Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 28, 2015

A Putin fan of note

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:52 pm

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An example of how a Putin fan understood the origins of WWII

WordPress has a list of all the url’s that link to my blog and I am in the habit of checking them out, including one that  that took me to a neo-Nazi website run by a piece of dirt named Mike King. In an rant against the Working Families Party, King linked to my blog: “The Working Families Party is a known Marxist entity – a detail which the writer fails to mention. (here)”

I am the aforementioned writer and the here in parentheses is a link to something I wrote that described the WFP as a wing of the Democratic Party despite their nominal independence.

Looking a bit more into King’s website, I found this on a page about the origins of WWII: “Jewish Red terrorists, their Polish government protectors, and their Globalist-Zionist masters have picked a fight with Germany!”

On his video page, he has a clip described as “ZIONIST-MARXISTS PROMOTE ANTI-WHITE VIOLENCE”.

But what really intrigued me was how this guy was a big Putin fan. On the video page, he has a clip of Putin laughing “in the Face of a Stupid Western Journalist!”

So gung-ho is he on Putin that he wrote an entire book titled “The Talented Mr. Putin: How the government media complex does not want you to know about the new Russia.” Sounds fascinating.

As it turns out Paul Craig Roberts reviewed the book:

There is an interesting book, a pamphlet (booklet) really, titled “The War Against Putin” by M.S. King available on Amazon.com. The book has 16 5-star reviews and one review accusing the book of being Kremlin propaganda.

The value of this publication is in showing how Washington operated against the Soviet Union and how Washington operates against Russia today. Readers will gain insight into the mendacity of the government in Washington and learn that the US and European media are propagandistic organizations that impose false stories on the minds of Americans and Europeans. Anyone who relies on the Western media lives inside The Matrix.

(clip)

Interesting. Very interesting.

July 3, 2015

Axis of Resistance or Axis of Compliance?

Filed under: Greece,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

“Moscow’s long-standing policy of trying to be friends with everyone.”

Back in 2011, just around the time that the Arab Spring began, a section of the left became convinced that the revolts in Libya and Syria were not genuine. Instead they were attempts by the West and its allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, to topple legitimate nationalist and even radical governments as part of a strategy to isolate and then destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran, which despite its flaws, was a key member of the “Axis of Resistance” (AOR). Of course, once Iran fell into the hands of the brie-eating and white wine-sipping Green Movement, that would increase the pressure on Russia that was in the final analysis the major obstacle to American imperialist designs.

Somewhere along the line reality got in the way even though the AOR left has not allowed that to get in its way. To some extent it is impossible to ignore evidence that this schema did not and could not match up to the byzantine geopolitics of the region. For example, in today’s CounterPunch, there’s an article by Jason Hirthler titled “Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg” that reprises AOR talking points such as a reference to Putin being pressured to abandon Assad to step down, something that reflects “the chief imperial aim of the West” even though there are copious reports on America demanding that the rebels they train take no action against the Baathists.

The article tries to square the circle. Even though its intention is to portray Putin as the number one enemy of imperialism, it has to acknowledge the purpose of the meeting in St. Petersburg—to bring together the American corporate elite with the Russian government officials in order to discuss business deals, even if WSWS.org warns about nuclear Armageddon in the next few months. Hirthler writes:

Filled with thousands of businessmen cutting deals with the Russian state, it provided a platform for Russia to reshape the dominant western narrative that Russia is an international pariah.

For those of us still old-fashioned enough to take Marx’s writings seriously, it is a mystery why Hirthler can’t make the connection between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the state that acts in its interests. As Marx put it in “The Communist Manifesto”: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” So as long as people such as this get the red carpet treatment in St. Petersburg, I doubt that there will be much need to find a nearby air raid shelter. The NY Times reported on June 19th that 12 CEOs were in St. Petersburg to discuss deals, including Jim Rogers, chairman of the Miami financial company Beeland Interests; John Wories, president of Amsted Rail; and Jacob Frenkel, chairman of J. P. Morgan Chase International.

The European corporate executives were even more anxious to do business.The heads of BP the French bank Société Générale showed up. Meanwhile, nothing would appear to stand in the way of Royal Dutch Shell Gazprom’s plans to  build a third liquefied natural gas plant on Sakhalin Island in Siberia. Someone remind me. Is this the sort of irreconcilable conflicts Lenin described in “Imperialism: the latest stage of capitalism”? I must have missed something.

Even Saudi Arabia is getting into the act as Hirthler refers to it signing a raft of agreements with Russia during the powwow. For a more detailed account of the growing affinity between the Kremlin and the Mideast’s most reactionary power, you can read Fred Weir in the latest issue of the Christian Monitor. For those of you unfamiliar with Weir, I can assure you that he is a long-time Marxist even though his first-rate journalism avoids any kind of editorializing. He writes:

Mr. Putin and Prince Salman sat down for a friendly meeting on the sidelines of a St. Peterburg economic forum last month, where they reportedly signed six deals, including a nuclear cooperation agreement that could see Russia helping to build up to 16 atomic power stations in the desert kingdom. They also are reported to have inked contracts on  space cooperation, infrastructure development, and a deal on high-end Russian weaponry.

For the Kremlin, the effort to establish good relations with a major Mideast player that has long shunned Russia comports well with what Ms. Zvyagelskaya calls “Moscow’s long-standing policy of trying to be friends with everyone.”

Does this business about trying to be friends with everyone ring a bell. It should because it is essentially another way of expressing what Kissinger said: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

Meanwhile for all the talk of “sticking it to the man”, one has to wonder why Russia does not come to the aid of Greece that is locked in a battle with the European bankers, the IMF and the EU, which supposedly are part of the economic and geopolitical forces that want to turn Russia into a Yeltsinite colony. One would think that helping Greece to withstand these vultures would be in Russia’s interests.

Ertugrul Kurkcu, a parliamentary representative of the HDP, a leftist party that emerged out of the Kurdish struggle that has been called the Syriza or Podemos of Turkey, has shown the kind of solidarity that is absent from the Kremlin. The Washington Post reported on June 30:

On Tuesday, support for Greece and its leftist government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras came from a rather unlikely place. Across the Aegean Sea in Turkey, one member of parliament urged his government to help bailout their neighbors.

“It is the biggest help that Turkey can do for its neighbor when times are tough,” said Ertugrul Kurkcu, of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, known by its Turkish abbreviation HDP.

Kurkcu, who hails from the western Turkish port city of Izmir, urged Ankara to extend a 1.6 billion-euro “zero interest loan” to Greece to help repay its debts to international creditors, according to the Daily Sabah.

“Turkey’s humanitarian help in 2013 was $1.9 billion. Turkey’s resources are sufficient enough to make this aid to Greece,” Kurkcu said.

Russia’s GDP was equivalent to 2.097 Trillion dollars in 2013, which is about a thousand times the amount that Greece is being forced to deliver to the IMF. If Putin really was the leader of the “Axis of Resistance”, you’d think he’d pony up with the dough. What explains this reluctance? Are we dealing with the “Axis of Resistance” or maybe the “Axis of Compliance”? Maybe Putin was not cut from the same cloth as the Turkish HDP leader who understands what it means to struggle against oppression and exploitation. Maybe Putin has more in common with the businessmen he has put down the red carpet for rather than the pensioners and workers of Greece, at least that’s the conclusion one would draw from forexlive.com, a news aggregator geared to investors:

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June 15, 2015

Is it really 1914 all over again?

