Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 24, 2016

William Blum channels Donald Trump

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:20 pm

William Blum

Exactly four years and one day ago, I wrote an article titled “Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia” that called attention to leftist support for Gaddafi and Assad that despite its “anti-imperialist” posturing was more in line with the sort of thing that Christopher Hitchens was writing over a decade ago in support of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I cited Pepe Escobar as following in Hitchens’s footsteps. For him, there was no point in distinguishing the FSA from al-Qaeda as he writes in his patented and rather plastic journalistic style:

Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Nothing has changed since he wrote this crap. You make an amalgam between FSA and al-Qaeda and when ISIS comes along, you add them to the mix. So when Syrian and Russian bombers blow up entire neighborhoods, including their hospitals, you justify it in the name of “fighting terrorism” just as Hitchens did. You come to this position because it is the “axis of resistance” killing people rather than the USA. And when the USA joins in, your response is muted. Has anybody seen the ANSWER coalition organizing protests against American bombing in Iraq or Syria? I haven’t. In fact, when you go to their website you will see an article that warns about the possibility of American intervention against ISIS being a decoy maneuver that is intended to prepare the way for “regime change”. One imagines that if these assholes could be guaranteed that the USA would stick to killing ISIS and any civilian unfortunate enough to be within 5 miles of their fighters, they’d shrug their shoulders and say “go ahead”.

As inured as I have become to this kind of political decrepitude, it did not prepare me for the totally disgusting rant by Bill Blum that appeared on Information Clearing House five days ago. Titled “ISIS Has Nothing To Do With Islam?”, it starts off with a warning that “Warning! What follows is very politically incorrect.”

Since William Blum announced his support for Donald Trump on March 11, 2016, you can guess that his reference to being “politically incorrect” is in line with the oft-repeated mantra of the American Marine Le Pen. Blum has it in for the left because it is “politically correct”:

The left is the worst when it comes to political correctness. Here is the very progressive Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), criticizing the New York Times for labeling the mass-murder truck attack in Nice “terrorist” … “despite admitting that it had no knowledge of the presumed killer’s motives.”

This is a real knee-slapping joke considering the fact that FAIR has been part of the Baathist amen corner for the longest time, with staff member Adam Johnson writing some of the worst offal outside of ZNet, Salon or CounterPunch.

But as bad as Johnson is, he has never written anything like this:

Is Nice the last straw for you? The last victims before you call it by its proper name: radical Islamic terrorism? French Prime Minister Hollande was quick to point out that it was a “terrorist attack”, but not a radical Islamic attack. Oh? When the perpetrator is a Muslim named Mohamed, as in this case, and the victims are celebrating an iconic Western holiday, why the reluctance to use the latter term? President Obama’s preference is “violent extremists”.

The Islamic teachings I refer to are not necessarily explicitly mentioned in the Koran or any other sacred texts, nor have any connection to actual historical events of the 7th through the 21st centuries, but rather are an imbedded part of the atmosphere surrounding a young person growing up in a Muslim culture or environment. This atmosphere, this education, this culture must be severely curtailed. The West must oversee the classes in Islamic schools in France, the UK, the US, et al; and particularly Pakistan if feasible. Even if it means sending in spies to the classes, outfitted with recording devices. The teachers of these classes, if they have had any connection at all to anything smacking of radical Islam, should not be hired; if already hired, should be fired.

Let’s get straight to the point. These are the words of a bigot and someone who has about as much understanding of the roots of terrorism as the crew that beat the drum for George W. Bush in 2003.

Like the 9/11 attack, the spate of ISIS-directed or inspired terrorist attacks in Europe and the USA have derailed a wide section of the left. It is not understood as a departure from “radical” principles but upholding them in the name of secularism, diversity and Western Civilization.

The one thing that might be a saving grace is that Blum is writing this racist garbage on Information Clearing House, a website that is a cut below ZNet, Salon and CounterPunch, journals that (hopefully) will understand that Blum is now beyond the pale.

July 23, 2016

Donald Trump, the American Vladimir Putin

Filed under: Trump — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Yesterday I was rather taken aback to see the near brawl that took place on the set of “The Young Turks” between the host Cenk Uygur and two supporters of the Trump campaign, Roger Stone and Alex Jones. Uygur’s show, which is webcast only, was in Cleveland covering the Republican convention when Stone and Jones literally hijacked the broadcast and began baiting him about supporting Saudi Arabia, calling one of Uygur’s assistants a “little jihad”. This really got Uygur enraged, who jumped out of his seat and screamed, “We are against Saudi Arabia, you dumbass.” Getting in Stone’s face, he looked on the verge of punching out Stone’s clock. All in all, it had the ambience of those afternoon TV shows like the Jerry Springer Show that were popular about 20 years ago, when, for example, the two men who a woman was having sex with on alternate days, had to be separated by crew members to avoid a fist fight. The Springer shows were pretty much staged but I have no doubt that Uygur was ready to kick some ass.

The provenance of Jones and Stone is interesting. Alex Jones has a radio show called “Infowars” that shares about 90 percent of the talking points of Mike Whitney, Eric Draitser, Pepe Escobar and Andre Vltchek—in other words, the far reaches of the Baathist amen corner. Despite his affinity with them, it is doubtful that CounterPunch would ever publish Jones because he is an out-and-out rightwinger. Unlike Paul Craig Roberts, who does appear regularly on CounterPunch, Jones is qualitatively more toxic. If anything would shut the door on him, it is his heavy promotion of 9/11 conspiracy theories of the kind that Alexander Cockburn despised. This is not to speak of his pro-cop broadcasts, including one that just appeared–“The Case for Blue Lives Matter”.

Roger Stone is as colorful a character as Jones. He got involved with Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President in 1972 when he was a student at George Washington University. One of his “dirty tricks” was donating money to Nixon’s presidential primaries rival in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance, the Trotskyist youth group I joined in 1967. He then took the receipt and released it to the ultraright Manchester Union-Leader to scandalize Nixon’s rival. So devoted was Stone to Nixon’s way of doing business that he had his face tattooed on the back of his neck.

Stone was a lobbyist for Trump for many years, promoting his casino businesses. This is probably how the connection was made to Paul Manafort, who is now Trump’s chief adviser. Stone and Manfort hooked up with Charlie Black to form the consulting firm of Black, Manafort and Stone in 1985. Black is as creepy as Stone, having founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in 1975.

Stone became Donald Trump’s first chief adviser and served until August 8, 2015. Trump fired him for unspecified reasons, only tweeting “I terminated Roger Stone last night because he no longer serves a useful function for my campaign. I really don’t want publicity seekers who want to be on magazines or who are out for themselves. This campaign is not about them. It’s about victory and making America great again.”

Stone remained loyal to Trump even after being fired. There were probably no deep policy differences between the two scumbags since his partner Paul Manafort took over for him. One imagines that Trump decided Stone was a liability because of his big mouth. It was not so much that he disagreed with what he said, only that he was just a bit too obvious on Twitter as the liberal MediaMatters reported:

Donald Trump ally Roger Stone, who was recently banned from CNN for crude attacks on its staff, has tweeted sexist and racist attacks against other members of the media, according to a Media Matters review.

Stone is a notorious “dirty trickster” who recently co-authored The Clintons’ War on Women. The 2015 book is dedicated to — and cites research from — a Holocaust denier who blames a “Jewish plot” for the 9/11 attacks. Stone’s history includes forming an anti-Hillary Clinton group named “C.U.N.T.” during the 2008 election.

