Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 24, 2020

St. Marks Place

Filed under: art,bard college,Film — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Click to play

As I watched Richard Allen’s six-minute film “St. Marks Place”, I couldn’t help but remembering what I wrote about the old New York of my youth in a piece about the pandemic:

Slowly but surely, everything that endeared New York to me has died largely because of the predatory nature of real estate development as symbolized by the evil presence in the White House.

Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Vanishing New York, just posted about the photographer Robert Herman, who jumped to his death from the 16th floor of his Tribeca apartment building last Friday night. Herman’s suicide note read, “How do you enjoy life?”

Like Jeremiah, Richard has the old New York in his heart, reflected not only in the film but in his book of photography titled “Street Shots/Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970s” that captures the vitality of the city before it became gobbled up by CVS’s, HSBC’s and 75-story condos filled with hedge fund managers. I am not sure about the availability of the book but if it piques your interest, drop me a line at lnp3@panix.com and I’ll put you in touch with Richard. The last time I saw him in NY, he had a carton of the books that he was dropping off at local bookstores, at least those that hadn’t been put out of business by Amazon.

Photos from Street Shots/Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970s:

Of all the people I knew at Bard, there were only three that I have been in touch with in recent years. One was the great poet Paul Pines who died of lung cancer in 2018. Now there are two people I remain in touch with, Richard who will be making films until he dies and Jeffrey Marlin, my chess partner who will be writing fiction until the grim reaper carries him away. All three of us are prime candidates for a COVID-19 torpedo attack but we hope that social distancing will keep us going.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that the four years I spent at Bard College and the eleven in the Trotskyist movement were very intense. In the first instance, spiritually and socially. In the second, politically. And at Bard College, my memories of Richard are most vivid.

He was part of a crowd that included Kenny Shapiro, Blythe Danner, Lane Sarasohn, and Chevy Chase. I loved Blythe and Chevy but couldn’t take Kenny, who died in 2017. Despite my distaste for Kenny, I have to admit that he was very talented. When he graduated Bard, he moved to NY and developed an off-off-Broadway show called “Channel One” that featured Lane, Chevy and Richard’s satire on network TV. Eventually, that became a movie called “Groove Tube”.

If you go to Richard’s Vimeo channel, you can see Richard bouncing off a brick wall in a brief film (this was in the days of Super-8) followed by a very young Chevy Chase in bell-bottom jeans performing in a homage to the days of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

But for the best slapstick comedy, I recommend Richard’s “One-armed bandit” that won the Sony Pictures Classic Short Film prize at the 2018 Asbury Park Music and Film Festival. Look carefully and you’ll see Chevy playing a cop in the final moments.

May 23, 2020

COOKED: Survival By Zip Code

Filed under: COVID-19,Film — louisproyect @ 9:10 pm

Although Bullfrog Films did not allude to this in their publicity about “COOKED: Survival By Zip Code”, this documentary demonstrates that the class divisions at work in the pandemic are nothing new. Directed by Judith Helfand, it examines the worst heat disaster in American history. During the heat wave of 1995, 739 mostly elderly and Black residents of Chicago died during a seven-day period.

Like Michael Moore, Helfand went to Chicago to get to the bottom of the story and interviewed key analysts who had studied the heat-related disaster, as well as holding people who were the counterparts of Donald Trump back then to scrutiny through archival footage. As it happens, they were Democrats like Mayor Richard Daley Jr., whose father was infamous for ordering the cops to beat up peace demonstrators in 1968. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree apparently. The Mayor followed the Trump tactic of self-congratulation: “I think that the city did a very good job…”

As the film titled indicates, it was a matter of which zip code you lived in. If it was one for a mostly white middle-class part of the city, you had air conditioning. If you lived in a Black and poor neighborhood, you had a target on your back if you were elderly or had underlying conditions. If you had both, your chances were maybe 50-50. Poverty made an air-conditioner unaffordable. On top of that, many old folks were not in communication with family for one reason or another. After their corpses were discovered, they were trundled off to a funeral parlor. When the funeral parlors couldn’t handle the traffic, the city dispatched refrigerated trucks to keep them warehoused until the heat wave was over.

There are two remarkable figures who are interviewed throughout the film. One was Steve Whitman, who was born into a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1943. Through hard work, he earned a PhD in biostatistics at Yale in 1969. As head of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s epidemiology program, he played a major role in studying and explaining the 1995 Chicago heat wave. He saw the deaths as unnecessary. The city should have been better prepared to relocate those at risk to air-conditioned shelters. Whitman died from cancer in 2014. At the time, he was heading up Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI), a group he founded to promote health equity.

The other expert is Eric Klinenberg, the author of “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.” Wikipedia describes him as a public sociologist, a term I’ve never heard before. I would say that if there’s ever a left movement in the USA that can get past sectarianism and reformism, he belongs in the leadership. His commentary on the Chicago poverty-induced massacre are both informed and passionate. In an interview (https://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/443213in.html) with the U. of Chicago Press that published the book, he said something that foreshadowed what we are facing today with Trump in the White House, Chicago 1995 writ large:

In 1995 there were no uniform standards for determining a “heat related death,” so officials had to develop them. Edmund Donoghue, Cook County’s chief medical examiner, used state-of-the-art criteria to report 465 heat-related deaths for the heat wave week and 521 heat deaths for the month of July. But Mayor Richard M. Daley challenged these findings. “It’s hot,” the mayor told the media. “But let’s not blow it out of proportion.… Every day people die of natural causes. You cannot claim that everybody who has died in the last eight or nine days dies of heat. Then everybody in the summer that dies will die of heat.” Many local journalists shared Daley’s skepticism, and before long the city was mired in a callous debate over whether the so-called heat deaths were—to use the term that recurred at the time—“really real.”

“COOKED: Survival By Zip Code” can be rented from OVID.tv. If you haven’t subscribed to OVID yet, this is a great reason to start. For group and academic purchase or rentals, check with Bullfrog.

May 22, 2020

What Stanford University and Fox News Have in Common

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:33 pm
Dr. John Ioannidis is director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center. He is also one of the highest profile skeptics of COVID-19’s deadliness


On April 21, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, one of Donald Trump’s most vociferous supporters, spoke to Stanford University physician-professor John Ioannidis about COVID-19. She prefaced the interview with reference to the pandemic as a nothing-burger:

And new antibodies testing on the West and East Coast shows that the true infection rate may be 55 times higher than previously thought by the, quote, “experts.” Meaning, the true fatality of the virus is somewhere below that of seasonal influenza.

As an architect of the testing, he concurred. He said that all of the “evidence points to an infection that is very common, that typically is very mild.”

