Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 23, 2017

Imperialism is the world-monster that ties all our destinies.

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:29 am

Source: Imperialism is the world-monster that ties all our destinies.

July 22, 2017

Boris Souvarine: No, the Kaiser did not fund the Bolsheviks

Filed under: Lenin,Russian Revolution — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm

Boris Souvarine

On June 17th, I posted an article titled “Did the Kaiser Fund the Bolsheviks” that was prompted by several articles that made this case, including in the liberal Nation Magazine—perhaps unsurprisingly. This elicited an interesting comment on the article that showed up this morning:

For a discussion of Zeman’s documents see Souvarine’s Solzhenitsyn and Lenin, in Dissent 1977, online here

There’s also Souvarine’s response to Carmichael in Dissent January 1978 (Letters, pp.113ff), only available to those who have access (Louis perhaps you can put this online?)

Zeman was mentioned in my article as a scholar who dismissed the alleged ties between Lenin and Alexander Parvus, who was both an early theorist of Permanent Revolution and a successful businessman who was supposedly a funnel of German funds to the Bolsheviks.

Souvarine’s article was a critique of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Lenin in Zurich”, a hybrid novel/history that concurred with the German funding of the Bolsheviks hypothesis. Souvarine even went so far as to argue that there was no “sealed train” to the Finland Station, a staple of belief by all sides on this debate—until now, at least for me. I find Souvarine most convincing.

As per the commenter’s request, I am posting the exchange of letters between Joel Carmichael and Boris Souvarine from the Summer, 1978 Dissent. Carmichael is obviously a hardcore anti-Communist who was outraged by Dissent magazine’s temerity in publishing an article that cleared Lenin’s name of a charge going back to the early 1920s, namely that his party was subsidized by the Kaiser. His main distinction was translating Sukhanov’s essential memoir on the Russian Revolution.

Souvarine is a notable figure by any standard. At the time he wrote his article and the letter below, he was 83 and as he mentioned in the response to Carmichael half-blind. I hope I am half as sharp as Souvarine when I get to be that age.

My strong recommendation is to read the entry on Souvarine in Wikipedia, which would quickly establish his credentials:

Souvarine was born Boris Konstantinovich Lifschits in Kiev to a Jewish family. Souvarine’s family moved to Paris in 1897, where he became a socialist activist from a young age. He trained as a jewelry designer. And at the age of fourteen came into contact with the French Socialist movement while working as an apprentice in an aviation factory. During this time he began attending meetings held by Jean Jaurès.

Souvarine experienced his first trauma with the outbreak of the First World War. Mobilised as part of the French army in 1914, he quickly discovered the horrors of Trench warfare and in March 1915, lost his older brother who died fighting on the front-line.

War pushed Souvarine into politics and the antimilitarist movement. He joined the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO) in 1916 and begins contributing to publications of the anti-war socialist minority like Le Populaire, signing articles with the pseudonym he held onto for the rest of his life: Souvarine, patronym borrowed from a character in Émile Zola’s Germinal.

LETTERS

On Lenin and Solzenitsyn

Editors:

Boris Souvarine (Dissent, Summer 1977) twists Solzhenitsyn’s somewhat mythological Lenin in Zurich into a springboard for a peculiarly lopsided account of the evidence for the German subsidy to the Bolsheviks in 1917-18.

The tone of this lopsidedness is set by his throwaway reference (p. 327) to “every insinuation about German gold” as a “calumny pure and simple—until April 1917.” The effrontery of this is all the more astonishing since it is precisely Lenin’s penury until then that indicates the starting point of the subsidy.

Souvarine does not even mention the two articles written by Eduard Bernstein—never accused of corruption or stupidity—in January 1921 in the official organ of the German (Social Democratic) government. Bernstein sets down a specific figure—”more than 50 million gold marks.” It was this staggering sum—the equivalent in today’s currency of more than $800 million—that made me look into the question for both my Encounter articles and my Trotsky. Beforehand I had been mesmerized by the 50-year-old discussion in which Lenin’s revolutionary integrity played the principal role.

Nor does Souvarine refer to the 41 Bolshevik periodicals published by August 1917: these came out at the rate of more than 300,000 a day and were often distributed gratis. Avowed Party revenues could not have covered a fraction of this. (This is all detailed in Leonard Schapiro’s history of the Soviet Communist party.)

It was not I who “revealed” the German financing of the Bolshevik regime after the putsch: among other sources I mentioned Kurt Riezler, counselor of the Stockholm German Embassy, who in his memoir refers matter-of-factly to the allocation in July 1918 of 40 million gold marks between the Bolsheviks and some moderate monarchists. Souvarine attacks the plausibility of this like a rationalist ideologue: how could the Germans support “the confiscation of private property”? As though they were thinking of anything but the immobilization of the Eastern front!

Souvarine’s remark that I “deduced” the German subsidy from the “sealed train” is, I should think, deliberately fraudulent. He may belittle the evidential value of the numerous sources I mention—in fact he simply omits them all—but how can he say I “made a blinding deduction from a luminous premise”? His authority explodes here in a puff of duplicity.

Anyone who read my Encounter articles will see that I was linking the train and the subsidy only in order to highlight a possible Marxist defense of the latter: if Lenin accepted the train for the Cause, why not the subsidy? The notion that the Bolsheviks were given vast sums in actual banknotes is, of course, so silly that it is easy to sneer the fact itself out of existence. The transfer of funds highlights the key role played by Alexander Helphand (Parvus). It was precisely here that Helphand’s business network played a primordial role: he owned not merely a coal-mining company, but a freight company registered in Copenhagen: with German funds he bought countless items, shipped them to Scandinavia, and from there to Russia via Lenin’s agents Radek and Furstenberg (Hanecki).

Souvarine tucks all this away in his Postscript, detaches it from Helphand, and at the same time refers to bookkeeping records as though it were all a matter of conventional commercial transactions. But how could ordinary records have been kept in this very dangerous relationship?

To my mind the factual data add up to a lot. The gaps are accounted for by the obvious necessary secrecy: this applied to both Lenin and Helphand. There is surely an element of high comedy in Souvarine’s “dismissal” of von Kuhlmann as a plain “liar” when juxtaposed to his incredible acceptance of the institutionalized mendacity of the Bolsheviks, including Radek —Radek! This is surely of a piece with Souvarine’s pious priggishness in saying that as soon as Lenin “got a whiff of Parvus’s views he sent him packing” (p. 330). He could have got this only from a memoir by someone like Shlyapttikov, a cementheaded acolyte who may have believed everything Lenin told him. But Souvarine?

It is the psychological factors, however, that seem to me to complement the objective indications in a way that is even more convincing.

The most remarkable piece of evidence for the German subsidy is something intangible—the titanic fact of Lenin’s flight. This is the core of the Bolshevik putsch: it explains Trotsky’s cardinal function.