Stone worked for Trump’s presidential campaign last year and is now organizing against Clinton’s campaign again. He is a frequent presence in the media because of his long ties to Trump; their friendship and professional relationship goes back decades.

As Media Matters previously documented, Stone has written disgusting tweets against people who work for CNN and Fox News. He’s called employees at those networks an “arrogant know-it-all negro,” a “stupid negro,” a “fat negro,” a “Mandingo,” and “quota hires.” He told Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer — who was paralyzed in a diving accident when he was in medical school — to “stand the fuck up,” and said Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has a “nice set of cans.”

No wonder Uygur was ready to punch him in the mouth.

For many on the left, people like Jones, Manafort and Stone have one redeeming feature. They are pro-Assad and pro-Putin. If you go to Infowars, you can find an article that appeared originally on RT.com that accused the USA of supporting al-Qaeda in Syria. One of Jones’s frequent guests is “The Syrian Girl”, a diehard supporter of the dictatorship. In terms of Russia, Jones’s views hardly differ from what you can read in The Nation or on the World Socialist Website such as his broadcast of “PUTIN WARNS OF WORLD WAR 3: Society hurdles dangerously closer to global warfare” on July 2nd.

So the question of how someone like that can become a comrade of Manafort and Stone, whose love for Reagan passeth all understanding, is worth considering. Is it possible that the ultraright has broken decisively with the Cold War-bred neo-conservatism of the Republican Party and adopted the coloration of European movements like UKIP in England, the National Front in France and Jobbik in Hungary? Apparently so.

This week two articles appeared that took note of this.

Two days ago Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for Atlantic titled “It’s Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin”. Goldberg, an arch-Zionist and ardent supporter of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, is quite upset over Trump’s disdain for NATO obligations and indifference to Putin’s intervention in Ukraine.

And just yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed piece titled “Donald Trump, the Siberian Candidate” that raised the same concerns but was additionally troubled by Trump’s admiration for Putin, particularly his “leadership” abilities. He, by the way, is not the only rightwinger who goes weak in the knees when he sees a bare-chested Vladimir Putin. Rudolph Giuliani, who vilified Black Lives Matter in a speech at the Republican convention, views Putin as the kind of strong leader the USA needs.

It seems that Rush Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin on his website, accompanied with this observation:

Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up?  That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

If the ultraright was identified by “one percent” type ideology in the past, it has swung over apparently to demagogic populist appeals that arguably position it to the left of the Democratic Party—at least on economic questions.

In his speech to the Republican Party convention, Trump said the following:

I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals.

I am going to bring our jobs back to Ohio and to America – and I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequences.

My opponent, on the other hand, has supported virtually every trade agreement that has been destroying our middle class. She supported NAFTA, and she supported China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization – another one of her husband’s colossal mistakes.

My opponent, on the other hand, wants to put the great miners and steel workers of our country out of work – that will never happen when I am President. With these new economic policies, trillions of dollars will start flowing into our country.

This new wealth will improve the quality of life for all Americans – We will build the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, and the railways of tomorrow. This, in turn, will create millions more jobs.

It is quite startling to see such words coming out of the mouth of a man who has relied on the advice of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, who have a long history of backing the most retrograde economic policies of Nixon, Reagan, and George Bush, father and son.

It is entirely possible that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States since the pain people have been suffering is so acute. The contrast between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the debates will be striking, with her backing NAFTA and other such trade agreements and Trump attacking them as if he were Bernie Sanders or Ralph Nader.

It is important to remember that Trump is a skilled demagogue whose long-time tenure on “The Apprentice” made him a celebrity whose success was envied by the unfortunate souls who paid good money to take classes at Trump University.

On January 5, 2016 Trump took part in an off-the-record interview with the NY Times where he revealed that his views on immigration were strictly intended to get votes and that he should not be held to them. If that is good news, there is also the bad news that his anti-NAFTA tirades have the same intention, promises that will not be kept.

Back in the 60s, when the radical movement was far more powerful than it is today, leftists honed in on the question of the Permanent Government. It analyzed institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and so on. A large part of the interest in how the state operated beyond the control of ordinary citizens flowed from LBJ’s broken promises about keeping us out of Vietnam and Richard Nixon’s continuation of that war despite his nominal opposition. In more recent years, the Marxist core of such analysis dissipated to be replaced by conspiracy-mongering of the Infowars variety.

For many on the left, politics has become personality-driven as if our vote in November will have any major impact on what the ruling class decides to do about wars, the economy, killer cops, global warming or any of the other major problems facing us. In the final analysis, the state is the executive committee of the ruling class and will remains so as long as capitalism exists.

Jack Rasmus, an economics professor at St. Mary’s College in California and a frequent contributor to leftist magazines and websites, made very good sense in an article titled “Trump, Trade, and Working-Class Discontent” that appeared on Telesur.

He is pandering to those with a legitimate and serious real concern who have been deeply harmed by U.S. trade policies. Trump is in that great U.S. presidential candidate tradition, promising voters what they want to hear and then, if elected, doing whatever the economic elites want them to do. U.S. presidential candidates, of either wing—Republican and Democrat—of the Corporate Party of America, are habitual liars and cannot be trusted.

We had our pseudo-populist from the “left,” Barack Obama, elected eight years ago promising to reform free trade treaties. And he became the biggest free trade advocate in U.S. economic history. In Trump, we have our Obama analog, a pseudo-populist this time from the “right,” promising the same. And who then will do the same. To paraphrase an ancient saying, U.S. voters now considering voting for Trump based on his anti-trade views would do well to “Beware Billionaires Bearing Gifts.”

If you need any evidence on how Trump is not going to take on the billionaires who are making our lives miserable, there is an article that appeared in yesterday’s NY Times that is aptly titled “G.O.P.’s Moneyed Class Finds Its Place in New Trump World”. It states:

Roughly 500 wealthy Republicans poured close to $16 million into the Republican National Committee’s convention account leading up to this week, according to disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission through last Friday. The biggest donors, giving more than $100,000 each, are also a veritable roll call of the stop-Trump movement, among them the billionaire investor Paul E. Singer and Marlene Ricketts, who bankrolled early efforts to deny Mr. Trump the nomination.

Mr. Singer did not attend, though his political advisers made the rounds in Cleveland, as did representatives for other megadonors who remain opposed to Mr. Trump. And there were growing signs that at least some of the party’s biggest givers were warming to him: Co-hosts of Monday’s super PAC reception at the Ritz-Carlton included Harold Hamm, a billionaire oil tycoon and former energy adviser to Mitt Romney, and Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota television station owner and prominent donor.

Among the guests was Foster Friess, the Wyoming-based mutual fund investor and super PAC donor, who expressed optimism at his party’s prospects. “I think it could be a landslide,” Mr. Friess said in an interview. “Donald Trump has the ability to reach all the plumbers and carpenters and factory workers who usually vote Democratic.”

Interesting to see that Friess is enthused about Trump’s ability to reach plumbers, carpenters and factory workers when he has given millions of dollars for the election campaigns of Scott Walker, John Kasich and Rick Perry—three politicians who epitomize the determination of the bourgeoisie to turn the clock back to 1880 or so when there were no trade unions and big business drowned strikes in blood. This is the reality of American politics. Pay less attention to what politicians say and more to what they do. If Trump is elected, we have to mobilize to stop him in his tracks. The same thing goes for Hillary Clinton. As the economic situation continues to favor the billionaires they represent, we will have the opportunity to get across a radical message in a way that we haven’t since the 1930s. Let’s not waste that opportunity on ill-conceived maneuvering in the two-party system that needs to be abolished with the capitalist system it stands upon.

