Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 13, 2014

Fred Ho, Saxophonist, Composer and Radical Activist, Dies at 56

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 2:35 pm

NY Times, April 13 2004

Fred Ho, Saxophonist, Composer and Radical Activist, Dies at 56

Fred Ho, a composer, saxophonist, writer and radical activist who wrote politically charged operas, suites, oratorios and ballets that mixed jazz with popular and traditional elements of what he called Afro-Asian culture, died on Saturday at his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was 56.

The cause was complications of colorectal cancer, his student and friend Benjamin Barson said. In books, essays, speeches and interviews, Mr. Ho said he had been at war with the disease, his preferred metaphor, since 2006.

Mr. Ho, who was of Chinese descent, called himself a “popular avant-gardist.” He was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and by the ambitious, powerful music of African-American bandleaders, including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and especially Charles Mingus. But he rejected the word jazz, which he considered a pejorative term imposed by Europeans.

Self-reliance was a priority for Mr. Ho. He rarely played in anyone else’s band. Among the exceptions were stints with the arranger Gil Evans and the saxophonists Archie Shepp and Julius Hemphill. Describing himself as a “revolutionary matriarchal socialist and aspiring Luddite,” he never owned a car and made many of his own clothes from kimono fabric.

Despite his determination to stand outside the mainstream, he found support from grant-giving organizations, academic music departments, which hired him as artist in residence, and nonprofit arts institutions, including, in New York City, the Public Theater, the Kitchen and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Born Fred Wei-han Houn on Aug. 10, 1957, in Palo Alto, Calif. — he changed his surname in 1988 — he moved with his family when he was 6 to Amherst, Mass., where his father taught political science at the University of Massachusetts. He felt a powerful attraction to the art and rhetoric of black culture. As a teenager, he audited college classes taught by Mr. Shepp, the drummer Max Roach and the poet Sonia Sanchez, who were all putting progressive politics in their art. He never formally studied music, but began teaching himself baritone saxophone when he was 14.

In interviews, Mr. Ho recalled that his father physically abused his mother. “One of my first insurrections,” he told Harvard Magazine, “was to defend my mother against his physical beatings and give him two black eyes.”

He joined the Marines in 1973 and learned hand-to-hand combat before being discharged in 1975 because, he said, he had fought with an officer who had used a racial slur. In his 20s, Mr. Ho briefly joined the Nation of Islam and then the I Wor Kuen, a radical Asian-American group inspired by the Black Panthers. Like his two younger sisters, Florence Houn and Flora Houn Hoffman, he attended Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1979.

His sisters and his mother, Frances Lu Houn, survive him.

Mr. Ho moved to New York in the early 1980s to pursue a career as a musician. He formed the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and became associated with other Asian-American musicians working on a newly emergent hybrid conception of jazz. They included the pianist Jon Jang and the saxophonist Francis Wong. His first records, “Tomorrow Is Now!” and “We Refuse to Be Used and Abused,” were released by the Italian jazz label Soul Note.

In 1989, Mr. Ho had his first work performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the bilingual opera “A Chinaman’s Chance.” He then created two ballet operas based on the Chinese novel “Monkey,” by Wu Ch’eng-en, “Journey to the West” (1990) and “Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey.” Both used Mandarin Chinese in their librettos, and both reimagined Monkey, a trickster figure, as a political agitator, upsetting the power structures of the gods. Mr. Ho called them “living comic books.”

Other ambitious works, many of which were recorded, were on the subjects of Chinese folklore, physical combat, domestic abuse, the black power movement and revolutionary feminism — and sometimes all of those subjects together, as in the opera “Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors” (1991), written with the librettist Ann T. Greene.

That work imagined a meeting of Fa Mu Lan, the Chinese fighter who was the subject of a sixth-century folk ballad; Yaa Asantewaa, who in 1900, in what is now Ghana, led the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism; Sieh King King, a young Chinese-American woman who agitated for women’s rights in early-20th-century San Francisco; and Assata Shakur, the Black Liberation Army activist.

After learning in 2006 that he had colorectal cancer, Mr. Ho documented his fight against the illness in a book, “Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level,” followed by another, more prescriptive one, “Raw Extreme Manifesto: Change Your Body, Change Your Mind and Change the World by Spending Almost Nothing!” He wrote about his treatment in a blog, naming the doctors he mistrusted, thanking his friends and theorizing about his illness.

In “Future’s End,” a lecture from 2010 that he published at the site of the artists’ collective Commoning, he wrote that the cause of cancer is “capitalist industrialism” and “social toxicity,” and praised Luddism, his philosophical passion, as the only alternative: “The opposition to technology (any of it) that is harmful to people or to the planet.”

Even in his final years, as Mr. Ho underwent multiple operations, he was still working: on “Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!,” a choreographed martial-arts opera based on the 1970s manga comics of Kazuo Koike, performed for two weeks at La MaMa in May and June 2013, and on “The Sweet Science Suite,” for a 20-piece band and dancers. Dedicated to Muhammad Ali, it had its stage premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October 2013.

April 11, 2014

No God, No Master

Filed under: anarchism,Film,repression — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Although marred by a clumsy script, weak character development, tone-deaf dialogue, implausible coincidences, amateurish acting, and an obtrusive film score, “No God, No Master” is one of the more important films showing in New York right now. What saves it is the theme, which is the historical background to the Palmer Raids of 1919 that led to the arrest and pending deportation of 10,000 Americans in the aftermath of an anarchist bombing campaign meant as retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.

Among the historical figures that are depicted in the film are:

  • William J. Flynn, the chief of the bomb squad in New York where most of the action takes place
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Mitchell Palmer
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Emma Goldman
  • Carlo Tresca, the anarchist leader who served on the Dewey Commission to clear Leon Trotsky of the charges leveled by Stalin
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Louise Berger, an anarchist who plotted to kill Rockefeller
  • Luigi Galleani, one of Berger’s co-conspirators

As you sit watching the film, you forgive all the miscues since it is mostly faithful to historical details except for one just barely forgivable peccadillo. Played by the incomparable David Strathairn, William J. Flynn is depicted as a free speech liberal challenging Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover on the need to deport radicals simply for their ideas. The connections to today’s world are palpable.

The film was actually made in 2009 and only found a distributor five years later. One supposes if Green made a mumblecore movie about a couple of college drop-outs who decide to become pimps, it would have been jumped on immediately. Of course, it is up to malcontents like us to patronize the Quad Cinema in New York where it opens today so that Hollywood understands that indie films about serious topics have an audience.

