Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 7, 2014

Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia

Filed under: Film,Gay,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:04 pm

Thirty years ago when I was working closely with Peter Camejo on getting the North Star Network off the ground, I totally agreed with him that the left should not be divided on historical questions like when and if the USSR became capitalist. Or on international questions such as whether to support Eritrea or Ethiopia, etc. You can obviously have sharp differences that must be debated openly but they are not “split” questions as is the norm in the Trotskyist movement.

After watching “Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia”, I am not so sure any more, at least on the international question. This 48 minute documentary that can be seen on HBO Go, a streaming service available to HBO subscribers, left me in a complete state of rage both for what is happening to Russian gays but also for the open affection for Vladimir Putin that exists on wide sectors of the left.

Needless to say, the Western left would never support a politician who was responsible for fostering a war on gays in the USA or Britain. Furthermore, in all of the pro-Putin propaganda in the “anti-imperialist” left, you will never see him applauded for his anti-gay legislation that serves as legal cover for the vigilante movement exposed in the HBO documentary. That instead is what you will hear from the rightwing movements that also back the Kremlin, including just about every neofascist group in Europe, including Jobbik, Golden Dawn and the National Front in France. They love Putin because he stands up for “traditional values”. One imagines that in their heart of hearts, the “anti-imperialists” have no problems with crackdowns on NGO’s that defend gay rights in Russia since they are obviously a necessary defense against plots concocted in the basement of the State Department by George Soros, Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power. After all, if you were going to make a choice between gays being forced to drink piss by skinhead vigilantes and coming down on the same side of an issue as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, you’d naturally opt for gays drinking piss.

Fortunately, you can see the documentary as well on Youtube. This is identical to what is being shown on HBO but with a different narrator:

The film will give you a good idea why a sixteen-year-old gay youth sought political asylum in the USA. Here on an exchange program, the boy decided that he would stay in the USA rather than put up with the kind of bigotry seen in the film. Tass said that this was all the result of a gay cabal and Russia said it would no longer participate in the exchange program.

Directed by Ben Steele, the documentary takes a look at two of the major vigilante organizations in Russia, Parents of Russia and Occupy Pedophilia. Leaders of both groups were more than willing to allow the cameramen to film every one of their attacks. Naturally, this would be the case since the cops are their accomplices.

To give you an idea of how the cops operate in tandem with the ultraright, you see gay rights activist Yekaterina Bogatch hounded by the cops for simply standing on the sidewalk holding a sign calling for equal treatment of all citizens. If she had put the word gay on the sign, she risked arrest.

Parents of Russia is a group that is dedicated to exposing gays by putting information about where they live, etc. on the Internet. Yekaterina Bogatch, a schoolteacher, is one of their prime targets. They want her fired from her job even if she is straight. Gay teachers, who are not even involved with protests, have just as much to worry about since Parents of Russia deems them as pedophiles.

That is basically the strategy of the vigilantes, the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s base of support in elected officialdom. Although laws against homosexuality were lifted fifteen years ago, the attacks are mounted as against pedophiles rather than gays. Occupy Pedophilia is a prime example. It tells Steele that is only after pedophiles but in the one entrapment scene that involves their activists openly tormenting a gay man they have lured through the Internet, there is not the slightest evidence that pedophilia was involved.

I have often scratched my head trying to figure out the attraction that Putin has for the “anti-imperialist” left. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream” when Puck puts a potion in Titania’s eyes. Upon waking, she falls madly in love with Bottom, a man whose head has been replaced by that of a donkey. Who has put such a potion in the eyes of Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek and Michel Chossudovsky, I ask you?

For an unrepentant Marxist like me, the Russia I adore is the Russia of the 1920s when laws against homosexuality were not only lifted, there was a pervasive sense that sexual freedom and socialism went hand in hand. Ironically, despite the Workers World Party’s tendency to fall in line behind the Kremlin, one of their activists has written some very useful material on sexual freedom in the early USSR:

During the 1920s, in the first decade of the Russian Revolution, signs that the struggle to build socialism could make enormous social gains in sexual freedom–even in a huge mostly agricultural country barely freed from feudalism, then ravaged by imperialist war and torn asunder by civil war–were apparent.

The Russian Revolution breathed new life into the international sexual reform movement, the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement, and the revolutionary struggle as a whole in Germany and around the world.

It was a historic breakthrough when the Soviet Criminal Code was established in 1922 and amended in 1926, and homosexuality was not included as an offense. The code also applied to other republics, including the Ukrainian Republics. Only sex with youths under the age of 16, male and female prostitution and pandering were listed. Soviet law did not criminalize the person being prostituted, but those who exploited them.

For example, author Dan Healey states, “The revolutionary regime repeatedly declared that women who sold their bodies were victims of economic exploitation, not to be criminalized, and campaigns to discourage them from taking up sex work were launched.” The growth of prostitution had of course been spurred by the chaos and dislocation of people accompanying war.

Historian Laura Engelstein summarizes, “Soviet sexologists in the 1920s participated in the international movement for sexual reform and criminologists deplored the use of penal sanctions to censor private sexual conduct.” (“Soviet Policy”)

In 1923, the Soviet minister of health traveled to the German Institute for Sex ual Science and reportedly expressed there his pride that his government had abolished the tsarist penalties against same-sex love. He stated that “no unhappy consequences of any kind whatsoever have resulted from the elimination of the offending paragraph, nor has the wish that the penalty in question be reintroduced been raised in any quarter.”

