Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 11, 2014

My list of the 100 greatest films

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 12:18 pm

A while back Jeff St. Clair asked some CounterPunch contributors for a list of what they considered to be the 100 greatest films of all time. I put this together pretty much off the top of my head and not in preferential order. I would say that those that came to mind first probably rate the highest, particularly “Sansho the Bailiff”, which I consider the greatest film ever made. Have you seen it? If not, put it on your bucket list. I saw it in 1961 and it has haunted me ever since. I notice, btw, that there were 101 ilms in my list–I am not sure why. In any case, you can take these to the bank.

  1. Sansho the Bailiff
  2. Weekend
  3. Seven Samurai
  4. Battle of Algiers
  5. Wages of Fear
  6. Dr. Strangelove
  7. Battleship Potemkin
  8. Berlin Alexanderplatz
  9. Jules and Jim
  10. Chinatown
  11. Modern Times
  12. Metropolis
  13. Napoleon
  14. Lola Montes
  15. Lonely are the Brave
  16. Tokyo Story
  17. The Wind Will Carry Us
  18. Godfather, part 2
  19. L’Atalante
  20. Salt of the Earth
  21. On the Waterfront
  22. Los Olvidados
  23. Bad Day at Black Rock
  24. Princess Mononoke
  25. Peppermint Candy
  26. The Shining
  27. Hari Kiri (the original)
  28. The Grapes of Wrath
  29. Nothing But a Man
  30. Sherlock Jr.
  31. Psycho
  32. The Seventh Seal
  33. Annie Hall
  34. Reds
  35. The Leopard
  36. L’Avventura
  37. Winter Sleep
  38. Yol
  39. Camp de Thiaroye
  40. The Sting
  41. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
  42. A Walk in the Sun
  43. Not One Less
  44. Pather Panchali
  45. Yojimbo
  46. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
  47. Sunset Boulevard
  48. Sullivan’s Travels
  49. La Dolce Vita
  50. Morgan!
  51. Heaven’s Gate
  52. The Grand Illusion
  53. Zero for Conduct
  54. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  55. Contempt
  56. Way Out West
  57. Some Like it Hot
  58. Seven Days of the Condor
  59. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  60. A Night at the Opera
  61. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
  62. One-Eyed Jacks
  63. Nuts in May
  64. Pat and Mike
  65. Tell Them Willie Boy is Here
  66. Gun Crazy
  67. Breathless
  68. Riff-Raff
  69. The Palm Beach Story
  70. The Singing Detective
  71. Bob Le Flambeur
  72. A Better Tomorrow
  73. Johnny Guitar
  74. Rififi
  75. Kanal
  76. The Bicycle Thief
  77. Ikiru
  78. Hearts and Minds
  79. How to Train Your Dragon
  80. Open City
  81. 1900
  82. Crimson Gold
  83. In the Year of the Pig
  84. The Wide Blue Road
  85. Ceddo
  86. The African Queen
  87. Army of Shadows
  88. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
  89. Shoot the Piano Player
  90. Au Hasard Balthazar
  91. The Harder They Come
  92. Strangers on a Train
  93. From Here to Eternity
  94. A Streetcar Named Desire
  95. Memories of Underdevelopment
  96. Z
  97. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  98. A Separation
  99. The White Balloon
  100. Wild Strawberries
  101. Andrei Rublev

December 10, 2014

Winter Sleep

Filed under: Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 5:07 pm

For regular readers of my film reviews, you are probably aware that I have referred to Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan as one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. After seeing “Winter Sleep” (Kış Uykusu) yesterday, I am ready to upgrade him to the greatest filmmaker today, the only one that can be compared to the masters I encountered in the early 60s: Godard, Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, et al. Unlike any film I have seen in recent years, “Winter Sleep” is as complex and as literary as the classics of a bygone era. In many ways, it is the Turkish equivalent of a Chekhov play with the added visual dimension of the mind-bending landscapes of Cappadocia, the ancient region in Anatolia where houses and temples were carved into the mountains.

Most of the action in “Winter Sleep” takes place in the Hotel Othello, one of the Cappadocian dwellings that grow out of a cliff like a mushroom from a tree. Since the film is a meditation on good and evil, the hotel is named appropriately. Aydin, its owner, is a member of the local village’s elite. He inherited the hotel from his father and a number of the rental properties that poor villagers struggle to afford. Despite the reputation of Turkey’s supposedly booming economy and the governing AKP’s charitable beneficence, it had a GINI coefficient in 2012 only 2 points more equitable than El Salvador’s.

In an early scene, Aydin (played by Haluk Bilginer, a veteran of 55 films) is in the front seat of his hotel’s SUV being driven back to the Othello from the nearby village by his driver/desk clerk Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), when out of nowhere a rock crashes into the car’s window nearly forcing it to veer off the road and into a serious accident. The assailant is a young boy who Hidayet pursues and finally captures.

They then take the captive youth back to his meager home, one of Haydin’s rental properties, where they meet his father and uncle and soon learn that the boy threw the rock because the family—5 people crowded into 3 small rooms—has just lost their television to the debt collectors Aydin’s lawyer sicced on them. For the rural poor, a television is one of the few pleasures that they can count on.

Ismail, the boy’s father, is in no position to pay the back rent, let alone the broken window. We will eventually learn that he is an ex-convict who cannot find work. As Aydin and Hidayet are setting down the terms for repairing the broken window, Ismail smashes his fist into his own window and barks at the two men: Now, we are even.

Despite and perhaps because of Aydin’s efforts to remain calm and affect a lofty and patient attitude, Ismail reaches the boiling point and tries to physically attack his landlord and driver until the uncle, a man called Hamdi hodja (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç), separates them. Hamdi is everything that Ismail is not, a perpetually smiling and subservient sort used to bowing before the wealthy and the powerful. A few days after the confrontation, he brings his nephew to the hotel to beg forgiveness and have him kiss Aydin’s right hand, a ritual act in Turkey’s Anatolian hinterlands. Sick from pneumonia, the boy collapses in the act.