Continue reading

May 20, 2020

A Child’s Christmas in Woodridge

Filed under: Catskills,literature — louisproyect @ 11:10 pm

No matter how old I get, I’ll always have vivid memories of being a small boy in Woodridge, NY and doing all the things small kids do. Like walking in the woods, swimming in the ponds and rivers, riding my bike, flipping baseball cards, and playing ringolevio.

But winter had its special pleasures. Back then, the snowstorms were long before greenhouse gases tamed mother nature. After a big snowfall, we’d build forts in downtown Woodridge and throw snowballs at each other. We’d also have free rein sledding on the village’s hills, with no worries about cars since the roads were barely passable.

In this chapter from Robert C. Harris’s 2008 “Collection of Autobiographical Stories”, you’ll get a good taste of the excitement of wintertime. Robert’s mother Eleanor and mine were very close. Eleanor wrote a column called Woodridge Whirl for the local paper and my mother took it over after the Harrises moved to Florida.

Half of Robert’s book deals with his misadventures in the US army during the Vietnam war. The other half is reminiscences of being a young boy in Woodridge. I enjoy every chapter but this one about sleigh-riding the most. If you’ve read (or better yet, heard the author recite) Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, you’ll appreciate Robert’s ability to render a long-ago experience. I imagine he wrote this primarily in the same way I have blogged about Woodridge, to recapture my past—sort of an amateur version of Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”. Woodridgites will probably enjoy this more than the average person but I am sure that it will bring back your own favorite memories of playing in the snow, an experience that future generations will never enjoy as much as us—largely because of climate change. This year in New York City, there was virtually no snow at all.

And, going one step further, the conditions that created climate change are largely responsible for the pandemic that keeps us house-bound today.

Chapter 9

The happiest time in any man’s life is the time before he becomes a man. Now take me. Today I am a man and when I see Woodridge as it is today, I am not giddy with joy, but giddy with souped-up memories. Back then, to my childish and fun-loving libido, I saw Woodridge as the fairyland playground of the nation, Disney Lands notwithstanding, and we kids didn’t even have to pay to get in. Like commercial playgrounds everywhere, each season offered its special attractions.

In the spring, sweaters and jackets strewn along the grounds, we boys ran rampant among the rocks and crevices of Dead Man’s Canyon, our pop guns cocked for action. In the summer, there was Kaplan’s Lake. The cowboys and Indians of the spring were now deep sea divers in the four to six feet of water, splashing, dunking and grabbing ankles or higher. Girls were now a part of the summer attraction and their squeals from our underwater attacks gave meaning to the summer. In the autumn, we boys became habitués of the Ford Dealership yard, racing across imaginary tapes and then moving across to The Tree where, in the bracing air, we were defending Fort Germac from the invaders with our BB guns and apple grenades ready for action.

But it was winter that gave meaning to the winter wonderland songs I remember. Even if one shivered in the cold, nature’s artwork was awesome. The scraggly trees of autumn were now covered in white and adorned with sparkly icicles hanging from the branches like so many fashionably gowned and jewelled women at the Oscar Awards waiting to be admired. But to us, the three Fox boys, Bobby Ritter, David and Paul Kaplan, Ivan Katz, Stuey Novack, Steve and Bobby Wasserman, Steve Gerson, Jay Weinstein and the Sapersteins and every kid still breathing, it was the blinding snow and biting cold that activated our adrenalin. We would embark on a mass exodus from our homes to slosh through the snow, the deeper and wetter the more exciting. Our mittens and gloves were soaked through within minutes as we hurled snowballs at each other and anything else that moved, mostly girls. With our noses running before us and our sleds trailing behind us, we made our way to the slopes. We had two unforgettable hills in Woodridge which nature undeniably devised for exuberant and risk-taking kids. As we trudged uphill, pulling our sleds, one of us was sure to yell ‘up yours’ or some such local witticism, about snow and the upper crust of the down-hillers. Fickle nature. It lures us out of our homes with promises of adventure and then slaps us in the face with icy pellets. But we didn’t care, we had two of the greatest hills in the world. The one at the Alamac Hotel was the smaller of the two. The other, aptly names Little Mt. Everest, was located on acreage behind the Kaplan properties. Subsequently, this property was developed into spacious, expensive single family homes. But at this time in my youth it was the longest, widest, steepest mountain on the planet. Woodridge’s challenge to the Alpine peaks.

It was easier to use the Alamac hill because the hotel was closed for the winter and there was no one to yell at us. It was located just across from Barry Saperstein’s house and it took no more than a fifteen or twenty second zoom to the bottom of the hill. The idea was to grab the tree at the bottom of the hill or risk bouncing across the street to be hit by an oncoming car or, as an alternative, crashing into the Saperstein porch. We kids were lucky, none of us were killed. But sometimes, less lethal but awfully insulting, an irate driver would question the functionality of our brain matter by screeching to a stop and yelling, “What the hell’s the matter with you? You kids nuts or something?”

Most of us were good at grabbing the tree for braking but it was my brother, Walter, who excelled at dreaming up schemes for stunt riding, urged and seconded by Carl Novick and Steve Wasserman. Stunt riding as defined by our group was anything that would scare the hell out of our parents and medical advisors. One of the milder stunts was to stand up on the sled, rope in one hand for stability, while hurtling down the slope waving the other hand and yelling, “Hi ho Silver!” Or, cross one sled with another to resemble an airplane with one kid sitting in the middle steering with his feet, rope in hand, while two more boys stood on each of the ‘wings’ for balance. The goal was to make it to the bottom of the hill without crashing and with all three intact, which never happened—except that one time. On New Year’s Day our snow plane went into action. Our three made it to the bottom, in one piece and in perfect formation. The sled followed sometime later. There we were, the three of us, Steve Gerson, Barry Saperstein and me, lying splayed in the snow in perfect formation, with everyone whooping and cheering around us as if we just won the World Series.

But the greater adventure, the most Evel Kneivelish daring-do was on the slopes of Little Mt. Everest. Gliding down this mountain (to our unformed, ungeological minds this was truly a mountain) was the ultimate test of courage. In our little town, comprised mainly of Jewish families, the villagers naively believed a boy became a man at his Bar Mitzvah. We kids knew better. A boy became a man on the ride down Little Mt. Everest. Unlike the twenty second downhill zoom of the Alamac, downhill on the Everest was an endless, death-defying, marathon race that only the hardy need attempt. We were all hardy.

Racing down hill was the number one game. With at least ten sleds tearing down the long, interminable slope at any one time, it was not so much a race to the finish as a finish to the racer. Sleds crashed into each other, kids went flying, bloodied but unbowed; some actually un-bowelled, as it scared the crap out of us. But we carried on and once in a great while we were carried off.