Trotsky devoted two chapters (one in My Life, one in his History of the Russian Revolution) to an overwrought denunciation of the story of the German subsidy as the “vilest slander in history.” He is forced into this extravagant language because he must explain Lenin’s flight from Petrograd in July 1917, in the aftermath of what seems to have been an abortive insurrection accompanied by the fragmentary disclosure of the German connection. This last involved high treason in wartime: all the Bolsheviks were in mortal peril.

Trotsky must disprove the commonsense reaction— especially among old-fashioned Marxists—that Lenin should really have stayed on in order to clear himself: to do this Trotsky must persuade his readers that the “Right wing” hated Lenin so much that they would have stopped at nothing, hence Lenin’s flight was natural. Yet on the face of it, his version is nonsense. Sukhanov—quoted approvingly by Trotsky and by Souvarine, when it suits them—shows most circumstantially that any possibility of lynch law was “absurd, in the summer of 1917”!

But there is a still weightier aspect to all this.

How could Lenin, aflame at the prospect of seizing power in a vast country as a preamble to the triumph of the World Revolution, abdicate his leadership at the crucial moment? Abdicate it, moreover, to someone whom he and other Bolsheviks had been denouncing for a decade, a man detested by one and all?

Trotsky did not merely stage-manage the putsch, he defined it as it were constitutionally. Since Lenin, throbbing with euphoria, thought the inevitable upheaval of the German proletariat would safeguard the Bolshevik sortie, he wanted the Bolsheviks to proclaim their seizure of power as Bolshevik. Trotsky wanted to camouflage the putsch by presenting it as a function of the Soviet. (Isaac Deutscher makes a particularly comic attempt to reconcile these two ideas.)

Trotsky was, of course, chairman of the Soviet, a priceless vantage point. Since the Bolsheviks were not to have any “enemies on the Left” for a decade or so, the parvenu dictators could claim and secure the support of the bulk of the population, e.g., of the peasants, too, until the Civil War was won and the swiftly consolidated apparatus could put the whole population through the mangling machine of the crash collectivization and industrialization programs that still constitute the fabric of life in the Soviet Union.

Lenin, remote from the scene of action, was forced to swallow Trotsky’s initiative, including his version of the putsch. Once in power, the Bolsheviks could exploit the camouflage of the Soviet very effectively. The very name of the Soviet Union keeps the fiction alive.

Thus Souvarine, in saying I “tried to involve” Trotsky in the German subsidy, not merely falsifies what I wrote in Encounter, he succumbs to an unaccountable flash of foolishness. My whole explanation of Trotsky’s brief eminence in the Bolshevik party is based on his not having been involved: that was just what made him indispensable.

I think Lenin’s refusal to accept a trial, together with his eliminating himself from the putsch, is an overwhelming argument for the factuality of the German subsidy.

Souvarine is particularly harsh on Solzhenitsyn’s blunders. He dismisses Radek’s remark to Lenin in April 1917: “In six months we’ll be either ministers or hanged.” But the point of the anecdote, after all, is to illustrate the ardor of all Marxists at the time: a great state had fallen to the forces of socialism, as it seemed—who knew what the future held! Radek’s quip is perfectly natural, indeed, banal—and Souvarine brings up passport formalities!

At the same time Souvarine seems incapable of grasping Solzhenitsyn’s true interest. Not only does he refer, rather comically, to Helphand as a “Russo-German,” but he is baffled by Solzhenitsyn’s obsession with Lenin’s ancestry.

Yet Solshenitsyn’s preoccupation is the very axis of his mythology. He is saying something basic: the Russian people—simpleminded, holy—has been duped by aliens, i.e., Jews and Germans. For this mythology the figure of Helphand is ideal, indeed, indispensable—he was a caricature of all the required factors. With a huge head, heavy torso, and spindly legs, Helphand lived in a sea of champagne, large-scale business deals, and luscious blondes. From Solzhenitsyn’s point of view, and of course from his own, he had not a drop of “Russian” blood. He was simply a shtetl Jew who became the only Marxist multimillionaire. Solzhenitsyn is so intent on establishing the links between the Jew Helphand and the German General Staff that he disregards the true point— the dimensions of the German connection. No doubt his homework was geared to his fundamental views; Souvarine has found it easy to exploit these on behalf of a different polemic.

Souvarine admits Lenin was “no paragon of morality.” I suppose he means Lenin was a liar as well as, at the least, an architect of massacre, of course in the service of the Cause. He follows this low-key summation with a curious point: Lenin was nevertheless very careful “not to let himself fall into disrepute with the Russian people whom he aspired to … lead toward social revolution.”

The Russian “people”! This piece of—for a Marxist— silliness tells us a lot about Souvarine. If the evidence of the German subsidy is all worthless, why does he weasel about so much in bypassing it? What, after all, is he defending?

Surely, I imagine, his youthful ardor. In this respect Souvarine seems to typify a category—all those who, while appalled by the monstrosity brought about by the rosy dreams of their youth, nevertheless balk at abandoning those dreams.

This comes out in his final piece of chicanery: in his starry-eyed description of the atmosphere in Petrograd around October 1917 he shows that the Bolsheviks did, after all, represent genuine opinion while functioning within the democratic arena of the Soviet: one could call oneself a “Bolshevik” while meaning no more than disgust with the war. His quotation from Pierre Pascal makes much of the absence of Marxism “either among the people or the poets or the October decrees.”

But that’s the whole point! The Bolsheviks took advantage of just that state of mind—which of course they shared—and, because they could not remotely represent the real interests of the people, installed the most ferocious apparatus of repression in history.

There German subsidy invalidates the “legitimacy” of the Bolshevik putsch—but not by much. Whatever the meaning of legitimacy, it was lost once and for all by the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and by the conduct of the dictatorship ever since. Since the Bolsheviks collided with the interests of the whole population—except the handfuls of idealists and the crowds of careerists—they were in essence wholly illegitimate—unless, of course, one believes in their mission!

I was, I admit, very surprised by Souvarine’s disingenuous account of all this. Perhaps his deceitfulness, like Trotsky’s, should also be construed as evidence for the German subsidy.

JOEL CARMICHAEL New York City

Boris Souvarine Replies:

My article on Lenin in Zurich (originally in Est et Quest, Paris, April 1976) was somewhat abridged in Dissent (Summer 1977) with my consent. In consequence, some arguments and references were sacrificed. I am no longer in a physical condition that permits me to compare the two texts, for I am too old and half-blind. My reply to Mr. Carmichael’s diatribe may allude to some passages that were omitted in the shortened English-language version. I would ask Dissent to indicate such passages, if any, in footnotes.

The unnecessarily irascible letter that takes issue with me is scarcely persuasive when it taxes me with not having read everything or quoted everything. A magazine article is not a doctoral thesis, and mine dealt with Lenin in Zurich, which implies certain limits. However, I have read Bernstein and Sukhanov and Leonard Schapiro, who are deserving of comment. The difficulty is that my accuser shows little concern for the meaning of words, and that what he terms “source” is mere hypothesis or echo or deduction.

