Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 21, 2019

The realism and unrealism of the Green New Deals

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:37 pm

via The realism and unrealism of the Green New Deals

August 20, 2019

Quentin Tarantino, Eileen Jones, and the perils of film school theorizing

Filed under: Academia,Film — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

Eileen Jones

The first inkling I got that Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was grist for the university film department mill was a comment by FB friend Greg Burris:

So I was thinking about the film. DiCaprio’s character is the linchpin. He’s a mess, full of doubt and loathing and insecurity. But he has two doubles full of confidence and alpha-white male security. The first double is his screen persona, and we clearly see the difference between his pathetic self and his macho alter-ego in the scene where he keeps forgetting his lines. When he is in character, he is bold and strong, but when he breaks character, his nervous stutter returns. DiCaprio’s second double is Brad Pitt’s character–the working class hero. Nothing fazes him. Not even Bruce Lee! Pitt is like a 1969 version of his character from FIGHT CLUB. He is the macho, suave, uncomplicated, masculine ideal–a mythic image required by both films’ neurotic protagonists (Norton in one, DiCaprio in the other).

It continues in this vein, top-heavy with interpretation but very little effort made in judging the film as either art or entertainment. When I read his post four days ago, I made a mental note to myself that he must be either a film student or a film professor. Going back just now to retrieve his post, I discovered that I guessed right. He teaches at the American University in Lebanon, with his web page stating that he “a film and cultural theorist whose work focuses on race, media, and emancipatory politics, particularly in the context of the U.S. Black freedom movement and the Palestinian liberation struggle.”

I had no plans to mention him in this post but when I spotted a FB link to Eileen Jones’s article on Tarantino’s film on Jacobin in the same vein, I decided to offer some thoughts on the kind of approach both film professors take (she is a lecturer at UC Berkeley) especially when some potshots I took at her this morning aggravated Ron Cox, a political science professor who must have felt defensive about my admittedly rude remark about academic film theory:

Another reason to hate Jacobin. What its resident film critic Eileen Jones has to say about the Sharon Tate character in Tarantino’s latest. The ecstatic representation of utopian possibility? You can only write such bullshit when you have a job as a lecturer on film at UC Berkeley:

She’s the ecstatic representation of utopian possibility that Tarantino depicts opening up both American films and American life as a result of social upheaval. She’s the magical being in the fairy tale Tarantino underscores with the “Once Upon a Time . . .” title, which is also an homage to Sergio Leone’s cinematically groundbreaking Spaghetti Westerns.

Ron remonstrated with me:

A lot of people I know, who live and work far away from the university, love this film, for many of the same reasons expressed by the critic. I tend to agree with her, though I liked David Edelstein’s review better. With all due respect to you, Louis, not every one who disagrees with you is a shill or tool of institutional conformity. I like a lot of what you write, but disagree with just about everything you said about this film. I judge a film based on how I feel when I watch it. That means: am I “into it” or not, and then I try to strip out everything else, including what other people said about it. I was “into this” all the way through. Loved it.

I told Ron that he is entitled to be “into” Tarantino’s film. As I tried to make clear in my review, I was “into” “Inglourious Bastards” and every other film he made up to that point. My reviews are not intended to warn people off from Hollywood films, for that matter. I usually go the entire year ignoring them until November when I get a batch of screeners from publicists to influence my vote in the NYFCO awards meeting in December. Up until that point, my reviews are heavily focused on documentaries, foreign-language films and American indie films that tend to be neglected.

Let me now turn to Jones’s article that will allow me to make some basic points about film journalism. To start with, it has to be said that Jacobin is an academic journal in many ways even though it is not behind a JSTOR paywall. Like Jones, most of its contributors are either professors or grad students. Of the five featured articles on the Jacobin website right now, four have been written by academics and the fifth is by Meagan Day, a Jacobin staff writer. (That does not included Jones’s article that appeared on August 6th.)

Titled “Go Ahead, Take the Adventure of Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood”, Jones’s article is a defense of Tarantino’s film against the attack made by people on the left, including The New Yorker Magazine’s Richard Brody who Jones quotes: “If only the old-line Hollywood people of the fifties and sixties had maintained their pride of place — if only the times hadn’t changed, if only the keys to the kingdom hadn’t been handed over to the freethinkers and decadents of the sixties—-then both Hollywood and the world would be a better, safer, happier place.”

In my own review, I did not try to judge the film’s politics since that is a fool’s errand when it comes to Tarantino. Brody’s review was not nearly as vitriolic as that of the unnamed critic cited at the beginning of her review who reviled it as “just another white man’s nostalgia film.” As it happens, that’s just a made-up quote by Jones. You can’t find any review with such a formulation. In fact, of the 15 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes who deemed the film “rotten”, not a single one attacked it from the left, including mine. For example, Gary Kramer of the left-leaning Salon (even if slightly) complained mostly about the violent ending that was “more graphic and over-the-top than it needs to be.”

One can understand why Burris and Jones would find so much grist to chew over in this film since the subject matter is film itself. It draws a distinction between the classic Hollywood westerns and a new era that is marked by the arrival of Roman Polanski, who lives next door to the has-been actor Rick Dalton, played by Leo DiCaprio. Here’s Jones sinking her teeth into the film metanarrative:

The same turmoil that’s diminishing Rick’s fame is creating opportunities for upcoming stars like his next-door neighbor, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and European new wave talent like her husband, Polish director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), whose hit film Rosemary’s Baby has taken Hollywood by storm. There’s a certain controversy about the way Tarantino conceived the third lead role of Sharon Tate, with its relative lack of dialogue. But the character of Sharon is key to the impact of the film. She’s the ecstatic representation of utopian possibility that Tarantino depicts opening up both American films and American life as a result of social upheaval. She’s the magical being in the fairy tale Tarantino underscores with the “Once Upon a Time . . .” title, which is also an homage to Sergio Leone’s cinematically groundbreaking Spaghetti Westerns.

Since Tarantino was six years old in 1969, I am not sure he understood the period well enough to represent his Sharon Tate character as “the ecstatic representation of utopian possibility…opening up both American films and American life as a result of social upheaval.” That sounds much more like Jones’s projection of her own analysis on a inkblot test of a movie that most critics regard as more ambiguous than Tarantino’s usual fare. As for Jones, who was probably born after 1969, you have to wonder what gave her the idea that “social upheaval” had anything to do with Sharon Tate. I am reasonably confident in describing Tate as the typical Hollywood starlet who would end up seated next to Johnny Carson talking about her next film as opposed, for example, to Jane Fonda or Jean Seberg who took courageous stands in favor of peace and Black liberation that very year.

For that matter, Tarantino has a squirm-inducing scene in which Tate shows up at a theater showing her latest film and inveigling free admission from the ticket clerk and manager since she is in the film. She sits in the audience enthralled with her scene in the movie. If you extracted this 10 minute portion of the film and showed it to people who knew nothing about Tarantino, they’d probably conclude that they were watching a complete airhead.

It is difficult to pin down what Tarantino was trying to say about American society or film, a function of his knack for writing screenplays that come from the gut rather than the brain. Given the ambiguity of this latest film and its filmic subject matter, it will likely be discussed in film departments all across the country when the fall term begins.

Ambiguity is made to order for film theorists. In 1930, William Empson wrote a book titled “Seven Types of Ambiguity” that became a handbook of New Criticism. Poems were not studied to see what made them work as art but what hidden message they concealed. New Criticism was made to order for modernist poetry with TS Eliot, WB Yeats and Ezra Pound offering up works that defied easy explanations of the sort offered for Samuel Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Even if New Criticism no longer enjoys the hegemony it once had in the literary world, its precepts seem to have been adopted wholesale by film theorists.

Pop Culture is especially made to order for the leftwing film theorist since its hidden meanings might be excavated in order to raise social consciousness about the class struggle dagger concealed in the velvet glove. With millions eventually going to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, just imagine the impact the film will have on the uninitiated if the buried meaning Jones mines from it is true:

Such lively film history do-overs have had a pop kinship with left-wing cinema since the 1920s, when Soviet filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov sought to demonstrate as kinetically as possible how films could imaginatively manipulate representations of contemporary as well as historical reality, in part to show its malleability and embolden a revolutionary vision of the world. This new take on 1969 in Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, which emphasizes the opening up of radical possibilities instead of closing them down, helps us reflect on the way we’ve received that landmark bit of history through media up to now. And it evokes our own discouraging state of affairs in 2019, also a time of stubborn stasis resisting immense turmoil in the culture, as well as what looks like bad prospects for the survival of the movie industry.

Grouping Tarantino with revolutionary Russian filmmakers of the 1920s is utter nonsense. Eisenstein and Vertov made films that championed socialism. They never would have worked for someone like Harvey Weinstein. Jones says that “this new take on 1969” opened up radical possibilities rather than closing them down. Really? In the final scene, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) takes a woman in Manson’s gang and bashes her head against a brick wall until her brains spill out while Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio) uses a flame-thrower on another. Is this supposed to represent “radical possibilities”?

In Bhaskar Sunkara’s “The Socialist Manifesto”, the radical movement of the 1960s is covered in a single page out of 400. The idea that a contributor to Jacobin can extract some sort of radicalism out of a Tarantino film that is a mixture of nostalgia and hyper-violence is another sign of the magazine’s myopia. I can’t imagine what these people think about 1969. At least when I was their age, I was fortunate enough to listen carefully to what people like Farrell Dobbs and George Novack said about the 30s. They, after all, lived through it.

All I was expecting out of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was a good time. Judging by the 90 percent empty seats in the Cineplex I attended, I suspect the word-of-mouth is not that great.

Let me be brief about my own approach to film journalism. For me, the screenplay is essential. I hearken back to Aristotle’s “Poetics”: “The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place.” What is the plot in Tarantino’s film? For the better part of two hours, a couple of Hollywood professionals sit around reminiscing about the good old days. Afterward, one of them runs into a member of Manson’s cult who takes him out to the ranch where they are based. Suspicious of the “hippies”, he checks in on the old man who it belongs to that he knows from the days when he worked as a stunt man on films made there. In the final fifteen minutes of the film, he smokes an LSD-laced joint and gets stoned. In such a state, he still manages to get the best of 3 Mansonites who have barged into Rick Dalton’s house rather than Polanski’s next door. That’s about it.

As for Aristotle’s emphasis on character, there’s virtually none of it outside his two leading men. Maybe there was more of it in the offing in the original script. According to the actor who played Charles Manson, “He did cut quite a lot out of the film. The stuff I got to do in that was lighter and more of a fun tone…” Manson? Fun tone? Maybe it was just as well it was left out.

As I said in my CounterPunch review, not a single character other than the two male leads has any kind of substance. The Manson cult is lacking in character development, except for the under-age nymphet that the stunt man drives out to the ranch. Even in her case, she is monotonically offering up her body to him like a sex robot they use in Japan.

Jones is not bothered by the insubstantiality of Manson’s character: “Tarantino’s Manson makes only the briefest appearance early on near the Tate-Polanski house, looking for Terry Melcher, but he haunts the film via the periodic reappearances of his followers acting on his instructions as they thread their own dark way through the narrative.” This is deeply problematic. In “Inglourious Basterds”, the counterpart to Manson is a Nazi officer played by Christof Waltz who is essential to the film. His sneering, self-justifying but always captivating manner is the perfect foil for the band of heroes who, unlike Cliff Booth, know exactly what their goal is—to save humanity, not just drive off hippie home invaders.

Once Tarantino decided on this plot, he might have found himself out of his depth. To turn the Manson cult into flesh-and-blood human beings rather than grotesque monsters would be a real challenge. If I had written the screenplay, I would have spent a lot less time with the camera trained on the nearly homoerotic bonding between Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The film would have gained a lot from showing exactly how Manson was able to turn women into his willing slaves through his warped charisma. By elevating him into a more significant figure, the final showdown might have had more power. But that’s just me. I’m not a Hollywood screenwriter, only a blogger. I prefer it that way since I would never want to make the kind of films The Weinstein Company produced, no matter the pay.