Reading Richard Seymour in the Age of Austerity

Filed under: economics,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 11:48 am
Strategies of Resistance

Reading Richard Seymour in the Age of Austerity

by LOUIS PROYECT

Dating back to the overthrow of Salvador Allende, financial austerity has been the watchword of the capitalist class. Frederick Hayek supplanted John Maynard Keynes in the ideological driver’s seat, as the free market became sacrosanct. Adding to the neoliberal momentum, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused Karl Marx to lose his official status for a third of mankind. Despite the hiccup of interest in Karl Marx following the 2007 financial meltdown and rueful reflections by Francis Fukuyama that it might not be the end of history after all, the mantra of balanced budgets and eliminating “waste” was taken up by politicians and pundits alike. To paraphrase W.H. Auden, we seem to be living through an Age of Austerity.

As perhaps the first study to take these issues head-on, Richard Seymour’s “Against Austerity” is a must-read primer for old hands in the class struggle and newcomers alike. Leaving aside the merits of his arguments—and they are plentiful—Seymour would be worth reading if for no other reason than his elegant and witty style. At the risk of inflating the young man’s ego, I regard him as the most compelling prose stylist on the left since Alexander Cockburn in his heyday and Christopher Hitchens before he turned into Mr. Hyde. Also, unlike most people who write for leftwing publishing houses, Seymour has a brash but self-effacing manner that is as refreshing as a cold beer on a sweltering summer night. From the book’s preface:

There is also a certain familiar use of esoteric political theory and rococo ornamentation that some readers will find off-putting. I hope so anyway. Those readers would be far better off reading something else. (Or, alternatively, stay and have your middlebrow sensibilities challenged.) This book comes with swearing and unapologetic intellectual swagger.

I imagine you’re scanning this page while still in the bookshop calculating whether you’d be willing to be seen reading this book on the train. If the above appeals to you, you’re probably a bit ‘wrong’ in some way, but I welcome you. If it doesn’t, then make your way the holy apotheosis of bookshops that is the ’3 for 2′ section. And buy yet more inconsequential shit with which to line your shelf of good intentions.

Read full article

April 9, 2014

Separated at Birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 8:56 pm

Paleontologist Neil Shubin, host of new PBS series on “Our Inner Fish” that traces evolutionary history

Louis Proyect (with Daisy)

Arthur Smith Dies at 93; Wrote ‘Dueling Banjos’

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 8:45 pm

It turns out that the “Dueling Banjos” composer was a gifted guitarist who influenced Les Paul. In the clip below you will see the obvious influence of Django Reinhardt.

NY Times, April 9 2014

Arthur Smith Dies at 93; Wrote ‘Dueling Banjos’

Arthur Smith, a country musician known for the hit “Guitar Boogie” and for “Feuding Banjos,” a bluegrass tune that became “Dueling Banjos” in the film “Deliverance,” died on Thursday at his home in Charlotte, N.C. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his son Clay.

A nimble guitarist and banjo-player, Mr. Smith was a virtuoso with an approachable manner. Inspired by Broadway show tunes, the gospel tradition and jazz artists like Django Reinhardt as well as by country music, he became popular playing on Southern radio stations as a teenager.

“Guitar Boogie,” an instrumental with a deft solo released in the late 1940s, was his first major hit, recorded when he was 24 and serving in the Navy. The song, a precursor to the rock ’n’ roll of the coming decades, has been covered by musicians like Les Paul, Chuck Berry and Alvino Rey.

Mr. Smith recorded the call-and-response banjo song “Feuding Banjos” with Don Reno in 1955. Another version of it appeared as a deceptively amiable musical duel in “Deliverance,” the 1972 film starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds.

Mr. Smith was not credited as the writer and filed suit against Warner Brothers after a version of the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart in 1973. The studio offered a $15,000 settlement, Clay Smith said in an interview, but Mr. Smith wanted to go to trial. The judge ruled in his favor.

“He recouped all past royalties and all future royalties, and the credit was changed” to show he had written the song, Clay Smith said. He added that the song has since been used in many commercials advertising, among other things, the Mini Cooper and Mobil and Mitsubishi products.

Arthur Smith was born on April 1, 1921, in Clinton, S.C. His father, a mill worker, taught music and played in a band. Arthur grew up in Kershaw, S.C., and was playing cornet with his father’s band by the time he was 11. By 14 he had a radio show in Kershaw, and by 15 he had made his first record, for RCA Victor.

He turned down two college football scholarships and an appointment to the Naval Academy to focus on his radio work. He moved to Charlotte in the early 1940s to work for a CBS affiliate radio station, WBT, then performed with the Navy band during World War II.

From 1951 to 1982 he hosted “The Arthur Smith Show,” a syndicated television country variety show that featured guests including Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. At its peak it was seen in 87 markets. He also wrote or collaborated on hundreds of songs, many recorded in his Charlotte studio, where James Brown recorded the 1965 funk hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

Mr. Smith married Dorothy Byars in 1941. She and his son survive him, as does another son, Reggie; a daughter, Connie Brown; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

More than a decade after “Guitar Boogie” was released, a nervous young guitarist bungled the solo during his first performance with a Liverpool group called the Quarry Men.

“When the moment came in the performance, I got sticky fingers,” Paul McCartney recalled in a documentary series whose title, “The Beatles Anthology,” bore the Quarry Men’s subsequent name.

He added, “That’s why George was brought in.”

 

The view from Donetsk

Filed under: Fascism,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:38 pm

From “The Exiled” 10 years ago:

Much has been made of eastern Ukraine’s support for Yanukovych, the pro-Russian prime minister who tried to steal the election. The Western and the Russian press both play up the issue, albeit for different reasons. Others, like my good friend Olya, who is an editor at a respected Ukrainian magazine, claimed everyone in Donetsk was just brainwashed.

What’s happening in Donetsk is the real key to figuring out what’s going to happen in Ukraine. The general situation in Ukraine has gotten plenty of coverage, but a brief outline of the facts is in order. Basically, Ukraine has always been divided into east and west, with the east Russian-speaking, heavily industrialized, and Russia-friendly; and the west Ukrainian-speaking, agrarian, and nationalist. Yanukovych is the east’s candidate, Yushchenko the west’s.

