Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 18, 2011

Zimbabwe ISO’ers out on bail

Filed under: Africa — louisproyect @ 1:39 pm

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prisoners now released on bail! March 21 demonstrations remain urgent

Thanks in part to donations from supporters abroad, friends and family raised the $12,000 US needed to get the six prisoners released on bail on March 17. They are now back with their loved ones — but will be in court on March 21, standing trial for treason.

The international day of action in solidarity with the Zimbabwean activists remains as urgent as ever. Now the demand is even simpler: Drop all charges now!

Updates on Twitter from Shantha Bloeman — wife of Munyaradzi Gwasai, one of the prisoners — give supporters outside Zimbabwe a glimpse of this week’s developments from the inside. A few entries:

Another call. ZANU-PF youth raided room of one of the released. [This refers to the 39 prisoners released earlier in the month.-sm] Trashed room and took his things. He is now in hiding.

Police took detained for investigations. Want passports to explore possible foreign connections. Not sure if this will help or hinder bail.

Too late to get bail paid today. But hopefully will secure funds early tomorrow so we can get them out. Just one more night in detention.

Bought lots of lice shampoo. How will we ever get them out of Munya’s dreds? Will this mean a radical new hair cut and much arm twisting?

Big thank you to all for solidarity & support. We have enough for bail. So relieved. Hope they’ll be out by end of the day.

Hopewell’s wife just found out she is pregnant w second child. Tears of joy from all.

Workmates joke they should call child Treason. We propose Egypt.

(On Hopewell Gumbo, see Dave Zirin’s reminiscence quoted here.)

There is reason to think that earlier solidarity demonstrationts may have helped the prisoners get out. There are cases of Zimbabwean oppositionists in the MDC who have not released by the Mugabe regime even after they paid bail.

This underscores the need for broad, vigorous protests on March 21, when the six go to trial. Now more than ever, solidarity is a force for liberation.

March 16, 2011

Schoolteachers and the class struggle

Filed under: trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

Back in the late 70s, the Socialist Workers Party in the United States began a “turn to industry” that identified a number of sectors to be “colonized”. At one time or another, this included steel, rail, auto, coal, meatpacking, and garment. It pressured “petty bourgeois” elements like me to “make the turn” in order to save my soul. Despite all the usually overblown projections about what could be done in a given factory, the real goal was to “proletarianize” the membership and protect the revolutionary party against ideological deviations. Party leader Jack Barnes referred to those who questioned the turn as “Marielitos”.

As a computer programmer, I felt particularly vulnerable to charges of being “petty bourgeois” since I had worked at banks and insurance companies since the age of 23. But I was not the only one feeling the pressure. All sorts of trade union activists in the party had come under scrutiny because they were in the wrong industry, or—for that matter— not in industry at all. If you were a social worker, a librarian or a school teacher in New York City, you were instructed to leave your job and join a “fraction” in an auto plant in New Jersey. After Ray Markey, who had become a highly respected activist in the librarian’s union, refused to quit his job, he became viewed as just another petty-bourgeois element.

Of course, the entire basis of colonizing (love that word—what an unconscious adaptation to alien class influences) steel and all the rest was a schematic expectation that a new working-class radicalization would be a repeat of the 1930s. The SWP brass, particularly Farrell Dobbs who was an important leader of the Teamsters Union in the late 1930s, assumed that the blue collar workers in the UAW, USW et al would become the vanguard of resistance to attacks on labor.

Surprise, surprise. The crucible of struggle has been in exactly those trade unions that were dismissed as “petty bourgeois” by the SWP leaders, testifying once again to the folly of looking at the class struggle through the lenses of the past. In particular, the public school teachers of the U.S. have become targeted especially by both the Republican ultraright and their pals in the Obama administration with their devotion to charter schools. If you were expecting a repeat of Flint 1938, naturally you would miss a Madison 2011 with schoolteachers on the front lines.

Here are some recent dispatches from the public schools battleground.

The most egregious case of teacher hatred can be found in New Jersey with Republican Governor Chris Christie earning a love poem from the execrable Matt Bai in the February 27th NY Times Magazine section. Bai, an Obama supporter of the highest magnitude, has apparently found a new best friend. He told his readers:

And with political consensus building toward some kind of public-school reform, teachers’ unions in particular have lost credibility with the public. Forty-­six percent of voters in a poll conducted by Stanford and the Associated Press last September said teachers’ unions deserved either “a great deal” or “a lot” of blame for the problems of public schools.

And so, when the union draws a hard line against changes to its pay and benefit structure, you can see why it might strike some sizable segment of voters as being a little anachronistic, like mimeographing homework assignments or sharpening a pencil by hand. In a Pew Research Center poll this month, 47 percent of respondents said their states should cut pension plans for government employees, which made it the most popular option on the table.

The Times followed up this labor-hating item on March 9th with special pleading on behalf of the lily-white hedge fund managers in Bronxville who were trying to find ways to kick the teachers in the teeth. Titled Even a Wealthy Suburb Faces Pressure to Curb School Taxes, we encounter a truly odious fellow named Peter P. Pulkkinen, a 40-year-old investment banker with children in the first and third grades. In order to cut costs, he would “attack ‘structural’ expenses like tenure, the accumulation of unused sick days and the rising amount the school board pays for pensions and health insurance.”

