Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 10, 2018

The Yellow Vests, capitalism and communism

Filed under: climate,Ecology,farming,France — louisproyect @ 11:09 pm

Three years ago Michael Moore made a documentary titled “Where to Invade Next” that posed the question of why can’t Americans enjoy the good life most Western Europeans do. Traveling from country to country, he showed how the welfare state created by successive social democratic governments made for better health care, education, child care, etc. He visited a public school in France where he had lunch with sixth graders who had no interest in trading their healthy and appetizing free lunch for a Big Mac, French fries and a giant Coke.

As I pointed out at the time, this social democratic dream was turning into a nightmare, especially for immigrants. It was only a matter of time that France would become ground zero for a revolt against a system that provided few benefits for those who live in the countryside and suburbia. Indeed, my first reaction to the riots is that the white people in France were finally expressing the anger that made the banlieues erupt in 2005.

If steep taxes are supposedly necessary to support the universal health care that Moore supported in “Sicko”, another paean to enlightened social democratic governance, it was lost on the average citizen not fortunate enough to work as an IT specialist or lawyer in Paris. With the closing of rural hospitals, the country’s universal health insurance is next to useless. Under Macron, subsidies to the suburbs and countryside have been cut sharply. $42 billion at the time of his election, they are now $30 billion. The pain this has caused was sufficient to spur a wholesale resignation of mayors around the country who feel too strapped to do their job.

This was not the first time a protest occurred over gasoline/diesel fuel tax hikes. Almost four years ago to the date, “Red Caps” in Brittany forced Francois Hollande to cancel a tax targeting commercial trucks. Protesters, who saw the tax as harmful to farmers who were already having trouble competing with other EU countries, wore red caps. They were first worn in a seventeenth century revolt centered in Brittany as well. As is the case today, the movement took direct action to remind the “socialist” government that it could not neglect those in the boondocks. So grievous was their situation that a virtual epidemic of suicides had plagued the countryside. A recent survey revealed that a French farmer kills himself every two days.

Echoing Donald Trump’s MAGA bluster, Macron has been pushing a Make Our Planet Great Again campaign that was worth pursuing even if it caused temporary pain for the yellow vest social base. On the campaign’s website, there are ambitious goals sounding somewhat like the Green New Deal bandied about on the American left but without the socialist rhetoric:

Regarding mobility, a tax priority has been set: to achieve tax harmonisation between diesel and gasoline before 2022, and to speed up the rise in the price of carbon without penalizing the poorest households. The Climate Plan has set the objective of ending the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040. A large public consultation has also been launched, the “National Conference on Mobility”, to anticipate mobility in 2030 and draw up policies promoting soft and less polluting mobility;

The Climate Plan is striving to put an early end to the import in France of products contributing to the destruction of tropical forests and plans to develop a National strategy against imported deforestation. As far as its own forests are concerned, France has put in place a National Plan for forests and woodlands and a National Biomass Mobilisation Strategy, which advocate forestry that is more proactive and better respects ecosystems, with the aim of maintaining and extending their central role in carbon storage;

France is strengthening its actions to protect the marine and land ecosystems, in France and at an international level, which contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation: increasing its funding for ecosystems protection projects, taking advantage of overseas to launch initiatives for biodiversity helping the climate, and calls for projects to develop nature-based solutions.

You need to understand that it does little good to promote a “soft and less polluting mobility” in 2030 when a tax hike today threatens the ability of hard-up French families to get through the month. In a highly revealing article for the NY Times on December 2nd, Adam Nossiter described the austerity that grips Guéret, a typical yellow vest town. Nossiter describes how typical families live:

“We just don’t make it to the end of the month,” said Elodie Marton, a mother of four who had joined the protesters at the demonstration outside town. “I’ve got 10 euros left,” she said, as a dozen others tried to get themselves warm around an iron-barrel fire.

“Luckily we’ve got some animals at the house” — chickens, ducks — “and we keep them for the end of the month,” she said. “It sounds brutal, but my priority is the children,” she said. “We’re fed up and we’re angry!’ shouted her husband, Thomas Schwint, a cement hauler on a temporary 1,200-euro contract.

Hill-Knowlton, the notorious PR firm that cooked up the propaganda campaign about Saddam’s troops yanking babies from the incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital to leave them on the cold floor to die, revealed rather candidly that despite the impression that the tax hike was geared exclusively for “Green” causes such as eliminating nuclear energy plants, it was not quite the case: “While the government has recently announced a new increase in fuel taxes to come in January, the prices have increased by 19 cents for the essence fuel and by 31 cents for the diesel fuel since the beginning of President Macron’s mandate. In 2018, fuel taxes brought in a total of €34 billion for the state. Of these 34 billion, only 7.4 billion are directly earmarked for ecological transition, while the rest is earmarked for the State’s overall budget.”

In effect, the remaining 26.6 billion was designed to make up for the loss of revenue from Macron’s wealth tax cut. In October 2017, a bill was passed in order to repeal the one imposed by the Socialists in the 1980s on incomes over $1.5 million. The wealth tax supposedly drove rich people out of the country, including actor Gerald Depardieu who was granted Russian citizenship in 2013. In a tit-for-tat arrangement, Depardieu defended the jailing of Pussy Riot. In keeping with his “hooligan” character supposedly praised by Putin, he was accused of the sexual assault and rape of a young female actress in August, 2018. This should give you some idea of the sort of person whose needs had to be catered to, even if it meant leaving Elodie Marton with 10 Euros at the end of the month.

Maxime Combs, a French economist and climate change activist, wrote an article that was translated into English for the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century website. It debunks the notion that the tax hike can help to wean people from fossil fuel usage, especially the poor. He urges a different approach to the problem from eco-tax manipulation:

By making the increase in fuel prices the central policy that must drive the inhabitants of the country to change their vehicles and change their boilers, without reducing their mobility needs and their heating needs, Emmanuel Macron and the government are making themselves prisoners of an ideology that prevents action on the structural causes of too great a dependence on fossil fuels.

Putting an end to urban sprawl and bringing economic activities closer to workplaces – rather than moving them away from already urbanized areas – relocating public services and ensuring the sustainability of local shops, developing public transport and options for alternative modes of transport, are priority areas for reducing the need for mobility reliant on carbon.

This gets much closer to the solution that is really needed even if it doesn’t close the circle. It is not just a question of reducing the need for private transportation and commercial trucks. It also points in the direction of overcoming the “metabolic rife” that is associated with separating the organic production of plant fertilizer (both human and animal) from the crops that require it.

Petroleum products do not only threaten a sixth extinction because of the greenhouse gases they generate. In addition, they are key to industrial farming that relies on plastics for a wide variety of its infrastructure including mulch, greenhouse covers and tunnels. Once crops are harvested, plastic is used to package them for sale in Walmarts and other grocery stores spread around the country. This amounts to $32.4 billion in 2016, with 14.2 billion pounds of resin consumed.

Industrial farming is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, fossil fuels are essential for farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads—all designed to transport food from the farming regions to cities hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Just consider the enormous amount of energy that is expended to ship soybeans, corn and other key agro-export commodities from Brazil to seaports in China or India and their transportation by truck to other destinations once they get there.

As capitalism grows apace everywhere in the world, gaining acceptance for its ability to satisfy every desire that advertising creates for a working class bewitched by commodity fetishism, the threat of extinction deepens. Even if Macron eliminated gas-powered cars in France, you still have two major automobile companies that rely on exports to produce the profits that stock prices are based on. The Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën joint venture produced 734,000 cars in Chinese plants in 2014. Those sales are necessary for the life-blood of French capitalism to flow.