Also in 1923, Dr. Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Soviet Hygiene, published a pamphlet titled “The Sexual Revolution in Russia.” It stated, “Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle: it declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, as long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon.”

And the pamphlet spelled this out clearly, “Concerning homosexuality, sod omy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality–Soviet legislation treats these the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse.”

Me and my great-uncle

Filed under: Jewish question — louisproyect @ 2:16 pm

I know absolutely nothing about the dude except that he was my maternal grandmother’s brother and a soldier in the Russian army. With his EuroAsian features that I obviously inherited, I have to wonder if some woman on that side of the family got raped by a Cossack in the nineteenth century.

greatuncle

October 6, 2014

Socialism and democracy

Filed under: democracy,socialism — louisproyect @ 7:10 pm

Karl Marx in the offices of The Neue Rheinische Zeitung: Organ der Demokratie (“New Rhenish Newspaper: Organ of Democracy“), a German daily newspaper he published between June 1, 1848 and May 19 1849.

Four days ago I received a query from a Latin American journalist:

Dear Louis:

I am an editor at a leading newspaper in Quito, Ecuador, and I will like to make a you one question (if you agree of course) for an article I am trying to write, after the international leftist meeting that was held this week here in this city.

My piece is about, how is it that the new and modern left is so tolerant with authoritarian regimes. Castro, Chávez and even Correa have been very sympathetic with leaders such as Lukashenko, Mugabe and Kaddafi.

So my question is if you think that this is part of a stalinist legacy that has not been thrown away by the left, despise all the horrors that the stalinist regime was responsible for?

All the best

Since others might have the same sorts of questions, I am posting a public response as follows.

This is a very complex question. To start with, Hugo Chavez is something of a paradox on the question of democracy. Keep in mind that the entire premise of “21st Century Socialism” rested on the assumption that Stalinism tainted the 20th century version. In a speech to the World Social Forum in 2005, Chavez stated that “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.” On the other hand, in the very same speech he said, “Today’s Russia is not Yeltsin’s… there is new Russian nationalism, and I have seen it in the streets of Moscow… there is a good president, Mr. Putin, at the wheel.”

That, in a nutshell, is the contradiction we see on the left. There is acknowledgement, at least verbally, that Stalinism was unviable. If you keep people repressed there is always a tendency for them to do as little as possible to keep the system going and to look for ways to game it. Stalinist societies rot from within. Even if there is pressure from imperialism, the bigger threat is always the spiritual and psychological disaffection of workers and farmers.

But what good does it do for Chavez to make this observation while at the same time nodding in approval of Vladimir Putin? It is obvious that there would be an affinity with Putin since he superficially had the same agenda as Chavez, namely to use the revenue from petro-exports to improve the conditions of life for the average citizen. Keep in mind that toward the end of his life, Chavez had moved away from the notion of building socialism entirely. His model was less and less based on what are commonly referred to as “communist” states but Western European social democracies, which are simply welfare states resting on capitalist property relations. So naturally he would tend to see all petroleum exporting states with a populist but repressive regime and enemies of his own enemy—the USA—as partners. This meant that Russia, Iran, Libya and Syria were hailed in the Venezuelan press as forward-looking societies even though their jails were filled with political prisoners.

You are absolutely right to understand this as rooted in Stalinism. The belief that socialism could be built in a single country was in contradiction to the core Marxist belief that socialism had to be built on a global scale, just as was the case with the social system that preceded it: capitalism. Despite the fact that the USSR was an enormous country with all of the resources advanced industry would require, Leon Trotsky warned that the system would collapse unless revolutions triumphed in Western Europe: “But how far can the socialist policy of the working class be applied in the economic conditions of Russia? We can say one thing with certainty–that it will come up against obstacles much sooner than it will stumble over the technical backwardness of the country. Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialistic dictatorship.” (I should add that Trotsky used the term “dictatorship” in the technical Marxist sense of a particular class dominating the state rather than what exists in Zimbabwe et al.)

With Trotsky’s defeat, the USSR tended to see other countries less as candidates for social transformation and more as potential allies for “socialist development”. If there was a clash between the workers in a capitalist country and their rulers who were seen as favoring Soviet interests, the workers got short shrift. When Greek workers took up arms against a fascist dictatorship, Stalin decided to sell the workers out rather than jeopardize the friendly relations he had with FDR, who was amenable to allowing Eastern Europe to become a “buffer” against invasion. This was not a socialist foreign policy but a global chess game in which a struggling people were sacrificed as a pawn.

This is the same thing that is happening today even though capitalism has returned to Russia. It would probably make more sense to speak of neo-Stalinism since Vladimir Putin would be the last person on earth to favor a socialist Russia. If Stalin saw Ukraine as a kind of outpost dedicated to the defense of the USSR, not much has changed under Putin, except that the social relations being defended are based on private property rather than state ownership. Hitler invaded Russia in order to smash collective ownership while the West never had any such intentions. Why would it if Exxon is invited in as a partner in some of the biggest oil exploration deals in history, including drilling in the most ecologically sensitive areas?

