Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 14, 2011

Solidarity With Zimbabwean Political Prisoners

Filed under: Africa,repression — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm
News and information on activities in the US to support Zimbabwean activists charged with treason for organizing a meeting to discuss the North African revolutions. Free them now! Join the international day of action on March 21.

Monday, March 14, 2011



Six people in Zimbabwe are now imprisoned on charges of treason for organizing a meeting to discuss the mass movements in Tunisia and Egypt. For this “crime” they face a possible death sentence. They have been tortured and are now in solitary confinement. 

An international day of action to demand their release will be held on Monday, March 21, when they are scheduled for a court hearing.

Our message is simple and urgent: We demand that the government of Zimbabwe drop all charges and release them immediately.

Plans are underway for demonstrations in a number of countries. We urge concerned people everywhere to join us in organizing meetings and demonstrations in solidarity with the prisoners. Please translate and distribute this appeal as widely as possible. Let us know know what you are doing at the contact addresses below.

The worldwide significance of the struggle to free the Zimbabwean prisoners is reflected in a recent statement of support from the Congress of South African Trade Unions. “The Egyptian and Tunisian experience have inspired many workers and poor people all over the world to stand up and demand an end to dictatorship, corruption and injustice of whatever kind.”

The arrest and prosecution of the six may seem like only the latest round of repression by Robert Mugabe’s government against opponents. But it is also an attack on the spirit of Tahrir Square, which has inspired people all over the world. The six prisoners include trade unionists, intellectuals, and activists in the struggle for women’s rights. The effort to suppress them – and even to kill them, whether by execution or through torture and denial of medical treatment while in custody – is a vicious assault on all of us.

To learn more about the six prisoners and the struggle for their release, see the website Free Them Now! [ http://www.freethemnow.com/ ] and the Facebook group (open to non-Facebook users) Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists [ http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_178601402184959 ].

To join the March 21 actions, please send a message to both of these addresses: zimtreasontrial@gmail.com and solidarity@freethemnow.com

Posted by Scott McLemee at 10:20 AM

Joe Morello, Drummer with Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dies at 82

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm
NY Times March 13, 2011

Joe Morello, Drummer with Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dies at 82


Joe Morello, a jazz drummer whose elegant, economical playing in the Dave Brubeck Quartet sounded natural and effortless even in unusual time signatures, died on Saturday at his home in Irvington, N.J. He was 82.

His death was announced on his Web site, joemorello.net. No cause was given.

Mr. Morello was most famous for his tenure in Mr. Brubeck’s band, in which he was engaged initially for a brief tour in 1955. He became a member in late 1956, and remained until the group disbanded at the end of 1967.

Already popular for its work on college campuses during the 1950s, Mr. Brubeck’s group reached new heights with Mr. Morello, who handled with disarming ease the odd meters that Mr. Brubeck began to favor. In June 1959, Mr. Morello participated in a recording session with the quartet — completed by the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and the bassist Eugene Wright — that yielded “Kathy’s Waltz” and “Three to Get Ready,” both of which intermingled 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures.

Less than a week later the quartet recorded Mr. Desmond’s “Take Five,” a breezy composition in 5/4, with an airy solo by Mr. Morello over a rigid vamp on piano and bass. The track became one of the most recognizable themes and most succesful singles in jazz, selling more than a million copies and reaching No. 25 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart in 1962. Those pieces, and others like “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and “Strange Meadowlark,” were featured on Mr. Brubeck’s most famous album, “Time Out.”

Before working with Mr. Brubeck, Mr. Morello had played with the guitarist Johnny Smith, the saxophonist Gil Melle and, briefly, Stan Kenton’s big band. From 1953 to 1956 he played in the pianist Marian McPartland’s trio, which worked frequently at the Hickory House nightclub in New York.

During Mr. Morello’s engagement with Ms. McPartland, Mr. Desmond urged Mr. Brubeck to hear the drummer, Mr. Brubeck said in an oral history recorded for the Smithsonian Institution in 2007.

“He was playing brushes,” Mr. Brubeck recalled in the interview, “and Paul just loved somebody that played brushes and didn’t interrupt with some hard licks with sticks and clashing cymbals.” In need of a substitute drummer, Mr. Brubeck approached Mr. Morello.

Mr. Morello’s reply, according to Mr. Brubeck: “I’m interested in your group, but your drummer’s out to lunch. I want to be featured.” By this, Mr. Brubeck said, Mr. Morello meant that he wanted to be allowed to play solos and experiment.

After the quartet disbanded Mr. Morello primarily worked as a drum clinician and teacher. His students included Jerry Granelli and Danny Gottlieb, both notable jazz drummers, and Max Weinberg, the longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the former bandleader for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

But Mr. Morello yearned for the bandstand. “I’m tired of saying to some student, ‘This is a stick.’ ” he told The New York Times in 1973. “I want to get out and play again.”