Aydin lives in an aesthetic cocoon as remote from Ismail’s world as the ex-convict is from his. He spends his days in his study writing articles for the local newspaper on the need to “improve” the local village spiritually and ethically. His writings are laced with platitudes and betray a Pecksniffian sense of his own superiority.

There are two women in Aydin’s life, both very much tuned in to his arrogance and sterility. One is his sister Necla (Demet Akbag), just a few years younger than him, and the other is his wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) who is about half his age and lives in her own quarters at the hotel. In the earliest scenes between Aydin and them, there are signs of friction but barely anticipate the dramatically explosive scenes in which the two confront him over his failings as a human being that are implicitly connected to his class status. Although not a political director/screenwriter in the narrow sense, Nuri Bilge Ceylan is about as clear as one can be on such matters without descending into propaganda.

In much the same way as Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”, this is a tale about the futility of the lives of the rich and the poor alike. In its monomaniacal determination to preserve its class status, the Aydins of the world are impoverishing themselves spiritually and ethically.

“Winter Sleep” won the prestigious Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It opens at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema in New York on December 19th. Running at over three hours, it is a throwback to the epic films of the 1960s, especially those Marxist films that depicted the same sort of class divisions such as Bertolucci’s “1900”. Among all the films being made today, it is a testament that the Grand Tradition is still alive, even if the terrain has shifted eastward. Ceylan is a gifted dramatist and cinematographer with a unique vision of the crisis we face today in a world that is divided between Aydins and Ismails. Despite its narrow focus on a small group of people, it is a story that reflects the greater drama involving billions today. It is a masterpiece in my opinion, a word I do not use lightly.

December 9, 2014

Reflections on The New Republic shake-up

Filed under: journalism — louisproyect @ 4:10 pm

Martin Peretz in the early 70s, just before he bought The New Republic with his wive’s millions

Back in late 1987 I got a Bard College alumni newsletter informing me that Leon Botstein had added Martin Peretz to the board of trustees. Up until that point I had been a Botstein supporter but this announcement left me feeling betrayed. I wrote Leon a letter calling attention to the New Republic’s support for contra funding. As president of the board of Tecnica, a solidarity organization that recruited volunteers to work in Nicaragua, I pointed out that his editorials had led to the destruction of Nicaraguan schools.

Of course, Botstein made a shrewd decision in recruiting Peretz. His deep pockets would not only help keep the New Republic afloat; they would also help facilitate Botstein’s empire-building ambitions. As is the norm in American society, everything has a price tag—including liberal magazines and colleges. Peretz’s millions allowed him to turn the New Republic into a neoconservative outlet on foreign policy and a neoliberal one on domestic policy. They also gave Botstein the power he needed to help Bard College shake its reputation as “the little Red whorehouse on the Hudson”, as red-baiting gossip columnist Walter Winchell once put it—the very reason I am grateful for the education I received there in the early 60s.

For most of the twentieth century, The New Republic (TNR) and The Nation magazines were the lodestones of American liberalism. I have written about The Nation in the past but virtually nothing about TNR, mostly as a function of so few people having illusions that it spoke for American liberalism after Peretz’s takeover in 1974.

For all those upset with Chris Hughes buying the magazine and turning it into his personal toy, they obviously are not aware that this exactly what happened in 1974 when Peretz fired a bunch of people who were deemed obstacles to his rightwing turn.

When Peretz took over, the editor was Gilbert Harrison, whose politics were much more like those of The Nation. In 1968, Harrison ran editorials backing Eugene McCarthy for president rather than the warmongering Hubert H. Humphrey and even called for the creation of a new political party to be headed by McCarthy. In the early 1970s, there were people like Walter Pincus writing about Watergate and Stanley Karnow on foreign policy. That outlook resonated with an American public fed up with the status quo, so much so that the magazine’s circulation rose to about 100,000. It was a weekly at the time. Now that it is a biweekly, the circulation is only about a half.

That obviously reflects the public’s distaste for a magazine that promotes imperialist war abroad and austerity at home. In order for Peretz to force such an agenda on the magazine, heads had to roll—starting with the illustrious Gilbert Harrison who had refused to publish the articles that Peretz had submitted. He was the first to go. As the wretched Eric Alterman wrote, this caused the same kind of rebellion that Chris Hughes now faces:

Much of the staff, which then included Walter Pincus, Stanley Karnow, and Doris Grumbach, was either fired or chose to resign. The staffers were largely replaced by young men fresh out of Harvard, with plenty of talent but few journalistic credentials and little sense of the magazine’s place in the history of liberalism.

The New Republic’s new editor became notorious after announcing that he intended to “break stuff”. I doubt that he will do anything much different than what Peretz did after taking over. After all, as A.J. Liebling once said, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

Out of curiosity, I decided to browse through back issues of TNR, courtesy of my Columbia University paywall privileges, to see the route it has taken since being founded in 1914 by Herbert Croly, Walter Weyl and Walter Lippmann. Lippmann, a principled liberal at the time, projected the magazine as an alternative to the NY Times, which he would view three years hence as writing biased attacks on the USSR. Like Lippmann, Weyl and Croly were public intellectuals associated with the Progressive movement. In order to put their ideas into practice, they needed someone with deep pockets to help launch the new magazine. That came from Willard Straight, the husband of Dorothy Whitney who inherited a fortune from her father William, a scion of the Whitney clan whose wealth came from steel, banking and steamships. This was pretty much how the Nation got started as well, from generous contributions from Henry Villard, a railroad robber baron.

In the very first issue, published on November 7, 2014, there’s a lengthy editorial defining the orientation and goals of TNR. In a sign that not much has changed in the last century, it includes a pitch for the minimum wage:

Screen shot 2014-12-09 at 10.14.28 AM

Skipping ahead a few years to 1920, we discover a critique of NY Times coverage of the civil war in Russia that was very likely written by Walter Lippmann, given his unhappiness with the newspaper’s bias. In terms of things not changing much over a hundred years, this is the same complaint aired today in places like CounterPunch or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Screen shot 2014-12-09 at 10.18.53 AM

To its credit, TNR published a number of articles by Leon Trotsky in the 1930s. While the magazine was home to Stalin apologists like Walter Duranty and Malcolm Cowley, it was even-handed enough to publish Trotsky, who was persona non grata in New Deal circles.