It is understandable why some on the left would be anxious to smear every protest movement in the Russia/China orbit as an imperialist plot. There is ample evidence that Washington will exploit every movement to see its own agenda advanced. When I was involved with Nicaragua solidarity in the 1980s, I was incensed about reports that the NED was funding parties opposed to the FSLN. That explains why some are so anxious to write off the Hong Kong protesters as tools of the USA. But revolutionary politics is not based on algebraic formulas. You have to be able to understand that sometimes X can be equal to Y and not equal at the same time. In other words, Hegel is a better guide to social reality than Aristotle, the father of formal logic.

In places like Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Zimbabwe, Iran and Russia, the protest movements have both progressive and reactionary tendencies. To some extent, this is a function of the socialist left having lost its moral authority. In Ukraine, with the CP being an unabashed supporter of Russian domination, is it any wonder that ordinary people topple Lenin statues? Those statues, I should add, never had much to do with defending socialism. They were like George Washington statues in American parks, empty symbols of national sovereignty.

Very often when people begin fighting for freedom, they bring certain prejudices along with them. Although it would be best if a social movement had a crystal-clear agenda based on a combination of Enlightenment and socialist values, there is often a mixture of past, present and future that can be confusing to the onlooker. For example, there are many Syrians who have fought against the Baathist dictatorship who are for Sharia courts, a symbol to many on the left of a feudal past. But when you keep in mind that the judicial system in Syria was rigged to favor the Baathists, the temptations of Sharia law become more understandable. When the Irish rose up against British colonialism during WWI, the same kind of confusion cropped up on the Marxist left. Why support a movement that seemed to be tainted by Catholic dogma? Lenin tried to answer this question in an article titled “The Irish Rebellion of 1916″:

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie without all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.–to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view would vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.

It is regrettable that so few on the left can understand many grass roots movement today in the same light.

In order for the left to regain its moral authority, it has to once and for all stop functioning like the CP did in the 1930s, least of all when Russia and its allies lack even the economic justification that once existed for that type of “border guard” stance. Unless socialism and socialist politics are once again synonymous with democracy, the left will have nothing to say to young people fighting for social change.

When you stop and think about, Marx and Engels entered politics in the same spirit as the Syrians who marched in the streets of Homs and Aleppo in early 2011 for an end to a system that used torture and murder to enforce neoliberal rule. They were deeply involved with the movements for democracy in 1848 that challenged the old feudal order, the counterpart to Baathist rule in those days.

August Nimtz, an American scholar, wrote a book titled “Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough” that reaffirmed their commitment to democracy that has unfortunately been forgotten by much of the left. In an interview with Socialist Project this year, Nimtz explained what his goals were in writing such a book:

As you probably know from my writings, I prefer to let Marx and Engels speak for themselves. And for this question there’s no better place to begin with than their Manifesto of the Communist Party, a document that sharply distinguished itself from the programmatic stances of other socialist tendencies in its position that the prerequisite for the socialist revolution was the democratic revolution—the necessity “to win the battle for democracy.” In related pronouncements clarifying their views they wrote that, like the Chartists in England, the German proletariat “can and must accept the bourgeois revolution as a precondition for the workers’ revolution. However, they cannot for a moment accept it as their ultimate goal.” And in no uncertain terms the Manifesto, in four successive locations, made clear that it would take “force” to “overthrow the bourgeoisie” in order to reach the “ultimate goal”. Nevertheless, they maintained to the end that the means to that goal was the conquest of the “bourgeois revolution.” When a critic charged in 1892 that they ignored forms of democratic governance, Engels demurred: “Marx and I, for forty years, repeated ad nauseam that for us the democratic republic is the only political form in which the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class can first be universalized and then culminate in the decisive victory of the proletariat.”

Ultimately, this statement might serve as a litmus test for the left. Although I am too old to get involved with organizing a movement, this pro-democracy orientation would be at its core. I have not only seen the USSR collapse because of dictatorship, I have also seen the socialist organization I belonged to for more than a decade collapse as well. The right to speak freely and act freely is as natural as breathing. When it is taken away, we suffocate, as does society. Ultimately, as Nimtz points out, democracy is a means to an end: the creation of a new world based on a just and rational economic order. Anything that stands in the way has to be rejected. It is not even a problem if this is a minority viewpoint today because in the long run it is the only one that can succeed.

 

October 5, 2014

Purgatorio; Algorithms

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:31 pm

“Purgatorio”, a documentary about the horrors of contemporary Mexico as the title would imply, opened on Friday night at the Cinema Village in NY (and opens at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on the 10th). Like last year’s “Narco Cultura” (http://louisproyect.org/2013/11/24/three-documentaries/), it is a deeply pessimistic but compelling work that emphasizes the POV of the average citizen rather than academic experts who might have insights on the intractable character of the Mexican drug war and the massive emigration to “El Norte”.

For example, one of the characters we meet in Rodrigo Reyes’s film is an eccentric Texan whose mission in life is to walk through the brush frequented by Mexicans headed toward the border in order to pick up their rubbish, like empty water bottles or articles of clothing. As Reyes follows him about on the well-beaten trail, the man reflects on “illegals”, saying at one point that with all the resources in Mexico (oil, gold, etc.), the country could enjoy prosperity. They should stay at home and clean up their country was his advice.

Reyes, a 31-year old who was born in Mexico City and who despite having a degree in International Relations, was not that interested in the specific international relations that Mexico has with the USA. One supposes that a filmmaker has to make a choice when he or she sets about to make such a film. One that is geared to socio-economic analysis might not deliver the punch that something like “Purgatorio” can, a film that like Dante’s masterpiece is intended to engage more with the heart than the brain.