UPDATE: Excellent report on Alex Jones and the Trump campaign: https://newrepublic.com/article/135370/trumps-coronation-alex-jones-king

 

July 22, 2016

The beheading of a Palestinian child by Syrian rebels–none of it is true except the beheading

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:21 pm

Earlier this week the Baathist amen corner was all abuzz over the bestiality of a group called Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki that beheaded a 12-year-old Palestinian civilian named Abdullah al-Issa who was on his way to a hospital for treatment according to the Baathist media.

Moon of Alabama, a prime outlet for Baathist and Kremlin propaganda, posted this article:

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Mint Press accepted the regime’s story as genuine as did Daniel Lazare on Consortium News. Mint News, of course, is the sleazy Baathist outlet that published an article about the rebels in East Ghouta being responsible for the Sarin gas massacre that was disavowed by the reporter whose byline was attached to the article without her permission. Meanwhile Lazare, who is otherwise a reasonable person, turns into a stark raving madman when dealing with Syria.

This week Syrian, Russian and American jets have been killing civilians in huge numbers and this is the subject that these filthy propagandists want to put on the front burner. They would make Joseph Goebbels blanch in horror.

The only thing worth mentioning is that killing captive soldiers is wrong, whether by a firing squad as the Red Army did in the Russian Civil War or by a sword. Given the horrors that the Baathists and their ghoulish allies  have visited on the Syrian people over the past 5 years, it is a miracle that this kind of retribution doesn’t take place every day.

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Thursday, 21/07/2016 (updated) at 17:24 (GMT)

Boy beheaded by Syrian rebels was ’19-year-old regime fighter’

A Syrian who was beheaded by a rebel group in Aleppo this week was a 19-year-old pro-regime fighter suffering from a growth defect and not a child, activists have claimed.

He was named as Abdullah al-Issa and that his family members said he was a 19-year-old who volunteered to fight with the regime’s National Defence Forces militias.

Other social media users said he was from the Alawite village of Wadi al-Dahab in Homs, and photos emerged allegedly showing his funeral in the area.

Issa was said to be suffering from thalassemia, which led to a growth defect that made him appear to be a child. Photos shared of Issa online show him in military fatigues and carrying a rifle.

“This boy, whose [beheading] has caught the world’s attention is my cousin Abdullah Issa from Wadi al-Dahab district of Homs, and he suffers from thalassemia,” his alleged cousin – Loly Alamora [“Loly the cutie”] – wrote on her Facebook page.

“That is why he appears younger than his age, but he is 19-years-old.”

Banners reading “I am Syrian” with Issa’s picture were put up [Facebook]

The Syrian regime had earlier claimed that Issa was a 12-year-old Palestinian civilian who was on his way to hospital for treatment when he was picked up by militants from the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group.

His murder caused outrage, particularly as he appeared to be a child.

He was initially reported to be a child fighter with pro-government militia Liwa al-Quds.

Facebook account user Zoze Aisa – alleging to be Issa’s sister – posted a series of angry comments about regime claims he was Palestinian.

“He is the son of Assad’s Syria,” she wrote, referring to the Syrian president.

A picture of Issa posing with weaponry was shared on the social media platform [Facebook]

“How can they turn a brave Syrian fighter into a Palestinian refugee?” she claimed.

The account user listed the exact locations where Issa had allegedly fought to “defend his country”.

This included Palmyra, Jebel Shaar, T4 airport, Hama and Homs. He would spend month-long deployments on the front-lines before returning home for medical treatment.

Issa’s cousin confirmed that he had suffered from the growth defect, but rather than staying behind to receive medical care chose to fight for Syrian regime forces.

An image of Issa’s alleged national ID card was circulated online, showing that he had joined the ranks of the National Defence Forces militia umbrella in August 2015.

Issa was beheaded by members of the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group in Syria’s Handarat district, just a few miles north of Aleppo.

The rebel group – who have received US-backing in the past – said that the killing was a “mistake” committed by some of its members. The murderers are allegedly being held by rebels who are investigating their cases.

 

July 19, 2016

Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, workers and communists

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

Today I got a FB message from an American living in Italy who has been asked to give a short speech “to one of the many Italian communist parties at the end of the month in Naples concerning class consciousness in current movements in the US, particularly Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, among others.” He asked what I and another North Star editor might have responded to the questions below. As is customary, I will answer them publicly since others might have the same types of questions.

1) what the make-up of these movements is, if they’re vastly working class and poor or if there is a substantial component of middle or even upper class support etc.

Occupy Wall Street was predominantly made up of students and young working people who were willing to camp out in Zuccotti Park in the financial district even if it meant losing their job. Since many young people are part of the “precariat”, it is altogether possible that sacrificing a job as a barista or a bike messenger was acceptable given the importance of the struggle. I have much less contact with Black Lives Matter but feel confident in saying that many of the activists are a mixture of working class African-Americans and students. In fact, I doubt that there is much difference in social terms between the two movements and the Vietnam antiwar movement and Black liberation movement of the 1960s such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was led by college students primarily. What you will not see to any great extent is representation from the major unions of the AFL-CIO even though they have praised the movements and provided speakers at rallies. The explanation for this is that bus drivers, UPS deliverymen and women, postal workers, etc. tend to be preoccupied with managing their family affairs and unwilling to take the chance of being arrested or fired. This has been true of leftist movements since WWII for the most part.

2) what the role of the working class is, especially among the young, in these movements..and what their contribution has been to these movements towards the development of mass organization

Answered above.

3) if communists, those identifying as such, or communist parties in the US are participating in these movements

Once again I have had more direct contact with the Occupy movement than BLM. Although I am sure that “the communists” themselves would disagree with me but I would say that the anarchists had a much more organic connection to the Occupy movement than the organized left that saw it as an opportunity to pick up members. This is not to say that they weren’t hard workers and did not believe deeply in the goals of the movement. It is just that they have been trained for generations to see the mass movement as a sphere to operate it rather than an end in itself. They are hamstrung by conceptions of “democratic centralism” that entail caucusing beforehand and bloc voting to support the party line. If the party line and the mass movement’s goals coincide, that works out but when they clash, there can be hell to pay. I say that as a veteran of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

4) and what links, if any, there has been to anti war movements in recent years to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan etc.

There has been almost no connection. The anti-war movements tend to be made up of older veterans of earlier struggles such as Vietnam and Central America who belong to “communist” parties that were not particularly suited to the “horizontalism” of Occupy or BLM. I posted an article written by a co-thinker about the “culture clash” between the Leninist parties and the new movements back in December 2011. It is a very astute commentary on the failure of the communists to develop organic ties to Occupy and by implication applies to BLM as well.

Guest post by Pham Binh

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists

By Pham Binh

December 14, 2011

Occupy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-merge the socialist and working class movements and create a viable broad-based party of radicals, two prospects that have not been on the cards in the United States since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The socialist left has not begun to think through these “big picture” implications of Occupy, nor has it fully adjusted to the new tasks that Occupy’s outbreak has created for socialists. In practice, the socialist left follows Occupy’s lead rather than Occupy follow the socialist left’s lead. As a result, we struggle to keep pace with Occupy’s rapid evolution.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mobilized more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire socialist left combined has in four decades. We would benefit by coming to grips with how and why other forces (namely anarchists) accomplished this historic feat.

The following is an attempt to understand Occupy, review the socialist response, and draw some practical conclusions aimed at helping the socialist left become central rather than remain marginal to Occupy’s overall direction.

Occupy’s Class Character and Leadership

Occupy is more than a movement and less than a revolution. It is an uprising, an elemental and unpredictable outpouring of both rage and hope from the depths of the 99%.