I suppose that when one hand giveth, the other taketh away. On March 23, 1938 Heywood Broun wrote an attack on Trotsky that was about as slippery and mendacious as they come. Broun, by the way, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table in the 1930s and close friends with the Marx brothers. Maybe his article was a Roland Boer type joke. Who knows?

Screen shot 2014-12-09 at 10.32.12 AM

Finally, moving ahead to the 1960s, we end on a high note. Among those writing for TNR was Andrew Kopkind, a reporter that Alexander Cockburn once described as “the greatest journalist of his time”. The author of dozens of articles, Kopkind was a sharp critic of American society and a brilliant writer.

Screen shot 2014-12-09 at 10.55.34 AM

I shared that excerpt from Kopkind’s article on the first antiwar demonstration back in 1965 not so much because I agree with his analysis but because it reflects an outlook widespread on the left, namely that the SWP was not entirely open and transparent about its intervention in a movement that shook America to its foundations. I’d like to think that if someone more amenable to Kopkind’s approach were now in charge of TNR, it would be worth a subscription as Greg Grandin advised Nation magazine readers. Maybe so, I’ll just have to wait and see.


Who says old school New York leftism is dead?!

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 1:38 am

Over the weekend kudos sprang forth from the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Online, which includes writers from such delightfully varied publications as the New York Observer, BET.com, SpiritualityandPractice.com and, the Bagger’s favorite, theUnrepentantMarxist.com. Who says old school New York leftism is dead?!

full: http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/for-best-actor-and-actress-no-consensus-among-critics-groups/

December 8, 2014

A response to an Ellen Meiksins Wood article in Jacobin

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 1:12 pm

Ellen Meiksins Wood

In a New Left Review interview with Bhaskar Sunkara, the 25-year-old founder of Jacobin magazine, we learn that the contributors are drawn partially from a pool of “grad students, young adjunct professors or tenured professors”. That being the case, I wonder what they make of a 4700 word article by Ellen Meiksins Wood that appears on the Jacobin website titled “Capitalism’s Gravediggers”. Despite its focus on ostensibly economic matters, it is distinguished by a breathtaking lack of economic data. I wonder if any of those “young adjunct professors” would have the brass to submit an article to a JSTOR type journal so bereft of evidence unless of course it was targeted to those categorized as philosophy.

I should add this is not the first time I have noticed such an absence from Wood. She seems to be allergic to statistics, an odd disorder for one specializing in political economy.

This article, which has appeared in various permutations over the years, tends to make assertions such as this:

A substantial class of English agricultural producers, mainly tenant farmers, had emerged on the ruins of the peasantry, which had seen its land expropriated. Separated from their means of subsistence, these agrarian capitalists were dependent on the market, and whatever their own consumption needs, were therefore required to meet those imperatives.

You would think that Wood might have taken the trouble to substantiate the claim that market relations were unique to the period in question since it is not only the basis for British exceptionalism but the “big bang” that got the capitalist system going. Without tenant farming based on short-term leases—literally—there would be no industrial revolution, no imperialism, and no commercials for auto insurance 5 times an hour on prime-time television.

By contrast, I just read a 65-page article by Eric Mielants titled “Perspectives on the Origins of Merchant Capitalism in Europe” that appeared in the Fall 2000 Review, a journal put out by the Fernand Braudel Center. Mielants, a critic of the Brenner thesis, writes:

After investigating data available in the Domesday book, the economic historian Snooks estimates that 40% of the economy in eleventh-century England was involved in market activities (the market being the sector where “all the major economic decisions in England were made”) and 60% in subsistence.

Mielants adds in a footnote: “Snooks estimates that 32.3 % of the English market sector in 1086 was rural and 7.8% was urban, hereby arriving at a total of 40.1% (1995: 40).” And that’s a good three centuries before Brenner’s big bang occurred. You would have had to assume that market relations only deepened over three centuries but prior to the introduction of tenant farming.

I should add that the References section (see below) of Mielants’s article is 19 pages long. Given what I have seen in the article, I am positive that he has immersed himself in this material over his relatively brief career. That is what I call scholarship as opposed to the sort of vaporous theorizing that Ellen Meiksins Woods is so good at.

Screen shot 2014-12-08 at 6.51.05 AM

In the 33 articles I have written about the Brenner thesis (aka Political Marxism) over the years, I have tried to be scrupulous about providing evidence even though my articles were written for popular consumption on the Internet. For example, in an article titled “British Farming and Market Imperatives”, I wrote:

Colin Duncan’s “The Centrality of Agriculture” contains an excellent discussion of these issues in chapter 2, titled “Agriculture Privileged and Benign: English Capitalism in its Light-Industrial Prime”. Duncan agrees with Brenner that there was a profound change in property relations in the British countryside, but challenges the idea that this had much to do with “the maximization of exchange value by means of cost-cutting and improving productivity, by specialization, accumulation, and innovation,” to use Ellen Meiksins Wood’s words. Paradoxically, the “improvements” found in British farming in the pre-Industrial Revolution period involve greater costs and thorough defiance of market mechanisms.

To start with, British tenant farming in the “classical” period is marked by very long leases, up to 21 years. Long leases encouraged experiments with “improvement”, such as crop rotation, etc. The tenant farmer was expected to provide most of the capital for such ventures and could only be assured of staying profitable through a long-term lease. Capitalist logic, of course, would favor short-term leases since they tend to be more responsive to market fluctuations.

