Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 22, 2017

Wilbur Ross: the dubious savior of the steel industry

Filed under: Donald Trump,economics,trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

Wilbur Ross

When it comes to Trumponomics, most of the left’s attention has been riveted on the new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for obvious reasons. As CEO of OneWest, he pushed mercilessly to foreclose on homeowners whose mortgages he held, making the banker played by Lionel Barrymore in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” look like a member of the Catholic Workers by comparison. Politico reported:

Two years ago, OneWest filed foreclosure papers on the Lakeland, Florida, home of Ossie Lofton, who had taken a reverse mortgage, a loan that supplies cash to elderly homeowners and doesn’t require monthly payments.

After confusion over insurance coverage, a OneWest subsidiary sent Lofton a bill for $423.30. She sent a check for $423. The bank sent another bill, for 30 cents. Lofton, 90, sent a check for 3 cents. In November 2014, the bank foreclosed.

So, this is a guy that is supposed to stop “the carnage”?

Much less attention has been paid to Wilbur Ross, the 79-year old “King of Bankruptcy” that is the new Secretary of Commerce, a department that is charged with promoting economic growth. Ross would seem to be a perfect fit for Trump’s “America First” outlook since he is credited with saving thousands of jobs in the Rust Belt, particularly in steel. His approach is to buy distressed companies and make them profitable again, saving jobs in the process. Part of his strategy is to lobby for tariffs that would protect companies like LTV (Ling-Temco-Vought) that he bought at fire sale prices in 2002. His strategy mimicked that of Steve Mnuchin who bought IndyMac in 2012 at a bargain basement price and turned it into OneWest.

As the ostensible savior of American steel, Ross earned plaudits from Leo Gerard, the USW president. NPR, a public radio station with a liberal slant a bit to the left of PBS, put Ross in the best possible light:

“With Wilbur it’s been almost 15 years now, and those mills are [still] running and some of them are the most productive in North America,” Gerard says.

By that time, ISG had become the largest steel company in America by buying up failing steel companies including Bethlehem Steel, LTV Steel and Acme Steel. Gerard says the jobs Ross saved were at the mills themselves and at the companies in supply chain.

If Trump and Ross are hoping to replicate policies that are supposed to be a radical departure from neoliberal “carnage”, it is useful to remember that George W. Bush was a major supporter of protectionism for the steel mills that Ross owned.

With Bush anxious to win over the kinds of voters that helped Trump win the presidency, he announced on Feb. 27, 2002 that tariffs would be imposed on steel imports for three years and a day. That was the same day when Ross announced a deal to take over LTV. Perfect timing, I’d say.

What NPR did not mention is the downside of the deal. After taking over LTV, he fired half the workers. His “rescue” was the same kind as Trump’s of Carrier, which also sustained a heavy loss of jobs to stay in the USA. Since Ross bought LTV in bankruptcy court, he was able to shed $7.5 billion in pension funds to the government.

In 2006 Frontline, a PBS documentary show, reported on the fate of LTV retirees, including a man named Chuck Kurilko. This was his story:

After 38 years in the mill (most of it working night shifts so he could be with his kids after school), Chuck had retired from LTV in late 2001 with a lifetime pension and guaranteed health coverage for himself and Carolyn. “It was looking great,” recalled Chuck. “The first retirement check I got was $2,700 a month. And that’s a nice pension.” Health insurance, he said, was running about $200 a month.

But the Kurilko’s retirement security didn’t last long. Through bankruptcy, LTV had sold off its productive assets and jettisoned its unwanted and underfunded liabilities, like pension and health benefits. LTV’s pensions were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the PBGC), the federal corporation that insures private pensions. PBGC uses a reduced payout formula for retirees under 65, and retirees like Chuck were among the hardest hit. He saw his monthly pension checks slashed by $1,000, and his monthly health insurance payment skyrocket to $1,300. The bankruptcy proceedings that “saved” LTV cost the Kurilkos about $25,000 a year, a devastating turnabout in fortunes. By the time I arrived, the Kurilkos’ savings were down to about $13,000. Every month was a struggle to keep from digging the financial hole deeper.

I expected anger and dismay. What I found was more troubling. Good people that had been justifiably proud of what they’d accomplished through a lifetime of hard work — in the mill, in their community and at home — had lost control of their financial future, and with that their dignity. “We just shouldn’t have to live like this,” Carolyn kept saying, shaking her head as if it was all just a bad dream.

A couple months later, Carolyn’s nightmare got worse. She called me in early April to tell me that Chuck had died from a massive heart attack. We talked about Chuck and about his funeral, and after we talked, I began to think about how Chuck’s passing had come to represent the passing of an era when a lifetime of hard work, at most big companies, was rewarded with retirement security and with dignity. I also thought about Carolyn and the financial predicament she suddenly faced alone. But it wasn’t until later that I came to understand that Carolyn too represents a troubling national trend — the growing number of women facing severe financial difficulty in retirement.

One huge problem in retirement for women like Carolyn Kurilko is longevity. On average, women live longer than men, and nearly a third of all women who reach 65 will live to at least 90. “Chances are the husband will die and the wife will live on and on and on, and she will be the poorest she’s ever been in her whole life,” explains Notre Dame labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci.

The story of LTV and Wilbur Ross is a microcosm of the American class struggle—or the lack thereof. You have labor bureaucrats like Leo Gerard making common cause with a scumbag like Ross in the same way that UAW president Dennis Williams has gone along with deals that led to a two-tiered pay system and reduced benefits so as to “save jobs”. If there was a labor movement instead of what we have now, both Obama and Trump would have been put on the defensive.

The problem, of course, is that the bosses can exercise leverage on the workers by threatening to pick up and move to another country. The threat of runaway shops is what helped Trump get elected even if his solution a la Ross is to make an offer that workers can’t refuse.

Global competition puts pressures on workers everywhere to accept less. This is what “globalization” has accomplished. It cheapens the price of labor and commodities simultaneously. Indian steel mills supply commodities at a price far below those of their competitors in more advanced capitalist countries. Ross cashed in on globalization in 2005 himself: He sold his steel company to an Indian company Lakshmi Mittal for $4.5 billion in 2005, making 12 ½ times on his initial investment.

Mittal is now the far largest steel producer in the world. A lot of Trump’s animosity toward China has to do with its ability to produce steel even more cheaply than Mittal. Like Ross, Mittal screws workers out of their pensions and fires them when they no longer serve the bottom line.

What is happening now is a race to the bottom. Trump is incapable of reversing this trend since it is not susceptible to policy solutions. It is tantamount to King Canute commanding the tide to stop. We are in the throes of capitalism’s decay. I think Trotsky was misguided in the way he went about building a Fourth International but each time I return to his writings, I remained impressed by his ability to size up the political conditions of his epoch in a work like the Transitional Program:

All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet “ripened” for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.

We are not in any position today to construct such a revolutionary leadership but if there is one thing that is clear, it is the need to break with the two-party system that entrusts people like Wilbur Ross, Leo Gerard, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to get us out of a deathtrap they created in the first place.

January 20, 2017

Words are cheap department

Filed under: two-party system — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

From President Obama’s January 21, 2009 Inauguration Speech:

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.  The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.  All this we can do.  All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.  Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.  What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.  Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.  Where the answer is no, programs will end.  And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

From President Trump’s January 20, 2017 Inauguration Speech:

From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?

Season one of “Sense8” has been completed and season two has just started. The show’s title is a play on the word “sensate” that means being perceived through the senses as should be obvious from its spelling. However, the word takes on a heightened meaning as the eight leading characters are endowed with special powers that allow them to share each other’s field of vision from thousands of miles away and even be transported from long distances to share thoughts with their cohorts and assume their identity at critical points. Most frequently this involves a skilled martial arts fighter inhabiting the body of an unskilled member of the group in order to ward off an attack by gangsters, assassins or other miscreants. Think of Woody Allen becoming Jackie Chan temporarily and you’ll get both the action and comic possibilities of this conceit.

The eight leading characters are:

1/ A female DJ from Iceland who works in London, hangs out with drug dealers, and eventually becomes the love interest of the character below.