Occupy is radically different from the mass movements that rocked American politics in the last decade or so: the immigrants’ rights movement that culminated on May 1, 2006 in the first national political strike since 1886, the Iraq anti-war movement of 2002-2003, and the global justice movement that began with the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and ended on 9/11. All three were led by liberal non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They sponsored the marches, obtained the permits, and selected who could and could not speak from the front of the rallies. Militant, illegal direction action tended to be the purview of adventurist Black Bloc elements or handfuls of very committed activists.

Compared to these three movements, the following differences stand out: Occupy is broader in terms of active participants and public support and, most importantly, is far more militant and defiant. Tens of thousands of people are willing to brave arrest and police brutality. The uprising was deliberately designed by its anarchist initiators to be an open-ended and all-inclusive process, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the failed conventional single-issue protest model. The “people’s mic,” invented to circumvent the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) ban on amplified sound, means that anyone can be heard by large numbers of people at any time.

One of the most important elements that makes Occupy an uprising and not merely a mass movement is its alleged leaderlessness. Of course as Marxists we know that every struggle requires leadership in some form, and Occupy is no exception. The leaders of Occupy are those who put their bodies on the line at the encampments and get deeply involved in the complex, Byzantine decision-making process Occupy uses known as “modified consensus.” Occupy’s leaders are those who make the proposals at planning meetings, working groups, and General Assemblies (GAs) that attract enough support to determine the uprising’s course of action.

The people leading the uprising are those who are willing to make the biggest sacrifices for it.

Since Occupy is self-organizing and self-led by its most dedicated participants, attempts to make its decision-making process more accessible to those who are not willing or able to dedicate themselves to Occupy 24 hours a day, seven days a week will fall flat. “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!” is not just a chant, it is a way of life for Occupy’s de facto leadership.

This reality has affected the class character of encampment participants, who tend to be either what Karl Marx called lumpenproletariat (long-term homeless, hustlers, drug addicts, and others who have fallen through the cracks of the capitalist edifice) or highly educated (white) students, ex-students, and graduate students. The former joined the encampments not just to eat and sleep in a relatively safe place but also because they hope the uprising will win real, meaningful change. The latter tend to dominate Occupy’s convoluted decision-making process and what motivates them is identical to what motivates the lumpenproletarian elements: hope that Occupy will win real, meaningful change. Many of these people are saddled with tremendous amounts of personal debt, have worked two or three part-time jobs simultaneously, or were unable to find work in their field despite their expensive, extensive educations. They were destined to be secure petty bourgeois or well-paid white-collar workers before the ongoing fallout from the 2008 crisis claimed their futures and put their backs against the wall. This is the material reality underpinning the determination of Occupy participants to keep coming back despite repeated arrests, beatings, and setbacks. Their determination is the stuff revolutions are made of.

The advantage of Occupy’s structure and form is that the Democratic Party, liberal NGOs, and union leaders have been unable to co-opt the uprising before it exploded into over 1,000 American towns and cities and targeted President Obama. The disadvantage is that it limits Occupy geographically to places where authorities will tolerate encampments and sociologically to the least and most privileged sections of the population, to those who have no where else to go besides the encampments and to those who can afford to camp out for weeks at a time.

The undocumented immigrant who works 60 hours a week and the wage slave who works 40 hours a week will find it very difficult to shape Occupy’s decision-making process. Attempts to scrap Occupy’s existing structures and forms to make them more accessible to those other than full-time occupiers carry two inherent risks: 1) opening it up to forces that would love nothing more than to turn the uprising’s fighters into foot soldiers for Obama’s 2012 campaign and 2) diminishing the power wielded by Occupy’s most dedicated participants. In places where Occupy does not take the form of a permanent encampment its decision-making process can be even more diffuse and difficult to participate in.

Full: https://louisproyect.org/2011/12/15/occupy-and-the-tasks-of-socialists/

 

July 18, 2016

Open Your Eyes

Filed under: Film,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 10:19 pm

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This is the news release for a 40-minute documentary I just watched and found deeply moving. The film begins by stating that there are 40,000,000 blind people around the world today and that 90 percent are in poor Third World countries like Nepal, where the elderly husband and wife regain their sight from an operation funded by the Seva Foundation. I found the film of more than routine interest because I have cataracts in both eyes like the couple but can rely on Medicare to pay for the surgery when my time has come. Scheduling information is in the press release and I urge you to take advantage of your HBO subscription since it will be about the best thing you see on the premium channel this month.


For Immediate Release

HEARTWARMING DOCUMENTARY OPEN YOUR EYES, FOLLOWING NEPALESE SPOUSES ON A REMARKABLE ODYSSEY TO RESTORE THEIR SIGHT, DEBUTS JULY 18, EXCLUSIVELY ON HBO

Nearly 40 million people worldwide are blind, mostly from cataracts, and 90% of them live in the poorest countries. Yet most cataract blindness can be cured by simple surgery implanting an intraocular lens that once cost $500 and is now available for less than $2.

OPEN YOUR EYES follows Manisara and Durga, an aging couple from the remote Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, as they embark on a transformative odyssey to regain the sight they lost over the years by undergoing this life-changing procedure. Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO’s Oscar®-nominated “The Final Inch”), this inspiring documentary debuts MONDAY, JULY 18 (7:30-8:10 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO Other HBO playdates: July 20 (9:00 a.m., 4:35 p.m. ET only, 5:00 p.m. PT only), 24 (11:05 a.m.) and 28 (noon) HBO2 playdates: July 21 (8:00 p.m.), 25 (2:10 p.m., 12:40 a.m.) and 30 (11:30 a.m.)

The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand. In remote Nepal, many hillside farmers’ eyes slowly turn milky white as they lose their eyesight from exposure to a lifetime of harsh sun. A team of resourceful Nepali eye specialists combing the area finds Manisara and Durga, who have been married 50 years, and urges them to come to a distant city for a chance to see again. But Manisara is skeptical. Only when her youngest granddaughter plops onto her lap does she decide to move forward.

Filmed over the course of three days and set against the backdrop of the breathtaking Himalayan Mountains, OPEN YOUR EYES follows their extraordinary journey to see again, as Manisara and Durga are carried and guided through narrow paths and down winding roads, all the while facing the great unknown with courage, grace and hope. Finally, the couple arrives at an eye hospital in Palpa, which offers free cataract surgeries once a month through support from the Seva Foundation. Performing the surgery is Dr. Gurung, who has traveled from Kathmandu. Reflecting on what could be, Manisara says, “What would make me truly happy? I must tell you, I will be happy to see the world again.”

Husband and wife are laid beside each other for the operations, and in mere minutes, intraocular lenses have been inserted and Manisara and Durga’s eyes have been bandaged. All in all, 54 surgeries will be completed successfully that day, with each procedure taking around six minutes. The original title song of OPEN YOUR EYES was composed by Salman Ahmad and features guest vocals by iconic musician and humanitarian Peter Gabriel. In addition to the Oscar®-nominated “The Final Inch,” director Irene Taylor Brodsky’s HBO credits include the upcoming “Beware the Slenderman,” as well as “Saving Pelican 895,” “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp” and the Peabody Award-winning “Hear and Now.”

Producer Larry Brilliant co-founded Seva Foundation, the international NGO responsible for restoring sight to four million blind people globally. He is also chairman of the board of the Skoll Global Threats Fund and was one of the leaders of the World OPEN YOUR EYES – 3 Health Organization’s successful smallpox eradication program. OPEN YOUR EYES is directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky; executive producer, Laurene Powell Jobs; producer, Larry Brilliant; produced by Irene Taylor Brodsky and Sophie Harris; original music by Salman Ahmad.

