Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 26, 2017

Venezuela reconsidered

Filed under: Counterpunch,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 2:48 pm

Chris Gilbert

Last Friday Chris Gilbert wrote an article for CounterPunch titled The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project  that like many I have read since 1999 try to put the late President into a Marxist context, in this instance claiming that “Hugo Chávez was an heir to Lenin’s political legacy.” Before replying to Gilbert, it might be useful to mention other attempts to ground the Bolivarian revolution in one strand of Marxism or another.

In the September 2011 issue of Dialectical Anthropology, Steve Ellner posed the question of whether the process of change in Venezuela resembled a “Permanent Revolution”. After reviewing five distinct stages of the process, Ellner asserts that “the sequence of events and the strategy that influenced them recall the concept of permanent revolution espoused by Leon Trotsky”. Like many other Marxists who have weighed in on post-Chávez Venezuela, there is little evidence that Ellner still expects Venezuela to have its own version of October 1917 any time soon, especially since the native versions of Kerensky and Kornilov have the upper hand.

Michael Lebowitz has written a number of books making connections between the process in Venezuela and what some might consider a Marxism influenced by István Mészáros, including one I reviewed for CounterPunch in August 2015 . In that article, I made a point that I will repeat later on in this article, namely that Venezuela’s woes today have much to do with its entanglement in global capitalist property relations. Even with the best of intentions and inspired by the best Marxism has to offer from either Lebowitz or Mészáros, there were objective constraints that made a socialist Venezuela very difficult if not impossible to attain.

Many on the left, including Jeffery Webber whose new book The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left I reviewed for CounterPunch last month, dismiss Venezuela as a failed populist but neo-liberal experiment. They too hearken back to Marxist theory but mainly as a yardstick with which to measure (or spank) the “pink tide” governments for abandoning Marxist principles. Perhaps if Hugo Chávez had been reading Jeffery Webber rather than István Mészáros, the situation would not be so bleak. (Needless to say, when you are dealing with tenured professors, the emphasis is on reading.)

Last but not least we have George Cicariello-Maher, who like Gilbert invokes Lenin to help us understand the process in Venezuela. Cicariello-Maher is passionately devoted to the communes in Venezuela that pose a “dual power” threat to the capitalist state just as the soviets did in 1917. It is a bit complicated when you consider that the millions of dollars that have helped to get the communes off the ground in Venezuela came from that very capitalist state.

Turning now to Chris Gilbert’s essay, it is an homage to Chávez at a moment when ultraleft sectarians are blaming his policies for the current crisis. Gilbert’s focus is not on the economic woes of the country that some leftists attribute to the Bolivarian revolution’s failure to transcend its status as an oil rentier state or its adoption of a two-tiered currency model that led to runaway inflation but on Chávez’s political acumen in pursuing a single-minded strategic orientation as a latter-day Lenin.

Continue reading

May 23, 2017

Predatory Journals and Predatory Skeptics

Filed under: feminism,religion,science,sociobiology — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

On the Skeptic Magazine website there’s an article titled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies” co-authored by Peter Boghossian, Ed.D. and James Lindsay, Ph.D. that details how they suckered a “peer-reviewed journal” into publishing a bunch of gibberish filled with postmodernist jargon.

The article appeared in Cogent Social Sciences, a division of Taylor and Francis that along with Sage, Springer and Elsevier represent the top-drawer of academic publishing. Or at least has such a reputation. A representative paragraph appears in the Skeptic article:

We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.

The references are as bogus as the rest of the article, including one for the Postmodern Generator, a website coded in the 1990s by Andrew Bulhak featuring an algorithm, based on NYU physicist Alan Sokal’s method of hoaxing a cultural studies journal called Social Text, that returns a different fake postmodern “paper” every time the page is reloaded.

They have to admit that the article was rejected by NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, a Taylor and Francis journal whose editorial board is dominated by Scandinavian academics. An recent article suggests that the journal is strongly influenced by 1970s type feminism: ‘We wouldn’t be boys if we weren’t clever with our hands’ – childhood masculinity in a rural community in Norway.

Considering that is it not included in the top-ranked 115 journals in Gender Studies, being rejected by NORMA indicates a failure to leap a hurdle 6 inches above the ground. As is often (or perhaps universally) the case with being rejected by a Taylor and Francis journal, you get an autoreply inviting you to submit the article to a journal in their open-access Cogent Social Science series that despite the Taylor and Francis imprimatur functions like a predatory journal. Basically, you pony up $1,350 (the hoaxers paid half the normal fee for some reason) and Cogent will be happy to put any crap you write on their website.

Because I have been published in Capitalism, Nature and Socialism, a Taylor and Francis journal, I ended up on some mailing lists that periodically generate mass invitations to the recipients asking them to submit something to open-access predatory journals (Internet-based) as opposed to the far more expensive and exclusive print journals found on JSTOR . For a number of years, University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beal maintained a list of such journals that totaled 1,155 as of December 31, 2016. Beal took down his website in January 2017, providing no comment why. One surmises that he got fed up with being harassed by the conmen operating in this field, including an outfit in India that threatened him with a one billion dollar law suit.

One of the more outrageous predatory journals that solicited an article from me had the gumption to include the name of a professor I knew quite well on its editorial board. When I wrote him to inform him about his name appearing there, he was shocked and wasted no time demanding that they remove it. Typically, the worst of the journals don’t even include a phone number and use a bogus street address for their office. Others are more genuine but don’t really subject an submission to the serious peer review that is typical of academic journals. They also charge hundreds of dollars for the article to be published, a way for them to make a fast buck. Is there much difference between the way they operate and how Cogent Social Science operates?

The hoaxers claim that there is a difference since Cogent is included in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Clearly being included in the directory can be a transitory event since 3,776 were deleted from dataset of 12.595 since its inception, including 376 for ethical lapses. Japan is the worst offender apparently.

Why are these journals called predatory? Since I have become acquainted with many tenure-track professors over the years, I can tell you that they are under enormous pressure to accumulate a paper trail of publications—publish or perish, in other words. Some inevitably succumb to the temptation of paying hundreds of dollars for appearing in a journal that is borderline predatory. Does any of this have anything to do with enhancing humanity’s body of knowledge? I can tell you that even for the best journals coming out of an Ivy school, the number of people who read these JSTOR type articles is vanishingly small.

Unlike Alan Sokal, who received almost universal acclaim in 1996 except from those postmodernists he spoofed, Boghossian and Lindsay have gotten bad press. Salon notes that in making an amalgam between predatory publishing and gender studies, the authors neglect to mention that Cogent Social Sciences lacks a single editor in the field. They are experts in tourism, criminology, development planning, geography, sport management and communication sciences—hardly fields that qualify them to evaluate an article on gender inequality. The hoaxers made a self-righteous case against gender studies:

Our aim was smaller yet more pointed. We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.3

I am not exactly sure what evidence they are talking about since the endnote pointed to “countless examples documented on the anonymously run Twitter feed @RealPeerReview”. A cursory glance of this Twitter feed will reveal this sort of thing: “Seems that many academics dislike the wonderful Martian movie (and probably @andyweirauthor’s book it’s based on)”. As a rule of thumb, anything that appears on Twitter is hardly worth considering so it is no surprise that the two hoaxers cite it as proving their point.