Then there was our two-man sled exchange. Picture it, Stevie Gerson is lying face down on the sled and Jay Weinstein is kneeling on Stevie’s back. Stevie’s lying down because he has to steer; this was how the expression “Get off my back” entered the English language. Anyway, on the way down, in mid-ride, Jay would jump up into the air and onto a companion sled which was being operated by Ivan Katz. With arms flailing and feet moving wildly, similar to that portrayed in cartoon movies where the guy absent mindedly walks off a cliff and keeps walking in space, the sled exchange occurred. It was risky stuff. There was always the possibility that one might break the neck of the driver—in such cases it was better to jump to the ground for then one was likely to suffer only from snow burn—or slightly worse, loss of face if not of blood.

But we kids were adept at timing our jumps. Snow burns, bruises and other injuries were as natural to our age group as acne would some day be to our aging group. As to the one whose back was used as a springboard, well, what’s an aching spine when one is contributing so much to cultural achievement?

The excitement created by Little Mt. Everest was in its width, its clear course going all the way down without obstacles aside from a few dips and bumps. It was the stone wall at the bottom of the hill that gave meaning to the expression that death is always a surprise. On the same line with the stone wall, near its end, was a mammoth Coca-Cola sign, once impressive in its prime but now bent at a 45 degree angle obscuring its message of promised refreshment. The tin back of the sign made a dandy landing-strip for us when we steered towards it and used our feet as brakes. When this worked, as it normally did, we kids found it as refreshing as promised. Although we were adept at this foot-dragging-braking method, we decided to build snow barriers as an extra precaution to ensure we stopped successfully on our tin landing strip and didn’t go bounding off into the next county. To this end the snow barriers were built just beyond the wall and the sign; the ice on the tin was covered with stones and whatever sharp, jutting material we could find. I notice that building contractors today lack the gusto and ingenuity our team exhibited. Our bulldozer was us. Man, we dug, we tossed, we slid. We froze. All this before we climbed to the top. We kids had it together in the 5os. Energy, sleds, running noses and frozen feet—and an occasional enthusiast with wet pants.

On one beautiful, clear day following the Christmas holidays, we were out in full force, many of us with newer and more powerful sleds, some even with skis. We were racing down Everest, about nine sleds, towards the finish line. It was a close race with Walter in the lead. As we began to slow down near the finish line, the Coca-Cola landing strip, Walter decided to keep going. He had this determined look on his face, not unlike the look of someone daring to go where no man has dared to go. While the rest of us came to a stop, he kept going—over the snow barrier, over the sign, over the wall. As we turned our startled gazes upon Walter, it was like a slow motion movie with Walter hovering in space about forty feet above the ground, holding on to his inverted sled, which had done a complete turn in mid-air. All sound ceased as we witnessed this bizarre scene—Walter hanging on to his upside-down sled with his back towards the ground. Suddenly the reel sped up and down he hurtled into the snow below. The dreamlike sequence was over as everyone realized what had happened and rushed down to the road. My heart was in my mouth. My big brother was not supposed to get hurt; I was.

We had to run about 200 yards down to the street next to the hill, then climb through a barbed wire fence that was located in the back yard of the Kaplan property as a barrier between their yard and the hill. Then we had to step through snow that was about four feet deep. After what seemed like a deathly ten minutes, we located the sled. All we saw protruding from the pile of snow were the rudders but no sign of Walter. Frightened, we all tugged the sled free—and

there lay Walter, still holding on to his sleigh with that glazed, disbelieving look in his eye.

He stared at all of us and with his eleven year old face lit up with a strange and abstracted smile he announced: “I was flying! I was actually flying!”

May 19, 2020

My COVID-19 scare

Filed under: COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

In early April I was really stressed out over medical issues. To start with, when I went to the CVS across the street to get a Combigan refill that I use for glaucoma, I was told that I needed a new prescription. After contacting AdvantageCare, I learned that my optometrist was on vacation. After repeated emails to him went unanswered, I had to go over to the clinic to track down his backup. They said that they would contact him and he in turn would then contact CVS with the new subscription. I had my fingers crossed that they would receive notification by the next day since I had just one last dose of the eyedrops left. I don’t think that I’d suffer nerve damage in just a single day, but why take chances?

On top of that, I was bothered by a persistent dry cough. I doubted that it was COVID-19 because it was a kind of reflex to a tickle in my throat more than anything from inside my lungs, almost as if I had swallowed a hair. But that I coughed every 10 minutes or so did make me worry a bit.

On top of that, I was tired all the time. For the past year or so, I’ve been getting 9 hours of sleep a night but often took a nap as well. Starting from the beginning of the year, I began taking two naps a day, once in late morning and once in the early evening. Was I getting old? Hell no, I was old. But when combined with the dry cough, I could help but think that maybe I had a mild case of COVID-19. I didn’t mention this to my wife since I didn’t want to make her worry.

Around April tenth, I hit the panic button.

I opened the red wine we had shared a night ago and poured it into our glasses. I took one sip and freaked out, as they used to put it in the 1960s. There was no taste. It was like drinking water. I didn’t say a word but felt as if I had been bitten by a puff adder. When would the deep symptoms kick in? Ventilator? Oh, no. My mind was racing at the dinner table.

A minute later, my wife took her first sip and asked me, “Why doesn’t the wine have a taste?” What a relief!

At that point, I told her about my worries. (She had been a bit worried about my coughing.) We decided to test ourselves by smelling and tasting various objects. No other food or drink presented problems. We opened another bottle of red wine and it passed both the smell and taste test. The New Testament says that Jesus turned water into wine but what happened in the Proyect household? A miracle that turned wine into water? That might make some sense given my devilish ways.

My wife’s brother-in-law, who has been staying with us, joined in the discussion. He had no idea why the wine now tasted like water but did have a suspicion that my fatigue was related to the melatonin that I take almost on a nightly basis.

Roughly two years ago, I had been taking one milligram a night not so much to help me get to sleep but to help me get back to sleep. With my enlarged prostate, I get up to pee 3 or 4 times a night and sometimes have trouble getting back to sleep when dark thoughts about the Sixth Extinction or nuclear war kick in.