Almost all of Ukraine’s oligarchs are from the east or Kiev, and they almost exclusively lined up in support of Yanukovych, a Donetsk native. There are a few exceptions, notably Petro Poroshenko, the owner of car and candy factories and a ship-building yard. He also owns Channel 5, which was an invaluable tool in helping Yushchenko compete. In recent weeks, Channel 5 is the only Ukrainian channel to show news and propaganda 24 hours a day. A large part of the programming consists of watching Yanukovych’s team make asses of themselves. They often repeat a speech Yanukovych gave where he was gesturing with his fingers in the air, “paltsami,” a classic bandit gesture. Another favorite clip of theirs is of Yanukovych ally and Kharkov governor Kushnyarov gesticulating wildly and declaring, “I’m not for Lviv power, not for Donetsk power, I’m for Kharkov power!” Still, the biggest and most powerful clans are still behind Yanukovych, who is their man.

Yanukovych is a truly loathsome character. Most Ukrainians agree that if a more palatable candidate had been given the nearly unlimited access to “administrative resources” that Yanukovych had, he would have won handily. But Yanukovych twice served jail time in the Soviet Union, he has no charisma, and is obviously a tool of powerful Russian and Ukrainian interests. Yushchenko, on the other hand, is considered by most western Ukrainians to be something between Gandhi and Christ, while many people in the east worry he has it in for everyone who speaks Russian. Many people who voted for Yanukovych did so out of suspicion of Yushchenko, not because they like Yanukovych (except perhaps in his home turf, Donetsk).

While the country is relatively evenly divided, it’s a fact that Yushchenko would have won the election if it had been violation-free. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool or getting paid by the Russians. Even Putin, who called Yanukovych to congratulate him before all the votes were counted, recently said he’d be willing to work with any elected leader and seemed to acknowledge that there’d be a re-vote. Thanks to ballot-stuffing, Donetsk and the neighboring Lugansk oblast had by far the highest voter turnout in Ukraine (Donetsk had 97 percent turnout, of whom 97 percent voted for Yanukovych, and Yushchenko actually lost votes in between the first and second rounds of voting) and it’s on the basis of thousands of violations that the Supreme Court recently ordered a new round of voting. Channel 5 has plenty of footage of election observers getting the shit beaten out of them, and Yushchenko observers weren’t allowed anywhere near the polls in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

The blatant falsifications, combined with an extremely well-funded and coordinated protest movement, have brought us where we are today, gearing for another round. The protests have come under fire as an American-funded coup, particularly in the Russian media. And there’s some truth to it — the US has been bringing in Serbs and Georgians experienced in non-violent revolution to train Ukrainians for at least a year. One exit poll — the one finding most heavily in favor of Yushchenko — was funded by the US. The smoothness and professionalism of the protest, from the instant availability of giant blocks of Styrofoam to pitch the tents on to the network of food distribution and medical points, is probably a result of American logistical planning. It’s certainly hard to imagine Ukrainians having their act together that well. The whole orange theme and all those ready-made flags also smack of American marketing concepts, particularly Burson-Marstellar.

But the crowds in Kiev, which can swell up to a million on a good day and are always in the hundreds of thousands, are there out of their own homegrown sense of outrage, not because some State Department bureaucrats willed them there. The meetings that happen every day in virtually every city in Ukraine (and in literally every western Ukraine village) are not the result of American propaganda. Rather, they are the result of the democratic awakening of a trampled-on people who refuse to be screwed by corrupt politicians again.

While you wouldn’t know it by watching Russian TV, maybe the only two cities in Ukraine where there are not Yushchenko rallies that outnumber the Yanukovych rallies are Lugansk and Donetsk. According to my friends in the heavily Russian Kharkov, for example, active Yushchenko supporters outnumber active Yanukovych supporters four to one. One reason why Lugansk and Donetsk are an exception is because every time Yushchenko’s people try to organize a rally there, they get beaten. Another is because the vast majority of those two regions really do support Yanukovych. So what gives?

* * * *

The Tuesday rally, which I witnessed in full, was like watching a farce of a Nazi rally. This time they introduced Ludmila Yanukovych but made sure not to give her the mike, lest she say something as ridiculous as her spiked-orange theory. However, the other speakers weren’t much more sane. One speaker after another spewed venomous anti-Kiev, anti-western Ukrainian, and anti-American rhetoric at the crowd of several thousand. One of the more famous, Natalya Vitrenko, is sort of a Zhirinovsky without the slapstick element. Vitrenko argued that the US planned to colonize and enslave eastern Ukraine and would use NATO as its muscle. Another speaker warned that east Ukraine would beat back the Americans like they had the Germans, and reminded the audience that western Ukraine welcomed the Nazis with bread and salt, keeping in the theme that Yushchenko’s the fascist here. Some of the other arguments were just silly; one doctor said that Yushchenko was destroying the nation’s health by forcing students to spend long hours in the cold, thereby causing a public health crisis (a line echoed on Russian state television). Another said under Yushchenko people would be jailed for speaking Russian and that the “orange plague” was a terrorist organization. Another popular theory was that western Ukraine was planning on raping the riches of the east and only regional autonomy could save them. Every speaker was fear-mongering and totally detached from reality.

Everyone in Donetsk repeats the same figures and statements obsessively. 15 million voted for Yanukovych, he is the legitimate president, and Yushchenko is an unchecked fascist. People in Kiev are brainwashed and undemocratic; Russian-speaking centers Odessa, Kharkov, Dneipropetrovsk and the Crimea will leap at the chance to form a breakaway republic with them; American money is behind everything. Funny they never mention a word about Russian funds used by Yanukovych, although estimates of Russian contributions reach up to $300 million.

From RT.com, March 16 2014

Thousands picket Donetsk govt building, demand release of local governor

Published time: March 15, 2014 15:30

Pro-Russian activists hold Russian national flags during a demonstration rally in the center of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 15, 2014. (AFP Photo)
Thousands have gathered in the city of Donetsk, picketing the Security Council building. The protesters called for the current Kiev authorities to release the local governor and pro-Russian activists detained earlier, threatening to storm the building.

The protesters blocked the Security Council building trying to break the doors and smashing windows on Saturday afternoon. Activists removed the Ukrainian flag from the top of the building, hoisting a Russian tricolor.

The protesters were demanding the release of local governor Pavel Gubarev and 70 pro-Russian activists previously detained by the current Kiev authorities. They also urged local law enforcement to take their side.