Eduard Bernstein’s articles were known initially in France only through unreliable press resumes. Because I had then—and have still—the highest opinion of their author, the articles perplexed me at the time in that they contradicted all the unquestionable, given facts. I was able to read the articles in full only later and, in English, in David Shub’s book on Lenin. Then everything became clear. Bernstein’s material is not a primary source or document but the echo of the gossip of unscrupulous bureaucrats. Two major statements he makes suffice to prove this: (1) the (pseudo-) sealed railway car becomes a “parlor car”; and (2) Lenin allegedly received more than 50 million gold marks. Such nonsense discredits even gossips.

(I) The railway car was a second-and third-class coach, and the travelers paid for their tickets. The car was coupled to an ordinary train in Zingen. Proofs of this exist.

(2) The German documents published by Hahlweg and by Zeman mention 1 million marks—only one—which Parvus claims he sent to Petrograd. (To whom? not to Lenin.) Parvus is obviously lying, for private letters of Lenin and statements of Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Molotov make it clear that at that time the Bolshevik committee in Petrograd was almost nonexistent. Only Shliapnikov managed sometimes to make fleeting contact from Stockholm. In any event, 1 million is not “more than 50 [million].” Parvus surely pocketed the money; there is no other plausible explanation. Lenin was in Zurich.

Solzhenitsyn has rightly noted that after January 22, 1916 the Wilhelmstrasse “paid Parvus not a pfennig” [p. 176]. In other words, the payment of I million in late 1915—the only such payment, and the fate of which no one knows—was unique. With all my regard for Bernstein, I concluded that he had reported idle talk. In 1921, he was much younger, yet he would no doubt have checked such hearsay. Now, however, reliable documents and testimony are available, and in my article I quoted them. It is permissible to disagree with a respectworthy person on a specific point. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas. The same documents and testimony refute also the “sealed train” that, according to the article in Encounter, was offered by Ludendorff (sic) to Lenin alone. The German document signed by Captain Hillsen (No. 19 in Zeman) mentions 300 to 400 Russians who were to be transported. To deal with them by pretermission so as to take cognizance only of Lenin is “star-worshipping;’ not historical criticism. Martov, Axelrod, Riazanov, Lunacharsky, Bobrov, Angelica Balabanoff, and many others made the same trip as Lenin in a similar railway car (not sealed), for all that the fact thwarts a blind Leninophobia.

The role attributed to Ludendorff is quite simply comical. No more than any other non-Socialist at the time did he even know Lenin’s name. The German General Staff merely approved the Wilhelmstrasse’s proposal that a few hundred Russians (of all political colorations, not Bolsheviks only) be permitted to pass through Germany. The decision was natural enough: every government at war tries to encourage domestic difficulties within the enemy country. It is unnecessary to invent an imaginary connivance between Ludendorff and Lenin.

The initiative to cross Germany came not from Ludendorff, not from Parvus, not from Lenin, but from Martov—a man who was above reproach—and this has been proved to the hilt. The proposal dates from March 19, 1917. The available documentation shows that at first Lenin did not want to travel via Germany. He tried in vain to go via France and England. Only on March 30th, when he learned that Chernov had been refused permission by the British authorities, did he decide to carry out Martov’s idea. Surely it suffices to consult correspondence of the period; it was not written to serve the ends of controversialists 60 years later.

The other German documents that mention transfers of funds—never of 50 million marks—indicate they were for “revolutionary propaganda,” a term used in the vaguest sense. In those days, the Revolutionary Socialist party held center stage. The money seems to have been intended for separatist movements (one of Parvus’s fixed ideas, by the way). It benefited primarily intermediaries and parasites. In any case, there is no question of Lenin’s having been involved. The peak of the absurd is reached and overtopped in insisting that he was, for the German documents indicate that the most sizable remittances were sent after the October coup. So they were not intended for Lenin or for the Bolsheviks, who had seized public bank deposits, nationalized the banks, cleaned out the state coffers, nationalized the Mint, and taken possession of the plates for printing banknotes—in a word, they had at their disposal more money than one would know what to do with.

Furthermore, an appendix to the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk later stipulated that Russia pay Germany a war indemnity of up to 300 million gold rubles. Yet according to the article in Encounter. Berlin subventioned the Bolsheviks right up to the end of the war. I have said, and I repeat. here is the wherewithal “to make hens laugh” (a Russian saying). The Encounter article sought support not in the available evidence but in the cogitations of two eminent, trustworthy personages who merit our full consideration. First, Sukhanov: he could not explain to his own satisfaction why Lenin went into hiding after the July 1917 riot. To him it seemed suspect, for, he believed, Lenin was in no danger. Then what was he afraid of? Of having some accounts to render?

Sukhanov was my friend. His wife (Galina Constantinovna, if memory serves me after a half-century) gave me hospitality when I was expelled from the Party and driven from my lodgings in 1924. 1 helped Sukhanov when, together with Volski, he founded the Vie économique des Soviets, in Paris. My sister was his collaborator. And the memory of this martyr I preserve in all affection. This said, I contend that he is in error about Lenin’s flight in July on the following grounds: Sukhanov reasoned as a distinguished St. Petersburg intellectual, who was incapable of conceiving that one could inflict harm on a prisoner. He did not put himself inside Lenin’s skin when Lenin was obsessed by “implacable” civil war.

We know from several unchallengeable sources that when Lenin returned to Russia, he was convinced he would be arrested en route, then sure he would be imprisoned on arrival. Later, during the troubles, he expected he would be shot, and still later, that he would be assassinated. He invested his opponents with his own terrorist’s turn of mind. In a secret letter to Kamenev, in which he asked Kamenev to publish his manuscript on the state, he wrote: “Between us, if they kill me …’ (oukokochat). The idea haunted him. Sukhanov had no understanding of this terrorist mentality. Hence his mistaken line of reasoning. But that is not all.

Lenin’s flight did not follow from his own wishes. One has to know how that milieu functioned: the question was debated secretly by the Central Committee of the Party. Stalin was of the opinion. Roy Medvedev tells us, that Lenin should place himself in the hands of the courts in order to vindicate himself. The majority decided otherwise. This Sukhanov could not know. What’s more: the Sixth Party Congress, no more no less, had to confirm the Central Committee’s decision.

The reference to Leonard Schapiro deserves, of course, a comment. With all the respect owed this peerless historian, I think that his error on this particular point is of the same order as Sukhanov’s. It is the error of a British intellectual who transposes conditions obtaining in England to the Russia of 1917: he cannot conceive how the Bolsheviks were able to publish 41 periodicals without outside help. No doubt he believes that this calls for money to pay for offices, business staff, salaried editorial personnel, plus paper and printing costs. No such thing in the revolutionary storm of 1917. The devotion of the militants, in particular the typographers, made all kinds of improvisations possible. The success of the Bolshevik press is explained simply by its out-and-out pacifist propaganda in a country that could continue the war no longer.

