Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 4, 2016

Mark Lause: Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory

Filed under: North Star,two-party system — louisproyect @ 12:35 am

stein-clinton-trump-701x394

Here we are, weeks after the 2016 election and Green candidate Jill Stein and her campaign committee are looming larger in the news than they ever did during the presidential race itself.   Her efforts to raise money for a formal recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have gained regular national attention and involves much more money than the campaign itself had raised.  Proponents insist that this drive to win a recount in three pivotal states that turned the election against Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with cozying up to the Democrats and is about nothing less than the integrity of the electoral process itself.

However, much of the Green Party itself has thus far remained aloof, and prominent party figures have declared themselves against the effort.  (See Daniel Marans, “Jill Stein’s Recount Campaign Is Winning Her New Fame — And Losing Her The Green Party,” Huffington Post, December 1, 2016.)  Brandy Baker has drawn stark conclusions about it in “The Stein Campaign and the Fight for Green Party Independence,” Counterpunch, November 28, 2016.  Stein’s vice presidential running mate, Ajamu Baraka called the recount “a potentially dangerous move” that gave the public the impression that the Greens were “carrying the water for the Democrats.” (Eli Watkins, “Jill Stein’s running mate: ‘I’m not in favor of the recount'” CNN, November 30, 2016.)  Discerning conservatives have been delighted to see the candidate go one way and the party the other.  (Warner Todd Huston, “Green Party releases statement distancing itself from Jill Stein,” Bizpac Review, December 1, 2016.)  Nevertheless, the Democrats generally seem to follow the lead of President-elect Donald J. Trump in describing the recount project as the work of the Green Party.

Some backstory on this might be helpful.

The Origins

According to published accounts, the recount project began with John Bonifaz, a Boston attorney who has founded and/or officered a series of organizations around voting rights.   Although he reportedly voted Green once, he is a registered Democrat and has run for statewide office as a Democrat. (See his bio on Wiki  or on his Free Speech for People site.)  Almost as soon as the 2016 election was over, he raised the concerns of what he calls “the electoral integrity community” about the integrity of the elections based on what some cited as statistically anomalous “indicators” in the three states that Clinton had hoped to win but lost to Trump.  Bonifaz dutifully took those concerns to his party.  (See Gabriel Shermen, “Experts Urge Clinton Campaign to Challenge Election Results in 3 Swing States,” Daily Intelligencer, reposted New York Magazine.)

Read full article

December 3, 2016

Gus Hall surrenders

Filed under: trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 10:13 pm

NY Times, June 1, 1937

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-5-10-48-pm

December 2, 2016

Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers

Filed under: Counterpunch,New Deal,racism,trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-6-14-08-pm

She argues that affirmative action divides the working class

Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers

It goes without saying, that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans – all of that is ENORMOUSLY important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen. But it is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class in this country and is going to take on big-money interests. And one of the struggles that we’re going to have…in the Democratic Party is it’s not good enough for me to say we have x number of African Americans over here, we have y number of Latinos, we have z number of women, we are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough!

As someone who had little use for Hillary Clinton or any Democrat for that matter, there was something a bit troubling about the “class trumping identity” plea since it reminded me of contradictions that have bedeviled the revolutionary movement from its inception. While the idea of uniting workers on the basis of their class interests and transcending ethnic, gender and other differences has enormous appeal at first blush, there are no easy ways to implement such an approach given the capitalist system’s innate tendency to create divisions in the working class in order to maintain its grip over the class as a whole.

Read full article

December 1, 2016

Erwin Baur, presente!

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 6:44 pm

Erwin Baur died last night December 1, 2016 at 101 years old. Erwin was a tireless fighter for the working class, labor unions, and socialism. He placed himself deep in the trenches, modest, but intensely dedicated to promoting social change and the cause of labor. We owe to him and people like him much of the progress that was made in the US around working conditions and workers rights in the 1930s and later on. Born in Hilden (Düsseldorf) Germany, he was brought to North America at age 11 by his parents and after years of work in Ohio and Michigan retired to California where he died. Erwin Baur Presente!

My interview with Erwin:

November 29, 2016

Merci, Patron

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:18 pm

I strongly urge New Yorkers to see “Merci, Patron”, a laugh-out-loud radical French documentary that has the power of a Molotov cocktail.

Described by the FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) publicist as a Michael Moore-inspired documentary that “takes on the fashion industry, globalization, and the richest man in France in an entertaining, personal look at one of today’s biggest issues”, it will be screened one night only on Thursday, December first at 7:30pm in FIAF’s Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street (between Madison & Park).