August 19, 2019

A jazz fan’s memories

Filed under: Jazz — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

CounterPunch music critic David Yearsley is equally adept writing about Miles Davis as he is about Johann Sebastian Bach, two musical figures that arguably will have a mass audience a million years from now, if we last that long as a species. In Friday’s CounterPunch Yearsley writes about “Kind of Blue”, a Miles Davis album that was released on August 17th, 1959. I consider it perhaps the greatest jazz recording of all time and appreciated Yearsley’s grasp of what made it special from the standpoint of harmony:

The last chord sidesteps the home key of B-flat and holds out a tone lower before finally being pulled up to its proper harmony when the twelve bars start anew. With this single, minimal touch, Davis (if it was indeed his idea) embodies the essence of his cool through harmonic means: not only can he lag behind the beat with graceful reluctance, but he can also hold the posture of resistance and disdain across larger expanses of elapsing time.

But what prompts this post is Yearsley’s insight into Miles Davis’s marketing genius:

Another Townsend memo [Irving Townsend, the producer of “Kind of Blue”] from April of 1960 relates that “Miles Davis is primarily concerned with the amount of jazz now on jukeboxes in many areas of the country while he is not represented.” Columbia promptly turned out promotional 45s with a tune from Davis’ Porgy & Bess paired with one from Kind of Blue on the flip side. Many first heard this music in diners and bars over the jukebox.

I was one of those people.

In the summer of 1961, just before I headed off to Bard College for my freshman year, I was with a friend sharing a pizza at the Village Inn in South Fallsburgh, New York, a nearby village in the Borscht Belt when a guy sitting at the bar nicknamed Frankie Machine walked over to the juke box and played “Summertime”, which was the tune from Porgy & Bess alluded to above. Sitting there, I couldn’t believe my ears. I never heard anything that beautiful. For me, jazz was what Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman played on the Ed Sullivan show. I am a huge fan of both of them but by 1961, their performances had become stale and dated.

Planning to write something about all this, I posted a query on the Woodridge [my home town] group on Facebook to see if anybody knew Frankie Machine’s real name. He got the nickname because his friends thought he looked like the main character Frank Sinatra played in the 1955 film adaptation of Nelson Algren’s “Man with the Golden Arm”, a novel about a junkie.

My cousin Steven identified him as Martin Patrusky, a Korean war veteran who was probably in his late 20s when he put in a quarter (maybe even a dime) to play some Miles. Patrusky left the Borscht Belt at some point and ended up in Los Angeles working as a waiter in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, maybe the same kind of work he had done in Catskill hotels. He was there the night that Sirhan Sirhan assassinated RFK and testified at the inquiry into his death. This drawing from an archive of subjects who appeared as witnesses in the inquiry does show a certain similarity to Sinatra’s Frankie Machine:

Martin Patrusky

poker-scene-frank-sinatra-frankie-machine-regie-otto-preminger-aka-ghjex7Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine

Some conspiracy theorists regard Patrusky’s testimony as supporting the idea that there was a second gunman. I honestly never gave much thought to this even though there are troubling questions raised in this article.

I couldn’t find anything more about Patrusky than this. Odd to think that my introduction to Miles Davis was made possible by an obscure figure who just happened to be a key witness to one of the assassinations that many reasonable people regarded as proof that the USA was becoming unhinged in the 1960s.

In my freshman year, I tried to get up to speed on jazz. In the music library, there was a very good collection of jazz recordings that I borrowed and played on the component hi-fi system that I brought with me from home to enjoy in my dorm room. A Garrard record changer, a Bogen amplifer I made from a kit, and an AR3-A speaker.

I would also hang out with students who brought their jazz records with them to Bard. Unlike a country boy like me, a Bardian from New York City was able to listen to a station like WRVR at the time. Affiliated with Riverside Church, the station was passionately devoted to jazz and made no concessions to commercial products like Dixieland.

Every so often I’d make a trip to the city to pick up some records that cost $1.99 at the time, either at Sam Goody’s or at a store that sold nothing but jazz. I can’t remember the name but it was a one-man operation up a flight of stairs somewhere in the West 50s. The owner was a deeply opinionated character but a storehouse of knowledge about jazz history.

In 1961, Charlie Parker was still a dominant figure even though he died 6 years earlier. A gun named Harold Donohue was the school’s resident expert on modern jazz and a Charlie Parker fanatic. When I told him that I loved Miles Davis, he scowled and said that he couldn’t hold a candle to Diz. You have to remember that at the time bebop was still king. Miles had recorded “Birth of the Cool” just two years after Bird had died and the music was moving in new directions, from the West Coast sound of Gerry Mulligan to the “third stream” sound of the MJQ.

Although I was only 16-years old when I became a freshman, I was already a serious pothead—something I kept secret from other students. I used it for special occasions, especially concerts. I turned on, as they put it, just before a performance by Paul Bley who was up at Bard with his lead horn player at the time Pharaoh Sanders. My guess is that David Izenzon was on bass, his wife Carla Bley on piano and Paul Motian on drums. Sanders’s solos had the same impact on me as Miles’s “Summertime”. He was pioneering “the New Thing” in jazz, which meant dispensing with regular tempos, tones, and chord changes. Sanders sounded like a wounded beast but musically so. This was the same year that I heard LeRoi Jones do a reading up at Bard from “The System of Dante’s Hell”, a novel that foreshadowed the Black nationalist cultural movement as did Sanders’s solo. I really liked what I heard from the two Black men.

Over the next 3 years my love of jazz deepened, just as did my knowledge of its traditions. I developed a great love of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Bill Evans who were part of Miles’s “Kind of Blue” band. In 1965, my senior year, I joined the entertainment committee that allowed me to line up funding for jazz concerts. We brought up Bill Evans for $500 or so, which the Dean thought was an exorbitant amount. I have vivid memories of the concert that took place in a small chapel that was ideally suited to Bill Evans’s lyrical musicianship. He was gracious enough to provide accompaniment for a Blythe Danner song performance. I was poised at the door to make sure that everything went smoothly. In that capacity, I tried to shoosh a young woman who was moving leaves around on the ground for no apparent reasons. Robert Kelly, the poet who invited LeRoi Jones up for his reading, told me to let her be since she was using the leaves to construct a likeness of a lion on the ground. I can’t remember the names of famous actors or musicians so well nowadays but I remember the Bill Evans concert like it was yesterday.

That year I was approached by Ed Summerlin, a sax player who was living not far from Bard. He broached the subject of organizing a jazz festival at Bard with musicians he knew. This time funds became more easily obtainable because Ed had become a serious Christian after years of drug abuse. As such, he must have had the ear of the school’s Episcopalian hierarchy. He proposed the following program: Art Farmer quartet, the rhythm section of Miles Davis’s band at the time (Tony Williams-drums, Herbie Hancock-piano, Ron Carter-bass), the Freddy Hubbard quintet, and a band co-led by Ed Summerlin and Don Heckman, another sax player and important jazz journalist. I brought the proposal to the entertainment committee and they said they were okay with it but to drop Summerlin and Heckman.

When I met with Ed and informed him of the committee’s decision, he called me a “shithook” for cancelling his appearance after he had gone through the trouble of making the festival possible. I apologized on the spot and learned a good lesson from the experience, never taking people for granted. Eventually, that lesson butted up against how things were done in the SWP—including to me—and led to my resignation.

The festival itself was a great success. I remember Tony Williams pulling up in his AC Cobra, a very fast and expensive sports car with his drums sticking up out of the trunk. I also remember how Freddy Hubbard got lost on the Taconic coming up to Bard and showed up two hours late. Bardians had sat in their seat the entire time waiting patiently. Those were the days when GPS and cell phones did not exist so things like that happened. During the intermission, I shared a joint with Freddy out on the fire escape of the gym, where the concert was being held. He apologized for showing up late and I told him don’t sweat it. His music was worth waiting for.

Two years later, when I was working for the welfare department in Harlem, I got a new “client” (the term for people receiving payments). It was a guy named Jonathan Jones Jr., who had just gotten out of a drug rehab program. It turned out that this was Jo Jones Jr., the son of legendary Count Basie drummer Jo Jones and a drummer himself. When I found out that he needed to get his drums out of hock, something that was not covered in the Department of Welfare Home Relief category geared to single people, I came up with the funds he needed by filing a request for bed springs and other household goods that he already had. That, plus my knowledge and love of jazz, led to a friendship that lasted until I moved up to Boston in 1970.

Jo-Jo, the name he generally went by, had been a junkie on and off for many years. He told me that he and a pal became known as the typewriter gang in the 1950s because that’s what they stole. He told me that one time after he was arrested, a cop beat him with a phone book—a standard practice in the precinct houses. When he was more or less clean, he’d focus on his drumming and began to make a name for himself. At one point, he was told by Richie Powell, Bud Powell’s brother and a pianist himself, that he was going to become his drummer for a new group he was forming. Before that could happen, Richie Powell died in an automobile accident alongside Clifford Brown and his wife who lost control of the car.

Once he got his drums out of hock, he started looking for gigs. He often performed with Les Spann, a well-known guitarist and an alcoholic. I made a habit of attending all of Jo-Jo’s performances, including a memorable gig at a mafia-owned bar in Newark. All the men looked like cast members in “The Sopranos”. Playing with Jo-Jo at this club was Duke Jordan, who used to be Charlie Parker’s pianist and who wrote “Jordu”, a tune that was part of Clifford Brown’s repertory and included as well on Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool” album. For all of his fame, Duke Jordan was reduced to driving a school bus in Brooklyn at the time. When the band took a break, Jo-Jo brought Duke over to introduce me as I was sitting at the bar. He laughed and said that he and Duke were going to talk in bebop language. I had no idea what they were saying but I was tickled pink to hear it.

After a couple of years in Boston, I moved to Houston for another couple of years doing SWP work and then back to NYC for another two year stint. Finally, in 1978 I went out to Kansas City for my Trotskyist swan song. The only connection I had to jazz in Kansas City was going out for lunch with my workmates at United Missouri Bank to a lunch wagon called Agnos’s. As kind of an initiation into local food practices, they insisted that I get the pig snout sandwich. Eventually, I discovered that Agnos lunch wagons were once very popular in Kansas City, especially with Charlie Parker as his biographer Ross Russell recounts in “Bird Lives”:

The same area was also a permanent location for one of the lunch wagons owned by John Agnos, who, under Pendergast, enjoyed a monopoly of after-hours on-the-street sales of food and light beverages. The menu listed food items and unusual sandwiches served only in Kansas City in those days—crawdads, “short thighs” (of chicken), and a choice of sandwiches made from chicken wings, brains, pigs’ feet, and pigs’ snouts. Everything was priced at a dime. Jars of homemade hot sauces were provided for garnishment according to the customer’s taste. Charlie Parker picked up his nickname Yardbird when the Basie band was working at the Reno Club. Parker used to hang out in the rear lot, mostly to listen to Lester Young, and his favorite food was the “short thigh” served by the lunch wagon. Chicken was known colloquially as yardbird. Later the nickname was shorted to Bird. It stuck with Parker throughout his life.

UPDATE:

A very resourceful comrade and friend checked with his brother-in-law who obviously knows New York City like the back of his hand. He got this response from him on the record shop whose name I couldn’t remember:

It was the Jazz Record Center on West 47th   (between 6th and 7th) and their slogan was “everything from Bunk to Monk.” It was a second floor deal with stairs leading up from the sidewalk; on each riser was a metal plate identifying a different variety of jazz (Bebop; Dixieland; Third-Stream, etc.). By the time I got there in the mid-60s, the owner (whose name I think was Joe) would sit in an armchair at one end of the store but didn’t seem to be either interested or capable of engaging in conversation, but customers would frequently carry on arguments with each other or Jay Vaughn, who ran the place during Joe’s (I assume) incapacity.

That building as well as that block was bulldozed out of existence in the late ‘60s to build the commercial towers that now line the west side of Sixth Avenue in the 40s and 50s. There was an article in Downbeat around that time noting the store’s demise and that they were looking for another place to reopen. They never did reopen, and a lot of their stock, along with Jay, eventually wound up at another record store (not Colony) somewhere in midtown, with much-increased prices. I don’t recollect which store that was.

I think that Jazz  Record Center might have been the only store in town that sold exclusively jazz records. Even the Commodore Record Shop, which as you know produced its own line of very fine jazz records in the 30s and 40s under Milt Gabler,  probably wasn’t exclusively jazz. I say that (I don’t actually know) because they were located in the old Commodore Hotel at Grand Central (now the Grand Hyatt) so they probably had to stock a wider variety of offerings.

