Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 22, 2014

Gunning for Vandana Shiva

Filed under: Ecology,farming,science — louisproyect @ 1:20 pm
The New Yorker, GMOs and Chemical Farming

Gunning for Vandana Shiva


Perhaps nothing symbolizes the decline of the New Yorker magazine more than the hatchet job on Vandana Shiva that appears in the latest issue. Written by Michael Specter, the author of “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress”, the article is a meretricious defense of genetically modified organisms (GMO) relying on one dodgy source after another. This is the same magazine whose reputation was at its apex when Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking articles on DDT appeared in 1962. If DDT was once a symbol of the destructive power of chemicals on the environment, GMO amounts to one of the biggest threats to food production today. It threatens to enrich powerful multinational corporations while turning farmers into indentured servants through the use of patented seeds. Furthermore, it threatens to unleash potentially calamitous results in farmlands through unintended mutations.

Specter represents himself as a defender of science against irrational thinking. Since many activists regard Vandana Shiva as grounded in science, it is essential that he discredit her. For example, he mentions a book jacket that refers to her as “one of India’s leading physicists”. But when he asked her if she ever worked as a physicist, she invited him to “search for the answer on Google”. He asserts that he found nothing and furthermore that no such position was listed in her biography. Not that I would ever take an inflated publicity blurb that seriously to begin with (having read one too many of those for Slavoj Žižek), I wondered what being a physicist would have to do with GMO in the first place. Is a degree in particle physics necessary for understanding the transformation of vast portions of the Gulf of Mexico into a dead zone because of fertilizer-enriched algae?

read full article


Wouldn’t you just know it? Bard College hired GMO hustler Michael Specter as a Visiting Professor of Environmental and Urban Studies.

I suppose that makes sense given that Stewart Resnick is on the board of trustees, the agribusiness billionaire who has diverted water from the commoners in Fiji and California to improve his bottom line and buy more politicians. When a college hires a big-time promoter of GMO to lecture on the environment, you just chalk that up to Leon Botstein’s Wizard of Oz con artistry.


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Lynn Henderson on Nat Weinstein’s political legacy

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 1:57 am

Nat Weinstein 1924 – 2014
His Political Legacy
By Lynn Henderson

I’ve known Nat a long time and I get the feeling that a lot of people here today also knew Nat a long time. I was trying to think back when Nat recruited me to the Socialist Workers Party. It was in 1960, 53-54 years ago. To tell the truth it’s a little scary when I think about how long ago that was.

I was in New York City as a graduate student at the New School for Social Research. I went there because I had the impression that it was a progressive, kind of liberal, even radical institution. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was staffed by professorial types who had been reactionary social democrats in their flaming youths and their politics had continuously gone south since then. While there, I quickly developed a stomach ulcer and every class I went to my ulcer got worse. As bad as their politics were and even though I considered my self some kind of socialist and Marxist, I just didn’t have the political and intellectual tools at the time to take these people on. It drove me crazy.

My wife at the time, Mary Henderson and I, just by dumb luck, had gotten a rent-controlled apartment right in the heart of Greenwich Village on 8th Street between 5th and 6th avenues, a short half a block north of Washington Square. I think we paid $87.50 a month rent. It was a top floor, four-story walk up but we were young so we didn’t mind that. One day I’m sitting in the apartment, nursing my ulcer, being more frustrated than ever and I hear something and look out the window and across the street, where if you know New York was the old 8th Street Bookstore on the corner of MacDougal St. was a socialist street corner meeting taking place. I looked down and there were about 20-25 people gathered around it listening to the speaker so I scurried down there and there were about five or six members of the Socialist Workers Party, some of them were selling the Militant, others were talking to people in the crowd and the speaker standing on a ladder for a platform was Nat Weinstein. I was enthralled with this thing.

I had never heard of the Socialist Workers Party; never saw anybody ever holding a street corner meeting on socialist ideas. There were questions and answers going on with the audience too, and there was one guy there that I could tell immediately was a exact clone of the professorial types I was dealing with at the New School. He had a tweed jacket on, with suede patches on the elbows and was puffing on a pipe. Nat was making remarks on the role of U.S. imperialism at the time and this guy comments, “Well, you know, colonialism wasn’t all bad” he says, “The British empire introduced a modern educational system into India, they introduced parliamentary democracy into India and all this was very helpful in India’s subsequence independence, blah – blah – blah. Well, Nat took him on and just politically devastated him, not in a mean way, but he was able to answer him and make him look ridiculous. And not only did he make this guy look ridiculous, but I could tell that he was winning over numbers of the people in the crowd, he was having an impact on them. I thought, “Wow”, these are people that have the political tools to answer phonies like this guy. I could feel, or at least I thought I could feel, a sharp reduction in the acid that was usually flowing down onto my stomach ulcer. I thought, I’ve got to know more about this. I was really kind of torn. I wanted the meeting to go on so I could learn more from the speakers and I also wanted it to end so I could buttonhole them and learn more about them, who they were and how I could learn from the things they were talking about and acquire the political skills they were demonstrating.

Well, needless to say, within weeks I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. I never went back to the New School for Social Research, as a matter of fact I ended up in the next weeks going to meetings that Nat organized in Brooklyn where he lived, I think it was called the Brooklyn Educational League. It was a meeting of a small number of Black workers, kind of a socialist discussion club the core of which were the Franklin brothers who if you were around the New York SWP at that time you might remember. One of the Franklin brothers was an ex-prize fighter who was a member of the SWP. I learned more in those four or five meetings that I attended every week for a month or so than I learned in my whole previous political education. So that’s how Nat Weinstein recruited me to the Socialist Workers Party.

Nat, even at that time, was a leading worker activist in the SWP; I think he was already on the National Committee. He was part of a thin layer of workers that were recruited toward the end of World War II, really the last layer to be recruited to the SWP directly out of the working class. He was a merchant seaman and was recruited by an SWP shipmate while working a ship to Venezuela. As a worker activist he was a leader and an activist in all the events that were going on and would continue to develop in the emerging civil rights movement. He was a defender of Robert Williams and Malcolm X, and was a defender of Black Nationalism. He was instrumental in having Malcolm speak at an SWP forum at the New York branch headquarters. The SWP was the only organization on the left that had an appreciation of Black Nationalism. Trotsky in meetings with SWP leaders during his exile in Mexico had educated the party on the revolutionary nature of the Black Nationalist movement and had predicted its re-emergence.