This is the miracle of capitalism. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx refers to how it replaced the system that preceded it:

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

What Marx does not pay much attention to is the modes of production that preceded this miracle. From ancient Greece to the late Middle Ages, it was the city that formed the basic unit of production rather than the state. So, for example, a places like Tenochtitlan, London, Tripoli, and Damascus arose because they were suited to its natural terrain both in terms of resources and demography. The towns and cities were the hub of commercial activity that relied on the agricultural belt that surrounded them. Food was transported by carts pulled by oxen or horses rather than Mack trucks.

The Barada River was indispensable to the rise of Damascus as the crown jewel of the Arab world. Its name is reflected in the tormented victim of Assad’s barrel bombs Wadi Barada that means Barada Valley. In 1834 a British traveler described Damascus as “a city of hidden palaces, of copses, and gardens, and fountains, and bubbling streams.” The Barada river was “the juice of her life,” a “gushing and ice-cold torrent that tumbles from the snowy sides of Anti-Lebanon” (the mountain range that borders Lebanon and Syria.) The various water sources flowed into the city via seven canals that were built during or before Roman presence in the region. For many, the well-watered wonders of the city were paradisiacal.

Some of these cities became so powerful that they were capable of bring other cities under their sway as part of an empire based on tribute rather than capital. Rome was the most famous of these in the pre-capitalist era and arguably a victim of its own success as its reliance on long-distance exploitation of resources and slavery eroded its ability to reproduce itself.

In the 17th century, Western European nations repeated Rome’s glory but on a capitalist basis. States were created in order to support the armies and navies necessary to embark on a colonization program. Once a colony was established, the old organic unity that kept a place like Damascus viable disappeared. Furthermore, in the post-colonial epoch, the Syrian state, for example, was forced into commodity exchanges in order to subsist in a capitalist world. Perhaps the only way to avoid being sucked in was to use your own feudal military might to stave off the invader as was the case with Japan until Admiral Perry fixed their wagon. Probably, the only non-capitalist survivors in the world today are Cuba and North Korea, even though the pressure on them is enormous. Cuba relies on the tourist trade and North Korea is rapidly transitioning into a market economy in the post-Mao mold.

That leaves the naked tribesmen of North Sentinel islands to keep the faith, one supposes.

Toward the end of “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State”, Engels writes:

At all earlier stages of society production was essentially collective, just as consumption proceeded by direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller communistic communities. This collective production was very limited; but inherent in it was the producers’ control over their process of production and their product. They knew what became of their product: they consumed it; it did not leave their hands. And so long as production remains on this basis, it cannot grow above the heads of the producers nor raise up incorporeal alien powers against them, as in civilization is always and inevitably the case.

The task before us is to return to pre-capitalist property relations, but moreover those that precede feudalism with its forced exploitation based on the rule of the aristocrats. Something closer to the city-state of the Aztecs, the Incas or the Mayans is needed but one based on the freedom made possible by machinery rather than captured slaves. In recognizing the value of such a “backward” looking goal, Mariategui remains a socialist whose vision is more prescient than ever:

The subordination of the Indian problem to the problem of land is even more absolute, for special reasons. The indigenous race is a race of farmers. The Inca people were peasants, normally engaged in agriculture and shepherding. Their industries and arts were typically domestic and rural. The principle that life springs from the soil was truer in the Peru of the Incas than in any other country. The most notable public works and collective enterprises of Tawantinsuyo were for military, religious or agricultural purposes. The irrigation canals of the sierra and the coast and the agricultural terraces of the Andes remain the best evidence of the degree of economic organization reached by Inca Peru. Its civilization was agrarian in all its important I aspects. Valcarcel, in his study of the economic life of Tawantinsuyo, writes that “the land, in native tradition, is the common mother; from her womb come not only food but man himself. Land provides all wealth. The cult of Mama Pacha is on a par with the worship of the sun and, like the sun, Mother Earth represents no one in particular. Joined in the aboriginal ideology, these two concepts gave birth to agrarianism, which combines communal ownership of land and the universal religion of the sun.”

December 7, 2018

Boy Erased; The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,religion — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 7, 2018

This year two narrative films shared the same subject matter: the damage that conversion therapy does to gay people following a regimen based on Christian fundamentalism and bogus psychotherapy in order to “change”. “The Boy Erased” had a bigger budget and a more conventional Hollywood distribution path than the indie “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” that played in arthouses but both are excellent. The first is currently playing in theaters everywhere, advertised heavily, and considered as possible Oscar-bait while the second that opened over the summer can now be seen as VOD. I made a point of seeing both films after watching a segment on Sunday Morning CBS News a couple of months ago about conversion therapy, a practice that struck me as utterly barbaric. After saying something about the two films, I will conclude with some observations about how the “sky religions” have managed to maintain utterly inhuman practices based on a couple of sentences in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, notwithstanding shifting attitudes toward same-sexers over the eons.

Continue reading

December 6, 2018

Black America seen through the prism of seven films released this year

Filed under: african-american,Film — louisproyect @ 2:16 am

Likely a combination of pressure applied on the Hollywood film industry to be more racially inclusive and the street protests led by Black Lives Matter, 2018 was marked by a bumper crop of films about Black America. Perhaps the most significant evidence of a shift was the long and flattering article in the May 22, 2018 Sunday NY Times Magazine section titled “How Boots Riley Infiltrated Hollywood” that was unlike any article I had seen in the magazine in a long time, maybe ever:

“Sorry to Bother You” comes out in wide release in July. The film is visually ingenious and funny, yet grounded by pointed arguments about the obstacles to black success in America, the power of strikes and the soul-draining predations of capitalism. A self-described communist since his teens, Riley has said he aims “to help build a mass movement that can use withholding of labor as a strategy for social change.”

Another such film that opened to universal acclaim was Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”, which some critics viewed as his best work ever. I avoided seeing the two films when they first came out partly as a reaction to the hype surrounding them. In general, I stay away from Hollywood films for most of the year since they hardly seem worth the money I would spend to see them. As I expected, I received screeners for both films and can say at this point that my skepticism was warranted. This has also been the case with just about every other film I have seen in this capacity except for the surprisingly great “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

As it happens, the best in this group of seven under consideration was a low-budget neorealist indie film titled “Life and Nothing More” directed by a Spaniard who used nonprofessionals exclusively. Except for this film, the others were flawed in one way or another. Despite that, I have no problem recommending them all since they at least engage with the realities of racism that have deepened horrifically under the white supremacist administration of Donald Trump.

Sorry to Bother You

The main character in this surrealist satire is a young African-American man named Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) who has just started a job as a telemarketer in Oakland. When he fails to sell much of anything, an older co-worker played by Danny Glover advises him to use a “white voice”. This leads to success, so much so that he gets promoted to a highly paid “power caller” position on a higher floor. When his co-workers on the ground floor form a union to strike for higher wages, Green crosses their picket line.

The combination of losing friendships made on the ground floor, estrangement from his girlfriend–a radical artist, and the dark secrets he discovers on the top floor is enough to make him quit his power caller job and join the resistance.

Both the ground-floor and top-floor operations are owned by a man named Steve Lift who might be described as a combination of Jeff Bezos and some villain out of a Marvel comic book—not that there’s much difference. Lift has begun building a slave labor work force based on Centaur-like creatures called “equisapiens” that are produced by a gene-modifying, cocaine-like drug that Green himself is persuaded to take in Lift’s office.

As a genre, surrealist satire generally leaves me cold. Although I have seen no references to this, it strikes me that the work of directors and screenwriters such as Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Terry Gilliam helped shape “Sorry to Bother You”. Such works strive for shock value rather than dramatic intensity based on realism. In Riley’s film, there is almost no attempt to develop one of the equisapiens into a sympathetic and identifiable character such as the slaves in Pontecorvo’s “Burn” but there is no doubt that the sight of a man’s body with a horse’s head must have been enough to impress most film critics.