When the pandemic started, I switched to a 5 milligram dose after reading that melatonin could help stave off COVID019. This was something I read in a legitimate medical journal rather than heard on Sean Hannity. Granted that this is a preprint rather than the final peer-reviewed article (lots of these have been cropping up since the pandemic, including the bullshit out of Stanford), it still seemed more plausible than drinking Lysol. In an article titled “Can Melatonin Reduce the Severity of COVID-19 Pandemic?”, three Russian researchers provided this abstract:

The current COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most devastating events in recent history. The virus causes relatively minor damage to young, healthy populations, imposing life-threatening danger to the elderly and people with diseases of chronic inflammation. So, if we could reduce the risk for vulnerable populations, it would make the COVID-19 pandemic more similar to other typical outbreaks. Children do not suffer from COVID-19 as much as their grandparents and have a much higher melatonin level. Bats also do not suffer from the virus they transmit, and bats too have a much higher level of melatonin. Viruses generate an explosion of reactive oxygen species, and melatonin is the best natural antioxidant that is lost with age. Melatonin inhibits the programmed cell death which coronaviruses induce, causing significant lung damage. Coronavirus causes inflammation in the lungs which requires inflammasome activity. Melatonin blocks the inflammasome. The immune response is impaired by anxiety and sleep deprivation. Melatonin improves sleep habits, reduces anxiety and stimulates immunity. Fibrosis may be the most dangerous complication after COVID-19. Melatonin is known to prevent fibrosis. Mechanical ventilation may be necessary but yet imposes risks due to oxidative stress, which can be reduced by melatonin. Thus, by using the safe over-the-counter drug melatonin, we may be immediately able to prevent the development of severe disease symptoms in coronavirus patients, reduce the severity of their symptoms, and/or reduce the negative effects of coronavirus infection on patients’ health after the active phase of the infection is over.

This might be true but I have stopped taking melatonin after my wife’s brother-in-law referred me to an article titled “I tried using melatonin for a week and felt exhausted, even during the day.” Like me, the author had started taking 5 milligram doses:

I have tried melatonin in the past with little to no luck. Having only ever taken small doses (1-3 milligrams), this time around I slightly increased the dose to 5 milligrams, which is the highest recommended dosage.

After five days of taking melatonin, she began to see the drawbacks to a “natural” medication that left her listless during the day:

The daytime sleepiness I was experiencing started to completely overshadow the positive effects of gaining a regular sleep schedule. I had to take another midday nap and struggled to be as productive as I needed to be throughout the day.

On day seven, she decided to go back to a smaller dose and only on an occasional basis:

On the final day of the week, I was elated to stop taking melatonin. I felt that the benefits of the sleep aid had peaked on the third or fourth day of the experiment and the rest of the week had felt like a sleepy blur.

I had hoped that by the end of the week my body would have adjusted to the melatonin, but this was not the case. I considered possibly lowering my dose and trying for a second week, but truth be told I couldn’t picture getting through another week of being so tired throughout the day.

After bailing on melatonin a couple of weeks ago, I have gotten back to an 8-hour sleep and naps only once or twice during this period. On top of that, I have gotten back to my old high-energy self. Walking a couple of miles a day with my wife, even if we have to navigate the sports bar louts on Third Avenue like Odysseus avoiding both Scylla and Charybdis.

May 18, 2020

The sports bar louts endangering our lives

Filed under: COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:43 pm

Patrons wait for their orders to go at Caffe Dante bar and restaurant in Manhattan on March 19.(Victor J. Blue/Getty Images)

My wife and I take long walks for exercise. Two days ago, we put on our masks and walked over to Park Avenue, where since there are very few stores, you will see far fewer people on the streets. We walked down to 66th Street and decided to come back up on Third Avenue to our 92nd Street building, just for variety.

We were disconcerted to see clusters of mostly young men on the sidewalks in front of bars that remained open. You obviously couldn’t go into the bar, as will possible in 48 states pretty soon, but you were able to purchase a drink and imbibe it on the sidewalk.

We noticed that most of the men had let their masks (if they had been wearing ones) drop down to their neck for obvious reasons. You can’t down a beer with a mask on. In several of these sites, you could hear the conversation from a distance of 30 feet away as you were advancing toward them. One suspects that if you’ve had two or three beers or hard drinks, you tend to get louder and even more so if you are trying to speak over the traffic noise.

I don’t want to stereotype people (well, maybe I do) but the young men who patronize these kinds of sports bars tend to be louts. Fraternity boys who could give less of a shit about how their actions impact others. Scientists have discovered that speaking is one of the most effective ways to transmit COVID-19. They have also made clear that wearing masks, other than N95 qualified, does not protect you from being infected.

The NY Times reported on this four days ago. I would only quibble with the notion that masks can protect you:

Coughs or sneezes may not be the only way people transmit infectious pathogens like the novel coronavirus to one another. Talking can also launch thousands of droplets so small they can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes, according to a new study.

The research, published Wednesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help explain how people with mild or no symptoms may infect others in close quarters such as offices, nursing homes, cruise ships and other confined spaces. The study’s experimental conditions will need to be replicated in more real-world circumstances, and researchers still don’t know how much virus has to be transmitted from one person to another to cause infection. But its findings strengthen the case for wearing masks and taking other precautions in such environments to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite my dim view of young men who patronize sports bars, I believe that they are less of a threat on the streets of NY than their counterparts in places like Texas, Alabama, Iowa, and Wyoming who now have the freedom to contract COVID-19 even if it results in nothing worse than the hangover they are accustomed to. But anybody over 60 who comes into contact with them could well be among the tens of thousands of casualties epidemiologists predict will take place between now and July first.

I was not the only person who was taken aback by this spectacle. The mayor, who I used to rub shoulders with at Nicaragua Network meetings in the late 80s, is pissed off about what’s going on. I reproduce the NY Daily News article on this that appeared today:

Mayor de Blasio promised strict enforcement after throngs of New Yorkers were spotted carousing and quaffing cold ones on the Upper East Side Saturday night.

“I’m not comfortable at all with people congregating outside bars,” Hizzoner said at a Sunday press conference.

“If you start to form groups of people and then, you know, two, three, five and then it becomes six, it becomes 10, it becomes 15 — that violates what we’re saying about social distancing,” he continued.

The NYPD was unable to provide stats about any arrests or fines given out during the revelry, which was caught on social media and in news reports.

Images showed people buying drinks, forming crowds and blatantly disregarding social-distancing rules — the same guidelines that led to a string of controversial, violent arrests in communities of color.

Faced with widespread outrage over those tactics, de Blasio on Friday said police would stop giving tickets to people who don’t wear face masks in public unless there was a “serious danger.”

But he promised Sunday the NYPD would enforce social-distancing rules on the affluent Upper East Side and elsewhere.

“We had a particular problem there,” Hizzoner said. “We’re not going to tolerate people starting to congregate.”

At least one UES restaurant served customers on premises, a blatant violation of March’s statewide emergency order, according to NBC New York.