Play again Mr. Morello did. He performed sporadically in the 1970s and ’80s, including reunions with Mr. Brubeck in 1976 and 1985. During the 1990s Mr. Morello led his own group, which featured the saxophonist Ralph Lalama.

Joseph A. Morello was born in Springfield, Mass., on July 17, 1928. Sight-impaired from an early age, he took up the violin at 6 and performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra three years later. According to a biography on his Web site, Mr. Morello gave up the violin for drums at 15, after meeting his idol, the violinist Jascha Heifetz.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Taking Obama’s Measure

Filed under: Obama,swans — louisproyect @ 6:10 pm

Taking Obama’s Measure
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Hodge, Roger D.: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, HarperCollins, 2010, 259 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-201126-8

Ali, Tariq: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, Verso, 2010, 153 pages, ISBN-13 978-1-84467-449-7

Street, Paul: The Emperor’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power Paradigm, 2010, 274 pages, ISBN 978-1-59451-845-4 (paperback)

(Swans – March 14, 2011)   Starting in 2005, just after things had turned completely sour in Iraq, a visit to your local bookstore would reveal a plethora of books about how rotten George W. Bush was. Eric Alterman’s The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America and David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush were fairly typical offerings, amounting to the printed version of what could be heard any evening on MSNBC.

While people like Alterman and Corn viewed Barack Obama’s election as a kind of Second Coming, it took not much longer than a year for disillusionment to sink in. Criticisms of Obama, however, do not go for the jugular as they did with Bush. No matter how many terrible things he does, there will be a lemming-like march in 2012 to line up behind him in order to stave off Republican control of the White House. Liberals have trouble understanding that it is exactly the “centrist” politics of the current administration that will lead to its ouster, if such an ouster takes place.

Given the abysmal record of the Obama presidency so far, which amounts to Bush’s third term in many respects, it is testimony to his continued hold on liberal America that only three critical books have emerged from the left. (The ones emanating from the right are exclusively crackpot exercises making the case that Obama is spearheading a drive toward socialism.)

Of the three, Roger Hodge’s The Mendacity of Hope is likely to be the only one for sale in Barnes and Noble or Borders. Published by HarperCollins, it has been widely reviewed in the mainstream press. The author was formerly an editor at Harper’s Magazine, which has no connection to the publisher HarperCollins although they were initially part of the same company launched in the early 1800s by James and John Harper. Today Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns HarperCollins, an outlet obviously calculated to make money based on whatever sells — right or left.

That being said, it is doubtful that HarperCollins would have had the slightest interest in Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome or Paul Street’s The Empire’s New Clothes, the two other books reviewed here. Ali and Street approach the Obama administration from the standpoint of Marxism, an ideology that will not get you in the front door at HarperCollins. Ali’s book was published by Verso, where he has been an editor for decades. Street comes to us courtesy of Paradigm Publishers, a left-oriented scholarly imprint that will likely never be able to afford a quarter-page ad in The New York Times Book Review or The New York Review of Books. That being said, readers trying to make sense of arguably the most reactionary Democratic president since Grover Cleveland should seek out all three books.

full: http://swans.com/library/art17/lproy66.html

March 12, 2011

Stephen King: pro-union

Filed under: trade unions — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

Serbophobe General opposed to war against Qaddafi

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 2:51 pm

(This confirms the point I made that analogies with Kosovo were inappropriate.)


Gen. Wesley Clark says Libya doesn’t meet the test for U.S. military action

By Wesley K. Clark
Friday, March 11, 2011; 8:00 PM

In March of 1974, when I was a young Army captain, I was sitting in a conference on civil-military relations at Brown University. Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) was onstage expounding on the lessons from Vietnam about military interventions. He then stopped and looked right at me and the four West Point cadets at my side. “You, the young officer and cadets sitting there – never in your lifetimes will you see us intervene abroad,” I recall him saying. “We’ve learned that lesson.”

For all his brilliance, Aspin couldn’t have been more wrong.

We have launched many military interventions since then. And today, as Moammar Gaddafi looks vulnerable and Libya descends into violence, familiar voices are shouting, once again: “Quick, intervene, do something!” It could be a low-cost win for democracy in the region. But before we aid the Libyan rebels or establish a no-fly zone, let’s review what we’ve learned about intervening since we pulled out of Vietnam.

The past 37 years have been replete with U.S. interventions. Some have succeeded, such as our actions in Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf War (1991) and the Balkans (1995-2000). Some were awful blunders, such as the attempted hostage rescue in Iran (1980), landing the Marines in Lebanon (1982) or the Somalia intervention (1992-94).