Such long-term leases were necessary for the tenant farmer to implement crop rotation cycles which often spanned 20 years. During a long cycle, it was not unusual for 2/3rds of the land to be allocated to grass, which had no commercial value but could be used to re-enrich the soil. Farm animals ate the grass and then supplied the manure that could be used to fertilize the crops. Colin Duncan writes:

Interestingly, and rather embarrassingly for Brenner, many of these new farming practices were very costly and did not allow labour to be shed, as [Keith] Tribe has recently re-emphasized [in ‘Genealogies of Capitalism.’] Rather, they often required additional labour inputs, and in large quantities. Clearly such improvements do not fit the pattern of industrial labour-saving technology so characteristic of our current economics and anachronistically posited by Brenner as a hallmark of early modern farming in England.

It might be useful to see how Karl Marx wrote about these issues in volume one of Capital. In chapter 29, titled “The Genesis of the Capitalist Farmer”, he supports his arguments with three rather meaty footnotes and that was not even to cover his ass if he intended to submit it for peer review.

Marx’s main interest in fact is the impact it had on the creation of dispossessed farmers now available for wage labor. In the preceding chapter (“Bloody Legislation Against the Expropriated, from the End of the 15th Century. Forcing Down of Wages by Acts of Parliament”), he hones in on this:

A tariff of wages was fixed by law for town and country, for piece work and day work. The agricultural labourers were to hire themselves out by the year, the town ones “in open market.” It was forbidden, under pain of imprisonment, to pay higher wages than those fixed by the statute, but the taking of higher wages was more severely punished than the giving them. [So also in Sections 18 and 19 of the Statute of Apprentices of Elizabeth, ten days’ imprisonment is decreed for him that pays the higher wages, but twenty-one days for him that receives them.]

Compare this description of the conditions facing the dispossessed with Woods’s assertion about the primacy of market relations: “Capitalism is a system in which all major economic actors are dependent on the market for their basic requirements of life.” That is true to some extent. The lash of the market coerces modern workers to accept minimum wages and to work in unsafe conditions. If you are a high school dropout, that’s what the market dictates. But in the early stages of capitalism, it was not the market that ruled. It was “extra-economic” forces that set wages. Leaving aside the debate with the “Political Marxists” over the exact nature of chattel slavery, we should never forget that the 16th century worker was literally forced by the gun to accept a below-market wage.

In chapter 30, titled “Reaction of the Agricultural Revolution on Industry. Creation of the Home-Market for Industrial Capital”, Marx acknowledges that the emergence of large-scale farming brought about improvements: “the soil brought forth as much or more produce, after as before, because the revolution in the conditions of landed property was accompanied by improved methods of culture, greater co-operation, concentration of the means of production.”

However, the real breakthrough was the creation of a class of wage workers who could now be made available for industry: “The peasant, expropriated and cast adrift, must buy their value in the form of wages, from his new master, the industrial capitalist. That which holds good of the means of subsistence holds with the raw materials of industry dependent upon home agriculture. They were transformed into an element of constant capital.“

If according to Marx the creation of a proletariat was a critical element—a sine qua non in some ways—for the origins of capitalism, it is almost besides the point for Wood and Brenner. In a Monthly Review article titled “The Agrarian Origins of Capitalism”, she writes that the term “agrarian capitalism” has no role for the nascent industrial proletariat that Marx dwells upon. She says, “This requires some explanation.” I would say so.

She concurs with Marx that: “Without that dispossessed non-agrarian work force, there would have been no mass consumer market for the cheap everyday goods—such as food and textiles—that drove the process of industrialization in England.”

But what separates Marx from Wood and Brenner was his laser-like focus on the evolution of the modern industrial system out of the handicrafts and manufacturing that preceded it historically. Chapter 15 of Capital is titled “Machinery and Modern Industry”. It puts this process under a microscope. While Britain always had a textile sector, it was only through the simultaneous development of labor-saving devices, including the windmills and watermills that could drive machinery, that the industrial revolution became possible. Wageworkers driven from their land became part of the early manufacturing system that eventually turned into the modern factory system.

To make such a transformation complete, capital was needed. A primitive accumulation that swept the self-sustaining farmer off his land was accompanied by another form of primitive accumulation that yielded the financial wherewithal to create the factories where they toiled. As the ultimate rebuttal to Political Marxism, Marx made it clear where the capital came from in chapter 31, titled appropriately enough “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”. None of it was based on market relations. It was based on the gun and the ball-and-chain, the ultimate forms of “extra-economic” coercion that made all the rest possible. This was the real big bang, not lease farming in the 15th century British countryside:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.

The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.


December 7, 2014

Richard Greener talks about James Brown

Filed under: african-american,music — louisproyect @ 5:00 pm

My old friend Richard Greener was a business associate of James Brown for many years. In this interview we compare notes on the great rhythm and blues musician prompted by my review of Alex Gibney’s documentary “Mr. Dynamite” and the feature film “Get on Up” in CounterPunch.

Pablo Iglesias on the working class

Filed under: Podemos — louisproyect @ 11:17 am

The leader of Podemos says in 7 minutes and 20 seconds what I have been trying to say for the past 30 years. That his party has been polling ahead of the bourgeois parties in Spain gives me hope for the future.


December 6, 2014

Rapunzel and the Imp

Filed under: Jeffrey Marlin — louisproyect @ 3:15 pm


(This is the last in a series of guest posts from Jeffrey Marlin whose e-books, including this one, are available from Amazon.com. )

Rapunzel’s tale of woe and redemption begins many decades before her birth, with the story of her adoptive mother, that overly protective soul who locked her away in a lonely tower along with her fabled long hair. Although born to the lowest of families in an undistinguished place, Rapunzel’s unnatural mother displayed from early infancy a saintly inclination. Her kindness lit the darkness and elevated the town. But as often happens, her shimmering Goodness offended the unseen creatures who live to degrade us all. Unfortunately, such situations rarely turn out well, as the following formative episode demonstrates clearly:

Pity the miscreant entities! They could not escape her radiance no matter how they tried. They prayed to their devilish icons for reassignment. But this was not to be ‘til the end of time. Or so the demons were told. Here they were ordered to stay and make do, creating their mischief as best they could.