“If we have to shut places down, we will if they’re starting to violate these rules,” de Blasio said.


May 16, 2020

A Good Woman is Hard to Find; Blood Quantum

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

While commercial Hollywood films have ground to a halt during the pandemic, indie films have had a new lease on life through what they call virtual cinema, a fancy term for VOD. I get invitations to review them practically every day and prioritize films with a political message.

Since most of you are house-bound like me, you probably might be on the lookout for films with an emphasis on pure entertainment. While the two films under consideration in this article could never be described as mindless entertainment, they both fall under the rubric of pulp fiction. Both are premiere efforts by young directors and have some shortcomings that are a function of inexperience, but are also attempts that are mostly successful and lots of fun in their own crash-bang way.

“A Good Woman is Hard to Find” is set in a Northern Ireland estate, their word for England’s council housing. Like the housing projects of the USA, they are incubators of drug-dealing, the only trade that can support a family in many cases.

As the film begins, we meet Sarah (Sarah Bolger) and her two toddler children, a boy named Ben, who is mute, and his sister Lucy. Ben became mute after he watched his father get stabbed to death in the street near their home. Like many of the other men in the estate, he was a petty drug dealer and probably killed by a rival dealer. That, at least, is what the local cops believe. When Sarah stops by their headquarters to see if they have made any headway in finding the killer, they tell her that they can’t waste their time with gangland rivalries.

With her husband dead, the family barely scrapes by. When her son purloins a chocolate bar at a local supermarket, the manager shames her. Her only pleasure in life beside reading bedtime stories to her children is using a neon-pink vibrator. In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, after she discovers that the batteries are dead, she goes through her children’s toys desperately trying to find ones that aren’t.

While determined to protect her children from the jungle-like conditions beyond her front door, trouble breaks down that door into her meager sanctuary one day. A local dealer named Tito has stolen the drugs of two men higher up on the food chain and forced himself into her apartment to elude them. After surveying the situation, he decides that her place would be the perfect place to stash the drugs and even offers her a cut of the proceeds he makes reselling them on the street.

One day, as he is off on his rounds, her son Ben discovers the drugs and scatters them across the children’s bedroom floor as if they were talcum powder. When Tito stops by to collect his goods to sell on the street that day, he flies into a rage and tries to rape Sarah as punishment for her son’s childish mistake. Self-defense saved her from being raped, but the gangsters Tito ripped off are now determined to invade her apartment in search of Tito and the drugs. “A Good Woman is Hard to Find” climaxes with her transformation into a merciless avenger determined to both protect her family and get to the bottom of who killed her husband.

“A Good Woman is Hard to Find” is a blend of Ken Loach’s class-inflected themes and action-oriented movies about women taking care of business, like Jennifer Lopez’s “Enough” or Julia Roberts’s “Sleeping With the Enemy”. Directed by Abner Pastoll, a 38-year old British director born in South Africa, its main flaw was in failing to show the preparation Sarah went through as she readied herself to confront and defeat her tormentors. It was a bit too compressed and strained credulity. Other than that, it is a first-rate premiere film.

If you’ve spent anytime reading about American Indian society, you’ll know that the term “blood quantum” indicates whether you are a full-blooded native. The test was not introduced by the Indians themselves, but by the American government to determine whether an individual, band or nation was entitled to benefits.

In many ways, the test has become an arbitrary dividing line between natives defending their sovereignty and a method of exclusion. For example, Ward Churchill was viewed as having no standing as an Indian because he could not offer up evidence of his blood line. By any measure, however, he was a member of the Cherokee people and qualified to speak and act on their behalf. With so many Indian tribal officials are acting on their own behalf through graft, their blood is a poor measure of determining their identity.

It is available on Amazon for only $4.99.

“Blood Quantum”, a zombie horror film, was written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, who was born on the Mi’gmaq reservation in Canada. Everybody in the cast is an American Indian, except a character named Charlie who is the pregnant girlfriend of Joseph, the troubled son of Traylor, the chief of police on a Canadian reservation, where “Blood Quantum” was filmed. With zero Indian blood quantum, Charlie (Olivia Scriven) is resented by many people on the reservation, including by Joseph’s older brother Lysol, a nickname that captures his mean and violent temperament. He is the most extreme example of an Indian, whose legitimate grievances against whites makes him not only capable of killing her but his own brother for violating blood ties.

The film begins with Traylor’s father Gisigu gutting the salmon he caught in the lake near the reservation. To his surprise, the gutted fish continue to flop around after their presumptive death. Later that day, after Gisigu’s dog has fallen gravely ill to some unknown disease, he asks his son to stop by and put a bullet in the animal to end its suffering. Once that is done, Traylor puts the dog in his trunk to be disposed of later. When that moment arrives, the dog is just as alive as the gutted salmon and far more dangerous.

The reservation and the nearby town eventually fall prey to a zombie attack that is choreographed as if in a George Romero movie. Bitten once and you are doomed. Except for the Indians, that is. For some reason, if they have the sufficient blood quantum, they are immune to zombie bites just like someone with COVID-19 antibodies. As I said in a March 27 CounterPunch article, there are striking affinities.

Once a week, I go shopping with my wife and can’t help feeling queasy as I pick up an avocado to see if it is ripe enough. In my memory banks, this summons up scenes from a George Romero zombie flick or “The Walking Dead.” From their well-guarded base, the living make periodic forays into various towns looking for food, medicine, or other essential goods. This is the equivalent of us going to a grocery store or a pharmacy. In “The Walking Dead” (I bailed on the show after Rick died), one of his crew might open a door looking for canned goods only to discover that zombies lurked behind it. Death could come in the form of a zombie assault or an accidental exposure to a coronavirus-laded avocado. The logic of zombies and coronavirus is deadly. They both exist to replicate themselves, just as does the capitalist class.

As the immunized Indians begin to take white survivors into their makeshift fort, Lysol’s anger rises to psychopathic levels. This leads to a confrontation between him and those Indians who do not see blood quantum in exclusionary terms. In the press notes, director Jeff Barnaby describes his alienation from any such tests, whether applied to immigrants or to Indians:

Since the Trump election win I have never felt less welcome here in my life, in this time and place, hate for the other is at a premium. The bitterest paradox to being native in the 21st century is knowing that you’re going to have to embrace the culture that has tried to exterminate you in order to guarantee your own survival. Being Mi’gMaq and knowing the history of the Americas, and having to live in the aftermath of colonialism, there is a vicious hypocrisy to modern xenophobia: the immigrants that came here and murdered the original inhabitants are scared that immigrants are going to come here to murder them. In the interim, native people and new immigrants are getting murdered.