UPDATE 2:

To expand on the Jazz Record Center, this is from an interview Joel Slotnikoff did with Pete Whelan who created the Original Jazz Library label. In a question about early jazz, Whelan mentions the kind of thing that went on in this unique record shop:

I went into this record store called The Jazz Record Center run by an American Indian from Arizona named Big Joe Klauberg, off of Sixth Ave. and there was Jelly Roll Morton’s former manager, Harrison Smith, holding forth and I was asking him questions about the legendary Freddy Keppard. Along with Perry Bradford who was also there. They both thought Keppard was the greatest trumpet player they ever heard, but by the time he recorded, they said, he had declined. But they said, Perry Bradford said, he was so loud you could hear him playing from 125th St. and Lennox Ave. all the way down here to 47th St.

UPDATE 3:

It appears that the last name of the proprietor of the Jazz Record Center was also spelled Clauberg. This is a great article on this store that gave New York its singular character once upon a time and that is now being destroyed by the real estate Moloch.

On His Way Down: Williamsburg and the Birth of Record Collecting

By Amanda Petrusich

Joe Clauberg at the Jazz Record Center

There’s a pervasive, romantic notion of the Outsider as Omniscient Loner: preoccupied, brooding, mumbly. He is human—for example, he might read a paperback book that he tugged from the back pocket of his jeans, or gaze intently into a woman’s eyes for a beat too long—but he doesn’t celebrate holidays or use the toilet. He is usually leaning against a wall. This is one way of thinking about it.

Then there are the men—outsiders, also—who routinely congregated at the Jazz Record Center, a long-defunct music shop that once existed on the north side of West 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan, a now touristy stretch better known for its approximations of pizza and dubious (if well-lighted) electronics shops. In the 1940s, the Jazz Record Center became the default clubhouse for a cabal of distinctive gentlemen: exiles, recluses, characters so outsize in their eccentricities that they felt invented, except better. Here there was not a sense—as with the archetypal Outsider—that a choice had been made. Here, the earliest collectors of 78 rpm records found each other.

BK13_RecordFeature_v0
Photograph by Nathan Salsburg

The Jazz Record Center was operated by Big Joe Clauberg, a chunk of a man with a deeply creased face (his skin appears to fold back on itself, like the underside of a poorly reupholstered chair) and black eyes that expressed a deep aversion to certain kinds of nonsense. He came to New York from the Southwest, had worked as a circus strongman, and stumbled into the used-record business after being offered a few truckloads of cheap records from a wholesale jukebox operator.

“He was a giant,” the collector Pete Whelan told me. “He was very overweight. He would just listen to everybody, hardly saying anything. And he was very generous in his prices. Records that were really worth $10 or $15 then and that would be worth hundreds or maybe thousands now, he would sell for $1.”

Clauberg settled at the 47th Street location in 1941, bolstering his jukebox supply by selling new stock from smaller jazz labels. The store was originally called Joe’s Juke Box, then the Jazz Record Corner, then the Jazz Record Center. Its inventory was jazz heavy but eclectic, including “Everything from Bunk to Monk,” as a 1949 ad in the Record Changer, an early jazz collecting magazine, read. (The “Bunk” in question was almost certainly Bunk Johnson, the beloved New Orleans jazzman who lost both his trumpet and his two front teeth in a bar fight in Louisiana in 1931, but it’s tempting to consider its more colloquial use—one collector’s bunk being another’s prize, after all.)

Clauberg courted (and indulged) a perfect outcast harem. Many of the shop’s most beloved denizens weren’t even patrons, or at least not in the traditional sense. A Greek dishwasher and janitor named Popeye helped keep the place clean, rubbing oil into the floorboards as necessary. According to the collector (and former employee) Henry Rinard, who chronicled his experience working with Big Joe for 78 Quarterly, Popeye was a short, well-muscled man with no teeth, hair, or eyebrows, prone to mumbling to himself for hours “in gibberish not even another Greek could understand.” Clauberg let Popeye crash on the floor at night, and in exchange, Popeye performed additional odd jobs, like bringing Clauberg food from the joint where he washed dishes, cutting his hair, and helping him yank a rotten tooth from his gums using a pair of pliers (that’s what friends are for). Another regular, Abbie the Agent, wore “thick-lensed eyeglasses, smoked continuously, and was seldom sober.” An outcast from a wealthy Connecticut family, Abbie fetched cigarettes and wine for Clauberg, and periodically became so inebriated himself that he passed out on the Popeye-oiled floor. (His other nickname—and I think it’s the better of the two—was Horizontal Abe.) Rinard also wrote about one of Clauberg’s old hobo friends, a guy known mostly as the Sea Captain, who wore a wool hat, raincoat, and heavy, too-big, laceless boots, even in June. The Captain was something of an enigma, even to Rinard: “He was either Swedish or Norwegian; he understood English, but never spoke,” he wrote.

The clientele was no less unique. “It was very interesting,” Whelan recalled. “It was a stop on the way. There would be these characters that would be there. Specialists. One guy who just collected European jazz, named Hal Flaxer. He’s probably still around. I think he went through three or four wives and they all looked identical. I couldn’t tell the difference. They looked like twins of each other.” In her book In Search of the Blues, the scholar Marybeth Hamilton includes what might be the single greatest description of early record collectors flourishing in their natural habitat: “Saturday afternoons they met at Indian Joe’s, where they thumbed through the bins in between swigs from the bottles of muscatel that Pete Kaufman brought along from his store, suspending their searches briefly at three, when a man called Bob turned up with a suitcase of pornographic books.”

There’s only one published photo of the shop, which first appeared in Jazzways and was later reprinted in 78 Quarterly; it’s not even of the interior, but of the rickety wooden stairs leading to the door. The face of each step is painted with an incitement (records, hot jazz records, records 4 sale, step up save a buck, popular bands, hot jazz records), and I can only imagine the half-furious, half-wheezy sounds eager collectors made clomping up them, balls of cash wadded up in their pockets. Regardless of what the inside of the shop actually looked like—and chances are, it was fairly mundane—I like to imagine it crammed with weirdoes bickering in high-pitched voices, nostrils expanding, slowly swarming Bob and his suitcase. I like to imagine myself there, with a record or two tucked under my arm.

James McKune showed up at Big Joe’s nearly every Saturday night at six, and stayed until the store closed at nine, wandering off, on occasion, to eat supper at the Automat around the corner on Sixth Avenue. McKune was likely born somewhere on the East Coast in or near 1910, although no one knows precisely when or where (depending on whom you ask, he was from Baltimore, or North Carolina, or upstate New York). That McKune has no clear origin story—and that his end was equally inscrutable—only amplifies the mythic place he occupies in collecting lore. Maybe more than any other collector, James McKune was defined by his records.

McKune wasn’t the first 78 collector, but he was one of the earliest to single out rural blues records as worthy of preservation, and is arguably the field’s most archetypal figure. At the very least, he established the physical standard. He was flagpole skinny and otherwise nondescript (medium height, tapering hair), prone to wearing the same outfit nearly every day (a white shirt with rolled sleeves, black pants, white socks, black shoes). He had a tough time holding a steady job, and during his time in New York, he worked briefly as a subeditor for the New York Times, a desk clerk at the YMCA, a checker at a South Brooklyn beer distributor, and a mail sorter in a Brooklyn post office. He seemed generally irritated by the necessity of employment, and in a June 1944 letter to the collector Jack Whistance, wrote: “During the day (when it doesn’t rain) I continue my quest for a suitable job in [an] essential industry. In N.Y.C., be it said—not in Newark. I am a particular guy, perhaps alas. The jobs I can have I don’t want. And those I want I can’t get.” (Ironically, US unemployment was at an all-time low in 1944, at just 1.2 percent—about as close to “full employment” as economists believe is possible). According to all reports, he drank like a pro. In his letters to other collectors, he was exacting but not unlikable; his missives are impeccably punctuated and endlessly readable, packed with peculiar asides and unexpected jokes. Although he was constitutionally private—a loner in the most nonromantic sense—and wrote almost exclusively about which records he wanted or had recently acquired, McKune did seem to savor his correspondence. In a 1951 letter to Henry Rinard, he even mentioned his glee about receiving an Easter card from a pal for Christmas. “A delightful variation, which I would have copied but for the lateness of this melancholy December,” he wrote in neat, minuscule script. (He was also prone to hastily changing tone by writing NEW SUBJECT midletter, an underused literary device I aspire to someday employ.)

BK13_RecordFeature_h02
Photograph by Nathan Salsburg

“Not that it means anything particularly, but he was gay, and I didn’t know that at the time,” Whelan explained to me one night. He and McKune first met at Big Joe’s. “I was at the time interested in getting blues on this particular label called Gennett. There was this guy Sam Collins on Electrobeam Gennett that I liked very much—he was an impassioned tenor. So I met this guy McKune,” he continued. “I was like 23 or 24 and he was 50. He had been collecting since probably the late 30s. Blues. One of the very few. He looked like a scarecrow. He would gesticulate when he talked, very excitedly. You’d find these elbows coming at you, and you kept backing up. I think in the late 1930s he was a reporter for the Long Island Star, and then became, I think, city editor. And then he gave it up and worked for the post office. And then he became an alcoholic.”

Unsurprisingly, McKune was also a bit of a crank. He was wildly discerning, even by collector standards, and owned just 300 records, all tucked into cardboard boxes and stored underneath his single bed at the YMCA on Marcy Street in Williamsburg. He often referred to his listening sessions as “séances” and was required to play records at a low volume so as not to enrage unsympathetic neighbors (thin walls). He fretted endlessly about his own taste. McKune’s desires were expansive, and he didn’t just want to collect the music he loved the most—he wanted to collect the best possible permutations of sound, and for those decrees to be definitive.

BK13_RecordFeature_v02

McKune supposedly never gave up more than 10 bucks for a 78 (and often offered less than $3), and was deeply offended—outraged, even—by collectors willing to pay out large sums of money, a practice he found garish, irresponsible, and in basic opposition to what he understood as the moral foundation of the trade. He didn’t like the notion that records could generate profit for their handlers: in the fall of 1963, in another letter to Rinard, he referenced his skepticism of a fellow collector, writing, “Somehow, I distrust him. He bought some records from the Negroes in Charleston, S.C. He spent $19 or $20 and sold the records for more than $500.” For McKune, collecting was a sacred pursuit—a way of salvaging and anointing songs and artists that had been unjustly marginalized. It was about training yourself to act as a gatekeeper, a savior; in that sense, it was also very much about being better (knowing better, listening better) than everyone else. Even in the 1940s and 50s, 78 collectors were positioning themselves as opponents of mass culture, and McKune cultivated a fantastic disdain for pop stars as well as the so-called protest singers of the era. He thought, for example, that Woody Guthrie was bullshit, although by 1950 he’d come back around on folk music as a genre, a shift he attributed to getting older. (The career of Glenn Miller, though, was a constant source of jokes.)

I’m not sure what McKune was looking for, exactly. Maybe the same thing we all look for in music: some flawlessly articulated truth. But I know for sure when he found it.

In the 1940s, 78 collecting meant jazz collecting, and specifically Dixieland or hot jazz, which developed in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century and was defined by its warm, deeply playful polyphony (typically, the front line—a trumpet, trombone, or clarinet—took the melody, while the rhythm section—banjo, guitar, drums, upright bass, piano, and maybe a tuba—supported or improvised around it). Because of its origins, collecting rare Dixieland records in 1942 was not entirely unlike collecting Robert Johnson records in 1968, or, incidentally, now: deifying indigent, local music was a political act, a passive protest against its sudden co-optation by popular white artists. As Hamilton wrote, “it meant training the spotlight on a distinctly black, definitely proletarian art form in an era when, as they saw it, jazz had been tamed, sweetened, and commodified, with white performers like Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman praised as its consummate practitioners.” But for whatever reason, blues records weren’t of any particular interest to early collectors. “The original 78 collectors despised country blues. They just liked jazz, and there were few exceptions,” Whelan explained. “It was a sharp divide. They thought it was less artistic. They were intellectuals.”