Reyes’s strategy is to take us to the front lines of the drug war and the border crossings to show us what the actors on the ground face as they struggle to survive. One of the most gripping scenes takes place toward the end of the film as we watch a 45-year-old grandfather, who says that his life is about nothing but work, scales a 25 foot high fence as if he were in a high school gymnastics class, but only on the third attempt. For him, scaling the fence is not exactly a transition into Paradise but at least an exit from the Inferno.

In another memorable scene, we encounter a group of boys who mug in front of Reyes’s camera, each one taking turns naming and imitating the sounds of their favorite weapon: AK47, AR15, 9MM pistol, sniper’s rifle, etc. Most 12 year old boys are fascinated with guns but it is only in Mexico that in a few short years many will be making a living using them to kill.

There is no gainsaying Reyes’s ability to present gut-wrenching anecdotal material but we are still waiting for a film that explains how Mexico became such a “failed state”, one that also showed the potential for renewal and transformation as well. One that would introduce the audience to Zapata and Pancho Villa, the EZLN, and the insurgent electoral campaign of Mexico City’s mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

If I was much younger and more of a professional filmmaker than an amateur critic and videographer, I’d do something that explored Mexico’s radical traditions. This article on Mexico on the left would be a good place to start for someone with those kinds of qualifications: http://louisproyect.org/2013/06/07/mexico-and-the-left/.

Opening at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on October 17th and the Quad in New York on October 24th, “Algorithms” is a portrait of two young men from India who compete in international tournaments for blind chess players.

As someone with serious eye problems and a lifelong passion for chess, the film was one I naturally looked forward to screening. It has the same kind of rooting for the underdog quality as “Brooklyn Castle”, the 2012 documentary that followed kids from a working-class public school who compete with those from elite institutions but in “Algorithms” the competition is mainly with their own disabilities than with sighted competitors.

Since chess is such a visually oriented game (or sport, as some would argue), one wonders how a blind person can make any headway. The film shows how it is done. It is all done by touch, just like braille. The white pieces have a tiny nipple at the top and each space has an aperture in which each piece is placed. As two blind players compete, you see each one fondling the pieces before making a move.

Although the film does not deal with the question of blind-sighted competition, Charudatta Jadhav, a blind adult who serves as surrogate father and tutor to the boys, was a chess champion who did well in competition with sighted players.

Perhaps the film, which was shot in black-and-white for reasons not obvious to me, was more interested in exploring disabilities and their transcendence than the game of chess. Like “Brooklyn Castle”, you get absolutely no sense of the games the boys participated in. While it would obviously take up too much time to follow each move, it would have been of great interest to see the last four or five moves. That’s what made the Bobby Fischer documentary such a memorable film.

For those who follow chess, you probably are aware that there is a new world champion—Magnus Carlsen who defeated India’s Viswanathan Anand. India has a very ambitious chess training program, one that no doubt explains why it pays attention to the disabled player as well. The game originated in 3rd century AD India where it was called chaturaṅga. From there it emigrated to Persia, where it was called chatrang. When I studied Turkish, I learned that the word for chess was satranç, pronounced satranch.

Over the past 50 years or so since I have been playing chess, I am not much better than I was at when I began. But my passion for the game continues unabated. If you are one of those people who love the game like me, I recommend “Algorithms”. It is probably the kind of sport that will survive the abolition of capitalism. Unlike football that leaves you with brain damage, a life-long engagement with chess will sharpen your mind—unless you are me, of course.

Monument to Cold War Victory

Filed under: art,ussr — louisproyect @ 4:13 pm

Cold War Exhibit Release-1

Cold War Exhibit Release-2

A prayer for my late mom

Filed under: religion — louisproyect @ 12:20 am

I went to Yizkor services this afternoon as I have done ever since my mom died in 2008. I don’t believe in all the god stuff but it is my way of honoring her.

Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n
www.sc-democrat.com National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper info@sc-democrat.com
NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York
home  |  archives
Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

Ann “Annie” Proyect

Dinner Pays Tribute
To Annie Proyect

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 1, 2001 – She was called “kind” and “good,” yet she was teased for her scolding tongue and take-no-punches demeanor.

She was praised for her fortitude during moments of severe personal tragedy, but people laughed heartily upon hearing the tale of her ability to unintentionally stop traffic in the middle of Monticello.

Add some food and anecdotes about a female impersonator who needed his (or her?) sequined dress repaired, and you’ve got the makings of one tremendously varied evening of laughs and tears (and sometimes both).

And it all had to do with one person, a lady from Woodridge who is considered one of the guiding lights of Judaism in Sullivan County.

It seemed all of Woodridge and Monticello turned out Saturday evening to honor Ann “Annie” Proyect at Temple Sholom, but the capacity of the standing-room-only sanctuary was likelier somewhere between 100 and 200 people.

And it was evident by the smiles, laughter, hugs and good-natured joking that this is a woman beloved by her spiritual and residential communities.

Proyect has been a fixture of the Woodridge and Monticello areas since she moved here from Kansas City, Missouri at the age of 26 in the first half of the 20th century. And it seems she has since made quite an impact.

“Growing up in Mountaindale, I, of course, knew Annie by name and sight,” recalled County Legislator Leni Binder at the dinner. “I can honestly say that, without her help, I would probably not be a legislator today. I’m still not sure if that deserves a thank-you or not, but she stood in the snow in front of the village hall, sometimes too close to be legal, and sang my praises. It is a privilege to be able to sing hers.”