BlacKkKlansman

This film was “inspired” by the real life experience of a Black cop in Colorado Springs named Ron Stallworth who teamed up with a white cop in the 1970s to infiltrate the KKK. Since he was working undercover at the time to gain information on “extremist” groups like the local Black Student Union that had invited Kwame Ture (née Stokely Carmichael), he decided to branch out and investigate the Klan. So the film sets up an equivalence between Kwame Ture and David Duke, a cast character playing a major supporting role in the film. Doesn’t this remind you a bit of how Trump and his “there were bad people on both sides in Charlottesville”?

Ironically, despite Boots Riley’s devastating critique of Lee’s film, they both rely on the same device—a Black man using a “white voice” to deceive someone on the other side of the line. In Stallworth’s case, it was to communicate with the KKK about future meetings, etc. Once a hook-up was arranged, a white (and Jewish) cop named Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) would show up representing himself as Stallworth.

Stallworth’s initiative in penetrating the KKK elevated him in the eyes of the local police force who at first regarded him either paternalistically or in an openly racist manner. In the film’s conclusion, he uses a wire to record a racist cop who is dragged off to the delight of Stallworth and his white cop supporters. It is not exactly clear why he is being arrested since racism is completely legal, especially in Colorado.

Essentially, Lee’s film is a throwback to Stanley Kramer’s liberal, integrationist films of the 1960s like “The Defiant Ones” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. Racism is depicted as a function of prejudice rather than institutions functioning to create a reserve army of labor. Lee is a skilled filmmaker but not much different than Michael Moore politically. In 2008, he hailed Obama’s victory as a sign that Washington would soon become a “Chocolate City”. Four years later when it was obvious that it remained vanilla under Obama, he expressed disappointment but still raised a million dollars in a fundraising party at his home for his re-election.

In his takedown of Lee’s film, Riley was a lot sharper than any dialog he wrote in “Sorry to Bother You”:

Look—we deal with racism not just from physical terror or attitudes of racist people, but in pay scale, housing, health care, and other material quality of life issues. But to the extent that people of color deal with actual physical attacks and terrorizing due to racism and racist doctrines—we deal with it mostly from the police on a day to day basis. And not just from White cops. From Black cops too. So for Spike to come out with a movie where a story points are fabricated in order to make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing, to put it very mildly.

Green Book

Like “BlacKkKlansman”, “Green Book” is based on the experiences of real-life characters but probably taking fewer liberties. In 1962, Jamaican-born pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) needed a driver for a tour that began in the north and that ended in the Deep South. He hired a bouncer from the Copacabana named “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), who was out of work for two months while the Copa did some remodeling.

The film is reminiscent of old-fashioned TV comedy, especially “The Odd Couple” that paired a slovenly sportswriter and a prissy photographer in the same Manhattan apartment after both men had divorced their wives. Felix, the photographer, is always lecturing Oscar about his untidy habits while Oscar is working to wean Felix from his neurotic obsessions over this and that. In “Green Room”, the fastidious and well-educated Black artist is always remonstrating Tony Lip for his lapses. He wants to improve his diction—a Bronx Italian accent done well by Mortensen—as if he were Henry Higgins working on Liza Dolittle. Irritated at first, Tony Lip begins to warm up to his boss after seeing him wow audiences and having the courage to tour the Deep South. In a number of scenes, he confronts racists who have disrespected the world-class pianist even though the film starts with Tony Lip throwing out a couple of glasses that Black repairmen have drunk from while working to fix his refrigerator. If he can overcome his prejudice, why can’t the rest of Italians in the Bronx “get along” with Negros.

The film was directed by Peter Farrelly, a white filmmaker who has teamed up with his brother Bobby for comedies like “There’s Something About Mary”. This is essentially a road movie with a message of racial tolerance as likeable and old-fashioned as bowl of steel-cut oatmeal on a winter morning. It is the kind of film that a white audience in Birmingham, Alabama, which voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, can watch with pleasure even if on the next day they treat Black people with contempt. That’s what films like this are about, anyhow. An escape from a mean and violent world.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, this is a film directed by Barry Jenkins, the African-American who made the excellent “Moonlight” in 2016. Set in the early 1970s, it is love story about a 22-year old aspiring sculptor named Fonny and his 19-year old lover named Tish who grew up in Harlem, the children of working-class parents.

Like many kids in Harlem, especially those who took advantage of an inexpensive CUNY education, the two were anxious to live as Manhattanites and put the provincialism of Harlem behind them, especially that of their parents. Tish’s mother is a devout Baptist who practically disowns the two when the unmarried Tish becomes pregnant.

Fonny has a day job that allows him to enjoy a reasonably decent life (this was long before Manhattan turned into Rio de Janeiro) while Tish works behind the counter selling cologne at a place that looks like Bloomingdales. Their prospects brighten when an orthodox Jew named David decides to rent an empty loft to Fonny on Bank Street in the West Village that he can use for both shelter and artwork. Keep in mind that in the early 70s, this is how Soho and Tribeca got started. When Fonny is shocked to discover that a Jew was about to rent something far below market prices (was this an inadvertent stereotype?) to a Black man, he can’t help but ask why he was being treated so well. The reply: I was touched by the love you two shared.

Despite being poised on the brink of a new and free life, Fonny can’t escape the consequences of being Black, even in progressive New York. When a white cop, who has a grudge against Fonny for an earlier confrontation, arrests him on the flimsy charge of raping a woman on the Lower East Side, their dreams are dashed. He goes off to prison despite the best efforts of his mother to track down the woman in Puerto Rico in order to convince her testimony in court.

What makes the film notable is not so much the struggle for racial justice but the romance of the two young people that director/screenwriter Barry Jenkins conveys well, no doubt a function of his deep devotion to James Baldwin and this novel in particular. In an Esquire Magazine article, Jenkins expresses the challenges of making a film that combines the hopefulness of young love and the crushing social forces arrayed against it:

And yet so rarely has a protest novel contained within it as soaring a love as that between Tish and Fonny. To put it simply, the romance at the center of this novel is pure to the point of saccharine. It’s no wonder that, amongst the more scholarly of his readers, the book is held in lesser esteem. And yet even this is a testament to the magic trick Baldwin pulls here, and a key reason for the tone of our adaptation. We don’t expect to treat the lives and souls of black folks in the aesthetic of the ecstatic. It’s assumed that the struggle to live, to simply breathe and exist, weighs so heavily on black folks that our very beings need be shrouded in the pathos of pain and suffering.

The Hate U Give

Directed by the African-American George Tillman Jr., this is a Black Lives Matter-themed film based on a young adult novel written by another African-American, Angie Thomas (the screenplay was an adaptation written by a white woman named Audrey Wells, who died shortly before the film’s release.)

The main character is Starr Carter, a 16-year-old who lives in a crime-ridden and poverty-stricken neighborhood reminiscent of Ferguson, Missouri called Garden Heights but who goes to a predominantly white and wealthy school “on the other side of the tracks”. Her identity is split between the two places. She has a white boyfriend and hangs out with white girls, making little attempt to fill them in on how she lives in Garden Heights.

One night she goes to a party where she runs into an old friend from the neighborhood named Khalil who offers her a ride home. On the way there, they are stopped by a cop in a typical racial profiling manner who orders Khalil out of the car and to put his hands on the roof. With Starr sitting in the front seat and the cop examining Khalil’s license and registration, he turns around, sticks his head through the window to see how she is holding up. After she says okay, he grabs a hair brush from the front seat and begins resuming the stance the cop ordered him to take. When the cop spots the brush in darkness of the night, he mistakes it for a pistol and in “self-defense” fires three bullets into the youth who dies on the spot.