Some worked in the short run, but not the longer term – such as the occupation of Haiti in 1994. Others still hang in the balance, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, consuming hundreds of billions of dollars and wrecking thousands of American lives. Along the way, we’ve bombed a few tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi himself, operated through proxies in Central America, and stood ready with fly-overs, deployments, mobility exercises and sail-bys across the globe.

I’ve thought about military interventions for a long time – from before my service in Vietnam to writing a master’s thesis at Fort Leavenworth to leading NATO forces in the Kosovo war. In considering Libya, I find myself returning to the guidelines for intervention laid out by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1984. The world has changed a great deal since then, so I’ve adapted and updated his vision to develop my own rules for when the United States should deploy its blood and treasure in operations far from home.

Understand the national interests at stake, and decide if the result is worth the cost.

We went into Lebanon with a reinforced battalion of Marines in 1982 because we believed that it was in our national interest to stabilize the situation after the Israelis had been forced out of Beirut. But after the terrorist bombing of their barracks killed 241 U.S. service members the next year, we pulled out. After the tragedy, any benefits seemed to pale in light of the cost and continuing risks.

In 1999, when we launched the NATO air campaign against Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, President Bill Clinton had to state publicly that he didn’t intend to use ground troops. He did so in an effort to limit the costs of an initiative that the public and Congress did not consider to be in our nation’s vital interest. The administration and I, as the NATO commander in Europe, were in a difficult position, and Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic knew it. But what Milosevic didn’t understand was that once we began the strikes – with NATO troops deployed in neighboring countries and the Dayton Peace Agreement to enforce in Bosnia – NATO couldn’t afford to lose. And the United States had a vital interest in NATO’s success, even if we had a less-than-vital interest in Kosovo.


March 11, 2011

The King’s Speech; Honey (Bal)

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm

During a screening of the luminous new Turkish film called “Honey” (Bal) whose main character is a young boy with a stuttering problem, I said to myself: Unrepentant Marxist, why don’t you review “The King’s Speech” while you are at it. So, here goes. I doubt that two films could be more unalike, but the inclusion of central characters who stutter screams out for a comparative study approach. Frankly, as I start this review I have no idea how I can connect the two films apart from the speech defect angle, but maybe I’ll have something figured out by the end!

It is not too hard to figure out why “The King’s Speech” won the Oscar for best movie of the year. It is a highly entertaining historical drama with first-rate performances by the two lead actors: Colin Firth as King George VI (nicknamed Bertie after his first name Albert, the name Albert was eventually downplayed for sounding too Germanic) and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist Lionel Logue. The film is cut from the Merchant-Ivory cloth and features remarkably evocative costume design and scenery that makes you feel as if you have been transported to late 1930s Britain.

The screenplay is by David Seidler, a journeyman whose previous work consisted mainly of banal TV shows and movies like “Come On, Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story.” As someone who suffered from a stammering problem as a child, Seidler found himself drawn to the King George VI story. Born in 1937, Seidler grew up in a middle-class Jewish household in London and developed his speech problem on his way to the United States, where his family was relocating. He was on a three ship convoy that lost one to a U-Boat torpedo.

After learning about King George VI’s problem, he began the research for a screenplay in the 1970s. Seidler, now in remission from throat cancer, told the National Post that “being a stutterer puts a cloud over childhood.”

It can also put a cloud over the most powerful man in Britain as well. The central drama of “The King’s Speech”, as I am sure you are aware, is driven by the clash between the public’s need for a grandiloquent leader to rouse them to action and his inability to say more than a word or two without freezing up. In one of the more compelling scenes, we see Bertie watching a newsreel of Adolph Hitler in all his perverse glory making a speech at Nuremberg. After taking him for a minute or two, Bertie tells his minions that he wishes he could speak like that.

I had misgivings about the theme of the movie since I am no fan of the royalty but eventually was won over by the story and the acting. Lionel Logue, the speech therapist, is also an amateur Shakespearean actor who recites lines to his children and auditions for a production of Richard III at one point (he is deemed too old and not regal enough, a reference no doubt to his Australian origins.) It dawned on me at that point that despite the fact that most of Shakespeare’s plays are designed to flatter the British monarchy, they are part of our cultural heritage. While Seidler’s screenplay cannot be elevated to such a sphere, it does remind us that good art, even if it is popular art, can work on its own terms without being judged politically.

Indeed, I saw “The King’s Speech” much less in terms of a kind of modern-day reworking of a Shakespeare play about royalty than as an inversion of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”. Shaw’s tale involves an upper-class twit teaching a commoner how to speak properly, while Seidler reverses the roles. Logue not only teaches the British monarch to properly manage his stutter (it cannot be cured) but to relate to common people in a more humane manner, starting with himself. In the opening scene, Logue insists on the two men calling each other by their first names, Lionel and Bertie, even though the future King finds this almost intolerable. While Seidler probably did not consider this when writing his screenplay, one can easily make the connection with another class inversion, namely P.G. Wodehouse’s tales of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, the British aristocrat who must be taught about life by his manservant.