Nat was also a defender of the Cuban Revolution and a union activist in the painters union in New York City. That’s how he ended up in San Francisco. He came out here because there was a fight in the painters union in San Francisco against the conservative bureaucracy and Nat came out to participate in that.

As significant as Nat’s role was as a leading worker activist in all these areas, Nat’s most important historical contribution, in my opinion, was later on. It was leading the fight against the political and programmatic degeneration in the SWP that was subsequently and surreptitiously organized by Jack Barnes. Nat emerged as the principal leader in that fight. In some ways this is surprising. There were others in the Fourth International and the SWP that certainly seemed to have more impressive intellectual and theoretical credentials for leading that fight, but they did not. It was this worker activist, Nat Weinstein, who recognized, analyzed and consciously organized against the break with the SWP’s political program and the core programmatic acquisitions that Barnes was determined to jettison. These included abandoning Trotsky’s concept of Permanent Revolution; abandoning the transitional program, as embodied in the founding document of the Fourth International; and rejecting the 1928 Program of the Left Opposition that launched the fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Barnes had come to the conclusion that all of these fundamental positions of the Fourth International and SWP were fatally flawed and from their inception anti-Leninist. He didn’t present his ideas for democratic discussion in the party but rather kept quiet about them until he could prepare an organizational terror campaign after which they would be unilaterally imposed.

It was Nat Weinstein then who authored the key programmatic and theoretical documents answering the new Barnes politics, and defending the program of revolutionary socialism. He played the key role. Barry Sheppard, who is here, not too long ago wrote a two volume work documenting his time in the SWP and the history he went through. I believe it’s a valuable two volumes and anybody here who hasn’t read it and wants to know about the history of this period, I encourage you to read it. The first volume dealt with the SWP before the organizational degeneration and in general is an excellent account reminding us of how valuable the healthy SWP was in intervening in the class struggle and moving it forward.

The second volume deals with the organizational degeneration of the SWP. Sheppard gives us an insider’s look, often in horrific detail, of the organizational degeneration carried out under Barnes direction. In this he is uniquely qualified, functioning for most of the period as Barnes chief organizational enforcer. Expressing what I believe is sincere regret, he details the pressure that led him personally, step by step, into playing this role. Many devoted and talented political activists went through the trauma of the SWP’s degeneration. Some were expelled, some became demoralized and resigned, others just drifted away. Many were completely disoriented by the experience. For many, what happened and how it happened remains a political mystery. To his credit Barry Sheppard survived that experience still defending today the founding program of the Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International – that is defending Marxism-Leninism.

Where Sheppard’s account comes up short is explaining the political degeneration of Barnes and subsequently the SWP. One thing that we were always taught in the healthy SWP was that political questions come first; organizational questions are secondary and flow from the more fundamental political questions. Sheppard’s narrative implies that the primary factor in the SWP’s degeneration was a sudden (and essentially unexplained) personality change in Jack Barnes. Barnes inexplicably began functioning as a “star”, as a “one man band” and morphed into a cult leader.
The rise of the so-called “Barnes cult” was not the result of some new personality shift, rather it was the result of a fundamental shift in his political views Having secretly reached sweeping political conclusions, which in reality represented a rejection of the historic program of the SWP and the Fourth International, Barnes concluded, not illogically, that he had little chance of reshaping the party in this completely new political direction by openly presenting his views and engaging in a democratic political discussion of them. He consciously chose a different course. Barnes deliberately avoided openly expressing or debating his new views in the party but instead opted for changing the party through organizational intimidation and expulsions.

One of the first manifestations of Barnes’ new politics was his announcement for a turn to industry, which in its initial presentation sounded pretty good. But very quickly this turn to industry morphed into an absolutely bazaar policy called “talking socialism”. One thing the SWP had a long and successful history at was doing trade union work. In the 1930’s they had an influence in the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo and in the San Francisco general strike, and played the key leadership role in the Minneapolis Teamsters strike by applying the transitional program in a revolutionary way in the union movement. All of that was rejected by Barnes, who proposed instead a policy of going into the unions but not engaging in the struggles of the unions, not engaging in a struggle against the conservative class collaborationist bureaucracies, but going in as kind of socialist missionaries to “talk socialism”. It was a disastrous policy. It isolated those members who actually carried the line out and made them appear, in the eyes of healthy union members, like some kind of Jehovah Witness weirdoes. Other members, who maybe were a little more perceptive, went in and while they continued to support the line and vote for the line and even attack anyone who criticized the “talk socialism” line didn’t actually carry it out in their unions because they knew it would make them look like jerks.

This had a devastating effect on the membership. You see, there is nothing more demoralizing then to play-act at politics, to say and vote for one thing and do another thing. And we challenged that, Nat challenged that in the 1981 convention. At that convention, Nat and I as the two minority NC member’s, presented two documents. I presented (written jointly by Nat and myself) the Minority Trade Union Report and Nat presented the other document, The Transitional Program, The Road Forward. And we took on the “talk socialism” policy. Nat also at that convention, because we could foresee Barnes move toward denouncing and breaking with Permanent Revolution — so Nat posed to the Barnes steering committee the question, do you still support Permanent Revolution? Well you know the whole Presiding Committee got up and said, Oh yeah. As a matter of fact I think they were honest in this because Barnes had not yet told them that Permanent Revolution was not going to be any longer a part of the program of the Socialist Workers Party. And when Barnes, not very long after that, did reveal that Permanent Revolution was anti-Leninist from top to bottom, none of these people raised any objections, and from taking the position of saying that it was silly to say they were breaking with Permanent Revolution they flipped over completely.
What then followed was a long series of trials and expulsions of members, and not just people who had minority views. Most of the people that eventually were expelled in these trials didn’t directly express any minority views; they were expelled for completely arbitrary and sometimes silly reasons. Barnes was doing that because he wanted to create an atmosphere in which you could be expelled at any time for all kinds of reasons, if you showed any kind of opposition to the Barnes regime, no matter what it was.