Filed under: cults,imperialism/globalization,oil,Russia — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

This is the probably going to be the last reply to cult leader David North whose WSWS.org website warned readers that nuclear war was imminent because a Pentagon official named Robert Scher told Congress that the USA could “could go about and actually attack that missile where it is in Russia”, referring to any weapon that was in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by the USA and the USSR in 1987. For North, the crux of the matter was establishing that the word “attack” came out of Scher’s mouth when it was not audible in the Youtube clip.

I never had any big issues with that word one way or the other since my analysis that was based on the objective economic conditions differed radically from that of the Socialist Equality Party and any number of groups or websites constantly warning about WWIII. (A search of WSWS.org reveals 3,350 articles containing the phrase “nuclear war” going back to 1998 when one titled “Risking a Nuclear War” about India and Pakistan can be found.)

The Armageddon brigade includes Global Research that reposted the WSWS.org article and the libertarian Antiwar.com website of Justin Raimondo, who like many others in the Rand Paul wing of the Republican Party lines up with the ultraleft on this matter as has been the case ever since the rightwing internationally has thrown in its lot with the Kremlin. Frankly, it is very difficult to distinguish between what Golden Dawn and North’s cult have said about Ukraine.

For Raimondo, David North, and other assorted hysterics along this ultraleft-libertarian-fascist axis, the danger of nuclear war exists because Washington is out of control and ready to make reckless decisions that will result in the deployment of nuclear missiles that will effectively end life on earth. Raimondo put this this way:

Yes, that’s how crazy the warlords of Washington are: in their demented calculus, nuclear war is just another “option.”

North said about the same thing in a July 2014 article titled “Are You Ready for Nuclear War” that had all the urgency of a Pentecostal tract urging believers to prepare for Armageddon. He likened it to events that took place a century earlier:

A hundred years ago this week, World War I was launched by small cabals of ministers, monarchs, and business interests throughout Europe, whose decision to risk everything on victory in war led to deaths numbering in the tens of millions. Today, similar forces are setting into motion a drive to a conflagration that could lead to the destruction of the planet.

Of course, it is possible to stoke the fears of the naïve reader when you summon up images of a sneak attack on Russia taking place in the next month or so as if the USA might follow Japan’s example from December 7th 1941.

That being said, one might feel a bit anxious if you interpreted Scher’s comments as a departure from American policy. As I stated (and still believe), the imperialist strategy is based on Mutually Assured Destruction. All nuclear powers consider their arms to be of a defensive nature since a first use would trigger a literal Armageddon that would rob the ruling classes of their privileges and status. It would be a suicidal act only conceivable in a scenario in which the stakes were enormous, such as the Cuban missile crisis that occurred during the depths of the Cold War but as I will point out later, the same conditions do not exist today.

But, more importantly, is the threat of a first strike something new? Did Scher introduce a new and much more dangerous element in American arms policy? A cursory search of Nexis reveals that a “first strike” has been part of imperialist calculations for the longest time.

While we associate such madness with the Reagan administration, Democrats have embraced it as well. In fact it goes back to Jimmy Carter, the “wimp” who Reagan replaced. The NY Times reported on August 6, 1980:

The Carter Administration has adopted a new strategy for nuclear war that gives priority to attacking military targets in the Soviet Union rather than to destroying cities and industrial complexes, Government officials said today.

The revised policy, the officials said, requires American forces to be able to undertake precise, limited nuclear strikes against military facilities in the Soviet Union, including missile bases and troop concentrations. They said it also calls for the United States to develop the capacity to threaten Soviet political leaders in their underground shelters in time of war.

In a nutshell, all Robert Scher was doing is reaffirming nuclear war policy that has existed for the past 35 years.

It continues with Bill Clinton. On November 24, 1998 the NY Times reported:

As NATO defines the new strategy it will unveil on its 50th anniversary next year, Germany’s new Government of Social Democrats and Greens has irked the United States by tentatively suggesting that NATO should renounce the possible first use of nuclear weapons.

The United States is firmly opposed to any change in the doctrine allowing first use of nuclear weapons, arguing that it proved an effective deterrent during the cold war and remains one today against new threats like chemical weapons.

Four years later it should not come as a big surprise that George W. Bush was totally committed to a “first use” policy as the Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 12, 2002:

A secret Pentagon report which reveals plans for a “first-strike” nuclear arsenal reverses decades of American military thinking which effectively defined nuclear warheads as weapons of last resort. It also indicates just how far the Bush Administration is prepared to go to entrench America’s role as the self-appointed global policeman that its military power affords. So dangerous are nuclear weapons to the very continuance of life on Earth that their existence has long been justified because of their power to “deter”, not to defeat. The “Nuclear Posture Review”, however, details plans to integrate nuclear and conventional weapons, develop “bunker-busting” nuclear warheads, and specifically target seven nations. Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria are listed with Russia, China and North Korea as possible nuclear targets.The complex moral, political and strategic questions raised in each of these cases might not trouble the United States, but it will surely unsettle even its closest allies.

One would not expect Obama, a big fan of the Reagan presidency, to retreat from a “first use” policy. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 6, 2010:

The Obama administration will release a new national nuclear-weapons strategy Tuesday that makes only modest changes to U.S. nuclear forces, leaving intact the longstanding U.S. threat to use nuclear weapons first, even against non-nuclear nations.

But the new policy will narrow potential U.S. nuclear targets, and for the first time makes explicit the goal of making deterrence of a nuclear strike the “sole objective” of U.S. nuclear weapons, a senior Obama administration official said Monday.

So if you are going to single out Robert Scher for war mongering, you at least need to understand that he was simply telling the Congressmen what they (and our ultraleftist friends) should have already known. Based on the analysis of David North and Justin Raimondo, we have been on the eve of destruction going on for at least 35 years and counting.

Now it just might be a coincidence but the warnings about WWIII tend to crop up whenever some former colony of the USSR gets on the wrong side of the Kremlin. Back in 2008 when Georgia and Russia were at war over the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, you could read exactly the same sorts of articles from the Armageddon brigade. Global Research invoked 1914 just as WSWS.org did in the above-cited article:

So far, each step in the Caucasus drama has put the conflict on a yet higher plane of danger. The next step will no longer be just about the Caucasus, or even Europe. In 1914 it was the “Guns of August” that initiated the Great War. This time the Guns of August 2008 could be the detonator of World War III and a nuclear holocaust of unspeakable horror.

Nobody talks about South Ossetia or Abkhazia today because Russia was able to achieve its goals without any big obstacles put in its path by NATO. Global Research insisted that “Ossetia has been an important strategic base near the Turkish and Iranian frontiers since the days of the czars” as if the geopolitical imperatives of the late 19th century remain intact.

Of course, if you were serious about the threat of imperialist war, you might want to take the trouble to analyze the world economy as Lenin did when he wrote “Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism”. If you are going to invoke 1914, there is after all an expectation that you can make the case that there are irreconcilable conflicts between the West and Russia that can only be resolved by a new world war.

I would only warn you that if you are looking for such an analysis on the WSWS.org website, you will be wasting your time. The tab “World Economy” will point you to articles about “How the richest one percent controls nearly half of global wealth”, etc. but nothing remotely resembling the sort of analysis Lenin carried out. I should add that there’s nothing wrong with writing denunciations of rich people but you don’t really need WSWS.org for that. Huffington Post does as good a job, if not better.