As we are children of Heaven, they are no more than slaves.

Yet even slaves may finally run out of patience.

So it was that one rainy night the unseen community gathered in the depths of a forest favored by the lowest of mortal creatures. Here they wailed a petition to the rulers of their kind, the ones who watch the world from its churning core. The sound of their grievance frightened spiders and foxes the size of lions. It chilled the earth and froze the eggs of owls in their nests. It made its way to the heart of town and caused a thousand nightmares.

And it must have impressed The Devil himself because here came an Ancient Deputy to offer them advice. These little creatures had been so long at work among human beings, pulling their tricks on the innocent, tugging beards and tickling wives, planting false recollections to sow confusion, they hardly remembered their origin under the surface, where all were born from a womb of boiling stone. They didn’t remember the faces of their rulers.

The great one’s appearance gave them a shock. Grossly disjointed features swam in a mass of fire. Was that lump of mysterious substance a kind of nose? That cavity a mouth? Were those oily pits of blackness supposed to be eyes? Those raggedy flaps two ears? Everything changed so fast they could not tell. The visitor swam in the air supported by leathery wings embellished by fur and blisters. Pustules covered his body. That was how the natural world portrayed him, assigning features devised of molecular structures. This was not his wish. But even the eldest and strongest of them cannot deny the rule of natural law, leastways not when they venture above the ground. And nature insists on painting them as She sees them.

The lesser demons haunting the town had long accepted their pointed heads, feet reminiscent of ducks and dragons, two or three navels, teeth like beavers, crocodile jaws, monstrous chins, protruding eyes and bellies. Some had beards on their noses and elbows and shoulders. Warts were widely distributed as were beaks. They could not cast reflections so they never saw themselves, relying on their fellows for description.

The ancient one would never achieve a durable earthly shape. He did not intend to stay for cakes and coffee. He wasn’t there to show himself off. Once his petitioners doused their fear, none of them cared a sniff what the Deputy looked like.

Without so much as an invitation, they vocalized their complaints.

The first to speak was a female imp who specialized in vanity. Her scraggly hair held the hues of a tropical parrot. Her narrow lips were red and blue. Her eyes were green and orange. She spoke with the nagging voice of a rusty gate.

“Great Father,” she called him, not knowing any better. “From the moment the child acquired wits I laid myself against her very eardrum. I rhapsodized on her beauty. ‘Come,’ I said, ‘Open your eyes and take a bite of pride. Behold the moon in the mirror. Demand extravagant favors. Spite any who refuse you.’”

This parody of the female gender continued: “What good did it do me? I ask you! Where I’m concerned she’s deaf as a stillborn lamb, and we have plenty of those. Father, I did not always sound this way. It happened from screaming incessantly in her ear.”

“In other words you failed,” said the fiery presence.

“I’m not the only one.”

The burning face said nothing more. It’s writhing features continued to twist. The Deputy twitched his crumbling wings, never moving a jot from his place in the air.

The demon that wore the face of lust spoke next from a higher branch of the selfsame tree. Suave and self-assured, it pretty much ruled the roost. Why not? Of all the disgraces encumbering human beings, which dread weakness spawns as much trouble as that which we share with goats of the field and monkeys that live in trees? When the tightened lip will not gossip, the fist refuses to clench, the urge to mayhem falls asleep, it’s lust that keeps the Devil’s agenda moving. It’s lust when all else fails.

And here was the certain master, a robust imp with swelling organs native to both persuasions, a mouth of teeth constructed of sugar, a voice like a humming cello. Not that some others didn’t attempt to manipulate sexual urges. But few of them had the knack.

Many were prone to embroidering, injecting flowery phrases no one wants to hear. Others rushed the progress, causing irritation. A few infected their victims with lack of nerve, reflecting their own confusion. Leading to what conclusion? Participants walked away from the assignation. Another sin was avoided, a lesson learned. Next time, behind the church or in the cornfield, there would be hesitation. Such failures delay humanity’s promised extinction. Demons who cook up defeats like this face the stinging disapproval of their kind.

It happens more often than you might think.

But not to our present speaker. This little expert boasted, “I hook one fish for every three lines cast. And you can be sure when I catch one, the fish stays good and caught. I love to watch them wriggle. I thrive on their dissipation.”

No exaggeration. This one imp accounted for half the misery experienced within the borders of the town for the past three hundred years, since it first got the hang of doing things just so. Proud? Perhaps. But we cannot deny the monster knew its business.

Self-pity rules the devil’s unseen creatures. The Imp of Lust put its own on full display. “Great Father,” it moaned, “I glut her brain with images of the most fantastic design. Night after night I flood her mind with adventures. The pleasures with which I assail her brain give normal girls a fever. This dreamer mistakes it for comedy, the height of all ridiculousness. She giggles in her sleep. This is a first for me.

“I also inspire the best looking boys to stare at her suggestively, with fire in their eyes. Sooner or later this kind of thing always works. But Flora confounds my efforts, taking those smoky glances for simple affection and leaving my helpless pawns to suffer the shame of swollen parts and inner abnegation. Holy men with long gray beards jump to the snap of my fingers. Most of them cannot wait. They prey on young and old. But this one drains my strength and scars my reputation. Maybe she is a juvenile witch gone bad.”

The little fiend subsided with another suggestive moan.

So it continued throughout the night, each of the unclean chorus adding a tale of woe and humiliation. A heavenly angel might well have wept at the sight their desolation. At last the ancient visitor thrust a burning finger downward, indicating the base of the blackened tree these spirits infested. He singled out the only member who had not spoken yet. This was a tiny specimen, all fidgets and twitches and gestures of nervousness, little more than a mass of wrinkles with seven spindly fingers on each of his shrunken hands. He shook with terror feeling the gaze upon him.

“Who is this?” came the great one’s voice.

“I am the Imp of Obsession,” was the barely whispered reply.

“How do you earn your living?”