As the sole eyewitness to the killing, Starr has to choose between two identities. If she comes out as the only person who has a chance of bringing the cop to justice, she risks antagonizing her white friends in high school. One of them even repeats the “all lives matter” excuse for the cops.

Finally deciding that she had to do the right thing, she does a TV interview that charges the cop for being a lawless executioner as well as well as fingering a brutal gang in Garden Heights that is almost as much of a impediment to Black security as the out-of-control police department. As a Ferguson-type protest takes shape in her neighborhood, she reluctantly assumes leadership even as she has to contend with the gang members who want to punish her for the TV interview.

Whether it is a function of the young adult material it is based on or just the author’s inexperience, the main problem of the film is its predictability. Characters are defined and then act according to the role that they are assigned to. Nothing comes as much of a surprise.

That being said, it is of supreme importance that such a film can make its way into Cineplexes where a documentary on Ferguson would never appear. It is even more significant that the novel it is based on has sold 1.5 million copies, presumably to young Black people who have a voice speaking for their frustrations and anger that are heard nowhere else.

The author’s story is very much like that of young people in Ferguson or any other place where a cop killing triggered BLM protests. Born in 1988, Angie Thomas grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, the city in which a progressive Democratic Party city government has encouraged the growth of cooperatives serving the Black community.

Having dreamt of becoming a writer from an early age and graduating from a Christian college in Mississippi with a BFA, she resolved to write such a novel after Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland on New Years Eve in 2009. In an interview with Ebony, Grant described what amounted to as a mission, something probably remote to the average University of Iowa Writers Workshop student:

As a Black woman, I feel like I have a unique experience that we don’t often see in media portrayals of the South. When you say, “Southern” or you speak about a Southern accent, there’s always that drawl and usually from White people. That’s what people associate with the South.

But we’re all different. The Black Southern accent is different. It’s small things like that, and then big things like being from Mississippi, specifically, and hearing the stories about Emmett Till, and being familiar with that from a very young age. Or knowing that I lived maybe three minutes away from Medgar Evers’ home, and that my mom heard the gunshot that killed him. Knowing that I live in a state where whenever somebody would fight for my rights or speak up for me, they were automatically deemed the enemy by the majority.

Whatever qualms I had about the film, I feel enriched by the experience of discovering that such writers exist.

Monsters and Men

Directed and written by the African-American Reinaldo Marcus Green, this film is also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the killing of loose-cigarette peddler Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014 by a cop’s chokehold that inspired the protest call “I can’t breathe”, Green tells the story of three men who were impacted in one way or another by the fictionalized account of Garner’s death (in the film, it is a cop’s gun rather than a chokehold that costs the cigarette peddler his life.)

We first meet Manny Ortega, who like Starr is an eyewitness to the killing. He is hesitant to speak out not because it would diminish his status but because as a poor and underemployed Latino, he cannot afford to piss off the cops. Like Starr, he does the right thing.

Next we meet Dennis Williams, a Black cop who is struggling to stay behind the blue wall of silence that would free him from the burden of testifying against a colleague. Having been stopped by cops six times that year in racial profiling incidents, he has been pushed to the limit. (Williams is played by Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington, who also played the cop Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s film.)

Finally, there is Zyrick, a young Black man who is stopped on his way home from baseball practice in another racial profiling incident. For his father, an MTA worker, and Zyrick, baseball opens up the possibility of a lucrative career. When his own experience being stopped by the cops resonates with the killing of the cigarette peddler, Zyrick decides to take part in a BLM protest the night before he is supposed to take part in a game with baseball scouts eyeing prospects for the big leagues. When his father learns that he is going to take part in the protest, he lashes out him for losing his focus. It is nothing but baseball that is important. Black people have been killed by the cops for no good reason since the Civil War. The only answer is to mind your own business and stay out of their way.

The next day, Zyrick shows up at the baseball game with a shirt demanding justice for the slain peddler and takes a knee with other aspiring baseball pros.

In an interview with Remezcla, a website devoted to Latino culture and politics, Green—who is half Puerto-Rican—spoke for many young filmmakers of color anxious to use film to raise political awareness in the Black and Latino community:

This film is my form of activism, however small. I think that’s really what it’s about. It’s about baby steps. It’s about talking about it, continuing the dialogue, and trying to open people’s minds to an issue that really needs to be talked about. It’s happening all around us, we can’t turn a blind eye to the things that are happening to our people and our community. It’s important for us to just stay engaged as a community, the Latino community, the Black community, it’s important for us to come together. As a collective, we’re much stronger, and we need to support one another.

Life and Nothing More

Despite its minimal funding and its brief stay in the Film Forum, this film stands out for me as a major contribution to the body of work about Black Americans going back to classics like “Nothing but a Man”. It should show up eventually as VOD and when it does, don’t waste any time. It is truly powerful.

Using neorealist conventions heightened by a very gifted non-professional cast, the story is defined by the constraints imposed by capitalist society on a single mother named Regina working as a waitress, her troubled 14-year old son, and three year old daughter. Director Antonio Méndez Esparaza spent two years in Tallahassee interviewing single Black mothers to help him write the script for a film steeped in neorealist traditions.

When we first meet Regina, she is working as a waitress at the Red Onion restaurant somewhere in Florida when an African-American man named Robert tries to strike up a friendly conversation with her. Since her husband is doing time for aggravated assault, she is wary of all men. In a subsequent conversation with Robert, she puts him off by saying “fuck all men”. Not willing to take no for an answer, he approaches her again during her break on another day and breaks down her resistance. Since there are so few pleasures in her life, being taken out for dinner and shooting pool with him later is something that she looks forward to. That is the first step in cementing a relationship that finally ends up with him moving in with her and treating the three-year-old with tenderness.

The stumbling block is her son Andrew who is as hostile to adult men as his mother is initially but with less of an incentive to open up to a man he suspects of taking advantage of his mother’s yearning for company. An argument between his mother and Robert in the middle of the night leads to a confrontation in which Andrew pulls out a gravity knife with a warning to Robert to stand down. Fed up with lover and son alike, Regina throws both men out—at least for the evening.

All of these people are living on the knife’s edge. A loss of a job, an unplanned pregnancy or an arrest can push them into a bottomless pit. The authenticity of “Life and Nothing More” is astonishing. It has a documentary-like matter of factness that serves the narrative arc. Given the flammable nature of the social relations in the world occupied by the characters, a spark can set off a conflagration at any minute. It is reminder that if the anger and frustration of Black America ever gets turned at its real enemies, the class struggle of the future will make the sixties look like child’s play.

 

December 2, 2018

Did Julian Assange help Trump get elected? Does it matter?

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Trump,Wikileaks — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

While it is likely that the Guardian article about Paul Manafort meeting with Julian Assange will turn out to be bogus, there is still the question of Assange’s role in the ongoing geopolitical squabble between American imperialism and its adversaries in Russia, China and elsewhere.

The main bone of contention is whether Wikileaks served as a conduit for emails purloined from campaign manager John Podesta’s account in March 2016. One of the emails contained excerpts from the speeches Clinton gave at Goldman-Sachs that betrayed her disconnect from most voters. She jokes, for example, at a Goldman Sachs conference in June 2013 about bankers being “the smartest people.” Trump demagogically pointed to her speeches as proof that Goldman “owned her”.