The most sweeping organizational move Barnes made was then in 1983, as the 1983 pre-convention discussion period was to begin, he canceled the party convention. This was a direct violation of the SWP constitution which required a convention of the party every two years. I think he did this for two reasons. One, even though the minorities had been expelled and even though he had carried out this suppression of any workers democracy in the party, he was still afraid to have a convention in which any of the political questions could come up for a discussion and a vote. So that was one reason, but there was another reason. I think Barnes wanted to test the membership that was left in the party. Would they accept this blatantly illegal organizational move without any opposition? The test proved positive for him. Not one person got up and objected to the cancellation of the 1983 party convention which was in direct violation of the SWP constitution. Barnes then finally felt free to reveal his new political positions which ipso facto would be the party’s new political program. Even then these were not presented to the party for a vote by the party but rather published as two articles in a public magazine the New International — Their Trotsky and Ours: Communist Continuity Today, in the Fall 1983 issue; under Jack Barnes’ name, and The Workers and Farmers’ Government: A Popular Revolutionary Dictatorship, in the Spring 1984 issue; under Mary-Alice Waters’ name.

You know, the pace and timing of historical events are almost impossible to predict. Marx and Engels, with all their political skills, thought there was a good possibility of decisive socialist revolutions in 1848 in Europe. But they were wrong. While the pace of events and how they actually unfold are very difficult to predict, the re-emergence of a working class radicalization cannot and will not be postponed indefinitely. You can be sure that at some point, we don’t know when, we don’t know how it will emerge, but there will be a reaction in the United States and other countries to what is happening and a working class radicalization in response to that. When that occurs, the ideas that were expressed by Barnes in his rejection of the revolutionary program will play no role, they will be irrelevant, they will be largely forgotten. But Nat’s programmatic and theoretical defense of the revolutionary program will not be irrelevant, will not be forgotten. It will be a part of the rich Marxist heritage available to guide the working class in coming revolutionary struggles. In leading a defense against the Barnes programmatic degeneration, Nat, in my opinion, proved himself to be the most significant worker intellectual of his era. It was not the people who had written big theoretical works on economics and Marxist theory that led this fight. It was this worker activist who took on and wrote the theoretical documents and the political analysis that became the basis of the fight, not just in the United States, but throughout the whole Fourth International against the Barnes attack on the revolutionary program.

So when we celebrate Nat’s life, we are also celebrating how this worker activist magnificently rose to the challenge of a sweeping petty-bourgeois attack on the program of revolutionary socialism and led the fight against it. That is Nat Weinstein’s giant political legacy and it will live on to the benefit of future class struggles for a more humane and truly democratic socialist society.

August 21, 2014

Three narrative films of note

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:38 pm

While none of the films under review here will make it to my top five of the year list, I can recommend them as having something of interest to real film buffs. Not surprisingly, none were made in the United States, where filmmaking—along with everything else—is going down the tubes.

The first is “Starred Up”, a British film that opens on August 27th at the IFC and at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. “Starred Up” is prison slang for a juvenile offender who has been transferred to an adult facility because of chronic bad behavior.

Wikipedia reports that there have been 239 prison films made since 1929, including such favorites as “Each Day I Die”, “Bird Man of Alcatraz” and “Cool Hand Luke”. Filmmakers keep returning to this genre because it lends itself to the kind of climaxes all blockbuster movies aspire to—a prison break, a riot, a redemption of an unredeemable character, an execution, etc. If there’s a risk of being subjected to a stream of clichés, you have nobody but yourself to blame since probably every plot and character permutation has appeared in the 239 films in this category.

“Starred Up” is far more committed to realism than the average prison film. Indeed, if it weren’t for the very heavy working-class British accents (the film would have benefited from subtitles like Ken Loach’s “Sweet Sixteen”), you would think that you were watching one of those MSNBC Saturday afternoon reality shows set in prison. Filmed in an actual prison, “Starred Up” makes a genuine effort at conveying both the tedium of prison life as well as its stormy violent interludes. In one scene the main character fights off six cops who enter his cell to take him off for punishment, just as occurs on the MSNBC shows. Like the long-running “Cops”, there certainly is drama involved in police or guard combat with the criminal element. While MSNBC and “Cops” never show cops as sadistic lawbreakers, that is exactly what you will see in most prison films that from the very beginning, starting with “I was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”, take the side of the victimized prisoner.

Eric Love is a 19-year-old with a hair-trigger temper and a talent for fisticuffs to back it up. Played by Jack O’Connell, Eric is a young man who treats everybody as a potential enemy including his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) serving a long stretch in the same prison.

Anything and everything will set him off. Early on he beats a man half to death over a misinterpreted offense. When the guards come to haul him off to solitary confinement, he fights them to a standstill. Perhaps because of his youth and perhaps because of the challenge of reaching someone who appears unreachable, the prison psychotherapist (Rupert Friend) intercedes and recruits him to his ongoing group therapy sessions.

Eric is at first cynical about the therapist and refuses to take it seriously. But the other prisoners, who are Black and old enough to be his father, manage to get him to lose the attitude. Suffice it to say that this is not a “redemption” tale. Things conspire against such a pat ending, including his out-of-control father and the corrupt prison administration.

The best thing about the film is Jack O’Connell’s performance one—in a nutshell—that is more convincing than any I have ever seen from an actor. The ultimate anti-Jean-Claude van Damme performance, so to speak.

Jonathan Asser, a British poet and performance artist who was asked to do a show at the young offenders prison in Feltham, wrote the screenplay. Once he was exposed to prison life, he transitioned into a career as a therapist just like the character in the film whose methods were the same as the ones he used. Although the screenplay is rough around the edges, the film is a compelling portrait of society’s outcasts. To Asser’s credit and to the credit of everybody who took part in the film, this is one prison film that stands out from the pack.