Has Mr. Schapiro tallied the publications of the Mensheviks and the Revolutionary Socialists and analogous groups? The comparison would be interesting. There was a swarm of more or less short-lived news sheets, which had no German money. But there were financial contributions from well-to-do philo-Socialist, pacifist bourgeois who gave generously even if they were not Morozovs. Of interest in this connection is the response of Maxim Gorki to Pravda’s slanderous charges about the source of funds for Novaia Jizn (No. 127 of the paper): it appears in the collection Untimely Thoughts. Gorki also was accused of receiving German money. As were my comrades and I in France, in the same circumstances.

To illustrate the point, may I be permitted a personal recollection of Lenin’s making fun of French Socialists. He said to us, in the course of a rambling conversation,

In la Guerre Sociale and in I’ Humanite, I’ve often read the lists of contributors and come across such remarks as: “For the social revolution, 10 centimes.” Hah! These French! Ten centimes for the social revolution! Hah, hah, hah! At home, the workers contribute one day’s pay every week or every month to their newspaper! Just think of it: ten centimes for the social revolution! Hah, Hah, Hah!

(I am quoting from memory, of course, but the recollection is accurate.) It’s one of the answers to the sempiternal question: Where does the money come from?

In an article dealing with Solzhenitsyn’s book, and in particular with his sources, I did not have to discuss Mr. Schapiro’s reflections. I mentioned Encounter only briefly among several references to texts that attest to the steadfast survival of legends about the sealed railway car and German gold, the one factually correct passage in the London magazine having to do with Lydia Dan, Martov’s sister. My task was not to refute everything that touches indirectly on the same subject. Also, Riezler’s book is not found among Solzhenitsyn’s sources. There was enough to do in dealing with the German documents and the book of Zeman and Scharlau about Parvus —The Merchant of Revolution—which was Solzhenitsyn’s principal source.

Having devoted 15 pages in Contrat Social (Vol. VIII, No. 4, December 1968) to an analysis of the Parvus biography, I am not inclined to begin anew. My review did justice to the authors as the first biographers of Parvus, but it also pointed out manifold errors, contradictions, misleading statements, as well as inadmissable insinuations. In retrospect, I do regret not having been more critical, for this book led Solzhenitsyn into error on many scores. However that may be, in the Introduction [to the Merchant], there is an embarrassed passage that completely clears Lenin in connection with “German gold.” And on page 181, there is another passage that deserves to be quoted once more:

The Bolshevik groups in Russia took no part in Helphand’s [Parvus’s] activities. Their cooperation depended on Lenin’s consent, and their leader had never given this. Anyway, the Bolshevik underground organization was so weakened by the war that it was hardly in a position to take effective action… . Alexander Shlyapnikov, who supervised the Bolshevik organization on Lenin’s behalf, has emphatically denied the suspicions that the Bolsheviks cooperated with Helphand at this point of the war. It is impossible to doubt his statement… .

Is it going too far to say that these few lines cancel out all the implications, the equivocations, the malicious allusions in the work, which influenced Solzhenitsyn, some of them involving various minor characters who were mixed up in the money affairs but were no part of Lenin’s life?

Mr. Carmichael accuses me of having called von Kuhlmann a liar. Every fair-minded reader can verify that it is Sir Lewis Namier (Avenues of History, London, 1952) whom I quoted. It must be added that Kuhlmann does not altogether lie except when he credits himself with a role in the October coup. Certainly, he did dispose of funds for propaganda, as did all his counterparts in other countries. He never names Lenin. And as to such funds, generally they are money down the drain, for they have never brought one historic event to pass. I have said again and again that “money is not the measure of all things.”

I am replying here to a polemic that entirely disregards the facts, arguments, proofs, quotations, and references that abound in my article. So it is useless to add others, for they would meet the same fate. However, addressing the readers of Dissent, I wish to defend the memory of my friend Shlyapnikov, who has been gratuitously insulted with deliberate lack of scruple [“sans-scrupule conscient”]. Shliapnikov was an upright man, a self-reliant spirit; he was not “cementheaded,” but was endowed with critical intelligence, a person of intellectual and moral integrity. He was among those who resolutely opposed Lenin after the October coup. Later, he inspired the “workers’ opposition” with courage and got himself read out of the Party, as a result of which he fell into the clutches of the GPU. His life was devoted entirely to the cause of the workers, and it ended in unspeakable sufferings. In the words of the French adage: “Don’t insult him who tries.”

As to the verbiage about Trotsky, which is as obscure as it is wanting in substance, I will confine myself to a single categorical denial: in 1921, I had a conversation with Trotsky about the “German gold.” He expressed his opinion with persuasive, straightforward indignation and revulsion. When other Soviet citizens were questioned by French delegates who were disturbed by press campaigns at the time, they were astonished, especially that one could still pay any attention to such an old “calumny.” Let us not forget that when the travelers arrived in St. Petersburg in their “sealed railway car” (which was not sealed), they were exonerated by the Soviet, which was composed of a large majority of “patriotic” Socialists.

It is not I who “brings up passport formalities” in connection with Radek. Like Hanecki, Radek was an Austrian subject and could not enter Russia: under the Provisional Government, you did not enter Russia the way you walk into a cafe. The frontier was guarded by French and British officers, there in their capacity as allies, as well as by Russian police. This is an incontrovertible matter of fact. “Facts are stubborn things.” Radek was able to enter the country only after the October coup, which in March was unforeseeable. As for Lenin, in March he was still in agreement with Plekhanov and Martov in thinking that the imminent Russian revolution must be a “bourgeois revolution,” whereas Trotsky, the theoretician of the “permanent revolution,” thought otherwise. Lenin changed his mind when he came to consider the Provisional Government incapable of ending the war. In September he contemplated seizing power. The fictitious remark Radek made to Lenin in March (Solzhenitsyn, p. 266:”… six months from now we will either be ministers or we will be hanged”) therefore struck me as incongruous even in a novel, and there is nothing in it to feed a base quarrel.

Solzhenitsyn has understood perfectly well, on the other hand, that it would have been impossible for Lenin to accept German subsidies: it would have meant giving up his freedom to choose his own direction and to maneuver, subordinating that freedom to silent partners. Solzhenitsyn writes:

“Should he ask what price the Russian Revolution would have to pay for German help? He refrained from doing so, but kept the question in mind for the future. It would be naive to expect such help for nothing” (p. 160). And further on: “Let myself be tied to someone else’s policy? Not for anything in the world!” (p. 185).

