Monthly Review is one of the most important institutions of the left in the USA dating back to 1949 when two veterans of the Henry Wallace campaign decided that a new magazine was needed. One was Paul Sweezy, who I had the good fortune to meet over “brown bag luncheons” at MR’s offices about 20 years ago; the other was F.O. Matthiessen, the Harvard literary critic.
For a number of years I considered myself quite close to the magazine and its book-publishing wing, writing numerous articles hailing the ecosocialist analysis of John Bellamy Foster who assumed the directorship of MR after Harry Magdoff’s death.
All that came to an end when MR launched a online publication called MRZine and gave the job of editor to Yoshie Furuhashi, a one-time subscriber to Marxmail, PEN-L, and LBO-Talk, arguably the three most well-known mailing lists of the left. At one point or another she unsubbed from the three lists after deciding that the hostility toward her idol Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was unbearable. Furuhashi, who was a relative newcomer to the left with a scanty publication record either in scholarly or popular journals, had come to the bizarre conclusion that Iran was “more socialist” than Venezuela. Her reviews were so at odds with both Marxism and common sense that a group of Iranian Marxists wrote an open letter blasting MRZine for publishing apologetics for Ahmadinejad’s dictatorship in 2006. Three years later Barbara Epstein resigned in protest from MR’s editorial board over the same issues.
I blame John Mage for imposing Furuhashi on the left. Mage, whose publication record is as meager as hers, is on the MR editorial board mostly tied to his custodianship of the MR foundation. Before his retirement he was an attorney representing the USSR in the USA and a member of the Lawyer’s Guild. As far as I know he fully supports Furuhashi’s mad ideological agenda. One imagines that Foster probably does not, although he obviously defers to Mage on personnel questions. Considering the fact that MR fired Ellen Meiksins Wood after a brief tenure running the book department and has allowed Furuhashi’s grotesque politics to be disseminated for over a decade, there is obviously poor judgment over these matters.
As opposed to Foster, Mage and Furuhashi, Michael Yates, who runs the book-publishing department, is a paragon of Marxist principle. It is reassuring that many people on the left who have grown disgusted with MRZine are smart enough to figure out that his sure hand keeps the publishing wing moored to the planet earth.
Lately MRZine has gone full-tilt-boogie on behalf of the KKE, the sectarian Stalinist party in Greece that refused to support Syriza after the fashion of the German CP’s disastrous “third period” policy in the 1920s, when it failed to make a distinction between social democracy and Nazism.
On almost a daily basis you can find tweets on MRZine linked to toxic attacks on Syriza, concentrated most frequently on finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Apparently Varoufakis passed muster with Furuhashi before he became part of the Greek government since she had published three of his articles, the latest appearing in 2012. But since Syriza took office, there has been nothing but vitriol.
The book department apparently has a different take on the finance minister based on this press release:
On January 25, 2015, the left-wing party, SYRIZA, won a stunning victory in Greece’s national elections. The new government, which says it intends to end the debilitating austerity measures forced upon Greece by the European Union, announced that the new Finance Minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a noted economist and good friend of Monthly Review (and MR author). We wish him well and trust that, unlike most economists, he will put his superb skills to work on behalf of the long-suffering Greek people and, indeed, all those oppressed by the policies imposed by the ruling classes of the European Union and United States.
MRZine’s ongoing campaign against Syriza mostly takes the form of tweets that reflect the POV of the KKE. Today you can find one linked to the blog In Defense of Greek Workers that makes an amalgam between Syriza and Golden Dawn. The blog is a bit of an oddity since it is written in English even though it is almost exclusively about Greek issues and obviously written by a Greek. The best way to describe it is as a scandal sheet aimed at Syriza. One can conclude that the bloggers behind it are very close to the MRZine’s addled sensibility since they were furious over Syriza’s support for the Syrian uprising against the Baathist goons. Frankly I was pleasantly surprised that despite Syriza’s tendency to support the Kremlin on Ukraine, it had the good sense to refer to the “barbaric regime” in Damascus. Good for Syriza, I’d say.