2/ A NY cop who is haunted by the image of a woman committing suicide (she turns out to be a tormented fellow sensate.)

3/ A safecracker from Berlin named Wolfgang who becomes part of the octet’s muscle-on-demand just like the cop.

4/ A Korean businesswoman who is also a highly skilled martial artist and rounds out the Sense8 special forces.

5/ A woman from India working in the pharmaceutical industry who on the eve of her arranged marriage becomes drawn to the safecracker through sheer sexual magnetism.

6/ A Mexican movie star famous for his macho roles who is a closeted gay.

7/ A transgender woman named Nomi who is a blogger and hacker in a lesbian relationship with an African-American. She is played by Jamie Clayton, a trans woman who has acted in such roles since 2010.

8/ A Kenyan minibus driver whose vehicle is nicknamed “Van Damme”, after the action hero he idolizes. He is constantly being rescued in confrontations with Nairobi gangsters by the Korean woman who kicks ass like it is going out of business.

On the most basic level, the message of the series is human solidarity as the eight grow closer and closer based on their commonly shared gifts as well as the need to offer emotional support to each other. If the Kenyan is incapable of delivering a karate chop he is certainly able to console the Korean woman who has been sent to prison unjustly for embezzlement. He is just as likely to show up in her prison cell as an avatar as she is in a seat next to him on his minibus.

Read full article

January 19, 2017

Assessing an assessment of the defunct Kasama Project

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 10:02 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 2.38.06 PM

The article below by “chegitz guevara” is being posted in full since it appeared originally on FB, a medium some people understandably might choose to abjure. The author is a rather ubiquitous figure on the Internet left who might have even been on Marxmail or the Marxism list that preceded it. I honestly can’t remember. He attributes the collapse of Kasama to the decision made to turn it into a cadre organization. Surprise, surprise. He also takes issue with my article (https://louisproyect.org/2016/06/19/notes-on-the-demise-of-the-kasama-project/) that questions the use of the word communist, an argument I have made on occasions after reading points made eloquently by Michael Lebowitz. In fact, the Kasama Project was too consumed by the Marxist-Leninist regalia of hammers and sickles to ever emerge out of the communist cocoon. My comments are in italics.

Whither Kasama?


by chegitz guevara

(The Kasama Project ceased functioning over a year ago, without issuing any formal statement. This note, by one of its original supporters, represents his own viewpoint only, and is shared as a point of information. The struggle continues.)

At Kasama’s peak, we were the target of an FBI raid and Glenn Beck’s radio and TV ire. We had a million page hits a year on our blog. We had comrades who were part of struggle in living history. We were sending comrades to Nepal and Greece, the Jackson, MS, to investigate the struggles there first hand. We brought together communist and anarchist forces up and down the West Coast for the Everything for Everyone festival. Our comrades played key roles in Occupy around the country (including the Occupied Wall Street Journal). We were in discussions with a number of different organizations for a merger of post Occupy communist organizations. People who weren’t in Kasama, and who were even opposed to our politics said we were the must read communist blog. And then one day, Kasama went silent….


It’s been more than a year now since the demise of the Kasama Project. It happened quietly, and to most of the members, unexpectedly and without warning. One day we learned that much of our leadership had quit over the previous months. A handful of us tried to keep going, tried to keep the blog running, but it was only ever a handful of what was left.

Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get a different story as to why things went south. This is mine. If you’re looking for salacious details, for dirt, for sectarian infighting, you’re going to be disappointed. Kasama was the best organization I was ever in. I don’t regret it for a minute.

To understand why Kasama folded, you must understand what K was. Depending on whom you asked, K was: a bunch of hard Maoists, soft Maoists, social democrats, liberals, anarchists, Marxist Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, the RCP-lite, a cult, pigs, or the communist plot behind Occupy (thank you Glenn Beck). None of that was completely true, some of it was completely false, and some of it was a little true.

The truth is, few, if any, ever fully understood K, whether inside or outside the group. Everyone tried to pigeon hole us, figure out what we were. Hell, we didn’t even know what we were. We were an experiment. We were riding the tiger trying to figure it out. If anyone who wasn’t in Kasama tries to tell you what K was, they’re either lying or don’t know what they’re talking about.

For me, the loss of Kasama was both expected, and a bitter blow. If you weren’t around at the beginning, you may not understand today how so many people felt about K, even today, after over a year of relative silence, and years of decreasing activity.


When the Kasama Project began, or rather, when it fired it’s shot across the bow of Bob Avakian and his cult, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Facebook wasn’t a factor in people’s lives. The internet left was in their own isolated email groups and on MySpace, on RevLeft.com. The Socialism group on MySpace had 10,000 subscribers, and one day in December of 2007, everyone started discussing Nine Letters to Our Comrades, aka, The 9 Letters.

Unlike many other papers announcing breaks with a previous organization, The Nine Letters didn’t announce a split, the formation of a new organization. It didn’t dish dirt, but talked about systemic problems, a slow degeneration, opportunities missed, mistakes made, and a failure to sum up lessons learned.

The one comment I read again and again from people reading The Nine Letters was, that sounds exactly like my organization. The 9L was a general indictment of the whole of the left, dealing with the problems of one particular organization. And the effect was like Luther nailing his theses to his church door.


I’d personally known Comrade Mike Ely, under whose name The Nine Letters were penned (though he was not the sole author). In Chicago, I’d been part of the New World Resource Center collective, an all-points-of-view-on-the-left bookstore. “Mike the Maoist,” as we all knew him, would come in about once a week or so, and buy a copy of every new communist and socialist paper, and often talk to the comrades in the store. We all liked and respected him, even though we disagreed. He was very respectful to everyone there.

One day at the bookstore, Mike asked me one day what I knew about the Chinese revolution. Now, as a Trotskyist (at the time), I had a position: that it was a anti-colonial, national bourgeois revolution, socialist in name only, blah blah blah. I opened my mouth to say just that, and I realized this was a teaching moment. I had an opportunity to learn something. Instead I said, “Nothing really. What can you tell me about it?”

That was not the answer Mike was expecting and it caught him up short. Then he got this twinkle in his eye like the Coca Cola Kris Kringle and said “wait here.” He went through the bookstore (my bookstore!) finding various books for me to read. That’s the kind of person he is. When he’s talking to you, he’s giving you his full attention. He gives you the kind of respect that you don’t often see from anyone these days. And people respond to that.

Mike encouraged and challenged comrades. When I wrote about the events leading up to the Haymarket Massacre on an email list, he mentioned it a few months later, and said what he liked about it, and then offhandedly mentioned it made him think about something that the article wasn’t about, how natural disasters often give birth to revolutionary struggle. That’s the kind of comrade he was and is. It’s no secret Mike was the heart of Kasama, and probably the driving force.


When The Nine Letters came out, I reached out on the blog, talked about what I felt it represented. I engaged on the blog, and there was a very different kind of discussion. On most forums where different tendencies of socialists engaged, then, like on Facebook now, the discussion was typical of the internet. At best, people were talking past each other, cherry picking points to “score” against your “opponent,” engaging in all the worst habits.

On the Kasama blog it was different. People considered each other’s arguments, wrote to each other respectfully, disagreed as comrades. That wasn’t accidental. There was heavy moderation, and the worst excesses were removed, people were gently reminded to engage better.

That manner of discourse began to spread out from Kasama. As I wrote internally at the time, if K only lasts a few years, if we did nothing but change the way communists speak to each other, then it served to advance the struggle. And comrades around the world oriented to that kind of discussion. When the blog went down for renovation, people who did not agree with us, kept asking us when it would be restored. For its first four years, the K blog was averaging a million page hits a year. K mattered.


One other important thing Kasama did was to help bring back the word communist. While so much of the left was shamefacedly referring to itself as “revolutionary socialists,” K was openly and proudly communist. Something that Louis Proyect, in his recent obit on K considers an error, a problem, that we need to abandon the term permanently.

Decades ago, after I had split from a tiny Trotskyist sect called The Spark, a comrade I knew from my time in the group told me about her experience at work lunch, where she and the other women would talk about current events. She didn’t call herself a communist, but she expressed a communist point of view.