Solzhenitsyn has read the German documents well and has well understood that they are not compromising for Lenin. At no point does he accept the doctored version of “German gold” paid out to Lenin up until the departure of the “sealed carriage” that was not sealed—i.e., up until April 1917. This date is not mine; it marks the conclusion of Lenin in Zurich. On this point, a fresh dispute from my disputant who disputes everything and nothing. There is nothing to quibble about.

What I have challenged about Solzhenitsyn’s book is the use he made in it of the Merchant, which is a work filled with equivocations, unfounded insinuations, and risky deductions. I questioned the inadequacy of his sources regarding Zimmerwald no less than on the Russian Revolution of 1905. And fearing from certain allusions that in the book to follow the author might venture so far as to permit himself to be influenced by the false “Creel-Sisson” documents and by the genuine Nikitin documents (supplied by the very incompetent French espionage service) when no doubt I would no longer be in a condition to comment on them, rightly or wrongly I spoke out in the hope of sparing the great writer’s being misled. (The Nikitin documents have to do with business affairs of Parvus, Hanecki & Co.; see Northern Underground, Michael Futtrel, London, 1963). The rumors aroused by their business dealings induced the Central Committee of the Party to deprive Hanecki of his position in Stockholm, to Lenin’s great displeasure. This decision alone explodes the legend of German gold accepted by the Bolsheviks.

Fair-minded readers who wish to know more will be interested to read the articles of Professor Alfred Senn on “The Myth of German Money During the First World War” and “New Documents on Lenin’s Departure” (references previously supplied). Also My Life as a Rebel, by Angelica Balabanoff, who also traveled to Russia in a “sealed” (unsealed) train. And my analysis of the Merchant, entitled “L’or et le wagon,” in Con! rat Social (Paris, Vol. 7. No. 4, December 1968). 1 would like to suggest also the serious, circumspect review of the Merchant by Leo van Rossum, in the publication of the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, which I happened upon only very recently.

Above all, it is important to be familiar with Lenin’s secret letter to his Stockholm office, written from his hiding place between August 27-30, 1917, when he was expecting the worst. A short passage touches on the matter of money: it is decisive. One can even go so far as to say that these few lines should dispense with having to read the kilos of material about “German gold.” The letter, which was recovered long after Lenin’s death, appeared only in 1930 in Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 8. Later, the outline of this letter—or rather, a laconic aide-memoire—was found and published, in 1933, also in the Collected Works (No. 21). The letter now appears in Lenin’s Complete Works, Vol. 49. It cannot interest a prejudiced fanatic, but readers in good faith will appreciate it.

It is for them to appreciate no less the unseemly letter that has called forth mine, and to decide to whom are to be applied such choice terms as “effrontery,” `fraudulent,” “duplicity,” “priggishness,” `falsifies,” `foolishness,” “chicanery,” “disingenuous,” “deceitfulness,” and other civilities of an uncommonly elevated mind, not to mention the letter’s tone—which, as the French say, makes the message. And may they not overlook the inexpressible “Marxism,” which is as out of place as hairs in the soup.

Translated by ADRIENNE FOULKE

 

July 21, 2017

Taxi Searchers

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 2:40 pm

I had never made the connection between John Ford’s “The Searchers” and Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” but found myself saying “of course” after Stewart pointed out that both involve anti-heroes trying to “rescue” women who don’t really feel any such need. Another important insight found in Taxi Searchers is their proximity in time to two important reversals of imperial fortune. Ford’s film was made just two years after the French were defeated in Vietnam and Scorsese’s came out just a year after the Vietnamese kicked the imperialists out once again.

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July 20, 2017

Midnight Return

Filed under: Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 11:00 pm

Opening at the Laemmle theater in Los Angeles tomorrow, “Midnight Return” is a documentary about the narrative film “Midnight Express” that came out in 1978 and which was based on the actual escape from a Turkish prison by Billy Hayes, a hash smuggler. I saw the film that year and was shocked by the brutality of prison life, the sadism of everybody involved in the judicial and penal system, and walked out of the theater persuaded—like most people—that the Turks were monsters.

Writer-director has a lengthy background in soap operas, something that might have habituated her to extract the maximum amount of melodrama in tale that needs none. It is a remarkable tale of how an American hippie from Long Island was arrested in the Istanbul airport with 4.4 pounds of hashish taped to his midsection in October, 1970. At the time, Istanbul, like Kabul, was a magnet for many people my age who were looking to elevate themselves spiritually either with or without drugs. Most people left Istanbul with a gram or two of hashish but Billy Hayes clearly hoped to make a living out of drug dealing for the time being. What he didn’t anticipate was stepped up security for terrorism, which was triggered by the PLFP’s hijacking of a jumbo jet a month earlier. When he was being patted down by airport security, they immediately concluded that he was packing explosives rather than hashish.

Hayes was sentenced to four years in prison but three weeks before his release, the high court in Ankara reviewed his case and decided to re-sentence the 27-year old kid to life in prison. Even before his escape, Hayes had become a cause célèbre internationally with the NY Times publishing a lengthy article about the need to be wary of repressive drug laws overseas.

Once he learned that he would have to spend the rest of his life in prison, Hayes began plotting his escape from an island prison that was as isolated as Alcatraz. In a daring “midnight express”, he commandeered a rowboat and fled to safety across the border into Greece.

Once back in the USA, he was approached by publishers to tell his story but they considered such a blockbuster that the contract stipulated a 3-month schedule. It was clear that they saw a movie deal in the works. They were correct. Just after they were finished, they were approached by British producer David Puttnam of “Chariots of Fire” fame and fellow British director Alan Parker, who had a previous career in advertising.

They hired an American named Oliver Stone to write the script, his first major job that led to an academy award and the launching of his career in Hollywood. While his screenplay was intensely dramatic, it was also a racist hatchet job on the Turks that will remind you of how Arabs have been portrayed in more recent films. Besides making every single Turk look like a fat, sadistic misanthrope, Stone introduced fictional elements that made an already sensational story go into orbit. Instead of writing a climax that portrayed Hayes’s quite dramatic escape on a rowboat, he had him killing a guard and running off unnoticed. It seems that the producer was okay with this since his budget would not accommodate filming on the open waters. One of the signature moments of the film has Hayes denouncing the Turks after the life sentence had been handed down. Played by Brad Davis, his character calls the Turkish nation a bunch of pigs.

Stone, who certainly knows how to write starkly dramatic confrontations between good and evil in films such as “Platoon”, never thought much about the consequences of his script. Interviewed for the film, he says he regrets the consequences on Turkish society (tourism went into steep decline after the film was released) but—shrugging his shoulders—said it “was only a movie”.

That didn’t sit right with the real William Hayes who felt guilty about the demonization of the Turks and sought ways to become reconciled. Eventually, he made it back to Turkey and tried to set things right—thus the title of the film “Midnight Return”.

There are some problems with the film as might be expected from a first-time director but the story itself compensates for that. Angelenos, put this one down on your calendar.

