Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 24, 2014

Right-left convergence? Phooey

Filed under: antiwar,conservatism,tea party — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Wants to hook up with the right

Maybe because unlike most leftists I actually went through the experience of being a conservative, the prospect of a right-left convergence leaves me cold. This project has been around for a long time, exemplified by Justin Raimondo’s antiwar.com. Since I remember all too well what an asshole I was back in 1960 as a 15-year-old member of the Young Americans for Freedom, my tendency is to avoid anybody with even a glancing similarity to what I once was, starting with the creepy Raimondo. There, but for the grace of god and immense peer pressure from Bard College classmates, go I.

A couple of days ago I found out that David Bromwich, a big-time literature professor at Yale, has decided that he has lots in common with the right—at least what used to be called the isolationist wing of it. You got a glimpse of what that was about when Rush Limbaugh, who always puts a minus where Obama puts a plus, told his listeners that the USA had no interest in supporting the Islamic radicals in Syria. Guess what website he cited in support of this? Global Research. What strange bedfellows…

People are probably aware that Bromwich has been one of the more vocal defenders of the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in snooty venues such as the NY Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Here’s an excerpt from an interview that might put that into context:

Q: Who, specifically, are the “right-wing libertarians” you just mentioned and whose intellectual and political company you’re finding increasingly congenial?

A: Some of the political commentators you find in The American Conservative—for example, Daniel Larison. Some of the sharpest critiques of American imperialism under Bush-Cheney and now under Obama have come from Patrick Buchanan. In some ways he’s a very bad man, but he’s a consistent anti-imperialist. When I say this to liberal friends, they say, “How dare you read this man!”

The aforementioned American Conservative is a big favorite with those favoring a left-right convergence including Ralph Nader who reached out to its editor for a conference in Washington 3 days from now. Both Bromwich and Nader are infatuated with a libertarian right that at least on some issues is to the “left” of Obama even as its economics are pure Ayn Rand and its racial views White Citizens Council.

Unstoppable Right/Left Convergence Event on May 27th

Join us Tuesday (May 27, 2014) for an unprecedented one day gathering that will convene leading experts from the Left and Right (such as Jim Hightower, Judson Phillips, Medea Benjamin, Bruce Fein, Ron Unz and more) to find common ground on many of the key issues of our time.

In his new book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, Ralph Nader explores the emerging political alignment of the Left and the Right against converging corporate-government autocracy and crony capitalism.

The purpose of the gathering is to convene unlikely allies to tackle the bold ideas of convergence presented in Unstoppable and turn them operational.

Call me dogmatic or something but I would not have anything to do with the likes of the Cato Institute or the Tea Party, whose representatives will be speaking there. Again, unlike most people on the left, I pay close attention to what these people are saying on AM Talk Radio and it is truly toxic. A close look at some of the speakers from the right at Nader’s conference should persuade you why it is dead wrong in its approach.

I am sure that Nader invited Daniel McCarthy, the editor of the American Conservative magazine, to speak on a panel about the defense budget because he is for shrinking it and for staying out overseas wars. The magazine extols Edward Snowden and opposes torture, so what’s not to like? At first blush, their praise of Walter Jones, a Republican Congressman from North Carolina might make sense since Jones is “antiwar” in the approved manner.

But somehow there’s some disgruntled Black people in his state that are unhappy with his appearance on a white nationalist radio show as Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy pointed out:

A North Carolina Republican congressman appeared on a notorious white nationalist radio program on Saturday to talk up legislation he coauthored accusing President Barack Obama of committing impeachable offenses. Rep. Walter Jones, a fiercely anti-war congressman who often breaks with his party on key votes, appeared on the Political Cesspool, a Memphis-based program hosted by ardent white nationalists James Edwards and Eddie Miller.

An avowed white nationalist who says David Duke is “above reproach,” Edwards has referred to African Americans as “heathen savages” and “subhuman” and suggested that slavery was “the greatest thing that ever happened” to blacks. The show’s mission statement is blunt: “We represent a philosophy that is pro-White and are against political centralization,” it declares. It then outlines a series of issues the show exists to promote. “We wish to revive the White birthrate above replacement level fertility and beyond to grow the percentage of Whites in the world relative to other races,” reads one plank. Another bullet point endorses the Confederacy: “Secession is a right of all people and individuals. It was successful in 1776 and this show honors those who tried to make it successful in 1865.”

Maybe the fact that there is not a single panel on race issues or a single Black speaker at Nader’s confab is related to the fact that Daniel McCarthy’s nod to a slug like Walter Jones gets overlooked.

Moving down the line, we see that Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips was invited to speak at a panel on trade that is moderated by Nader. I wonder if Nader will be motivated to ask Phillips some questions not exactly about trade during the Q&A. Or if anybody would, for that matter?

Phillips is on record as favoring the vote for property owners exclusively, a key weapon of the Jim Crow south. He also urged a vote against Keith Ellison because he is a Muslim. Finally his website publishes articles like “Cliven Bundy Racist? So What?” that asserts “there is no institutionalized racism in the United States.” Oh, right. But I guess this is outweighed by his opposition to NAFTA. This, of course, is old news with Nader. Ten years ago he courted the Right over their shared protectionist views.