There is little question as to the role of Russian hackers in breaking into Podesta’s email account. Known as Fancy Bear, the group sent Podesta an email urging him to click a link that would protect his emails, when it had the opposite effect. The tendency of most of the left would be to regard this interference with a shrug of the shoulders, considering the widespread use of cybernetic espionage by the USA—especially in Iran. As Jesus said, “Those without sin, cast the first stone”.

Zeynep Tukfeci is a NY Times op-ed columnist specializing in computer security, social media abuses, etc. Now you’d expect anybody working for the Times to express outrage at Russian interference and Wikileaks serving as an accessory after the fact. Keep in mind, however, that Tukfeci was once “one of us”, serving as a co-moderator of the Marxism list that spawned Marxmail when she was a dissertation student. In a November 4, 2016 column, she wrote:

The victims here are not just Mr. Podesta and the people in his contacts list who are embarrassed or compromised. The victim of leaks of private communication is the ability of dissidents to function in a democracy.

Demanding transparency from the powerful is not a right to see every single private email anyone in a position of power ever sent or received. WikiLeaks, for example, gleefully tweeted to its millions of followers that a Clinton Foundation employee had attempted suicide; news outlets repeated the report.

Wanton destruction of the personal privacy of any person who has ever come near a political organization is a vicious but effective means to smother dissent. This method is so common in Russia and the former Soviet states that it has a name: “kompromat,” releasing compromising material against political opponents. Emails of dissidents are hacked, their houses bugged, the activities in their bedrooms videotaped, and the material made public to embarrass and intimidate people whose politics displeases the powerful. Kompromat does not have to go after every single dissident to work: If you know that getting near politics means that your personal privacy may be destroyed, you will understandably stay away.

Another figure I regard as “one of us” also changed her mind about Assange in the aftermath of his role in helping to tip the scales in favor of Donald Trump. Laurie Poitras, who made a documentary about Edward Snowden in collaboration with Glenn Greenwald, made one on Julian Assange in 2017 titled “Risk”. It reflects her disenchantment with Assange over his take on the sex assault cases, which he described as a “tawdry, radical feminist” plot instigated by a woman who launched a lesbian nightclub. And, also like Tukfeci, Poitras questions the timing of the Wikileaks release.

In my review of “Risk”, I wrote “Unlike Poitras, I have no problems with the Russians hacking Democratic Party emails and using Wikileaks as a cutout. If American politicians don’t want to be embarrassed by things they say privately, they’d better think about what they were saying in the first place.” I no longer would write such a thing. It is best to draw a line against the sort of intervention the Russians mounted, as well as Wikileaks role in amplifying its impact.

In the latest developments in the Mueller investigation, there are bread crumbs connecting various Trump operatives to their counterparts in England who might have had foreknowledge of the Podesta hack. On November 28th, the Guardian identified an American living in England named Ted Malloch as a key figure closely connected to Nigel Farage, who might be described as the English Donald Trump. Wikipedia provides some detail:

Malloch has appeared several times as a guest in productions of the conspiracy site InfoWars. In the video “Davos Group Insider Exposes The Globalist Luciferian Agenda”, he says:

The EU is part of, of course, the globalist Empire, the New World Order. I think many of its origins are in fact quite evil …

It’s basically a German takeover of Europe making Europe into its own puppet state with its crony capitalism and its fake currency of the Euro. … Luciferianism is a belief system that venerates the essential characteristics that are affixed to Lucifer. That tradition has been informed by Gnosticism by Satanism and it usually refers to Lucifer not as the devil per se but as some kind of liberator, some kind of guardian, some kind of guiding spirit, in fact is the true God as opposed to Jehovah. … of course we know who Lucifer is and he’s seen as one of the morning stars, as a symbol of enlightenment, as a kind of independence, and of true human progress, turning away from God and turning to Lucifer in order to enlighten yourself.

What kind of world are we living in politically when there is one degree of separation between anti-imperialist Julian Assange and someone like this? Whenever I read this sort of crap from a Malloch or a David Icke, I am reminded of what Leon Trotsky said about the rise of fascism in Germany:

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.

Finally, we come to Randy Credico, the erstwhile NYC comedian who used to do benefits for Central American solidarity causes in the 1980s and who was a brilliant impressionist and a canny political commentator—at least back then.

Now, like Assange, his purpose in life is to function as just another cheap conspiracy theorist on NYC’s terminally ill Pacifica station. On November 14th, NBC News reported on the communications between Roger Stone and his “pal”:

Six days before WikiLeaks began releasing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, Roger Stone had a text message conversation with a friend about WikiLeaks, according to copies of phone records obtained exclusively by NBC News.

“Big news Wednesday,” the Stone pal, radio host Randy Credico, wrote on Oct. 1, 2016, according to the text messages provided by Stone. “Now pretend u don’t know me.”

“U died 5 years ago,” Stone replied.

“Great,” Credico wrote back. “Hillary’s campaign will die this week.”

What has happened in the past 30 years to turn Credico into someone capable of being “pals” with Roger Stone, a man who is on record calling a CNN host a “fat negro”? His tweets also referred to others as a “disgusting lesbian dwarf,” “horse-faced liberal bitch,” “mandingo,” and “house negro.” He has also relied on the fascist Proud Boys to defend his appearances.

Here’s the explanation. People like Assange, Credico, and Max Blumenthal never developed a class perspective. While it is easy to understand why the USA is regarded as the world’s most evil and most dangerous imperialist power, this is not a sufficient guide to developing a radical analysis on Syria, Ukraine or any other place that does not fit neatly into a cookie cutter version of world politics. Part of the problem is the sorry growth of theories based on “globalization”, which in the demimonde of Global Research, Infowars, UNZ Review, 21st Century Wire and most programming on WBAI gets reduced to “globalism”, George Soros, becoming “pals” with Roger Stone and all the rest. These are parts of the Augean Stables that a reborn revolutionary left will have to clean at some point if for no other reason than to sharpen the class lines that people like Credico have blunted.

 

November 30, 2018

At Eternity’s Gate; Lust for Life

Filed under: art,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:17 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 30, 2018

Last week, after watching a press screening of Julian Schnabel’s biopic of Vincent Van Gogh titled “At Eternity’s Gate”, I was so struck by its divergence from the memories I had of Vincent Minnelli’s 1956 identically themed “Lust for Life” that it struck me as worth writing about the two in tandem. While I have grave reservations about Schnabel’s politics and aesthetics, I can recommend his film that is playing in theaters everywhere that are marketed to middle-brow tastes, the kind of audience that listens to NPR and votes Democratic. These are the sorts of screeners I get from publicists throughout November to coincide with NYFCO’s awards meeting in early December, the “good”, Oscar-worthy films that Harvey Weinstein used to produce until he got exposed as a serial rapist.

Willem Dafoe is superb as Vincent Van Gogh in “At Eternity’s Gate” even though at 63 he can hardly evoke the almost post-adolescent angst of the artist who died at the age of 37. Like Willem Dafoe, Kirk Douglas not only bears a striking resemblance to Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” but was only 3 years older than the artist at the time of his death. Since “Lust for Life”, as the title implies, emphasizes turbulence, Douglas was just the sort of actor who could bring that vision of Van Gogh to life. In Minnelli’s adaptation of the Irving Stone novel, Van Gogh’s life was a succession of crises that finally became too much to bear.

Stone’s work faced the same obstacles as Van Gogh’s paintings that never sold in his lifetime. It was rejected by 17 publishers until its debut in 1934. Stone was not particularly known for his politics but did take the trouble to write a novel in 1947 based on the marriage of Eugene V. Debs and his wife Kate who had no use for socialism. The title was “Adversary in the House”, an allusion to her.