Since Boghossian has cultivated a career as a professional atheist, it is no surprise that he used Skeptic Magazine as a platform, where Dawkins is considered a leading exemplary.  Boghossian is a featured speaker of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and wrote a book titled “A Manual for Creating Atheists” that repeats the arguments made by Dawkins in his own book “The God Delusion”. His writing partner James Lindsay wrote one of those books himself. Titled “God Doesn’t; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges”, it tries to show that a belief in God is fed by social needs that people do not know how to meet. Since those social needs will exist as long as capitalism exists, I doubt that such books will do much good.

I get a chuckle out of Skeptic Magazine upholding hard scientific values against postmodernist mumbo-jumbo since its editorial board is a virtual hotbed of sociobiologists, including the aforementioned Dawkins, Jared Diamond and the infamous Napoleon Chagnon. Additionally, the hoax got the endorsement of Stephen Pinker, who like Jared Diamond believes that hunting and gathering societies were far more capable of genocide than Adolph Hitler. Why? Because it is in our genes evidently. Survival International summed up the beliefs of of this unsavory crew:

Steven Pinker (‘evolutionary psychologist’)

In The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), Steven Pinker promotes a fictitious, colonialist image of a backward ‘Brutal Savage’, which pushes the debate on tribal peoples’ rights back over a century and is still used to justify their destruction. Read more about why Pinker’s ‘science’ is wrong.

Napoleon Chagnon (anthropologist)

Steven Pinker would arguably not have been able to reach the conclusions he does about tribal violence without the highly controversial work of a single anthropologist: Napoleon Chagnon studied the Yanomami tribe from the 1960s, calling them ‘The Fierce People’. But are the Yanomami really fierce?

Napoleon Chagnon’s view that the Yanomami are ‘sly, aggressive and intimidating’ and that they ‘live in a state of chronic warfare’ has been widely discredited. Nonetheless, both Diamond and Pinker’s conclusions about tribal violence rely heavily on his work.

Jared Diamond (geographer)

Jared Diamond’s 2012 book, The World Until Yesterday is ostensibly about what industrialized people (whom he calls ‘modern’) can learn from tribal peoples (he calls them ‘traditional’). His book, however, carries a false and dangerous message – that most tribes engage in constant warfare, both needing and welcoming state intervention to stop their violent behavior. Read more.

As far as Dawkins is concerned, we can assume that he was eager to publicize anything that smacked of hostility to feminism given his track record. In 2011, he got in a flame war with feminists as reported by The Atlantic:

Richard Dawkins made an unexpected appearance in the comments section of biologist PZ Myers’ post at Scienceblogs.com last week. Myers was commenting on Rebecca Watson’s recent experience being propositioned in a hotel elevator by a male attendee of a conference at which Watson had just spoken in Dublin. Dawkins got himself into hot water by commenting in the form of a sarcastic letter to a Muslim woman, pointing out how trivial Watson’s experience in the elevator was compared to the abuses Muslim women deal with on a daily basis. “Stop whining will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and…yawn…don’t tell me again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery,” he wrote. “But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.”

Then in 2014, he Tweeted that women should not get drunk if they want to avoid being raped:

Two years later he was disinvited from a conference organized by skeptics for Tweeting a sexist video:

Finally, with respect to the Sokal hoax. Back in 1996, I was thrilled by the news that those masters of obfuscation and critics of Marxist grand narratives were finally getting their comeuppance and from a volunteer who had gone to Nicaragua with a Tecnica delegation I had helped to organize. It was only a few years later when I discovered the background to the con job he pulled on Social Text that I woke up:

I had never really given much thought to Alan’s relationship to Marxism. I, like most people, just assumed that he had gone through volume one of Capital, etc., in the way that young orthodox Jews learn to read Hebrew. Anybody who describes himself as a “socialist” repeatedly in debates with Andrew Ross et al, clearly MUST have at least familiarity with, if not commitment to, the Marxist intellectual tradition.

I discovered that this is not true at all. Despite Alan’s assertion that he is a socialist, in reality he is a left liberal. I had lunch with him on New Year’s Eve in order to discuss my concerns about his defense of the “Kennewick Man” excavations near the Columbia River in Washington State. Alan had defended the scientists against the American Indian “creationists” in his debate with Andrew Ross and I hadn’t given it too much thought at the time. Now that I had become thoroughly immersed in such questions, his position gnawed away at me like a piece of undigested food.

In the course of our discussion, it was revealed to me that Alan’s defense of science has nothing to do with Marxism or socialism. It is virtually indistinguishable from everyday liberal concepts of the role of scientists in society. He said that bad science would expose itself in a free society, so there would seem to be little risk of running into the sort of horrors that took place in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia. All we have to do is criticize the excesses of archaeologists and everything would come out okay in the end. I sat there sipping my wine in a mood of total shock. Alan’s trust in capitalist society was touching but a bit naïve. After all, this was a free country when anthropologists and archaeologists wrote all sorts of racist nonsense throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Leaving this aside for the moment, I had a completely different analysis of how science is conducted. As a stodgy old Marxist, I had become convinced long ago that the ruling ideas of society are those of the ruling class. Science was not immune.

I asked Alan if he had ever read Richard Lewontin or Richard Levins, co-authors of “The Dialectical Biologist.” No, he had taken the book out of the library, but never read it. This was astonishing to me. How could Alan Sokal have become regarded as some kind of defender of Marxist rectitude when he had utterly no engagement with the main experts in the field. In his new book “Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science,” co-authored by physicist Jean Bricmont, there is no index entry for Marx, Lewontin or Levins. In the one chapter that deals with their own views on the science wars, as opposed to the follies of the pomos, they analyze Thomas Kuhn, not the Marxist analysis of what Lewontin and Levins call the “Commoditization of Science.” That is the real issue, not what Lacan thinks of pi.

In point of fact, the Social Text issue that Alan’s spoof appeared in is one of their better efforts. It is available now under the title “Science Wars” and contains first-rate articles by Levins and Lewontin. It turns out that the original Social Text issue was basically a rejoinder to Norman Levitt, Alan Sokal’s ally in the so-called science wars. Alan told Lingua Franca that his spoof was inspired by Levitt’s efforts to expose irrational tendencies in the academy.

Directing his attention to Levitt and co-author Paul Gross’s “Higher Superstitions,” Lewontin writes:

What Gross and Levitt have done is to turn their back on, or deny the existence of, some of the most important questions in the formation of scientific knowledge. They are scornful of ‘metaphor mongers,’ yet Gross’s own field of developmental biology is in the iron grip of a metaphor, the metaphor of ‘development’ To describe the life history of an organism as ‘development’ is to prejudice the entire problematic of the investigation and to guarantee that certain explanations will dominate. ‘Development’ means literally an unrolling or an unfolding, seen also in the Spanish desarollo, or the German Entwicklung (unwinding). It means the making manifest of an already predetermined pattern immanent in the fertilized egg, just as the picture is immanent in an exposed film, which is then ‘developed.’ All that is required is the appropriate triggering of the process and the provision of a milieu that allows it to unfold. This is not mere ‘metaphor mongering’; it reveals the shape of investigation in the field. Genes are everything. The environment is irrelevant except insofar as it allows development. The field then takes as its problematic precisely those life-history events that are indeed specified in the genome: the differentiation of the front end from the back end, and why pigs do not have wings. But it ignores completely the vast field of characters for which there is a constant interplay between genes and environment, and which cannot be understood under the rubric of ‘development,’ Nor are these characters trivial: they certainly include the central nervous system, for which the life history of the nerve connections of the roundworm is a very bad metaphor.

This is the kind of discussion that matters most in the so-called science wars. Instead of shooting fish in a barrel, Alan Sokal should be responding to these arguments. Instead, he has constructed strawmen that are easy to knock down.