Salvo opens up tomorrow at the Howard Gilman Theater in Lincoln Center. The title might evoke the gunplay that occurs in this film about a mafia hitman, another well-worn genre, but it is rather the first name of the character we meet in the truly exciting first five minutes of the film.

Salvo Mancuso is the driver/bodyguard for an aging Palermo don who kills five attackers in a bid on his boss’s life. As he stands before the sole survivor, who he has shot in the leg, he demands the name of the man who has organized the hit. Once he has extracted the information by squeezing on the bullet wound, he places his hand over the man’s forehead like a priest giving benediction—and then puts a bullet through it.

The next day he sneaks into the house of the boss’s rival and discovers that the sole occupant is the gangster’s sister, a beautiful blind woman. After he gags her and ties her up, he lies in wait for her brother’s return. After he arrives, Salvo dispatches him with ease—he is a master craftsman at his trade. But instead of killing his sister, he puts her in the trunk of his car and drives her to a hideout in the countryside where he buries her brother. For the next few days, he looks after her intermittently but without anything that would betray his attraction to her. As the film reaches its climax, we learn that he has violated his boss’s instructions to kill her as well as fallen hopelessly in love with her.

The plot owes much to Hong Kong cinema where hitman often have hearts of gold buried beneath a stony demeanor and fists of steel. But this is not a Hong Kong type action film. It is much more like the underrated George Clooney vehicle “The American”, a film in which he plays a moody assassin who would seem far more at home painting nudes in a garret on the Left Bank and drinking absinthe.

The film has an esthetic that is one part classic Antonioni and one part Calvin Klein commercial. There is not much in it that is believable but it is a visual feast with a knack for the unexpected, like a scene in which eats tuna out of can in the kitchen of his temporary host. This is the Sicilian mafia, after all, not the New Jersey nouveau riche.


I have subsequently learned that Salvo was played by Saleh Bakri, a Palestinian. Here is an excerpt from an interview he gave to the Conversations with Palestine website:

LMaDO: Israel calls itself the “Jewish State”, the State of and for the Jews even though more than 20% of its population is Palestinian. You’ve partly answered and it’s very interesting to hear your views, but you’ve received awards from Israel, as an Israeli actor. So are you a Palestinian or an Israeli actor?

SB: I was born a Palestinian and will remain a Palestinian. I don’t believe that I could even be called an Israeli or that any Palestinian could be called Israeli because first of all Israeli is an hebrew name and I am not Jewish, I am Arab. It’s like calling Muhammad-Moshe. It cannot happen. It’s something that is not related to me in any way. Above all, Israel is not something that I feel any attachment to, anything good towards. It destroyed my life, my father’s life, my family, my nation’s life. And it’s still destroying it. I have nothing in common with this destruction, this racism, this separateness, this injustice. It’s the opposite, I care about Palestine as a place for everybody, as a place that was never Islamic, Christian or Jewish. Palestine was always a place for everyone, for every religion. It’s a shame that this place that has so much history and energy can be occupied by one religion. It should remain for everybody.

Finally, there is “The Auction”, a French Canadian film that can be described as a twist on the King Lear tragedy. The main character, a 63-year-old man named Gaby, owns a farm in the Quebec countryside where he raises sheep and lives in splendid isolation with his pet dog. His only friend is his accountant who has just brought over a computer that will help Gaby manage his finances. He has about as much interest in the computer as he does in the modern novel. This is a man close to the roots—at least that is our first impression.

He receives a visit from his daughter Marie who lives in Montreal with her younger sister Frederique resides as well. Like most young people with a hunger for art, culture and wine bars, a farm is a good place to leave behind. Marie has bad news. She is divorcing her husband and will take over their house, where she will live with her two young sons. But there’s a hitch. She needs $200,000 to become the owner. Could Gaby put up the funds, she asks. Since the two daughters never bother to visit or even to phone their dad, you would think that he would tell her to get lost. That is what a modern-day King Lear would do.

But Gaby immediately decides to sell the farm and move into a senior citizen’s complex in the nearby town where he would look for work. Not only will he give up the independence he once enjoyed but the company of his pet dog that he decides to put down.

As a taciturn and expressionless personality, it is hard to read Gaby. Is he doing this out of love for his daughter or is he simply tired of mending fences, shearing sheep, and tending to the never-ending list of chores that comes with farm ownership. It is to the everlasting credit of this remarkable film that you are never quite sure. Long after you have seen the film, you will be thinking about the remarkable main character.

“The Auction” can be rented from FilmMovement.com, one of the “alternatives to Netflix” I wrote about last Friday.

August 20, 2014

Is a Donetsk People’s Republic leader a Posadista?

Filed under: literature,Russia — louisproyect @ 4:00 pm

Fyodor D. Berezin

NY Times, August 20 2014
Plenty of Room at the Top of Ukraine’s Fading Rebellion

DONETSK, Ukraine — To outward appearances, Fyodor D. Berezin is the picture of a senior military commander. He wears camouflage, has bodyguards and confidently gives orders as the newly named deputy defense minister of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic. Yet, just four months ago he was an obscure author of 18 science fiction novels, one play and a dozen or so short stories.

In an interview, Mr. Berezin said he was as surprised as anybody by his rapid promotion through the rebel ranks. “Reality became scarier than science fiction,” he said in an interview over iced tea at the Havana Banana bar, a favorite rebel haunt. “I live in my books now. I fell right into the middle of my books.”

Mr. Berezin now serves under a little-known fellow Ukrainian, Mr. Kononov, who uses the nickname “the czar” in his duties as defense minister. Before the war, Mr. Berezin, 54, supplemented book proceeds with a day job as a purchasing official for a university, buying janitorial supplies. In the 1980s, he served in the Soviet Army with a rank of captain.

His eyes light up when talk turns to war, though not the kind raging on the outskirts of this besieged city, but rather battles fought in outer space between the Brashis and the Ararbacs, two civilizations on the planet Gaeia and in parallel dimensions from one of his novels.