“I busy myself with the holy men who waste their lives on scripture. I drive them to look for meaning where there is none. I also torment cows and goats by goading their masters to milk them when they are dry, often leading to ulceration, sometimes even infection. Thus, I do my humble best to bring about the end of the human epoch through damnation. I strive thereby for our own emancipation.”

“But have you tried your hand with little Flora?”

The Imp of Obsession steadied his head, fought to quell his stammer, spoke with the sound of a woodpecker striking wood: “Who am I to attempt to accomplish what lust and rage and vanity could not do? Who am I to apply my skills where pride and naked avarice bit the dust? The child is immune to envy, impervious to deceit. My wretched gifts do not compare. I lack the unholy presumption. In short, Great Father, my honest answer is no.”

Who can imagine the sound of Satanic laughter? Which of us wants to try? The reader must make that decision. But understand that whatever its sound, Satanic laughter bent the trees and the beasts that remained the forest departed in haste.


Syria: Top 12 Essential Articles

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:01 pm

Syria: Top 12 Essential Articles


The Top 12 list is the result of a poll, which was presented in several media collectives working on Syria.
The “Further Reading” list below contains the articles that didn’t make the top 12. We encourage you to read all of them to gain a better understanding of the situation in Syria.

1. Syrian rebels overwhelmingly condemn US bombing as an attack on revolution

By Michael Karadjis

In extraordinary developments, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan have launched a joint air war, on Syrian territory, with the full support of the Syrian tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, on the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).

What hope is there then in Syria, where the Assad regime has been far more murderous than Maliki, has wiped entire Sunni towns and cities off the map and sent millions into exile? While the US now acts as Assad’s airforce to help smash the revolution, a stabilisation of the situation will eventually require the long-term US aim of doing some deal that encourages Assad and a narrow circle around him to “step down” in order to save the Baathist regime and its military-security apparatus, and to “widen” it by allowing in some select conservative opponents into the regime. The so-called ‘Yemeni solution.’ The difficulty being that the Assad ruling family and mega-capitalist clique is so much more completely associated with the state than a mere Saleh or Mubarak ever was.

Is an attempt to crush the revolution for the regime a prelude to a plan with regime insiders and international factors to gently push Assad aside when it’s over to gain a modicum of Sunni support to replace ISIS on the ground? Like everything else, this remains to be seen, but is one of the possibilities – as is the possibility that the crushing of the revolution simply means the current regime becomes the “factor of stability” in the region.

2. an introduction to syria – its history and its present revolutionary struggles 

By yasmeen mobayed
the syrian revolution began in march 2011, after 9-15 year old kids were inspired by the uprisings in the MENA. the first protests began in dara’a, syria – several children graffitied anti-government slogans on their school wall and were taken by assad’s forces, interrogated, and tortured (they were severely beaten and their nails were removed). on march 15th, the children’s families and the community responded by protesting for the children to be returned; however, not all the children were released. this sparked the beginning of the revolution.

on friday march 18th, cities throughout syria collectively united in solidarity with dara’a, but security forces immediately responded by firing bullets on the peaceful demonstrations, killing 6 people on the very first day. after march 18th, syrians went out to protest every day (the ba’ath flag was used by demonstrators for nearly a year and a half before the independence flag that we see today was fully adopted). it’s important to note that at first the revolution’s demand was for mere reforms, but after experiencing the regime’s hostile and vicious response, the people demanded the downfall of the regime in its entirety.

3.  ‘Take Your Portion': A Victim Speaks Out About Rape in Syria 


Alma Abdulrahman’s story fits her name — alma can mean a number of things in Arabic. It can mean “dark” or “black” but it can also refer to a lush kind of tree that is a metaphor for beauty. And the horrors she describes have positioned her to become the face of powerful women survivors in Syria. She says she has fought and killed; she also says she has done it for her country. She says she has endured torture and violation but that she is “capable of standing up against oppression.” Speaking out has been a decision she has made after many months of being told to stay quiet.

“We have to share this with the entire world to show that women are fighters,” she says. “The Arab woman is very strong. All she needs is just a little freedom.”

4. The Anti-Imperialism of Fools 

By Mahmoud E.
Comrades and friends, let’s put an end to this Anti-Imperialism of fools and be principled to our ideals and not fall into supporting those who blindly back the fascist,social chauvinist and bourgeois nationalist Assad regime that is oppressing the Syrian masses we have to unite and support the syrian people’s struggle and progressive forces of Syria against the Assad regime and Imperialism whether it is US/Western Imperialism, Russian imperialism or Iranian and Arab gulf countries interventions in Syria.

5. A Friend of my Father: Iran’s Manipulation of Bashar al-Assad​  

The March 2011 uprising presented an irresistible opportunity for Iran to assert permanent dominance throughout greater Syria. Iran acted quickly, sending Secretary Jalili to Damascus just days after protesters took to the streets in Daraa. Jalili pitched the Iron Curtain plan to Bashar’s inner circle, assuring them that he knew the formula to neutralize protesters effectively. Iranian officials encouraged Assad to avoid concessions that could limit their influence over Assad’s inner circle. As the tensions evolved into armed conflict, Iran immediately sent advisors, snipers, and special forces to support Bashar. To compensate for defections from his officers, Bashar padded his loyalist camp with fighters and strategic planners from Iran and Hezbollah. Hafez spent decades protecting himself from such an incursion, but by late 2011, his son was desperate for a friend.

6. How Syria’s Assad Helped Forge ISIS 

By Simon Speakman Cordall
Mohammed Al-Saud is under no illusions. “In 2011, the majority of the current ISIS leadership was released from jail by Bashar Al Assad,” he said. “No one in the regime has ever admitted this, or explained why.” Al-Saud, a Syrian dissident with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, left Syria under threat of arrest in 2011.

Alghorani is convinced that members of ISIS were released strategically by Assad. “From the first days of the revolution (in March 2011), Assad denounced the organisation as being the work of radical Salafists, so he released the Salafists he had created in his prisons to justify the claim … If you do not have an enemy, you create an enemy.”