According to Hamilton, in January 1944 McKune took a routine trip to Big Joe’s and began pawing through a crate labeled “Miscellany,” where he found a record with “a sleeve so tattered he almost flicked past it.” It was a battered, nearly unplayable copy of Paramount 13110, Charley Patton’s “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone.” Patton had recorded the track in Grafton, Wisconsin, 15 years earlier, and he’d been dead for less than 10 when McKune first picked it up. Patton was almost entirely unknown to modern listeners; certainly McKune had never heard him before. He tossed a buck at a snoozing Clauberg and carted the record back to Brooklyn. As Hamilton wrote, “… even before he replaced the tonearm and turned up the volume and his neighbor began to pound on the walls, he realized that he had found it, the voice he’d been searching for all along.”

“Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” is one of Charley Patton’s more staid tracks, in both rhythm and narrative. According to Gayle Dean Wardlow and Stephen Calt’s King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charley Patton, “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” was “likely conceived for white presentation: it used diatonic intervals and featured the keynote as its lowest vocal tone, a technique Patton usually avoided in singing blues and gospel material.” Wardlow and Calt suspect the tune was conceived for “white square dances and sociables,” where Patton was likely accompanied by a fiddler who’d been tasked with playing lead over his strums. Lyrically, it’s a sweet imploration: don’t take me for granted, Patton warns. “Some these days, I’m going to be leaving / Some these days, I’ll be going away,” he slurs, strumming a faint, bouncing guitar line. For once, he sounds more amused than angry. You’ll see, he seems to grin. Just wait.

Charley Patton changed everything for McKune. I can run an assortment of scenarios—recounting all the fireworks-type stuff I imagine happened when he first dropped a needle to “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone”—but those particular moments of catharsis are too weird and too personal ever really to translate. What’s important is that McKune’s discovery of Patton set off an avalanche of cultural events, a revolution that’s still in progress: blues records became coveted by collectors, who then fought to preserve and disseminate them. In the liner notes to The Return of the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, a collection of 78 rarities released by Yazoo in 2012, Richard Nevins called McKune “‘the man’ who set it all in motion, who led blues collectors away from the errors of their wayward tastes… a fantastic, brilliant young man… [his] perspectives had profound influence and resound even today.” In the same notes, Dick Spottswood—in conversation with Nevins and Whelan—spoke about how McKune raised the stakes for everyone, about how things changed: “All I’m saying is that the records themselves as collectible artifacts were not buy or die [before]. They were desirable records but they weren’t life or death. You know, the way they have since turned into.” After McKune, collectors became invested in rural blues. They sought those records with fury, the music was preserved and reissued, and the entire trajectory of popular music shifted to reflect the genre’s influence. A guy from no place, saving music from the same.

James McKune’s naked, strangled body was found, bound and gagged, in a grimy welfare hotel—the Broadway Central—on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in September 1971. Detectives concluded that he had likely been murdered by a man he had solicited for sex; Whelan later called the perpetrator a “homosexual serial killer” with, he thought, five or six other homicides on his record. By then McKune had moved out of the YMCA and was living primarily on the streets of the Bowery among prostitutes and thieves. For those on the lookout for such parallels, McKune’s death did ultimately mirror Robert Johnson’s—who, as Hamilton pointed out, also died under “violent, mysterious, and sexually charged” circumstances. (The itinerant Johnson supposedly keeled over after taking a slug of poisoned whiskey, provided by a man whose wife he’d been eyeing or maybe worse.) Nobody knows for sure what happened to McKune’s record collection, although rumors still flutter up from time to time. It was likely sold, or stolen, or maybe given away bit by bit.

Excerpted from Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich. Copyright 2014 © Amanda Petrusich. Reprinted with Permission from Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

August 16, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 16, 2019

After being sorely disappointed by Quentin Tarantino’s last two films— “The Hateful Eight” and “Django Unchained” —I decided to wait for a studio screener of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in November. This is when I customarily get freebies from studio publicists hoping to influence my vote in NYFCO’s awards meeting in early December. But when I discovered that the film had antagonized some people on the left, I decided to get a senior’s ticket to see for myself what was going on.

Tarantino has the distinction of being the only filmmaker whose entire corpus I have seen. Since he has made only 8 films in the past 27 years, that’s a relatively easy task. Unlike Woody Allen, who churns films out like they were made on an assembly line, Tarantino takes his time. As for time itself, you can say that it erodes the talents of even the greatest artists. In the case of Hollywood legends like Woody and Quentin, the erosion process combines with their control of every aspect of film production to degrade the quality of the product. Who would dare say anything about the Emperor’s New Clothes?

After Tarantino left The Weinstein Company in the aftermath of #MeToo’s spotlight on Harvey Weinstein and joined the Sony Corporation, he was guaranteed full control over “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. That’s too bad because someone might have vetoed the film’s co-star Brad Pitt playing a stunt man whose claim to fame (or infamy) was killing his wife and then being found not guilty in OJ Simpson style. Why was he cleared, you ask? You won’t find the answer in Tarantino’s film. Maybe he lost the pages of his script answering this question one morning on the way to the studio and forgot all about it.

Continue reading

August 14, 2019

Hong Kong…a Colored Revolution?

Filed under: Hong Kong,housing,workers — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

As predictable as the Sun rising in the East, the same people who have defended Assad and Putin are now supporting Xi Jinping’s attempt to crush the protest movement in Hong Kong. Just check Max Blumenthal or Ben Norton’s Twitter accounts and you will find dark warnings about Trump using the protests as a way to undermine Chinese influence globally. Does it matter that Trump refers to these protests as “riots”? Probably not, since Grayzone is effectively a Fact-Free Zone.

Trump Says It’s Up to China to Deal With Hong Kong ‘Riots’

By Reuters

Aug. 2, 2019

HONG KONG — U.S. President Donald Trump has described protests in Hong Kong as “riots” that China will have to deal with itself, signalling a hands-off approach to the biggest political crisis gripping the former British colony in decades.

Ever since the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 that protested what was seen as a rigged election allowing Yanukovych to become President, massive protests against government the USA opposes are labelled “color revolutions”. The same villains keep surfacing in the “anti-imperialist” narrative: the CIA, the NED, George Soros, Gene Sharp, Human Rights Watch, Doctors without Borders, etc. This narrative has a certain amount of credibility since American imperialism always seeks its own goals by maneuvering in troubled waters. As it happened, the CIA reached out to Fidel Castro at the very moment it was committed to Batista. Like Goldman-Sachs donating to both Trump and Clinton’s campaigns in 2016, it hedges its bets.

While technically not a “colored revolution”, the 2014 Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong conformed to the established pattern. The movement sought to eliminate a 1,200 member Election Committee that would be the arbiter of who would be able to run for elected office, just as the much smaller 12-member Guardian Council in Iran makes such decisions. The goal of the protesters was to eliminate the Election Committee and open up the elections to all comers. It was dubbed the umbrella revolution because umbrellas were used to defend protesters against the pepper spray used by cops.

Writing for Near Eastern Outlook in 2014, F. William Engdahl put forward the typical arguments:

The Hong Kong wunderkind of the Color Revolution Washington destabilization, 17-year-old student, Joshua Wong, founded a Facebook site called Scholarism when he was 15 with support from Washington’s neo-conservative National Endowment for Democracy via its left branch, National Democratic Institute and NDI’s NDItech project. And another Occupy Central leading figure, Audrey Eu Yuet recently met with Vice President Joe Biden. Hmmmm.

In one of Max Blumenthal’s latest Tweets on Hong Kong, he cites this Engdahl who has quite a history. Long associated with Lyndon Larouche’s movement, he believes that the Pentagon orchestrated the Egyptian overthrow of Mubarak and that the entire Arab Spring was a conspiracy plotted by the Bush administration in 2003.

Writing for CounterPunch in 2014, Andre Vltchek used quite the unhinged invective to denounce the protesters after paying lip-service to their motives:

Protesters may have some legitimate grievances. They want direct elections of the chief executive, and there is, in theory, nothing wrong with such a demand. They want to tackle corruption, and to curb the role of local tycoons. That is fine, too.

This sort of thing was heard in 2011 as well when Syrians rose up against Assad. Yes, he was a plutocrat and a dictator but he is the country’s best defense against Al Qaeda. In Hong Kong, the outside agitators weren’t Muslim fanatics but a cabal of CIA agents seeking to turn yuppies against socialist China:

The Hong Kong protest movement reeks of upper middle class bourgeois consciousness, including its cloying cheap sentimentality and unexamined worshipping of Western “heroes”, like Churchill.

Oh, did I mention that Vltchek doesn’t write for CounterPunch any more?

On March 31 this year, the movement re-emerged but without the umbrellas. When a bill was proposed to the Hong Kong parliament that would allow China to extradite criminals, a massive movement broke out that was much more militant than the one five years ago. While the extradition bill was the spark, the explosion could only have occurred with a number of very inflammatory elements that had angered ordinary working people and students in Hong Kong for a number of years. While the desire for a genuine democracy persisted, the fuel that drove people to shut down the airport, invade the parliament building and confront the police had a class basis. Hong Kong was one the most unequal states in the world.

On July 22nd, an article titled “Tiny Apartments and Punishing Work Hours: The Economic Roots of Hong Kong’s Protests” made very clear that the same thing that drove Syrians to rise up against Assad explained the Hong Kong protests: inequality. In an similarly titled article of mine, “The Economic Roots of the Syrian Revolution”, I focused on rural misery caused by drought and government indifference to the plight of the peasantry. In Hong Kong, there was urban misery instead:

“We thought maybe if you get a better education, you can have a better income,” said Kenneth Leung, a 55-year-old college-educated protester. “But in Hong Kong, over the last two decades, people may be able to get a college education, but they are not making more money.”

Mr. Leung joined the protests over Hong Kong’s plan to allow extraditions of criminal suspects to mainland China, where the Communist Party controls the courts and forced confessions are common. But he is also angry about his own situation: He works 12 hours a day, six days a week as a security guard, making $5.75 an hour.

College-educated? A security guard making $5.75 an hour? That hardly sounds like Vltchek’s “upper middle class” ne’er-do-wells. With that kind of income, Leung is forced to live in one of Hong Kong’s many subdivided apartments, his space equaling 100 square feet about twice the size of the average prison cell in the USA.

Like Manhattan, Hong Kong is an island and space is at a premium. Given the shortage of housing, it naturally galled people like Leung that the rich were determined to maintain their privileges.

Critics say government policies that favor property developers make it even worse. The government makes money off sales of land to property developers, so it paces sales to maximize revenue and favors luxury developments over affordable housing, they say.

They cite the time last year when activists asked city officials to consider turning a golf course into public housing. The 54-hole course, the anchor for a 2,600 member golf club nestled amid Hong Kong’s landscape of concrete dominoes, could have housed apartments for 37,000 people. In the end the government chose to set aside less than one-fifth of the land.

Carrie Lam has been the Chief Executive of Hong Kong since July 2017. Her election campaign was closely tied to both the island’s big bourgeoisie and the Chinese government as Wikipedia reports. Her first election rally was attended by many pro-Beijing figures and tycoons from both the Henry Tang and Leung Chun-ying corporate empires. Zhang Xiaoming, who was simultaneously head of the Communist Party’s Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, and Sun Chunlan, head of the party’s United Front Work Department, met with major corporate members of the aforementioned Election Committee. Zhang told the electors that the Politburo of the Communist Party had decided to support Carrie Lam in the election.

For all of the vitriol directed against the protesters, it is worth mentioning that one of the politicians identified with their movement hardly qualifies as an agent of Western imperialist interests. I am referring to Albert Ho, a lawyer and former chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong that emerged out of support to the Tiananmen protests of 1989 and its call for the end of one-party rule in China. For these stands, the party was seen as “treasonous” by Beijing.

Not paying much attention to Max Blumenthal or Andre Vltchek, Edward Snowden hired Albert Ho to represent him in Hong Kong before he fled to Russia. As someone familiar with the naked power of authoritarian governments, Albert Ho was just the kind of attorney who could help him ward off the assaults of the Obama administration whose concern for constitutional rights were about the same as the current White House resident.

Yesterday, the NY Times reported on how “Protests Put Hong Kong on Collision Course With China’s Communist Party”. The final section of the article, which is titled “Fears of A ‘Color Revolution’”, refers to Zhang Xiaoming, who is mentioned just above:

Inside a ballroom at the Wuzhou Guest House in southern China last week, Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official for Hong Kong, told an audience of 500 politicians and business executives from Hong Kong that the protests “have the clear characteristics of a color revolution,” a reference to uprisings in the former Soviet bloc that Chinese officials believe drew inspiration from the United States.