Yes, it is inspired by Michael Moore but only so far. There is an obvious similarity to “Roger and Me” since the film starts off with Fakir journalist François Ruffin trying to meet Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH—the luxury goods conglomerate that originally started as a merger of Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy but grew to include many other products marketed to the wealthy. Like Roger Smith, Arnault gives Ruffin the cold shoulder.

One of the companies LVMH absorbed was Kenzo, which like nearly all the takeovers engineered by Arnault resulted in French workers being fired and production moved to low-wage Poland. Ruffin hones in on a group of workers in northern France who were made redundant in the Kenzo takeover. Like the auto workers in Flint, they are facing a grim future—particularly Serge Klur and his wife Jocelyn, a late middle aged couple. They have been reduced to penury and are in danger of losing the house they have lived in for thirty years.

The film revolves around Ruffin working with the Klurs to extort money from Arnault to put it bluntly. Unless he pays them the money they need to pay for their house and to help Serge get a permanent job, they will send letters to newspapers and left politicians bringing attention to their plight, making him look like a greedy bastard. Not only that, they will crash one of his glitzy fashion shows with workers from Goodyear, who were notorious for battling the cops in an effort to save 1,200 jobs in 2013.

Any resemblance between Ruffin and Moore is purely coincidental. It has not only never occurred to Moore to use a film as a tool for workers struggles; he continues to think in utopian terms about how the USA can become more like the “enlightened” French. In his 2015 “Where to Invade Next”, Moore interviews French children who are eating a healthy free lunch and asks the question why can’t the USA do the same. Needless to say, Moore has never paid attention to people like the Klurs nor taken his camera crew to the Calais Jungle where refugees were trying desperately to reach England.

Moore had high hopes for Barack Obama, who he obviously believed would become the European social democrat Fox News warned future Trump voters about. Ruffin has no such illusions. In one telling scene, he shows France’s Obama—the arch-neoliberal François Hollande—surrounded by LVMH executives in some publicity event flattering those who have imposed austerity on the French working class. He states that there is not much the Klurs can expect from the likes of Hollande.

Ruffin has little in common with the pro-Democratic Party comedians like Moore or the sorry lot that are seen each night on Comedy Central or HBO. He is an editor at Fakir magazine, one that I had not heard about previously. The money to make the film came from Fakir subscribers. Maybe Jacobin could think in terms of using its expanding empire to fund similar efforts.

Some commentators credit “Merci, Patron” as inspiring the Nuit debout movement, a protest against legislation designed to make the French labor market more “flexible”. Arnault, who is the richest man in France and the 12th richest person in the world, clearly understood what he was up against when he stated the following about the film: “LVMH is the illustration, the incarnation of the worst, according to these extreme leftist observers, of what the market economy produces.” If there’s hope for the French, let’s hope for ourselves as well.

November 28, 2016

Off the Rails; Asperger’s Are Us

Filed under: Film,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 8:01 pm

Just by coincidence, two documentaries about people with Asperger Syndrome premiered this November. Showing through December 1 at the Metrograph in New York, “Off the Rails” is a portrait of Darius McCollum, an African-American famous (or infamous to the authorities) for commandeering NY’s subway trains and buses, often under the assumed identity of an MTA employee. There is also “Asperger’s Are Us” that can be seen on ITunes and Amazon. It follows four young men with Asperger’s who perform together as a comedy group and who were initially drawn together because telling jokes was one of the ways they could break out of their isolation. In an odd way, McCollum’s obsession with trains was his way of connecting with people, especially when one of his joy rides would make the front-page news. Perhaps joy ride is not the right term since McCollum’s sole interest was in following MTA regulations to the letter, often more conscientiously than any employee.

It was nearly 35 years ago when New Yorkers learned of McCollum’s maiden voyage in the NY Times:

RIDERS UNAWARE AS BOY, 15, OPERATES IND TRAIN
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Published: January 31, 1981

A 15-year-old Queens boy took over the controls of a subway train Thursday night and operated it as its passengers rode unaware for six stops from 34th Street to the World Trade Center, transit authorities reported.

Both the boy and the motorman were arrested. The motorman, Carl Scholack, 46, said he had permitted the boy to take the throttle because he had become ”violently ill,” according to officials. He was suspended from duty pending an investigation.

The train set out from 179th Street in Jamaica on the IND’s E line at 11:25 P.M. with Mr. Scholack in charge, the police said. They said Mr. Scholack, who has been with the Transit Authority for 13 years, told them he had let the youth take over alone at 34th Street, having tested his ability over a two-stop stretch in Queens.

