a “white liberal narrative” so I guess it makes sense to defend Aoki against various and sundry charges.

According to Kurashige, Rosenfeld strongly suggests that Aoki working on behalf of the FBI sparked the TWLF’s “violent” turn. Diane Fujino’s version of Richard Aoki makes it even more unlikely that he would have acted to derail the student movement at Berkeley. He simply didn’t fit the profile of a “disruptive” element:

And in another way, Richard Aoki does not fit the profile because many times, especially if they’re agent provocateurs or even infiltrators, they’re either low-key or they are people who try to get people to constantly engage in provocative and disruptive and risky behaviors. And Richard was a scholar. He’s known for giving—the things that he’s best known for—well, until this week—was giving the first guns to the Black Panther Party to support their police patrols to stop police brutality in the black neighborhoods. And Richard was a scholar also. He was advanced theoretically and could spar theoretically with anyone around him. And that is not a typical profile of an infiltrator.

Hearing all these different versions of what Richard Aoki did or did not do motivated me to plunk down $43.55 for Seth Rosenfeld’s book and read the chapter on Aoki. Was he more like a Symbionese Liberation Front member or more like someone addressing a plenary session at a Modern Language Association conference? Maybe a bit of both?

Most of it was what I expected and what has been already reported but I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this:

On March 14, the TWLF central committee debated whether to end the strike. Richard Aoki argued for escalating the violence. “I was willing to risk everything for keeping the struggle going,” he told the author. “We’d have taken on the National Guard. Then it would have gotten real violent. I figured we would have gotten more if we continued it just a bit, even though I he threat of massive escalation, because of bringing in of the National Guard, would’ve really resulted in some stuff. But we had plans. I had plans.”

The plan was to steal guns from National Guard armories. “We’d have had their weapons,” he said. At that time, Aoki recalled, there were “National Guard armories all over this area, stocked with that stuff, and we knew where they were. My faction was willing to take the strike to a higher level.” At a meeting in Stiles Hall, however, weary strikers voted overwhelmingly to end the strike.

Frankly it did not matter to me at this point whether Aoki was urging the theft of guns from the armories to use against the National Guard in a firefight upon the instructions of his ostensible FBI handler or whether he was urging this course as a “sincere” genuine ultraleft numbskull. It is practically beside the point. The 1960s movement was largely destroyed because of such adventures, from Weatherman bombs to the kind of militarism that Aoki espoused. The left has to be grounded in reality, not fantasies drawn from “Battle of Algiers” or an NLF poster.

I should add that it was not just febrile notions of guerrilla warfare that destroyed the left. Spared for a time from ultraleft self-immolation, the SWP also crashed and burned largely as a result of a self-deception of another sort. Instead of styling itself as urban guerrillas, the SWP bought into another fantasy, namely that the late 1970s—the time of cocaine, disco, capitalist expansion and general retreat from the 60s radicalization—marked the onset of a working-class radicalization that would culminate in a bid for power led by the party’s brilliant leader. The collapse of the SWP assumed a different dynamic than that of the SDS or the Panthers but fell into the same general category: political psychosis.

I have no idea whether Aoki was an FBI agent or not, although if I was a betting man I would put money on it. And if he was, I would not be surprised if he maintained connections with the bureau all the while he was convincing his comrades that he was on the level. The mind of such people, who get paid to infiltrate left groups, can be exceedingly complex. Ed Heisler was a national committee member of the SWP for a number of years, largely on the strength of his work in the railroad workers union. He was someone who had fully absorbed Marxist theory even if he never believed a word of it. His speeches at Oberlin conventions were always a hit with the membership. And all the while he was on the FBI payroll.

This is something that the great and late Walt Contreras Sheasby posted to Marxmail in June 2004:

Hello Friends-

Paranoia is one of the biggest problems facing the left. But occasionally we discover suspicious interventions, such as a former FBI informant who may have continuing links to the government. We need to set this former informant aside from our Green Party discussions without implying that this person is currently acting as a government informant.

Apparently there is no doubt that the 61-year-old Ed Heisler who is on many Green lists is the same Ed Heisler who was an FBI informant in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was reluctant to reach such a conclusion without fairly conclusive evidence.

Heisler himself provides sufficient circumstantial evidence in his Yahoo profile for the camejoforpresident list, which is appended below. Immediately above that I have pasted a copy of a blurb on Heisler’s book in 1976 on the dissidents in a Teamster affiliate that I discovered.