That’s really ironic, warning business executives about a “color revolution”. There was a time when such movements were regarded as imperialist plots against the sort of sclerotic socialism found in Ukraine, Byelorussia or Georgia. Now, it refers to an uprising made up of security guards making $5.75 per hour living in a subsection of an apartment about twice the size of a prison cell. How we ended up with a left that includes Max Blumenthal and Andre Vletchek that can’t tell the difference between a member of the bourgeoisie and the working class is beyond me. But as long as there are young people defending socialism, even if not in Marxist terms, and more importantly willing to act on behalf of the Kenneth Leung’s of the world, that’s all that matters.

August 12, 2019

Facebook: con games, incorporated

Filed under: crime,facebook — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm

Recently I heard about three different stories of people being victimized on Facebook by con artists. In the first case, you might see the con artist taking advantage of social media’s innate ability for deception. In the other two cases, it is obvious that FB was in cahoots with the con artist.

On July 28th, the NY Times reported on how a 56-year old woman named Renee Holland was swindled by someone pretending to be a GI in Iraq whose duty was to disarm bombs. On Facebook, there are numerous groups that were set up for just such a support network but they soon became hotbeds of Nigerian con men who had polished their skills over the years pretending to be a Prime Minister’s son seeking a partner in retrieving money in a trust fund, etc.

After she sent the con artist $5000 for various expenses, including a plane ticket home, she went out to the airport to greet him. So ashamed of being taken advantage of, she drove to a drug store, bought some sleeping pills, and washed them down with vodka.

When Holland woke up in a hospital bed, her husband was sitting next to her. Incredibly, she got suckered again by the scam artist who assured her that he was for real and just awaiting an insurance payment that would allow him to return home. All he need was plane fare and he’d reimburse her as soon as he arrived. By the end of his con, she and her husband had lost $26,000 to $30,000. In the aftermath, her husband was arrested twice for domestic abuse. Finally, her husband shot and killed Renee Holland and her father, then turned the gun on himself.

FB has terminated billions of such fake accounts but there are about 120 million still active. No wonder gullible people continue to be taken in. For this particular con to succeed, it requires the photo of a real GI. Renee Holland was deceived by the photo of Sgt. Daniel Anonsen, a Marine, one that was popular with other con artists. When he began receiving unsolicited messages from female strangers, he contacted FB, which acted only on some of the accounts. Others, they claimed, did not violate their rules. Attempts to contact FB and get the matter resolved resulted in automated responses.

The F.B.I. says it received nearly 18,500 complaints from victims of romance or similar internet scams last year, with reported losses exceeding $362 million, up 71 percent from 2017. One Nigerian con man the NY Times contacted told reporters that “Definitely there is always conscience but poverty will not make you feel the pain.” The poverty that motivates a Pakistani or Afghan grow opium poppies is also capable of convincing a Nigerian to cause pain to others out of a burning need for survival. The Times reports:

Three Nigerian men, age 25, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they conned people on Facebook to pay for their education at Lagos State University.

They said they previously made $28 to $42 a month in administrative jobs or pressing shirts. With love hoaxes, the money was inconsistent but more plentiful. One estimated he made about $14,000 in two years; another took in $28,000 in three years.

The Times reporting is first-rate in terms of explaining the mechanics of the operation but woefully lacking on why a petroleum-exporting nation drives its young into becoming predatory sharks. (I suppose that this is an insult to a decent creature who only kills in order to feed itself.) Under president Goodluck Jonathan who was voted out of office in the last election and who was always seen in a cowboy hat, some $26 billion was pilfered out of national oil proceeds. American oil companies have continued to support people like Jonathan against attempts to do for Nigeria what Hugo Chavez did for Venezuela. If Nigeria had a living wage, all those fake accounts might finally begin to disappear. I suppose as long as FB is a private corporation enjoying huge profits just like the oil companies doing business in Nigeria, that’s just one of those tasks best left to a socialist revolution best described as a “clean break” from the system.

The other two cons benefited FB directly. Unlike the Nigerians driven by  poverty, the thieves in this instance were American companies that made game apps that could be run from FB. Not only did they not have to worry about being arrested, they were treated by Zuckerberg and company as key to their cash flow.

Both of these stories can be found on The Center for Investigative Reporting’s website and were originally aired on Reveal, the very best program on NPR and maybe all of radio. The shows are archived here, including the one on FB titled “Harpooned by Facebook”. The “whale” is a reference to people who come to Las Vegas intending to spend a fortune on roulette, blackjack, etc. On FB, the games people played in this instance were never intended to pay a penny.

In 2011, the 12-year old son of Glynnis Bohannon asked her to pay $20 so he could play Ninja Saga on FB. Like many middle-class mothers, she didn’t give it that much thought since what can go wrong on FB? It turned out that after she entered her credit card info, she expected this to be a permanent one-time fee. However, she soon learned from her next monthly statement that her son had run up more than a thousand dollars as he was prompted to explore various features of the game that did not come bundled with the $20 version. In a class-action suit over this deceptive practice, she learned that this was called “friendly fraud” by FB executives. In a 2013 discussion between two of the company’s employees, a 15-year-old Facebook user who had spent about $6,500 playing games was described as a “whale”.

The other whale referred to in the Reveal show was named Suzie Kelly who was almost as sad as Renee Holland. Kelly was not killed by her husband but their marriage was put to the test when she became addicted to Big Fish Casino, a suite of Las Vegas type games that—believe it or not—were never intended to pay cash to winners. Instead, playing blackjack, etc. was supposed to be “fun”. You paid into the game with real money but never got anything back except credits to play again, just like the pinball games I used to play for five cents back in the fifties. When you ran out of credits, you had to pony up some more cash. In her case, this came to $400,000 over the years.

In a letter to the Washington State Gambling Commission, Kelly wrote:

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, I surpassed the supposedly-top-tier VIP 15 rank to the “mystery” VIP 16 rank, achieving Big Fish Casino’s “you are royalty to us” status. Big Fish Casino assigned me a personal VIP host, Byron Scott. Byron personally called me; sent me his direct email address; responded to all of my emails (in the beginning) within minutes; took the time to get to know me personally; knew more about me than most of my friends did; even had flowers sent to my home when my mother passed away in 2016. He sent me free chips regularly, although sometimes he and other VIP hosts told me that I hadn’t spent enough money recently for them to be allowed to send me any. All in all, I have hundreds of emails and messages from Byron.

I had literally lost sense of reality. My reality became the app. My reality became withdrawing funds from my husband’s 401(k), and taking two home equity loans on our residence to pay off the credit card charges for the chip purchases. More importantly, I almost lost my husband due to this addiction. I finally told him about everything last month, and I am unbelievably lucky that my addiction to Big Fish Casino didn’t cost me my marriage. But financially, we’ve lost everything and don’t know how we’re ever going to recover.

FB got 30 percent of the cut “whales” like Suzie Kelly paid into these con games. Reveal provides chilling accounts of how FB management clearly knew what they were doing and justified it as providing “entertainment”, in their words they are providing a “social casino”.

In an article posted to Reveal’s website titled “Facebook’s fraud policies raised red flags. It still hasn’t changed them”, we learn about Zuckerberg’s resistance to measures that would prevent children from playing games like Ninja Saga that could cost their parents thousands. Their bottom line is more important to FB then the welfare of people it supposedly cares about. When someone complains about a bogus credit card charge, demanding a refund, it is called a chargeback. Most corporations fall within a two percent rate. Anything above that indicates shady practices. FB’s chargeback rate is 5 percent.

In 1857, Herman Melville, whose 200th birthday we celebrated on August 1, wrote a novel titled “The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade” that depicted an America where conning was pervasive. Melville, the sharpest critic of capitalism in literature, described a world that has many similarities to the one we live in now. This was what I wrote about it in 2002:


Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man”

If you really want to understand the heart of darkness that defines American society, it is necessary to read Herman Melville. While Melville has the reputation of being a combination yarn-spinner and serious novelist, he is above all a profound social critic who sympathized with the downtrodden in American society. In his final novel, “The Confidence Man,” there are several chapters that deal with the “Metaphysic of Indian-Hating” that, as far as I know, are the first in American literature that attack the prevailing exterminationist policy.

“The Confidence Man” is set on a riverboat called the “Fidèle,” that is sailing down the Mississippi. As the title implies, the boat is loaded with con men who are either selling stock in failing companies, selling herbal “medicine” that can cure everything from cancer to the common cold, raising money for a fraudulent Seminole Widows and Orphans Society or simply convincing people to give them money outright as a sign that they have “confidence” in their fellow man. The word “confidence” appears in every chapter, as some sort of leitmotif to remind the reader what Melville is preoccupied with: the meanness and exploitation of his contemporary America. Because for all of the references to the need for people to have confidence in one another, the only type of confidence on the riverboat is that associated with scams.

For Melville, the act of scamming represents everything that is wrong in American society in the decade preceding the outbreak of the Civil War. It is a time when the power of capital is transforming the American landscape, turning everything into a commodity. In Chapter 9, titled “Two business  men transact a little business,” shares in something called the Black Rapids Coal Company are proffered. The man who is being enticed to buy the shares is a bit worried because there was a “downward tendency” in the price of the stock recently, just as there has been in vast numbers of securities on the global exchanges in 1998.

The stock seller tries to reassure his customer:  “Yes, there was a depression. But how came it? who devised it? The bears,’ sir. The depression of our stock was solely owing to the growling, the hypocritical growling, of the bears.”

When the potential buyer asks him “How, hypocritical?,” the stock seller answers:

“Why, the most monstrous of all hypocrites are these bears: hypocrites by inversion; hypocrites in the simulation of things dark instead of bright; souls that thrive, less upon depression, than the fiction of depression; professors of the wicked art of manufacturing depressions; spurious Jeremiahs; sham Heraclituses, who, the lugubrious day done, return, like sham Lazaruses among the beggars, to make merry over the gains got by their pretended sore heads — scoundrelly bears!”

Scoundrelly bears? I suppose that’s as good an explanation for recent woes on Wall Street as any.

When the stock market was becoming the big craze in the 1850s, much of the speculation was fueled by prospects of American business penetrating into the heartlands west of the Mississippi. In order to facilitate this penetration, it was necessary to remove the indigenous peoples who had inconveniently come to dwell on these lands over the past ten thousand years. The founding fathers of the United States endorsed their removal wholeheartedly. As David Stannard has written in “American Holocaust,” the slave-owning “democrat” Thomas Jefferson wanted to show the Indian no mercy:

“…in 1812, Jefferson again concluded that white Americans were ‘obliged’ to drive the ‘backward’ Indians ‘with the beasts of the forests into the Stony Mountains’; and one year later still, he added that the American government had no other choice before it than ‘to pursue [the Indians] to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach.’ Indeed, Jefferson’s writings on Indians are filled with the straightforward assertion that the natives are to be given a simple choice–to be ‘extirpate[d] from the earth’ or to remove themselves out of the Americans’ way.”

Agreement with Jefferson’s sentiments were practically universal in American society. I would hazard a guess that moral objection to slavery ran stronger than defense of indigenous rights. Given the overall support for what amounts to a policy of genocide against the Indian, Melville’s thoughts on the subject appear strikingly at odds with the mainstream.

The subject appears in the course of a discussion between two men on the deck of the riverboat about the infamous “Indian-hater” John Moredock. Moredock was the son of a woman who was killed by a small band of Indians, who, according to the narrative, “proved to belong to a band of twenty renegades from various tribes, outlaws even among Indians, and who had formed themselves into a maurauding crew.” Moredock eventually tracked down this band and killed them all. But he became consumed with hatred for all Indians in the course of his vendetta. This is what Melville calls the “metaphysics of Indian-hating.” It took over Moredock’s life. He proved so adept at Indian killing that he eventually joined the army, where he rose rapidly in the ranks on the basis of his exterminationist skills. However, after he became a colonel, his Indian hating became an obstacle to further career growth in government, because other skills besides blind aggression are necessary. Melville writes:

“At one time the colonel was a member of the territorial council of Illinois, ends at the formation of the state government, was pressed to become candidate for governor, but begged to be excused. And, though he declined to give his reasons for declining, yet by those who best knew him the cause was not wholly unsurmised. In his official capacity he might be called upon to enter into friendly treaties with Indian tribes, a thing not to be thought of. And even did no such contingency arise, yet he felt there would be an impropriety in the Governor of Illinois stealing out now and then, during a recess of the legislative bodies, for a few days’ shooting at human beings, within the limits of his paternal chief-magistracy. If the governorship offered large honors, from Moredock it demanded larger sacrifices. These were incompatibles. In short, he was not unaware that to be a consistent Indian-hater involves the renunciation of ambition, with its objects — the pomps and glories of the world; and since religion, pronouncing  such things vanities, accounts it merit to renounce them, therefore, so far as this goes, Indian-hating, whatever may be thought of it in other respects, may be regarded as not wholly without the efficacy of a devout sentiment.'”