If you are serious about the conflict between the West and Russia having assumed the dimensions of 1914 (or 1940), you are obligated to back up your analysis with data. It would have to examine FDI flows in Eastern Europe and Russia and other economic trends that would lead to the conclusion that war is inevitable. If you want to understand why Japan launched a “first strike” against the US navy in Pearl Harbor, you might want to consult chapter four of Michael Zezima’s Saving Private Power: the hidden history of ‘The Good War’, where he writes:

The build-up to Pearl Harbor began two decades prior to the attack when, in 1922, the U.S., Britain, and Japan agreed that the Japanese navy would not be allowed more than 60 percent of the capital ship tonnage of the other two powers. As resentment grew within Japan over this decidedly inequitable agreement, that same year the United States Supreme Court declared Japanese immigrants ineligible for American citizenship. This decision was followed a year later by the Supreme Court upholding a California and Washington ruling denying Japanese the right to own property. A third judicial strike was dealt in 1924 with the Exclusion Act which virtually banned all Asian immigration. Finally, in 1930, when the London Naval Treaty denied Japan naval hegemony in its own waters, the groundwork for war (and “surprise attacks”) had been laid.

Upon realizing that Japan textiles were outproducing Lancashire mills, the British Empire (including India, Australia, Burma, etc.) raised the tariff on Japanese exports by 25 percent.

Within a few years, the Dutch followed suit in Indonesia and the West Indies, with the U.S. (in Cuba and the Philippines) not far behind. This led to the Japanese (correctly) claiming encirclement by the “ABCD” (American, British, Chinese, and Dutch) powers.

Such moves, combined with Japan’s expanding colonial designs, says Kenneth C. Davis, made “a clash between Japan and the United States and the other Western nations over control of the economy and resources of the Far East and Pacific…bound to happen.”

Is anything like this taking place between the USA and Russia? If so, it would probably come as surprise to the most powerful oil executives in the world. This is from the Kremlin, straight out of the horse’s mouth so to speak:

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Shaking hands with the CEO of Exxon-Mobil

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends and colleagues,

I am very happy to welcome you to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Without a doubt, energy has always been one of the key strategic sectors in the world economy and very much remains so today.

The first steps in this direction are already being taken. Rosneft and ExxonMobil have created a research and development centre for Arctic technologies. I will take this opportunity to also congratulate the winners of the Global Energy Prize awarded today. This year, it was awarded to Japanese scientist Akira Yoshino and Russian researcher Vladimir Fortov. I must note that basic research in the field of energy is what lays the foundation for the future of energy security in our nation and the world overall.

Today, several new documents were signed at this forum on partnerships between Rosneft and international oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, Statoil and Eni (I am happy to see our old friends here today and to greet them), as well as an agreement on technological partnership with General Electric and agreements on the principles of supplying LNG.

This is basically a new era in cooperation the essence of which, as regards our interaction with strategic partners, is to move away from just importing raw materials to establishing full-fledged cooperation in production and technology.

This was a speech given just two years ago. It is a good place to start if you are trying to understand whether we are 5 minutes away from nuclear Armageddon. The conflict in Ukraine, just as was the case in Georgia, raises tensions and leads to saber-rattling.

If you are serious about removing the threat of nuclear war, you have to create a world in which the Russian oligarchs and their pals at Exxon-Mobil do not have the power to exploit the working class and use violence to achieve their ends. Oil companies use their influence over governments in places like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria to make war on their own people and those in bordering territories, as Yemen would indicate.

Russia is just as capable of wreaking havoc on defenseless people as its support for the genocidal policies in Chechnya and Syria would point out. In order to have a world in which social justice and peace prevail, we have to build an international movement that is based on class struggle politics but that rejects the sectarianism that hobbles progress toward that end.

While I doubt that anybody who takes these goals seriously would waste their time joining a bizarre, conspiracy-minded cult-sect like the Social Equality Party, there is a need to understand how they operate and why they ultimately lead to political and personal ruin. My suggestion to David North and company is to continue writing articles that rail against economic inequality since someone here or there might need reminding of that. But for those of us trying to build revolutionary parties based on the kind of rigorous economic analysis that distinguished Lenin or Trotsky, another path awaits us.

February 15, 2015

Behind every great fortune there is a crime

Filed under: capitalist pig,crime,literature,Russia — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

The title of this article stems from Honoré de Balzac’s “Père Goriot”. Often seen erroneously (including by me) as the novel’s epigraph, it is actually words spoken by a scheming, malevolent character named Vautrin: “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed.”

Whatever the exact words, the Balzacian worldview came to mind after reading the NY Times series of articles on the filthy rich and mostly criminal owners of the city’s most expensive condos. They sank in further after watching an episode on “Sixty Minutes” about HSBC, a Swiss bank that facilitated tax evasion and worse.

I suppose that I should have long been inured to the criminality of the super-rich but for some reason I always stop dead in my tracks when I encounter it anew on such a grand scale. I end up feeling like Joe Buck, the Texas hustler who has come to NY to make it as a professional gigolo in “Midnight Cowboy”, standing over a man sprawled out unconscious on the sidewalk as people pass him by with barely a glance. Unlike the rest of humanity, Buck tells himself that something is wrong.

Karl Marx was a big fan of Balzac and even intended to write a study of “The Human Comedy”, a massive collection of novels, short stories and articles about the greed, corruption and power of the bourgeoisie but hardly a paean to the common man. Keep in mind that Balzac was a royalist and hardly a purveyor of “socialist realism”. Engels, another fan of Balzac, told London radical Margaret Harkness in 1888 that his politics were less important than his ability to tell the truth about bourgeois society:

The more the opinions of the author remain hidden, the better for the work of art. The realism I allude to may crop out even in spite of the author’s opinions. Let me refer to an example. Balzac, whom I consider a far greater master of realism than all the Zolas passés, présents et a venir [past, present and future], in “La Comédie humaine” gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French ‘Society’, especially of le monde parisien [the Parisian social world], describing, chronicle-fashion, almost year by year from 1816 to 1848 the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeoisie upon the society of nobles, that reconstituted itself after 1815 and that set up again, as far as it could, the standard of la viellie politesse française [French refinement]. He describes how the last remnants of this, to him, model society gradually succumbed before the intrusion of the vulgar monied upstart, or were corrupted by him; how the grand dame whose conjugal infidelities were but a mode of asserting herself in perfect accordance with the way she had been disposed of in marriage, gave way to the bourgeoisie, who horned her husband for cash or cashmere; and around this central picture he groups a complete history of French Society from which, even in economic details (for instance the rearrangement of real and personal property after the Revolution) I have learned more than from all the professed historians, economists, and statisticians of the period together.

Monied upstarts pretty much describes the billionaires who bought Manhattan apartments through shell corporations that concealed their identities. The article that introduces the series describes the affinity between NY’s one percent and the human detritus that is artificially inflating an already out-of-reach real estate market:

The high-end real estate market has become less and less transparent — and more alluring for those abroad with assets they wish to keep anonymous — even as the United States pushes other nations to help stanch the flow of American money leaving the country to avoid taxes. Yet for all the concerns of law enforcement officials that shell companies can hide illicit gains, regulatory efforts to require more openness from these companies have failed.

“We like the money,” said Raymond Baker, the president of Global Financial Integrity, a Washington nonprofit that tracks the illicit flow of money. “It’s that simple. We like the money that comes into our accounts, and we are not nearly as judgmental about it as we should be.”

In some ways, officials are clamoring for the foreign wealthy. In New York, tax breaks for condominium developments benefit owners looking for a second, or third, residence in one of Manhattan’s premier buildings. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program in 2013, shortly before leaving office: “If we could get every billionaire around the world to move here, it would be a godsend.”