For HBO: senior producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

The declassified 28 pages: connecting the dots on 9/11

Filed under: Saudi Arabia,September 11 — louisproyect @ 4:38 pm

George W. Bush and Prince Bandar bin Sultan: the two architects of 9/11?

On May 18th I wrote about the allegations that “the Saudis” were behind 9/11 that would supposedly be proved by a 28-page section of a report that remained classified. Even without having seen those pages, I was certain that nothing within them could support the notion that the Saudi monarchy would have conspired to attack the WTC and the Pentagon since a Marxist class analysis and a reading of Akbar Ahmad’s “The Thistle and the Drone” would reveal two major points against this claim:

  1. Although most of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, they were originally from Yemen and were as hostile to the monarchy as they were to the USA.
  2. Blamed for the attack, al Qaeda was hardly an instrument of Saudi royal ambitions since it had carried out terrorist attacks a number of times within Saudi Arabia itself.

Since writing this article, the 28 pages have finally been declassified and released to the press. There is nothing in them that would change my mind although the usual cast of characters has jumped at the opportunity to crow that they prove Saudi Arabia was “behind 9/11”, including Salon’s Ben Norton who wrote an article titled “28 pages” showing Saudi connection to 9/11 attacks finally released after 14 years. Norton notes that “FBI and CIA documents disclosed that, while some of the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the U.S., they likely had contact with Saudi intelligence officers, the pages reveal.” Actually, the hijackers also had contact with American intelligence operatives as well. Does that prove that the USA was “behind 9/11”? If you’ve had the intellectual deficit to believe “truther” material, you’ll nod your head in agreement of course.

You would think that someone like Ben Norton, who believes even if mistakenly that he is a serious reporter, would have taken the trouble to mention that these hijackers were also in touch with FBI informers. With superficial and propagandistic hacks such as him, you can never tell whether he is sweeping the facts under the rug or whether his ignorance is to blame. In a trial, they say that ignorance of the law is not a defense. The same thing can be said about journalism as well.

Back on July 25, 2003, the NY Times reported:

The F.B.I. may have missed its best chance to prevent the Sept. 11 plot when one of its informants developed close ties to two of the hijackers living in San Diego, yet never alerted the bureau to the impending attacks, according to a Congressional report released today.

The declassified report by a House-Senate committee focuses closely on the incidents in San Diego, where Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi settled soon after arriving in the country in early 2000. The informant told his F.B.I. handler they were “good Muslim Saudi youths” who had come to America to go to school.

It is likely the informant being referred to here is Abdussattar Shaikh, who rented rooms to al-Midhar and Alhazmi. One hardly knows what to make of an FBI snitch keeping the crime of the century a secret from his handlers, especially when the human beings drawn to the filthy job of informant are not especially known for their scruples.

That being said, the newly issued report is replete with references to suspicions about the men gleaned from informants. It appears that there was substantial evidence that they were up to no good but specific plans about a 9/11 attack did not appear on the FBI’s radar.

If the FBI was effectively turning a blind eye to the 9/11 terrorist attack, the CIA was even more complicit. The CIA had identified Alhamzi and Al-Midhar as al Qaeda operatives  but did not pass that information along to the FBI agents in San Diego. So naturally you can conclude that such negligence was no accident.

Indeed for the “truthers”, there was no intelligence failure. Everything pointed to 9/11 being an inside job with the hijackers, the CIA and the FBI being in cahoots. If the FBI kept the plot a secret from the American people, surely this must prove that it was the USA itself that sought a “false flag” excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Any fool could have seen that the invasion and occupation of the two countries have been the best thing that happened to the USA since its birth in 1776. The expenditure of trillions of dollars has led to utter chaos in the region, after all, and very little of it of benefit to multinational corporations.

Not only does the Times article refer to FBI failing to take action on the plotters, it also identifies the man who is key to the 28-page “revelations”:

Meanwhile, unresolved questions surround the strange relationship that developed in San Diego between the two hijackers and a man from Saudi Arabia, Omar al-Bayoumi. Mr. al-Bayoumi met the two soon after their arrival in the United States and helped them settle in San Diego, allowing them to stay at his apartment for several days and co-signing a lease on their apartment.

You can read the 28 pages at http://intelligence.house.gov/sites/intelligence.house.gov/files/documents/declasspart4.pdf. They document a myriad of contacts between the hijackers and Saudi officials, most of all Omar al-Bayoumi. But they also point to Prince Bandar as a possible accomplice. It seems, for example, that his wife had been sending money on a regular basis to Osama Bassnan who was instrumental in helping hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi financially when they were in San Diego. So it is a simple matter, it would seem, to connect the dots: Khalid al-Midhar/Nawaq Alhazmi –> Osama Bassnan/Omar al-Bayoumi –> Prince Bandar. In fact this was the point that Michael Moore made in “Fahrenheit 9/11”, with a lot more panache than Ben Norton and about as much credibility.

What is missing from these calculations is a “smoking gun” that would prove that Prince Bandar directed Bassman and al-Bayoumi to render financial and logistical support knowing in advance that it would be for terrorists whose goal it was to fly passenger planes into the WTC and the Pentagon. In order to make such a case, you would have to confront the most counter-indicative datum, namely the true relationship between the House of Saud and Osama bin-Laden who is referenced extensively throughout the 28 pages as if they were joined at the hip:

The FBI has also developed additional information clearly indicating that Bassnan is an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin. In 1993, the FBI became aware that Bassnan had hosted a party for the Blind Shaykh at his house in Washington, DC in October 1992. Bassnan has made many laudatory remarks to FBI assets about Bin Ladin, referring to Bin Ladin as the official Khalifate and the ruler of the Islamic world. According to an FBI asset, Bassnan spoke of Bin Ladin “as if he were a god.” Bassnan also stated to an FBI asset that he heard that the Government had stopped approving visas for foreign students. He considered such measures to be insufficient as there are already enough Muslims in the United States to destroy the United States and make it an Islamic state within ten to fifteen years. According to FBI documents, Bassnan also knew Bin Ladin’s family in Saudi Arabia and speaks on his mobile telephone with members of the family who are living in the United States.

After reading this, you’d think that the families of 9/11 casualties would be as interested in suing the FBI and CIA as they were the Saudi government. If you look through the 28 pages, you will see repeated references to the “FBI assets” knowing about every single move of the hijackers and the assistance they were receiving from people like Bassnan. So why didn’t they put them all in jail before 9/11? Maybe it is because they had no idea that 9/11 was in the works.

For some, it is easy to connect the dots. Paul Sperry, a reporter for Murdoch’s NY Post, added the missing link (Khalid al-Midhar/Nawaq Alhazmi–>Osama Bassnan/Omar al-Bayoumi–>Prince Bandar–>George W. Bush) in an April 2016 article that anticipated the declassified material:

But Bandar held sway over the FBI.

After he met on Sept. 13, 2001, with President Bush in the White House, where the two old family friends shared cigars on the Truman Balcony, the FBI evacuated dozens of Saudi officials from multiple cities, including at least one Osama bin Laden family member on the terror watch list. Instead of interrogating the Saudis, FBI agents acted as security escorts for them, even though it was known at the time that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

“The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”

In other words, the political conclusion you are forced to draw if you are Ben Norton or any of the other hacks who believe that the Saudi royal family has ambitions indistinguishable from ISIS is the same as the 9/11 Truthers, namely that it was an “inside job”. We are forced to conclude that the CIA, the FBI, the White House and the Saudi monarchs sat down and devised a plot that would lead to the deaths of privileged stock brokers in the WTC and life-long employees of the Department of Defense in order to create a panic over al-Qaeda that would lead to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq that most policy-makers now view as a disaster to US interests.