Like “A Good Woman is Hard to Find”, “Blood Quantum” has some first-time filmmaking flaws. Intent on showing the psychic damage done to American Indians, Barnaby bent the stick in one direction, making his characters either destructive toward others, such as Lysol, or self-destructive like his younger brother Joseph. In zombie movies, it is always best to have a couple of people in leading roles who you want to identify with. Otherwise, it becomes a bit of a slog. “Blood Quantum” comes close to that at times, but never crosses the line.

The film is available on the Shudder cable channel, but you can see it for free with a trial membership to Shudder through Amazon.

May 15, 2020

Syria: From National Independence to Proxy War

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm


Ever since the civil war began in Syria in early 2011, the left has largely ignored the social and economic circumstances that led to a conflict costing over a half-million deaths and the migration—internal and external—of half the population. The tendency was to see Syria as a piece on a global chessboard with “the axis of resistance” fending off attacks from the West. There was lip-service to the idea that Syrians had legitimate grievances against the government early on, but by the end of 2011, the “anti-imperialist” consensus was that the rebels were jihadists interested more in fighting unbelievers than inequality.

To my knowledge, the first attempt at an analysis of the internal class contradictions appeared in 2015. Long-time Syria scholar Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl edited a collection titled “Syria from Reform to Revolt: Volume 1: Political Economy and International Relations”. (A second volume never appeared.) I found this book invaluable in writing an article titled “The Economic Roots of the Syrian Revolution”. My goal was to demonstrate that a rural agrarian crisis provided the fuel for an uprising. An article by Myrian Ababsa provided statistics that revealed the depths of misery that led to the revolt. In 2009, 42 percent of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia owing to a shortage of dairy products, vegetables, and fruit. Malnutrition among pregnant women and children under five doubled between 2007 and 2009. That was the cause of the conflict, not Saudi desire to impose shariah law on the country.

Continue reading

May 12, 2020

The Syrian fascist whose word Max Blumenthal would have us believe

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:09 pm

Markus Forhnmaier (l), a member of the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Kevork Almassian (r), an important source in Max Blumenthal’s “Management of Savagery” supposedly attesting to the jihadist character of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad

A couple of days ago, I spotted an article on the Asylum – Misinformation website about a Syrian living in Germany named Kevork Almassian, who was supposedly being deported to Syria in violation of his right to asylum. As the name of the website would indicate, this was not true. When you hear the term “right to asylum”, the first thing you think of is that this poor refugee opposed to the dictatorship might get sent back to Syria where he would be tortured or killed.

As it happens, Almassian was a fierce Assad loyalist who must have told some bullshit story about being the target of jihadis, thus forcing him to seek refuge in Germany. Who knows what kind of subterfuge he used to win asylum in Germany but it has become clear that he had connections with the country’s burgeoning fascist movement. After gaining asylum, it didn’t take long for him to get jobs working for the neo-Nazis, his latest for Björn Höcke, the AfD chairman in the state of Thuringia, where the party is widely viewed as a Nazi threat.

Clearly, there is an affinity between Almassian and AfD over their Islamophobia, a key ingredient of all fascist movements in Europe today. In the article about Almassian, we learn that he used his asylum status to help send the true political refugees back to Syria where they would be tortured or killed. In concert with AfD, Almassian has mounted a propaganda campaign to “expose” Syrian refugees as coming from Afghanistan and other countries. The scare quotes in this Tweet should give you an idea of what he was up to:

In 2015, he came to Switzerland for a conference, after which he traveled to Germany where he hoped to convert a business visa into a residence permit. When that failed, he applied for asylum. I strongly suspect that he used his fascist ties to help influence their cronies in the immigration bureau. Within days of his arrival he was pictured drinking beer with Markus Frohnmaier, an AfD activist who he would serve as social media director before long—his first job with the fascists. (See photo above)

Apparently, his ties to the German fascists predates 2015. Articles referencing Almassian appeared in a right-wing military magazine run by Manuel Ochsenreiter, a far-right journalist who was implicated in planning a firebomb attack on a Hungarian cultural center in Ukraine meant to compromise Ukrainian nationalists. He also visited Almassian in Syria in 2014.

You might even conclude that Almassian’s operation in Germany was the fruit of an alliance between high levels of Assad’s government and the AfD. There is ample evidence that the European fascist movements all shared a fondness for Bashar al-Assad, from Golden Dawn to the National Front in France.

When the war turned decisively in Assad’s favor, the AfD sought the deportation of Syrian refugees and to re-establish Syria as a safe country of origin. To help make their case, Almassian was critical. Not only did Almassian and the German fascists concur on booting Syrian refugees out of the country, they were part of the broad network of propagandists absolving Assad of using chemical weapons. After the sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun, one of their MPs issued a statement of solidarity with the “legitimate Syrian president”.

In an interview in 2016 with the radical right-wing newspaper Sezession, Almassian made talking points consistent with what you might read in “anti-imperialist” publications like Consortium News, 21st Century Wire or Grayzone. He claimed that Aleppo had to be besieged in order “to spare human lives”. He also claimed that there was never a democratic revolution, but that it was dominated from the start by religious radical forces.

Most principled people trying to write an account of the Syrian disaster would probably not want to use Almassian as a source. His Islamophobic YouTube videos are the sort of thing that might be referenced in a book by someone like disgraced ex-academic Tim Anderson’s “The Dirty War on Syria”.

Would you ever expect a footnote crediting Almassian in a Verso book? When I began reading the Asylum – Misinformation article, the name Almassian rang a bell. After a few minutes, I realized that Max Blumenthal had cited him in “Management of Savagery” in order to smear the Syrian revolution as a plot designed to topple Assad and replace it with one friendly to Western imperialism.

In preparing a review of Blumenthal’s book, I learned that Verso does not have fact-checkers. That in itself might not be a problem as long as the author has some credibility, like David Harvey or Mike Davis. But by 2017, Blumenthal had the well-earned reputation of being a cynical, crude, conspiracy-mongering has-been who took a turn toward Russia and Syria for cold cash. I personally didn’t think that was the explanation. Instead, I wrote this off as his inability to see politics in class terms.

In chapter six of “Management of Savagery” titled “The Next Dirty War”, Blumenthal does not even give lip-service to the idea that the revolution was hijacked by Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia. Instead, it sprang from the womb with nefarious intentions.