Finally I want to say a few words about the Black Panther Party. Again I have no idea whether the FBI was behind Aoki providing guns to them but it really doesn’t matter. The initial splash that was made when they appeared armed in public was very good for the Black liberation struggle in the same fashion that Robert F. Williams’s NAACP-based (!) Black Armed Guard was a step forward in 1959. The idea of self-defense against racist terror was something that most people could understand to one degree or another even when the media tries to depict people like Williams or Malcolm X as promoting violence. When the Panthers marched on the California state house in 1967 carrying weapons in protest against a law that would prevent carrying them in public, they electrified the Black community and gave many young radicals, including me, the hope that revolution was on the agenda.

But by 1971 the Black Panthers were on the ropes, victims of FBI provocations and armed assaults as well as their own detachment from reality. The August 1971 issue of their newspaper should be seen by anybody who is inclined toward rosy-tinged nostalgia for a group that made terrible mistakes despite the best of intentions (of course, the same thing was true of Che Guevara in Bolivia.) There’s an article hailing “revolutionary suicide” as well as a cartoon of a Black Panther astride a dead cop with the words “The Lumpen Will Rise to Deal With the Oppressor”.

In many ways the orientation to the “lumpen” was what destroyed the Panthers. Instead of trying to figure out a way to build an organization of Black workers, including bus drivers, Con Ed utility people and sanitation workers, they oriented to petty thieves and drug dealers. In 1971 if you boarded a city bus, chances were good that the driver had an Afro out to here and a pick comb with the red-black-and-green nationalist colors. Were they for revolution? Damned right, even if most voted Democrat.

What was needed of course was a Black political party that could have drawn in such workers and given it the social weight to withstand police attacks, even if they were bound to come. In a very real sense, the political psychoses of most of the 60s left were a function of relative working-class quiescence. Blacks were ready to move but not on the terms of “revolutionary suicide”.

Now that we are 12 years into the 21st century and 4 years into a seemingly intractable financial crisis that has left perhaps up to 12 percent of the population without a job and millions with foreclosed homes, the conditions are ripening for a new left that is based on reality and not fantasy. Let’s not blow our opportunities since too much is riding on the outcome.

August 23, 2012

Lenin on Pussy Riot

Filed under: Lenin,repression,Russia — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

(From “What is to be Done”)

August 16, 2012

Striking miners killed in South Africa

Filed under: repression,South Africa,workers — louisproyect @ 8:59 pm

July 10, 2012

Cops target Red Spark collective and Occupy Seattle Activists.

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,repression — louisproyect @ 5:29 pm

Cops target Red Spark collective and Occupy Seattle Activists.

Read more about this at the link below.

Spread the word!

http://kasamaproject.org/2012/07/10/swat-raid-organizers-of-occupy-seattle-and-e4e/

February 28, 2012

Antibodies; Evil

Filed under: Fascism,Film,religion,repression — louisproyect @ 6:32 pm

Within the past week or so, I have seen two movies on Netflix streaming that remind me why I like “foreign” films. It has nothing to do with being a snob—even though I confess to being one from time to time. It has more to do with a need to be entertained. A few weeks ago, I got this comment from Ben Courtice under my review of The Forgotten Space, a Marxist documentary I compared favorably to “escapist trash”:

I actually have a preference for one piece of escapist crap after another – I spend my days as an activist wading through torrents of information about how the world is going to shit – but this sounds really good! Thanks I’ll look out for it.

I told Ben that I might have something to say about “Woman in Black”, “Chronicle”, and “The Grey”, three films I saw at my local Cineplex, but simply lacked the motivation to follow through since despite being watchable, they were just not good enough to qualify as “escapist” fare.

Interestingly enough, the European films reviewed below pay homage to Hollywood “escapist trash”, perhaps demonstrating that other countries can take our own designs and improve upon them, like the latest Chinese consumer electronics.

(Sorry, English-subtitled trailer for Antibodies not available.)

The first is a German film made in 2005 titled Antibodies that might be described as a shameless rip-off of Silence of the Lambs.

The two main characters are a serial killer named Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) and a part-time cop from the boondocks named Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring) who comes to the big city where Engel is being jailed in order to determine whether he killed a teenage girl in his tiny farming village. All of Engel’s victims were boys so there was some question in Martens’s mind whether she was one of his victims.