“Annie has given me and my family an entré for coming back to this community. She is as much a member of my family as my own,” said James Oppenheim, a fellow member of Temple Sholom. “She tells it like it is over and over and over . . . and everyone here loves her for it. She doesn’t just tell you what to do . . . she gets up and does it.

“She exemplifies what it is to be a Jew.”

Proyect’s faith and vigorously stated opinions – whether through phone conversations, in person at the temple, or her weekly column in the Sullivan County Democrat, “Annie Proyect Says” – were indeed an integral reason why she was being celebrated.

“I’d say the wall-to-wall turnout tonight is an affirmation and confirmation of the power of the Fourth Estate. I wouldn’t want to be known as one who wasn’t here!” remarked Temple Sholom Past President Joe Cohen, who then turned to Proyect. “We only roast the people we love. We’re honoring you for what you are and what you do for yourself, your family and your community.”

“She’s the one who brings kindness and good cheer every day of the week,” added Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum.

“Ann consumed Judaism with a passion,” commented another past president of the temple, Marty Schwartz. “The Ten Commandments became the guiding principles by which she chose to conduct herself, expecting no less from those around her.”

Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he added, “At one point, I’m told she even lobbied the UAHC [a Jewish religious organization] to adopt two more commandments: #11. ‘Do as I tell you!’ and #12. ‘Why didn’t you do as I told you?’

“Persistent in her pursuit of learning, consistent in her morality, resistant to her critics and insistent on being heard – Ann, we would have you no other way,” he concluded.

Proyect’s son, Louis, recalled a time when his family lived above the Kentucky Club in Woodridge, a nightclub which featured the Jewel Box Revue – a troupe of female impersonators. One night, he came home to find his mother sewing up a sequined outfit of one of the performers.

“The message I interpreted was that we should be tolerant of one another,” he said.
Said her dear friend, Victor Gordon: “Believe it or not, it was her idea to honor an outstanding member of the temple for their efforts. Little did she dream when this thought became a reality that she would be the one so honored.

“Don’t cry, Ann,” he added. “Everyone here loves you, and you deserve your moment in the sun. The temple is very fortunate and proud to have you as such a dedicated member.”
The compliments, thank-yous and fond notes were continued in a journal that listed a veritable who’s who of the local area. State Senator John Bonacic and Assemblyman Jake Gunther, while not present, also sent certificates of merit to Proyect.

But, of course, Proyect herself made sure to thank the crowd for their words, gifts and attendance – and give them due warning.

“We have an obligation as a Jew to be a light unto the nations to show a better way,” she said, using a verse from the Bible to explain her passionate stance on many issues of faith. “If people’s feelings are hurt, well, they love me and they’ll get over it – and I’ll do it again.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she concluded, “but watch my next column!”

October 3, 2014

The speech that Bernie Sanders should make, but won’t

Filed under: third parties — louisproyect @ 1:03 pm
Reviving the Progressive Party

The Speech Bernie Sanders Should Give But Won’t

by LOUIS PROYECT

Fellow Americans,

I want to take this opportunity to announce my candidacy for president of the United States and to explain why I have reached this decision.

Let me start by giving you some background on my political career. Unlike other members of the Senate, I have always run as an independent and as a socialist, a term that I am more than willing to defend in debates with other candidates in the race for president. In 2009 one out of five Americans stated a preference for socialism over capitalism. Given the opportunity to speak to the millions of people who have been victims of unemployment, foreclosure, polluted air and water, and a host of other problems caused by corporate greed, I am sure that we can begin to move toward majority support for a system that puts human need above private profit.

In the 1970s I ran as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont for the US Senate and for Governor in four different races. While most of you probably haven’t heard of the party, the issues that led to its formation should be familiar. It was against the war in Vietnam and the despoliation of the environment, positions that reflected majority opinion in the United States at the time. I hope to remain true to my roots by stressing the need for peace, Green values, and social justice in my campaign for president.

read full article

October 2, 2014

The Hong Kong protests and the conspiracist left

Filed under: China,conspiracism — louisproyect @ 8:56 pm

As predictably as day follows night, the conspiracist left has taken the side of the Chinese government against the Hong Kong protests. As the purest expression of this sort of Mad Magazine spy-versus-spy comic strip mentality, Moon of Alabama’s Berhard told his readers:

The (NED Financed) Hong Kong Riots

Some organized “student groups” in Hong Kong tried to occupy government buildings and blocked some streets. The police did what it does everywhere when such things happen. It used anti-riot squads, pepper spray and tear gas to prevent occupations and to clear the streets.

The “western” media are making some issue about this as if “western” governments would behave any differently.

So lets look up the usual source of such exquisite fragrance. The 2012 annual report of the U.S. government financed National Endowment of Democracy, aka the CCA – Central Color-Revolution Agency, includes three grants for Hong Kong one of which is new for 2012 and not mentioned in earlier annual reports:

National Democratic Institute for International Affairs – $460,000

To foster awareness regarding Hong Kong’s political institutions and constitutional reform process and to develop the capacity of citizens – particularly university students – to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform, NDI will work with civil society organizations on parliamentary monitoring, a survey, and development of an Internet portal, allowing students and citizens to explore possible reforms leading to universal suffrage.