In fact the invasion of oligarchs and crooks has been the opposite of a godsend. These condominiums enjoy tax breaks originally intended to stimulate the construction of middle-class housing but real estate developers obviously find it more profitable to build high-rises like the Time-Warner Center that is profiled in the articles. Built shortly after September 11, 2001, the ultra-luxury building was advertised as a fortress for the super-rich that had more to fear from the workers and peasants they were screwing than Islamic radicals.

 

Here is an idea of the kind of scum that inhabits the Time-Warner Center:

Units 72B and 51E are owned by the Amantea Corporation, which The Times traced to a mining magnate named Anil Agarwal. His company was fined for polluting a major river near a copper mine in Zambia, which sickened nearby residents. And judicial committees in his native India determined that his company had violated the land rights of an indigenous tribe near a proposed mine.

Perhaps the most eye-opening example of how larceny and power politics commingle is found in part five in the series titled “At the Time Warner Center, an Enclave of Powerful Russians”. If you, like me, place little credence in the notion of the Kremlin and its retinue of connected oligarchs as some kind of anti-imperialist vanguard, this profile of Andrey Vavilov is a must read.

Vavilov was Boris Yeltsin’s deputy finance minister and like many of his top officials cultivated ties with American inside-the-beltway policy wonks and power brokers at places like the Brookings Institution. Vavilov was one of the key architects who advised Yeltsin on turning state-owned industry, particularly in the energy sphere, into get-rich-quick bonanzas for the managers benefiting from privatization including himself. Cashing in on a sale of a oil company being sold back to the state under Putin to the tune of $600 million, he was not put off by the price tag of $37.5 million for an 8,275 square foot penthouse in the Time Warner Center. In addition to this penthouse, Vavilov owns an Airbus jet, apartments in Monaco and Beverly Hills, and recently purchased two diamonds for his wife (55 and 59.5 carats) worth a cool $60 million.

He is also a visiting professor of economics at Penn State, where he must be educating a new generation of economists on how to game the system for Wall Street hedge funds and the like.

Like many on Wall Street, Vavilov has managed to avoid a prison cell despite the serious allegations made against him over the years, including the mishandling of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in proceeds from the sale of MIG’s to India. Just around the time the law was breathing down his neck in 2007, he was elected senator to the Russian parliament, which gave him immunity. The case was dropped a year later because the statue of limitations had expired.

Most interestingly, despite Vavilov’s close association to Yeltsin and Putin’s reputation for cleaning up Yeltsin’s privatization mess, he managed to endear himself to the fearless anti-imperialist leader:

Despite Mr. Vavilov’s close association with the Yeltsin administration, much of his wealth was acquired later, as Mr. Putin’s government was consolidating the nation’s oil industry in one state-affiliated super company, Rosneft.

In 2000, Mr. Vavilov had acquired a small oil company, Severnaya Neft, or Northern Oil, for $25 million. When Rosneft purchased Severnaya Neft in 2003 for $600 million, the deal was widely criticized as having been larded with kickbacks for Kremlin insiders.

In a now-legendary confrontation at the Kremlin, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, chairman of the oil giant Yukos, challenged Mr. Putin about the purchase. Many people believed that it was Mr. Putin’s anger over the very public encounter that sparked his campaign against Mr. Khodorkovsky, who would be stripped of his company, prosecuted and imprisoned.

For most of the left, particularly those people who remain impressed by NYU professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen who has the same relationship to Putin that Anna Louise Strong had to Mao Zedong, there’s very little understanding of how Putin continues Yeltsin’s policies rather than breaks with them. In fact, there is an analogy with how Cohen’s wife’s vanity publication, ie. The Nation Magazine, fails to appreciate how much Obama is a continuation of George W. Bush.

For the best analysis of the Yeltsin-Putin continuity, I recommend a Tony Wood review of three recent books on Putin that is unfortunately behind a paywall (contact me if you’d like a copy) but this is the takeaway:

New Year’s Eve 1999 – when Yeltsin appeared on Russian TV screens to announce his resignation as president in favour of Putin – is often taken to mark a major turning point, from the ‘fevered 1990s’ to the stability of the ‘Zero Years’, as the 2000s are known, the moment when Yeltsin’s erratic improvisation gave way to the cold calculation personified in Putin. Economically, the prolonged post-Soviet collapse was followed by recovery after the 1998 ruble crash and then an oil-fuelled boom, while in the media a boisterous incoherent pluralism was replaced by deadening consensus. But there were deeper continuities in the system both men commanded.

Politically, the ‘managed democracy’ of the 2000s was not a perversion of Yeltsinism but its maturation. Faced with a fractious legislature – the Congress of People’s Deputies elected in 1990 – Yeltsin bombed it into submission in October 1993 and then rewrote the constitution along hyper-presidential lines, getting it approved by a rigged referendum that December. Even before that, he had sidestepped democratic accountability by implementing much of the key legislation that shaped the post-Soviet economy through a series of decrees – some of them, notably on privatisation, drafted by Western advisers. Thanks to the notorious ‘loans for shares’ deals of 1995-96, a handful of oligarchs obtained vast holdings in oil and metals companies in exchange for flooding the media outlets they owned with anti-Communist propaganda – a vital contribution to prolonging Yeltsin’s grip on power, though generous financial assistance from the West and electoral violations also played their part. In Chechnya, Yeltsin moved to crush local aspirations to sovereignty, unleashing total war against the civilian population in 1994, though the Russian army had been fought to a standstill by 1996.

On each of these fronts, Putin continued what Yeltsin began, starting in the North Caucasus in September 1999, when he launched a vicious counterinsurgency – officially labelled an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ – to destroy any idea of Chechen independence, eventually imposing a tyrant of his own choosing. Once installed as president, he made use of the autocratic set-up he inherited to reassert central authority, reining in regional elites by appointing plenipotentiaries to head seven new federal superdistricts, okruga; five of the first levy were former military men, underlining their disciplinary function (his first envoy to the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, had commanded Russian forces in the North Caucasus). Fiscal reforms increased the federal centre’s tax take at the expense of the regions, with Moscow’s share rising from 50 per cent in 2001 to 70 per cent in 2008. In 2004 Putin further restricted their autonomy, abolishing elections for governors and mayors (though these were partially reintroduced in 2012). The national legislature had been put in its place by Yeltsin, though it showed signs of rebellion in 1998, in the wake of the ruble crisis; Putin brought it firmly to heel, streamlining the party system so that by 2007 there were only four to manage, two of them, United Russia and A Just Russia, the Kremlin’s own creations, while the Communist Party and LDPR (the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) hardly constituted an opposition. In December 2003, Boris Gryzlov, the Duma chairman, summed up its negligible role by declaring that ‘parliament is no place for political battles.’

I suppose there is very little expectation that Swiss Banks are up to anything except abetting criminals but the segment on Sixty Minutes last Sunday about HSBC was enough to bring out the Joe Buck in me. You can watch the entire thing here.

Bill Whitaker interviews attorney Jack Blum, who was graduating the year I entered Bard College. Blum is a capable investigator whose best-known efforts on behalf of the public interest was an aide to John Kerry in his investigation of the Nicaraguan contra-cocaine connection back in 1986 when he still had a shred of integrity. I never had any contact with Blum but he was a fairly typical young Democrat type of student who at least had the good sense to stay clear of electoral politics.

Jack Blum

Here’s the beginning of the transcript from the “Sixty Minutes” piece:

HIGHLIGHT: The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn`t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than one hundred thousand names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world. A thirty-seven-year-old computer security specialist named Herve Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government.