Now does this portrait of a man totally consumed in hatred remind you of any other in literature? It should because John Moredock is almost identical in motivation to Captain Ahab who wants to murder whales instead of Indians. While Moredock is ready to abandon election to higher office, Ahab is willing to destroy a ship and her crew, including himself, in order to kill Moby Dick. This monomaniacal drive to exterminate Indians and whales is very much symbolic of mid-19th century America.

In a powerfully ironic fashion, hatred of Indians and obsessions with whales is still very much part of our national psyche as the Makah get ready to go out and hunt for a gray whale. All of the Indian haters in the United States have decided to put the Makah in their gunsights as the Makah themselves get ready to put one gray whale in their own. What would Melville have made of this drama?

I will attempt to answer this question in an extended essay on Melville, whales and indigenous peoples that will be a chapter in the book on I am working on, titled “Marxism and the American Indian.” I will go on record at this point to state that Melville would have been a supporter of the Makah and an enemy of industrial whaling. My arguments are in part based on my interpretation of “The Confidence Man” and “Moby Dick.” They are also based on other writings, where Melville makes his solidarity with the American Indian explicit.

In a review of Francis Parkman’s “The California and Oregon Trail,” written in 1846, Melville takes note of Parkman’s hatred of the Indian:

“…when in the body of the book we are informed that is difficult for any white man, after a domestication among the Indians, to hold them much better than brutes; we are told too, that to such a person, the slaughter of an Indian is indifferent as the slaughter of a buffalo; with all deference, we beg leave to dissent.”

And what is the dissent based on?

It is based on our belonging to one race, the human race. Melville says, “We are all of us–Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks and Indians–sprung from one head and made in one image. And if we reject this brotherhood now, we shall be forced to join hands hereafter.”

(The “Confidence Man” is online at http://www.melville.org/)

 

August 9, 2019

How real is the eco-fascist threat?

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Fascism — louisproyect @ 10:46 pm

Eco-fascist literature?

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 9, 2019

In a manifesto that was posted to 8Chan just before he carried out his murderous attack on Walmart shoppers in El Paso, Patrick Crusius expressed “Green” values that are widespread on the left:

The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources. This has been a problem for decades. For example, this phenomenon is brilliantly portrayed in the decades old classic “The Lorax”.

Dr. Seuss wrote “The Lorax” in 1971 as a protest against corporate despoliation of the environment. The contrast between a racist mass murderer and a gentle children’s book could not be starker. It is no wonder that there have been multiple attempts to come to terms with his eco-fascism.

This is not the first amalgam of Green and Brown values from a neo-Nazi terrorist. On March 15, 2019, an Australian named Brenton Tarrant killed 50 Muslims in a New Zealand mosque justifying his attack on the “replacement” theory that motivated Patrick Crusius. Crusius paid tribute to Tarrant in the first paragraph of his manifesto.

Continue reading

August 7, 2019

One Child Nation

Filed under: China,science — louisproyect @ 9:10 pm

Nanfu Wang, the Chinese émigré who made “Hooligan Sparrow” and “I Am Another You”—two outstanding documentaries, has a new film opening on Friday at the IFC Center in New York. Titled “One Child Nation”, it examines the draconian law that put a ceiling on births in China from 1979–2015. She was born in this period but her parents also were allowed to have a second child, her younger brother, because they were rural villagers. Now that she has become a mother of a young son herself, she was inspired to visit China and interview her parents, their neighbors, and urban dwellers to see how the policy impacted them.

Wang’s films tackle wrenching human drama. The 2016 “Hooligan Sparrow” is about a struggle to bring an elementary school principal to justice after he raped six girls. Known as the Hooligan Sparrow, Ye Haiyan is a leader of what amounted to China’s #MeToo movement. Unlike the USA, she and her team are considered enemies of the state and constantly harassed. So was Wang’s film team that employ various ruses to cover the struggle, eventually smuggling the raw footage out the country. A year later, she made “I Am Another You” that was even more daring. Determined to find out why a young man about the same age as her chose homelessness and a nomadic life as a beggar in the USA, she followed him about with her camera, living under the same circumstances. Both films are available as VOD, including YouTube, and well worth renting for a pittance.

“One Child Nation” reveals a population that is decidedly ambivalent about the policy, including her mother. Like most Chinese, she accepted it as a necessary evil. Given the massive propaganda campaign by the state, which included folk operas and the like, there was not even the hint of an alternative.

Wang has managed to obtain photos of the human wreckage the policy left behind, including gruesome evidence of how an extra newborn was often left in a garbage dump. As China had already been making huge strides toward private property under Deng Xiaoping, many infants were rescued and turned over to orphanages that marketed them to American families. Among them was American-born husband Brian Stuy and his Chinese-American wife Long Lan Stuy, who adopted three Chinese daughters. After learning about the circumstances of their availability, they became inspired to found Research China, an organization to help parents trace their adopted children’s history and even reunite siblings. Ironically, there is not much interest in being reunited, especially those who grew up in the USA.

After seeing the film, the publicist asked for my reaction. I wrote her back: “The film might have provided more background on how China ended up with such a policy but it was a valuable documentary. Will post a review just before it opens. I’ll probably add that background in my review.”

Here’s that background now.

Probably the most authoritative study of the policy was the 2008 “Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China” by Susan Greenhalgh. I really didn’t have time to read the book but the 36-page article “Science, Modernity, and the Making of China’s One-Child Policy” she wrote for the Population and Development Review in June, 2003 is a good place to start.

The article is heavily influenced by Foucault but there is enough substance to help you get a handle on the political and historical context. As the title implies, some of China’s top scientists helped to formulate the policy based on economics and demographical data. Drawing upon 15 years worth of interviews, Greenhalgh concludes that population science is intimately connected to politics, something that should be obvious to anybody familiar with Thomas Kuhn’s writings.

Greenhalgh writes:

I will argue that at the heart of China’s post-1979 population policy lie two powerful notions: that China faced a population crisis that was sabotaging the nation’s modernization, and that the one-child policy was the only solution to it. In China for most of the past 20-plus years, these ideas have had the status of self-evident truth. I question those apparent truths by looking at how they were constructed. I show that these ideas about China’s population problem and its ideal solution were actively fabricated by Chinese population scientists, using numbers, numerical pictures (such as tables and graphs), and numerical techniques (such as projections) to tell a particular story about China. In contrast to the coercion account, which points the finger at “communist coercion,” this close look at the actual making of the policy reveals instead that practically all the key ideas on which China’s one-child policy was based were borrowed from the West, and from Western science at that.

Specifically, the Western science was an update of Malthus, as indicated in this telling passage:

Innocuous and even progressive though it must have seemed in 1979, the intervention of the natural scientists in the conversations about population produced revolutionary effects. In a short time, a Marxian theoretical field belonging to the social sciences had been reinvented as a scientific-that is quantitative-discipline. The mathematical science of population that was to revolutionize China’s population thought and practice was an unusual amalgam of cybernetics, control theory, systems engineering, and Club of Rome-style limits-to-growth thinking that had been popular among some Western academics and a sizable chunk of the general public in the West in the early to mid-1970s (especially Meadows et al. 1974; Mesarovic and Pestel 1974; on the work’s public appeal, Wilmoth and Ball 1992). The group’s leader, Song Jian, got the idea for this project on a delegation visit to Europe in 1978. Song’s description of his encounters with some work inspired by the Club of Rome brings out the excitement his discovery produced. This passage also provides a backward glimpse at the larger intellectual climate of the 1970s, when notions of explosions of population growth were prevalent around the world and applications of control theory to abstract economies facing such situations were standard fare in Western population economics:

After more than ten years’ isolation from the outside world, during a visit to Europe in 1978, I happened to learn about the application of systems analysis theory by European scientists to the study of population problems with a great success. For instance, in a “Blueprint for Survival” published in 1972, British scientists contended that Britain’s population of 56 million had greatly exceeded the sustaining capacity of ecosystem of the Kingdom. They argued Britain’s population should be gradually reduced to 30 million, namely, a reduction by nearly 50 percent…. I was extremely excited about these documents and determined to try the method of demography. (Song 1986: 2-3)

It should be added that Greenhalgh does not deny that China had serious issues of bringing economic production and population into balance but that the leading scientists exaggerated them under the influence of Western neo-Malthusians. Essentially, the scientists based the need for such a policy through a comparison of leading economic and demographic indicators that grouped China with advanced industrial economies rather than 3rd World countries. Given such a skewed comparison, it was inevitable that a destructive one-child-only policy would ensue.

(Contact me privately at lnp3@panix.com for a copy of Greenhalgh’s article)

Bhaskar Sunkara “The Socialist Manifesto”: a review

Filed under: reformism,social democracy — louisproyect @ 2:27 pm

41eqazrtc7l._sx321_bo1204203200_

To get a handle on the theoretical foundations for Bhaskar Sunkara’s “The Socialist Manifesto”, the best place to look is in the Acknowledgements where he gives his props to a sociology professor:

“I’d be remiss if I failed to mention how much I’ve learned from New York University professor Vivek Chibber over the years. If he’s a great chef, I’m doing to his recipes what Chef Boyardee did to pasta. I happen to like SpaghettiOs. I hope you do too.”

Chibber is the editor of Catalyst, a high-toned theoretical journal that is part of Sunkara’s burgeoning publishing empire. Two years ago, in a special issue of Jacobin devoted to the Russian Revolution, Chibber’s article “Our Road to Power” summed up this great chef’s understanding of what the fight for socialism amounts to today:

The Russian road, as it were, was for many parties a viable one. But starting in the 1950s, openings for this kind of strategy narrowed. And today, it seems entirely hallucinatory to think about socialism through this lens…If this is so, then the lessons that the Russian experience has to offer — as a model of socialist transition — are limited. Our strategic perspective has to downplay the centrality of a revolutionary rupture and navigate a more gradualist approach. For the foreseeable future, left strategy has to revolve around building a movement to pressure the state, gain power within it, change the institutional structure of capitalism, and erode the structural power of capital — rather than vaulting over it. This entails a combination of electoral and mobilizational politics.

Using a language in keeping with his Chef Boyardee credentials, Sunkara said about the same thing a decade ago when he said farewell to the Marxism list I moderate: “I’ll be in the DSA, in the cesspool of the Democratic Party, in the mainstream unions, where the working people are, until you comrades can prove me wrong and build a viable alternative for working people and then I’ll apologize and happily join you.”

If you were about building a left-oriented publishing empire, the last thing you needed was an albatross chained to your neck like the Russian Revolution. The New Yorker Magazine, a symbol of middle-class complacency if there ever was one, interviewed Sunkara about his new book in April and inadvertently indicated their shared preferences through a perceptive question:

Your book also evinces a certain respect for reformist, rather than radical, politics, and you write that you are aware of “how profound the gains of reform can be.” So why is Sweden insufficient? I think a lot of people would look at Sweden and say, “O.K., it’s not perfect. It can get better. But it’s about as good as any society that humans have been able to construct.

Sunkara does have a thing for Sweden. In chapter five (The God that Failed), he describes it not only as the most livable society in history but one in which socialists made more headway against capitalism than any other European country in the post-WWII period. One supposes that this might be news to people who lived in Eastern Europe where capitalism was abolished under Soviet occupation. While it is true Swedes enjoyed political freedom, it was only in the Eastern bloc where the capitalist class was expropriated.