On the very first page, he makes the case that the protests in Baniyas were typical. Since a Sunni cleric named Anas al-Ayrout made a speech demanding the banning of mixed gender schools, this proved that the protests were intended to turn Syria into Saudi Arabia. To back this up, Blumenthal refers to an Almassian YouTube video in his endnotes with this bland assurance:

Almasian, a Syrian-Armenian refugee in Germany, has produced a series of English-language videos  that provide a corrective to Western media characterizations of the Syrian conflict. While he makes  no secret of his support for the Syrian government,  he has relied on primary sources like video of Ayrout’s sermons in Baniyas, which were faithfully translated.

For a more balanced treatment of Baniyas, I recommend “Cities in Revolution: Baniyas”, a 34-page report that presents an entirely different portrait of al-Ayrout. Despite the fact that he held conservative religious views, he was not a sectarian. In one of the first protests in Baniyas, this was his role:

The demonstration was unorganized at first, and within a few moments, Maher al Masri, climbed on the shoulders of his freedom and began chanting as well, with people falling in behind him. The protesters moved unbothered until they reached the bus depot of the city. At that point, a number of protesters attacked an Alawite bus worker and damaged his truck. Ayrout, however, intervened immediately and ensured reparations were paid to the bus owner. Ayrout then emerged chanting, “Sunni, Alawi, we all want freedom” and the protesters repeated after him until they reached the intelligence security headquarters in the city.

This, of course, went against the grain of the kind of supposed Sunni sectarianism that Blumenthal hoped to expose. On the same page, he refers to another Almassian YouTube video that supposedly represents activists in Homs chanting “We are all jihadists! We will exterminate Alawites!” Perhaps trying to fend off critics who might find Almassian problematic, to say the least, Blumenthal’s endnote adds that the chant was also referenced in a white paper at the Open Source Center, which he describes as a “CIA intelligence center”. How telling that the anti-imperialist relies on the word of the primary imperialist institution in the world with a long and undistinguished history of using the Big Lie. By June 2012, the white paper’s publication date, it was clear that the USA had little interest in throwing its weight behind poor farmers and their young urban cohorts seeking to create a democracy in the Middle East. Assad was always the lesser evil as the Rand Corporation pointed out in a workshop they convened in 2014:

Key Findings

Workshop participants felt that prolonged conflict was the best descriptor for the situation in Syria as of December 2013, but momentum seemed to be leaning toward regime victory.

Negotiated settlement was deemed the least likely of the possible scenarios.

Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests [emphasis added].


May 11, 2020

Peter Dreier, Bhaskar Sunkara, and the Green Party

Filed under: DSA,Jacobin,revolutionary organizing,third parties — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

On April 28th, a 71-year old professor named Peter Dreier lit into Bashkar Sunkara in The Nation magazine with the kind of ferocity that made you wonder if the Jacobin editor had co-produced “Planet of the Humans”. Titled “WTF Is Jacobin’s Editor Thinking in Voting Green?,” Dreier reacted to an April 22nd Tweet that was probably not intended to generate any kind of controversy:

You can even describe the Tweet as damning with faint praise since it disavows support for the Greens as a party and uses most of its 280 characters reminding his readers to vote Democrat.

Like many other liberals, Dreier repeats the same arguments that have been heard ad infinitum ever since Ralph Nader was blamed for allowing George W. Bush to be elected in 2000. Rather than holding Al Gore up to the scrutiny he deserved as Bill Clinton’s neoliberal sidekick, people like The Nation’s Eric Alterman and the singularly loathsome Todd Gitlin blamed Nader for being a “spoiler”.

Peter Dreier

I had never run across Dreier before but a brief search reveals that he was the subject of a 2014 LA Review of Books article by Tom Gallagher titled “Those Still Going on About Ralph Nader Electing Bush in 2000 Should Desist”. The LA review, which is many degrees to the left of the NY Review of Books, gave Gallagher the opportunity to answer Dreier’s Huffington Post article titled “Nader’s Hypocrisy,” which claimed that “Without Nader, there’d have been no President George W. Without George W., no war in Iraq.” Get it? Dreier has been writing this kind of bullshit for the longest time.

Gallagher informed his readers that Dreier was a big-time Obama fan, “displaying a life size cardboard cutout of the man at the party he was hosting and I was attending.” Like many people today who hope that Biden can carry on the Obama tradition, Dreier probably didn’t concern himself that much with Biden’s avid support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, nor Obama’s own dubious “peace” credentials. Gallagher sets him straight:

Well, since Peter Dreier’s main charge against Nader is that he enabled Bush to start the Iraq war, let’s stick to “Iraq war-like” things. For one, there are those who consider the drone-based missile attacks Obama orders in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere violations of international law, which is to say, war crimes. And there are those who fault him for unraveling the major legal achievement of the Vietnam War opposition, the War Powers Act, when he bombed Libya without Congressional approval. And then there’s those who think that sending more troops to Afghanistan after seven years of war, the way he did, was either a very stupid or a very cynical act — and not that many people think he’s stupid.

Dreier tries hard to make a vote for Biden sound palatable. “Thanks in part to Sanders, and the Democratic Party’s leftward shift, Biden has adopted other progressive stances on key issues—the minimum wage, health care, workers’ rights, abortion, climate change, and college debt—and could be pushed further left during the campaign and after he takes office.” There’s a big push going on to sell the Biden campaign to people in their 20s and 30s who can’t stand him, including the women who are disgusted by the arguments of Linda Hershman in a NY Times op-ed “I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway.”

Just two years after Sunkara launched Jacobin, he was working assiduously to burnish his left credentials. This meant downplaying the Sandernista politics of the recent past, getting ISO’ers and other Marxist critics of the DP to write for Jacobin, and generally striking leftist poses. He threw the gauntlet down against the liberal establishment in the pages of The Nation in an Open Letter that had this subhead: “Liberalism—including much of what’s published in this magazine—seems well-intentioned but inadequate. The solution lies in the re-emergence of American radicalism.”

In introducing himself to Nation readers, Sunkara supplied a bit of autobiographical information. At the dinner tables of childhood friends, he was pressed to identify himself ideologically. He would “meekly” call himself a socialist, all the while regretting that he couldn’t just utter the word “liberal” instead. “Like Sweden?”, he would be asked. He replied, “No, like the Russian Revolution before its degeneration into Stalinism.” In just a couple of years he would become a diehard Sandernista, never once being discomfited by his idol’s insistence on describing socialism as what they have in Sweden.

As might be obvious at this point, Sunkara has been carrying out a delicate balancing act since he launched Jacobin. He hopes to become the leading authority on Marxism by tracing his lineage back to Karl Kautsky, an aspiration that draws sustenance from the articles written by Lars Lih and his disciple Eric Blanc over the years. Filled with erudition, Lih and Blanc’s work is bent on elevating Kautsky and demoting Leon Trotsky.