Moon of Alabama is an old hand at this, virtually writing the same sort of “follow the money” methodology for a decade. If you want another example of this kind of addled conspiracism, check out Tony Cartalucci’s article on Mint Press, an online newspaper that was in the middle of a controversy over a report on East Ghouta in the name of a reporter who subsequently disavowed the article and Mint Press entirely.

Titled “US Role In Occupy Central Exposed”, treats Hong Kong protesters as puppets whose strings are pulled by Washington:

If democracy is characterized by self-rule, than an “Occupy Central” movement in which every prominent figure is the benefactor of and beholden to foreign cash, support, and a foreign-driven agenda, has nothing at all to do with democracy. It does have, however, everything to do with abusing democracy to undermine Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, and open the door to candidates that clearly serve foreign interests, not those of China, or even the people of Hong Kong.

What is more telling is the illegal referendum “Occupy Central” conducted earlier this year in an attempt to justify impending, planned chaos in Hong Kong’s streets. The referendum focused on the US State Department’s goal of implementing “universal suffrage” – however, only a fifth of Hong Kong’s electorate participated in the referendum, and of those that did participate, no alternative was given beyond US-backed organizations and their respective proposals to undermine Beijing.

Keep in mind that Cartalucci has written the same exact article on every protest movement that has taken place for a number of years, always looking for the footprints of the NED, the State Department, the CIA, or any other American government agency or NGO. It has led him not only to condemn the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong but the Arab Spring that he applied the same idiotic litmus test to:

In January of 2011, we were told that “spontaneous,” “indigenous” uprising had begun sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, including Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, in what was hailed as the “Arab Spring.” It would be almost four months before the corporate-media would admit that the US had been behind the uprisings and that they were anything but “spontaneous,” or “indigenous.” In an April 2011 article published by the New York Times titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” it was stated:

“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.”

The article would also add, regarding the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED):

“The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties. They were created by Congress and are financed through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was set up in 1983 to channel grants for promoting democracy in developing nations. The National Endowment receives about $100 million annually from Congress. Freedom House also gets the bulk of its money from the American government, mainly from the State Department. ”

It is really quite extraordinary that Cartalucci never wrote a single article calling attention to the $1.7 billion per year that the USA was doling out to Mubarak but only got his balls in an uproar over a couple of hundred thousand dollars channeled to young people risking their lives in Tahrir Square against his dictatorship. People like him deserve to be taken out and horsewhipped.

The problem with this analysis is obvious. There’s hardly a country in the world where the NED does not ladle out money to influence a grass roots movement. If you go to http://www.ned.org/where-we-work and click Latin America and Caribbean, you’ll see a list of nations where the NED mucks about:

Argentina
Bolivia
Colombia
Cuba
Ecuador
Guatemala
Haiti
Honduras
Mexico
Nicaragua
Paraguay
Peru
Venezuela

That’s what happens when you have a budget of $118 million per year. Spending $460,000 to influence the Hong Kong movement barely scratches the surface. For that matter, the real issue is whether or not it serves American interests to have elections in Hong Kong rather than have the Chinese appoint someone. I guess that Cartalucci and Bernhard are in favor of Chinese control, a kind of “anti-imperialism” that makes a mockery of the term.

Buried deep inside a NY Times article, you get an indication of what is driving people into the streets:

Polls conducted by academic institutions over the past year have indicated that the most disaffected and potentially volatile sector of Hong Kong society is not the students, the middle-aged or even the elderly activists who have sustained the democracy movement here for decades. Instead, the most strident calls for greater democracy — and often for greater economic populism, as well — have come from people in their 20s and early 30s who have struggled to find well-paying jobs as the local manufacturing sector has withered away, and as banks and other service industries have increasingly hired mainland Chinese instead of local college graduates.

I doubt that the NED has any interest in paying such people to go out and protest. My guess is that it has much more of an affinity with the professor that Anthony Bourdain had dinner with in the first episode of the new season of his CNN show that was shot in Shanghai. As was the case with just about everybody he dined with, I was put off by the smug attitude of the professor who was tickled pink about the dynamism of the Chinese economy, all the while smirking over the irony that it was taking place under “communism”. Here’s an exchange between the two that sheds light on the discontent in Hong Kong that China’s ruling class worries might become contagious:

BOURDAIN: If you love in Manhattan like I do and you think you live in the center of the world, this place, Shanghai, will confront you with a very different reality. Turn down a side street, it’s an ancient culture. A century’s old mix of culinary traditions, smells, flavors. A block away, this. An ultra-modern, ever clanging cash register, levels of wealth, of luxury, a sheer volume of things and services unimagined by the greediest most bushwa of capitalist imperialist.

China has a population of around 1.2 billion people, and the number of them who were joining an explosive middle class, demanding their share of all that good stuff, infrastructure, the clothes, the cars, the gas to fuel them, his wealth, it’s the engine that might well drive the whole world.

ZHOU LIN: Do you like Chinese food?

BOURDAIN: Very much, yes.

ZHOU LIN: OK. What do you want?

BOURDAIN: Of course, yes some — dumplings.

ZHOU LIN: (speaking in a foreign language)

BOURDAIN: Professor Zhou Lin is an economist and current dean of the College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. I saw many people who live here who’s Chinese but was educated in American universities. Has had taught at Yale, Duke, and Arizona State.

BOURDAIN: So you — forgive me. Economics are not my area of expertise, I wallow in ignorance but China looks different every time I come. It’s changing so, so, so quickly. How did that happen?