The local head of the Security Council has promised the protesters to release the activists and Gubarev, according to Life news. He then reportedly escaped through the back door of the building.

More on Pavel Gubarev

Gubarev is third from the left in the bottom row.

That’s a close-up of Gubarev

And yes, that emblem is meant to look like a Swastika. It was the official symbol of the Russian National Unity group that was formed by Alexander Barakshov in 1990. Who’s Alexander Barakshov? I’m glad you asked. You might want to look at John Dunlop’s article “The Rise of National Socialism in Russia“. Here’s an excerpt:

The ideology and program of the RNYe are, like those of Hitler and the German National Socialist Party, insane and genocidal. As the instance of Hitler demon- strated, however, insane and genocidal programs can in fact be rigorously applied. Since Barkashov’s ideas and prejudices have been taken over virtually wholesale from the German Nazis—and since those ideas and prejudices are well known— a detailed discussion of them should not be necessary. I will therefore limit myself to highlighting a few of the RNYe programmatic positions. In one area—that of religion—Barkashov’s stance, as we shall see, diverges notably from that of his mentor, Hitler, resembling that of Corneliu Codreanu, the charismatic leader of the interwar Romanian fascists, who was strangled by gendarmes loyal to King Carol of Romania in 1938.

At the center of the RNYe program lie twin obsessions with race and conspiracy. It is these obsessions that render the RNYe especially dangerous from a political perspective. The Russian ethnos, in the RNYe view, must harshly assert itself as the ruling people of the Russian Republic to protect Russians from lethal internal and external enemies. In 1917, the RNYe contends, in a fiendish plot orchestrated by Jewish bankers in New York, Jewish Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Citing A. Diky’s anti-Semitic classic, The Jews in Russia and the USSR (1976), Barkashov maintains that of the 556 persons who took over the top party and state positions in the new Bolshevik state, a total of 448 were Jews, with most of the rest being “Latvians, Armenians and so forth.” “There were practically no Russians” among the early Bolshevik leaders.21

These so-called genocidal Jews who had seized power in Russia, according to the program, then set about uprooting Russians and Slavs in vast numbers, eventually slaughtering some one hundred million of them. While this crime was being perpetrated, a healthy development was, by contrast, occurring in Germany, where a vibrant German National Socialist movement had come to power under Adolf Hitler. Determined at all costs to thwart this development, the Jewish financial oligarchy of the United States and Great Britain organized the Second World War in order to prevent the rebirth of the German nation. Cunningly, the Jews of New York and London succeeded in pitting two brother Aryan peoples, the Ger- mans and Slavs, against one another. The end result of this plot was the utter destruction of German National Socialism and the continued enslavement of the Russian and Slavic peoples of the USSR.

Today, following Gorbachev’s perestroika and the fall of the Communists, Russia remains under the direst threat of extinction. The “international financial oligarchy,” directly ruled by Jews from Israel and the United States, seeks rapa- ciously to plunder Russia’s natural wealth and to turn its people into cheap man- ual labor deprived of any rights. That the United States is ruled by Jews is self- evident to Barkashov, who observes that “the pro-Zionist coalition in the U.S. Congress has reached 75-80 percent of the senators and approximately 60 per- cent of the members of the House of Representatives.”22 A certain Jim Warren, a self-declared “American nationalist” and leader of the League for the Defense of Christians USA, confided to Russkii poryadok during a visit to Russia that the United States was indeed harshly ruled “by anti-national forces.” As “proof,” Warren cited the alleged fact that “in Clinton’s government, Jews and Negroes make up 55 percent of the total.” “American nationalists,” Warren noted, were pinning their hopes on like-minded brethren in Russia. “Never lose your faith in God,” he exhorted, “in yourselves, or in your people. . . . God is with us.”23

Motivating a subscription to Counterpunch and Critical Muslim

Filed under: Counterpunch,Critical Muslim,journalism — louisproyect @ 4:04 pm

Just by coincidence I received copies of two print publications by snail mail yesterday that include my articles. It occurred to me that it would be a good time to motivate taking out a subscription to them for my sake, the sake of other contributors, and your own reading pleasure. (Motivate—that’s a word I haven’t used in this way since my days in the Socialist Workers Party! Old habits die hard.)

The first is Counterpunch magazine, Volume 21 Number 3. My article is titled “A Hero for Our Time? The Return of Karl Marx”. The magazine has a nifty picture of Karl Marx in a Superman type uniform.

Subscription information is at http://store.counterpunch.org/product-category/subscriptions/. A year’s subscription is $55 for the print edition and $35 for the digital.

My article starts out with an examination of the renewed interest in Karl Marx following the 2007 financial crisis and proceeds to a discussion of Marx’s political legacy, something that would not come under the purview of those Financial Times and Bloomberg News contributors whistling past Lehman Brothers’ gravesite.

Here’s an excerpt:

Like the nuclear reactor that withstood a meltdown in China Syndrome, the American economy supposedly is in recovery. Of course there are those unfortunates who cannot seem to find a job, especially in the Black community, but the stock market is at an all-time high and the housing market—according to the experts—is doing quite well. GM is showing a handsome profit even if it faces criminal charges for failing to inform owners of their cars that a faulty ignition might lead to fatal accidents.

More to the point, the NY Times of March 12, 2014 reported on economist Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that would be of little assurance to anybody except the wealthy. Piketty deploys a mountain of data to prove that economic inequality will not only persist into the future but that the system itself is the primary generator, not “vampire squids” as Matt Taibbi put it. It is the very nature of the system that leads to a concentration of wealth at the top and misery at the bottom. Timesman Eduardo Porter, not a critic of capitalism after the fashion of Nouriel Roubini, puts it bluntly:

The deep concern about the distribution of income and wealth that inspired 19th-century thinkers like David Ricardo and Karl Marx was attributed to a misunderstanding of the dynamics of growth leavened with the natural pessimism that would come from living in a time of enormous wealth and deep squalor, an era that gave us “Les Misérables” and “Oliver Twist.”

Today, of course, it’s far from obvious that the 19th-century pessimists were entirely wrong.

Glancing back across history from the present-day United States, it looks as if Kuznets’s curve swerved way off target. Wages have been depressed for years. Profits account for the largest share of national income since the 1930s. The richest 10 percent of Americans take a larger slice of the economic pie than they did in 1913, at the peak of the Gilded Age.