Sunkara’s capsule history of 20th century Swedish history is a cherry-picking exercise. The Social Democratic party is extolled as defending the interests of the working class in constructing a “people’s home” for the entire population. The folkhemmet, Swedish for people’s home, sounds rather benign—like a Norman Rockwell painting of people at a Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Folkhemmet was a key to the eugenics program that Gunnar and Alva Myrdal espoused. It blurred the lines between the family unit, the state and the seemingly progressive character of the welfare state that the social democrats promoted. Between 1935 and 1976 Social Democratic governments forced 63,000 women to be sterilized. As part of a eugenics program meant to weed out the genetically or racially ”inferior,” the women were told that they would lose benefits and be separated from their living children if they refused. Typically the women were poor, learning disabled or people with non-Nordic or mixed ethnic backgrounds.

Under folkhemmet, the goal was not to overturn property relations but to reduce the differences in income between those at the top of society and those at the bottom. Isn’t this what attracts people like Bernie Sanders to Swedish “socialism” even though it has little to do with Karl Marx’s call for revolutionary change?

Like the New Deal, Swedish social democracy historically was a deal between the rich and the state to fund welfare programs to mollify a restive population that was attracted to the USSR, where unemployment had been eradicated and public services were abundant. Sweden even developed a brand of deficit spending to kick-start the economy after the fashion of John Maynard Keynes.

Between 1932 and 1976, Sweden was ruled by social democratic governments that were a poster child for the kind of socialism Sunkara advocates. What he does not mention were the circumstances that led to the first elected social democratic government. In 1931, sawmill workers in Adalen organized a general strike for better pay and working conditions. In a peaceful march on May 14, they were blocked by the police and army from reaching the barracks where scabs were being housed. They were finally stopped in their tracks when a cop opened fire on the strikers with a machine gun, leaving five dead and many wounded. There was such outrage throughout Sweden over this massacre that voters elected the first in a series of social democratic governments. The irony is that the workers were mostly Communist Party members or supporters, according to most historians. The Social Democrats banned members from attending the funerals of those on May 14 because they were seen as sympathetic to the Communists.

During WWII, Sweden managed to stay aloof from the anti-fascist military campaign that most historians regard as largely dependent on Soviet arms, materiel and manpower. Aloof might not be the most appropriate word in this instance since Sweden allowed the Nazis to use their railways to transport troops to the Eastern front for the invasion of the USSR. The two very blonde and Aryan nations bonded together economically during the war. Between 1933 and 1943, nearly 25 million tons of iron ore was sold to the Nazis while Sweden bought German coke and coal, as well as German weapons that by all accounts were very cost-efficient. In November 1934, Hitler admitted that without Swedish iron ore, Germany would not be able to make war.

Does Sunkara know anything about this? If he did and cared not to factor this into his love poem to Sweden, then shame on him. It is entirely possible that given the long hours he puts into his publishing empire, he simply does not have the time to dig too deeply into Swedish history or any other history for that matter. As we continue our stroll through the Socialist Manifesto, this will become glaringly obvious.

Chapter four (The Few Who Won) of The Socialist Manifesto is conventional anti-Communist history with the mandatory observation that Stalinism had its roots in Bolshevism. After reviewing all of the well-known Stalinist distortions imposed on Soviet society, Sunkara sums up the main lesson: this “model” came to be synonymous with the socialist ideal itself.

To drive home this point, he renders his judgement on “The Third World Revolution” in chapter six. Compared to Sweden, the colonial revolution led by Communists resulted in disasters. Of course, if China or Vietnam were selling iron ore to Hitler during WWII, things might have turned out better. But we don’t deal in hypotheticals, do we?

Like Russia, China gets treated as a violation of democratic socialism, leaving the reader feeling rather deflated. We discover that in the 1950s the backyard steel furnaces were a fiasco and that a campaign against the “four pests” (flies, mosquitos, rats and sparrows) led to a famine. Though pests in many ways, these creatures fed on the grasshoppers that now lacking a natural predator were free to feast on grain. Despite such Maoist bungling, whatever attraction China had as a model all but evaporated after Nixon’s trip to China and the subsequent transformation of China into a capitalist economy, something accepted by most on the left except those intoxicated by Stalinist dogma such as Roland Boer, the Australian theologian who blogs as Stalin’s Moustache.

In the same chapter where China gets a thumb’s down, Cuba is also dismissed, almost as an afterthought. With sixteen pages on China versus the single page that discusses Cuba, you might have expected Sunkara to take a closer look at the one country in the world that is still trying to build socialism. (I don’t include North Korea because it is such a grotesque Stalinist/Confucian outlier.) After acknowledging Cuba’s giant strides in education and health care, he gives it a failing grade for lacking democracy. One has to wonder where he gets his yardstick for passing such judgements. What if Sweden had been invaded and occupied by the USA for a century to prevent it from becoming the welfare state he so admired? If it was finally able to drive out an oligarchy and begin instituting the measures Cubans enjoy, would the Swedes tolerate political parties funding by the USA to overturn the welfare state? I don’t believe in hypotheticals but it is always necessary to put democratic rights into context. Perhaps on a day when he was less subject to anti-Communist thinking, Sunkara might have understood why Cuba had not become an “Open Society”, to use George Soros’s terminology. In this chapter on third world revolutions, he has a brief reference to our hemisphere’s sorry history:

Elsewhere in the Americas, democratic roads to socialism in Nicaragua and Chile, the latter supported by a powerful working-class movement, were blocked by conservative domestic elites and American meddling. The nature of this US interference was not always coups and invasions but also sanctions, trade sabotage, and election rigging. Even where Third World socialist movements had democratic impulses, the experience of those like Allende seemed to encourage authoritarian paths to change.

Referring to Cuba’s “revolution from above” in the very next paragraph, he doesn’t seem to make the connection. As the president of the board of one of the largest Nicaragua solidarity organizations, I have bitter memories of how the USA was able to interfere in Nicaraguan elections. If Cuba had to choose between children being fed, educated, housed and kept healthy on one hand and catering to Human Rights Watch’s litmus tests on the other, I’ll go with the children.

After having covered (or covered up) European, Latin American and Asian history, Sunkara finally gets around to reviewing socialist movements in the USA. In keeping with DSA iconography, Eugene V. Debs gets a clean bill of health. Moving right along, he finds the Communist Party to his liking, not so much for its Stalinism but its civil rights and trade union activism. But he particularly admires their close ties to the New Deal, an alliance that has inspired the DSA’s support for Bernie Sanders who has insisted that his socialism is identical to the New Deal rather than misbegotten Soviet experiments.

Unlike the CP, the Socialist Party advocated a clean break with the two-party system just as Eugene V. Debs did. In the 1930s, it was led by Norman Thomas who was once asked by a reporter how he felt about Roosevelt carrying out his party’s program. His pithy reply was that it was carried out but on a stretcher. Sunkara writes:

But Thomas and most of the Socialist Party clung to its Debsian-era strategy of opposition to bourgeois reformers—class independence was paramount. Thomas saw the New Deal as a “program that makes concessions to workers in order to keep them quiet a while longer and so stabilize the power of private owners.” No doubt this was true, but these reforms didn’t placate workers; they led them to demand more.36

If you check endnote number 36, you’ll discover that it is a reference to Irving Howe’s “Socialism and America”. This is like writing that Trump has been a great president and backing it up with a citation to a book written by Sean Hannity.

Referring to the 1936 election, Sunkara makes Norman Thomas’s SP practically look like the Spartacist League—an ultraleft purist sect that did not recognize the profound realities of American society:

In the 1936 presidential election, workers around the country were making a rational decision to support the Democratic Party, hungry to continue Roosevelt’s reforms and recognizing the institutional barriers to independent politics. Thomas’s cohort couldn’t offer a strategy to overcome any of those barriers or even a way to not counterpoise themselves to the best New Deal reforms. They just had slogans about opposing capitalist parties. Ironically, the more fringe Communist Party was better able to relate to Roosevelt supporters.

To start with, the CP was not exactly “fringe”. In 1936, it had perhaps ten times as many members as the SP and could count on people like Count Basie or Bennie Goodman to play at a benefit for the Spanish Civil War, and even the NY Times for articles supporting the Moscow Trials. In any case, the bigger problem was the CP’s ongoing sabotage of any attempts to start a Labor Party in the USA, something that would have had a great amount of traction in 1936. The New Deal might have been able to provide low-paying jobs in the WPA but it had not broken the back of the Great Depression. To show you the lengths that the New Deal left would go to elect FDR, it helped to create the American Labor Party that while nominally independent placed FDR on its ballot line. It was the same kind of shifty electoral maneuvering that the Working Families Party adopted when it put Andrew Cuomo on its ballot line in the last gubernatorial election. These parties are independent in name only.

The 1960s radicalization that made me the person I am today—for better or for worse—gets about as brief a mention in The Socialist Manifesto as Cuba. There were just as many young people in the 1960s committed to bringing about socialism as there are in the DSA today but the word meant something different to us. It meant abolishing wage slavery just like Radical Republicanism meant abolishing chattel slavery to Frederick Douglass.

Yes, we were fragmented by sectarian notions of who was the genuine continuation of Lenin’s party but we put our lives on the line. For all practical purposes, the attempts to build such parties has come to an end with the self-liquidation of the International Socialists Organization. Many, if not most of its members, have hooked up with the DSA and are as eager to recreate the New Deal as Bernie Sanders.

Sunkara finally gets around to outlining a strategy to establish socialism in the USA in chapter nine, titled “How We Win”. It consists of 15 points that few would disagree with since they are anodyne proposals for the most part. For example, there is this:

The socialist premise is clear: at their core people want dignity, respect, and a fair shot at a good life. A democratic class politics is the best way to unite people against our common opponent and win the type of change that will help the most marginalized, all while engaging in a far longer campaign against oppression rooted in race, gender, sexuality, and more.

Well, of course. Who could argue with this? The real issue, however, is the same as it has been since the mid-1930s when the largest group on the left became embedded in the Democratic Party. As long as we continue to search in vain for the Democrat on horseback who can ride into the White House and put things right, the real struggle for socialism will be ineffective.

This time it will be different, according to Sunkara:

It will come as no surprise that I’ve been a registered Democrat since my eighteenth birthday—the same day I joined the Democratic Socialists of America. I joined the latter because the DSA reflected my actual political beliefs, the former because I lived in New York and wanted to participate in the only meaningful elections in my area, which were closed Democratic Party primaries. As a registered Democrat, I don’t have the power to influence the party’s politics in any meaningful way: like most registered voters in this country, I don’t get a vote when it comes to my own party’s political platform. But on the flip side, there’s no way for the Democrats to expel me or hold me to a political program. I can spend most of my waking hours attacking the Clintons and other corporate Democrats, and I can’t be disciplined in any way. I can only lose my ability to vote in Democratic primaries in New York if I change my registration or commit a felony and am incarcerated or on parole. Precisely because it is so undemocratic, the Democratic Party may actually be vulnerable to what Ackerman calls “the electoral equivalent of a guerilla insurgency.”

A guerrilla insurgency? Hardly. The Democratic Party has been around since the time of Andrew Jackson and has weathered challenges by “insurgents” going back to its co-optation of Tom Watson’s Populists. What Bhaskar Sunkara and his comrades do not understand is that the presence of “democratic socialists” in the Democratic Party helps to keep its brand alive. Even if Ilhan Omar is the target of racist tweets, even if she keeps Nancy Pelosi awake at night and even if she costs the Democrats the 2020 Presidential election, the “Squad” and Bernie Sanders will help to sustain the illusion that the party can become an instrument of genuine political transformation.

When Ralph Nader ran for president in 2004, Democratic Party lawyers fought to keep him and his running mate Peter Camejo off the ballot across the entire country. The DP elite wants to make sure that efforts to outflank it from the left never get off the ground. If we are serious about launching a true “guerrilla insurgency”, the first step is supporting Howie Hawkins for President in 2020 as the Green Party candidate. Last December Hawkins made the case for independent class politics that would be the first step in reconstituting an authentic socialist movement in the USA incorporating the best that the SP, the CP and even the Trotskyist movement I joined over a half-century ago could offer:

So what would a socialist alternative to the capitalist Democrats look like, both as a program for social transformation and as a movement of the working class for its own freedom? Sanders’s regulatory and social insurance reforms of capitalism do not end the polarization of society into rich and poor flowing from the exploitation of working people. Those reforms do not end the oppression, alienation, and disempowerment of working people. Those reforms do not stop capitalism’s competitive drive for mindless growth that is devouring the environment and roasting the planet. Socialism as a program has traditionally meant economic democracy—social ownership of the means of production for democratic planning and allocation of economic surpluses—as a necessary condition for full political democracy and freedom. But in the absence of a sizable socialist Left that runs its own candidates against both capitalist parties, socialism has been reduced in popular parlance to simply government programs.