May 22, 2017

The business of America is business

Filed under: Iran,Saudi Arabia,Trump — louisproyect @ 4:59 pm

Calvin Coolidge: The business of America is business

If the overarching goal of the USA is to use Saudi Arabia as its chief partner in a proxy war on the “axis of resistance” in the Middle East, then it can be said that Donald Trump is continuing with the policy of his predecessor Barack Obama and one that Hillary Clinton would have continued as part of the “neoliberal” foreign policy supported by John McCain, the NY Times op-ed page, and me–according to my intellectually-impaired detractors.

On the other hand, for NY Times reporters Ben Hubbard and Thomas Erdbrink, the visit was a departure from Obama’s foreign policy favoring Iran:

In using the headline address of his first foreign trip as president to declare his commitment to Sunni Arab nations, Mr. Trump signaled a return to an American policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats, regardless of their human rights records or policies that sometimes undermine American interests.

At the same time, he rejected the path taken by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Mr. Obama engaged with Iran to reach a breakthrough nuclear accord, which Mr. Trump’s administration has acknowledged Iran is following.

One has to wonder why the two reporters ever thought that there was a “return” to an American policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats given Obama’s actions as opposed to his high-falutin’ words. In a 2002 speech he called upon the Saudis to “stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent” but as President he sold $115 billion of arms to the Saudis, which was $30 billion more than George W. Bush ever did and even $5 million more than Trump’s deal.

Gareth Porter, a well-known supporter of the “axis of resistance” must be particularly disappointed in Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia since his foreign policy was supposedly a repudiation of Hillary Clinton’s hawkish stance. In a January 20, 2017 Middle East Eye article titled “US intervention in Syria? Not under Trump”, Porter expressed relief that Trump would cut off funding for the jihadi groups in Syria:

The US military leadership was never on board with the policy of relying on those armed groups to advance US interests in Syria in the first place.

It recognised that, despite the serious faults of the Assad regime, the Syrian army was the only Syrian institution committed to resisting both al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

It seems likely that the Trump administration will now return to that point as it tries to rebuild a policy from the ashes of the failed policy of the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, for the very first time in the six year war in Syria, the USA has deliberately struck Assad’s military. The first instance was to retaliate for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas attack; the most recent was an air strike against a convoy of militias advancing on a base where United States and British Special Forces were training Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State. Pirouetting as nimbly as Baryshnikov, Porter warned Commondreams readers about Trump agreeing to the Pentagon’s “permanent War in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria” but held out hope that “judging from his position during the campaign and his recent remarks, Trump may well baulk at the plans now being pushed by his advisers.” This distinction between Trump and his bellicose advisers James Mattis and H.R. McMaster based on Trump’s “remarks” is a reminder that P.T. Barnum was right when he observed that there is a sucker born every minute. Doesn’t Porter understand that if Trump said it was a sunny day, you need to to bring an umbrella with you when you go outside?

On April 18th, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a letter to Paul Ryan assuring him that Iran was living up to the agreement made with the Obama administration not to develop nuclear arms even though the letter referred to Iran’s support of “terror” in the Middle East. Tillerson sounded very much as if he was Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State on April 10th in the aftermath of the bombing of a Syrian air base (largely ineffectual) with his statement that Assad’s reign was “coming to an end”. One supposes that these words carry about as much weight as Obama’s frequently repeated call for Assad to step down.

Meanwhile, Al_Masdar news, the former employer of neo-Nazi/Assadist Paul Antonopoulos and a reliable source of “axis of resistance” opinion, has good news for those who hoped that the Trump/Putin détente could be salvaged:

Russia’s Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford confirmed in their phone conversation the readiness to reinstate the memorandum of understanding on safe flights over Syria and to draw up more measures so as to avoid any conflicts, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday.

“Syria was in focus of the talks in the light of the agreements, reached in Astana on May 4 this year, on establishing de-escalation zones in some regions of Syria,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Astana talks began in Khazakistan in early January. Sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Syria, they were supposed to lead to a truce and eventually an end to the war. The USA sent observers to Astana but did not push for “regime change”, even from the peanut gallery. Last week the rebel delegation boycotted the talks because Assad had violated the truce. Syria blamed Turkey for the breakdown at Astana but the idea that it was opposed to the general aim of the talks to consolidate Assad’s rule over the carcass that is Syria today appears ludicrous given Erdogan’s bromance with Putin that grew out of Turkey’s anxieties over the US-Kurdish military ties plus the need to reestablish commercial relations with Russia to counteract a deep economic slump.

Five days ago Trump announced that a waiver on sanctions on Iran would continue even with added restrictions. Relaxation will continue unabated in all likelihood given the election of Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who favors “globalism” as the people at Global Research might put it.

The verbal belligerence to Iran must be weighed against the USA’s continuing support for the Shi’a sectarian state in Iraq and its obvious willingness to abide by Assad’s continuing rule despite the two military strikes in 2017. If Trump and his generals were genuinely for prosecuting a proxy war with Iran and Russia, the first thing they would do is arm the rebels against Assad. However, as was the case with Obama, the rebels are expected to fight ISIS, not the blood-soaked despot whose brutal sectarian dictatorship helped ISIS take root.

In May 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry advised European banks to proceed full speed ahead investing in Iran, even if American banks still could not. It didn’t take too long for American corporations to take advantage of the thaw. On April 4, 2017 Iran signed a deal pay Boeing  $4 billion for 60 jets to refurbish its aging state-owned airline. I am generally not in the business of playing Nostradamus but I am predicting that Trump will okay the deal. After all, Calvin Coolidge got it right when he said that the business of America was business.

As the WSJ reported on March 28, 2017 in an article by Asa Fitch and Benoit Faucon, those European corporations Kerry encouraged will take advantage of profit-maximizing opportunities that it will be impossible for the USA to resist, especially when it comes to someone as nakedly devoted to corporate interests as Donald J. Trump:

After years shunning Iran, Western businesses are bursting through the country’s doors — but U.S. companies are noticeably absent.

Dozens of development projects and deals have been hammered out since Iran’s nuclear accord with world powers in 2015 lifted a range of sanctions. Among them, France’s Peugeot and Renault SA are building cars. The U.K.’s Vodafone Group PLC is teaming up with an Iranian firm to build up network infrastructure. Major oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell PLC have signed provisional agreements to develop energy resources. And infrastructure giants, including Germany’s Siemens AG, have entered into agreements for large projects.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. last year got the go-ahead to sell 80 aircraft valued at $16.6 billion to Iran. But for the most part, deals involving U.S. businesses are few and far between.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., have steered clear of Iran since the nuclear accord. A Ford spokeswoman said the company was complying with U.S. law and didn’t have any business with Iran. GM is focusing “on other markets, and other opportunities,” a spokesman said.

Peugeot has taken notice. Its Middle East chief, Jean-Christophe Quemard, said Peugeot’s early entry has left U.S. rivals in the dust. “This is our opportunity to accelerate,” he said last month.

U.S. companies are at risk of losing lucrative deals to early movers into a promising market of 80 million people, analysts say, setting off skirmishes among European and Asian companies eager to gain an edge on more-cautious U.S. competitors. But as latecomers, U.S. companies likely won’t face a learning curve in dealing with the political risks and the bureaucratic difficulties in Iran.

Apple Inc. explored entering the country after the Obama administration allowed the export of personal-communications devices in 2013, according to people familiar with the matter. But the company decided against it because of banking and legal problems, the people said. Apple declined to comment.