Fellow Syrians agree. “The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades,” a former member of the Syrian Security Services told the Abu Dhabi newspaper, the National, on condition of anonymity in January this year.

“The regime knew what these people were. It knew what they wanted and the extent of their networks. Then it released them. These are the same people who are now in Iraq,” Al-Saud added.

7. SYRIA: A reading into the new wave of European far-right and the reasons behind its support for the Syrian regime 

Originally published in Arabic on Al-Manshour 
By Hisham Al Ashqar

Translated by Laila Attar and Ubiydah Mobarak from Arabic for Tahrir-ICN

News of the visits of fascist and far-right groups to Syria, to show solidarity with the regime, have recently started to emerge, especially with the beginning of the revolutionary process in the Arab region. It seems that the Syrian issue ranks highly on the agenda of the European far-right. So, is it axiomatic to say that the majority of the European far-right supports Assad’s regime and stands against the revolution in Syria?

8.  Syrian Fascism and the Western Left  

by Nicole Gevirtz

The Ba’athist kind of, dare I say, tribal imperialism, can only rule through brutal terror and oppression. This is exacerbated when a minority rules. Sectarian animosity has been relentlessly exacerbated by the regime’s narratives and actions, not by the popular rebellion for democracy. Sectarian blackmail remains one of the last tools in Bashar’s arsenal that can still mobilize large segments of the Syrian population to support him. Every undermining of the government, no matter how slight, is seen as a challenge to the neo-Ba’athist tribal hegemony. Such a security state apparatus, by its very nature, is destined to be immersed in a bloodbath of its own making. The horrors in Syria today are absolutely comparable to the Nazi death camps, yet the American anti-Zionist Left is denying their pain while quoting Hannah Arendt. Even American pro-Palestinian organizations are describing the Syrian people as Wahabi-NATO-Zionists. Lebanese pseudo-secular hipsters and Hezbollah fanboys don´t know, or seem to care, that Iran cooperated with George W. Bush in Iraq but they use the disastrous Iraq war as an example for not intervening in Syria. They don´t even know basic facts about Syria, and as a result, Western Leftists have become pro-fascists; they are making speeches in praise of Assad in Syria itself – at the scene of the genocide. Others, often the same ones who refused to recognize George Bush’s election results, were praising Assad’s alleged victory in the farcical election there over the forces of imperialism and Islamism.

This is not unlike going to Germany to praise Hitler’s plan to “settle the Jews in the east” as a victory over the Jewish plot. At least the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide did not attempt to have a presidential election in the middle of the bloodshed. The Western Left has become an obstruction in the way of truth, life and freedom… at least for Syrians; the victims of this generation’s greatest humanitarian crisis. Real revolutionaries, and anyone with some common human decency, should treat these fascists the same way they treat any other fascists; with absolute contempt.

9. Tortured and killed: Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13

By Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand

The child had spent nearly a month in the custody of Syrian security, and when they finally returned his corpse it bore the scars of brutal torture: Lacerations, bruises and burns to his feet, elbows, face and knees, consistent with the use of electric shock devices and of being whipped with cable, both techniques of torture documented by Human Rights Watch as being used in Syrian prisons during the bloody three-month crackdown on protestors.

Hamza’s eyes were swollen and black and there were identical bullet wounds where he had apparently been shot through both arms, the bullets tearing a hole in his sides and lodging in his belly.

On Hamza’s chest was a deep, dark burn mark. His neck was broken and his penis cut off.

“Where are the human rights committees? Where is the International Criminal Court?” asks the voice of the man inspecting Hamza’s body on a video uploaded to YouTube.

“A month had passed by with his family not knowing where he was, or if or when he would be released. He was released to his family as a corpse. Upon examining his body, the signs of torture are very clear.”
10. Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer 

By Annia Ciezadlo
To Bashar and his wife, it wasn’t the Syrian regime that required real reform. It was the Syrian people. Asma’s official biography, passed to me by an old friend of Bashar’s, distills their governing ideology. It reads like a tract from Rand Paul: Syrians need to stop depending on the state and assume “personal responsibility for achieving the common good,” the document proclaims, adding, “the sustainable answer to social need is not aid but opportunity” and “creating circumstances where people can help themselves.” That the Assad family and its loyalists have been helping themselves to Syria’s national wealth for decades does not enter into this narrative.

11. Exploding the myth of Syria being ‘anti-imperialist’ 

By Workers International
While the Assad regime may have ‘nationalised’ the oil and gas sectors of the economy, these are partnerships with imperialist companies and not under workers control. For example the Loon Lattakia oil company is a partnership with Mena which is a Canadian oil companyGulfsands Petroleum operates extensively in Syria- Gulfsands is in part controlled by the infamous Blackrock Investments, Schroder Investments, Goldman Sachs and Cheriot Norges bank. The bank of America, Barclays, AIG and Merrill Lynch, as shareholders in Blackrock are thus also participants in the imperialist operations in Syria. Earlier this year, imperialist magazine, World Finance, awarded Rami Makhlouf an award as visionary business leader. Makhlouf is part of the Assad family that through Cham Investment Group, Mada Transport (a motor assembly operation) and Real Estate Bank, control over 60% of the Syrian economy on behalf of imperialism.  Makhlouf and other Syrian capitalists have opened their warehouses as prisons as the official prisons are overflowing with the regime’s captives. Yet the Syrian CP insists that the regime is ‘anti-imperialist’!

The Communist Action Party in Syria confirms that when the Assad coup took place the local capitalist class was not expropriated and continued to operate. Thus when the oil and gas sector were nationalised, it was a state capitalist regime that made this raw material available for imperialist exploitation- the state using part of the revenue to create perks such as free education and health care to create capitalist stability. [Free education and free health care are not in themselves indicators of a ‘socialist’ regime. Saudi Arabia and some other capitalist countries also have free education and health care but are brutal anti-worker regimes. Even if education may be offered free, under capitalism it is still a tool to brainwash the working class and produce tame and obedient wage slaves for capitalist needs.]