Eventually one of the other woman at the table said, “You’re a communist!” and got up and left the table. The other women were like, “All that stuff you were talking was communism? You’re a communist?” She said, “Yeah, I’m a communist.” They said, “Tell us more.”

People aren’t stupid. They’ll figure you out. If you’re a communist, but won’t own the word, then you’re ashamed of it, and people will see that too. And I’m not ashamed. I’m proud to be a communist. And Kasama was proudly communist.

That was our politics: communism. Not Maoist communism, not left communism, not Trotskyist communism, but communism. We had ex anarchists, ex Trotskyists, Maoists, left communists. There was no ideological litmus test, no tendency to which we had to swear allegiance. We were communists. We were for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. We took the “scientific” in scientific socialism seriously. We understood the place that making mistakes and being wrong has in getting to better answers, to a deeper understanding.

We were more interested in figuring out the questions that needed to be asked, than coming up with a set of ready answers. And that, and communism, were the golden threads running through the blog. It wasn’t just politics. It wasn’t just politics we agreed with. We often posted stuff we disagreed with, in order to engage with it and understand it, and our own thoughts better. People always asked why we let a “reactionary” like Carl Davidson post, but they never saw that people like Carl and others served to help us develop and clarify a revolutionary communist politics, in distinction to reformist politics. And not just politics, but music, art, discussions of movies, scientific advances.

[In my original article, I explained why the word “communist” should be put to rest. Let me restate it succinctly. Marx used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably but after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the term communism became synonymous with the Comintern parties that were flawed at the beginning and by 1927 irredeemably so. For most young people, the term is inextricably linked to Stalin, Mao and the leaders of other parties associated with the Soviet bloc. It means political repression, bureaucratic privilege and more importantly for people trying to build a new left a way or organizing that hearkens back to the inflexible and self-destructive “Leninist” model. Frankly, I am not convinced that the term socialism is that useful either now since it is so much associated with the Sanderistas and the Scandinavian countries he identifies with. It is practically synonymous with the welfare state and hardly appealing except as an alternative to the dreadful neoliberalism associated with Blair, Obama, Hollande, et al.

Without going into too much detail, I believe that the name of a new left party will emerge out of the concrete struggle and shaped by the consciousness of its frontline fighters. For example, if Jesse Jackson had been much more like MLK Jr. and had come to the realization that the Democratic Party had been a dead-end, he might have been inspired to create something called The Rainbow Party that would have been a framework for revolutionaries to operate in (not as an entryist tactic but to sincerely build an alternative to the two capitalist parties.) Leaving aside the flaws of Syriza and Podemos, this is the path that the left in Greece and Spain have followed. Obviously, there have been both objective and subjective problems that have made Syriza dysfunctional but as a model for us on the left in the USA, it had much more to offer than small self-declared vanguard formations calling themselves something like the Communist Workers Party with a website festooned with hammers and sickles and red stars.]


Internally, at first, Kasama seemed a lot like a hospice for people escaping the cult of Bob Avakian. Whatever those of us outside the Revolutionary Communist Party thought of it pretty much from the 80s onward, those inside were engaged in a serious struggle with capitalist society. The rest of us might be trying to organize workers for better wages and conditions, they were in streets of D.C. in a pitched battle with the police … even in the hospital to which the injured of both sides were taken. They were in one of Chicago’s worst projects, Cabrini Green, organizing people against the evictions and destruction of their homes. The Chicago Police labeled the RCP a criminal gang because of this effort. However disconnected from reality those of outside the RCP thought they were, they were serious. And they were even more serious in the 70s. If people think the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, that we were the RCP without Avakianism, well, that’s not really a bad thing to be.

[This reflects the kind of ultraleftism that plagued the Kasama Project from the start even though for some people this kind of tactical militancy meant much more than theoretical clarity.]

Being in an organization like the RCP does things to you. It was (is) a cult, like much of the revolutionary left. You need time to come to terms with your life, with how you were treated. For the first few years of K’s existence, we didn’t rush to repeat that experience. Rather than purposefully, the organization grew organically. We didn’t order the creation of locals. When the FIRE Collective declared itself a Kasama collective, it was a bit of a shock to me. In my mind, we were still in the, let’s figure out what the fuck happened to communism phase. And then Red Spark was created. And then One Struggle, which wasn’t a Kasama collective, but we all read and discussed Kasama, and several had direct relationships with Kasama. And so on. Each one different, each set of comrades in and around Kasama, figuring out their own way.

I think that openness to experimentation, to allowing comrades to figure out how to contribute to Kasama, to planting that communist flag, was the best thing about K. But it never sat well with some comrades. Both inside Kasama and outside it, there were those comrades who thought we needed a more cadre style organization, and pushed for it. Two years ago, that impulse got a full head of steam.

I wasn’t specifically opposed to it. But I always felt that impulse was more ideologically driven, ‘this is what a communist organization should be,’ rather than being driven by, ‘this is our analysis of the moment, this is what we think the organization needs to be to respond to that moment.’ As K geared up to have its first convention, I asked the questions, ‘why this? why now?’ and never received an answer.

From the very beginning there was a problem with that plan. The size of Kasama had been over estimated. The willingness of comrades who couldn’t make the convention to switch to a cadre mode of organizing wasn’t that great (the fact they couldn’t rearrange everything to come to a conference should have been a clue). The new leadership and the membership had two different realities. And as that dawned on the new leaders, they began to drift away, one by one.

I’m not saying some of them weren’t engaged in difficult, and emotionally draining work. They misjudged the organization’s membership, as well as the political moment in the U.S.


I’ve shared this with others, and I’d like to add a bit about the push for a more cadre organization, as has been explained to me. Hopefully I’ll do it some justice. From what comrades who knew more than I, Kasama was reaching the limits of what it could do organizationally, and was beginning to slowly fade. Some people left, some of those who stayed were either never that active or began to lose energy (we had not a few grey heads). Even I noticed that.

What the hope was, was to change Kasama into more of an Iskra type organization, with more investigation of struggle, using the blog to do “revolutionary social investigation,” investigate the fault lines in this society, and aid struggle there. But, we lacked the capacity to do so. The people with the knowledge to do this didn’t have the time or energy, and those with the time and energy didn’t know how to do this, therefore, we needed more of a cadre type organization to build our capacity.

Another, and much more serious issue also needed to be addressed, that of male chauvinism and supremacy. Towards the end, there were a couple serious cases that had to be investigated and dealt with. I wasn’t part of the process, so I can’t tell you anything about it, but all of those who were on the investigative committee resigned. They engaged in their work with the seriousness and commitment such a task requires, and in the end, it drained them.

With their resignations, we discovered that only two of the original seven chosen at the convention to lead the organization were still in the organization. More people drifted away, with only a handful desperately scurrying to try and hold things together. But that was a task beyond us.

[I can’t add much to this since it is stated in a somewhat cryptic manner that I tend to associate with the Kasama Project unfortunately. But it is clear to me that the comrades never understood that Kasama should have never operated as a group per se. The most promising thing about it was its open-endedness that they obviously decided to ditch in favor of forming RCP II. I have been at this “regroupment” business for 33 years now and expect to be at it until I die. In many ways, it is nothing but a continuation of what Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman were trying to do in the 1950s. If you don’t take the long view of history, you will burn out rapidly.]


You might ask, where was Mike in all of this. Part of the reason for the convention and the election of new leadership was to give Mike a break from running Kasama. Mike announced he was taking some time off running the blog to write a book or two. This all happened in his absence. And let’s face it, if we couldn’t manage to keep the organization going without him, there wasn’t an organization even if he had been there.

I’m not putting the blame on the membership. And I’m not putting the blame on the leadership for the failure of the organization (though abandoning us when things got tough, I’m still upset about that).

Kasama outlived, just barely, the political moment that gave birth to it. It was an expression of what led to Occupy, a revolt, not just against the system, but against the tired, stale, ossified, sects that claimed to be communist, or, “revolutionary socialist.” Dozens of new anti-capitalist collectives appeared just before and in the wake of Occupy, and Kasama was the north star of that moment.


All of that is a sort of history of Kasama, tho. It doesn’t tell you what we were about. Why were we so vital? And what was the real weakness that lead to it’s demise.