While “The King’s Speech” succeeds as a kind of old-fashioned, four-square, conventional film, “Honey” succeeds on its own terms, namely as an art movie that defies audience expectations of both character and plot.

The central character in “Honey” is a six-year-old boy named Yusuf (Bora Altaş, a non-professional) who lives with his father Yakup (Erdal Besikçioglu) and mother Zehra (Tülin Özen) in a remote mountainous village where life appears not much different than it was a hundred years ago in Turkey, especially how Yakup makes his living. He is a beekeeper who scales tall trees in pursuit of the high-quality honey found in the area.

Unfortunately, the disappearance of bees drives him further and further up the mountains where he installs new hives at the top of trees in hope of attracting the creatures that sustain him and his family. The film opens with him scaling a tall tree, navigating to the middle of a branch to which he will attach a new hive. Just as he has begun his work, the branch breaks and leaves him suspended precariously far above the ground.

In a series of flashbacks, we see how the family relates to each other and its environment. While the mother and father are key characters, it is really Yusuf’s story. Early on, his father asks him to read from the Koran, which he does with great ease and fluidity. A day or so later, we see him in a classroom where the teacher asks the children to take turns reading from a primer. When a girl begins reading a page or two from the story The Lion and the Mouse, we see Yusuf mouthing the words silently one step ahead of her. Clearly, he knows how to read. But when it is his turn to read, he has the same paralysis as Bertie, the future king, and cannot utter more than a word or two without looking up at the teacher in total consternation. At this point, all the other students begin laughing at him.

“Honey” dispenses with plot almost entirely. Except for wondering about the fate of the father, we rely mostly on the quotidian existence of a very traditional family to sustain our interest. There is very little dialog in the film apart from the father speaking to his son about his expectations from him. Unlike few films I have seen in this or any other year, “Honey” conveys a father’s love for his son in a more convincing and moving fashion than one would be led to expect. With so many Hollywood films (Little Miss Sunshine, for example) drenched in family unhappiness and loathing, it is a breath of fresh air to be reminded that solidarity within a family unit is possible.

Most of “Honey” follows Yusuf on his daily rounds: picking eggs out of a coop for his mother to make cookies for dad; ambling off to school on a muddy road; following his father as he tends to the hives, etc. All in all, director Semih Kaplanoglu seems to have absorbed the aesthetic of the new Iranian film that seeks to depict the lives of ordinary people in a compassionate and naturalistic manner.

In an interview with The People’s Voice, Kaplanoglu presented his views on a number of topics:

Q: What’s your view on the interlaced correlation of modern cinema with violence, aggression and depravity? Are these scenes which we expose to a wide range of large-scale audiences including women, children and the youth enough healthy and proper for them?

A: It is where the human centered civilization takes and leaves us. What we see is falling away from the spirituality and ego being more favored. The art, however, is becoming more egocentric in all its forms. Another drawback is the idea of craftsmanship is extinguishing within the art. Tradition and certain code of conduct vanish too as a result. We are leading lives in such a carnal civilization that it proves to be impossible to feel and perceive what is in front of our bare eyes. On the other hand, imagery is so filthy that it’s no longer able to show. There is a huge mechanism designed to hide the truth or at least tune it down. Truth is perceived as a new contrived world because it is kept away from us. We got accustomed to death and violence. Nothing moves us anymore. There is a tiny single button to switch from child casualties and a silly competition. If truth doesn’t touch your conscience and refused by you then what can a film do? Cinema and other forms of art are helpless in the face of our pathetic and miserable situation. If the images of dead Palestinian, Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan kids or refugees or African poor don’t have an impact on us and we go on our lives undisturbed, then which artist or filmmaker can touch our hearts? We should be more alert and conscious in this world. We should keep remembering these two; Unity of the Creator and his consent. I am trying to make my films based or these principles.

Q: What’s in your view, the ultimate goal of art in general, and what is precisely sought in our approaches toward art? Do we search for an ephemeral and mere enjoyment by watching a 1 hour movie, or is there something beyond that?

A: When the time of artwork diverges from our own time it also causes one to get detached from the time he lives in. One wastes his life with showbiz, an industry of gossip and distraction yet he doesn’t want to die. He is bloody scared of death. He doesn’t want to say or hear anything of his death. On the other hand he wishes to see the death of others. It means the lapse of time and the perception of time will disappears. “I watched a film and didn’t realize how the time passed” people say. On the contrary you should notice how the time has passed. The Aristotelian understanding of art aims at purgation of emotions. Film bridges the gap between ego and the soul. Self identifies with it. It is useless art, useless knowledge otherwise. I know the masses relate to what is associated with ego because such films don’t challenge the audience and don’t expect them to contribute. But we don’t have to succumb to that rule. We are also responsible to find a way to reach out to the masses. There are two sides to a coin.