Engel enjoys taunting Martens through the bars of his cell, in the same way that Hannibal Lechter taunted Agent Starling, another cop from the boondocks. Engel insists that he is not the girl’s killer and teases Martens with insinuations that the cop might be hiding something, very possibly some dark secret about his sexual impulses. Since Martens is a pious, if not downright prudish, Catholic, he dismisses Engel’s insinuations and presses on with his interrogation.

When he returns home, Martens finds himself at odds with his fellow villagers who resent his ongoing investigations of a homegrown murderer, not Engel. The most violently opposed to the investigation, which includes a blood test for a DNA sample to compare with the semen-soiled underpants of the young victim, is his father-in-law who shoots Martens’s dog in an opening scene when they are out deer-hunting.

The village is a reminder of how backward rural society is in Germany, especially in Catholic villages. The sexual repression is thick enough to cut with a knife. Director/screenwriter Christian Alvart is clearly tuned in to the same morbidity found in Michael Haneke’s 2009 The White Ribbon, a film focused on the rural social base of an incipient Nazi movement. In my review I noted:

Beneath the Baron is the Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) who is enough to turn anybody into an atheist. A rigidly authoritarian figure, especially to his own children, he decides to tie his teenaged son’s hands to the bed each night to prevent him from masturbating. The name of the movie originates from his decision to force his children to wear white ribbons as a reminder of their sins.

While the last thing in the world I would want to do is disclose the powerful ending of this film, I can say that it casts the small-town cop and his teenage son in a modern version of the biblical tale of God ordering Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son, in order to demonstrate his faith. I always found this story that formed the core of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling about as effective an argument against religion as can be found.

The other film is Evil, a 2003 Swedish work directed by Mikael Håfström and based on the semi-autobiographical novel Ondskan written by Jan Guillou, a long-time leftist like the late Stieg Larsson.

The main character is Erik Ponti (Andreas Wilson), a 15 year old who lives with his mother and his sadistic stepfather who beats him over the slightest infraction. Not being able to strike back at the man, Erik takes it out on his schoolmates who are never able to match his fighting skills and–more importantly—his blind rage.

Hoping that a change of scenery might calm him down, his mother sends him to Stjärnsberg, a boarding school that is about as rigidly class-stratified as feudal India. Greeted by Otto Silverhielm (Gustaf Skarsgård), a self-described nobleman in the senior class, Erik learns the rules of the game. If he stays out of trouble, he will eventually become a senior and enjoy all the privileges that go with that status. Silverhielm also clues him on the social make-up of the school. There are aristocrats like him, students from wealthy backgrounds, and ordinary folk whose parents manage to scrape together the money to send them to Stjärnsberg. That last category describes Erik, whose mother sold family heirlooms to raise the tuition money.

Erik is escorted to his dormitory room where he meets his new roommate Pierre Tanguy (Henrik Lundström), the bookish and physically ungifted son of a Swiss diplomat. As the two take an immediate liking to each other (the case of opposites attracting each other), Pierre makes sure to warn him about student life at the school. If you keep a low profile, you will do okay. If you get noticed, especially by the upperclassmen, you will have big problems.

In one of Erik’s first classes, he is introduced to the school’s Nazi in residence who lectures the students about racial differences. The Nordic race is handsome and physically powerful. The further south you go, the weaker the specimen. He has Erik and Pierre stand up in front of the class to demonstrate the racial differences, much to their chagrin.

At lunch the next day, Erik gets an introduction to the kind of hazing that is universally accepted there, just as it is in fraternities and private schools worldwide. In a school like Silverhielm, it is not just about social acceptance. It is about inculcating the kind of deference to authority that serve as a lubricant in the machinery of the military and the corporation. When a student sitting at his table uses the word “crap” in a sentence, an upperclassmen calls him over to receive punishment (cursing is strictly prohibited, as is smoking), which consists of being smacked on the head with a butter knife. It is much more painful than it sounds.

A few moments later, Erik makes the same infraction. But when he is ordered to receive his punishment, he refuses. Like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, and countless other memorable characters in prison and sadistic private school movies made in Hollywood, Erik is a stubborn nonconformist. He is also like James Dean, a “rebel without a cause”. Just to make sure that the audience makes this specific connection, Erik and Pierre confess their love of this quintessential 1950s rebellious youth movie in the course of sharing enthusiasms. As will be instantly recognizable, the two boys are stand-in’s for the James Dean and Sal Mineo characters in Nicholas Ray’s classic.