Let’s take a look at the case against Syriza on the Golden Dawn question. To start with, the In Defense of Greek Workers article includes a formulation that reeks of the German CP’s “third period”:
There is also the directly related question of whether SYRIZA and Golden Dawn really represent a clear, mutually exclusive choice. Is political reality in Greece interpretable in terms of the dilemma “SYRIZA or Golden Dawn” or is it rather that there is no dilemma, that the real formula for how capitalist power exercises itself at present in the country is in fact “SYRIZA and Golden Dawn”?
This is really quite something, not being able to distinguish between Syriza and Golden Dawn.
The main charge specifically is that Syriza has stood up for the right of Golden Dawn to function as a political party, including the right of its elected officials to serve in parliament. Before Syriza took power, the New Democracy had been cracking down on Golden Dawn—something Syriza objected to. The KKE-oriented blog complained:
On May 8 2014, SYRIZA MP Nikos Voutsis, speaking in an interview with the Real-fm radio station, returned to the issue of the imprisonment of Golden Dawn MPs and stated that the evidence the Greek state had collected against them was laughably inadequate and “had no chance” in court.
For a more sensible analysis of Syriza’s stand on such matters, I refer you to David Renton’s “lives; running” blog, where his latest article delves mostly into the bloc Syriza made with ANEL but includes some commentary on the Golden Dawn stance that is markedly more balanced than the one cited by MRZine:
Critics of Syriza to its left have taken umbrage at Syriza’s suggestion that elected Golden Dawn MPs should be released from custody to attend votes in Parliament suggesting that Syriza is extending too much deference to the right, and warning that Syriza may be cooling as to the prosecution itself. At this distance, it is impossible to know whether they are right about the prosecution itself (which is necessarily in the hands of the judiciary rather than the politicians) or these are the exaggerated fears of people who have committed themselves in advance to the narrative that Syriza will betray its supporters. But Syriza’s friends should be watching closely and urging the government to take no steps which help the fascists.
Needless to say, this is an attempt to understand Syriza rather than to sling mud at it. Syriza is in a very difficult position in Greece and trying to navigate a path forward against much more powerful forces–no easy matter as Renton reminds us:
Some of the Bolsheviks’ compromises went deep. As Isaac Babel pointed out, long ago in Red Cavalry (and as Brendan McGeever has shown again in research which, when it makes it into print, should be compulsory reading for anyone nostalgic for a time which never existed), these compromises included in 1918-1919 leaving local Soviet power in many areas in the hands of people who were murderously anti-Semitic. This approach proved temporary because the Civil War finished and there was then a struggle within the fragile Soviet regime to purge itself of these elements.
So, a compromise with conservatives or racists is always unwanted and undesirable (means and ends always interconnect), but may be necessary as a temporary device provided as a minimum that it is the right making the principal compromises and the direction of travel is towards liberation.
I can’t recommend Renton’s blog highly enough. This socialist scholar first came to my attention more than a decade ago when I learned that he shared my admiration for Harry Braverman, the co-leader of the Socialist Union with Bert Cochran. Braverman eventually ended up at Monthly Review after the “Cochranites” dissolved their organization in 1959. In an article titled “Against Management: Harry Braverman’s Marxism”, Renton writes:
If the American Socialist Workers’ Party was unable to understand the tensions within the Communist Party, then this was the sign of its sectarianism, which prevented the Trotskyists from becoming a real force on the US left. After the 1953 split, Braverman left the SWP and joined Cochran’s group, the Socialist Union. He worked on their paper, first titled the Educator and later the American Socialist for five years, until the paper was closed down. Later, he allied himself with the magazine, Monthly Review, whose contributors were drawn from a milieu of Maoists and former fellow-travellers of the American CP. It was also at this time that Braverman dropped the pseudonym, Frankel. Braverman remained a supporter of the Monthly Review until his death in 1976, holding to the gut class feeling, but also the political black spots of the orthodox Trotskyist legacy which had helped to shaped him.
When MRZine was first launched, the best hope was that it would have been an outlet for people like David Renton, a serious thinker who was capable of seeing political questions in their full dialectical complexity. It is really most unfortunate that it has become the playpen of Yoshie Furuhashi who like so many sectarians is not only uncomfortable with complexity but is susceptible to the kind of cartoonish reductionism that has tainted Stalinism since its birth in the 1920s.