“Honey” is scheduled to open in New York on Friday, March 25 at the Village East Cinema. Highly recommended.

Why Qaddafi need not worry about imperialist intervention

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 3:58 pm

At least as long as he continues to smash the poorly trained and armed revolutionaries.

“In Brussels, top representatives to NATO on Thursday were debating whether to impose a no-flight zone in the country, an idea that might lose support if European governments think that American spy agencies believe Colonel Qaddafi is likely to defeat the rebels.”

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/world/africa/11clapper.html


March 10, 2011

In response to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

Filed under: Iran,journalism,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:52 pm

Yesterday I was informed that Edward Herman and David Peterson had responded a few months ago to my February 20, 2010 article titled The Latest Idiocy from Edward S. Herman and David Peterson.

There was a time when I would have paid closer attention to what the two had to say but have tuned them out because of their repetitiveness and prolixity. Basically, their methodology is the same one used by Michel Chossudovsky, MRZine, and some bloggers who have learned to put a minus where the U.S. State Department puts a plus as Leon Trotsky commented:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

A few words about these two would probably be in order. Herman is an 85-year-old Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, something that amounted to a kind of day job I guess. (His first book was Principles And Practices Of Money And Banking.) He is best known for co-authoring “Manufacturing Consent” with Noam Chomsky. Unlike Chomsky—an anarchist—Herman has never written anything that amounts to a program for revolutionary change. His main preoccupation is with the propaganda system that American imperialism uses to make war on its enemies.

Somewhere along the line Herman hooked up with someone named David Peterson, who is a lot younger from what I can gather. About all I know about him is that he describes himself as an independent journalist based in Chicago. My guess is that he has never been involved with socialist politics. And if he has, the tracks are well covered.

As I said, the two are never at a loss for words. Their reply to me is contained in the third part of a 33,000 word article titled Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment’s Bandwagon in obvious defiance of the stricture that brevity is the soul of wit.

After fortifying myself with a second cup of extra-strong coffee, I waded into their 3-part article to see what had motivated them to write such a tome. I suspect that they are incapable of writing fewer than 20,000 words but I am not sufficiently motivated to do the necessary research to verify this.

The main thrust of their article is to demonstrate that the U.S. has a double standard when it comes to Iran and Honduras.

The Honduran military executed its coup d’état against President Zelaya only 16 days after the presidential election in Iran, in the middle of a tsunami of U.S. and Western media coverage of Iran’s election and its aftermath, which saw the opposition’s claims of vote fraud5 spark massive public demonstrations against both the official results and Iran’s clerical regime itself, and also saw large and sustained expressions of solidarity with Iran’s “democratic movement” dominating the metropolitan centers of the West.  Yet, when the coup in Honduras took place against its democratically-elected and populist president, nothing comparable was to be observed in U.S. and Western media interest in this event and its aftermath, much less in public displays of solidarity on behalf of Honduras’ ousted president and its anti-coup protestors.

They liken Iran’s most recent election to the ones that took place in Nicaragua in the 1980s, equating a demonized Ahmadinejad to a demonized Daniel Ortega. As someone who was part of a delegation in Nicaragua to observe the election of 1984, I wonder where the authors get the audacity to compare the two. In Iran the election was between two candidates who had been sanctioned by the Guardian Council, a small group of clerics that operate independently of the will of the people. Furthermore, in Iran there is no freedom for political groups or newspapers that would challenge the right of clerics to set the terms of democracy. Imagine if people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell had the ultimate say on who could run for office in the U.S.A. And if you had started a socialist newspaper, you risked imprisonment or death. These are the brutal realities behind Iran’s electoral system that could barely interest Herman and Peterson. Perhaps if questions of class interested them a bit more, they would be a bit more sensitive to them.

When they get down to brass tacks in part three, they group me with Joanne Landy and Danny Postel, two individuals who would be shocked to discover me as a bedfellow. Landy was a member of the Council of Foreign Relations at one point, and used to attend events with Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Just my kind of folks. I won’t say anything much about Postel except to take note that he orients to the Iranian liberal intelligentsia while I am close to Marxist bloggers. I guess it is all the same to the nearsighted anti-imperialists Herman and Peterson.