By subscribing to Counterpunch magazine, you will be helping to sustain the website, a source of many useful articles including my own contrarian film reviews. Speaking of contrarian film reviews, in the current issue of the magazine you can read Kim Nicolini’s take on Matthew McConaughey. Kim is my film co-editor at the magazine and we frequently disagree—that’s what makes life interesting after all. But on McConaughey, I couldn’t agree more with Kim. Her final paragraphs:

Some might critique these roles as crude stereotypes. But stereotypes are derived from reality. McConaughey’s roles fit into a cultural tradition that depicts the decadence and debauchery of the South through baroque exaggeration, myth, and dark humor. Sure, not everyone living in the CSA is a pervert, racist homophobe. McConaughey shows the complexity of being a white man in the South by playing his roles to the edge of absurdity then turning them into images of tragic sincerity, not unlike the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd which plays during the violent drunken brawl in Dazed and Confused.

When McConaughey won his Oscar and thanked God and family for his success, he got a lot of shit from the liberal media. But nothing in the roles McConaughey has played over the last three years propagates a Christian agenda. In fact, they turn the Christian agenda on its head. Discriminating against him for his religious choices is the same as discriminating against anyone else for their choices. Discrimination is discrimination.

The consistency of his roles has made his body a landscape of Southern culture and an embodiment of the Southern literary canon. As far as I’m concerned, that is “Alright, alright, alright.”

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 11.47.17 AM

I also received number 10 of Critical Muslim, a journal co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar. I first motivated a subscription to Critical Muslim in January 2014 and invite you to review that post. Instructions on how to buy single issues and subscriptions are here http://criticalmuslim.com/subscribe. Of course, I urge you to subscribe.

Issue number 10 is titled “Sects”, a reminder that it is not just Marxism-Leninism that is subject to this problem.

In fact, many of my old friends and comrades on the left will be both amused and edified by a keynote article co-authored by Sardar and MerrylWyn Davies titled “Sectarianism Unbound”:

Taz’, a new channel on the Pakistani Geo TV network, is dedicated to twenty-four-hour news. There is a rapid-fire news bulletin every fifteen minutes: hence the name, Taz, or fast. But even after an endless stream of stories about sectarian violence, terrorist atrocities, suicide bombings, ‘target killings’, ‘load shedding’, political corruption and the defeats of the Pakistani cricket team with mundane regularity, there is still ample time left in the schedule. So the slots between the news bulletins are filled with what they call tazaabi tottas – acidic bits, short satirical skits. In one particular sketch, a man, sitting on a bridge, is about to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He is spotted by a passer-by who runs towards him shouting ‘Stop! Stop!’ The two men then engage in the following dialogue:

‘Why are you committing suicide?’

‘Let me die! No one loves me.’

‘God loves you. Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you a Muslim, or…’

‘Allah be Praised! I am a Muslim.’

‘I too am a Muslim. Are you a Shia or a Sunni?’

‘Sunni.’

‘I too am a Sunni. What is your school of law?’

‘Hanafi.’

‘Me too! Do you belong to the Deobandi or Bralevi sect?’

‘Deobandi.’

‘Me too! Are you a Tanzihi (pure) Deobandi or a Takfiri (extremist) Deobandi?’

‘Tanzihi.’

‘Me too! Tanzihi of Azmati branch or Farhati branch?’

‘Tanzihi Farhati branch.’

‘Me too!’ Tanzihi Farhati educated at University of Amjair or Tanzihi Farhati educated at Noor University of Mawad?’

‘Tanzihi Farhati educated at Noor University of Mawad.’

‘Infidel, kaffir! You deserve to die!’

The man who came to help then pushes the suicidal man over the bridge.

The humorous sketch gives us deep insight into the state of the Muslim ummah – the transnational Muslim community. It is simply not good enough to be a Muslim. You have to be labelled Sunni or Shia, and from there on progressively put in smaller boxes right down to which particular institution of learning you subscribe to. And those who deviate one iota, follow a different school of thought, or a different historic tradition, or a different fatwa issuing seminary, are, by definition, kaffirs – infidels who deserve to die.

Just in case you think that the sketch deliberately takes sectarianism to ridiculous lengths, consider how the Deobandi sect describes itself. The institution that established the sect, and from which it takes in name, Darul Uloom, Deoband, which in the words of Faizur Rahman is ‘the undisputed Islamic authority in India’, defines its creed as follows: ‘religiously Darul Uloom is Muslim; as a sect, Ahl-e-Sunnatwal-Jama’at (Sunni); in practical method (of law), Hanafi; in conduct, Sufi; dialectically, Maturidi Ash’ari; in respect of the mystic path, Chishtiyyah, rather comprising all the Sufi orders; in thought, Waliyullhian; in principle, Qasimiyah; sectionally, Rasheedian; and as regards connection, Deobandi’. So it is clear! Deobandis are, in descending order: Muslim, Sunni, Hanafi, Sufi, followers of the classical School of Ashari theology, cohorts of the Indian reformer Shah Waliyullah, and supporters of the ‘principles of some marginal scholar called Qasim and partisans of an even more obscure scholar called Rasheed!’

My own article is a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam”, a book that makes the case that the victims of Obama’s drone attacks have more in common with the Apaches or the Lakotas than al-Qaeda.

An excerpt:

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

April 8, 2014

Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:07 pm

Like his last article for the London Review of Books,  Seymour Hersh’s latest continues to demonstrate that he is no longer a trenchant and truthful investigative reporter. Instead the portrait of a decaying and sloppy propagandist is taking shape, just as damning as the one that caught up with Dorian Gray. While Gray recoiled in horror from what he saw, it is likely that Hersh will persist in his ways since so many of his fans are also committed to demonizing the Syrian rebels and rallying around the “axis of good” in Syria, Iran and Russia. With this 77 year old reporter so badly in need of correction, it is almost tragic that none will be made.

To start with, he likens Barack Obama to George W. Bush as if the rhetoric about “red lines” were to be taken seriously. Hersh believes that he was held back by “military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.” I often wonder if people like Hersh bother to read the NY Times or—worse—read it and choose to ignore it.

In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.” In other words, the White House policy was and is allowing the Baathists and the rebels to exhaust each other in an endless war, just as was White House policy during the Iran-Iraq conflict.

These pacifist military leaders, Hersh assures us, were suffering sleepless nights over Turkey’s bellicose role in the region.

‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

With all these unnamed military leaders and spooks at his beck and call, who are we to question Hersh’s analysis? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t put much store in unnamed inside-the-beltway sources after putting up with Judith Miller’s “reporting” in the NY Times back in 2003:

Having concluded that international inspectors are unlikely to find tangible and irrefutable evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration is preparing its own assessment that will rely heavily on evidence from Iraqi defectors, according to senior administration officials.

I understand that most people on the left are willing to take Hersh’s word at face value but I suppose that is to be expected when they are also partial to RT.com and Iran’s PressTV. Like the Obama voter who takes Rachel Maddow by the loving spoonful, these “radicals” find their bliss in media outlets that do not pass the smell test.

Last December Scott Lucas (http://eaworldview.com/2013/12/syria-special-chemical-weapons-conspiracy-wasnt-seymour-hershs-exclusive-dissected/) surmised that the senior intelligence official Seymour Hersh relies on could very well be F. Michael Maloof. Here’s why. Maloof wrote an article for the ultraright World Net Daily in mid-September 2013 that stated:

In a classified document just obtained by WND, the U.S. military confirms that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.

The document says sarin from al-Qaida in Iraq made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military soldiers in Aleppo.

The document, classified Secret/Noforn – “Not for foreign distribution” – came from the U.S. intelligence community’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC, and was made available to WND Tuesday.

It revealed that AQI had produced a “bench-scale” form of sarin in Iraq and then transferred it to Turkey.

And here’s something from Hersh’s first article in the LRB:

By late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.

Can you tell the difference? I can’t.

And to bring things full-circle, it is very likely that the impeccably reliable F. Michael Maloof, who clued Hersh in on the rebels’ possession of WMDs, was the same guy who tipped off Judith Miller. In a June 7, 2004 article New York Magazine article on Miller’s reporting, Franklin Foer described the Miller-Maloof connection:

Miller is said to have depended on a controversial neocon in Feith’s office named Michael Maloof. At one point, in December 2001, Maloof’s security clearance was revoked. In April, Risen reported in the Times, “Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Mr. Maloof denies.” While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.

I suppose that in some sense Maloof would figure prominently in both Miller and Hersh’s “reporting” since what we were dealing with back in 2003 and today is an obsession with jihadists. The very same hysteria over al-Qaeda in Iraq is now manifested over the war in Syria. In 2003 that hysteria served to fuel a horrible war; now it serves to stigmatize and isolate Syrian rebels who are victims both of Baathist bombs and jihadist violence.

Apparently, just at the point Obama was ready to unleash a massive military attack on Syria, another reliably pacifist military figure stepped in at the last moment just like a Royal Canadian Mountie untying a damsel in distress from the railroad tracks:

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

I’m sorry. I bow down before the Great Investigative Journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre 46 years ago, but how can anybody take this kind of bullshit seriously? Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. Really? We are supposed to take the word of the Russian military that is the prime supplier of weapons and ammunition to the Baathist regime? If I submitted an article to LRB that assured its readers that climate change was a fiction based on the assurances of a scientist who had received $100,000 from coal industry lobbyists, wouldn’t the editor fall on the floor laughing hysterically? Then how in the world does Seymour Hersh’s ludicrous citation of a Russian military operative pass muster?

The remainder of Hersh’s article paints Turkey as a kind of middleman between Libyan shipments of MANPAD’S and Syrian rebels:

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

This would lead you to believe that the USA stood by (“no longer in control”) over arms shipments to Syria, especially the deadly manpads that might bring down a civilian airline, heaven forbid. I know that there is a good chance that Hersh does not read the NY Times, but it seems just as likely that he shuns the Wall Street Journal, which reported on October 17, 2012:

U.S. officials say they are most worried about Russian-designed Manpads provided to Libya making their way to Syria. The U.S. intensified efforts to track and collect man-portable missiles after the 2011 fall of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

To keep control of the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project U.S. officials watched from afar.

The U.S. has limited its support of the rebels to communications equipment, logistics and intelligence. But U.S. officials have coordinated with the trio of countries sending arms and munitions to the rebels. The Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern border as the weapons began to flow to the rebels in two to three shipments every week.

In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.

Okay, you understand this? The WSJ is saying that America intensified efforts to control manpad’s right after the fall of Qaddafi. Not only that, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—the three Sunni arch-demons responsible for arming the bearded, “Alluah Akbar” yelling, Sharia law endorsing jihadists formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project to block the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles. In other words, Hersh is lying. Actually, I don’t know if he is lying or whether a combination of advancing age and a partisan zeal for the Baathist dictatorship has convinced him to avoid reading sources that undercut the propaganda goals he seeks to advance. In any case, it is not a pretty picture—one that Dorian Gray would recoil from in horror.

Sources:

Hersh’s latest LRB article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/2014/04/06/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

Scott Lucas’s responses:

http://eaworldview.com/2014/04/syria-hersh-chemical-weapons-conspiracy-insurgents/

http://eaworldview.com/2014/04/syria-special-dissecting-hershs-insurgents-chemical-weapons-attacks-sequel/

Brown Moses responses:

http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2014/04/seymour-hershs-volcano-problem.html

http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-does-seymour-hersh-knows-about.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGLULD3LksI

Paul Woodward response:

http://warincontext.org/2014/04/06/seymour-hershs-alternate-reality/

April 7, 2014

Gayatri Spivak on Vivek Chibber

Filed under: Academia,india — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

I have plans to get around to Vivek Chibber’s “Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital” at some point as well as Ranajit Guha’s “Dominance without Hegemony”, one of Chibber’s chief targets. In the meantime, I try to keep up with the scholarly commentary on Chibber’s book, including Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s blistering attack that appears in the April 2014 “Cambridge Review of International Affairs” that I read this morning. (Drop me a line if you want to read a copy.)

I doubt that I will ever read anything beyond Guha’s book in order to get a handle on subaltern studies. A big problem for non-specialists like myself is that the price of admission into these academic wars is almost prohibitive. Spivak’s review is shot through with references to figures in the postcolonial field that will certainly be unknown to the average reader. My interest in the debate, however, is probably somewhat narrower than others. In a nutshell, I am interested in exploring what the one negative review of Chibber’s book on amazon.com referred to:

I was excited about this book because I am very interested in postcolonial theory but was disappointed when I learned this book was not really about postcolonial theory at all but Subaltern Studies (which Chibber himself admits is not the same thing)…That’s useful for some purposes but does not fully address the deeper (or larger) issues postcolonial theory raises. Read this book if you’re interested in how capitalism developed in India. Beyond that, not sure if you’ll get much out of it.