12. Every Friday: New Slogans of the People’s Revolution 

By Not George Sabra
The democratic people’s revolution in Syria has accomplished something of world-historic importance: it has united both the imperialists and the anti-imperialists against it. Eastern imperialism led by Russia arms Bashar al-Assad to the teeth, Western imperialism led by the U.S. continues its heavy arms blockadeon Assad’s opposition, and so-called anti-imperialists led by As’ad Abu Khalil,George GallowayRand PaulCynthia McKinney, Stop the War Coalition, andANSWER Coalition relentlessly slander the uprising every step of the way in every conceivable way.

One fact that exposes the falseness of the imperialist-anti-imperialist alliance narrative is how the revolution’s supporters choose the names of their weekly mass protests. These protests have taken place in cities and villages across Syria after Friday prayers on every Friday without exception since the revolution began on March 15, 2011; they are the pulse of the struggle, the voice of the formerly voiceless, a chronicle of each twist and turn their struggle for freedom has taken.
Anywhere between 14,000 and 30,000 people vote democratically for their preferred slogans.
Blog Rolls and Compilations

- Everything from Michael Karadjis 

- Everything from Clay Claiborne on Syria 

- Everything from WE WRITE WHAT WE LIKE 


Useful Articles on the Syrian Revolution from MENA

History and Analysis

 The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution 


-  SYRIA: The life and work of anarchist Omar Aziz, and his impact on self-organization in the Syrian revolution  

The Vocabulary of Sectarianism 

The Multiple Layers of the Syrian Crisis 

The Opposition


-  List of armed groups in the Syrian Civil War 

-  SYRIA: The struggle continues: Syria’s grass-roots civil opposition

Geo Politics 

The US, Iran, Russia-Syria and the geopolitical shift: Anything for the region’s oppressed? 

Why Now? US Airstrikes on Syria 

Yet again on those hoary old allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012  

We Stand Behind the Syrian People’s Revolution – No to Foreign Intervention 

Naame Shaam Report: IRAN IN SYRIA – From an Ally of the Regime to an Occupying Force




Assad emails: father-in-law gave advice from UK during crackdown 

Inside Assad’s Playbook: Time and Terror 

Bashar Assad and the Death of History  

- On ISIS. How did the sectarian nightmare come true in Syria and Iraq? 

Assad Has Never Fought ISIS Before 

SYRIA: ‘Revolution within the revolution’ :The battle against ISIS

EXCLUSIVE: Shaikh Hassan Abboud’s final interview 


On the Issue of Palestinian Support for the Assad Regime 

- Syria and the Palestinians: ‘Almost no other Arab state has as much Palestinian blood on its hands’ 

- How Not to Be in Solidarity with Palestinians Refugees in Yarmouk  

A guide for the Palestinian or “pro-Palestinian” shabiha sympathizer in your life 



A red-brown alliance for Syria 

SYRIA: Who are Assad’s fascist supporters?  


Neo-liberal Politics of the Syrian Regime

-  Revolts in Syria: Tracking the Convergence Between Authoritarianism and Neoliberalism

 Revolts in Syria: Regime Neoliberalism, Fundamental Changes, Decolonial Arab Revolution, and Syria’s Revolt

Chemical Attacks

Syria’s Ghouta Gas Massacre of August 21, 2013: The US let it happen and the Left tried to cover it up. 

- Syria: #BreathingDeath Commemorating Actions of Those Killed in Ghouta 

- #BreathingDeath Chemical Timeline English Version 

Ghouta, the Planned Attack (Only a part of the documentary)

Promo 2 | first anniversary of the chemical massacre in Syria

Syria: List of names from the Chemical Attack in East Ghouta- NYC 08/22/14 

- Interview with Hamid Imam: “Ask me what is happening in Syria!”-NYC 08/22/14

- Qusai Zakarya: I was gassed by Bashar Al-Assad

Speak4Syria: Qusai Zakarya

-50 Documented Violations Of The UN Security Council Resolution 2118 Through Using Poison Gases In 50 Attacks-What Is Behind The Red Line?
South-American Connections

The Cuban Regime’s International Impact on Human Rights: Syria 

Assad and Kirchner pledge mutual support 

Syrian TV – Message from President al-Assad to President of Cuba on the latest developments in Syria, conveyed by al-Mikdad 

How Cuba and Venezuela Scabbed on the Syrian Revolution

Syria-Report From Aleppo 9/30/2014: Assad Continues Targeting Civilians; Special ANA Press Exclusive Report on Kobani  

On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue – an interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo 

The Position of the Western ‘Left’

Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria  

The role of US Imperialism in Syria and the Left’s Dilemma

Selective Internationalism: An Activist Disorder


December 5, 2014

Melodramas for Middlebrows

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:51 pm
“The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, and “Get on Up”

Melodramas for Middlebrows


If we lived in a socialist country and I had the good fortune to be named Minister of Culture with North Korean type powers to dictate what gets made, the first thing I would do is consign the biopic genre to the ashbin of history. That is my reaction to “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, and “Get on Up”, three DVD’s that were part of the 99 films I received from publicists in advance of the 2014 New York Film Critics Online awards meeting on Sunday. The first two are worshipful treatments of Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing and the third is just the opposite, a look down one’s nose at James Brown.

Such films are made to order for the middlebrow tastes of most critics who regard them as “serious” works, as if they could ever match up to the written biography they are often based on. For the most part, they are the equivalent of the comic book versions of the classics I used to read in sixth grade until I was able to finally work my way through “Ivanhoe” or “Last of the Mohicans”.

It is not too hard to figure out the basic flaw of the biopic. Unless you have never heard of James Brown, you have a pretty good idea of how the movie starts, begins and ends. Of course, Alan Turing is a much more obscure figure but you can bet that the audience for “The Imitation Game” will not be made up of 15-year-olds who chose it over the latest Hobbit movie after finally making up their minds: “Hmmm. What’s more fun? Colossal battles between elves and fire-breathing dragons or eccentric homosexuals trying to crack Nazi cryptography?”

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