Mr. Berezin met Mr. Strelkov last spring, and by Mr. Berezin’s account, the two got on well because of common literary interests, as Mr. Strelkov, too, is a science fiction fan. Mr. Strelkov had read one of Mr. Berezin’s books, “Parallel Cataclysm,” about a parallel dimension where the Soviet Union rules Earth and a red flag flies over the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Mr. Berezin said.

In the novel, a United States aircraft carrier group is sunk in the Pacific Ocean by a mysterious wing of fighter jets, later revealed to bear the red star of the Soviet forces from the parallel dimension, crossing over into our world to turn back the tide of American hegemony.

The author is soft-spoken, with a delicate turn of phrase, and a passion for writing that he came to late in life, after working odd jobs and raising a family. With dismay and self-deprecation unusual for a military man, he recounted his difficulties coping with his new command. When attention is diverted by one crisis, he said, another problem pops up, and people die, because this is a real war. “I am in charge of life and death decisions,” he said.

Asked about his plans for defending the city, Mr. Berezin was a little vague, saying the Ukrainian Army would bog down in urban combat. And he described an “international brigade of the future,” modeled on the legions of volunteers who flocked to Spain in 1936, rallying to the cause. For now, though, most volunteers are Russian, he said. “We really, really need help,” he said.

Still, he described the conflict here in sweeping, millennial terms, even as the territory under his command has shriveled to the city limits of his hometown.

“We are at the geopolitical pinpoint of the world,” he said. “The vectors converge here. Like an hourglass, the sides bend in here in Donetsk, and the sand passes and we are at this historical point. Depending on how the sand scatters, history will change one way or another.”

He also recounted inexplicable luck on the separatist side. One rebel, he said, miraculously killed five Ukrainians with the five bullets in a pistol magazine. Another time, a rocket-propelled grenade sailed right into the open window of an attack helicopter, “defying all the rules of probability.”

“I want the war to end, and I want to write about it all,” he said. “It’s an amazing fable. Every day, enough happens for a novel. I cannot talk about it all now, but when the war is over, I will write about it.”

full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/world/europe/plenty-of-room-at-the-top-of-ukraines-fading-rebellion.html

Wiesel, weaponized

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 2:54 pm

By Eli Valley

Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel published a new ad campaign in major newspapers across the U.S., in which he claims that the war between Gaza and Israel is a battle between “those who celebrate life and those who champion death,” and refers to “child sacrifice” and “worshippers of death cults.”


August 19, 2014

The scum that rises around the Steven Salaita firing

Filed under: Academia,repression,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:06 pm

Having worked at Columbia University for 21 years I developed a real animosity toward the individuals and organizations trying to pressure my employer into silencing or firing pro-Palestinian professors. The first to come under fire was Edward Said. After him came the people in the MEALAC Department that he helped make famous: Joseph Massad, Hamid Dabashi and Rashid Khalidi. Barnard had the same problems. An online petition to deny Nadia Abu El Haj tenure went up after she wrote a book demonstrating how Israeli archaeologists helped to shore up the nation’s racial exclusiveness.

Although there are many reasons to dislike the presidents of Columbia University and Barnard, their commitment to academic freedom is second to none. When Edward Said became target of the Israel lobby for throwing rocks at an IDF watchtower, Lee Bollinger said that this was his protected free speech right. Imagine that! Using actual physical violence rather than offensive tweets was still not enough to get him fired.

Columbia University, I should add, was also very principled when it came to “back office” nobodies like me. On three different occasions assholes contacted the university for things that I said on the Internet that made Steven Salaita’s tweets look like Hallmark Greeting cards by comparison. And each time there was never any question about being disciplined, let alone fired. On one occasion the ombudsman told me that it would be a good idea to get a non-Columbia email account if I wanted to be a flame-thrower (my word, not hers). That’s how I ended up as lnp3 at panix.com

In some ways, the people who are open supporters of Israel like Cary Nelson don’t get me as worked up as those who pretend to be neutral observers. These individuals are the real scum, writing newspaper articles or blog posts taking the administration’s side while trying to conceal their obvious bias. Each day as I check to see if there’s anything new about Salaita on Google, I continue to be struck by the gall of the commentators who are trying to drive the shiv into his back. (As opposed to his tweet about driving a shiv into Jeffrey Goldberg’s article.)

Let me share with you what I have seen, in chronological order. You may want to put on a surgical mask to block the bacteria that floats from the people under inspection, especially from the lawyers (you know what Shakespeare said about them.)

Steven Lubet

This Northwestern law professor wrote an article titled “Professor’s tweets about Israel crossed the line” that appeared in the August 14th Chicago Tribune. Lubet says that his tweets should not be an obstacle to his being hired at the U. of Illinois but uses his article mostly to libel Salaita as calling for Jeffrey Goldberg to be knifed when he was referring to an article he had written, etc. Lubet, like Nelson, affects a “free speech” posture saying “I worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the Nazis-in-Skokie case in the 1970s, and I would gladly do so again.” Right. Love me, I am a liberal.

As it turns out, Lubet did have a dog in this race. He is a founding member of “The Third Narrative”, a group that represents itself as being for a two-state solution but adds that “We reject all attempts to undermine or diminish academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, including those cases associated with the Israel-Palestine debate.” Other founding members include Eric Alterman, Michael Walzer, Todd Gitlin and –you guessed it—Cary Nelson.

In his brilliant exposé of Cary Nelson, Phan Nguyen delivered the goods on “The Third Narrative”:

Although ostensibly described as taking a middle ground between “two competing narratives on the Middle East—Israeli and Palestinian,” TTN was launched a year ago and designed to “counter anti-Israel bias on the far left.” Thus TTN is geared primarily toward attacking the pro-BDS left and rarely critiques the pro-Israeli right. TTN even distributes a booklet called “Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel.”

This is a common anti-BDS tactic that I discuss elsewhere, where the goal is to drive “a wedge between progressive values and the BDS movement,” in the words of a guidebook from the Israel Action Network (another organization that Nelson has worked with).