BILL WHITAKER: The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn`t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than one hundred thousand names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world. A thirty-seven-year-old computer security specialist named Herve Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government. It`s now being used to go after tax cheats all over the world. 60 MINUTES, working with a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, obtained the leaked files. They show the bank did business with a collection of international outlaws: Tax dodgers, arms dealers and drug smugglers–offering a rare glimpse into the highly secretive world of Swiss banking.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): This is the stolen data that`s shaking the Swiss banking world to its core. It contains names, nationalities, account information, deposit amounts–but most remarkable are these detailed notes revealing the private dealings between HSBC and its clients.

JACK BLUM: Well, the amount of information here that has come public is extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Few people know more about money laundering and tax evasion by banks than Jack Blum.

JACK BLUM: You have a very serious problem.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): He`s a former U.S. Senate staff investigator. We asked him to analyze the files for us.

JACK BLUM: If you read these notes, what you understand is the bank is trying to accommodate the secrecy needs of the client. And that`s the first concern.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Take the case of British citizen Emmanuel Shallop. He was convicted for selling blood diamonds, those illegal gems used to finance conflicts in Africa. The documents show in 2005 HSBC knew Shallop was under investigation, yet helped hide his assets. “We have opened a company account for him based in Dubai…” one entry read, “The client is very cautious currently, because he is under pressure from Belgian tax authorities, who are investigating his activities in the area of diamond tax fraud.”

JACK BLUM: You get into the notes and you find that they offer various products: shell corporations, trusts, various ways of concealing the ownership of the account. They offer products that they`re going to give to the customer that will help with a concealment.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Concealment is what Irish businessman John Cashell got from HSBC. His file contained these notes by a bank employee: Cashell`s “…pre-occupation is with the risk of disclosure to the Irish authorities.” The employee went on, “…I endeavored to reassure him that there is no risk of that happening.” Cashell was later convicted of tax evasion.

The bank files we examined contained more than four thousand names of people with connections to the U.S., holding more than thirteen billion in HSBC accounts. One was a New Jersey realtor. The notes in her file reveal that she and her family wanted assurance that her assets would be well hidden from U.S. tax collectors.

JACK BLUM: And she expresses concerns to the bank, which in turn reassure her that they will find ways to keep her name out of the sights of IRS.

BILL WHITAKER: There seems to be evidence of the bank actively helping clients evade, if not cheat.

JACK BLUM: Of course.

It has been at least 35 years since I read “Père Goriot”. I barely have time nowadays to read the political stuff that is my daily bread but I would like to find the time to read it again before I die since it was a book that gave me deep pleasure. Balzac was a master of rendering character, particularly in the depths of their depravity. His introduction to the novel’s main character will give you an idea of the moral rot that underpins bourgeois society. From the sound of this, Père Goriot would have found the road to riches in Yeltsin and Putin’s Russia or a job with HSBC:

In the days before the Revolution, Jean-Joachim Goriot was simply a workman in the employ of a vermicelli maker. He was a skilful, thrifty workman, sufficiently enterprising to buy his master’s business when the latter fell a chance victim to the disturbances of 1789. Goriot established himself in the Rue de la Jussienne, close to the Corn Exchange. His plain good sense led him to accept the position of President of the Section, so as to secure for his business the protection of those in power at that dangerous epoch. This prudent step had led to success; the foundations of his fortune were laid in the time of the Scarcity (real or artificial), when the price of grain of all kinds rose enormously in Paris. People used to fight for bread at the bakers’ doors; while other persons went to the grocers’ shops and bought Italian paste foods without brawling over it. It was during this year that Goriot made the money, which, at a later time, was to give him all the advantage of the great capitalist over the small buyer; he had, moreover, the usual luck of average ability; his mediocrity was the salvation of him. He excited no one’s envy, it was not even suspected that he was rich till the peril of being rich was over, and all his intelligence was concentrated, not on political, but on commercial speculations. Goriot was an authority second to none on all questions relating to corn, flour, and “middlings”; and the production, storage, and quality of grain. He could estimate the yield of the harvest, and foresee market prices; he bought his cereals in Sicily, and imported Russian wheat. Any one who had heard him hold forth on the regulations that control the importation and exportation of grain, who had seen his grasp of the subject, his clear insight into the principles involved, his appreciation of weak points in the way that the system worked, would have thought that here was the stuff of which a minister is made. Patient, active, and persevering, energetic and prompt in action, he surveyed his business horizon with an eagle eye. Nothing there took him by surprise; he foresaw all things, knew all that was happening, and kept his own counsel; he was a diplomatist in his quick comprehension of a situation; and in the routine of business he was as patient and plodding as a soldier on the march. But beyond this business horizon he could not see. He used to spend his hours of leisure on the threshold of his shop, leaning against the framework of the door. Take him from his dark little counting-house, and he became once more the rough, slow-witted workman, a man who cannot understand a piece of reasoning, who is indifferent to all intellectual pleasures, and falls asleep at the play, a Parisian Dolibom in short, against whose stupidity other minds are powerless.

November 21, 2014

Who Is Behind the Trotskyist Conspiracy?

Filed under: Russia,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 1:42 pm

(This appeared originally on http://therussianreader.wordpress.com/, an invaluable source of analysis on Russian society and politics.)

Ilya Budraitskis: The Perpetual “Trotskyist” Conspiracy

Who Is Behind the Trotskyist Conspiracy?
Ilya Budraitskis
November 21, 2014
OpenLeft.ru

Speaking at a meeting of his United People’s Front a couple days ago, Vladimir Putin said, “Trotsky had this [saying]: the movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing. We need an ultimate aim.” Eduard Bernstein’s proposition, misquoted and attributed for some reason to Leon Trotsky, is probably the Russian president’s most common rhetorical standby. He has repeated it for many years to audiences of journalists and functionaries while discussing social policy, construction delays at Olympics sites or the dissatisfaction of the so-called creative class. “Democracy is not anarchism and not Trotskyism,” Putin warnedalmost two years ago.

Putin’s anti-Trotskyist invectives do not depend on the context nor are they influenced by his audience, and much less are they veiled threats to the small political groups in Russia today who claim to be heirs of the Fourth International. Putin’s Trotskyism is of a different kind. Its causes are found not in the present but in the past, buried deep in the political unconscious of the last generation of the Soviet nomenklatura.

The strange myth of the Trotskyist conspiracy, which emerged decades ago, in another age and a different country, has experienced a rebirth throughout Putin’s rule. Sensing, apparently, the president’s personal weakness for “Trotskyism,” obliging media and corrupted experts have turned this Trotskyism into an integral part of the grand propaganda style. Until he died, the indefatigable “Trotskyist” Boris Berezovsky spun his nasty web from London. Until he turned into a conservative patriot, the incendiary “Trotskyist” Eduard Limonov seduced young people with extremism. Camouflaged “Trotskyists” from the Bush and, later, the Obama administrations have continued to sow war and color revolutions. Unmasking “Trotskyists” has become such an important ritual that for good luck, as it were, the famous Dmitry Kiselyov decided to launch a new media resource by invoking it. So what is the history of this conspiracy? And what do Trotskyists have to do with it?