Since we will never be able to get our hands on “the smoking gun” until after a successful socialist revolution in the USA that will allow us to open up the safes of the CIA and FBI, we will be forced instead to rely on a class analysis no matter how boring that is. In my view, for what it is worth, the Saudi ruling class has zero interest in apocalyptic plots to create a worldwide Wahhabist empire even if that was something close to the heart of Osama Bassnan. Like capitalist ruling classes everywhere, its main interest is in stability so that its investments and future investment possibilities can be safeguarded.

Furthermore, the Wahhabism of the Saudi state cannot be interpreted as a medieval version of the kind of ambitions we associate with a globally transformative movement like Socialism. Instead it is a commitment to very conservative personal behavior that in most cases leads to passive acceptance of the status quo. In Pakistan, where the Saudi state has arguably devoted more resources to spreading its religious and political values than anywhere, graduates of the Saudi-funded madrassas offer no challenge to the status quo. Like most devout people, their focus is on the afterlife rather than social transformation even of a reactionary type.

On the other hand, al-Qaeda does challenge the status quo. The 9/11 attacks were consistent with its terrorist strategy that had been unleashed all across the world, including inside Saudi Arabia. There is little question that the men who took part in the 9/11 attacks were seeking to drive a wedge between the West and the Ummah. Instead of seeing them as acting on the behalf of the Saudi state or the CIA, it makes much more sense to put them into the context of a movement that emerged after the collapse of the USSR. When there was a Soviet Union, young men and women from traditional Muslim families could see Marxism, even in its distorted forms, as an alternative to the rotten systems that the West had imposed on the Middle East and North Africa in its pursuit of oil profits. Once it vanished, new hopes were placed in political Islam—something we are still paying for now as the Arab Spring has been caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Islamic fundamentalism and the decrepit neoliberal ‘socialist’ states of Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria that people like Ben Norton stepped forward to justify.

 

 

July 16, 2016

Lo and Behold

Filed under: computers,Film — louisproyect @ 7:40 pm

At the age of 74, Werner Herzog has just made his 38th feature film, a documentary about the Internet titled “Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World”. The German director shows no sign of the age-related decline that has affected so many of his peers such as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Of course, given the fact that Allen hasn’t made a watchable film in over 35 years makes one speculate that he has never lived up to his accolades to start with.

Unlike the mega-celebrity from Hollywood, Herzog belongs to that rarefied world of “foreign” or “independent” films that inevitably get screened in art houses and rarely get nominated for Academy Awards. In other words, he makes the sort of film I live for, starting with his narrative film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” that I saw in 1977 and that made me a devoted fan. It starred Klaus Kinski, a member of Herzog’s repertory company at the time, as a deranged conquistador determined to find the lost city of El Dorado to seize control over its legendary riches, even if it cost the lives of every man in his expedition. In the final gripping scene, he is the sole survivor adrift on the Amazon River with monkeys overrunning his raft. It was not a stretch for a Marxist like me to see it as a critique of colonialism even though 7 years later I would be dismayed to discover that he had made a TV documentary taking up the cause of the Miskitos in Nicaragua. It was only 10 years later that I figured out that the Atlantic Coast Indians had legitimate grievances and that Herzog was right to make such a film.

If there is one thing you can predict about a Werner Herzog film, it is that it will be unpredictable. “Lo and Behold” is nominally a series of interviews with pioneer computer scientists like UCLA’s Leonard Kleinrock but refracted through Herzog’s off-kilter sensibility that runs through the film like a black thread. For example, upon the completion of his interview with Ted Nelson, who anticipated the rise of the Worldwide Web, he allows Nelson to take his photo like a fan—a gesture that defies conventional documentary techniques to say the least.

Herzog is obviously fascinated by the computer scientists who come across as gee-whiz techno-optimists who clash with his own darkly absurdist vision of life even as he shares their breathless testimonies to the spectacular rise of the Internet. It is reminiscent of his near-obsession with the German-American jet fighter pilot Dieter Dengler who was shot down over Vietnam. In the 1997 documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”, he describes how Dengler became obsessed with flying after seeing Allied fighter-bombers destroying his German village during WWII.

If you’ve seen that film, you will understand why Herzog seems just as fascinated with Elon Musk whose SpaceX company is building rockets that are intended to create a colony on Mars. Like Dengler, flight brings Musk closer to eternity or at least a taste of it. In explaining the need for colonizing Mars, Musk describes it as a hedge against something “going wrong” on Earth, the result of either a manmade or natural disaster. Will we have an Internet on Mars, Herzog playfully asks. With a cold smile, Musk says that we will after sending up a few satellites to circle the planet. One can hardly escape feeling that we are in the company of someone who would have made Aguirre blanch.

The film does not limit itself to the Internet. It is also devoted to displaying the latest in robotics and interviewing the geeks who work in the field. We meet Joydeep Biswas, a Carnegie-Mellon engineer who displays  six inch tall soccer-playing robots that dart about a miniature field scoring goals against each other. He has a particular fondness for robot number 8 that seems to be just a cut above the others. After Herzog asks Biswas if he loves that robot, the engineer grins sheepishly and admits that he does. It is a priceless moment.

If most of the film is devoted to the wonders of the Internet, Herzog makes sure to illustrate its dark side. He interviews the Catsouras family at their home in Orange County, near Los Angeles. The father, mother and three teen daughters sit around their dining table as the father describes the trauma they faced after a fourth daughter died in an auto accident in 2006. When a photograph taken by state troopers leaked out to the Internet showing her nearly decapitated head, the family was horrified by the photo that had gone viral and their inability to suppress it after a judge ruled that a dead person does not have the right to privacy. Mrs. Catsouras tells Herzog that the Internet was the anti-Christ to her.

As the conversation with Catsouras family over these grizzly matters transpires, your attention is fixated both on them and three trays of baked goods sitting on the table in front of them. The contrast between the muffins, cakes and cookies and their woeful experience could hardly be more striking. It makes you wonder if they prepared the goodies for the film crew and that Herzog decided to leave them on the table just for their macabre counterpoint to the matters under discussion. I am sure he did.

After the press screening, I chatted briefly with NY Times film critic A.O. Scott about “Lo and Behold”. He was a bit surprised that I did not have much to say about Herzog’s utter lack of attention to the frequently aired concerns about the political implications of the Internet’s explosive growth. There is nothing about the monopolistic tendencies of Jeff Bezos, the NSA’s ability to snoop on our emails or phone calls, the threat of cyberwarfare, and the like. Scott was right, of course, but I doubt that Herzog had much interest in making the kind of film that Laura Poitras would have made. Herzog is primarily interested in human psychology, and particularly what some might consider abnormal psychology. With his command of cinematic techniques gathered over nearly four decades and a sense of the absurd matched by very few filmmakers today, Werner Herzog marches to the tune of his own drummer. “Lo and Behold” opens at the Lincoln Center Film Society on August 19th and better theaters everywhere. Highly recommended.

 

July 14, 2016

Misusing German history to scare up votes for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Fascism,Germany,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

Hermann Müller

Herman Müller: German SP head of state in 1928 and forerunner to the Clintons and Barack Obama

Over the last week or so, I have read two articles that offer a highly distorted version of events leading up to Hitler’s seizure of power that are put forward in order to help elect Hillary Clinton.