The idea, investigators said, was for the boy to guide the train, which was carrying about a dozen passengers, to the Chambers Street/World Trade Center terminal. He was then to start the return run to Jamaica with Mr. Scholack waiting at 34th Street to resume control.

Officials declined to identify the youth, but other sources named him as Darius McCollum of South Jamaica, a student at a technical school. Officials said his parents had previously asked to have him declared a juvenile in need of supervision. He reportedly picked up a knowledge of subway equipment and signals while ”hanging out” at the Jamaica yards.

If this was his only arrest, he might have been a footnote but as soon as he got out of jail, he surrendered to his obsession many times to the point where he would end up spending half his life behind bars.

Except for appearances by sympathetic lawyers, psychiatrists and social workers who have been involved professionally keeping him out of jail, McCollum is on camera explaining how became so inexplicably devoted to assuming the identity of a subway or bus operator. You’d think that if you were facing five years in Sing Sing, it would be for robbing a bank and not doing the kind of work that made Ralph Kramden miserable for free.

McCollum is a genial sort who does not seem that troubled by all the years he has spent in penitentiaries. Like a drug offender who has just been released from prison, he always returns to the habit that cost him his freedom. Is it possible that he only feels free when he is operating a subway train or bus?

Like drug addicts, there was never any reason to lock McCollum up since he was suffering from a mental illness that compelled him to return to the scenes of his crimes. In the United States today, the prisons are filled with drug addicts and the mentally ill—a symptom of a society in terminal decay. After one of his releases, McCollum landed an internship working for the MTA museum in New York and was doing an exceptional job—no surprise given his encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s transportation system. As soon as the MTA found out, they told the museum to fire him. Once he lost that connection, it was inevitable that he would begin taking over trains and buses again. So, who is mentally ill? McCollum or the men in suits who were ready to crucify him? That is the question posed by this compelling documentary.

Unlike Darius McCollum, the four men in “Asperger’s Are Us” live fairly conventional lives as the children of white middle-class New England suburbanites. They met more than a decade ago at a camp for children with Asperger’s and discovered that they all liked to make jokes.

Like McCollum, there is not much in the way they speak or behave that would give you the impression that they were on the autism spectrum except for those moments when they get stressed out. When they are rehearsing at one of their homes, the youth who lives there begins to pace nervously because his parents are there. Like most people with Asperger’s, he is not comfortable with intimacy. In another scene, we see his father touching him affectionately in the kitchen—something that it took a long time for him to accept.

The film follows the four around as they rehearse for their yearly theatrical appearance that shows the influence of Monty Python. They readily admit that they are indifferent to the audience response since their real goal is to bond with each other doing what they enjoy. As they laugh at each other’s antics, you would mistake them for any four undergrads, which in fact is what they are or will become. One of them has been accepted into a year-long program at Oxford and we learn in the closing credits that he won an award for his academic performance. He is now working on a PhD on the Nordic model for combatting sex trafficking.

Ironically, one of them has the same obsession with trains as McCollum but was able to put it to productive use. His hobby, which involved gaining a detailed knowledge of the national train network, led to him work on a master’s degree in transportation planning.

Both films will help you understand Asperger’s better even if both lack the talking head expertise of psychiatrists. A quick look on the Internet revealed that there are some well-known people with the illness (if you want to call it that) including Dan Ackroyd.

Considered a milder autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it differs from others by allowing relatively normal language and intelligence. It is estimated that 31 million people suffer from Asperger’s globally and there is no “cure” as such. Wikipedia states: “Some researchers and people on the autism spectrum have advocated a shift in attitudes toward the view that autism spectrum disorder is a difference, rather than a disease that must be treated or cured.”

As is the case with cancer, some experts believe that environmental factors have led to an increase in the number of all autism cases, including Asperger’s. Given the drift of late capitalism, you can be assured that the environmental factor will multiply exponentially as corporations seek profits over well-being. That’s the real madness when you stop and thing about it.

November 27, 2016

Was there an alternative to Fidel Castro’s “Stalinism”?

Filed under: cuba — louisproyect @ 9:42 pm

Today I was shocked by the torrent of denunciations aimed at the Stalinist “dictator” Fidel Castro. No, I am not talking about CBS or CNN, where it might be expected. Rather it emanated from FB friends, most of whom supported Tony Cliff’s theory of State Capitalism but with some anarchists as well. I was also shocked by the vehemence that exceeded anything that Sam Farber or Mike Gonzalez wrote for the occasion even though they were as bad as I might have expected.