That for me is the more interesting question—how capitalism developed in India. When I get around to dealing with Chibber, I plan to refer extensively to Jairus Banaji and Irfan Habib, Indian and Pakistani Marxists who have sharp differences with Robert Brenner, Chibber’s chief influence.

I am not sure how many of you are familiar with Gayatri Spivak but a word or two might be in order. She is a long-time faculty member at Columbia University, a Derrida specialist, and accused (somewhat unfairly) of writing in a dense academic style that is hard to understand, most particularly her “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (http://www.mcgill.ca/files/crclaw-discourse/Can_the_subaltern_speak.pdf) that appeared in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg’s 1988 Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Despite the impression you might have that Spivak is a hardened subalternist, her article is a critique of the school, albeit within its general parameters.

The first part of my proposition — that the phased development of the subaltern is complicated by the imperialist project — is confronted by a collective of intellectuals who may be called the ‘Subaltern Studies’ group. They must ask, Can the subaltern speak? Here we are within Foucault’s own discipline of history and with people who acknowledge his influence.

She then proceeds to find fault with Foucault, including his failure to acknowledge the “epistemic violence of imperialism”.

Her review, however, represents a kind of reflexive defense of subaltern studies and Ranajit Guha in particular, toward whom she feels particularly protective.

Guha, a seasoned communist who paid the price of his political convictions over a brilliantly maverick career as a historian, created a revolution within the discipline. For Chibber to prove him ‘wrong’–especially as an Orientalist misreader of Europe who believes that the ‘non-West’ has a different psychology¾is somewhat like proving W.E.B. Du Bois ‘wrong’ when he calls the exodus of the newly emancipated slaves a ‘general strike’, like the repeated attempts by folks like Bernard Lewis to prove Edward Said ‘wrong’, even, and I do not want to be mischievous, a well-meaning smart sophomore’s attempt to show that in the Poetics Aristotle is ‘illogical’.

In assessing the contribution made by Spivak to the debate, I find her emphasis on Gramsci most useful. Keep in mind that Spivak did not coin the word “subaltern”. In fact, it was Gramsci who was responsible for introducing it into the Marxist lexicon as a way of describing those existing outside the dominant classes examined by Karl Marx in works such as Capital. Some scholars regard Gramsci’s use of the term as a ruse designed to fool the fascists into thinking that he was writing about the proletariat. I for one am convinced that Marcus Green got this question right in an article titled “Rethinking the subaltern and the question of censorship in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks”:

Through an examination of Gramsci’s use of the term ‘subaltern’ in the Prison Notebooks, I will demonstrate that he did not develop the phrase ‘subaltern social groups’ because of prison censorship, but in fact developed the concept of ‘subaltern social groups’ to identify and analyse the politics and activity of marginalized social groups in Italian history. In analyses of specific historical contexts, Gramsci refers to slaves, peasants, religious groups, women, different races, the popolani (common people) and popolo (people) of the medieval communes, the proletariat, and the bourgeoisie prior to the Risorgimento as subaltern groups.

Despite the massive footprint of Gramsci in Guha’s work and others operating within the subaltern studies school, Chibber tells his readers that this does not interest him:

Moreover, this book largely avoids the task of tracing the theoretical lineage of the Subalternists’ arguments. As a result, even though the influence of Gramsci and Althusser is evident to those familiar with the relevant literature, I do not analyze the nature of this connection. Nor do I assess how their ideas have been reconfigured at the hands of Subalternist theorists. Again, this is partly because of the need to keep the book to a manageable size (and it is already longer than I had either wished or intended), but primarily because of my desire that the reader not be distracted by whether Subalternists have correctly interpreted a given theorist. What matters is not whether they are true to this or that theoretical tradition but whether they have produced sound arguments, and it Is that final product—their arguments as they stand—that we need to assess.

Spivak’s reaction to this is worth quoting at length:

Indeed, because Chibber is eager to prove that nothing that the subalternists acknowledged was more than ‘trend’-y, he dismisses Gramsci’s influence as a trend (6). When on page 27 he discloses, ‘I do not analyze the nature of [the Subalternists’] connection [to Gramsci] . . . primarily because of my desire that the reader not be distracted by whether Subalternists have correctly interpreted a given theorist’, this reader is obliged to conclude—and not only because of this ‘correct’-fetishist gurumahashay’s [schoolmaster] demonstrated inability to be auto-critical—that he is not ‘familiar with the relevant literature’.

For then he would have known that Gramsci’s main contribution was not ‘popular history and matters of consciousness’ (6). (Gramsci’s concern anyway is not consciousness-raising but epistemology, education.) Gramsci’s main contribution was to notice that, precisely because Italy, with its tail tucked into Africa, is not France, Britain, Russia or the US, the Risorgimento did not sufficiently assimilate ‘class’ differences created outside of capital logic (basically the incentive to establish the same system of exchange everywhere). This is why the Subalternists chose the word ‘subaltern’. The existence of the subaltern is also evident in the Pan-Africanist WEB Du Bois’s writings, in such essays as ‘The Negro mind reaches out’, although, being a distant yea-sayer to Stalin (of whose purge techniques he was unaware, as opposed to the lynching techniques of the Southern bourgeoisie), Gramsci’s ‘enemy’, he did not know the word ‘subaltern’ (Du Bois 1968, 385 – 414). So, not not capitalist, but separated from full capital logic.

I thought the reference to Du Bois was quite telling. Excerpts from The Negro mind reaches out can be read at http://www.yale.edu/glc/archive/1114.htm. I found this passage most useful:

The attitude of the white laborer toward colored folk is largely a matter of long continued propaganda and gossip. The white laborers can read and write, but beyond this their education and experience are limited and they live in a world of color prejudice…Color hate easily assumes the form of a religion and the laborer becomes the blind executive of the decrees of the masters of the white world; he votes armies and navies for “punitive” expeditions; he sends his sons as soldiers and sailors; he composes the Negro-hating mob, demands Japanese exclusion and lynches untried prisoners. What hope is there that such a mass of dimly thinking and misled men will ever demand universal democracy for all men?