To start off, the two intrepid anti-imperialist sleuths misunderstimate me, as George W. Bush would say: “As the U.S. wars of the post-Soviet era caused a peeling-off of leftist after leftist, the Marxmail administrator and blogger Louis Proyect resisted, remaining staunchly anti-imperialist.” Sorry, comrades, I am not just an “anti-imperialist”. I am an anti-capitalist, and—with all due respect to people like Naomi Klein–I am not just an anti-capitalist. I am an unrepentant Marxist. This means that while I am willing to take the side of Iran on the question of opposing sanctions and supporting its right to develop nuclear power (and arms, for that matter), I will not back any government that jails and tortures bus drivers for trying to start a union. Maybe Edward Herman got the idea when teaching finance at Wharton that it is sometimes necessary to keep labor costs down when raising capital for a bond issue but that is alien to me. It is all the more alien when trade unionists in Egypt and Wisconsin are fighting for their own rights as well. Don’t Iranian workers also have such a right? Or does that matter to people like Herman and Peterson who only understand the conflicts between states and not those between classes?

Apparently, I violated my oath to the anti-imperialist cause when “the eruption of election-related turmoil struck Iran in June 2009, and the Western establishment threw its collective weight behind the ‘Green Wave’ opposition.” They claim “Proyect suddenly did an about-face, and enlisted in the cause.”

Well, this is utter nonsense. I began to pay close attention to the brutality and neoliberal character of the Islamic Republic back in 2006 when Yoshie Furuhashi, the editor of MRZine who published Herman and Peterson’s article, began her fulsome praise of Ahmadinejad not long after giving up on socialism. Who would want to mess around with small groups like Solidarity when Ahmadinejad was deploying vast numbers of Basiji. Something told me that this was a pile of crap and I was determined to get to the bottom of that.

This led me to write a multi-part review of a book titled “Iran on the Brink” in 2007, a book I recommend highly, especially to Herman and Peterson who evidently are rather virginal when it comes to Marxist analysis of Iran. Here’s an excerpt from part one of my review:

“Iran on the Brink” provides historical background on revolutionary movements in Iran, starting in the early 20th century. Attempts to break with colonial domination and the native comprador bourgeoisie kept being thwarted, the most notable example being the coup against Mossadegh in 1953 that led to the Reza Shah dictatorship that was finally overthrown in 1979.

The authors focus on the emergence of shoras that arose spontaneously in factories and oil refineries around the country shortly after the Shah’s cronies fled the country. The shoras started out as strike committees but were then transformed into workers control bodies. They very much reflected the kind of aspirations seen in Venezuela today and target number one of Khomeini and his followers, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad included. A worker at a shoe factory spoke for all Iranian workers when he said:

Nowadays you don’t need to tell a worker to go and work. He works himself. Why? The reason why he didn’t work [under the Shah] was because he was under the boss’s thumb. He couldn’t speak out. Now, he’ll say: “the work is my own. I’ll work.”

Unfortunately, the shoras failed to become the new state power, just as Soviets had become in 1917. Unlike Russia, the Iranians lacked a revolutionary party that could coordinate the shoras nationwide and press the struggle forward. This is not to say, however, that there weren’t groups in Iran that aspired to Lenin’s mantle. There were more than eighty of them, in fact. Unfortunately, the only thing that united them was sectarianism mixed with an eagerness to adapt to political Islam. In 1979, the Iranian left was still stuck in the same mode that would destroy the left in so many countries, namely a dogmatic understanding of what it meant to be a “vanguard”. The particular irony is that Iranian workers would have been more receptive to the leadership of a revolutionary party than anywhere else in the world.

Among the most prestigious of the revolutionary organizations was the Fediyan that had conducted a guerrilla struggle against the Shah since 1971. Its main rival was the Tudeh, the official Communist Party. Both groups were heavily influenced by Stalinist top-down methods and were hardly in a position to engage with so profoundly a bottom-up phenomenon like the shoras. It should be added that the Tudeh did have an interest in the shoras, but it could be described as the kind of interest that the Democrats had in Ralph Nader. The Tudeh’s goal was to replace the shoras with conventional trade unions of the sort that they had operated in historically. Eventually, the Tudeh made a bloc with the Majority faction of the Fediyan that shared its hostility to the shoras and its belief that political Islam was progressive. With the two most powerful groups on the left holding such beliefs, one might conclude that the rise of Khomeini-ism had more to do with the bankruptcy of the left than its own dubious merits.

Khomeini soon developed a substitute for the shoras that was called the shora-ye eslami, or “Islamic council”. Rather than operating on the basis of class struggle, the new bodies would stress Muslim brotherhood. This was a brotherhood that first and foremost would put a ban on strikes, effective in March 1980. Strikes were now considered haram, or sinful. Just to make sure that nobody lapsed into sinful behavior, the government set up Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) that would break strikes and enforce discipline within the workplace. One metal factory worker described the kind of punishment Pasdaran meted out to the unruly:

They flogged one of my colleagues to death. They accused him of having cursed Imam Ali. First they brought him to prison, but then they dragged him to the factory and bound him to a machine. All production was stopped and we were ordered to appear in front of the scene. I could only stand to have my eyes on him for two lashes. Then blood was gushing from his wounds. He died after 50, 60 lashes. He was about 50 years old.