An anarchist friend of mine describes the fall of the USSR as a blow from which the world has yet to recover. He likens it to being hit by a blow which knocks you senseless, in which you’re completely disassociated with reality. You’re not even trying to get back up, yet, you’re still unaware of what’s just happened.

In 1970, capitalism was on the ropes. One third of the world’s people lived under socialist government, revolutions were winning around the world. In the imperialist centers, there were massive antiimperialist movements and struggles against the old order. It would be impossible to conceive at that moment, the situation in which we are today, with the world’s first workers’ revolution overthrown, with capitalism ruling in China, Vietnam, and the United States victorious and straddling the globe like a colossus.

Kasama set its primary task the question of, what happened? How did we go from winning to total defeat in the span of a generation? What was there to learn from twentieth century socialism, both positive and negative? How can we build a twenty first century communist movement?

All the old ideas had failed, regardless of their theoretical and explanatory power. Old dogmas needed to be shed. We needed to relook at everything. Retest ideas we thought were solid. Look at old ideas once rejected. Consider the context of everything. Examine what worked and why, what failed and why, and what has changed.

Unlike every other communist organization, Kasama didn’t pretend to have THE answers. We had questions. This was Kasama’s power, why it was so appealing to so many.


Kasama’s power was also its weakness. An organization with answers can organize people around those answers. It’s much harder to organize around a question. A lot of people called Kasama a talk shop, and that’s not completely unfair. Given the state of people recovering from the Avakian cult, the fact that most of us didn’t live anywhere where Kasama had more than a couple comrades, Kasama was often largely a virtual network.

Many of us were also stuck in our previous modes of organizing and thinking. If Kasama didn’t pretend to have THE answers, many comrades in Kasama still operated as if we already had the answers, answers we’d learned in previous groups, when we needed radical new thinking. This is a weakness we never overcame, and I think the change Kasama made was rooted in this failure to overcome outmoded ideas.  As time went on, it became more and more difficult to make Kasama move. It was becoming ossified in its own form of disorganization. Kasama needed to change, but the change and the discussion were rushed in some ways, and rather than being healthy, ultimately broke the network.

I think the change we made was a mistake. I think Kasama functioned best as a network of comrades who participated in the struggle in their own ways, as way of putting ideas and culture back into the communist left, as an ideal to strive for. We needed to change, but we made change the wrong way.

[This is the takeaway from this article. “I think Kasama functioned best as a network of comrades who participated in the struggle in their own ways, as way of putting ideas and culture back into the communist left, as an ideal to strive for.” That is exactly what was needed and it is too bad that the Kasama Project lost sight of that.]


Everything has a birth, growth, decline, and end. Revolutionary organizations are no different (and some of them need to realize that). If an organization exists for more than a couple decades without participating in a revolution, it’s ceased being an organization for revolution, and has become an organization for self-perpetuation. It’s become its own reason for existing. While I am sad Kasama is no more, I am glad it ended well before it became its own purpose.

It’s said in show business you should end leaving your audience wanting more. Kasama did that. We ended before we became a stale, ossified sect. But we still need a Kasama. The tasks Kasama tried to carry out still need to be carried out. The revolution waits for no one.

Lal salaam, comrades!

Post Script: I want to mention a last word here about organizational security. In Louis Proyect’s laughable obit on Kasama (to which this is a rather belated response), he calls us obsessed with paranoia and security.

[I will never get over Mike Ely telling me not to videotape him at the Brecht Forum as if he would end up in Guantanamo if I put it up on Youtube. Pure infantile ultraleftism, as demonstrated further in his talk when he or his comrade Eric thought that driving a car through the front door of a bank in Greece amounted to anything.]

Like I mentioned at the beginning, Kasama got raided by the FBI when the Feds were going after the anarchists in the Northwest. In fact, K was the first raided. Glenn Beck was regularly calling out the name of one of our comrades on his program, as the mastermind behind Occupy and the link with The Coming Insurrection. And that’s just the stuff I’m gonna mention.

And not all the threats to K were from the state or the right. Some very disturbed, left wing individuals made credible threats against the lives of some of our members. A comrade’s mother was doxxed, by a “comrade.” And that’s just the stuff from the left I’m gonna mention.

And two people very close to us were murdered (though not for political reasons).

As Louis should remember well from his own life, revolutionary politics is not a game, even if some so-called comrades don’t take it seriously.

January 17, 2017

The Sunshine Makers; The Modern Jungle

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:05 pm

As I sat watching the terrific documentary “The Sunshine Makers” that opens on Friday at the Village East in New York, the phrase “Breaking Good” kept running through my mind since the film was about two men who became LSD manufacturers in the 1960s only to change the world rather than make money. Since scientists today have rediscovered the benefits of LSD, including its ability to reduce anxiety in terminal cancer patients, the two–Nick Sands and Tim Scully–were certainly on to something.

Born in 1941, Sands took mescaline 20 years later when he was a Brooklyn College undergrad. Like many people around that time (including me), psychedelics were the perfect accompaniment to Eastern religion and other forms of mysticism that appealed to many young people turned off by what Allen Ginsberg called Moloch.

This led him to become a regular at a mansion in Millbrook, New York owned by Billy Hitchcock that had become the LSD temple of Timothy Leary. Millbrook was about a half hour’s drive from Bard College and I had heard through the grapevine that Bard students had been spending time there in “psychology experiments”. Even if I had been invited to take part, I doubt that it would have interested me since my drugs of choice were marijuana and hashish that were cheap and plentiful at the time.

Eventually Sands hooked up with a Berkeley mathematical physics major named Tim Scully who was born in 1944 and just 5 months older than me. Scully became the Walter White of their operation largely on the strengths of his brilliance in all things scientific including chemistry. Wikipedia states that “In his junior year of high school, Scully completed a small linear accelerator in the school science lab (he was trying to make gold atoms from mercury) which was pictured in a 1961 edition of the Oakland Tribune.”

I imagine that everybody who sees this film will be swept off their feet but it had a heightened resonance with me. There is a certain poignancy in seeing geezers like these reflecting on their misspent (or spent perhaps) youth as you see home movies from when they were in their twenties. Sands, an Adonis in his youth, is now a slow-moving walrus-like figure who still retains a glint in his eye and a quick wit. Scully, as rail-thin as he was in his youth, is completely bald and wrinkled. But neither man shows the slightest regret in breaking the law just as I have no regret in taking part in my own kind of lawless behavior.

I only had one experience with LSD, just two months before joining the Trotskyist movement. I went to my friend Chip’s apartment on the opposite end of the floor in my West 92nd building to drop acid while he and his wife smoked pot and served as my anchor in case things got out of hand. After swallowing a sugar cube, I didn’t notice anything happening for the first 15 minutes but then the strangest thing. A rather tacky landscape on the wall depicting a fish jumping out of a lake surrounded by mountains became—how should I put it—animated. The water began rippling and the fish kept jumping out of the water. How are you doing that, I asked Chip, positive in my mind that the painting was a “novelty” he bought in Times Square that could be activated by a remote control he had concealed in his hand. Open your hand, I demanded, let me see the remote control. When he opened both hands, I couldn’t believe it. I was hallucinating. For the next two hours, I watched what amounted to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” on the living room walls but that was about it. It might have been a deeply spiritual experience for Sands and Scully but for me, it was just entertainment.

Sands and Scully were partners with Oswald Stanley who died in 2011. His words are heard throughout the film as are Billy Hitchcock’s but neither are seen on screen for reasons not given. Stanley is far better known than the others largely through his connections to Ken Kesey, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. When I say connection, I mean that both spiritually as well as in the more conventional drug trafficking sense.

The film also includes interviews with the women in Sands and Scully’s lives who, like them, are as rebellious as ever even if they look like your grandmother. In fact, it is the boldness and refusal to conform in all of these characters that makes this film so appealing. If the key to a successful documentary is “casting” the right people, British director Cosmo Feilding Mellen struck gold with these elder statesmen of the psychedelic revolution.