These words encapsulate in my mind what a real socialist manifesto would begin to look like. For information on Howie Hawkins’s campaign, go to https://howiehawkins.us/.

August 6, 2019

How the German Communist Party adapted to nationalism in the early 1920s

Filed under: fashion,Germany,Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Karl Radek

In my follow-up commentary on the El Paso killer’s manifesto, someone took issue to my pointing out that the German Communist Party adapted to ultraright nationalist ideology in the early 1920s. I had called attention to Karl Radek’s eulogy to Albert Schlageter, a member of the Freikorps—the rightwing militia that killed Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Additionally, I referred to a speech by Ruth Fischer that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric, designed to appeal to fascists in a mass meeting.

In comment #7 at https://louisproyect.org/2019/08/04/understanding-the-el-paso-killers-manifesto-in-context/#comments, he wrote:

Radek was never a “National Bolshevik”. In the early 20’s his views reflected the official policy of the Communist International, which he represented in Germany.

When I responded that his comment omitted any reference to Ruth Fischer’s anti-Semitic demagogy, he dismissed her as having nothing to do with Radek in another comment: “Ruth Fischer was always a ultra-left windbag.”

The problem, however, is that Karl Radek and Ruth Fischer had a history together. As Comintern emissary, Radek endorsed the policies of the ultraleft leadership that had been responsible for the 1921 March Action–a complete fiasco. Two years later, a new leadership had replaced Fischer but a new tendency had developed that was just as misguided as the earlier ultraleft adventurism—an adaptation to German nationalism that historian Werner Angress calls the “Schlageter Line” in chapter 11 of “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923”. Developed during the United Front period, a correction of the earlier ultraleft strategy, it hoped to exploit the nationalism that was gestating in Germany during the 1920s as a result of the Allies punishing treaty.

Angress describes Radek’s initiative as follows:

It was Radek who gave real impetus to Communist attempts in Germany to win sympathizers, if not allies, from the political Right, especially from the nationalist-minded lower middle class. The occasion arose when the enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International met for a regular session in Moscow from June 12 to 23, 1923. During the first four days of the session, Radek spoke no less than three times, and in each of his speeches touched on the problem of nationalism in Germany. None of the ideas which Radek advanced were startling. In essence, and with a semantic virtuosity of which he was a past master, he merely repeated the main points of a policy which the German Communists had followed for months. His fine distinction between “national” and “revolutionary-national” interests may have puzzled his audience, but his meaning was actually quite clear: to smite Poincare at the Ruhr was the demand of the hour for the German proletariat. The German bourgeoisie, from pure self-interest, had initially held the same objective, and to this end had fostered a wave of extreme patriotism. But the bourgeoisie was ready to capitulate to France, at the expense of the German working class. It therefore fell to the latter to rally the masses to the defense of the nation, and in this endeavor the KPD had to lead the way. Once the masses, including the misled segments of the petty bourgeoisie, now still in the nationalist camp, came to realize that their interests were better represented by the proletariat than by the “corrupt capitalist classes,” the moment would arrive when the old order would be overthrown and replaced by a workers’ government. That such a government would then be in a position to conclude a firm and binding alliance with Soviet Russia went without saying.

Later on Angress described the political impact of Radek’s “turn”:

Radek’s speech was the cue for the KPD to embark upon a nationalist propaganda campaign, which at the time aroused much attention but netted the party few, if any, tangible advantages. The most sensational aspect of the Schlageter line was that it provided the public for a few weeks with the unprecedented spectacle of nationalist and Communist writers engaged in a series of intellectual exchanges on the feasibility of political cooperation between Right and Left.

The civilized tone which marked the exchange of ideas on the Schlageter line among the literati of both camps was generally absent from the party’s street-corner debates. The “man on the street” was rarely susceptible to lofty ideas, the nature of which contrasted with his own concepts of what a nationalist and a Communist had or had not in common. This was as true for the “Fascists,” whom the party tried to convert, as it was for the Communist rank and file who were more accustomed to exchanging bullets with the Fascists than to engaging them in public discussions.” Nevertheless, the street-corner approach was tried, at first especially with the academic youth. Oratorically gifted Communist functionaries ventured into such hostile strongholds of nationalism as university campuses and student eating-houses to do missionary work. Early in July a Comrade Schneider, KPD member from Hannover, addressed students at Gottingen University, or, as the Rote Fahne put it, penetrated the sticky atmosphere of the small universities. He spoke on the subject: “For What Did Schlageter Die?” The same topic was used as a basis for discussion at Jena, and toward the middle of the month in Berlin as well.” There the party distributed handbills in various restaurants, frequented mostly by students, with this announcement:

Wednesday, July 25, 1923, 7 P.M.

Auditorium of the Dorotheenstadtisches Realgymnasium

Dorotheenstrasse

AGENDA: “For What Did Schlageter Die? Communism, Fascism, and the Political Decision of the Students.” Speaker: Comrade Ruth Fischer

Students: Gain an understanding of the ways of the revolutionary fight for freedom. We want to point out especially to our völkischen opponents that unlimited opportunities for discussion will be maintained.”

According to the report of the Rote Fahne, the discussion at this particular gathering lasted several hours without leading to any incidents. Ruth Fischer stated that “the giant, who is going to liberate Germany, is here. . . . The giant is the German proletariat, to which you belong, and with which you should align yourselves.” This was greeted, so the paper says, with “loud applause.” Then the meeting broke up, and the opposing groups separated “not exactly conciliated, but with a feeling of mutual respect.” The Social Democratic organ, Vörwarts, threw an interesting sidelight on this particular performance of Comrade Ruth Fischer. Quoting an eye-witness account, the paper claimed that the Communist speaker appealed openly to the anti-Semitic sentiments of her audience.

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

Anti-Semitic remarks, innuendos rather than open expressions, occasionally cropped up during this period in the Communist press. Thus the Rote Fahne printed on August 7 a little item on “Stresemann’s Jewish Kommerzienrate” (councilors of commerce, a title conferred on distinguished financiers), in which the paper drew attention to the fact that such prominent Social Democrats as Friedrich Stampfer, the editor of Vorwarts, Carl Severing and Hermann Muller were closely connected with these Jewish capitalists. Although the Communists tried on the whole to stay clear of the anti-Semitic issue, they could not always avoid it, especially when it was raised by nationalist hecklers during joint discussion meetings. This was clearly demonstrated in the case of Hermann Remmele, who on August 2 addressed a mixed audience of Communists and National Socialists in Stuttgart. When he told his listeners that anti-Semitism was an age-old device which those in power employed to distract the attention of the blind and ignorant masses from the real causes of their misery, he was interrupted by shouts of contradiction from the floor.

Remmele continued: “How such anti-Semitism arises I can easily understand. One merely needs to go down to the Stuttgart cattle market in order to see how the cattle dealers, most of whom belong to Jewry, buy up cattle at any price, while the Stuttgart butchers have to go home again, empty-handed, because they just don’t have enough money to buy cattle. (`Quite right!’ from the Fascists.)”

A little later in his speech, Remmele again touched on this subject, and again with the apparent purpose of appeasing the audience in order to put his own point across: “You, the Fascists, now say [that you want] to fight the Jewish finance capital. All right. Go ahead! Agreed! (Stormy applause from the Fascists.) But you must not forget one thing, industrial capital! (Interjections from the Fascists: ‘We fight that too!’) For finance capital is really nothing else but industrial capital.”

How eager the party was to use any expedient to reach some common ground with the nationalists was evident from another public debate in which Remmele participated on August 10. Besides Remmele, one speaker each from the National Socialists and the Social Democrats had been invited by the Communists to participate in the discussion. The SPD, however, turned down an invitation. In his eagerness to win the sympathies of the Nazis, Remmele made a number of statements which were in flagrant violation of the party’s official united front policy. Thus he told his 8,000 listeners that he considered an alliance with the National Socialists less objectionable than one with the Social Democrats, and then added that the Communists would even be willing to cooperate with the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

Aside from engaging in literary debates and holding joint meetings with nationalists, the party concentrated in the summer of 1923 on winning converts among the Reichswehr and the police forces throughout Germany. Two different avenues of approach were used for making inroads into these organizations. One was designed for officers, either active or retired, and another for enlisted men.

Early in August, the Social Democratic newspaper Vorwarts published a “Blueprint for the Solicitation [Gewinnung] of Officers,” copies of which had been found on two Communists arrested by the police. The blueprint outlined various means of establishing contact with officers, such as propaganda literature and the use of Communist officers or ex-officers as intermediaries, and also specified the manner of properly addressing men of military rank. The instructions stressed that ideological differences should be minimized in the arguments used by party members, and common interests should be emphasized, for instance, mutual hostility to France and the German republic. Furthermore, promises of high army positions “after the revolution” were to be given to prospective collaborators.

Another instance of this campaign was a circular letter which a “Group of Communist Officers of Germany” [Gruppe kommunistischer Offiziere Deutschlands] sent to officers in the Reichswehr and the police. This eight-page communication, adorned with quotations from Clausewitz and Trotsky, contrasted the Communist struggle against the Entente with the attitude of the “Social Democratic traitors.” The party membership was portrayed as constituting the “most splendid human material among the German working class.” Eighty percent of the KPD, claimed the letter, were former soldiers. The circular then depicted the future national liberation movement as an extensive guerilla war which would follow in the wake of a proletarian revolution. To make the latter acceptable to members of the officers’ corps, the letter invoked Oswald Spengler as a means of affirming that “Prussianism is Socialism,” and claimed that the system of councils (Rätesystem) was by no means an alien institution but a “Prussian idea, based on the concepts of elite, co-responsibility, and esprit de corps among colleagues [Kollegialität].”

It is doubtful that the KPD had any illusions as to the effectiveness of its ambitious recruiting drive. However, one retired officer from Munich, a world war veteran by the name of Hans von Hentig, responded to the Communist efforts with a letter to the Rote Fahne, which appeared under the heading “Worker and Soldier.” Herr von Hentig lamented Germany’s present condition, and the demoralizing effects of political and economic chaos on the population, in particular on the educated youth. After the enigmatic statement that “petty-bourgeois masses and intellectual strata [Schichten] will soon exist only as displays in museums,” he wrote that “. . the working class, . . . [especially] Communism, shall know that hundreds of veteran frontline officers, who really put Germany über alles, will march by its [Communism’s] side through every social upheaval, through every political change, unmindful of their own treasured concepts, im gleichen Schritt und Tritt, once the drum has sounded the call to battle.”

The propaganda approach to the non-commissioned personnel of the Reichswehr and the police forces was similar to that applied to the officers. The same methods of dissemination were used, personal contacts and the illicit distribution of leaflets, pamphlets, and newspapers. The emphasis, however, was different. The material designed for the soldiers and policemen concentrated on what the Communists assumed were perennial grievances among the lower ranks in every military or paramilitary organization. Soldiers were encouraged to report to the party any incidents of ill-treatment by superiors. They were reminded of the privileges which the officers enjoyed over the men, and in some instances were encouraged to disobey unpopular orders en masse. Similar instructions were deposited in the hallways of police headquarters, though here the party faced some very thorny problems. The policemen were those agents of the “bourgeois” state with whom the Communists collided most frequently. The party press referred to them usually as “henchmen of capitalism,” or applied other, equally unflattering terms to them. On the other hand, most policemen, unlike the majority of Reichswehr soldiers, were city-bred and normally lived on a modest, lower middle-class level. For this reason the party leadership encouraged the Communist rank and file in the summer of 1923 to fraternize with the guardians of the law, and to persuade them that they were, after all, merely exploited proletarians in uniform.

The efforts to win sympathizers among the lower echelons of Reichswehr and police forces proved on the whole as unsuccessful as did those to convert the officers. This was not surprising. Reichswehr soldiers were very carefully selected. The military authorities took great care to concentrate the recruiting drives primarily in the traditionally conservative rural regions of Germany, and as a rule excluded from the army Jews, Socialists, Communists, or even men of outspoken democratic leanings. In addition, the soldiers were not conscripts but volunteers, career men who generally had nothing but contempt for the Communist “rabble.” The police forces, especially the hand-picked and strictly disciplined Prussian police, were equally immune to Communist propaganda.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.