Conspiracy theories are always conservative by nature. They do not offer an alternative assessment of events but, constantly tardy, chase behind them, inscribing them after the fact into their own pessimistic reading of history. Thus, in his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797), the Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel, a pioneer of modern conspiracy theory, situated the French Revolution, which had already taken place, in the catastrophic finale of a grand conspiracy of the Knights Templar against the Church and the Capetian dynasty. Masonic conspiracy theories became truly powerful in the late nineteenth century, when the peak of the Masons’ power had already passed. Finally, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy acquired its final shape in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fabricated by the tsarist secret police at the turn of the twentieth century, when the power of Jewish finance capital had already been undermined by the rising power of industrial capital. Conspiracy theories have always drawn energy from this distorted link with reality, because the fewer conspirators one could observe in the real world, the more boldly one could endow them with incredible magical powers in the imaginary world.

In keeping with the reactive, belated nature of conspiracy theories, the myth of the Trotskyist conspiracy emerged in the Soviet Union when the Left Opposition, Trotsky’s actual supporters, had long ago been destroyed. Unlike, however, the conspiracies of the past, generated by secret agents and mad men of letters, the foundations of the Trotskyist conspiracy were tidily laid by NKVD investigators. The distorting mirror logic of the Great Terror dictated that, although the “Trotskyists” skillfully concealed themselves, and any person could prove to be one, the conspiracy must necessarily be exposed. An unwritten law of Stalinist socialism was that the truth will out, and this, of course, deprived the conspiracy theory of its telltale aura of mystery.

After Stalin’s death, when the Purges were a thing of the past, and Soviet society had begun to become inhibited and conservative, the conspiracy myth took on more familiar features. The stagnation period, with its general apathy, distrust, and societal depression, was an ideal breeding ground for the conspiracy theory. No one had seen any live Trotskyists long ago, and it was seemingly silly to denounce them, but everyone was well informed about the dangers of Trotskyism.

10486371_10205372588653614_1077162896_nDuring meaningless classes on “Party history,” millions of Soviet university students learned about the enemies of socialism, the Trotskyists, who had been vanquished long ago in a showdown. Millions of copies of anti-Trotskyist books were published; by the 1970s, this literature had become a distinct genre with its own canon. Its distinguishing feature was a free-form Trotskyism completely emancipated from any connection with actual, historical Trotskyism.

In fact, the Trotskyism of Soviet propaganda was structurelessness incarnate, a misunderstanding. It was“lifeless schema, sophistry and metaphysics, unprincipled eclecticism, […] crude subjectivism, exaggerated individualism and voluntarism.” Unlike the classic monsters of conspiracy theory, the Masons and the Elders of Zion, the Trotskyists did not run the world. They were failed conspirators: they were always exposed, unless, through their own haste and impulsiveness, they did not manage to expose themselves. In keeping with Stalinist socialist realism, their inept evil deeds caused seizures of Homeric laughter among the people and the Party. And yet, recovering from each shameful defeat, they kept on trying. The Trotskyists had no clear plan for establishing global domination, but without a clear purpose, they were dangerous in their passionate desire to instill chaos in places where harmony, predictability, and order reigned.

In their work, these Trotskyists were guided by the crazed “theory of permanent revolution” (which had nothing in common, substantially, with Trotsky’s theory except the name). Its essence is that the revolution should not have any geographical or time constraints. It has no aims, no end, and no meaning. It raises questions where all questions have long been solved. It instills doubt where all doubts have been resolved long ago. A normal person would never be able to understand anything about this theory except one thing: it was invented to ruin his life.

Mikhail Basmanov, author of the cult book In the Train of Reaction: Trotskyism from the 1930s to the 1970s, quoted above, noted, “Unlike many other political movements that had the opportunity to confirm their ideological and political doctrines through the practice of state-building, Trotskyism has not put forward a positive program of action in any country in all the years of its existence.” It is so destructive, that “with its cosmopolitanism, carried to the point of absurdity, which excludes the possibility of developing national programs, Trotskyism undermines the stances even of its own ‘parties’ in certain countries. […] Trotskyism is entangled in the nets of its own theories.”

It is important that the idea of the Trotskyist conspiracy against practical reason, reality, and stability was never popular in late-Soviet society: it did not grow, like the “blood libel,” from the dark superstitions of the mob. It remained a nightmare for only one segment, the ruling bureaucracy, which transmitted the myth of the senseless and merciless “permanent revolution” to future generations in Party training courses and KGB schools.

The Soviet theory of the Trotskyist conspiracy reflected the subconscious fear of ungovernability on the part of the governing class.  Devoid of any personalities, the legend of Trotskyism was something like the “black swan” of “actually existing socialism.”

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This, by the way, is its fundamental difference from the version of the Trotskyist conspiracy popular among some American conservatives. In America, it is merely one of many varieties of the “minority conspiracy,” a small group of people who have, allegedly, seized power and are implementing their anti-Christian, globalist ideas from the top down. The fact that the anti-Trotskyist conspiracy theory of the so-called paleoconservatives has become popular in recent years among Kremlin experts and political scientists only goes to show that the old Soviet “Trotskyist conspiracy” has suffered a deficit in terms of its reproduction.

When he confuses Bernstein and Bronstein, Vladimir Putin, however, is not unfaithful to the Soviet anti-Trotskyist legend. Yes, “the goal is nothing, the movement is everything.” The chaos generated by the movement is inevitable, as inevitable as time itself. It moves inexorably toward “permanent revolution,” which cannot be completed and with which one cannot negotiate.

In a recent interview, former Kremlin spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky, while skillfully avoiding the issue of “Trotskyism,” nevertheless had this to say about Putin:

“He has frightened himself. Where should go next? What next? This is a terrible problem in politics, the problem of the second step. He stepped beyond what he was ready for and got lost: where to go now?  […] The gap between [the annexation of] Crimea and subsequent actions is quite noticeable. It is obvious that everything afterwards was an improvisation or reaction to other people’s actions. People who are afraid of the future forbid themselves to think about which path to choose. When you have not set achievable goals, you begin to oscillate between two poles: either you do nothing or you get sucked into a colossal conflict.”

The worst thing is that the specter of Trotskyism, as has happened with many other specters in history, is quite capable of materializing. The post-Soviet system has entered a period of crisis, in which the ruling elite has fewer and fewer chances to manage processes “manually.” For the Trotskyist nightmare of the elites to become a reality, there is no need for live Trotskyists. The need for them arises only when hitherto silent and long-suffering forces come to their senses and raise the question of their own aims. But that is a different story.

Ilya Budraitskis is a historian, researcher, and writer.

October 24, 2014

Red Army; Wild Tales

Filed under: Film,Russia,sports — louisproyect @ 7:22 pm

The other day I saw a couple of films at the Sony screening room that were being released through Sony Picture Classics, an autonomous division catering to the “art-house” market. Both were very good.

“Red Army” is a documentary about the legendary Russian hockey team of the pre-Perestroika era that reflected the USSR at its best and worst. It consists mainly of interviews with Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, arguably one of the greatest hockey players of the past half-century as well as an extremely witty and insightful interviewee as deft before the camera as he was with a hockey stick.

Director Gabe Polsky was using the fate of Russia hockey as a symbol of Communism’s contradictions and how they were unsuccessfully resolved in the favor of capitalism. Clearly Polsky has learned from Werner Herzog, having served as his producer on the 2009 narrative film “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”. The two men obviously have the same off-kilter view of the world based on this new film for which Werner Herzog returned the favor, serving as co-producer. Like Herzog, Polsky includes some elements that guarantee that the audience will understand that something is being filmed, in his case showing some of his assistants setting up gear and including Fetisov’s admonitions to stop filming since he has to take a phone call. For documentaries, it is the equivalent of breaking through the “fourth wall”.