 

Clancy Sigal (1926-2017)

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,literature,obituary — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm

I just learned on Facebook from Clancy Sigal’s wife Janice that he has died. Born in 1926, he was an important voice of the left and well known to CounterPunch readers for his many contributions over the years.

Although I never met Clancy in person and regret not having done so, I considered him a real friend like others I have met and communicated with through email and Facebook. It was Clancy who initiated contact with me 14 years ago over a cringe-worthy matter. I had written a hatchet job on a film titled “Frida” about the artist Frida Kahlo that must have gotten under the screenwriter’s skin:

When I write film reviews, I try to apply the dictum of my late father who used to say, “If you can’t say something good about a person, say nothing at all.” I made an exception last week for “The Quiet American”, which I regarded as a disappointment both in terms as an adaptation of Greene’s novel and the novel itself.

Now I turn to an all-out disaster, although like “The Quiet American” it received rather favorable reviews when it came out. “Frida” is a really stupid biopic based on the life of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist and feminist icon who was married to Diego Rivera, the famed muralist. Since it touches on modern art and includes Leon Trotsky as a character, two subjects close to my heart, it is necessary for me to address the profound injustice done to them and to the rather interesting personality of Kahlo herself, who is reduced in this film to a cursing, drinking and brawling eccentric whose motivations seem driven more by her sexual/reproductive organs than her brain.

The screenwriter was Clancy Sigal.

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July 19, 2017

The Fencer

Filed under: Film,sports,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 8:49 pm

Opening at Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Friday, “The Fencer” is an Estonian-language film made in 2015 by Finns that tells the story of a fencing instructor named Endel Nelis who led an underdog team of children to victory in a competition held in Leningrad in the early 50s. In doing so, he took considerable risks since he had been drafted into the Estonian contingent of the Nazi army after Hitler invaded Estonia. Torn between self-preservation and dedication to his students, he chooses them. There was a real person named Endel Nelis who died in 1993 but the film’s plot takes liberties with his story. There is no evidence that he was wanted by the KGB even though Estonians paid dearly for being dragooned into Hitler’s killing machine. While the film has a fictional narrative, there is a larger truth about the USSR and Estonia that I will address after saying a few words about this altogether stirring film.

As a genre, “The Fencer” has a lot in common with both documentary and narrative films I have seen about kids from poverty-stricken circumstances winning chess tournaments, especially “Dark Horse” that came out the same year as “The Fencer”. “Dark Horse”, a New Zealand film, was about a troubled Maori man named Genesis Potini who trained Maori children to compete and win in chess tournaments against children from elite schools. “The Fencer” will also remind you of “The Karate Kid” since fencing and karate are both one-on-one combat sports.

However, the focus is mostly on Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi) who has arrived in the poor and rural village of Haapsalu, Estonia from Leningrad in order to avoid detection by the Soviet police. He interviews with the principal of the local school for a sports instructor position that he hardly looks forward to. The gym lacks equipment and the children are not very athletic. In an early scene, 1 out of 5 boys run around vaulting equipment rather than leap over it. When Nelis decides to take them out skiing, the principal informs him that the skis are currently being used at a military base for training.

Missing the fencing competition he excelled at in Leningrad, he begins working out with a fencing foil on his own in the school’s gym in his spare time only to be discovered by a pre-teen girl named Marta who becomes totally fixated on his balletic moves.

Can you teach me to do that, she asks. Finally discovering something that might motivate his students, Nelis begins a fencing class that starts out on the most elementary basis. The children are lined up like they were recruits in basic training and put through the abc’s of fencing—except without a weapon. Once he realizes that they are determined to become fencers, he takes them into a nearby forest where they cut down branches that are the length of a fencing foil and equips them with an ersatz handle.

The film includes a romance between Nelis and the school librarian who stands behind his work, even though that puts her at odds with the principal who regards fencing as “feudal”. In a PTA type meeting, he urges the parents to support his decision to drop the program using Stalinist rhetoric about the “needs of the proletariat”. The grandfather of Nelis’s star student stands up to remind him that Karl Marx was a fencer when young.

“The Fencer” is an old-fashioned film with a script that borders on the melodramatic. What makes it compelling is the performances by the leading characters and enough of the actual art of fencing to carry you along. In plucky underdog films such as this, you can surely expect a happy ending.

As someone who had just finished a survey on the films of Andrzej Wajda, I found myself wondering about the historical backdrop for the film. As I had mentioned in my review of “Katyn”, how was it possible for the USSR to organize the execution of 22,000 Polish officers for the crime of being officers? By the same token, what kind of justice is it to put men in concentration camps who had been forced to fight on the side of the Nazis? In a key scene between Nelis and his librarian lover, he tells her that he managed to flee from the army not long after being drafted without being caught. The other men in the unit, who were friends and neighbors from Estonia, were not so lucky. They were apprehended and killed.

According to Wikipedia, the majority of Estonian men volunteered to join the Nazi military and comprised a 70,000 strong force. An Estonian Legion was led by Franz Augsberger, a high-ranking German SS commander. In a key battle between Soviet and Nazi forces in the Battle of Narwa in January, 1944, Estonian soldiers were key to holding off the Red Army. Soviet scorched earth tactics helped to keep Estonia in the Nazi camp. Two months later, Soviet bombers attacked the capital city of Tallinn and left 40 percent of the homes burned to the ground.

If your knowledge of Estonia is based on these bare facts, you would tend to regard its citizens as a reactionary mob despite what is depicted in “The Fencer”. Indeed, whenever I heard about Estonia in the 1960s, it was always written off as hotbed of fascism in the same way as Ukraine, another Nazi ally supposedly. But like Ukraine, Estonia was not reflexively predisposed to anti-Communism. In some ways, writing Estonians off as “bad seeds” reminds me of Daniel Goldhagen’s argument that Germans were innately anti-Semitic.

Like Poland, Estonia was ceded to the Soviet Union as part of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. After forcing the Estonian government to accept Soviet military bases and 25,000 soldiers on its soil, the country quickly came under total Soviet control when an additional 90,000 Soviet soldiers were sent in as reinforcements. A puppet government was installed and a Red flag replaced the Estonian flag over the nation’s capital. Shortly afterwards, tribunals were set up to try “enemies of the people” against a backdrop of demonstration elections that recorded a 92.8% preference for the Communist Party, the only one on the ballot of course. Economically, the country was transformed overnight. Everything, including small shops, was nationalized and trade with the West came to an end.

During the first year of Soviet occupation over 8,000 people, including most of the country’s leading politicians and military officers, were arrested and 2,200 of those arrested were executed on the spot in Estonia. The rest were sent to prison camps in the USSR, from which very few returned. 8,000 doesn’t sound like very much but in 1939 Estonia had a population of 1,122,000, just a bit larger than San Jose, California. Can you imagine the trauma suffered by such a city if 8,000 of its residents were killed for no other reasons than being “enemies of the people”? Or think of it this way, if Estonia had a population as large as that of the USA’s today, the proportionate number of victims would have been 2,400,000.