Although I had originally considered writing a longer piece on Castro’s passing, I decided instead to focus in on the question of Fidel Castro’s “Stalinism”. For people such as Farber and Gonzalez, the solution to Cuba’s difficulties would have been a “revolution from below”. Farber puts it this way:

It’s certainly not a socialist society because the working class and the rest of the population do not have democratic control over decision-making. It’s one variety of what and I and others call “bureaucratic collectivism.” Bureaucratic collectivist societies, where a ruling class controls property politically through its control of an undemocratic state rather than individually or privately, differ from each other, but share a basic character — just as capitalist countries vary among themselves: Sweden is not Japan is not the United States.

It might be pointed out that Farber is an old-line Shachtmanite rather than a State Capitalist like the ISO that he frequently writes for. The distinction between bureaucratic collectivism and State Capitalism is hardly worth going into here since we should all understand that from their respective standpoints, Cuba’s government is rotten to the core and needs to be overthrown by an aroused proletariat.

Apparently, these comrades had a different idea of the kind of change that Cuba needed in 1959. Instead of a guerrilla army working in tandem with middle-class elements in Havana, it needed a party like Lenin’s that would have taken power on the basis of worker’s committees even if none had germinated in the struggle against Batista.

Let’s imagine that such a possibility had existed and come to fruition on the basis of a leadership rooted in the working class that had aligned itself with Tony Cliff’s international movement or some reasonable facsimile. Like the sainted Bolsheviks, it would have collectivized the means of production and developed the economy with democratically decided plans hammered out by the workers themselves. It would have been the Paris Commune raised to the tenth power.

Even more in keeping with Cliff or Max Shachtman’s theories, there was complete workers democracy with a free press, the right to assemble and form parties that would contest for power in elections. But above all, the government had to conduct an assault on the American domination of the economy as JFK himself admitted:

At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands—almost all the cattle ranches—90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions—80 percent of the utilities—practically all the oil industry—and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports.

So, let’s not mince words on this. If someone as fearless as Sam Farber or Mike Gonzalez had been the Lenin of Cuba (I should mention that Farber believes that Lenin’s anti-democratic tendencies gave rise to Stalin), the first task would have been to seize American properties. Would Washington have been less determined to crush the government if it had been committed to democracy and “socialism from below”? I feel stupid even asking such a question.

You would also have to assume that the revolutionary socialist leadership of Cuba that passed Sam Farber or Mike Gonzalez’s litmus test would have been principled enough to denounce the USSR’s treatment of dissidents, its domination of the Ukrainians and other subject peoples, and its general betrayal of the original goals of the Russian Revolution.

So simultaneously you have Cuba nationalizing American corporations that had a stranglehold on the economy and issuing proclamations calling for the overthrow of the Soviet bureaucracy. Not only would you have Esso and ITT on your case; you’d have Khrushchev so pissed off that smoke would be coming out of his ears.

But none of this would matter because Cuba would prevail on the basis of its socialist principles. All of its enemies would melt away in its path. Workers would produce sugar and tobacco for the world market even if the USA imposed a blockade just as it did for the “Stalinist” Fidel Castro. Embargo? No problem. Just remind the capitalist marketplace that Cuba has a free press. That would assuage them, I’ll bet. The NY Times wouldn’t mind Esso being seized by communists as long as there was freedom of the press. Right.

Leaving such fantasies aside, imperialism would be just as committed to the destruction of a democratic socialist Cuba as it was to a Stalinist Cuba. How do I know? Because the USA was part of the 21-nation invasion of the USSR in 1919 that cost a million deaths and production to be reduced to 20 percent of its pre-Civil War level. In fact, Cuba suffered virtually the same economic losses even though the Bay of Pigs victory reduced the possibility of a major loss of life.

In a review of Salim Lamrani’s “The Economic War Against Cuba” on CounterPunch, Daniel Kovalik writes:

Lamrani concludes that the results of this relentless 50-year blockade have cost Cuba more than $751 billion, and has “affected all sectors of Cuban society and all categories of the population, especially the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, and women.   Over 70 percent of all Cubans have lived in a climate of permanent economic hostility.”

The USA understood that economic suffering would perhaps turn the people against the government just as Ronald Reagan hoped that the contra war would make the Nicaraguans “cry uncle”. Lamrani quotes Lester D. Mallory, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, who wrote on August 6, 1960:

The majority of the Cuban people support Castro.  There is no effective political opposition.  . . .  The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship.   . . .   every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . a line of action which . . . makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.