U.S. companies usually need special permission from the Treasury Department to do business with Iran. Further complicating matters for U.S. companies: President Donald Trump during his campaign threatened to rip up Iran’s nuclear deal, and he hit the country with new sanctions shortly after taking office. On Sunday, Iran imposed its own sanctions on 15 U.S. companies, mainly defense firms.

The nuclear deal removed a range of U.S., European Union and United Nations sanctions in 2016 that had held back Iranian energy exports and put the brakes on foreign investment. But while food, medicine and agricultural products are exempted from U.S. restrictions, U.S. products are available in Iran often only through foreign subsidiaries or third-party importers.

Peugeot, officially known as Groupe PSA SA, is aiming to hit annual production of 200,000 cars in Iran by next year in conjunction with its partner Iran Khodro, after the two signed a 400 million euro ($432 million) joint-venture agreement in June. Already, the pace of both Peugeot’s and Renault’s car sales in Iran has more than doubled.

Asian companies, mainly Chinese ones, have had a growing presence in Iran. Some have stepped up activities since the nuclear deal, including China National Petroleum Corp., which joined France’s Total SA in a preliminary agreement to develop a major Iranian gas field in November.

Iran has caught the attention of a broad spectrum of investors beyond autos, with foreign companies selling everything from gas-powered turbines to mining technologies in the country.

Government-approved foreign direct investment shot up to more than $11 billion last year, official figures show, from $1.26 billion in 2015. Pedram Soltani, the vice president of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, said more than 200 foreign business delegations have visited Iran since the nuclear deal took effect.

“We see what’s happening in the U.S. and Mr. Trump’s comments,” said Ghadir Ghiafe, an Iranian steel-industry executive who is exploring partnerships with South American and European companies. “Our businessmen don’t pay much attention to it.”

Foreign companies still face daunting obstacles to doing business in Iran. Iran placed 131st out of 176 countries for corruption in a ranking by Transparency International last year. It also has major economic problems, including high unemployment and a banking system saddled with bad loans.

Large international banks remain reluctant to re-establish links with Iran despite the nuclear deal. That reluctance has made transfers of money into and out of Iran a challenge.

Western banks such as Standard Chartered PLC, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Suisse Group AG have generally refused to handle transactions to Iran for fear of running afoul of banking sanctions that remain. Chinese and smaller European banks have attempted to step into the breach, even though many companies remain concerned about the regulatory environment.

Some large multinationals — including infrastructure giants and major oil companies — are keeping a close eye on the U.S. in case sanctions snap back into place. Shell, Total SA and OMV AG of Austria have signed memorandums of understanding for deals in Iran but have yet to complete terms.

Last month, Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said the company would wait for clarity from the Trump administration before completing a $4.8 billion investment in the country’s South Pars offshore gas field.

But many foreign companies are finding the country’s growth hard to ignore.

The International Monetary Fund recently estimated the economy grew 7.4% in the first half of the Iranian fiscal year that ended this month, rebounding from a decline in the previous year. Meanwhile, a surge in demand has pushed consumer spending in Tehran to $5,240 per capita so far in 2017, up about 11% compared with 2016, according to Planet Retail, a London research firm.

American deals with Iran will go full steam ahead. That’s my prediction based on the fundamental laws of capitalism, a system that allowed IBM, Coca-Cola and Ford to do business with Nazi Germany even after WWII had begun.

May 20, 2017

DDTea takes on the Assadist trolls

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:15 pm

It is really amazing that despite the vast network of pro-Assad websites that can be relied on to put forward “false flag” narratives on the sarin gas attacks in East Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun, there is still an obvious organized effort to discredit the articles on Bellingcat that put the blame on Assad. Bellingcat was launched by Elliot Higgins in 2014, just two years after he started the Brown Moses blog to counteract the “axis of resistance” propaganda that dominated the coverage of various hot spots, especially Syria and Ukraine.

Elliot’s specialty was using “open source” material from the Internet, including Youtube videos, satellite images as well as social media including Facebook and Twitter accounts by those on the scene.

Early on Elliot began to rely on the analysis of Dan Kaszeta, the managing director of Strongpoint Security Ltd who lives and works in London and who has 26 years experience in how to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. Dan was instrumental in bringing to bear the evidence of hexamine in the soil of East Ghouta as proof that Assad was responsible for the attack. As Kaszeta explained, hexamine is a key ingredient in weaponizing sarin gas. No matter how strenuous the efforts of Assadist trolls to discredit this testimony, they never managed to explain why Assad surrendered 80 tons of the stuff after a deal was brokered by Russia in 2013 to prevent Obama from punishing Assad, which never was his intention in the first place.

Since the Khan Sheikhoun attack has generated a virtual repeat of the troll attack on Bellingcat that took place in 2013, Kaszeta reminded Elliot’s readers why it was used in the first place in an article titled “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…”. As might be expected, the trolls have been active trying to undermine the analysis found in the article, which is always connected by necessity to a “false flag” explanation.

They have their work cut out for them now that a commenter who calls himself DDTea has become a regular at Bellingcat drawing upon his considerable expertise. As a PhD student in chemistry who does not use his real name for obvious reasons, DDTea is not only a walking encyclopedia of the chemistry of sarin gas and other such weapons but is a formidable polemicist like Kaszeta. The two of them in combination with Elliot Higgins are like a trio of Van Helsings that are more than a match for the Assadist Draculas who bare their fangs on Bellingcat on an ongoing basis.

Here is DDTea’s latest reply to them under Dan’s article. Priceless.

I’ve posted this elsewhere, but people are repeating the same, tired claims that, “this seems suspicious.” Yet nobody can offer an alternative theory to explain the evidence, so I’ve gone ahead and proposed one myself. You will see it is far more plausible than the specious notion that a government aircraft dropped a bomb of Sarin. This theory is based on the reports of experts who should be trusted without further thought.

The Syrian regime bombed an Al-Nusra warehouse full of sarin, which was being delivered to and used by ISIS in Iraq [1]. However, this sarin did not poison anybody: instead, a cloud of burning plastic may have disseminated in the air [2], which caused symptoms remarkably similar to Sarin poisoning—especially the foaming mouths. Simultaneous with this air bombardment on a warehouse, Al-Nusra detonated a bomb on top of a pipe full of Sarin [3] to create a crater, thus giving the illusion of an airstrike that didn’t actually happen. They chose not to recover the tube to conceal their evidence when they went back to “tamper” with the crime scene–while recording it from multiple camera angles and releasing footage online, no less. As others have speculated (even here on bellingcat), this tampering may have involved spreading sarin and degradation products around the crater to create the illusion of a sarin attack, even though they already dispersed sarin.

But this Sarin didn’t poison anyone either! Instead, Al-Nusra took a bunch of Christians and gassed them with carbon monoxide or cyanide or other “rubigenic toxin” [4] in a basement. They then drove their victims to the hospital, where they were drugged with something to cause miosis [4]. Simultaneously, a bunch of collaborators were sent to Turkish hospitals to convey a false flag cover story about a regime airstrike with poison gas. To this date, they are still repeating the same false story–conspiring down to the finest details of their story when questioned separately. The OPCW was in on it, and agreed to falsify evidence together with the Turks—providing false witness to compromised blood samples. Then the rebels went back and tampered [5] with the crater and Sarin tube. The crater has since been filled in so that nobody would find the evidence they planted to frame the regime.