ZHOU LIN: China enjoy, you know, this long period of peace. No serious enemy, no major wars.

BOURDAIN: Right.

ZHOU LIN: So the manufacturing industry really took off. Internally is reformed an open door policy, every country willing to trade with China.

BOURDAIN: There’s certainly no doubt that at this point, we — our destinies are inextricably bound up. We are hopelessly — our economies are hopelessly intermingled. If one fails, the effect would be disastrous.

ZHOU LIN: Global impact.

ZHOU LIN (on camera): So I really believe that the world is converging and China will again, will be privatizing more and more.

BOURDAIN: Right.

ZHOU LIN: But the difference — nowadays, it’s just the technology is so advanced, we don’t really need that many people. So too things that many use to do in which the population, 7 billion people, there was probably, doesn’t need that many people working…

BOURDAIN: Right.

ZHOU LIN: So the question is that what should human beings doing, you know? How can you let them not doing anything and then still living a good life?

BOURDAIN: Right.

ZHOU LIN: I don’t know. It’s going to be a big issue at the face of the whole world.

* * * *

So too things that many use to do in which the population, 7 billion people, there was probably, doesn’t need that many people working…

That’s the real explanation of Chinese unrest, not NED handouts.

October 1, 2014

Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archive 2014 Human Rights Documentary Film Festival

Filed under: Film,Stalinism,Vietnam — louisproyect @ 7:02 pm

Last night I saw “Red Father” and “You’re the Enemy – Welcome Back!” at the Institute Cervantes in New York, two of the entries in “Impugning Impunity”, theAbraham Lincoln Brigades Archive (ALBA) Human Rights Documentary Film Festival that ends today. Based on the quality of what I saw yesterday, you might want to take advantage of today’s screening of documentaries on the impact of Israeli occupation on Bedouins and on the activist break-in at FBI offices in Pennsylvania in 1971 that led to the exposure of the Cointelpro. Scheduling information is here: http://www.alba-valb.org/programs/human-rights-film-festival/

It is no secret that the  ALBA, like most projects with such a provenance, has a solid base of support in the Communist Party and its periphery. As I gazed about the audience waiting for “Red Father” to begin, I felt young again by comparison. The average age appeared to be about 75 and most probably went through the experience at one time or another of selling the Daily Worker.

Despite this, Tova Beck-Friedman’s film was a searching examination of what it meant to be a life-long Communist and not at all an exercise in feel-good nostalgia like the documentaries “Seeing Red” or “The Good Fight” that featured Spanish Civil War veterans like Bill Bailey. As much as I loved those films, I was glad to see the CP rendered accurately, warts and all.

“Red Father”, however, did not demonize the CP. In its portrait of Bernard Ades (pronounced ay-dis), a Jew from a wealthy family who grew up in Baltimore and joined the party shortly after the Great Depression began, was simultaneously the best and the worst of his generation. A man of extraordinary principle and courage, he became an attorney dedicated to defending the African-American poor against a racist judicial system, including its ultimate weapon, the lynch mob.

This article from the November 28, 1931 newsweekly “The African-American” documents the case that is at the heart of “Red Father” and shows him demonstrating the mettle that convinced many Black Americans that the CP was their best friend in the struggle against racism.

Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 1.43.52 PM

Seven years later he ended up fighting in Spain against Franco’s counter-revolutionary army, once again showing great courage and dedication to the cause.

Throughout the 1930s, the party was at its height. If you didn’t bother paying close attention to the Trotskyist press, the USSR and its allies could easily be seen as the saviors of humanity. Indeed, it was exactly such a messianic belief that led party members like Bernard Ades to stick with the party until the bitter end, even after it became common knowledge that Jews were victims of discrimination in Russia and that the “socialism” being built had little to do with the democratic aspirations of the communist movement through most of its history.

As a sympathizer of the CP and a member of a youth group in its periphery, Ben Ades’s daughter Janet, who is featured prominently in the film and who spoke during a Q&A after its screening, had the misfortune to get romantically entwined with a comrade who had visited Hungary shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1956 and was shocked to see elementary socialist principles trampled underfoot. When Janet began repeating what she heard from her boyfriend, her father was chagrined enough to enroll her in a study group that was meant to cure her of bad ideas.

In the Q&A, Janet Ades was crystal-clear about her respect for her father’s dedication and for the need for social justice. What she would not accept, however, was the CP’s military like discipline that forced its members to go along with every twist and turn, always accepting the Kremlin’s word as if it were the Vatican. Indeed, like all members of religious sects, the practice of shunning was used to enforce a monolithic culture.

She added that it was not just the CP that had such a suffocating atmosphere. She alluded to a young man she met in a hospital once whose first name was Karl. Out of curiosity, she asked if he was named after Karl Marx. He laughed and said yes, proceeding to tell her his life story. His father was a member of the Trotskyist movement in Utah who had made a mistake like hers taking up the cause of Hungarian workers. She did not mention what got Karl’s father shunned, but eventually he left the movement in disgust. I commented from the floor that I probably knew his father since he was one of hundreds who had to put up with shunning in the SWP, a party that was created as an alternative to the “bad” CP.