Mellen is the son of Amanda Feilding, whose family is descended from the House of Habsburg that came to England in the 14th Century. Like many in the British upper class, she became a renegade in her youth. And like Sands and Scully, she experimented with mind-altering substances in her youth and even conducted a trepanation on herself in 1970, a discredited procedure that consists of drilling a hole in your head for medical reasons. (She used a dentist’s drill.) Her goal was to see if it could affect her consciousness. Today, she is far more responsible as the founder and director of the Beckley Foundation that advocates for a more humane drug policy and investigates the use of psychoactive drugs for beneficial purposes.

In a profile on the Feildings in the London Times (behind a paywall but give me a shout if you want a copy), Cosmo reminisces on his youth:

Most kids find their parents embarrassing at some point, but it was definitely more pronounced for me. I was christened Cosmo Birdie for a start. The thing people knew about my parents was that they were druggies who drilled holes in their heads. [In her twenties, Amanda carried out the ancient practice of trepanation, which people believed could improve health and wellbeing.] As I got older, I developed a huge respect for what Mum stands for, but trust me, there was no cachet in it as a kid. She’s quite bohemian and has a pronounced posh voice. I can remember her coming to pick me up at school and shouting: “Cooee Bubba!” Not really what you want.

There will always be an England.

“The Modern Jungle” is documentary that will be shown at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 20th. Since I doubt that any of my readers except those living in Utah will be able to make the screening, I urge you to look for it if it opens eventually at your local art theater or on VOD.

Set in a village in southern Mexico largely populated by the Zoque Indians, it is a respectful but unsettling account of the lives of two elderly Zoques who live in rudimentary huts, a man named Juan Juarez Rodríguez and a woman named Carmen Echevarría Lopez. Their lives are circumscribed by daily routines of chopping wood for their stoves and gathering corn from nearby fields. Their lives are probably close to the ones lived by their ancestors a hundred years ago, even if it has been impinged upon by the forces of global capitalism and the Mexican landowning class. It was that class that killed Carmen’s husband 45 years before the film was made and that makes both her and Juan’s so difficult today. Even if much of the Zoque land has been swindled from beneath their feet, they still feel the pressures of landlords who would like to see them and the rest of the Zoques gone.

At first blush, I thought the film would be similar to those that I have seen in the past about Indians fending off the rich but there are some wrinkles. Juan is determined that he be paid for his services as a subject in a film that he expects to make money. In several cringe-worth scenes he haggles with director Charles Fairbanks over his pay. It will remind you that in such ethnographic films going back to “Nanook of the North”—the original—the filmmaker has the upper hand. It is to Fairbanks’s credit that he acknowledges this in very revealing footage. (The film is co-directed by Saul Kak, a Zoque Indian who did the translation.) He puts it this way in the press notes:

Here and elsewhere, THE MODERN JUNGLE is also about documentary. As it portrays cross-cultural encounters structured by and through the camera, our film doesn’t shy away from the messy interpersonal, economic, and social repercussions of filming in impoverished communities. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm describes how the author of nonfiction tends to represent himself differently than all other characters: “He forms the exception to the rule that nothing may be invented. The ‘I’ of journalism” [and, I contend, documentary]:

…is connected to the writer only in a tenuous way––the way, say, that Superman is connected to Clark Kent. The journalistic “I” is an overreliable narrator, a functionary to whom crucial tasks of narration and tone have been entrusted, an ad hoc creation, like the chorus of Greek tragedy. He is an emblematic figure, an embodiment of the idea of the dispassionate observer of life.

In contrast to this convention, I wanted to depict ‘the documentary director’ as a complex and flawed character, despite ‘his’ (that is, my) best intentions. Likewise, I wanted to show that making this film had real repercussions on the lives of its main characters. It became evident, while filming, that I too am an intruder, an outside force, a symptom of globalization in the world of Juan and Carmen. So, to make an honest film about their encounters with modernity, it seemed necessary to subvert this convention and address the ways we negotiate the power of representation.

Kudos to Fairbanks and Kak for making a film with a difference.

January 15, 2017

When Syria used water as a weapon against Iraq

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

(The Baathist Amen Corner is distinguished by its faith in the anti-imperialist credentials of the family dynasty in Damascus, most recently reflected in its blind acceptance of Bashar al-Assad’s accusation that the rebels in Wadi Barada sabotaged the water station supplying Damascus. This excerpt from Musseref Yetim’s “Negotiating  International Water Rights: Resource Conflict in Turkey, Syria and Iraq” should convince you that bastards like Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar should not be taken at their word.)

By April 1975, Iraqi-Syrian relations seriously deteriorated over the use of the waters of the Euphrates, yet the conflict had been brewing for some time because of concerns deeply rooted in the strategic, ideological, and political realms. Seale analyzed the situation as follows:

If Damascus and Baghdad had not been so much at odds, they might perhaps have been able to resolve their longstanding dispute over the division of the Euphrates waters (…) Dam-building and irrigation projects in all three countries from the 1960s onwards caused a row to break out over the volume of water each was entitled to […) The squabble over water rights grew into a vast bone of contention, not to be assuaged by mediation attempts, most notably Saudi efforts. From 1975 onwards the two countries began abusing each other over the airways — `fascist right-wing criminal’ was standard invective — arresting each other’s sympathizers, moving troops threateningly to the border, setting off explosions in each other’s capitals.39

The bitter rivalry between the two opposing Ba’ath Parties deepened the tension and distrust between Iraq and Syria.40 Both governments sought to undermine each other and were rightly suspicious of each other’s subversive activities and feared the other one was plotting to bring their downfall. The exclusive nature of domestic political institutions created opportunities to exploit internal tensions arising from ethnic and sectarian divisions. The conflict between the Ba’thist rulers of Syria and Iraq was the main culprit for the failure of negotiations.

The tension between the watercourse states, Syria and Iraq, had been on the rise following the nationalization of the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC). The Syrian demand for the increase in royalties in early 1973 and the subsequent closure of the oil pipeline that carried Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean Sea crossing Syrian soil did not help either.41 Furthermore, Iraq signed an agreement with Turkey for the construction of an oil pipeline to transport Iraqi oil throughout Turkish lands to the Mediterranean Sea on 26 August 1973. Not only did Syria lose a substantial amount of oil revenues and alienated Iraq, it also gave Turkey an opportunity to develop its relations with Iraq and to gain a new source of revenue. Disturbed by the Iraqi oil policy, Syria accused Iraq of not following Ba’thist ideology, not keeping its promises about expanding the capacity of the Syrian-Iraqi oil pipeline, and of favoring Turkey — a non-Arab state. Iraq’s good relations with Turkey concerning the Euphrates waters were also source of a concern for Syria. Indeed, Iraq did not express any displeasure throughout the crises towards Turkey and did not include Turkey in its protests of Syria during the 1975 crisis.

Another important source of tension between the two Ba’thist states was Israel. Since 1948, Israel has been a contentious issue among the Arab states. In 1975, Iraq firmly opposed to a partial Middle East agreement and was accusing Syria of being in the process of accepting such a peace agreement with Israel. The last straw in Iraqi accusations took place in May 1975, when Iraq proposed the creation of the ‘Northern Military Front’ against Israel. Iraq’s policy at that time was likely designed to deepen the Ba’th party rule in Iraq and to steer the members of the Iraqi Ba’th Party away from any involvement with Syria.42 Syria responded by charging Iraq with surrendering Arab land to Iran, the betrayal of the Arab people, and deriding Iraqi aid during the October war.43 Furthermore, Syria retaliated by using its newly gained strategic advantage: manipulation of the water flow entering Iraq. Indeed, Syria reduced the water flow entering Iraq first in the spring 1974 and then in 1975, as we have seen. This led to the destruction of 70 percent of Iraq’s winter crops44 and also formed the basis to Iraqi claims of deliberately holding more water in the lake of the Tabqa dam.45 Iraq also charged the Syrian Ba’th party with betrayal of the Ba’th party ideals. The short and long-term repercussions of Syria’s vast usage of the Euphrates water, including the reclamation of 640,000 ha of land,46 the evaporation of the water from the reservoir of the Tabqa dam, and the quality of water that flowed into Iraq, provided Iraq with good justification for its protests. Overall approximately 3 million Iraqi farmers of Shi’i origin suffered economically.47 In some sources, the spread of the Shi’i underground movement, Al-Dawa, has been attributed to this water shortage.48 This highlights a crucial dimension of the water rights conflict: minorities inhabiting the Euphrates and Tigris watercourse. Here one should also note that the majority of the Iraqi army was at the time of Shi’i origin.49