And everyone who disagrees with this version of the truth is a neoconservative imperialist NATO troll who supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

(For the record: Bhopal was caused by methyl isocyanate, not plastic combustion products)
[1] https://www.rt.com/news/383522-syria-idlib-warehouse-strike-chemical/
[2]http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/russian_explanation_of_the_mass_poisoning_in_syria_could_be_true_20170426
[3] https://www.scribd.com/document/344995943/Report-by-White-House-Alleging-Proof-of-Syria-as-the-Perpetrator-of-the-Nerve-Agent-Attack-in-Khan-Shaykhun-on-April-4-2017#from_embed
[4] O’Brien, Denis. “The Apr04|17 incident at Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. A series of inquiries. KS Post #1: Analysis of the Shajul Islam video .
” April 5, 2017. http://logophere.com/Topics2017/17-04/17_015-BLA-ShajulIslam.htm
[5] http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/addendum-dr-theodore-postols-assessment-white-house-report-syria-chemical-attack.html

May 19, 2017

Documenting Discontent: Talking With Jamsheed Akrami About Iranian Cinema

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 3:16 pm

Three years ago Jeff St. Clair affixed the title “Is Abbas Kiarostami the World’s Most Talented Film-maker?” to my review of the Iranian director’s 1999 masterpiece “The Wind Will Carry Us”. I, of course, would not only answer yes to his rhetorical question but would go one step further and argue that Iranian filmmakers collectively have been making the greatest films for the past 30 years at least. They are the equivalent of the French nouvelle vague of the 1950s and early 60s but paradoxically produce great films under the heavy constraints of a clerical state that not only puts obstacles in their path but drives some of the elite figures into exile or in the case of Jafar Panahi kept under house arrest.

Recently I was fortunate enough to view four documentaries about Iranian film by Jamsheed Akrami, a Professor in the Communications Department of William Paterson University in New Jersey, that were made between 2000 and 2013 and are now available from Arab Film Distribution, which markets DVDs to institutional customers such as university libraries and film departments.

The price is too steep for the average CounterPunch readers but I strongly urge film professors, Mideast studies faculty members and any other academics concerned about the problems of artists in an authoritarian society to set aside money for the films when they are preparing their budget for the next fiscal year. Akrami, who has a supreme mastery of Iranian politics and cinema, is an accomplished interviewer who adroitly blends the words of these stellar filmmakers with excerpts from their work that are spellbinding.

Although I have reviewed well over twenty films by Iranian directors since the early 2000s, including nearly every film Abbas Kiarostami has made, and have read scholarly treatments on Iranian film, I was surprised by how little I knew while watching Akrami’s documentaries. Even if you have never seen an Iranian film, the documentaries will still engage you intellectually and politically since they relate to the nagging problem of artistic freedom globally.

Continue Reading

May 18, 2017

Abacus: Too Small to Jail

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:53 pm

Opening tomorrow at the IFC Center in NYC, “Abacus: Too Small to Jail” is a documentary that chronicles the five year legal struggle of the founder, top officers (his daughters) and lower-level staff to defend themselves against District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (the son of Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State) who charged them with bank fraud felonies having absolutely no merit.

The Abacus Federal Savings Bank was a mom-and-pop operation located on the Bowery in Chinatown between a herb medication shop and a noodle parlor. It was founded by lawyer and real estate investor Thomas Sung in 1985 to meet the needs of the immigrant community that distrusted the big banks that operated in Chinatown. Even if they had Chinese tellers and managers, it was nearly impossible for an immigrant to get a loan or a mortgage.

Things were going very well for the bank until 2009 (it had expanded to six branches) when a loan officer ripped off a husband and wife looking to buy their first home. He conned them into giving him $2500 as a way of lubricating the deal and falsified the papers needed for the closing. The couple lost their $72,000 deposit, more than two years salary. They reported the theft to the police, naming the loan officer as the culprit. By then, Thomas Sung had fired the loan officer, opened up an internal investigation and reported the findings to the police and federal authorities.

Normally, this would have not been treated as a criminal case and the bank would have offered restitution to the couple but that would not satisfy Cyrus Vance Jr. Instead he decided to prosecute the bank, two of its supervisors, and nine of its former employees on a hundred-and-eighty-four-count indictment that included charges of residential-mortgage fraud, falsification of business records, and conspiracy. The Abacus employees, all Chinese-American, were paraded through the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, handcuffed together, as if they were members of a drug cartel. Some faced a maximum sentence of twenty-five years in prison.

Could it not be more obvious that they were scapegoats in a case that was in sharp contrast to Citibank, Chase Manhattan and Bank America not suffering a single arrest even though trillions of dollars were lost because of fraud?

It turned out that with only a handful of exceptions, everybody who applied for a loan at Abacus was treated fairly. The problem for the bank is that many of the loan applications seemed fishy. It was not unusual for someone that declared $25,000 income on their tax returns would be eligible for an $800,000 mortgage. The prosecution made the case that the bank was committing fraud in the same way that the banks were pushing low interest loans to low-income people whose mortgages were collateralized and packaged as very secure investments. What the defense attorney attempted to show was that the Chinatown bank customer operated in a cash economy and that the reported income did not reflect their true wealth. When one defendant was asked how they knew the customer would be able to pay off the mortgage, he replied that he eats at his restaurant every week and knows that he was very solvent.

While most of the film examines the hypocrisy of the prosecutors against the backdrop of Chinese immigrant culture, the most appealing part of the film was the unintentional comedy of bank CEO Thomas Sung and his three daughters who were constantly bickering with their unflappable father.

The film continually refers back to the Frank Capra chestnut “It’s a Wonderful Life” that has a plot similar to this documentary. I enjoyed the documentary much more.

May 17, 2017

Donald Trump, National Bolshevism and the radical deficit

Filed under: Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 4:28 pm

Three years ago I wrote an article titled “National Bolshevism rides again” that called attention to Golden Dawn’s support for Russia against Euromaidan that sounded exactly like the sort of thing written by Mike Whitney: “Ukraine is Washington’s pretext for a conflict with Russia. The threat of conflict is evident from the flood of propaganda in the Zionist media. Putin is demonized daily as Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi were earlier, while known Zionist newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times, present daily ‘evidence’ Russian troops are ready to invade Ukraine. The only things missing are the weapons of mass destruction in order to have a complete repeat.”

Little did I suspect that within three years, an American version of Golden Dawn would be saying the same thing. On May 13th, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer led a small demonstration protesting the removal of a statue honoring Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Among the chants heard from the mouths of these fascists (I use the word advisedly) was “Blood and soil” and “Russia is our friend”.

If “Russia is our friend”, it is understandable why Stephen F. Cohen would tell Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly’s replacement at Fox News, that the “Assault on Trump is [the] greatest threat to our country”. Like Cohen, Spencer considers the liberal onslaught on Trump to be the main danger to the USA. In a comment on Trump’s divulging classified information to the Russians, Spencer used words that could have come out of Cohen’s mouth: “This is only a scandal in the minds of those who haven’t heard that the Cold War is over.”