Jonathan Adler

On August 17th Adler, the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve, referred readers to the arguments of Hoffman, the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School, on why the administration was in its right in “rescinding” its offer to Salaita, couched entirely in contract law minutiae. He cited the bottom line of Hoffman’s findings:

Why am I so skeptical when Mike Dorf is not? I think it’s largely because I’ve read alot of promissory estoppel cases, and a lot of promissory estoppel articles. And the consensus is that over the last generation, promissory estoppel has waned as a theory of recovery. As Bob Hillman famously concluded, it’s a “remarkably unsuccessful” cause of action, which, in my experience, is brought largely in weak cases as a last-ditch shot to push through to discovery and thus motivate settlement. I think that most contracts professors spend time on the doctrine these days largely because it’s so darn fun — the facts are wonderful! — but not because it’s a regular part of the business lawyer’s arsenal. Promissory estoppel cases are losers. This case would be a loser.

It turns out that Adler is a regular contributor to The Volokh Conspiracy, a website that migrated to the Washington Post in January 2014. Hence Adler’s appearance there. Here’s what MediaMatters  says about the marriage made in hell:

On January 21, The Washington Post announced that it had entered into a partnership with The Volokh Conspiracy, a blog that has operated since 2002 and largely focuses on legal issues but has strayed into other areas, including climate denialism. The Post praised the blog in its announcement of the agreement, calling it a “must-read source [that] will be a great addition to the Post’s coverage of law, politics and policy.” In his first official post, the blog’s founder, Eugene Volokh, revealed that the Post granted him “full editorial control.”

The move was celebrated by right-wing media outlets such as the American Spectator, which praised Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for highlighting a blog that provides legal commentary “from a [generally] libertarian or conservative perspective,” writing, “Perhaps it should stand to reason that a man who made a fortune offering people choices, should offer the same alternatives to his readership. What a novel concept in today’s news atmosphere.” TownHall editor Conn Carroll cited the acquisition as evidence that Bezos was “clearly moving” the Post “in a libertarian direction.”

So you might say that Steven Salaita’s firing is being defended in a newspaper funded by your Amazon.com purchases. The bastards have us coming and going.

Joyce Tolliver and Nick Burbules

These are a couple of U. of Illinois professors who have defended Salaita’s firing in the News-Gazette, a local paper that has been in the forefront of the witch-hunt. They write:

The other questionable assumption of the current debate is that the university’s action violates Salaita’s academic freedom. But the principle of academic freedom is not an absolute, open-ended license; the AAUP’s own statement on principles of academic freedom emphasizes that faculty are also bound by the standards of professional ethics: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, (and) should show respect for the opinions of others ….” Salaita’s comments raise legitimate questions about the limits of academic freedom.

So, who the hell are these people, you might ask. Well, to give you an idea of how committed they are to the rights of professors versus an obviously capricious administration, they are the people behind the “No Faculty Union at Illinois” website. A Wikipedia entry on Burbules states:

Professor Burbules has led the fight to prevent unionization of faculty (including non-tenure track faculty) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Burbules co-authored a 2014 open letter opposing faculty unionization; the letter rejected in principle the notion of fair share, that those workers who receive the benefits of a democratically created and elected trade union ought to pay their fair share of the union’s expenses. Without some semblance of fair share, no union can survive—workers will become free riders and take the benefits without paying for them, as the union gradually loses its leverage for lack of voluntary contributions, and eventually collapses.

Just the kind of people to be relied upon when a witch-hunt is brewing–if you are the administration trying to get rid of trouble-makers.

Spiked Online

This is the electronic magazine of a group of people in Britain that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement in the 1970s. Originally known as the Revolutionary Communist Party, they put out a print magazine titled Living Marxism that took ultra-contrarian positions on a number of questions. For example, they wrote in favor of fox-hunting, smoking cigarettes in restaurants, nuclear power, and GMO crops—all in the name of Karl Marx.

In the 1990s, they morphed into Spiked Online after dropping the Marxism thing. They did hold on to the contrarianism, however, as this assault on Steven Salaita should bear out:

If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised #Gaza.’

This ugly, anti-Semitic tweet is just one in a long line sent by the American academic and pro-Palestinian activist, Steven Salaita. His response to the kidnapping in June of three Israeli teenagers was typically forthright: ‘You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.’ More recently he informed his Twitter followers: ‘Zionists: transforming “anti-Semitism” from something horrible into something honourable since 1948.’

Salaita is one of the contributors to The Imperial University, a book which makes a consistent case for BDS and the censoring of all connections with Israeli universities, which I reviewed in this month’s spiked review of books. The various authors argue that academic freedom, an overrated concept, is a mere tool employed by the liberal elite to patronise and neuter voices of dissent within the academy. How ironic, then, that Salaita, a man all too happy to ride roughshod over the academic freedom of Israeli lecturers and researchers, should be outraged when his own academic freedom is threatened.

This is even more noxious than anything that rolled off of Cary Nelson’s tongue. The article was written by one Joanna Williams, the author of “Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought.” She has also written articles denying that rape is a problem in British universities and affirming that the pay gap between men and women is ancient history.

You can’t make this shit up.

August 18, 2014

How I became a self-hating Jew

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 7:56 pm

French anti-Semitism: important resources from Lenin’s Tomb

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,France,zionism — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 2.09.23 PM

On July 25th I wrote an article titled “The anti-Semitism Canard” that took aim at the smears directed against the pro-Palestinian protests in Europe. The gist of my analysis was that an amalgam of long standing between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism formed the foundation of the pro-Zionist attacks.

But one comment on my article caught my eye:

here too it’s worth considering this investigative report. According to Edwy Plenel’s online paper Mediapart, hooligans and skinheads partial to the call of Dieudonné are systematically infiltrating the Gaza protests in France. the reemergence of european antisemitism is not a canard, rather a self-fulfilling prophecy brought about by zionist intransigence and the genocidal acts perpetrated by the idf.