Considering the fact that the Nazis had never killed a single Estonian until it invaded the country on its way to the USSR, it is understandable why many young men who were politically naïve might have seen them as the lesser evil.

Last Thursday, RT.com published an article titled “‘Perversion of history’: Russian officials blast NATO film glorifying Nazi collaborators” that attacked an 8-minute film produced by NATO about the Forest Brothers, a Baltic-wide guerrilla movement that fought alongside the Nazis against the Red Army. Russian Foreign Minister Maria Zakharova wrote: “Don’t remain indifferent, this is a perversion of history that NATO knowingly spreads in order to undermine the outcome of the Nuremberg Tribunal and it must be cut short!” She also correctly stated that many of the Forest Brothers were former Nazi collaborators and members of the Baltic Waffen SS.

The problem with much of RT.com reporting is that it operates in a time-tunnel that begins with, for example, Nazi alliances with Estonian nationalists but not with the secret protocols that gave the USSR free rein to seize control of Estonia and murder tens of thousands of its citizens only because it saw that as necessary for securing a buffer against the West, which at that time did not include Adolf Hitler.

As difficult as it is for some people on the left to understand, the best defense of the USSR was working-class solidarity across borders, not the Metternichian foreign policy of Stalin in the past and of Putin’s Russia today. After WWII, Stalin retained control of the Baltic States with the full approval of the USA but as the Cold War began, they began to be courted by the CIA as possible allies. Instead of maintaining its domination of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, the Kremlin should have granted them the right to self-determination and offered them total political and economic support as independent states. That, in fact, was the original policy of the Soviet Union even though it is virtually unknown to people who rely on RT.com.

It is quite natural that in such circumstances the “freedom to secede from the union” by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riffraff like a fly in milk.

–V.I. Lenin, The Question of Nationalities or “Autonomisation”

 

 

July 18, 2017

The origins of the North Star

Filed under: North Star — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

Fox News: fair and balanced

Filed under: television — louisproyect @ 3:48 pm

July 17, 2017

George Romero (1940-2017): zombie politics

Filed under: Film,obituary — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

When “Night of the Living Dead” premiered in 1968, antiwar activists and socialists like me saw it mostly as escapist fun—a film like “The Wild Bunch” that would get our minds off the war and the difficulties of building the left in the USA. It was to the credit of documentary filmmaker Rob Kuhns to have discovered how close George Romero was to us politically. His “Birth of the Living Dead”, which can be seen on Amazon video, connects his film to the political climate in the USA in a break with the zombie genre.

Before Romero’s film, the zombie was featured in movies set in Haiti or some other Caribbean Island far removed from reality. It was Romero’s breakthrough to make the film unrelentingly realistic, including scenes of zombies eating entrails or lurching toward their prey in that characteristic gait. Also, unlike the traditional zombie movie set in Haiti, Romero made a movie about a society in advanced disintegration fully aware that it reflected what was happening in the streets of Newark or Detroit.

Romero got his start making commercials in the Pittsburgh area. Even then he was willing to push the envelope, making the first beer commercial actually showing people guzzling down a drink. After he worked on a film that showed Mr. Rogers, the benign host of a PBS children’s show, getting ready for a tonsillectomy, he was inspired to do a zombie movie since Mr. Rogers’s procedure struck him as gruesome rather than reassuring. Before going down that road, Romero considered doing an American version of Ingmar Bergman’s “Virgin Spring”. Fortunately, he saw that as unmarketable and moved onto a more feasible project that would make his mark as a director.

Romero is the star of Kuhn’s film, a likeably self-effacing and witty figure. He talks about how the film was cast, drawing from local personalities including many of the clients of his advertising agency who worked for free and had a blast doing so.

Besides Romero, we hear from a number of knowledgeable film critics and scholars including Elvis Mitchell, an African-American who explains the importance of casting an African-American actor—Duane Jones—in the lead role. Jones is an authority figure just as much as Rick Grimes, the sheriff in “Walking Dead”, but nobody ever says a word about not taking orders from a “Negro”. In its way, “Night of the Living Dead” was as much of a breakthrough for Black identity in films as the more obvious bids from directors working in the Blaxploitation genre. In the final scene Jones’s character is killed by a police-led posse that is as not that much different from vigilante squad just as the case today with an epidemic of cop killings.

After making a series of likable but inconsequential films for the next 37 years, Romero returned once again to the zombie genre with a film that I regard as his best and most political. As a blend of horror movie escapism and social commentary, his 2005 “Land of the Dead” succeeded wildly. (Available for $2.99 on Youtube linked above.) Romero audaciously used the conflict between the living and the ‘undead’ as a metaphor for the contradictions of late capitalist America but with sympathies for the zombie rather than those who were “protecting” private property.

The living dwell in a gated and heavily fortified city that is patrolled by centurions who have not earned the right to permanent residence there themselves. The centurions occasionally organize themselves into death squads and make forays into zombie territory where they kill at random and retrieve canned goods and booze for the consumption needs of the urban population. The shops in zombie territory are still staffed by the “stenches” who once worked there but who have only dim memories of their old occupations. An undead gas station attendant might hold up a nozzle but is clueless as to which end of the car it goes into; an undead gardener aimlessly pushes a lawnmower in circles in the middle of the street at midnight, and so on. These are lost souls who no longer fit into the commodity-producing scheme of things. What is worse, they subsist on eating the flesh of the living.

It is no accident that the city featured in the film is none other than Pittsburgh, director George Romero’s home town. This once bustling headquarters of America’s most powerful and prosperous steel companies was one of the first casualties of deindustrialization. It has been transformed into a citadel for service industries staffed by the college educated. The older, run-down working class sections of town that are home to unemployable steelworkers and other blue-collar workers made redundant by the “economic miracle” could easily have served as on-location settings for the zombie strongholds in “Land of the Dead.” (For economic reasons, however, most of the film was shot in Canada.)

Pittsburgh is ruled by Kaufman, a cynical capitalist played by Dennis Hopper. From a high-rise named “Fiddler’s Green” that dominates the city, he spies on the activities of the city’s population through television monitors. If anybody steps out of line, they will be picked up by the centurions, murdered and then dumped into zombie territory. This Pittsburgh has a lot in common with Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” another rigidly divided class society.

For that matter, “Land of the Dead” has enough cultural references to provide fodder for a dozen MLA panels. For example, you will find suggestions of “Bladerunner,” “Mad Max” or any of a number of other dystopian films.