But the main weapon has been the charter schools, a type of institution that draws from both public funding and donations from multimillionaires who see this non-union bastion as a market-based solution for a deeply entrenched social problem.

Last Sunday night, “Sixty Minutes”, a kind of harbinger for informed liberal opinion in the U.S., featured an episode on one charter school in New York titled Katie Couric on paying teachers $125,000 a year. The emphasis in charter schools is to reward good teachers and to fire bad ones, just as is the case supposedly in the private sector.

The charter school under examination in this episode is named appropriately enough as The Equity Project (TEP). It was launched by a former teacher named Zeke Vanderhoek who is a Yale graduate—no surprise there. The school has a 3-member board of trustees, one of who is Peter Cove who is described as “one of the nation’s leading advocates for private solutions to welfare dependency, ex-offender reentry initiatives and for meeting the needs of underserved, marginalized populations.” Cove is also CEO of America Works in 1984, a corporation seeking to “link private-sector investment and employment with welfare reform.”

(For a thorough debunking of Zeke Vanderhoek’s project, read this: http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/2011/03/relentless-self-promotion-of-zeke.html.)

In order to launch TEP, Vanderhoek drew upon funds he had accumulated from a company he started called Manhattan GMAT that provided instructions in how to pass a standardized test that will get you into business school. This makes perfect sense in a way since Mayor Bloomberg has become associated with the need for standardized testing, another specious way to improve primary schools that goes hand-in-hand with union-busting.

All you ever need to know about standardized testing can be found in a Monthly Review article by Dan DiMaggio, who put some time in at a place similar to Manhattan GMAT. This is what he observed:

Test scoring is a huge business, dominated by a few multinational corporations, which arrange the work in order to extract maximum profit. I was shocked when I found out that Pearson, the first company I worked for, also owned the Financial Times, The Economist, Penguin Books, and leading textbook publisher Prentice Hall. The CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino, ranked seventeenth on the Forbes list of the one hundred most powerful women in the world in 2007.

Test-scoring companies make their money by hiring a temporary workforce each spring, people willing to work for low wages (generally $11 to $13 an hour), no benefits, and no hope of long-term employment—not exactly the most attractive conditions for trained and licensed educators. So all it takes to become a test scorer is a bachelor’s degree, a lack of a steady job, and a willingness to throw independent thinking out the window and follow the absurd and ever-changing guidelines set by the test-scoring companies. Some of us scorers are retired teachers, but most are former office workers, former security guards, or former holders of any of the diverse array of jobs previously done by the currently unemployed. When I began working in test scoring three years ago, my first “team leader” was qualified to supervise, not because of his credentials in the field of education, but because he had been a low-level manager at a local Target.

In other words, just as we are dealing with all along the line, is an attempt to cut labor costs. This is what this is about. A god-damned rich bastard like Peter P. Pulkkinen refusing to pay $100 more per year in property taxes while he is making millions of dollars at Deutsche Bank. Or Michael Bloomberg, Chris Christie and Scott Walker trying to do to teachers what Reagan did to airline controllers. And all of it goes back to the 1930s when the auto companies were determined to make a profit over the maimed bodies of assembly line workers who could not even afford a modest bungalow.

Returning to the Socialist Workers Party, that has always had a tendency—even when Leon Trotsky was advising it (maybe I should say because)—to demonize the “petty bourgeoisie”, even the auto workers were fair game at one point.

In the 1950s, a group around Bert Cochran decided that a less sectarian approach was needed and split with the party in order to launch the Socialist Union. One of their activists was Sol Dollinger, who had been married to Genora Dollinger—the leader of the woman’s auxiliary in the great Flint sit-down strike. When the Cochranites left, the SWP leaders dubbed them as embourgeoisified workers who had gotten tainted by prosperity.

Sol Dollinger had this to say about that charge:

Three decades later, I am amused by the explanations made by Frank Lovell [SWP trade union leader] that you heard as a new member of the SWP. He contended that the members of the auto faction had become embourgeoisified by high wages in the industry. My position as a Chevrolet worker is not much different than other autoworker members of the party. We rented in Flint and when I quit after seven years my wages were under five thousand dollars a year. When Genora’s father died of a heart attack in front of the Buick gate where he worked as a janitor, he left his four children $700 each. Genora rushed out to make a down payment on a house with a $3800 dollar mortgage with monthly payments of $35.

At any rate, the goal is clear today. We have to everything in our power to make sure that the clock is not turned back to that time when auto workers did not have a pot to piss in. Thank goodness the school teachers, the librarians, and the social workers have the backbone to take on the bourgeoisie in the decisive early stages of the battle.

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

 

APPEAL FOR INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY WITH ZIMBABWEAN POLITICAL PRISONERS

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

By STEVE SMITH

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.)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/11/AR2011031103244.html

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.

(snip)

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.

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