The film will appeal to people who are still trying to figure out what happened to the Soviet Union and the nature of Putin’s Russia today, as well as hockey fans. In fact the film, which opens on November 14 at the Empire 25 Theater in NY, will have a nationwide rollout in January that will be pitched to sports fans. It has been many years since I watched hockey but followed the NY Rangers in the early 70s when it was led by Rod Gilbert, a speedy forward who turned up as a fellow resident of my high-rise on the Upper East Side.

The film begins with Fetisov reflecting on the state of Soviet Russia when he was a 9-year-old boy trying out for the Russian Army youth team. He tells Polsky that 25 million of his countrymen were killed and that most of the country was destroyed. (Stock footage depicts the horror.) When the country began rebuilding, the new apartment buildings were barely sufficient. It was normal for 3 families to share a 400 square foot apartment. Despite that, Fetisov said that he was happy. There seemed to be enough food to eat, even if you had to stand on line. Of course, once markets were introduced the lines disappeared but hunger became widespread.

Fetisov was a protégé of Anatoli Tarasov, the coach of the Red Army hockey team and the man widely considered the father of Russian hockey. Fetisov joined the team in 1976 at the age of 19, playing defense and learning the skill of passing, something Tarasov saw as fundamental to the game. For Tarasov, hockey as a kind of chess game in which sharing the puck was fundamental.

Indeed, when he was demonstrating to his players how to move forward on the ice, he often illustrated with chess pieces. He was also convinced that ballet exercises could make his players more nimble on the ice, as the film demonstrates from archival footage. By the time that Fetisov began playing on the Red Army team, Tarasov had acquired a huge beer belly. Watching him demonstrating some steps to his team is like watching the hippopotamuses dancing in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”.

Despite losing to an inferior American hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, a loss that inspired the chauvinistic chant “USA, USA” that has tainted every game since including table tennis, the Red Army team rolled over every professional hockey team that they faced over the years. Tarasov’s goal-sharing methods were superior to the individualistic style of the West. Although the film is far too subtle and skeptical about socialism for that matter to point out that the collectivist culture might have something to do with that, you can’t help drawing such a conclusion.

After Perestroika, it became possible for Russian hockey players to turn professional in the West. Fetisov and other Red Army superstars took high-paying jobs but were not shown to their best advantage since the teams were all based on the individualist model.

It was only when the Detroit Red Wings recruited Fetisov and a cadre of ex-Red Army players that they were able to cash in, winning the Stanley Cub in 1997 and 1998.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It is a very sharp analysis of the Communist experience by a director who not only studied at Yale but also was on their hockey team. As the son of Russian immigrant parents, he has just the right background for drawing all the human drama out of the Red Army story. His statement in the press notes indicates the outlook that was clear to me but one that he did not want to beat over the audience’s head:

When I was at Yale, I studied politics and history and learned about the unusual role sport played in the Soviet Union. The Red Army team was designed as an instrument of propaganda to prove the superiority of the Soviet system. The country’s investment in the team’s success was massive. The demanding lifestyle and oppressive circumstances under which the players trained were a reflection of broader Soviet society. It became clear to me that the Red Army’s style of play, too, was significantly informed by the country’s ideology. Much like Communism, there was little emphasis on the individual. Those who became heroes earned as much money as teachers. Priority was placed on serving your teammates and your country, and expressing individuality or questioning authority was forbidden.

“Wild Tales” opens on February 8th. It is an Argentine narrative film directed by Damián Szifron that he described in the following terms:

I frequently think of Western capitalist society as a sort of transparent cage that reduces our sensitivity and distorts our bonds with others. Wild Tales presents a group of individuals who live within this cage without being aware of its existence. But at that point where most of us would repress – or get depressed – these people shift into gear.

Although I loved the film, I don’t think it had much to do with “Western capitalist society”. Basically it is a dark comedy about people going to extreme lengths to destroy each other in the fashion of classic Warner Brothers cartoons but without any hero like Bugs Bunny to cheer for. Instead it is like watching Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd trying to blow each other’s brains out with shotguns.

The film consists of six chapters, each one set up as elegantly as an O. Henry short story and an ending that serves as poetic justice for the miscreant characters. In “Road to Hell”, road rage turns into an elemental battle for survival pitting an Audi-driving yuppie against a hulking rural bumpkin who refuses to allow his wreck of car to be passed on a mountainous road. Not long after the yuppie passes him by, making sure to curse him out as he passes, he gets a flat tire next to a bridge over a mountain stream. When the bumpkin catches up to him, all hell breaks loose, including him taking a dump on the Audi’s hood. As the violence escalates, you will not be able to keep your eyes off the action. It is akin to not being able to avert your eyes from a highway accident except one that is far more entertaining.

I will only add that the final chapter, titled “Till Death to Us Part”, is about a Jewish wedding party that will remind you of the great Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner vehicle “War of the Roses” with bride drawing almost all the blood. It is obvious to me that the guests are Jews even though this is not a point made specifically. Since the director (and screenwriter) has a last name that is a dead giveaway for his Jewish origins, this is a conclusion I feel safe drawing.

Both films are worth putting down on your calendar.

October 7, 2014

Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia

Filed under: Film,Gay,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:04 pm

Thirty years ago when I was working closely with Peter Camejo on getting the North Star Network off the ground, I totally agreed with him that the left should not be divided on historical questions like when and if the USSR became capitalist. Or on international questions such as whether to support Eritrea or Ethiopia, etc. You can obviously have sharp differences that must be debated openly but they are not “split” questions as is the norm in the Trotskyist movement.

After watching “Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia”, I am not so sure any more, at least on the international question. This 48 minute documentary that can be seen on HBO Go, a streaming service available to HBO subscribers, left me in a complete state of rage both for what is happening to Russian gays but also for the open affection for Vladimir Putin that exists on wide sectors of the left.

Needless to say, the Western left would never support a politician who was responsible for fostering a war on gays in the USA or Britain. Furthermore, in all of the pro-Putin propaganda in the “anti-imperialist” left, you will never see him applauded for his anti-gay legislation that serves as legal cover for the vigilante movement exposed in the HBO documentary. That instead is what you will hear from the rightwing movements that also back the Kremlin, including just about every neofascist group in Europe, including Jobbik, Golden Dawn and the National Front in France. They love Putin because he stands up for “traditional values”. One imagines that in their heart of hearts, the “anti-imperialists” have no problems with crackdowns on NGO’s that defend gay rights in Russia since they are obviously a necessary defense against plots concocted in the basement of the State Department by George Soros, Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power. After all, if you were going to make a choice between gays being forced to drink piss by skinhead vigilantes and coming down on the same side of an issue as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, you’d naturally opt for gays drinking piss.

Fortunately, you can see the documentary as well on Youtube. This is identical to what is being shown on HBO but with a different narrator:

The film will give you a good idea why a sixteen-year-old gay youth sought political asylum in the USA. Here on an exchange program, the boy decided that he would stay in the USA rather than put up with the kind of bigotry seen in the film. Tass said that this was all the result of a gay cabal and Russia said it would no longer participate in the exchange program.

Directed by Ben Steele, the documentary takes a look at two of the major vigilante organizations in Russia, Parents of Russia and Occupy Pedophilia. Leaders of both groups were more than willing to allow the cameramen to film every one of their attacks. Naturally, this would be the case since the cops are their accomplices.

To give you an idea of how the cops operate in tandem with the ultraright, you see gay rights activist Yekaterina Bogatch hounded by the cops for simply standing on the sidewalk holding a sign calling for equal treatment of all citizens. If she had put the word gay on the sign, she risked arrest.