The plot revolves around the clash between the upperclassmen and Erik who refuses to bend to their will. No matter how much they escalate their harassment and physical abuse, he refuses to fight. He understands that if he gets expelled from Stjärnsberg, he will not be able to get into college.

Evil was nominated for best foreign film of the year at the Academy Awards in 2003, but the novelist upon whose book the film was based on was not permitted into the United States since he is listed as a terrorist by the State Department.

I strongly recommend a look at the wiki on Jan Guillou that leads off as follows:

Jan Oskar Sverre Lucien Henri Guillou (Swedish pronunciation: [jɑːn ɡɪjuː]; born 17 January 1944) is a Swedish author and journalist. Among his books are a series of spy fiction novels about a spy named Carl Hamilton, and a trilogy of historical fiction novels about a Knight Templar, Arn Magnusson. He is the owner of one of the largest publishing companies in Sweden, Piratförlaget (English: Pirate Publishing), together with Liza Marklund and his wife, publisher Ann-Marie Skarp.

Guillou’s fame in Sweden was established during his time as an investigative journalist. In 1973, he and co-reporter Peter Bratt exposed a secret intelligence organization in Sweden, Informationsbyrån (IB). He is still active within journalism as a column writer for the Swedish evening tabloid Aftonbladet.

In October 2009, the tabloid Expressen accused Guillou of having been active as an agent of the Soviet spy organization KGB between 1967 and 1972. Jan Guillou confirmed he had a series of contacts with KGB representatives during this period, he also admits to having received payments from KGB, but maintains that his purpose was to collect information for his journalistic work. The accusation was based on documents released from the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) and interviews with former KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky. In a later trial Expressen denied having accused Guillou of having been a Soviet spy, claiming that this was a false interpretation of its headlines and reporting.

In 1973, Folket i Bild/Kulturfront, a left-wing magazine, published a series of articles written by Guillou and Peter Bratt, revealing a Swedish secret intelligence agency called Informationsbyrån (“The Information Bureau” or IB for short). The articles, based on information initially furnished by former IB employee Håkan Isacson, described the IB as a secret organization that gathered information on Swedish communists and others deemed to be “security risks”. The organization operated outside of the framework of the defense and ordinary intelligence, and was invisible in terms of state budget allocations. The articles in Folket i Bild/Kulturfront accused the IB staff of being engaged in alleged murder, break-ins, wiretapping against foreign embassies in Sweden and spying abroad.

The exposure of the IB in the magazine, which included headshots with names and social security numbers of some of the alleged staff published under the headline “Spies”, led to a major domestic political scandal known as the “IB affair” (IB-affären). The activities ascribed to this secret outfit and its alleged ties to the Swedish Social Democratic Party were denied by Prime Minister Olof Palme, Defense Minister Sven Andersson and the chief of the Swedish defence forces, Stig Synnergren. However, later investigations by various journalists and by a public commissions, as well as autobiographies by the persons involved, have confirmed some of the activities described by Bratt and Guillou. In 2002, the public commission published a 3,000 page report where research about the IB-affair was included.

Guillou, Peter Bratt and Håkan Isacson were all arrested, tried in camera and convicted of espionage. According to Bratt, the verdict required some stretching of established judicial practice on the part of the court since none of them were accused of having acted in collusion with a foreign power. After one appeal Guillou’s sentence was lessened from one year to 10 months. Guillou and Bratt served part of their sentence in solitary cells. Guillou was kept first at Långholmen Prison in central Stockholm and later at Österåker Prison north of the capital.

Like Stieg Larssen, Guillou has devoted much of his journalist career to exposing the ultraright in Sweden. When my wife and I began watching Evil through our beloved, new Roku box, she was puzzled at first by the scene in the classroom where the Nazi professor was spouting his nonsense. “How can that be in a social democratic country”, she asked.

That was how it appeared generally, but I reminded her of the Dragon Tattoo novels that revealed the underbelly of Swedish society. Although I made a mental note to myself to do some research on Swedish fascism in the Columbia Library after reading the first two books in Larsson’s trilogy, I never got around to it. As is usually the case with me, research topics vie for my attention. Maybe after I retire, I will have the time to give them all the attention they deserve. Before that glorious day arrives, however, I hope to have more to say on the topic of the Swedish fascist movements.

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