What Du Bois is describing is the “subaltern” status of Blacks in the Jim Crow south. Largely outside the industrial working class and existing in the netherworld between slavery and free labor, Blacks were basically debt peons who according to the stringent categories established by “political Marxism” were caught in some kind of “precapitalist” limbo. If capitalism is defined by market rather than political coercion, then one must conclude that the Deep South until fairly recently existed outside of capitalist property relations except for the coal mines, steel mills, garment factories that were reserved for white labor only.

The problem with “political Marxism” is that it generalizes the experience of 19th century British society and shoehorns all of the rest of the world into that model even if it does not fit. Ranajit Guha’s efforts were directed toward developing a historiography that corresponded to Indian realities after years of finding Eric Hobsbawm et al inadequate.

The problem is not just Eurocentrism, to refer to my old friend Jim Blaut’s writings, but more specifically Anglocentrism. Let me conclude with Spivak’s reference to what she calls Little Britain Marxism, and Chibber’s place within it:

In a 306-page book full of a repeated and generalized account of the British and French revolutions, and repeated cliches about how capitalism works, and repeated boyish moments of ‘I have disproved arguments 1, 2, 3, therefore Guha (or Chakrabarty, or yet Chatterjee) is wrong, and therefore subaltern studies is a plague and a seduction, and must be eradicated, although it will be hard because careers will be ruined, etc.’, there could have been some room for these references to describe the range, roots and ramifications of postcolonial studies, so that the book’s focused choice could have taken its place in Verso’s protective gestures towards the preservation of ‘Little Britain Marxism’, shared to some degree by the journal Race and Class. Aijaz Ahmad’s In theory (1992) was such an attempt. Postcolonial theory is the blunter instrument, and its attempt to disregard the range of postcolonial studies in order to situate subaltern studies—confined to three texts—as its representative can mislead students more effectively.

He misses out on Guha because Guha has been placed within an academic battle between what I keep calling Little Britain Marxism and located postcolonial historiographies, here confused with the metropolitan second-generation version, particularly in the US.

Quite plain-spoken, no?

Mickey Rooney, Master of Putting On a Show, Dies at 93

Filed under: Film,New Deal,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:22 pm

NY Times, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Master of Putting On a Show, Dies at 93

Mickey Rooney at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif. in 2012. Credit Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life — the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60 — died on Sunday. He was 93 and lived in Westlake Village, Calif.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

He stood only a few inches taller than five feet, but Mr. Rooney was larger and louder than life. From the moment he toddled onto a burlesque stage at 17 months to his movie debut at 6 to his career-crowning Broadway debut in “Sugar Babies” at 59 and beyond, he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue.

As Andy Hardy, growing up in the idealized fictional town of Carvel, Mr. Rooney was the most famous teenager in America from 1937 to 1944: everybody’s cheeky son or younger brother, energetic and feverishly in love with girls and cars. The 15 Hardy Family movies, in which all problems could be solved by Andy’s man-to-man talks with his father, Judge Hardy (played by Lewis Stone), earned more than $75 million — a huge sum during the Depression years, when movie tickets rarely cost more than 25 cents.

full article

I wrote this on August 8, 2000:

Babes in Arms

As you can well imagine, this recent bit of nastiness involving my free speech rights has left me feeling stressed out. So, taking a break from my usual Saturday night routine of poring through leftist journals while listening to Bel Canto opera on my stereo, I turned on the 1939 film “Babes in Arms,” starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, based on the Rogers-Hart plan and directed by Busby Berkeley. This film combines Busby Berkeley’s “rags to riches” ethos and popular front sentimentality. Anybody who wants to understand the 1930s through the prism of popular culture should rent this garish little jewel without delay.

Mickey Moran (Rooney) is an adolescent songwriter and aspiring director whose vaudevillian father is unemployed. His girl friend is Patsy Barton (Garland), who likewise comes from an impoverished show business family. All of their friends are in the same boat. The film opens with Moran and Barton performing the great Rogers-Hart tune “Good Morning” to a couple of stony-faced music publishers, who are trying to make up their mind whether they will buy the song or not. When they tell the boy that they will pay $100 for it, he faints. After coming to, he rushes home to turn the check over to his desperate parents.

His parents have figured out a scheme that will solve their financial woes. They will go on the road again with an old-time vaudeville show. When the kids suggest that they be brought along as part of the act, they are turned down. Their role would be to stay at home to watch over things.

This sets in motion the basic plot of just about every Rooney-Garland vehicle. They decide to put on their own show, which will be called “Babes in Arms.” Late at night, after the youthful crew of singers and dancers have embraced Rooney and Garland’s proposal, they march down main street singing and dancing, while carrying torches. Their excitement culminates in a bon fire in a deserted square. Since this scene was shot at the same time Nazi torch-light parades were a daily occurrence in Germany, one might surmise that the film-makers were subconsciously reflecting the kind of warped sense of “volkish” optimism at work in the Third Reich. We do know that the director Frank Capra, another quintessential depression era popular front figure, was an admirer of Mussolini, who had managed to get the trains to run on time. Oddly enough, the original inspiration for Hitler’s torch-light rallies were American football pep rallies that he learned about from an aide, who had been educated at Harvard.

After the cast is assembled, Moran makes the decision to use Dody Martin (Leni Lynn), a new arrival in town, for the lead female role instead of his girl-friend. Dody is a stand-in for Shirley Temple, and a risible figure in the film. She is surrounded by a retinue of butlers and handlers. When Moran has dinner with her at her mansion, the audience sees the opulent settings from his point of view. The class differences are palpable as the boy apologizes for his squeaky shoes.

When the show debuts on an outdoor stage, we see another side of 1930s popular culture, which was unfortunately on display almost universally. The opening skit is “Oh Susannah” performed in blackface. This kind of racist “humor” was a stock element of many 1930s musicals and comedies, including those made by the leftist-leaning Marx brothers. Fortunately a rain storm comes along and forces the show to close in the middle of the “coon show.”

After a few trials and tribulations, the youthful troupe receives some funding and they present a show which provides the climax of the film. It is a rather grotesque but musically effective production number featuring Mickey Rooney as FDR and Judy Garland as his wife Eleanor. They sit on what amounts to a throne in the middle of a stage, while various characters plucked from the fabric of American society plead their case. A “hillbilly” needs to be rescued from bankruptcy. You shall receive it, says FDR. An unemployed worker demands a job. He too shall receive it. The curtain falls with flag waving and patriotic high spirits. Despite the reputation 1930s films enjoy as being socially aware, this was the extent of it far too often.

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