Every development concerning the Euphrates and Tigris water has important repercussions in domestic politics, especially in Iraq and Turkey. Following the Algiers Agreement in March 1975 between Iran and Iraq that helped Iraq to crack down on the Kurdish insurgence in northern Iraq, Syria attempted to instigate Shi’i unrest in order to weaken the Iraqi government’s hold on power by reducing the Euphrates flow. For a number of reasons, Syria interpreted the Algiers agreement as a harmful development. First, Syria’s position in the Arab world as an ardent antagonist of Israel might be undermined, because having settled its protracted dispute with Iran and established stability in northern Iraq, Iraq now had resources at its disposal use against Israel. Iraq had already accused Syria of selling out to Israel and wrongly opposed Syrian disengagement negotiations with Israel. Secondly, .q could undermine the Alawite dominated Ba’th rule by playing on the suspicions of the Sunni Arabs in Syria concerning the indifference of the Alawite regime to the struggle with Israel. At this point, Iraqi allegations ‘re not groundless and appealed to Syrian Sunnis, who were already suspicious of Assad’s regime, developing conspiracy theories about Assad d the collusion between his regime and the Zionists. Iraq and Sunni Arabs Syria justified their claims by arguing that during the 1967 war Israel occupied the Golan Heights without a fight while Assad was the defense mister; furthermore, in 1970 Assad betrayed Palestine by refusing to allow the deployment of the air force in a Syrian expedition to assist the PLO against Jordan; the Assad regime also sabotaged the Iraqi attack against Israel in 1973.


January 13, 2017

The Standout Films of 2016

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

One of my picks

The Standout Films of 2016

As most of you probably know, Netflix no longer bothers with the offbeat films I tend to review, either as DVD or streaming. Since my reviews cover documentaries, foreign films and American indies that tend to be shown in art houses like New York’s Film Forum, I always regret that my readers living in cities or towns where there is nothing but Cineplexes are forced to choose between multimillion dollar movies about space aliens or Judd Apatow comedies.

The good news is that Amazon and ITunes have picked up the slack. Although I hate Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook just as much as the next person, I am glad that these types of art house films can now be seen in the same year they premiered for between $3.99 and $5.99 in these venues.

I tend to avoid identifying “best of” movies or directors after the fashion of the Academy Awards and only take part in New York Film Critics Online yearly awards meetings because members are expected to take part. This week’s Golden Globe awards ceremony pretty much sums up why the whole thing turns me off. Although I managed to sit through “La La Land” that walked off with the lion’s share of the awards, I found it far less interesting than the narrative films listed below that were diametrically opposed to Damien Chazelle’s sugar-coated retro-musical.

The twenty films listed below were among the best that I saw this year but I would be loath to sort them in order by preference rather than alphabetical order. Competition of this sort always turned me off whether it is for the Nobel Prize (good for Dylan to avoid the tuxedo and gown spectacle) or even for the Isaac Deutscher Prize. I wonder sometimes what Trotsky’s biographer would think of Marxists competing with each other for a £500 prize. Or Leon Trotsky for that matter, who is history’s greatest loser in some ways. I tend to identify with losers so I guess I’ll never fit into an American society that now has its President the host of “Apprentice” where “losers” are humiliated for failing to come up with some “winning” strategy for selling junk of the sort that Trump’s Empire is built on.

All of the films below can be seen on Amazon streaming and probably ITunes, although I haven’t checked that out. By and large, they are released to both platforms at the same time. That is why, interestingly enough, that Amazon is not part of the menu that comes with Apple TV, Tim Cook’s rip-off of the Roku box.

Needless to say, none of the documentaries likely made it to cities and towns that lacked an art house. Most of the narrative films are those that were also released in such theaters with a few exceptions made for two films that deserve being singled out: “Free State of Jones” that I consider a political and artistic breakthrough and “Snowden”, Oliver Stone’s best work in many years.

Finally, I include a brief excerpt from my review of the films with a link to the full review.

Read full article

January 12, 2017

Beyond the Golden Showers

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 12:47 am

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-7-47-43-pm(click to animate)

I have finally gotten around to reading the 35-page dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia that has only become viral because of the Golden Showers reference. I will take the president elect’s denial at his word and accept that this lurid tale is the result of a prank on the spook who collected various memos into a dossier.

You can get that side of the story on Zero Hedge, the conspiracist website that is party of the Putin/Assad old boy’s network:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

Here is 4Chan’s explanation of how the story came to light:

>/pol/acks mailed fanfiction to anti-trump pundit Rick Wilson about trump making people piss on a bed obama slept in

>he thought it was real and gave it to the CIA

>the central intelligence agency of the united states of america put this in their official classified intelligence report on russian involvement in the election

>donald trump and obama have both read this pol/acks fanfiction

>the cia has concluded that the russian plans to blackmail trump with this story we made up

just let that sink in what we have become.

There’s only one problem with the claim that this “fanfiction” about Golden Showers was transmitted to the CIA via Rick Wilson, namely that the dossier was apparently put together by a man named Christopher Steele who is reputedly a former MI6 agent and who is a top executive at Orbis, a private intelligence company similar to Stratfor. While Steele has not admitted to being the man behind the Golden Dawns dossier, there are reports that support such a claim including the Wall Street Journal:

A former British intelligence officer who is now a director of a private security-and-investigations firm has been identified as the author of the dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump’s activities and connections in Russia, people familiar with the matter say.

Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., prepared the dossier, the people said. The document alleges that the Kremlin colluded with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and claims that Russian officials have compromising evidence of Mr. Trump’s behavior that could be used to blackmail him. Mr. Trump has dismissed the dossier’s contents as false and Russia has denied the claims.

Mr. Steele, 52 years old, is one of two directors of the firm, along with Christopher Burrows, 58.

What is left out of the WSJ article and every other I have read about the dossier’s provenance is who commissioned it. These sorts of reports cost a bundle of cash and it would be interesting to see who paid for it. Likely, we’ll never know. (Update: The Guardian reports that it was a unnamed opponent of Trump in the Republican Party that paid Orbis for the dossier.)

Once you get past the Golden Showers business, which occupies only a couple of sentences in a 35-page document, you’ll find that most of it is a rather unsurprising account of how Russia worked with the Trump campaign to get him elected. Quelle surprise. Towards the end of the dossier, you’ll discover that Putin encountered “buyer’s remorse” over being outed in the American press as responsible for getting Trump elected, who does not quite seem to be regarded as a reliable asset by the Kremlin. That would explain why they were so anxious to accumulate damaging material on Trump even if the Golden Showers business does seem unlikely. Why would Trump spend good money to have prostitutes put on a pee show when the guy was much more interested in “grabbing their pussy”.

Most of the 35 pages are about efforts being made to intervene politically in the American elections after the fashion of the report made by American intelligence agencies on January 6th that had less to say about hacking than it did about the open propaganda such as the kind RT.com traffics in:

In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of Messaging on RT prior to the US presidential election democracy” in the United States, RT (RT, 3 November) broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a “sham.”

Holy fuck. I never thought I’d end up as a Kremlin propagandist myself.

As many on the left have noted, there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy involved with such accusations. The USA has openly admitted if not bragged about doing exactly the same thing in countries that had the impudence to stake out an independent course.

During the late 80s, when I was co-editor of the NY Nicaragua Network newsletter, I was always writing about how the USA was basically buying candidates to run against Daniel Ortega. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and other groups operating sub rosa like the CIA spent millions of dollars to unseat Ortega in 1990. On its own, the CIA spent $38 million—an amount that far exceeds proportionately what the Koch brothers routinely spend buying candidates here.

Obviously acting on behalf of its own interests, the Kremlin curried the favor of Americans predisposed to its political agenda. And if there is a more motley crew than those named in the dossier, I’d be astonished. It seems that Putin cultivated the support of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the Larouche cult, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who attended an RT banquet alongside Stein, and a key Trump adviser named Carter Page.