I was frustrated in my attempt to read the article, not just because it was written in French but also because it was behind a paywall. Fortunately, there have been some very important articles investigating the Dieudonné connection that have appeared on Lenin’s Tomb that are essential for understanding the challenges facing the Palestinian solidarity movement in France and anywhere else where anti-Semitism is interjected. I don’t think that anti-Semitism poses any serious threat to Jews anywhere in Europe on the scale of the 1930s but the ability of backward elements either consciously or unconsciously serving the propaganda aims of the Zionists must be thwarted since the ultimate victims will be Palestinians rather than Jews. Every article smearing the mass movement on the basis of slogans shouted on demonstrations such as “kill the Jews” will help allow the next attack on Gaza or the West Bank to proceed with greater impunity.

I don’t find anything funny about the “comedian” Dieudonné. In January I responded to Diana Johnstone who had made the case for him as a satirist on France’s well-documented support for Israel’s crimes on the basis of its “victimization” by the Third Reich. I use scare quotes around victimization not to question whether six million Jews were murdered but to call attention to Israel’s exploitation of the holocaust to justify its own Third Reich type behavior. That being said, no quarter should be given to Dieudonné whose amalgamation of Judaism and Zionism is virtually identical to Abe Foxman and Alan Dershowitz’s. I wrote:

I really wonder what went through Dieudonné’s mind when he decided that Jean-Marie Le Pen was just the right person to be his kid’s godfather. After the French banlieue riots, he had this to say: “Many live by dealing in drugs, or stealing. They have created their own ghettos. We have places where there are no schools, because they have set them afire and the police and firemen are attacked when they go there. Civilization is slowly evaporating from this country.”

I could be wrong but Dieudonné strikes me as the French version of Clarence Thomas or Roy Innis, the former civil rights leader who found it to his advantage to hook up with the Republican Party right. It is a bit harder to place Dieudonné politically on the French spectrum since he tends to be coy about what he stands for, but if you think that he is on the left, then you really have no idea what the left is about.

There are three articles on Lenin’s Tomb that are crucial for understanding the ultraright penetration of the pro-Palestinian movement. The first is “How Dieudonné’s Followers Hijack the Gaza Protests” that appeared in the MediaPart website I mentioned above. The article highlights the role of some other unsavory characters on the right, including Alain Soral who I also looked at in my rebuttal to Diana Johnstone.

Fortunately we have an English language version of the article retrieved from behind the paywall. The article calls attention to a group known as “Gaza Firm” that takes its cues from Dieudonné and company:

Although these infiltrators from the extreme right are very much in the minority at pro-Palestinian events, the protest on Saturday, July 26, organized in solidarity with the people of Gaza, was fraught with strong internal tensions. Part of the procession seemed to have been overrun with radical elements. Some of these protesters from the extreme right have united in a small cell known as “Gaza Firm.” They are unrelated to traditional pro-Palestinian groups and come to protests primarily to fight in the streets with the Jewish Defense League. But who pulls the strings of this operation?

Perhaps the article is not clear enough when it refers to “radical elements”—it is referring to ultrarightists with connections to soccer clubs, etc.

Essentially, they are extreme fans (ultras) of the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer club, former members of the “K-soce team” associated with the Auteuil and Karsud factions of fans, with ties to the radical fringe associated with the Boulogne bleachers. Besides, according to an expert in this milieu, the reference to the culture of soccer fans is transparent, “since the word ‘firm’ in this context is a codeword among extreme soccer hooligans which brings to mind the Inter City Firm,” the first group of English soccer hooligans.

So you get the idea. This outfit sends 30 or 40 of its members to a mass protest against Israeli brutality in order to fight with the Jewish Defense League, just as if it were a rival soccer fan club. The resulting publicity is exactly what the Zionists seek, namely to smear the protests as anti-Semitic especially when the Gaza Firm people yell things like “kill the Jews” when they are brawling in the streets.

Whenever I run into actions such as this that function to undermine the mass movement, I conclude that it makes little difference whether they are the result of agent provocateurs or the stupidity of those carrying them out. There is no question in my mind that the cops and the Zionists need the Gaza Firm to help tarnish the real opposition. If some Arab joins their ranks because he is a Dieudonné fan who is genuinely enraged by the attack on Gaza, it makes little difference. His actions only serves to legitimate further attacks by turning the victim into a criminal.

With all proportions guarded, Gaza Firm operates after the fashion of the Black Bloc that puts its own testosterone-laden imperatives over those of the majority. Mass demonstrations, especially those organized around issues not yet embraced by the overwhelming majority such as the case of Palestine, have to present a serious and disciplined image to the rest of society. Anything that cuts against that goal is counter-revolutionary. Period.

Richard also made available two articles that appeared originally on Le Monde Diplomatique. The first is titled “France, Racism is Indivisible” and is written by Dominque Vidal. I found it very useful since it helped me understand that anti-Semitism is on the rise in France even if a Kristallnacht is not in the offing. Violent attacks are on the upswing as the article documents but unfortunately appear to be inspired by young and disaffected Muslim identification with the Palestinians:

Who attacked Jewish schools and synagogues, as well as individual Jews? The CNCDH report quotes the police intelligence service view that the second intifada and consequent repression have “led many young people to identify openly with the Palestinian fighters, who are seen as symbolising the same exclusion which they consider themselves to suffer in France”.

So France is facing neither Alain Finkielkraut’s threatened Kristallnacht nor the “new Judaeophobia” denounced by Pierre-André Taguieff (21), but is confronted with the rising tide of social violence diagnosed by Théo Klein. Its breeding grounds are the miserable ghettoes of the unemployed, where entire sections of French youth, especially those of immigrant origin, vegetate without hope for the future. Racism and anti-semitism, especially its violent expression, must be fought there as in the rest of French society. But the problem must also be tackled at its roots, which is why it is important to have an alliance between traditional democratic forces, alternative-world activists and the autonomous movements of the young in disadvantaged suburbs.

The other article that is a must-read is titled “The online politics of Alain Soral”, written by Evelyne Pieiller. Soral is described in the subhead as ‘Leftwing on labour but rightwing values’. It starts off:

Visitors to Alain Soral’s Egalité et Réconciliation (Equality and Reconciliation, E & R) website see pictures of Hugo Chávez, Che Guevara, Muammar Gaddafi, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin on the left of the masthead. Joan of Arc and Soral are on the right. The site, with its motto “leftwing on labour, but rightwing values”, is France’s 269th most popular, a few places behind the TV magazine Télérama.