However, there must have been just enough politics in “Lust for Life” for screenwriter Norman Corwin to feature in his script. The first fifteen minutes or so of the film depicts Van Gogh as a lay priest in a coal-mining village in the region of Borinage who immerses himself into the daily life of super-exploited workers. As a hobby, he makes drawings of the miners and their families as a kind of homage to the people in need of what Marx called an opiate.

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November 28, 2018

Kinshasa Makambo; Piripkura

Filed under: Africa,Brazil — louisproyect @ 11:46 pm

Despite their geographical distance and socioeconomic distinctions, the countries featured in two new documentaries have a lot in common. They are the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil, archetypes of the primitive accumulation of capital that Marx described as ones in which the treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murder are floated back to the mother-country and turned into capital. Both countries relied on slavery and forced labor for capital accumulation. Additionally, in the modern age both furnished rubber for the burgeoning automobile industry. Finally, both are homes to vast rainforests that are being exploited for commodity production at the expense of the people who dwell within them. Humanity as a whole will suffer the deepening consequences of climate change as rainforests—the lungs of Mother Earth—get chopped down for the benefit of mining, farming, ranching, timber mills, and the like.

“Kinshasa Makambo”, which opens at the Cinema Village on November 30, focuses on the movement to remove Congo’s President Joseph Kabila from office that began in December 2016 after he pushed for a constitutional amendment to allow a third term—especially his own. After making a deal with the opposition party to abide by existing term limits in exchange for leaving office before the end of 2017, Kabila broke his promise and used the cops to disperse massive demonstrations in Kinshasa, the capital city.

Director Dieudo Hamadi immersed himself in the middle of demonstrations that were not only subject to tear gas attacks but machine gun fire as well. It took remarkable courage for him to risk his life making a film that is obviously sympathetic to the movement’s goals. But he also displayed remarkable objectivity in capturing the frustrations and false steps of young people in the leadership of what amounted to a Congo Spring.

Hamadi trains his camera on three young men: Ben, who has been living in exile in New York, Jean Marie who has just been released from prison where he was tortured continuously, and Christian, a supporter of Étienne Tshisekedi whose Union for Democracy and Social Progress party was Kabila’s main adversary. Eighty-four at the time of the protests, he was regarded by Ben and Jean Marie as too old and too moderate to lead the struggle.

As has been the case with young civil society activists globally, the three find it difficult to pull together a movement capable of toppling the dictatorship. In one telling scene, they argue about their ineffectuality with one youth complaining that they are only a Facebook movement.

I strongly urge my readers in New York to see this film that will help you to understand Congolese politics as well as to get some perspective on the challenges youth-based movements have in confronting dictators like Kabila, Mubarak, Assad, et al, when the traditional instruments of revolutionary change such as trade unions and socialist parties are relatively weak.

Although the film does not give any background on Joseph Kabila (and really doesn’t have to), a few words might help you understand the nature of the conflict. He took office in 2001 after the previous president, his father Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. When Che Guevara came to the Congo to help build a guerrilla movement to overthrow Mobutu, he hooked up with Kabila who was a Lumumba partisan and the head of a guerrilla group. Che grew frustrated with Kabila’s lack of discipline and returned to Cuba.

Kabila eventually joined forces with Paul Kagame who led the Tutsi militias in Rwanda. After both men took power in their respective countries, they dispensed with the democratic promises they made to the citizenry.

Like the ANC, Kabila came to power in 1997 with socialist pretensions. A year later, Kagame broke ties with him as did Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda who also came to power with hopes that he could break with the African strongman past.

Joseph Kabila’s election for his second term in 2012 was widely regarded as rigged. To get an idea of what motivated the poverty-stricken Congolese people (Kinshasa is a vast slum), the Panama Papers revealed that his twin sister Jaynet Kabila Keratsu, a member of parliament, hired Mossack Fonseca to create a company called Keratsu Holding Limited in the Pacific island of Niue just a few months after her brother became president. Like Putin and Assad, this revelation did not lead to the twin despots resigning, and for identical reasons.

“Piripkura”, a Brazilian film distributed by the indispensable Cinema Libre company, opened at the Laemmle in LA on November 26 and at the Angelika in New York today. (For DVD and VOD options, check the official website.) (http://cinemalibrestudio.com/PiripkuraMovie/)

The Piripkura are a nomadic tribe that lived in Mato Grosso region of Brazil and like many such hunting-and-gathering societies fell victim to prospectors, ranchers, lumberjacks and other capitalist predators who viewed indigenous people as a nuisance standing in the way of “development”. Rita, a Piripkura woman who has left the forest to live in a settlement for indigenous peoples protected by FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation. Except for her, the only surviving Piripkuras are her brother Pakyî and her nephew Tamandua who have remained deep within the forest successfully avoiding the genocidal intruders who do not respect the government’s protection of tribal land just as India protected the Sentinelese islanders who killed the missionary who had entered the island illegally to preach the Gospel. On first blush, the Bible might not seem as inimical to indigenous people’s survival as a shotgun but colonialism tends to use them in tandem.

The first half of the film shows FUNAI official Jair Candor penetrating the forest in search of the two remaining Piripkura. If he can document their survival, their territory will remain protected. Suffice it to say that their discovery is a bittersweet experience. You smile because these diminutive and angelic men, naked as the day they were born, are still alive. You also shed a tear because, like Nishi in California, they are the sole survivors of a tribe that once numbered hundreds in their rainforest sanctuary.

This is a timely film because the new, fascist-like President of Brazil has declared his intention to turn the Amazon rainforest into toothpicks, lawn furniture, ethanol, sugar and the like even if it costs the lives of every indigenous person.

I urge my readers to see the film and spread the word about it since it is essential for deepening your understanding of the stakes of a major struggle that will pit progressive Brazilians like Jair Candor against the murderers sharpening their knives. A global movement is necessary to defend the rainforests and the people who call it home. This film is part of this movement and should be enjoyed and supported by everybody respecting indigenous rights.

November 27, 2018

Dark Money; The Panama Papers

Filed under: Film,journalism,taxation — louisproyect @ 11:37 pm

Two documentaries under consideration here fall with within the general rubric of investigative journalism and as such should be of interest to those who trying to get a handle on how the superrich are screwing the vast majority of the human race. “Dark Money”, which can be seen on Amazon and iTunes, describes the resistance Montanans mounted to the Koch brothers and their hired hands bid to buy the state government through their ultraright, bogus, and opaque tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups. “The Panama Papers”, an Epix film, tells the story of how a network of investigative reporters broke the story of Mossack-Fonseca. A trove of documents was furnished by a whistle-blower known only as “John Doe”. (Epix is a premium cable station site like HBO that allows you to take out a fifteen-day trial subscription. I’d take advantage of this if you want to see “The Panama Papers” that premiered yesterday.)

The idea of a typically red state like Montana with its gun-toting ranchers and farmers resisting corporate campaign contributions made legal by Citizens United might strike you as an anomaly. However, a look at the state’s history would reveal a deep-seated hostility to the copper mining industry that had poisoned the waters of Montana to such a degree that even the ranchers and farmers would not put up with it.

Anaconda Copper was the worst of them. In its open pit excavations in Butte, the company allowed copper-infused soil and rocks to seep into the Berkeley Pit, a lake formed by underground water. The combination of mineral waste and water produced an acid pool so toxic that when a flock of 3,000 Snow Geese touched down during a migration, every bird died. In the early 1900s, Anaconda did not just rule over a company town. It was more accurate to call Montana a company state under its thumb.