At any rate such workers could matter less to Herman and Peterson. They are completely absorbed by the fact that Ahmadinejad is being demonized by the N.Y. Times.

Moving right along, I am found guilty of not writing about Honduras:

Although chiding the present writers for our alleged inattention to class, Proyect—in strict parallel with Danny Postel, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the New York Times, and the State Department—had nothing whatever to say about Honduras, where the class nature of the 2009 coup and regime change is far clearer than it has been for the conflict in Iran.

I don’t quite know how to break it to these two jerks, but the fact that I have not written about Honduras should not be interpreted as support for the American-backed coup. I am not trying to compete with Counterpunch or ZNet. If you are looking for radical news analysis of current events, those are the places you are advised to go. My blog was launched with the intention of writing about whatever interests me at the moment, ranging from my struggles with glaucoma to musings on African music. And I have no plans to change that any time soon.

March 9, 2011

The Desert of Forbidden Art

Filed under: art,Stalinism,ussr — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

Opening at NY’s Cinema Village on March 11th and the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles on March 18th, the documentary “The Desert of Forbidden Art” is the definitive treatment of the clash between the artist and the Stalinist system and makes a perfect companion piece to Chris Marker’s “The Last Bolshevik“, which described the plight of film directors such as Alexander Medvedkin, who sought to affirm his artistic integrity in a period of bureaucratic conformity enforced by the secret police.

“The Desert of Forbidden Art” is directed by Amanda Pope, a UCLA film professor who made “Faces of Change” about reformers in the former Soviet Union, and Tchavdar Georgiev, a Russian now working in the U.S. It tells the story of Igor Savitsky, a young painter who was born to an aristocratic family in 1915. When they followed their class instincts and moved to the West, Savitsky stayed behind and enrolled at the Moscow Art Institute. In 1943, the institute was relocated to remote Uzbekistan to escape the Nazi onslaught. The Central Asian culture fascinated Savitsky in the same way that Polynesia fascinated Gauguin. After falling in love with the people and their culture (to the extent of converting to Islam), Savitsky returned to the town of Nukus in 1950 with the intention of preserving folk art, including traditional costumes. Using some of the most amazing archival footage from the Soviet era you have ever seen, we see young Uzbeki females being forced to abandon their customs, including their beautiful clothing, and becoming a forcibly assimilated Soviet Citizen.

Not long after sinking roots in the area, Savitsky learned that Uzbekistan was a haven for artists who were determined to continue painting as if the USSR was still in its heroic phase, when artists such as Malevich and Rodchenko had free rein. Like Savitsky, they fell in love with Uzbeki culture and blended local folkloric elements into their overall avant-garde vision.

The film gives ample documentation of the output of these geniuses, whose work was preserved by Savisky, and their run-ins with the Stalinist machine that dictated Socialist Realism. The film relies on the testimony of Savitsky’s peers who are still living, the sons and daughters of the artists whose work he preserved, and a number of experts on his project, both Russian and English-speaking.

One of them is Stephen Kinzer, who first wrote about the Nukus Museum in January, 1998. The article titled In a Far Desert, a Startling Trove of Art is a good introduction to this amazing story:

SAVITSKY BEGAN collecting ancient artifacts, some of them dating from the third century B.C. Later he broadened his interest to include folk art and ethnography. He traveled from village to village persuading peasant families to sell or give him traditional costumes, jewelry and other artifacts that in the Stalinist era were considered signs of backwardness and possible treason. In 1966 he opened a museum to display his collection. Already, however, he had set his sights on bigger game.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Savitsky scoured Moscow, Leningrad and other Soviet cities in search of works by Russian artists who had died unknown, some in labor camps or mental hospitals. Gradually he won the trust of widows and relatives, many of whom were happy to be rid of piles of rotting work. In one case he rescued an oil painting being used to patch a leaky roof.

Savitsky, who died in 1984, had the advantage of working almost without competition. Most Soviet museums were forbidden to display avant-garde art because the Government considered it not only hideous but degenerate. The few private collectors of the period bought no more than a handful of works. Only Savitsky, whose base in the Uzbek region of Karakalpakstan was almost unimaginably far from the centers of Soviet power, was allowed to collect, and he did so with boundless passion.

One might think that after the collapse of the Stalinist system in the early 90s that “freedom-loving” authorities would rally around the Nukus Museum. Sadly but not unexpectedly you see narrow-mindedness persisting. In a March 7th New York Times article timed to coincide with the opening of the documentary, we learn that Uzbek officials had given the museum 48 hours to evacuate one of its buildings two years ago. The problems, it would seem, have a lot to do with the disgusting chauvinism of the greater Russian nationality that convinced Lenin to break with Stalin just before his death. The Times reports:

More than a dozen years later the collection remains intact. But it also remains hidden from the public. After exhibitions in Germany and France in the 1990s, the Uzbek Ministry of Culture has consistently refused invitations to display the collection overseas, Ms. Babanazarova said. (One exception was three paintings now on view in the Netherlands.)