Bruce Fein is probably the most prestigious rightwinger invited to speak there. On the final panel, he shares his views on Empire that are about the same as you can find on antiwar.com or American Conservative. Fein was Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General and now works with the Future for Freedom Foundation, among other libertarian-oriented causes.

It takes a little bit of digging to find out more about Fein’s opinions on different matters that require some consideration by the left beyond his “antiwar” views. Going through the NY Times archives, I discovered:

Right wingers? You can keep ‘em as far as I am concerned.

January 10, 2011

Thoughts on Arizona

Filed under: Fascism,repression,tea party — louisproyect @ 9:58 pm

In my view it is a mistake to view the Tucson killings as some kind of trend attributable to the Tea Party Movement. For example, Lenin’s Tomb writes:

So, in light of that, who cares if Jared Lee Loughner looked on Sarah Palin’s website, or heard a speech Sharron Angle made? It was enough for him to exist in a particular context of American life, in this era. It was enough to live in Arizona, where the murders took place, and which has been nominated by a local County Sheriff as “the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”. That would have been more than sufficient to drive a vulnerable man out of his mind.

After watching Loughner’s Youtube videos and reading reports in the New York Times and Washington Post, it seems fairly obvious that he had much more in common with mentally ill college or high school students who go on shooting sprees. In Loughner’s case, the indications strongly suggest paranoid schizophrenia. In other words, his act is best understood in terms of brain chemistry rather than prejudice and bigotry as was the case, for example, with Timothy McVeigh.

On Oct. 7, Pima Community College sent a letter to Loughner stating that he would have to get a letter from a mental health official indicating “his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others.”

In a NY Times article titled Suspect’s Odd Behavior Caused Growing Alarm, we learn about what alarmed school officials and other authorities:

In a community college classroom here last June, on the first day of the term, the instructor in Jared L. Loughner’s basic algebra class, Ben McGahee, posed what he thought was a simple arithmetic question to his students. He was not prepared for the explosive response.

“How can you deny math instead of accepting it?” Mr. Loughner asked, after blurting out a random number, according to Mr. McGahee.

A classmate told the Times: “He would laugh a lot at inappropriate times, and a lot of the comments he made had no relevance to the discussion topic.” The staff at the YMCA was just as alarmed:

At the Y.M.C.A. where Mr. Loughner worked out, he would ask the staff strange questions, like how often they disinfected the bathroom doors. Once he asked an employee how he felt “about the government taking over.” Another time, he sat in the men’s room for 30 minutes, leaving front-desk staff members to wonder what he was doing. When he emerged, he asked what year it was.

Now I agree that Loughner absorbed the culture around him. Psychotic people are not that detached from reality that they don’t realize and reflect what is going on about them. They do reflect social forces. If Loughner developed schizophrenia in a society where the rightwing was not as feral and where guns were not so easily accessible, then a different result might have been expected. The closest analogy would appear to be with John Hinckley, the young man who shot Ronald Reagan and James Brady in 1981 in order to “impress Jodie Foster”.

Now this is not to say that political violence, including assassination, is not a real problem in the U.S. There have been 8 people working at abortion clinics who have been killed since 1993, the last of these being Doctor George Tiller who was shot by a fanatic in Tiller’s church in May, 2009. The killer, Scott Roeder, did not commit this act to impress Jodie Foster or because the government was plotting to brainwash people through its control of grammar. Roeder killed Tiller in order to prevent doctors from providing abortions. The militant anti-abortionist movement has been far more of a threat to democracy than Tea Party activists who have not engaged in terrorist acts no matter the kind of rhetoric heard on Glenn Beck’s television show.

I think what leftists have to understand is that violence and repression today directed against the popular movement is far more based on legality than mob violence or terrorism.

For example, the day before the gun attack, this assault on the rights of Mexican-American students in Tucson took place sanctioned by law:

The class began with a Mayan-inspired chant and a vigorous round of coordinated hand clapping. The classroom walls featured protest signs, including one that said “United Together in La Lucha!” — the struggle. Although open to any student at Tucson High Magnet School, nearly all of those attending Curtis Acosta’s Latino literature class on a recent morning were Mexican-American.

For all of that and more, Mr. Acosta’s class and others in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal by the State of Arizona — even while similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

So reported an article in the New York Times titled Rift in Arizona as Latino Class Is Found Illegal. This is the real strategy of the Tea Party movement, to elect politicians who pass such racist laws—not to organize mobs to go into the barrio and brutalize activists. If the left cannot figure out what phase of the struggle it is in, we will not be effective, I’m afraid.

For the definitive account of what is going on with the Tea Party in Arizona, I can’t recommend highly enough Ken Silverstein’s article Tea Party in the Sonora: For the future of G.O.P. governance, look to Arizona that originally appeared in the July 2010 Harpers but now can be read on the magazine’s website, no doubt an attempt to shed light on the Tucson incident. Whether Ken thinks that the killings are a direct outcome of the Tea Party movement, as his former co-editor at Counterpunch Alexander Cockburn does, is another question altogether.