Spencer is a fairly crafty operator, looking to speak out of both sides of his mouth. In addition to paying reverence to Robert E. Lee, he also has good things to say about Karl Marx, on May Day no less:

I am not the only person who has been noticing this development. Sukant Chandan, who unlike me is a major supporter of Bashar al-Assad, began to speak out largely because of the support of the ultraright for Brexit. The nativism that defines UKIP, the Trump administration and other ultraright parties that have been coming together in an informal global movement taking inspiration from the Kremlin is certainly going to antagonize an Indian immigrant in England where a dark skin is an open invitation to a beating. On Facebook, Chandan wrote:

Here I argue in 2mins that there are many who advocated on Press TV and RT etc years that Trump would be ‘better’ than Hilary, that these people invited the man who bombed Syria and Afghanistan, humiliated Russia, went to the brink of war with Korea and China, that these people should either apologise publicly and conduct some serious self critique (I made a wrong analysis on Obama, have apologised for that many times and critically self analysed a lot publicly for years), or they should be chased out of our circles and all platforms should be taken away from them. They advocated for the guy who bombed two of our homelands and threatened total war against China and Korea. These people are mainly those organised around far-right/alt-right/fascist circles and those collaborating with them around things like: Centre for Syncretic Studies (and all individuals and organisations involved, which is easily found), Katehon, New Resistance, The Duran, Saker, Fort Russ, 21st Century Wire, Sputnik, and others. These are forces who are directly in alliance with blatant neo-Nazi and western far right and openly fascist forces. The rise of fascist oriented forces and leaders like Trump are *not* friends of ours but fascist imperialist enemies of our peoples.

Of the websites called out by Chandan, I am familiar with The Duran, Saker, the aptly named Fort Russ, 21st Century Wire and Sputnik. But who were the others?

As its name implies, the rather academic sounding Centre for Syncretic Studies attempts to bring together (syncretize) “various ideologies which originate from across the entire spectrum” and overlaps ideologically and personnel-wise with Katehon. Katehon is likely the same word as Katechon, a term found in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 that refers to the apocalypse.

Essentially, both think-tanks are devoted to the thinking of Aleksandr Dugin, a latter-day National Bolshevik. Katehon was founded by Konstantin Malofeev, who is the CEO of Marshall Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Malofeev is a devout Russian Orthodox believer and has also been accused of defrauding the state-owned bank VTB of $200 million. I suppose in this day and age, the two things go together. You can find a typical Katehon article by Dugin titled “Russian Geopolitician: Trump Is Real America” whose title speaks for itself. Speaking for Spencer and countless other rightwing scumbags, Dugin wrote:

Thus, there is Donald Trump, who is tough, rough, says what he thinks, rude, emotional and, apparently, candid. The fact that he is a billionaire doesn’t matter. He is different. He is an extremely successful ordinary American. He is crude America, without gloss and the globalist elite. He is sometimes disgusting and violent, but he is what he is. It is true America.

I should add that the words globalism and globalist have become signifiers for the alt-right. The next time you hear someone using them, run the opposite direction as fast as your feet can carry you.

Moving right along, we come to New Resistance that is based in the USA as opposed to the two Russian-based groups discussed above. The New Resistance appears to be some sort of left group whose views are expressed at Open Revolt!, a blog with little impact according to Alexa that ranks it at 1,897,874 globally. (For comparison’s sake, my blog is ranked 383,286.)

The most recent post to Open Revolt is from February 22nd and titled “New Resistance on Alex Jones, Alexander Dugin and Infowars” that ties it to Dugin ideologically:

Alex Jones gets more than 50 million views at Infowars a week. Last night I watched his feature with Alexandr Dugin and I was expecting to be very critical of it. For once, I was pleasantly surprised. Alex Jones couldn’t have been more respectful and fair, treating Comrade Dugin with the respect he has earned and deserves. He also made a point of showing screenshots of Katehon.com and running the Katehon web address in text beneath Dugin’s name. Many of you probably know Katehon is a Traditionalist and anti-globalist project and some of the major people involved with the site are also part of New Resistance.

That’s a huge breakthrough moment.

Thanks to Alex Jones potentially tens of millions of American eyes are being opened to Alexander Dugin and to the Fourth Political Theory in an honest way. That’s totally jaw dropping.

Notwithstanding the shout-out to Dugin, Open Revolt does not seem nearly as bad as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute. In fact, the New Resistance manifesto sounds as good as the one Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in 1848:

We believe that the capitalist system we have today needs to be replaced by something that truly fosters a civilized, sustainable & just society, where economics is subordinated to the social good. NEW RESISTANCE, therefore, supports the following policies:

1) the abolition of wage slavery and landlordism;

2) the distribution of land (either a certain acreage or as apartment square feet) to all citizens and making it non-transferable, thus avoiding accumulation into the hands of a privileged few;

3) some sort of guaranteed annual income & humane social safety net;

4) free universal health care (medicine and related fields should be a calling, NOT a business);

5) economic enterprises larger or more complex than a small family business or farm should be self-managed by workers, via workers’ councils.

Of course, you have to read the fine print:

Like the Black, American Indian and Chicano nationalists, NEW RESISTANCE is a movement geared towards National Liberation. Our people, as we define them, are the “white” American working classes, in which we include the urban proletariat, the rural poor, those unemployed or under-employed (“precarious labor”), as well as displaced members of the middle class. We use the term “white” reluctantly to denote the vast pool of Americans of European descent and those who adopt the cultural mores of “white America”.

This is just a soft sell version of what David Duke has been peddling for decades.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 3.05.03 PM

James Porazzo

New Resistance was founded by James Porazzo, a Boston man who was formerly involved with the American Front, a skinhead group that worked closely with Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance and that eventually came to espouse The Third Position, which “syncretizes” racial separatism and socialism. Like Richard Spencer, Porazzo figured out that socialism was not a scare word any more and might even help him recruit new members.

Indeed, Porazzo seems like a natural ally to all those people in the “anti-imperialist” camp. He links to a Bashar al-Assad interview and crossposts Eva Gollinger’s tribute to Hugo Chavez. Interviewed at the Center for Syncretic Studies, Porazzo can barely be distinguished from James Petras (maybe that’s the problem):

Capitalism or institutionalized looting, selfishness and greed are a kind of religion for the pigs that govern the United States. The Democratic and Republican parties are united in this, just showing different shades of the same disease.  Most of the right-wing opposition here, including the reactionary extreme right, are infected by this disease. It can be seen from the fact that hardly wait to cast aspersions onto any other organization with a revolutionary social program, such as as ours.

For us, the absolute enemy is the cult of the golden calf.  We are open to discuss common goals with all genuine anti-capitalists. The struggle against capitalism must always be a priority.

The rebirth of National Bolshevism is something to contend with. The original version first came to my attention writing about the Comintern and the German revolution of the early 20s. Ruth Fischer, an ultraleft and half-Jewish member of the German CP back then, gave a speech that included these words that sound even worse than anything Porazzo might come up with:

Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class, even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts…But…how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klockner?…Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the “folkish” side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.

Porazzo has paid close attention to the attempts of the Red-Brown synthesis in the 1920s that has now been given new life by Aleksandr Dugin. Not only has he crossposted Dugin’s articles, he has paid tribute to some obscure figures such as Ernst Niekisch. Starting off as a Communist during Weimar, Niekisch eventually broke with Marxism and developed the official National Bolshevik theory that combined elements of German nationalism and admiration for Josef Stalin, perhaps not that much of a contradiction. He was read by the Nazi “left”, including Gregor Strasser and Ernst Rohm.

I have no idea how much influence Porazzo has but Richard Spencer certainly has plenty. The fact that Spencer has lately been toasting Karl Marx might indicate that this is the direction the alt-right will be taking. Unlike the original National Bolshevism, there is not much support for a rebirth that is a carbon-copy of the original. Why? Because there is no longer a USSR. Vladimir Putin has said that Lenin was the worst thing that happened to Russia, so there’s not much of a “left” to the Kremlin nowadays. Mainly, Putin represents a left to people like Stephen F. Cohen, Robert Parry, James Petras and Diana Johnstone because he is despised by liberal politicians and journalists just as indicated in the Dugin picture at the top of the article. I doubt that any of these people, especially Petras and Johnstone, give a hoot about Spencer and Porazzo’s admiration for Assad and Putin. All that matters to them is salvaging the USA-Russia détente. This is a intellectual and political deficit of biblical proportions.