The juxtaposition of Guevara and Putin, of Chávez and rightwing values is a sign of the confused political times. The big questions are, who stands for what and what does it mean to be on the right or left?

Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 3.06.17 PMAlain Soral website

That, of course, is consistent with the developing trend in Europe that unites Putin with Le Pen’s party in France, Jobbik in Hungary, and the Golden Dawn in Greece. All these groups are united in the belief that the EU is designed to ruin the working and middle classes, as well as a call for “traditional values” on homosexuality and the precious bodily fluids of the Nation, as General Jack D. Ripper put it in “Doctor Strangelove”.

What Soral amounts to is the French equivalent of the “right-left” alliance that people like John V. Walsh have been calling for in the USA. Pieiller writes:

His talks appeal to key emotions and ideas: a feeling of powerlessness about globalisation and France’s loss of autonomy under EU law; worries about economic and social decline; the malaise caused by modernity; the difficulty of conceiving a different future. He highlights the need to fight globalism, as “an ideological project that aims to create a global government and dissolve nation states on the pretext of universal peace; this will be achieved through the complete commodification of humanity” (3). To Soral globalism means “oligarchic domination”, which disregards popular sovereignty and underpins the myth of market omnipotence, “as though that were not a political phenomenon, created by power and class relations”. The granting of specific rights to “oppressed minorities” replaces collective social advances and leads to the fragmentation of society, which risks civil war. He believes the evidence for this is the racialist interpretation of social relations: “indigenous French” against “Arabs”, at the lowest echelon of society, rather than labour against capital. One result of this is that Muslims are scapegoated.

That young Arabs and Muslims can find themselves being led around by the nose by human garbage like Alain Soral and Dieudonné should be a clarion call for a return to class politics.

Over the past decade or so there has been a gathering of forces internationally that speaks in the name of the left as “anti-imperialists” that is marching more or less under the same banner as the ultraright. With a fixation on “national sovereignty” as the last bastion against “globalism”, you will sooner or later end up in bed with Rand Paul, Pat Buchanan and the like.

Just compare what Diana Johnstone said about Marine Le Pen, and what John V. Walsh said about Ron Paul to get an idea of the dry rot that is sinking in:

Johnstone :

Among the leading candidates, the only clear anti-war policy is that of Marine Le Pen, who favors immediate withdrawal from both Afghanistan and the NATO command, describes the current French government policy of supporting the Syrian opposition as “totally irresponsible”, calls for recognition of a Palestinian State and opposes threats to bomb Iranian nuclear sites, which have not been proven to be military. And she adds: “As far as I know, no nation which has atomic weapons has ever asked for permission from anyone, neither the United States, nor France, nor Israel, nor Pakistan… Must we then plunge the world into a war whose extent we will not control because certain foreign counties ask us to?”


The Left has complained for decades that it is unable to reach much of the American public with a message of peace. In large part that is due to a cultural gap – the “progressive” Left does not speak in the same language as much of the country. Nor does the Left share the same worldview as many Americans. Ron Paul does, and he can reach, in fact, has reached these people with a solid anti-intervention message. Paul does not ask that his base change its worldview but simply to understand that anti-interventionism is a consistent part of that view. Paul speaks in straightforward terms. Let us stop poking our nose into other nations’ business and stop wasting our money doing so. He reaches people never before touched by an anti-war message. How can the Left pass up the chance to help such a candidate?

At the risk of sounding platudinous, isn’t it about time that the left returned to class? After all, that is what Karl Marx was all about. This is especially important in a time of rising class tensions when some demagogues will try to exploit ethnic or religious differences in order to weaken us and strengthen the ruling class. We went through this in the 1920s and 30s and there’s no need to go through this again, especially with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons scattered around the globe.

An addendum to “Before there was Steven Salaita”

Filed under: Academia,repression,zionism — louisproyect @ 12:58 pm

This is an eye-opening report on how the Israel lobby tried to witch-hunt William I. Robinson out of the academy:

As Repression Escalates on US Campuses, an Account of My Ordeal With the Israel Lobby and UC

Sunday, 17 August 2014 00:00By William I Robinson, Truthout | News Analysis


A building in Rafah destroyed by the Israelis during Israel's assault on Gaza in January, 2009. Shortly after Israel concluded its month-long Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Professor William Robinson was targeted for repression for including material critical of Israel in his course materials.

A building in Rafah destroyed by the Israelis during Israel’s assault on Gaza in January, 2009. Shortly after Israel concluded its month-long Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Professor William Robinson was targeted for repression for including material critical of Israel in his course materials. (Photo:International Solidarity Movement)

Professor William Robinson of UCSB was the target of a campaign of intimidation, silencing, and political repression that included techniques described in the “Hasbara handbook” by the Israel lobby in contravention of academic freedom and university rules. He describes the experience here.

The latest Israeli carnage in Gaza has provoked worldwide condemnation of Israel for its continued war crimes and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. In response, the Israeli state and its allies and agents are stepping up campaigns of intimidation, silencing, and political repression against opponents of its policies. Israel may continue to win military battles – after all, it has the fifth most powerful military on the planet – but it is losing the war for legitimacy. In the wake of its bloody attacks on schools, hospitals and United Nations refugee centers in Gaza, support has intensified around the world for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The BDS campaign in the United States has taken off, above all, on university campuses, which is why the Israel lobby is so intent on targeting academia.

Five years ago, I was attacked by the Israel lobby in the United States, led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and nearly run from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), where I work as a professor of sociology, global and Latin American studies. The campaign against me lasted some six months and garnered worldwide attention, but I am hardly alone. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of professors and student groups have been harassed and persecuted for speaking out against Israeli occupation and apartheid and in support of the Palestinian struggle. Some of these cases have been high profile in the media and others have gone relatively unknown. The latest victim, Steven Salaita, a respected scholar and professor of English literature and American Indian Studies, was fired in August from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for denouncing on social media the most recent Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

read full article

An Israeli soldier rejects the Zionist agenda

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 11:32 am

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