From left to right: Flynn, Putin and Stein

Page’s name keeps cropping up in the dossier like a bad penny. He is cut from the same cloth as Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who was dropped in favor of Steve Bannon. Page and Manafort were big-time operators in Russia seeking to promote the interests of Putin and his flunkies like the toppled Ukrainian president Yanukovych.

Page is an investment banker who formed an energy oriented firm in partnership with Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko. In other words, Page has the same relationship to Russia as Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil and a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

People like Diana Johnstone are tickled pink that people like Tillerson and Page are key players in the Trump administration. Supposedly this will forestall any moves toward WWIII as the beady-eyed conspiracists at WSWS.org keep warning about even though many on the left are far more worried about a war with China since Trump’s saber-rattling against a country supposedly cheating the USA is well known.

What I found intriguing was a comment in the dossier that claimed Trump was far more interested in partnering with China than Russia: “Suggestion from source close to TRUMP and MANAFORT that Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries.” That, of course, backs up what I reported on the article titled “Trumponomics as Professional Wrestling“.

Is there any reason to put a lot of confidence in this dossier? I wouldn’t since most of it is patently obvious, as if it hasn’t been clear for the longest time that Russia is using RT.com and perhaps hundreds of paid trolls to influence voters in the USA. Since I have found Stratfor next to useless over the years, I find no reason to take Orbis’s intelligence more seriously.

The only thing we can be sure about is that Trump, Putin, Obama and Clinton are united around the need to make money for the capitalist class that they orient to. Unlike 1914 or 1941, there is little evidence that the nation-state of today is bent on going to war with its adversaries over the control of markets and resources. With ExxonMobil in partnership with Putin, Lenin’s essay on imperialism cannot be applied mechanically even though some sectarians are in the habit of doing so. There is a war going on, however, and that is between the global capitalist class that these politicians serve and the rest of us who work for a living and would face imminent ruin if we lost our jobs.

Eugene V. Debs put it well:

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.


January 10, 2017

Twin Cities; Go North

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Two narrative films have come my way recently whose combined budget is probably less than 3 percent of what it cost to make La La Land but for my money are far more interesting films. One is titled “Twin Cities” and defies easy description. Even if writer/director Dave Ash is a Twin Cities resident, don’t expect it to be a warm and whimsical treatment of the region’s foibles a la Lake Woebegon. Or like fellow Twin Cities favorite sons Coen brothers whose trademark irony seems toothless compared to Ash, whose sensibility is a mixture of Kafka and Kierkegaard. The other is titled “Go North”, a post-apocalyptic tale inspired by “Lord of the Flies” that eschews the cheap thrills of the Road Warrior series in favor of a simple, even minimalist tale of survival in a world where children seek to build a new civilization based on the worst instincts of the one that has died.

As “Twin Cities” unfolds, we meet a husband and wife whose marriage is beginning to come apart at the seams. John is a computer programmer with an affectless demeanor that makes you wonder if he might be an automaton. His wife Emily is a novelist who has received marching orders from her editor to cut her 1000-page novel drastically and to make her principal characters more developed. While professing their love for each other every chance they get, there is little indication of what drew them together in the first place except physical attraction—the same bad chemistry that accounts for 90 percent of failed marriages.

“Twin Cities” is a sequel to “2021”, a film that I reviewed three years ago when its working title was “Connected” and about which I wrote:

“Connected” opens with John Cooper walking away from his cubicle into the men’s room at his workplace—a biotech company—and sticking a loaded revolver in his mouth. For the time being, he decides that life is still worth living and puts the gun away.

John would seem to have something to live for since he has been assigned to work on the company’s hot new project, an attempt to translate the human genome into computer code that would prove capable of replicating the human brain to the point of passing the Turing test: a computer is capable of fooling a human being to think that he is communicating with another human.

The irony of course is that the very programmer who is leading the project is having a devil of a time getting through to Emily, the smart and beautiful woman whose character armor—to put it in Reichian terms—would thwart a blockbuster bomb. Like John, she uses humor as a defense mechanism. On one of their first dates, he asks her to reveal something very personal about herself. Without skipping a beat, she says that she was born with two vaginas. He quickly replies that he knew there was something special about her.

The deadpan and lacerating humor continues in the sequel. Not long after the film starts, John learns that he has terminal colorectal cancer, which inspires him to seek the deeper meaning of life now that he only has four months of it left. Unlike the soulful main characters of Kurosawa’s classic “Ikiru” or Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” awaiting their own imminent demise, John treats his own prospects with his characteristic sense of the absurd.

After getting the bad news from the doctor, John returns home to fill Emily in:

“I have cancer”.


“I have cancer”.

“What do you mean? How?”

“I went to a doctor since I haven’t been feeling well lately and they ran some tests a few days ago”.

“Fuck you”.

“I begin intensive chemotherapy in a week. And if they don’t stop it in a few months, then that’s the end of me. Colorectal carcinoma. I have cancer in my asshole. I have asshole cancer.”

While this exchange is taking place, an inane pop tune is playing on the radio. “California…Well, the sun is shining bright”.

Like most people facing death, John meets with a minister who ends up confessing to him that he really has no answers to the big questions of life and death. When he visits his parents for perhaps the last time, he is told that they only went to church because they enjoyed the social life. As they used to say in the 1960s, God is Dead.

But in the final analysis, the film is not about Existential issues but about art itself. As John exits the stage (but not in the way we expect), Emily becomes the central character and the story of the film and her elephantine novel become interwoven in a way that finally leaves your head spinning.

I have no information on the film’s distribution but keep an eye out for it at your better film festivals.

Appropriate to a post-apocalyptic film, “Go North” was filmed in Detroit and stars Jacob Lofland in the role of Josh, a fifteen-year old denizen of a Detroit (unnamed in the film) neighborhood that consists of rundown houses and abandoned factories.

Each day he goes off to a nearby school where the teachers are just a couple of years older than him and ill-prepared to teach anything except survival skills like trapping animals. Since everybody over the age of twenty-one seems to have succumbed to some global catastrophe that the film does not identify (it is not needed for a plot that brackets out social and political considerations), it is up to what amounts to high school bullies to keep order and to help propagate the species.

Josh’s teacher is an alpha male named Caleb who is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son Patrick in the casting coup of the year. If you are going to develop a villainous character for a post-apocalyptic film, there’s no better choice than the Terminator’s son.

When Caleb is not “teaching”, he is acting as overseer for the garden that Josh and other children toil in after class under the watchful eye of Caleb’s henchman Martin (Joshua Close) who epitomizes the worst aspects of the high school bully. But when social norms have disappeared such an individual can abuse his power to the point of making up Josh’s mind and that of Caleb’s younger sister Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark) to “go North” in search of a better life.

As I have stated, this film makes no pretense of trying to make social commentary about the sharp decline of American civilization and sticks to telling a story about young people on the run from predators. In effect, it is a road movie in the same genre as the Road Warrior flicks but much more modest and much more enjoyable.

The film opens this Friday at the Cinema Village in New York and on VOD. It is well worth seeing.

January 8, 2017

Trumponomics as professional wrestling

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 10:16 pm

Any number of pundits on the left welcomed Donald Trump as an alternative to a Clinton presidency that would be beholden to Wall Street in general and Goldman-Sachs in particular. Pepe Escobar, who is on the farthest reaches of this territory, even considered the possibility that his election was “an unprecedented body blow against neoliberalism” and “Perhaps a new push towards democratic socialism”.

While many of these people have woken up with a bad hangover after seeing all the Goldman-Sachs people connected to the new administration, they still might feel worse over the possibility of Donald staying so nationalistic that it would risk a nuclear war with China, his supposed arch-enemy.

For example, the screwballs at the World Socialist Website have now switched from doing their Chicken Little routine over Ukraine to China:

As he declared that he would not feel bound by the One China policy, Trump lashed out at Beijing not only over trade and North Korea, but also for “building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing.” … If there were any doubt that he is preparing for war, Trump’s tweet prior to Christmas that the US must “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear [weapons] capacity” is a chilling warning of his reckless and militarist intentions.”