There’s a dirty little secret I’d like to share with you. Many on the left who are repulsed by people like Richard Spencer and James Porazzo are equally repulsed by the liberal onslaught against Trump for motives lodged in their subconscious. Since they share Spencer and Porazzo’s views on Syria and Ukraine, there is a natural tendency to see Trump as an obstacle to a “neocon” war against the “axis of resistance” even if they are barely aware of it.

What accounts for this? I would describe it as a retreat from class. Twenty years ago, Marxists were up in arms over how postmodernism was subordinating class criteria as part of a new methodology that linked Marx to the Enlightenment. “Identity Politics”, especially in the academy, became a substitute. To a large extent, the rise of postmodernism was related to changes in the capitalist economy such as the growth of multinationals, financialization, post-Fordism, etc. Leaving aside the merits of this analysis, it can be said that classical Marxism was bound to undergo a decline in the aftermath of the collapse of official Communism and the rapid expansion of the capitalist economy in the 1980s and 90s.

So is the current brand of “anti-imperialism”, with its lockstep adherence to the Kremlin’s talking points, also a reaction to changes in world capitalism? Undoubtedly, the stagnation that set in toward the late 90s and that only deepened after the 2007 meltdown have contributed to a sense of futility over capitalist growth. For many whose radicalism is paper-thin (i.e., most Noam Chomsky readers), the unit of analysis has become the nation-state rather than class. Why bother to interrogate class relations in Syria when the CIA has been sending rebels light weapons, after all? (The emphasis on light, of course.)

Into this stagnant ideological pool, it becomes possible for an American version of Golden Dawn to take root. Does this mean that fascism is on the agenda? I don’t think so. The main role of groups led by Spencer or Porazzo is to act as shock troops that are meant to embolden backward members of the working class and the petty-bourgeoisie to take their own actions in a thousand different ways, from insulting a woman wearing a hijab or a Black person walking in a white neighborhood. In other words, they will be trying to create the same climate of fear that exists in Europe even though they are not ready to begin attacking the picket lines of strikers on the rare occasions they materialize.

As was the case in the early Weimar Republic, the alt-right will be held in reserve. They can do damage now but not constitute an immediate threat to the American ruling class that much prefers bourgeois democracy, especially since it relies on the less expensive and less risky ideological hegemony rather than the truncheon.

May 15, 2017

Will someone please escort Lars Lih out of the history tunnel?

Filed under: Lenin,socialism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

Chiang Kai-Shek, an honorary member of the Comintern upon Stalin’s urging

In 2011, Lars Lih wrote an article titled “The Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism: The Debates of April 1917 in Context” for Russian History whose thesis has been repeated ceaselessly, the latest iteration appearing on the Jacobin website. Essentially, they all argue in favor of the superiority of “Old Bolshevism” over Trotsky’s version of what took place between March and October 1917, even when Trotsky is not mentioned. Lih has a particular affinity for Lev Kamenev even though Stalin is a close runner-up for the title of Old Bolshevik supremo. Is the prodigious amount of prose advanced on behalf of Kamenev and Stalin meant to win people over? I myself get annoyed by repetition, especially those Trivago ads. Lately Lih has been joined by Eric Blanc, a young graduate student who pays lip-service to Trotsky but with little insights into the broader contours of a debate that did not end in October 1917. Like Lih, he seems stuck in a narrow historical framework that comes to an end in October 1917 or maybe as late as 1924.

Indeed, the basic problem with the Lih/Blanc methodology is that it operates in a historical tunnel. At least Blanc refers his readers to the 1924 conference that pitted Trotsky against his ideological opponents (see Frederick Corney, Trotsky’s Challenge: the “Literary Discussion” of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution) but that discussion operated within the parameters of the tunnel. If Kamenev was correct that the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was “fully and completely realized in the Russian revolution”, wouldn’t it make sense that it would also apply to China, another country that had a Communist Party under the complete control of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev in the very year that the 1924 conference took place and whose fate in the next three years would be sealed by the Triumvirate’s politics? Was there any reason to think that the “old Bolsheviks” had lost the old magic when it came to China? What were the implications of applying what worked in 1917 to China where the Kuomintang (KMT) was hailed by Kamenev and company as a revolutionary party, so much so that it was accepted as a sister party of the Comintern and its Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek as an honorary member? Or that the Communist Party of China was directed to work within the KMT and forbidden to leave even after Chiang Kai-Shek began to slaughter its members?

Shanghai, 1927: Worker beheaded by a soldier under the command of an honorary Comintern member

The consequences of forcing Chinese Marxists to subordinate themselves to the KMT was disastrous. On March 21-22 1927, Communists acting independently of the Kremlin seized control of Shanghai. On April 9th, Chiang moved to purge the Communists from the KMT and retake control of Shanghai. More than 1,000 Communists were arrested, 300 were executed and another 5,000 went missing. Since the CP was not very large to begin within, this essentially dealt it a death-blow. In “The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution”, a book I read 45 years ago or so, Harold Isaacs described what took place:

At noon on April 13 the workers gathered at a mass meeting on Chinyuen Road, Chapei. Resolutions were passed demanding the return of the seized arms, the punishment of the union wreckers and protection for the General Labour Union. A petition was drawn up embodying these points and a procession was formed to march down to Second Division headquarters to present it to General Chow Feng-chi. Women and children joined. Not a man marching bore arms. They swung into Paoshan Road under a pouring rain. As they came abreast of San Teh Terrace, a short distance from the military headquarters, machine-gunners waiting for them there opened fire. Lead spouted into the thick crowd from both sides of the street. Men, women, and children dropped screaming into the mud. The crowd broke up into mad flight. Guns continued streaming fire into the backs of the fleeing workers. The muddy rain water coursing down ruts in the streets ran red.

In 1927, the USSR was guided by the policies of Stalin and Bukharin who constituted a rightwing bloc that adapted to the NEP agrarian bourgeoisie at home and the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” abroad. A month after this disaster, Stalin showed no signs of understanding what went wrong. In a speech, he stated his opposition to the creation of Soviets in China, as advocated by Trotsky, and claimed that the Kuomintang was the “center of the bourgeois democratic revolutionary movement.”

By 1927, Trotsky had been joined by Kamenev and Zinoviev in the Joint Opposition. Two years earlier they had broken with Stalin and Bukharin over Socialism in One Country and formed the New Opposition that operated independently of Trotsky’s Left Opposition. One year later their faction united with Trotsky’s. While they agreed on the need for world revolution theoretically, Kamenev and Zinoviev supported the pro-KMT policy that objectively undermined exactly that goal. This was understandable since they remained wedded to the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. In fact, Zinoviev was probably the main architect of the policy in China as Comintern chief. When Trotsky advocated making the China debacle the focus of the attack on Stalin, he was opposed not only by the two old Bolsheviks but many of his own supporters. Part of the problem was Trotsky’s collaboration with Zinoviev in building an alliance with the KMT as part of an attempt to break out of the USSR’s isolation just as was the case with its overtures to Mustafa Kemal. But from the very beginning Trotsky opposed the CP functioning as part of the KMT. He said you can have diplomatic relations with a country at the same time you are trying to overthrow its capitalist government. That in fact is exactly how capitalist states enter into diplomatic alliances with workers states, if you recall the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Stalin and Bukharin defended their policy as adhering to Leninist orthodoxy. China needed to carry out a bourgeois-democratic revolution in order to cleanse the nation’s Augean stables of feudal property relations. Once that was accomplished, they could go on to the socialist phase. Of course, Lenin abandoned such a schema in 1917 despite what Lars Lih thinks.