Parents of Russia is a group that is dedicated to exposing gays by putting information about where they live, etc. on the Internet. Yekaterina Bogatch, a schoolteacher, is one of their prime targets. They want her fired from her job even if she is straight. Gay teachers, who are not even involved with protests, have just as much to worry about since Parents of Russia deems them as pedophiles.

That is basically the strategy of the vigilantes, the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s base of support in elected officialdom. Although laws against homosexuality were lifted fifteen years ago, the attacks are mounted as against pedophiles rather than gays. Occupy Pedophilia is a prime example. It tells Steele that is only after pedophiles but in the one entrapment scene that involves their activists openly tormenting a gay man they have lured through the Internet, there is not the slightest evidence that pedophilia was involved.

I have often scratched my head trying to figure out the attraction that Putin has for the “anti-imperialist” left. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream” when Puck puts a potion in Titania’s eyes. Upon waking, she falls madly in love with Bottom, a man whose head has been replaced by that of a donkey. Who has put such a potion in the eyes of Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek and Michel Chossudovsky, I ask you?

For an unrepentant Marxist like me, the Russia I adore is the Russia of the 1920s when laws against homosexuality were not only lifted, there was a pervasive sense that sexual freedom and socialism went hand in hand. Ironically, despite the Workers World Party’s tendency to fall in line behind the Kremlin, one of their activists has written some very useful material on sexual freedom in the early USSR:

During the 1920s, in the first decade of the Russian Revolution, signs that the struggle to build socialism could make enormous social gains in sexual freedom–even in a huge mostly agricultural country barely freed from feudalism, then ravaged by imperialist war and torn asunder by civil war–were apparent.

The Russian Revolution breathed new life into the international sexual reform movement, the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement, and the revolutionary struggle as a whole in Germany and around the world.

It was a historic breakthrough when the Soviet Criminal Code was established in 1922 and amended in 1926, and homosexuality was not included as an offense. The code also applied to other republics, including the Ukrainian Republics. Only sex with youths under the age of 16, male and female prostitution and pandering were listed. Soviet law did not criminalize the person being prostituted, but those who exploited them.

For example, author Dan Healey states, “The revolutionary regime repeatedly declared that women who sold their bodies were victims of economic exploitation, not to be criminalized, and campaigns to discourage them from taking up sex work were launched.” The growth of prostitution had of course been spurred by the chaos and dislocation of people accompanying war.

Historian Laura Engelstein summarizes, “Soviet sexologists in the 1920s participated in the international movement for sexual reform and criminologists deplored the use of penal sanctions to censor private sexual conduct.” (“Soviet Policy”)

In 1923, the Soviet minister of health traveled to the German Institute for Sex ual Science and reportedly expressed there his pride that his government had abolished the tsarist penalties against same-sex love. He stated that “no unhappy consequences of any kind whatsoever have resulted from the elimination of the offending paragraph, nor has the wish that the penalty in question be reintroduced been raised in any quarter.”

Also in 1923, Dr. Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Soviet Hygiene, published a pamphlet titled “The Sexual Revolution in Russia.” It stated, “Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle: it declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, as long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon.”

And the pamphlet spelled this out clearly, “Concerning homosexuality, sod omy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality–Soviet legislation treats these the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse.”

September 9, 2014

Merriment in the Kremlin

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 8:22 pm

putinPutin makes his entrance into a Kremlin ballroom

 

20140110_anthony-roth-costanzo-as-orlofsky_33The party is in progress, soon to be joined by the Russian leader

Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 12.39.57 PM

 

September 8, 2014

Why there will be no new Cold War

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 2.25.11 PM

Photo

Forte dei Marmi, a seaside resort town in Italy, is a popular spot with wealthy Russians. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

FORTE DEI MARMI, Italy — In this seaside resort town that is Italy’s version of a Russian Riviera, where furs dangle in shop windows in August and beach clubs keep chilled bottles of vodka, a temblor of anxiety unnerved hoteliers and restaurateurs in March. Usually, the phones would ring with Russians booking rooms, villas, even helicopters. But the phones suddenly went quiet.

It was the silence of sanctions. When the United States and Europe announced the first round of sanctions early this year in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the intent was to cripple individuals and institutions close to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. But Russian money is on conspicuous and regular display on this stretch of the Tuscan coast, and the possibility that it might dry up alarmed the town’s business leaders.

Not to worry.

“For a few days, there was a pause, and business looked like it was slowing down,” said Paolo Corchia, owner of the Hotel President, one of the town’s most elegant hotels, and president of the regional hotel association. “But then business went back to normal.”

If normal can be defined as one shop selling violet-colored crocodile-skin loafers for 1,690 euros, or about $2,200. Or simple beach canopies that rent for up to €250 a day just to reserve 10 square feet of shaded sand. Or aviation companies that rent helicopters to take Russian shoppers on day trips to Monte Carlo for €4,450.

READ FULL ARTICLE

September 3, 2014

American White Nationalists To Hold Conference With Russian And European Far Right

Filed under: right-left convergence,Russia — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm
http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/american-white-nationalists-to-hold-conference-with-russian

American White Nationalists To Hold Conference With Russian And European Far Right

The fringes of the U.S. conservative movement build bridges with their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

posted on Aug. 29, 2014, at 4:34 p.m.

National Policy Institute / Via npiamerica.org

WASHINGTON — The white nationalist think tank the National Policy Institute is holding a conference in October in Hungary that will feature Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist thinker who is increasingly popular in Kremlin circles.

Richard Spencer, the president of NPI and a former writer at the American Conservative, said the conference, which will also feature figures from the ascendant European far right, would be the first of its kind for NPI outside the United States. It’s part of an effort to reach out to “European traditionalists” all over the world, he said, and the relationship with Dugin is just beginning: a publishing arm attached to NPI will publish a book this fall by Dugin, who this week called for Ukraine to be“cleansed” of the Ukrainian “race of bastards.”

“I think there are a lot of things happening in Europe that I think would excite people like me and people who want to go to the conference, and would excite Americans who care about their European identity,” Spencer said.

Apart from Dugin, the conference will also host Márton Gyöngyösi, a leader of Jobbik, Hungary’s extremist far right political party.

This is not the first time that figures from the fringes of the American conservative movement have built bridges with the right in Europe and Russia. Pat Buchanan has publicly expressed support for Vladimir Putin’s policies, as have others. But this is the first time that Spencer’s crowd of white nationalists, who are no longer welcome in the mainstream U.S. conservative movement, have so publicly joined themselves to their Russian and European counterparts.

Spencer’s thoughts on the Ukraine crisis hew closely to Moscow’s.

“I think to a large degree the Maidan revolution was organized and funded by outside powers, I don’t think that’s a controversial statement,” he said. “I certainly understand the position of Ukrainian separatists and nationalists. I think that to a very large degree they are supporting a geopolitical policy of Washington and I myself am more sympathetic towards Russia as a major power entering the world stage. Russia has the opportunity, to put it bluntly, to make the world a better place.”

“I’m sympathetic toward Putin in many ways,” he said.

Spencer is a great admirer of Dugin’s, whom he says he knows personally, and will be publishing a Dugin volume about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger this fall titled Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning under the Radix Journal imprint, which is part of NPI.

“We’re certainly honored to have him at our conference,” Spencer said.

“I think the fact that we’re inviting Dugin is expressive of the fact that we want to have a real healthy dialogue with the major currents of Russian conservatism,” Spencer said.

h/t Adam Holland

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