The film also hearkens back to earlier classics like the Boris Karloff Frankenstein films, mostly in its capacity to make you feel a degree of sympathy for the monster. In “Land of the Dead,” you can’t escape feeling sorry for the flesh-eating zombies who only mount an assault on Pittsburgh after suffering one death squad raid too many. Led by “Big Daddy,” an African-American zombie (played skillfully and solely through grunting or howling by veteran actor Eugene Clarke) who was a pneumatic drill operator in his previous life and who still wears the coveralls of his trade, they lurch toward the city to take revenge. It is to Romero’s credit that he can nearly make you cheer for this uprising of the flesh-eating dispossessed.

The only thing that stands between Pittsburgh and the advancing zombie army is a heavily armed and armored troop carrier nicknamed Dead Reckoning. It bears a strong resemblance to vehicles on the streets of Baghdad today. Dead Reckoning has been commandeered by Cholo (John Leguizamo), a centurion who seeks revenge against Kaufman for not allowing him to buy an apartment in Pittsburgh. As somebody who has spent some time shopping for a co-op in Manhattan, I can identify with this character. Unless Kaufman turns over millions of dollars in ransom to Cholo and his gang, he will open fire on the city.

Kaufman sends Riley (Simon Baker), Dead Reckoning’s former commander, out to thwart Cholo’s plans and to save the city, which is the source of his wealth. Riley has been jailed for interfering in a gladiator type combat between two zombies that has been staged in a Las Vegas-like casino within the city. He, like the GI’s speaking out against the occupation of Iraq today, is one of the few centurions that has not been completely dehumanized by Kaufman’s system. If Riley and his friends are successful, they plan to hightail it to Canada and leave Kaufman’s madness behind. Obviously, such a plan will resonate with any filmgoer who has taken note of our northern neighbor’s more civilized stance on matters such as gay marriage or the war on terror.

In an interview with Los Angeles Weekly, Romero explains the importance of Pittsburgh:

When I got there — I went there to go to college and I’ve lived there ever since– the mills were all still open. Of course, you had to have your headlights on at noon and change your shirt three times a day. Nowadays, there are still people living in little towns like Braddock saying, “The mills will reopen someday. Don’t worry about it.” It is about lost potential. It was a thriving immigrant community. It was sort of the industrial American dream, but what nobody realized at the time was that it was the Carnegies and those boys who were keeping the city going. It seemed for a while like Pittsburgh was built on the backs of the workers, but it never really was. Those people have always been second-class citizens and the town has always been, at its core, very wealthy. So there’s a little bit of that in this movie too ­ it just so happens that it’s now a reflection of the entire country.

For George Romero, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” was “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally”. It is hard for me to argue with that especially since I have a soft spot for nighttime soaps like “The Desperate Housewives” or Spanish television’s “Grand Hotel”. As much as I love George Romero, I think that the show is popular because it is both entertaining and because it is socially relevant, just like “Land of the Dead”.

Since its inception, the show has honed in on repeated and futile attempts to escape both zombies and predatory human beings. In season four the main characters led by ex-cop Rick Grimes try to live at peace inside an abandoned prison that is protected by chain link fences from zombie attacks. You of course have to wonder how much difference there is between a prison and their gated community. The miniature commune grows its own food and lives by its own fairly civilized standards until they succumb to a combined attack by zombies and human predators, led by “The Governor” who has presided over his own safe haven that in reality is a concentration camp ruled by force.

In season five we see Rick’s band on the move again, this time hoping to become part of Terminus, supposedly another refuge from the zombies. Once they enter through its walls, they discover that the inhabitants are cannibals.

The existential bleakness of “Walking Dead” is clearly a reflection of the mood of despair that is widespread in a society constantly bombarded by news of nonstop war, jihadist terror, looming climate catastrophe, species extinction including our own, and a general sense that there is no alternative to the Dark Age that we live in. The inability of Rick’s band to find any sort of solidarity or mutual aid is ultimately more frightening than any zombie’s teeth.

Lately life has begun to imitate art as protestors at the G20 Summit in Hamburg took on the appearance of zombies. One of the event organizers, Catalina Lopez, told Reuters TV: “The goal of our performance today is to move the people in their hearts, to give them the motivation to get politically engaged again. We want to create an image, because we believe in the power of images…we want to motivate people to take part. To free themselves from their crusted shells, to take part in the political process.”

While I have to give them credit for inspired political theater, becoming free from “crusted shells” will finally take place not because of their performance but when capitalist society reaches such a unlivable state that people will be forced out of their routine into the streets by the millions as occurred 50 years ago when I entered radical politics.

July 15, 2017

Ben Norton’s transparent alibi

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Initially getting the Syria war wrong, learning from past mistakes, and correcting lies

I have never seen any conflict lied about more than the horrific war in Syria.

Most of the lies have been in the interest of empire. But there has also been a fair share of lying within the camp of those who ostensibly oppose it.

I have been ceaselessly attacked from multiple sides for the evolution of my views on Syria. Some of these attacks have been warranted, I readily concede. Many others have not been.

In a recent denunciation, the blog Moon of Alabama pilloried me, Max Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, in one of a slew of nearly identical pieces that have done the same (penned by a motley crew of deranged digital stalkers with a penchant for lying, like serial impersonator Pham Binh, Photoshop-wielding demagogue Louis Proyect, and reactionary conspiracy-monger Barbara McKenzie)…

I admit I was wrong, and it was gradually from 2014 into 2015 that I began to see that. When Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra was openly leading the opposition, and yet Cliffites continued to support it (with Trotskyite writers like Louis Proyect and Michael Karadjis cheering on al-Nusra’s offensives), I was hit with the realization that I had been fooling myself.

Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek came to similar realizations on a similar timeline. The three of us are close friends and colleagues who talk frequently. We discussed the issue at length; our views evolved together organically.

(clip)


What a lying bastard this kid is. I had never met him before August 21, 2015 when he approached me after Patrick Bond’s talk at the Verso office in Brooklyn on Rosa Luxemburg’s “The Accumulation of Capital” to telll me that he agreed completely with my analysis of Syria and Ukraine. He also mentioned that he was about to start a new job at Salon. I told him good luck. So if he had started to “rethink” things as early as 2014, why would he have come up to spend 10 minutes badmouthing exactly what he was already well on the road to becoming, namely a carbon copy of Robert Parry, Patrick L. Smith, Gareth Porter and other tawdry apologists for the Baathist killing machine.

Besides killing and displacing Syrians, the war has taken a toll on leftist journalists. Norton is as slippery as an eel coated in vaseline and will likely end up like David Horowitz. That’s what happens when you begin to write articles relying on the Saudi media for “the truth”.

I figured out that Norton had joined the conspiracist left after reading his Salon articles. In my view, it was cash that made the difference–not having a Road to Damascus conversion after reading some book opposed to Gilbert Achcar or Idrees Ahmad. If you want to understand him politically and psychologically, I’d advise reading Norman Podhoretz’s memoir “Making It”. From my first commentary on the turncoat dated June 18, 2016:

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?

 

UPDATE:

 

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