As part of the progressivist and socialist movements sweeping the country back then, Montana’s legislators passed a bill in 1912 that made corporate funding of election campaigns illegal. However, when the Supreme Court decided in 2010 that corporations were permitted to make campaign contributions without limits, Montana’s law was superseded to the dismay of Democrats and Republicans alike. The documentary points out that Republican state legislators were by no means happy about Koch’s network of shadowy 501(c)(4) tax-exempt groups like Americans for Prosperity and Western Tradition Partnership meddling in the electoral process.

In Montana, the battleground shifted. Instead of being able to ban the Koch brothers outright, the state election commission shifted to monitoring whether disclosure laws were being broken. If one could not prevent Koch, Inc. from dumping a million dollars into Montana, at least you could make sure to monitor the candidates they supported were not benefiting from unreported “dark money”.

In the first election campaign in Montana following the Citizens United ruling, the Koch-funded Republicans came together as an electoral bloc totally committed to their agenda. This meant first and foremost allowing corporate polluters to enjoy the kind of free rein that led to the death of 3,000 Snow Geese. If you’ve ever been to Montana, as I have to visit the Blackfoot reservation, you’ll understand how the despoliation of some of the most beautiful nature in America can move people into struggle.

The villain in this story is one Art Wittich who was elected to the state legislature after defeating a long-time Republican legislator in the primary. He and a number of other Koch loyalists mounted a coup against the old guard that, while not likely to be endorsed by the DSA, was ready to resist both “dark money” and polluted water. It was up to the state election commission to investigate how Wittich’s campaign was funded. Led by commission head Jon Motl, the campaign secured the pro bono assistance of a retired attorney named Michael Cotter, who after laboriously poring through email communications between Wittich and Koch’s hired guns as well as other incriminating documents, argued in court that Wittich never paid for a lot of the services he was receiving, including expensive direct mail campaigns, etc. But the case was ultimately decided in Cotter’s favor when a young woman who worked in the Koch-funded Right to Work Committee in Colorado stepped forward as a witness against Wittich. In the film, she states that she is into Koch brothers ideology but not when it is promoted through illegal means. Needless to say, she has not reached the point of understanding how the two go hand in hand but still to be commended for stepping forward knowing that her career in Koch-funded organizations has come to an end.

In addition to Motl and Cotter, another hero in the film is an investigative reporter named John S. Adams whose persistent reporting about the “dark money” flows helped to raise awareness in the state. When Adams and a group of other independent-minded reporters began raising money to put out a new state-wide paper reflecting their editorial principles, he was fired by The Great Falls Tribune, a Gannett newspaper. Virtually homeless, he continued covering the “dark money” story and was eventually successful in launching an online newspaper called, appropriately enough, the Montana Free Press. Bookmark it to stay informed on the future of red state politics especially in articles like “Where the jobs are: Montana’s economic landscape, visualized“.

In late 2014, a German reporter named Bastian Obermeyer was emailed by a “John Doe” who informed him that he had a massive archive of documents from the computers at Mossack-Fonseca in Panama City. This was a law firm that helped rich people all across the planet avoid paying taxes. As middle men, Mossack-Fonseca lined up banks in places like Panama, the Cayman Islands, and other Caribbean islands willing to shelter their clients’ deposits from tax collectors. In some cases, the tax shelter was legitimate. For example, someone like soccer great Lionel Messi made no effort to hide what he was doing. Star athletes are notoriously protective of their wealth even though it generally does not come exploiting labor except their own.

In other cases, those avoiding taxes might not be making dealings with Mossack-Fonseca a secret but heads of state like David Cameron in England, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson in Iceland, Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Assad in Syria wouldn’t advertiseit either. As it happens, Cameron and Johannsson resigned under pressure after the Mossck-Fonseca news broke as did Sharif who was additionally sentenced to 10 years in prison. It should come as no surprise that nothing happened to Putin and Assad. They have learned to make transparency, accountability and respect of the popular will a crime punishable by death.

The connection between the two films should be obvious. Both expose how the rich use every means at their disposal to hold on to their wealth, while government treasuries are starved. In England, Cameron’s greed, as well as those of other rich people, meant that hiding money in banks that were part of Mossack-Fonseca’s portfolio came at the expense of the national health system, the upkeep of council housing like Grenfell Towers where a fire cost the lives of 72 residents, and other services in the public realm. This is just another tactic in the ruling class’s arsenal that serves the same ends as Americans for Prosperity et al in the USA. They spend millions to support candidates favoring tax cuts and privatization of social security, the schools, and an end to the minimalist Obamacare.

While I am sure my readers understand these things in broad brushstrokes, seeing these two films will make you an even better defender of badly needed changes in the tax laws and in how elections are funded that will at least level the playing field between the vast majority of humanity and a predatory bourgeoisie. Men like the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson, the Trumps, et al will destroy the planet just as long as they can buy 100-feet yachts and 10,000 square foot mansions. If the only defense against them is a party led by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, something more radical is obviously needed. The two documentaries are useful contributions to raising awareness about how to build a stiffere resistance.

Manual Garcia Jr. “Climate Change Action Would Kill Imperialism”

Filed under: climate — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

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The Dark Side of the New Deal: FDR and the Japanese-Americans

Filed under: Counterpunch,Japan,racism — louisproyect @ 1:36 pm

Boys Behind Barbed Wire (Norito Takamoto, Albert Masaichi, and Hisashi Sansui), 1944, Manzanar concentration camp

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 27, 2018

Not long ago, I had lunch with Arn Kawano, a friend and Marxmail subscriber whose parents had been interred during WWII for no other reason than being Japanese-Americans living in California. I was anxious to discuss a film with him that I had reviewed recently titled “Resistance at Tule Lake”, which described how Japanese-Americans stood up for their rights as citizens against FDR’s fascist-like Executive Order 9066 that gave the green light to the camps.

Arn, who has a law degree, told me that despite liberal obsessions with constitutional rights, there is very little to protect such citizens when a government acts in the name of a national emergency. If anything, FDR’s willingness to shred the constitution should alert those invoking the New Deal as some kind of golden era for democracy and human rights to look more closely and objectively at American history. To give you an idea of the inability of American liberals to comprehend the depravity of FDR’s internment camps, Herbert Wechsler, an attorney who was part of the Nuremberg prosecution team, was also the government’s lawyer in a case defending the legality of Executive Order 9066. Later on, when Wechsler was teaching at the Columbia University law school, a student named Arn Kawano asked him if he had to do it all over again, would he have defended 9066? When he answered yes, Arn gathered up his books and walked out of the classroom.

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November 23, 2018

On the ISO’s refusal to endorse Howie Hawkin’s campaign

Filed under: Green Party,Lenin — louisproyect @ 10:09 pm

Howie Hawkins

Recently a series of exchanges between Howie Hawkins and the ISO that were published in the Socialist Worker newspaper reflect a big problem on the left for the past 7 years, namely how to maintain unity in the face of deep divisions over the war in Syria.

The first article in this series appeared on November 17th, titled The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia, delivered an ultimatum to Howie. Unless he would disavow the endorsement of comedian Jimmy Dore publicly, they would withdraw their endorsement of his campaign. They wrote:

A subsequent campaign email described Dore as “one of the most courageous and funniest political voices we have today.” In fact, he is a vocal supporter of the worst variety of Assadist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories on the Syrian conflict.

In fact, that would describe about 90 percent of the left today, including Noam Chomsky, Bhaskar Sunkara, and other well-known figures to one degree or another. Dore, who might be described as a funny version of Max Blumenthal, happens to be a trenchant critic of the Democratic Party. So are the people who write for Black Agenda Report. For that matter, probably 90 percent of the people who have written for CounterPunch since 2011 line up with Jimmy Dore. Many believe that this reflects the editorial outlook of editors Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank but in reality it simply indicates the dominance of pro-Assad support of those those who submit articles. What is the possibility that a united revolutionary left can be built in the years to come in a deepening capitalist crisis that is based on a litmus test of something like the Syrian revolution?