In “Can the Green Party Make a Course Correction?”, Ted Glick equates Jill Stein’s determination to run against both Clinton and Trump in every state with the German Communist Party’s “Third Period” turn. Referring to Jill Stein’s reference to Trump and Clinton on “Democracy Now” as being “equally terrible”, Glick linked her to the German CP’s refusal to unite with the Social Democrats against Hitler:

Jill’s words are an eerie echo of huge mistakes made by the German Communist Party in the 1930’s. Here is how Wikipedia describes what happened:

“The Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933. During the Weimar Republic period, the KPD usually polled between 10 and 15 percent of the vote and was represented in the Reichstag and in state parliaments. The party directed most of its attacks on the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which it considered its main opponent. Banned in Nazi Germany one day after Adolf Hitler emerged triumphant in the German elections in 1933, the KPD maintained an underground organization but suffered heavy losses.”

In Harold Meyerson’s “Bernie, Hillary, and the Ghost of Ernst Thalmann”, the same historical analogy is used to get out the vote for Clinton but this time directed more at disaffected Sanderistas than Green Party activists who Meyerson likely views as beyond hope:

In the last years of the Weimar Republic, the real menace to Germany, Thälmann argued, wasn’t the Nazis but the Communists’ center-left, and more successful, rival for the backing of German workers: the Social Democrats. The SDs, he said, were actually “social fascists,” never mind that they were a deeply democratic party without so much as a tinge of fascism in their theory and practice. But as the Communists’ rival for the support of the German working class, the SDs became the chief target of the Communists’ campaigns.

Thälmannism, then, is the inability (be it duplicitous, willful, fanatical, or just plain stupid) to distinguish between, on the one hand, a rival political tendency that has made the compromises inherent to governance and, on the other hand, fascism. And dispelling that inability is precisely what Bernie Sanders will be doing between now and November.

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Yet a minority of Sanders’s supporters fail to grasp the threat that a Trump presidency poses to the nation—to immigrants, to minorities, to workers, and even to the left and to themselves. I doubt more than a handful will actually vote for Trump, but Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson will win some of the Sanders diehards’ votes (though for voters, moving from Medicare-for-All Sanders to Medicare-for-None Johnson requires either extraordinary ideological footwork or simple brain death). In states where the race between Clinton and Trump is close, however, a Sanders diehard’s vote for Stein or Johnson, or a refusal to vote at all, is in effect a vote for Trump.

Both Glick and Meyerson have long-standing ties to the left. Glick has been a member of the Green Party for 16 years and before that worked with a small group promoting an “inside-out” electoral strategy. In many ways, that is much worse than being strictly “inside” the Democratic Party because the brownie points Glick has accumulated over the years as some kind of “outsider” gives him the leverage he needs to subvert the genuine radicalism of a third party on the left. In 2004 Glick was part of a group of “Demogreens” who engineered the nomination of David Cobb as Green Party presidential candidate instead of Ralph Nader, who they feared would siphon votes away from John Kerry. Basically this is the same strategy Glick is pursuing today with Jill Stein being demonized as the equivalent of the berserk Stalinists of the “Third Period”.

Meyerson was active in the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in the 1970s, a group better known as DSOC that would later on fuse with other groups to become the DSA. He is currently the vice-chair of the National Political Committee of the DSA and a contributor to liberal magazines both online and print.

Like Glick, Meyerson saw Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2004 as inimical to the interests of the Democratic Party although formulated in terms of defeating the horrible Republicans. Just as Glick argued in his article, Meyerson took Nader to task for not recognizing the differences between the two parties in “The American Prospect”, a liberal magazine he publishes. Referring to Nader’s appearance on “Meet the Press”, Meyerson took issue with his claim that the system was rigged:

He did, of course, assert that there were no very serious differences between the two parties, though host Tim Russert got him to concede that there were distinctions on such ephemera as judicial nominations, tax cuts, and environmental enforcement. The American government, Nader reiterated, was still a two-party duopoly.

So what does all this have to do with the rise of Adolph Hitler? The answer is nothing at all. Hitler is invoked as a kind of bogeyman to frighten liberals. He serves the same purpose as a warning from your parents when you were six years old. If you don’t brush your teeth, the bogeyman will get you. Now it is if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, der Führer Donald Trump will get you.

Unpacking and refuting such nonsense is dirty work but someone has to do it. To start with, it is necessary to put the German Socialists under the microscope to understand the historical context. If the German CP’s ultra-left position was a disaster, how else would you describe the social democracy’s failure to resist the Nazis? While there is no point in making an exact equation between the Democrats and the German social democracy (we should only be so lucky), it would have been incumbent on Meyerson and Glick to review its strategy especially since they are the American version of Weimar Republic reformists today.

Like the Democratic Party, the German Socialists cut deals with the opposition rightwing parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same kind of sell-out policies that characterized Tony Blair and Bernard Hollande’s nominally working-class governments.

To give just one example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the free meals be abandoned in order to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller was unable to persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations (and a new go-round with Mrs. Clinton), you are exactly right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The ineffectiveness of the Müller government led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Needless to say, this led to only a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Within the two years of Brüning and von Hindenburg rule, what was the role of the German SP? It should have been obvious that Nazi rule would have been a disaster for the German working class. Unlike the Salon.com clickbait articles about Trump the fascist, this was a genuine mass movement that had been at war with trade unionists and the left for the better part of a decade. Stormtroopers broke up meetings, attacked striking trade unionists and generally made it clear that if their party took over, the left would be annihilated. Indecisiveness in the face of such a mortal threat would be just as much of a failure as the “Third Period” but that is exactly what happened with the SP as Leon Trotsky pointed out in “What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat”, written in January 1932 on the eve of Hitler’s assumption of power.

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the Social Democracy, Das Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come into power against the police and the Reichswehr. Now, according to the Constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the Constitution remains at the head of the government. Brüning’s regime must be supported until the presidential elections, so that a constitutional president may then be elected through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thus Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years. The above is, as given, the literal content of the article. A mass party, leading millions (toward socialism!) holds that the question as to which class will come to power in present-day Germany, which is shaken to its very foundations, depends not on the fighting strength of the German proletariat, not on the shock troops of fascism, not even on the personnel of the Reichswehr, but on whether the pure spirit of the Weimar Constitution (along with the required quantity of camphor and naphthalene) shall be installed in the presidential palace. But suppose the spirit of Weimar, in a certain situation, recognizes together with Bethmann-Hollweg, that “necessity knows no law”; what then? Or suppose the perishable substance of the spirit of Weimar falls asunder at the most untoward moment, despite the camphor and naphthalene, what then? And what if … but there is no end to such questions.

Now of course we are in a period hardly resembling the final days of the Weimar Republic. The good news is that a fascist takeover is highly unlikely since parliamentary democracy is more than adequate to keep the working class under control. The bad news, on the other hand, is that the left is so inconsequential and the trade unions so weak that there is no need for fascism.

But who knows? Another decade or so of declining wages and cop killings of Black people might precipitate the rise of a left party that has learned to avoid the reformist stupidity of the German SP and the suicidal ultra-leftism of the Stalinists. It is highly likely that people like Harold Meyerson and Ted Glick will be as hostile to it as they are to Jill Stein’s campaign today. Despite their foolishness, we should soldier on to final victory. The fate of humanity rests on it.