On April 12th, on the very day that working-class blood flowed in the streets of Shanghai, Pravda wrote an unctuous eulogy to the KMT. Can you guess who the author was? No, it was not Stalin or Bukharin although it might have been. It was Alexandr Martinov, who had been a rightwing Menshevik for 20 years before joining the Russian CP after the civil war, and who was now a leading light of the Comintern.

Martinov must have figured out that Stalin’s party was well on the way of adopting his shitty politics when he joined. Despite their constant baiting of Trotsky as a Menshevik, people like Kamenev and Stalin had a real affinity for stagist politics. Keep in mind what leading Menshevik Sukhanov wrote:

Where did the truth lie? Kamenev, in giving a ‘benevolent’ interpretation of the resolution, was doubtless trying dutifully to retain in it the official Bolshevik idea: that the conclusion of the imperialist war was only possible by way of a Socialist revolution. But I also had no doubt that Kamenev didn’t sympathize with this official Bolshevik idea considered it unrealistic, and was trying to follow a line of struggle for peace in the concrete circumstances of the moment. All the actions of the then leader of the Bolshevik party had just this kind of `possibilist’, sometimes too moderate, character. His position was ambiguous, and not easy. He had his own views, and was working on Russian revolutionary soil. But—he was casting a ‘sideways’ look abroad, where they had their own views, which were not quite the same as his.

Possibilism describes Kamenev in 1917. It also describes him throughout the 1920s. The old Bolsheviks were marked by possibilism, another word for opportunism. In my view, all of these people were flawed: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Stalin, Bukharin and even Trotsky. There is much you can learn from the last two I named but all the rest are not worth bothering with despite Lih’s foolish attempt to elevate them to a status they hardly deserve. As I have written elsewhere, Zinoviev’s interference in the German revolution of the early 20s helped to prevent it from succeeding. I also faulted Lenin and Trotsky in my account of their intervention, demonstrating that I have no use for empty idolatry

The debate that broke out over the Lessons of October in 1924 never really came to an end. Within three years they reemerged over how to assess the Chinese disaster. For a presentation in line with Lars Lih’s encomiums to old Bolshevism, I recommend Josef Stalin’s “Questions of the Chinese Revolution” that appeared in Pravda.

Stalin describes two phases of the Chinese revolution. In the first, “the national army was approaching the Yangtse and scoring victory after victory, but a powerful movement of the workers and peasants had not yet unfolded—the national bourgeoisie (not the compradors) sided with the revolution. It was the revolution of a united all-national front.”

Of course, this very army scored a most powerful victory in April 1927 when it massacred trade unionists in Shanghai. Obviously Stalin had to take account of this but not to the point of giving up on the KMT. In the second phase, after Chiang Kai-Shek had revealed himself as a counter-revolutionary, it devolved upon “the revolutionary Kuomintang in Wuhan” to become the “organ of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.” How nice of Stalin to stand up for Leninist orthodoxy even after the head of the KMT in Wuhan had broken with the Communists and realigned with the blood-stained Chiang. Isaacs reports on the Wuhan massacre that followed in the footsteps of Shanghai being carried out once again by someone to whom Stalin had given his blessings:

The military authorities proceeded with the systematic destruction of the trade unions. The Hankow Garrison Headquarters issued a ban on strikes. Between July 14 and 19 soldiers were “billeted” on the premises of twenty-five unions whose archives and effects were confiscated. Simultaneously throughout Honan province Feng Yu-hsiang was conducting a similar drive. “In the last few weeks the Chinese labour movement in the territory of the Wuhan Government has lived through a period of the most brazen reaction. . . . The military . . . have carried out such enormous work of destruction directed against the mass organizations . . . that it will require a very long period and gigantic energy to make good the losses and to enable the trade unions to resume their normal functions,” reported the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat.

It makes sense to conclude this article with an excerpt from Trotsky’s reply to Stalin that takes a close look at the aforementioned Martinov. It encapsulates the differences between Lars Lih and revolutionary socialism, even if he lacks the ability to understand them.

The School of Martynov in the Chinese Question

The official leadership of the Chinese revolution has been oriented all this time on a “general national united front” or on the “bloc of four classes” (cf. the report of Bukharin; the leader in the Communist International, no.11; the unpublished speech by Stalin to the Moscow functionaries on April 5, 1927; the article by Martynov in Pravda on April 10; the leader in Pravda of March 16; the speech by comrade Kalinin in Izvestia of March 6, 1927; the speech by comrade Rudzutak in Pravda of March 9, 1927; etc., etc.). Matters had gone so far on this track, that on the eve of Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état, Pravda, in order to expose the Opposition, proclaimed that revolutionary China was not being ruled by a bourgeois government but by a “government of the bloc of four classes”.

The philosophy of Martynov, which has the sorry courage to carry all the mistakes of Stalin and Bukharin in the questions of Chinese policy to their logical conclusion, does not meet a trace of objection. Yet it is tantamount to trampling under foot the fundamental principles of Marxism. It reproduces the crudest features of Russian and international Menshevism, applied to the conditions of the Chinese revolution. Not for nothing does the present leader of the Mensheviks, Dan, write in the last number of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik:

In principle the Bolsheviks were also for retaining the ‘united front’ in the Chinese revolution up to the completion of the task of national liberation. On April 10, Martynov, in Pravda, most effectively and despite the obligatory abuse of the Social Democrats, in a quite ‘Menshevik manner’ showed the ‘Left’ Oppositionist Radek the correctness of the official position which insists on the necessity of retaining the ‘bloc of four classes’, on not hastening to overthrow the coalition government in which the workers sit side by side with the big bourgeoisie, not to impose ‘socialist tasks’ upon it prematurely.

Everyone who knows the history of the struggle of Bolshevism against Menshevism, particularly in the question of relations to the liberal bourgeoisie, must acknowledge that Dan’s approval of the “rational principles” of the Martynov school is not accidental, but follows with perfect legitimacy. It is only unnatural that this school should raise its voice with impunity in the ranks of the Comintern.

The old Menshevik tactic of 1905 to 1917, which was crushed under foot by the march of events, is now transferred to China by the Martynov school, much the same as capitalist trade dumps its most inferior merchandise, which finds no market in the mother country, into the colonies. The merchandise has not even been renovated. The arguments are the same, letter for letter, as they were twenty years ago. Only, where formerly the word autocracy stood, the word imperialism has been substituted for it in the text. Naturally, British imperialism is different from autocracy. But the Menshevik reference to it does not differ in the slightest from its reference to autocracy. The struggle against foreign imperialism is as much a class struggle as the struggle against autocracy. That it cannot be exorcized by the idea of the national united front, is far too eloquently proved by the bloody April events, a direct consequence of the policy of the bloc of four classes.

May 14, 2017

Insect men

Filed under: humor — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

Tobey Maguire, in performance as Spiderman

gregor samsa copy

Ben Norton, master of political metamorphosis, in performance as Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”

The dubious friends of Donald Trump

Filed under: Trump — louisproyect @ 1:03 pm

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