What about a litmus test on Cuba? I say this as someone who has grown very sympathetic to the ISO’s drawing a class line on the question of lesser evil politics. Although far more diplomatic than me, they have provided a running commentary on the DSA and Jacobin that has been so inspiring to me that if I were 20 years younger, I might even consider joining. Given my age and my frailty, the only thing I would consider joining today is my wife in bed to watch old episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.

Yet, even then, the reliance on Sam Farber articles about Cuba would have probably been a show stopper even if I was 20 years younger. Does the ISO believe that a party capable of leading a socialist revolution in the USA will adhere to their line on Cuba? Granted, the group is on record as stating that members can hold different views on Cuba than those of Sam Farber but what good is that if the newspaper never reflects that?

Back in 1980, when I began discussions with Peter Camejo on the kind of left we need in the USA, he emphasized putting historical and international questions on the back burner. Why split over the class nature of the USSR or which leftist faction to support in Angola? If you studied Lenin’s articles you’d understand that Russian questions were key. Can you imagine the Bolsheviks splitting over the exact year when Thermidor started in France over a hundred years earlier?

I always had this in mind when I began writing articles about the kind of non-sectarian movement we need in the USA. Despite my deep commitment to the Syrian revolution, which is now pretty much a dying ember, I never would have broken with those who understood the need to challenge capitalism in the USA, particularly the two parties that prop it up, whatever they thought of Assad. This is why I continued writing for CounterPunch. It is also why I supported Jill Stein in 2016.

On November 20th, Howie responded to the ISO in an article titled A Missed Chance to Support a Real Alternative. Most of his article is a commentary on the sorry state of the DSA and the lesser-evil left that preferred Cynthia Nixon to Howie’s anti-capitalist campaign. When DSA member Dan La Botz put forward a motion to back Howie, abstentions were considered as no votes and so he lost. Howie noted that counting abstentions in this fashion is how Jimmy Hoffa Jr. forced the latest UPS contract down the throat of his union. (Strange to see “Democratic” Socialists behaving like Jimmy Hoffa Jr., or maybe not so strange.) Just when the DSA was shafting Howie, the NYC ISO was acting on their Jimmy Dore ultimatum.

Howie’s take on all this struck me as making perfect sense:

But I had no time for picking a fight with Dore over Syria in the last weeks of the campaign. I think most New Yorkers following my campaign would have asked, “Who the hell is Jimmy Dore?” and “What does Syria have to do with the problems we face in New York?”

I know from experience on the Syria question that making a statement about the reality of the Syrian revolution brings a torrent of responses from the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” who will lie and put words into my mouth, such as saying I support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria. The responses come from around the world, from “peace” activists in the U.S. to East European acolytes of the Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin. One has to respond to set the record straight.

Then there would be Jimmy Dore fans asking me why I was picking on him. I didn’t have time for all that. My campaign decided we would pick our own fights and focus on the pressing problems the people of New York face under Cuomo’s rule.

Three days later, Jen Roesch, the ISO organizer in NYC, defended her party’s decision. Her article referred in turn to an article by ISO leader Danny Katch that urged support for Hawkins. Such public debate about Hawkin’s campaign in Socialist Worker along with the earlier one about whether to support Ocasio-Cortez gives you hope that the ISO will continue to dump “democratic centralist” norms overboard, where they belong.

Roesch pointed to factors that might have tipped the scales in the direction of not endorsing Howie even before Dore became an issue. Apparently there were ISO members that had been influenced by pro-DP arguments made by the Eric Blanc wing of the DSA. They may be described as erudite treatises steeped in Marxist scholarship justifying a vote for Ocasio-Cortez, Julia Salazar and other DSA-backed campaigns. With the massive positive publicity for these campaigns, the explosive growth of the DSA, and the failure of the Green Party to have met the expectations placed in it when Ralph Nader got 2,882,955 votes in 2000, you can understand the misgivings Roesch described:

Those arguments included: the campaign wouldn’t build the left; campaigns that can’t actually win are nonstarters in an era of victorious left Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez; and the Green Party has a serious problem of Assadism and Islamophobia. Our rushed discussion and vote resulted in the conflation of these and other arguments, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.

It was apparent that many members would not have decided to endorse the campaign if they had the chance again, whether it was because of the original arguments or experiencing the campaign’s interactions with Dore. I still think there were good reasons to support the campaign despite its weaknesses, but clearly this was the full discussion we should have had initially.

Well, at least that refreshing admission was not the sort of thing we ever saw in the Militant back in my days in the SWP. I will say that.

Finally, Roesch draws closer to the concerns I articulated at the start of the article by asking how the ISO can build united fronts and electoral campaigns alongside people with whom they have major disagreements. Actually, it is a much bigger question than that. A united front can involve revolutionary and reformist parties, as Lenin made clear in the 1920s but does the ISO think that a mass revolutionary party will have a newspaper that has the slightest resemblance to Socialist Worker? Even though it is a breath of fresh air to see Danny Katch disagreeing with ISO majority positions in the paper, this is a far cry from the American Iskra that will be necessary to serve as the voice of the vanguard in years to come.

At the risk of sounding outlandish to ISO members so used to the comfort zone of ideological homogeneity, an American Iskra will probably read a lot more like CounterPunch. I should add that I only ended up writing for it in 2012 after Jeff St. Clair invited me to write an answer to CounterPunch attacks on Pussy Riot based on what I had already written on my blog. In many ways, CounterPunch is the continuation of the Guardian newsweekly that stopped publishing in 1992. After it evolved away from Maoism, it regularly opened its pages to debates on the left. Come to think of it, that is what Lenin thought that Iskra should be when he wrote “What is to be Done” between 1901 and 1902.

Lenin only saw Iskra as a pole of attraction for socialists operating in different cities across Russia who worked in isolation from each other. It was not a “line” newspaper in any sense of the word. On October 19th, during the CounterPunch fund drive, Jeff St. Clair described the role it played on the left. Substitute “party line” for “company line” and it will make even more sense:

Unlike many political sites, CounterPunch doesn’t a have company line. The online edition of CounterPunch has always been a venue where different voices, on what can loosely be described as the “left,” can freely engage in fierce debates about politics, economics, war, movies, racism, music and political movements. We’ve tried to make CounterPunch free from dogma and cant, but to keep it open for writers with fresh points of view and vivid writing styles. The experience can perplex readers who are used to grazing in the usual media feedlots of processed prose and artificially-colored opinions.

Compare this to how Lenin ended the final chapter of “What is to be Done”, titled The “Plan” For an All-Russia Political Newspaper, and you will get an idea of the kind of approach that is needed today:

Every outbreak, every demonstration, would be weighed and, discussed in its every aspect in all parts of Russia and would thus stimulate a desire to keep up with, and even surpass, the others (we socialists do not by any means flatly reject all emulation or all “competition”!) and consciously prepare that which at first, as it were, sprang up spontaneously, a desire to take advantage of the favourable conditions in a given district or at a given moment for modifying the plan of attack, etc. At the same time, this revival of local work would obviate that desperate, “convulsive” exertion of all efforts and risking of all forces which every single demonstration or the publication of every single issue of a local newspaper now frequently entails.

I have always warned about mechanically following the example of Lenin’s party but there is something about this citation that convinces me that the true spirit of Lenin’s party has yet to be understood fully to this day. As grievous as the collapse of the USSR was, it at least had the value of undermining the institutional foundations of “Leninist” parties whether Stalinist or Trotskyist. Now is the time, more than ever, to build new foundations for the monumental class battles of the future.

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