There has been no clear explanation for this policy, but it may reflect Uzbeks’ lasting ambivalence toward Russia’s imperial influence. Independent since 1991, Uzbekistan vigorously promotes native art forms like weaving and engraving. The works in Mr. Savitsky’s collection — many made by ethnic Russians — have no place in that campaign.

“Despite all the publicity, it’s dormant,” Mr. Bowlt said. “It’s a shame — there are so many extraordinary paintings by virtually unknown artists that deserve to be talked about, written about. It hasn’t happened.”

Uzbek authorities have shown bursts of support for the collection. In 2003 President Islam A. Karimov himself came to Nukus to inaugurate a new museum building, which Ms. Babanazarova called “one of the best buildings in the country,” and Mr. Savitsky received a posthumous state honor. And last year the Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan financed its own documentary on the Savitsky Collection, which will be shown in Uzbek embassies in a bid to attract tourists to Nukus.

Nevertheless, one day last November when Ms. Babanazarova was out of town, officials backed up trucks to the museum’s old exhibition building and ordered workers to remove all the artworks, saying the building, which dates to the 1950s, would be demolished as part of an urban renewal project. David Pearce, chairman of the Friends of the Nukus Museum, a nongovernmental organization, said a deputy minister of culture assured him late last year that the state planned to build new space to replace what was lost, and that it would be ready by this fall. But months have passed with no evident progress.

Museum supporters — who include current and former Western diplomats — say they have no idea what the government is planning. Some suggested that Ms. Babanazarova had run afoul of officials because of her fierce defense of the collection or her independent contacts with foreigners.

“I think it’s sort of ignorance and circling the wagons, it’s fear,” said Amanda Pope, a director of the new American documentary, with Tchavdar Georgiev. “No one will explain.”

I strongly urge everyone to see this outstanding documentary in NY or Los Angeles. For those who still believe that socialism is preferable to capitalism, it is especially rewarding to see the work of Soviet artists who never gave up hope that their work was intimately tied to that belief rather than an “anti-Soviet” offense punishable by prison, torture or death.

March 8, 2011

Qaddafi: Crackdown on Libya revolt is like Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 11:02 pm


Gadhafi: Crackdown on Libya revolt is like Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza

Speaking to France 24, long-time Libyan Leader says estimated figures of rebel, civilian casualties are exaggerated, adding that at most ‘150 to 200 people were killed.’

By Haaretz Service Tags: Israel news Libya Hamas Gaza

Long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi said Monday in an interview with TV network France 24 that his violent crackdown on opposition protesters is akin to Israel’s efforts to defend itself from extremism during its 2009 Gaza war against Hamas.

Libya has come under international scrutiny in recent weeks, in response to violent clashes between the Libyan military and anti-Gadhafi rebels, confrontations which caused what are estimated to be hundreds of deaths.

On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dispatched a team to Tripoli to assess the humanitarian situation in the wake of the Libyan crisis, criticizing the Libya military’s “disproportionate use of force.”

Speaking with France 24 later Monday, however, Gadhafi defended his military’s right to oppress rebel activity, comparing his crackdown to Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2009, saying that “even the Israelis in Gaza, when they moved into the Gaza strip, they moved in with tanks to fight such extremists.”

“It’s the same thing here! We have small armed groups who are fighting us. We did not use force from the outset… Armed units of the Libyan army have had to fight small armed al Qaida bands. That is what’s happened,” Gadhafi said.

Referring to the purported number of casualties in wake of fighting in Libya, the long-time leader claimed “there have been at most 150 to 200 people killed.”

View Libya in a larger map

“People should come here and see how many people have been killed. They can come and check among the population, and among the police and the army,” Gadhafi said.

Gadhafi also dismissed the assessment that recent events injured the Libya’s links with the West, saying that the country had “very good relations with the United States, with the European Union and with African countries,” adding that “Libya plays a crucial role in regional and world peace.”

The interview came as earlier Sunday, a top official in Gadhafi ruling establishment made an unprecedented appeal to dialogue between the warring factions, in attempt to end the conflict.

Jadallah Azous Al-Talhi, a Libyan prime minister in the 1980s who is originally from eastern Libya, appeared on state television reading an address to elders in Benghazi, the main base of the anti-Gadhafi rebels.

He asked them to “give a chance to national dialogue to resolve this crisis, to help stop the bloodshed, and not give a chance to foreigners to come and capture our country again.”

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