I am not sure where or when this eye-opening documentary will be shown again but will make sure to let you know about it in advance. Educational institutions can purchase it from Dark Hollow films for the customarily prohibitive price. http://www.darkhollowfilms.com/our-films

Finally, I recommend Dan La Botz’s article on the film that appeared on New Politics.  Dan concludes and I concur:

This well-done documentary will be of particular interest to those who want to better understand the history of the Communist Party of the United States and international Communism, as well as to those interested in American Jewry. As a teacher of college courses in American History, I would certainly use it in my upper division classes. The film which is being independently distributed will be shown in the fall at the University of Minnesota Law School and to the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and in the week of November 10 at Baruch College of Performing Arts.

Pankaja Brooke’s “You’re the Enemy – Welcome Back!” also deserves the widest viewing. Brooke went to Vietnam and interviewed a group of Vietnam veterans to returned there to atone for their misdeeds by getting involved in various projects that benefit a country still feeling the lingering effects of a genocidal war.

I was shocked to discover that over 100,000 people died as a result of stepping on unexploded landmines and bombs left over from a brutal war, also that over 3 million have suffered birth defects or illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange. To her credit, Brooke spent time visiting clinics and orphanages devoted to caring for Agent Orange victims, whose care and treatment costs an economically devastated nation millions of dollars each year. If there was any justice, the USA should have paid reparations for the damage it did to people and to precious resources.

Fortunately, Brooke’s documentary can be seen on Vimeo and I recommend it strongly:

https://vimeo.com/88987769

As a group, the Vietnam veterans—all about my age—show America at its best, just as Bernard Ades’s service in the cause of the Spanish Republic did. Next year I will be posting an announcement about the next ALBA film festival. The people who put it together should be commended for fighting the good fight as well. My recommendation is to visit their website (http://www.alba-valb.org/) and stay informed about this excellent resource for human rights and social justice.

 

September 30, 2014

John Holloway’s hippie Marxism

Filed under: autonomism — louisproyect @ 4:39 pm

John Holloway

For me, one of the more fascinating aspects of the autonomist left is its failure to critically examine its own record. Even the anarchists, whose rejection of state power overlaps with the autonomists, can be quite astute in coming to terms with their mistakes. Some of the best critiques of the black block can be found on anarchist websites, for example.

As one of the most visible of the autonomist theorists, John Holloway has never mentioned a single shortcoming of the movement he speaks for. In the sappy romantic film “Love Story”, there’s a phrase that sort of evokes the autonomist stance: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”. Just substitute the word autonomism for love and you’re good to go.

Hollaway held court recently at roar.org. Despite the website’s commitment to the autonomist cause, the interviewer asks some tough questions even though it starts off relatively easy by allowing Holloway to make the basic case for “liberation” amounting to a kind of counter-culture:

In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labor by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit.

These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.). The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks.

I’d love to probe him on the question of water, something that is in many ways a far more critical resource than oil. What would autonomism bring to the table in Detroit, where poor people are having the water cut off? Distributing buckets to the victims of austerity so that they can collect raindrops for future use? Ultimately the only way that water can begin flowing again as a public utility is if there is a political struggle to reverse the austerity drive that makes the poor and working people pay for the city’s economic woes. In the most extreme example of water exploitation, you need only look at the West Bank where the Palestinians are being robbed of water as well as their land. The problem, one among many, is that the Palestinian Authority is a tool of the Palestinian elites that makes concession after concession. Would anybody advise the people of Hebron to “to open windows onto another world” when they are surrounded by the walls of separation and Israeli border guards?

When pressed to define himself in relationship to new leftwing parties like Podemos and Syriza, Holloway at least makes the concession of saying that he would vote for them even though they would ultimately disappoint:

Any government of this kind entails channeling aspirations and struggles into institutional conduits that, by necessity, force one to seek a conciliation between the anger that these movements express and the reproduction of capital. Because the existence of any government involves promoting the reproduction of capital (by attracting foreign investment, or through some other means), there is no way around it. This inevitably means taking part in the aggression that is capital. It’s what has already happened in Bolivia and Venezuela, and it will also be the problem in Greece or Spain.

This is really a fantastically ultraleft outlook, reminiscent in some ways of the DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party that used to lecture the left on the futility of marching against the war in Vietnam or women gaining the right to abortions. Short of communism, everything involves what he calls a “conciliation” with capital, even the Paris Commune. Given a choice between a leftist government in Mexico that would confront the USA around a host of questions, including the miserable free trade agreements that have led to mass emigration, and the Zapatista localized self-help projects, he apparently would opt for the latter. I guess he doesn’t want Mexicans to dirty their hands with a state power that enforced laws that distributed land to the landless as Emiliano Zapata fought for. I’ll take the original Zapatista movement, thank you very much.

In reply to the final question about combining initiatives from below and the use of state power to benefit the poor (a perspective the interviewer appears to defend), Holloway reveals how utopian and foolish he is:

Right now the rage against banks is spreading throughout the world. However, I don’t think banks are the problem, but rather the existence of money as a social relation. How should we think about rage against money? I believe this necessarily entails building non-monetized, non-commodified social relations.

To start with, there is no rage against money. Instead there is rage about not having any. People can’t pay medical bills, their kid’s education or their mortgage and this guy is focused on non-commodified social relations? I think there is a class bias in Holloway’s bogus Marxism. It would certainly appeal to a white 25 year old college graduate who is living in a squat and working in a tattoo parlor or selling marijuana until he or she settles into a respectable job as we all do at one time or another. There is something quite romantic about the “change the world without taking power” business even if it is limited to the far left fringes of today’s hipsterdom. At least in my days, we knew what to call it—being a hippy.

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,962 other followers