As a symbol of uncompromising revolutionary ambition, Trotsky hardly seemed to be a useful figure for the Jacobin intellectuals to exploit. They became specialists in connecting the dotted lines between Kautsky, Lenin and Bernie Sanders. Sunkara hoped to keep left and right in perfect balance. In his left hand, you had Kautsky and in his right Bernie Sanders, a professional politician who now endorses Joe Biden. Like Philippe Petite walking a tightrope across the Twin Towers in 1974, Sunkara has to find a windless day to make the daring trek across the political landscape. Needless to say, the past few months have amounted to a political category-5 hurricane, so it is not clear that a balancing act can work.

Sunkara got around to replying to Dreier on May 4th in a Nation article titled “What Should Socialists Do in November?” Despite the nod to Hawkins that got Dreier so worked up, there’s a wink-wink, nod-nod aspect to his article that makes the difference between them vanishingly small:

Of course, I’d rather see a Democrat in the White House than a Republican. Biden is part of a centrist party that has within it not just the oligarchs he favors but a progressive, labor-oriented wing, as well. Trump, on the other hand, is the leader of a right-wing party filled with reactionaries. It’s obvious that socialists would rather be the political opposition to a government composed of centrists than one of the radical right.

This is just another way to tell DSA’ers that it is kosher to vote for Biden. Like Earl Browder, who saw the need for the CPUSA to run its own candidates to give the appearance of class independence, Sunkara says his personal choice is a vote for Howie Hawkins. Very radical of him. Yet, who you vote for is personal, not political. Don’t you see?

If it is up to leftists to make personal decisions about who to vote for, why stand in the way of those who succumb to the pressure of voting for Biden? As Sunkara put it, “I’d rather see a Democrat in the White House than a Republican.” Wink-wink, nod-nod.

Instead of—god forbid—using his authority to actually help build the Green Party, Sunkara subscribes to the theory of building a surrogate within the Democratic Party:

What I left unsaid is what kind of organization could spearhead this strategy—a “party-surrogate.” This would be an organization that, as Jared Abbot and Dustin Guastella argue in Jacobin, “would be internally democratic, financed by dues, focused on member mobilization, and organized around a workers’ agenda.” Such a vehicle could contest elections on the Democratic Party ballot line—not ordinary Democrats, but candidates bound together by a simple, common program, who eschew corporate funding and are propelled to power by a broad membership base.

This is the same Dustin Guastella who lectured Jacobin readers against trying to help start a new left party in an article titled “Like It or Not, If We Run Third Party, We Will Lose”. But Dreier is not assuaged by what Sunkara and Guastella tell DSAers and Jacobin readers in these kinds of circumlocutions.  He wants the Full Monty, with them on the stage fully naked, playing trumpets and banging the drums for Biden.

Missing entirely from both Dreier’s attack and Sunkara’s defense is any recognition of the gravity of the situation we now face. Economists, except those writing for the Hoover Institution or the Heritage Foundation, are predicting a plunge into Great Depression type misery with hunger, homelessness and the lack of healthcare on a monumental scale. Meanwhile, Laurie Garrett argues that a three-year pandemic is the best case scenario.

Facing such a disaster, what hopes can we place in either a Biden presidency or Sunkara/Guastella’s “party-surrogate” model that is based on incremental change through the election of candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was the only Democrat to vote against Trump’s pro-billionaire bail-out. There are 236 Democrats in the House of Representatives and only 1 votes the right way? Is the idea to organize DSA to back candidates who think and act like A. O-C? To tell you the truth, I’d expect her to become much more like Nancy Pelosi than the other way around.

Right now there are wildcat strikes taking place all around the country. Imagine the impact it would have if DSA began organizing people to get jobs in meatpacking houses, Amazon fulfillment centers and other front-line essential companies. In the 1930s, the CP sent people into coal mines, steel mills and auto plants. The Trotskyists sent Farrell Dobbs into a warehouse doing the same kind of dirty work that Howie Hawkins did before he retired as a Teamster last year.

The SWP miscalculated in 1978 when it pressured me to take a job as spot welder in Kansas City. If I were in my 20s today, I’d be far more willing to become part of a radical working-class movement that is destined to take shape today under conditions unlike any I have seen in my entire life.

For the DSA to become part of this burgeoning movement, it will have to wake up to the reality we face today and drop the neo-Eduard Bernstein incrementalism. The idea of slow and steady change leading to a social democratic government in the USA 20 or so years from now is utopian. It is far more likely that we are headed into unimaginable disasters with maybe a million people victims of the capitalist back-to-work drive.

Young radicals to the left of the DSA have to figure out a way to consolidate their ranks and begin the process of building a revolutionary movement. Howie Hawkins and his running-mate Angela Walker are clearly too old to play this role but they can play a major role in drawing clear class lines that are so necessary today as we enter a period in which “catastrophe” is the norm.

Dreier worries that Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker will be spoilers once again. In reality, the true spoilers will be the Democratic Party machinery in NY that has already made ballot access for 3rd parties onerous. Given the absolutely horrendous Hobson’s Choice between Trump and Biden, more people than ever will be open to voting for the GP. Unlike Sunkara, Hawkins understands that it will take a revolutionary movement to win a Green New Deal and other major reforms so necessary today. That movement will use mass actions in the streets and the openness to new political ideas during election years to move the struggle forward.

Under normal conditions, people tend to be conservative. Not in the sense of the National Review but in the sense of going to work and returning home in the evening to stare at the TV. In the 1960s, I saw people forsaking their conservatism and becoming activists, including me. That was in a time of prosperity. Today, there is no prosperity. Instead, we face a headlong dive into the abyss. The only practical political response is to become revolutionary. Last year before the coronavirus struck, I wrote about crises down the road that would demand revolutionary action. I had no idea that such a time would come so quickly. In 1915, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the Junius Pamphlet as a call to action against WWI and the need for worldwide revolution. We have to begin thinking in the same terms as Rosa Luxemburg who put it forward most eloquently:

This brutal victory parade of capital through the world, its way prepared by every means of violence, robbery, and infamy, has its light side. It creates the preconditions for its own final destruction. It put into place the capitalist system of world domination, the indispensable precondition for the socialist world revolution. This alone constitutes the cultural, progressive side of its reputed “great work of civilization” in the primitive lands. For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads, Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are “progress” and “civilization.” In themselves these works grafted onto primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress, for they are bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must experience simultaneously the full misery and horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic system and the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation. Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the stamp of progress in the historical sense only because they create the material preconditions for the abolition of capitalist domination and class society in general. And in this sense imperialism ultimately works for us.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.