Ken writes:

Arizona lawmakers have shown little enthusiasm for dealing seriously with the state’s insolvency. They have instead preferred to focus on matters that have little to do with the crisis. Lawmakers have turned racial profiling into official policy, through a new law that requires police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand to see their papers; anyone not carrying acceptable proof of citizenship can be arrested for trespassing and thrown in jail for up to six months. But this is just one bill in what has been a season of provocative legislating. Another new law bans the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, while a third prohibits “intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid.” Lawmakers declared February 8 the “Boy Scout Holiday,” took time out to discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.

In January, Senator Jack Harper, an immaculately combed zealot who speaks in the patter of an infomercial voiceover, submitted a bill that would allow faculty members to carry guns on university campuses, saying it was “one very small step in trying to eliminate gun-free zones, where there’s absolutely no one who could defend themselves if a terrorist incident happened.” The house passed a measure that would force President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate to state officials if he runs for re-election, as well as a bill that bars Arizona from entering into any program to regulate greenhouse gases without approval from the legislature. “There are only two ways to vote on this,” said Representative Ray Barnes of the latter initiative. “Yes, or face the east in the morning and worship the EPA because they own you.”

This is Tea Party politics in its essence. It is an attempt to carry out an ultraright agenda through control of the courts, the legislature and the executive offices on a state and national level. In order to succeed, it has to be careful the way it manages its image. That is why a leader of the movement was forced to resign after making explicitly racist statements. It is also the reason it must take great care to avoid any connections with terrorists such as the kind that blow up abortion clinics. It is a deeply reactionary movement but is not terrorist or fascist at this point.

I would also urge the left to understand the history of Arizona, a country that arguably provided the launching ground for the modern conservative movement when its favorite son Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964. Although Goldwater was defeated, many Republicans including Ronald Reagan endorsed his program. Reagan managed to succeed where Goldwater failed—largely a function of his own demagogic gifts and the understanding by the ruling class that an attack on the welfare state had to be mounted.

I especially recommend Elizabeth Tandy Shermer article Origins of the Conservative Ascendancy: Barry Goldwater’s Early Senate Career and the De-legitimization of Organized Labor that appeared in the Journal of American History in 2008. Shermer writes:

The threat of a labor and liberal ascendancy spurred conservatives to political action. Although they benefited from federal dollars, many business leaders in the Southwest had no intention of supporting corporatist arrangements. The specter of the growing labor movement and the expanding federal government united corporate titans with local business owners in the region. Opposing them were employers in retail, service, agricultural, and extractive enterprises, which were either labor intensive or structured in a way that gave workers power at the work site. Throughout the 1940s, southwestern state legislatures were key arenas in the fight against the New Deal. As one tactic, business leaders supported laws designed to remake the region into an oasis for heavily taxed and unionized firms fleeing the Northeast. In 1949, the members of the Reno Chamber of Commerce pushed a “free-port” bill through the Nevada legislature, which permitted manufacturers to avoid property taxes on goods officially “in transit.” The state assembly relaxed those rules throughout the 1950s, attracting warehousing and manufacturing companies to Nevada. Curbing labor’s growth was also a key strategy for conservatives. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, state governments across the South and Southwest introduced right-to-work legislation, similar to the 1946 Arizona law.12

Barry Goldwater’s rise exemplified the politics of this emergent counteroffensive. The Arizonan was well known even before he ran for the Senate because of his family’s stylish department store, Goldwater’s, and his daring exploration of the Grand Canyon in 1940, which he captured on film and presented to audiences during the 1940s across the state. He cultivated the image of a compassionate capitalist. His firm was renowned for its positive employee relations as well as its medical and pension plans. Like the benefits offered by other welfare capitalists, the perks at Goldwater’s were an important argument against charges of business malfeasance and employer indifference to workers’ welfare. Local papers lauded Goldwater’s, cementing the Phoenician’s reputation as a model employer. A Prescott newspaper reported that upon the opening of a store in that city in the early 1940s, Goldwater treated fourteen of his new employees to a fancy dinner. “Perhaps it’s pretzels and beer for run-of-the-counter sales ladies,” the editors noted, “but it’s champagne and chicken if they’re on Goldwater’s payroll . . . and a chance to ‘dine out’ with the dashing bon vivant, Mr. Barry Goldwater.” “Pity the poor working girls? Not if they work for Goldwater’s.”13

This is the kind of analysis that the left should be producing today. Arizona’s reactionary stew is a product of class antagonism that is leading toward a showdown between the rulers and working people. The ruling class is using “legal” methods to keep working people and oppressed nationalities under its thumb, even as we understand that its tactics might change in the future, as antagonisms grow irreconcilable. But if we cannot base our own strategy and tactics on the true relationship of class forces, then we will end up making mistake after mistake.

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