Once you step back and look at things coolly and calmly, which such people are obviously incapable of doing, you will see that there is not that much of a break between Obama and Trump, just as there wasn’t between Bush and Obama. Despite all the acrimonious words coming out of the mouths of Charles Schumer or Elizabeth Warren, the two capitalist parties are much more like professional wrestlers who threaten to destroy each other in a main event only to go out for dinner later that night. Not only that, there’s not much chance of a war breaking out between Trump and China as we shall see later on in this article.

Just consider the willingness of rising liberal Democratic star Kamala Harris to let Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, a former Goldman-Sachs partner, get off the hook in the same way that Obama let all the other banksters go free after he was elected.

In 2009 Mnuchin led a group of investors to buy IndyMac, one of those shady mortgage companies that had been nearly destroyed by the 2007-2008 meltdown. George Soros, who was seen alongside Janet Yellen in a Trump campaign commercial widely viewed as anti-Semitic, was part of the group as was John Paulson. Both Paulson and Soros had bet correctly that the mortgage-backed securities business would tank and after cashing in on their winnings bought IndyMac at fire sale prices.

Once Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank absorbed IndyMac’s mortgages, it began to aggressively foreclose on families in arrears. The Daily Beast reported on one homeowner he went after:

One-hundred-and-three-year-old Myrtle Lewis ran into such issues with OneWest in 2014. She accidentally allowed her insurance to lapse, which prompted the bank to attempt to foreclose on her property. Lewis reinstated her insurance and the bank still didn’t back off. It is unclear what happened to the property.

So, this guy symbolizes exactly what drove people to Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Why then would someone the Nation Magazine describes as “one raising her voice for social and economic justice” let him get away with foreclosures that were prosecutable?

Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept recently got its hands on an internal memo from Harris’s office that referred to over a thousand violations of foreclosure laws by his bank when she was Attorney General in California, and that predicted that further investigation would uncover many thousands more. The bottom line on Mnuchin:

Despite the limitations on the investigation, we uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct, including evidence that OneWest:

(1) signed backdated and false instruments, acknowledged them to notaries, and then caused them to be recorded with county recorders throughout the State; (2) made and directed unlawful credit bids at trustee’s sales which resulted in the wrong parties winning auctions and the unlawful evasion of documentary transfer tax obligations; (3) performed other acts in the foreclosure process without valid legal authority-, and (4) failed to comply with requirements related to the execution, timing, and mailing of foreclosure documents.

Keeping in mind that Mnuchin’s partner in this enterprise was George Soros, who is supposedly the mastermind of every liberal initiative against the Koch brothers et al, you really have to wonder whether it is nothing but professional wrestling. Pure fakery.

As for Mnuchin, he is just the kind of person who might have shown up at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at Barbra Streisand’s mansion. When he was not trying to foreclose on 103-year old women, he was investing in films such as James Cameron’s “Avatar”, one that Steve Bannon’s Breitbart.com called an “America-Hating, PC Revenge Fantasy”. Get it? Professional wrestling.

It also seems that Mnuchin had put his money where his mouth was when he funded Cameron’s movie. The Blaze has reported that “according to Federal Election Commission filings, Steven Mnuchin has donated more than $96,000 to political candidates, the vast majority of which went to Democrats and left-wing organizations, such as the League of Conservation Voters.” He gave $4,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2004 and more than $8,000 to Hillary Clinton’s various campaigns. He also gave $10,000, the largest single donation listed on the FEC website, to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2004. That’s not the end of it. The entire Mnuchin family has been delivering wheelbarrows full of money to the Democrats since the late 1990s. His father, mother, brother and his brother’s spouse have made major donations to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Schumer and to former Democratic Party presidential candidate John Edwards. Odd that Mnuchin would give money to Warren since she is supposedly Wall Street’s worse enemy. She even described him as the “Forrest Gump of the financial crisis.” (Professional wrestling.)

So why would Kamala Harris let this bastard go free? The answer is that she is like many of the new faces in the Democratic Party that are supposed to be a breath of fresh air and a repudiation of Clintonite neoliberalism just like Barack Obama was in 2008, if you took the Nation Magazine at its word. The daughter of a Jamaican economist father and an Indian biologist mother, she has many progressive credits on her resume—just the sort of thing that is necessary to develop a political career in San Francisco, her home base. The NY Times drew attention to her in a September 2010 article:

In 2008 she laid the groundwork for a statewide race by being co-chairwoman of Barack Obama’s California campaign and fund-raising extensively on his behalf in Southern California. After his victory, Ms. Harris began appearing on national television, with journalists like Gwen Ifill and Matt Lauer referring to her as the “female Obama.”

The female Obama? That sounds about right.

Turning now to worries about Armageddon with China, there’s less there than meets the eye. In fact, the ties between the Trump White House and the Chinese ruling class might be even more intimate than those with Russia based on an eye-opening report in today’s NY Times on his son-in-law’s dealings with the Chinese investors close to the government’s top officials.

Jared Kushner is not just Trump’s son-in-law. He is slated to be appointed as one of his chief advisers. Like the Donald, there will be a token divestment of his business dealings but you can be sure that his empire will grow and prosper as a result of the dovetailing of interests with the Trump administration.

The article sets the tone in the opening paragraphs:

On the night of Nov. 16, a group of executives gathered in a private dining room of the restaurant La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The table was laden with Chinese delicacies and $2,100 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild. At one end sat Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of the Waldorf’s owner, Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial behemoth with estimated assets of $285 billion and an ownership structure shrouded in mystery. Close by sat Jared Kushner, a major New York real estate investor whose father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, had just been elected president of the United States.

It was a mutually auspicious moment.

Anbang and Kushner’s real estate firm are co-owners of 666 Fifth Avenue, a “fading jewel” of the Kushner empire. Just by coincidence, after dining at the Waldorf Astoria, Wu Xiaohui has expressed a desire to meet with President Trump. I am sure that Jared will exercise some influence to make that happen.

Apparently the 35-year old Kushner knows how to get around. Last August he and his wife Ivanka hobnobbed with some VIPs:

In August, they were spotted with Wendi Deng, an ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, on the 453-foot yacht Rising Sun, owned by the entertainment mogul David Geffen. Several weeks later, they were photographed watching the United States Open tennis finals with the art collector Dasha Zhukova, wife of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a member of President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle.

Is there any better way to describe the internecine ties between the ultra-rich than is encapsulated here?

  • David Geffen: the gay Hollywood macher who was an early backer of Bill Clinton but who had a falling out with him over his decision not to pardon Leonard Peltier. Geffen was also an early backer of Obama for president and raised $1.3 million for Obama in a Beverly Hills fundraiser.
  • Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, who divorced her when he learned that she was having an affair with Tony Blair. She is also rumored to have had one with Putin. So incestuous.
  • Abramovich is the 13th richest man in Russia and said to enjoy the status of a father-like figure to Vladimir Putin. Sort of like being a godfather to another Vlad—Vlad the impaler.

These sorts of connections have paid off for Jared. Russian billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner and Chinese billionaire founder of Alibaba Jack Ma are investors in Cadre, a real estate investment company he and his brother started with a friend. Guess what. Goldman Sachs has invested as well.

But the bridge being built to Anbang will lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Times has reported that Anbang is “owned by a few dozen companies, which in turn are owned by a number of shell companies that are controlled by roughly 100 people, many of whom have ties to a county in China that is the home of Mr. Wu, whose own power stems in part from marriage.” Like Jared Kushner, Wu knew how to marry well, in his case to Zhuo Ran, a granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping, the CCP leader who carried out the capitalist turn.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding Trump’s faux saber-rattling that has the sectarian nut jobs at WSWS.org shitting in their pants, the president-elect is not likely to launch H-Bombs at people he has these kinds of connections with. The president-elect has his own financial entanglements with China: Trump “owns a 30 percent stake in a partnership that owes roughly $950 million to a group of lenders that includes the Bank of China, and one of his biggest tenants at Trump Tower is another state-owned bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.”

A week after Jared Kushner met with Mr. Wu, Donald Trump has lunch with him at the Waldorf. It must have been a pleasant and mutually rewarding affair since Wu was heard saying as left in perfect English: “I love you guys”.

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