 

July 13, 2016

Adolph Reed: master of Marxism-Clintonism

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

Adolph Reed

Adolph Reed is an African-American political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a prestigious Ivy League school, and a ubiquitous presence on the Internet left as a public intellectual. Along with Cornel West and Michelle Alexander, he has figured as a prominent Black intellectual supporter of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Reed’s ideological profile is very much based on class orthodoxy bordering on workerism. To what extent his Marxism retains some of his early Trotskyist training is open to question. Reed was a member of the Atlanta Young Socialist Alliance in the late 60s and smart enough to drop out long before he was transformed into a loyal cult member like me.

That class orthodoxy leads him to embrace positions that echo Walter Benn Michaels, a Marxist academic who argues that race-based political demands divide the working class. For Reed, reparations for slavery fall into this category as he maintained in a Progressive article: “reparations talk is rooted in a different kind of politics, a politics of elite-brokerage and entreaty to the ruling class and its official conscience, the philanthropic foundations, for racial side-payments.” Like Michaels, Reed has a bit of a conspiracy-minded approach to such matters as if officers at the Ford Foundation were burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to prevent Black people from reading “The 18th Brumaire” and building workers councils.

This kind of rock-ribbed class orthodoxy seems an odd match to Reed’s partiality to Hillary Clinton candidacies, even if on a lesser evil basis drawn from the Gus Hall playbook. In an April 28, 2008 Progressive article that starts off with the ostensibly insurrectionary-minded title of “Obama No”–a shot across Carl Davidson’s bow so to speak–, we learn that it could have just as easily been titled “Hillary Yes”:

I’m hardly a Clinton fan. I’m on record in last November’s issue as saying that I’d rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. At this point, though, I’ve decided that she’s the lesser evil in the Democratic race, for the following reasons: 1) Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career; 2) his horribly opportunistic approach to the issues bearing on inequality—in which he tosses behaviorist rhetoric to the right and little more than calls to celebrate his success to blacks—stands to pollute debate about racial injustice whether he wins or loses the Presidency; 3) he can’t beat McCain in November.

I hate to say it but this sounds much more like what you’d read in a NY Times Op-Ed or an MSNBC panel discussion. Maybe Reed should have stuck around the Trotskyist movement for another 3 or 4 years to get a clearer focus on the two-party system. It might have damaged him psychologically but that’s a small price to pay for being less damaged ideologically.

Now, eight years later, Reed makes another pitch for Hillary Clinton in a July 7th radio interview on Doug Henwood’s “Behind the News”:

DH: The movement that has catalyzed with the Sanders campaign, how can we keep it from dissipating as November approaches. “Trump is so horrible, you know, hold your nose and vote for Hillary. etc.” There’s a great possibility for induced amnesia to set in. How do we fight that?

AR: What one does in November lies in a different dimension from the movement building concerns. From a pragmatic point of view there really is nothing else to do except to vote for Hillary. But that only becomes a big to-do if you have an exaggerated sense of the significance of your own vote anyway.

DH: People get so obsessed with something that takes five minutes to do in early November. It’s really remarkable.

AR: Absolutely. On some level it only comes down to a matter of taste and existential choice. I could vote for Gore in 2000. I lived in Connecticut and it was easy not to vote for Gore in 2000 and to vote for Ralph. I’d argue that this is a different moment and especially with Republican control of Congress-even if they lose the Senate which is a long shot . . . we’re going to be in the same position on the Wednesday after the election than we were on the Monday before the election. The real challenge is to try to disconnect the organizing from it being driven by the election cycle.

What was it that Molotov said to reporters after signing a non-aggression pact with the Nazis? Oh, I remember: “fascism is a matter of taste”. As far as existential choices are concerned, I would say that celibacy is an existential choice. Or assisted suicide. Or masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. That sort of thing, if you gather my drift.

But when Adolph Reed says that voting for a Democrat is a matter of taste or existential choice, who the hell is he kidding? The Democratic Party is about as much a challenge to class politics as the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) were in Czarist Russia. Lenin wrote hundreds of thousands of words—maybe millions—arguing that the left would be violating its most basic principles by voting for the Cadets. Indeed, this was his main quarrel with the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democracy:

Briefly, the Cadets’ tactics may be formulated as follows: to ensure the support of the revolutionary people for the Cadet Party. By “support” they evidently mean such action by the revolutionary people as will, first, be entirely subordinated to the interests of the Cadet Party and carried out according to its instructions, etc.; and secondly, not be too resolute and aggressive, and above all, not be too drastic. The revolutionary people must not be independent, that is the first point; and it must not achieve final victory, it must not crush its enemy, that is point two. These are the tactics that, on the whole, will inevitably be pursued by the entire Cadet Party and by any Cadet Duma. And, of course, these tactics will be backed, defended and justified with the aid of the rich ideological stock-in-trade of “scientific” investigations, “philosophical” obscurities, political (or politicians’) banalities, “literary-critical” squealing (a la Berdayev), etc., etc.

The squealing Berdayev referred to immediately above, by the way, was Nicolai Berdayev, a Russian philosopher aligned with the Mensheviks and later on exiled from Russia in the infamous “philosopher’s ship” in 1922 that targeted men who were ideologically opposed to the revolution. In my view, this was one of the biggest mistakes of the Communists. When I was a freshman at Bard, Berdayev was very trendy, just like Kierkegaard. Their Christian Existentialism was just the sort of thing to appeal to 18 year olds suffering from Weltschmerz. Was this the kind of existential choice Adolph Reed had in mind? Perhaps so given the mood of disaffected Sanderistas.

The Real Rebels

Filed under: American civil war — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

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Mark Lause

Mark Lause is a Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. Author of 10 books, including most recently Free Labor The Civil War and the Making of an American Working Class, published in 2015 by the University of Illinois Press and Free Spirits: Spiritualism, Republicanism, Radicalism published in 2016 by University of Illinois Press.

View all posts by Mark Lause »

I can feel a certain sympathy for people who get hoodwinked into fighting for a Lost Cause that could never be worthy of the blood and treasure spent on its behalf. After all, as a child of the Cold War, my own closest brush with toting a gun to war came during Vietnam. In that conflict, the government, both political parties, the military, the media, the universities, the corporations, and the entire power structure insisted that the triumph of a Vietnamese effort to control of their own country would start toppling dominoes that would end in Anytown, U.S.A. By the end, most Americans actually doubted this. In hindsight, there’s no real issue as to whether the power structure of the people were correct, though some feel obligated to pretend otherwise.

Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum
Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum

Responses to the Free State of Jones by Gary Ross, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Mahershala Ali demonstrate that such denials of experience can last a long time. The movie offers a fictionalized version of the revolt of poor Southerners against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Newton Knight worked on medical duties at the front until his disgust with the war inspired his desertion and return home. “Captain” Knight held that title for his role as the leader of guerilla forces that successfully made parts of southern Mississippi a no-go zone for Confederate tax gatherers and conscript officers. It is based on Victoria E. Bynum’s superb historical account The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), and aims to be much more truthful than Hollywood’s first attempt at the subject in 1948, Tap Roots.

Free State of Jones directly confronts the issues of class and race that Tap Roots downplayed or avoided. This fact, in part, explains the mixed reviews.

A movie is not a documentary, of course. The page dedicated to Free State of Jones at “History vs. Hollywood” provides a useful corrective, and I would urge everybody who liked the movie to read Bynum’s book.

The set battle scenes (including civilians employing a battery against trained troops) provide an emotionally gratifying and crowd-pleasing symbol of the triumph of enthusiastic victory over tyranny. In reality, the success of the revolt in Jones reflected the weakness of the Confederate authorities as much as the bravery and determination of those rebelling against them. Too, the love story between Knight and the slave Rachel or the depicted fraternization among black and white victims of the Confederacy is, of necessity, a matter of guesswork, but its presentation in the film rings true.

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