But it wasn’t enough for Cuba to have to put up with this. Farber and Gonzalez insist that the government had to publicly differentiate itself from the Kremlin, taking every opportunity to denounce it for its bureaucratic crimes. So not only would Cuba have to suffer 751 billion dollars in economic losses for its democratic revolutionary socialist measures against Esso, ITT et al, it would not be able to rely on the Soviet bloc for assistance. Indeed, we could be guaranteed that Khrushchev would have been just as anxious as JFK to get rid of the troublemakers who we must assume would be providing material aid and advice to like-minded revolutionary movements in Latin America just as Lenin and Trotsky did in the 1920s.

As it happens, the Castro brothers and Che Guevara were never likely to confront the USSR because they, like most of the Latin American left in the 1950s, regarded the Soviets as defenders of socialism. Keep in mind that the USSR enjoyed enormous prestige in the 1950s for having been primarily responsible for defeating the Nazis and for its ability to recover so quickly from its wartime devastation without any outside help. Young men and women would naturally be inclined to look to the USSR for help rather to alienate its top leaders, especially someone like Nikita Khrushchev who had made a speech just three years before Castro took power that stated:

Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed these concepts or tried to prove his [own] viewpoint and the correctness of his [own] position was doomed to removal from the leadership collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation. This was especially true during the period following the 17th Party Congress, when many prominent Party leaders and rank-and-file Party workers, honest and dedicated to the cause of Communism, fell victim to Stalin’s despotism.

But the Cuban press under an anti-Stalinist editorial board like the ISO’s or New Politics would have not been satisfied with these words. It would have written scathing attacks on Khrushchev for crushing dissent in the USSR and serving the interests of a privileged bureaucracy no matter what he said.

I think by now you get the point. People like Farber and Gonzalez don’t really care about such matters since their role politically is to differentiate themselves from all the evil Stalinists of the 20th and 21st century who have betrayed the principles of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Thank god we have professors like them to stand up for True Socialism. Imagine the fat FBI file that Farber accumulated writing such courageous articles. It is a miracle that Brooklyn College did not try to fire him.

Does it matter that a government that took their advice seriously would be snuffed within a year of its taking power? Obviously not. They don’t really care about the difficulties of wielding power in a world controlled by immensely powerful capitalist states, including one that was only 90 miles from Cuba.

That they and their supporters would take the opportunity of Fidel Castro’s death to raise their litany of complaints about Stalinism while his body was still warm really fills me with disgust. I should probably expect this by now after seeing all the junk written about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution in their press for the past 25 years or so but I still can’t get over it.

November 26, 2016

New York African Diaspora International Film Festival 2016

Filed under: Africa,Film — louisproyect @ 8:31 pm

Last night the African Diaspora International Film Festival (NYADIFF) opened in New York City. Based on the three films I had an opportunity to see in advance, I strongly urge you to visit their website and look for schedule information for those and other films that are intended to present such “films to diverse audiences, redesign the Black cinema experience, and strengthen the role of African and African descent directors in contemporary world cinema” as the organizers put it.

If you were like most on the left, including me, the idea of a biopic about Toussaint Louverture would be inextricably linked to a project associated with Danny Glover after he received $18 million from Hugo Chavez in 2006 to begin such a project. From the looks of http://www.louverturefilms.com/, it appears that the film will never be made since in Glover’s words the company started with Chavez’s money is now dedicated to a somewhat different agenda:

Louverture Films produces independent films of historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity. Taking its name and inspiration from the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture – famous for always creating an “opening” in the face of enormous obstacles – Louverture Films partners with progressive filmmakers and producers around the world and particularly from the global South, and pro-actively supports the employment and training of cast and crew from communities of color in the United States.

As it happens, you can still see a biopic about the man whose feats CLR James celebrated in “The Black Jacobins” as part of the NYADIFF. Made for French TV in a two-part series in 2012 and directed by Phillipe Niang, a Frenchman of Senegalese heritage, this is a tightly paced historical drama with excellent performances that should be on the “must see” list of anybody trying to understand the difficulties of the colonial revolution. In many ways, the struggle led by Toussaint Louverture prefigured the chaos in Syria today with its intractable divisions and meddling by outside powers.

Niang could have easily made a film that was 1800 minutes long rather than 180 and it still would have only scratched the surface of the Haitian revolution—or more properly speaking the one that occurred on the western half of the island called Hispaniola that was divided between Spanish and French rule. Known as Saint-Domingue, it was the Pearl of the Antilles to the French and just as key to the mother country’s prosperity as Jamaica was to the British.

When the rebellion began in 1791, Louverture made tactical alliances first with the Spanish and then with the French but only in the interests of the underlying principle of abolishing slavery. Jimmy Jean-Louis, a Haitian actor who turns in a tour de force performance of Louverture, is adept at portraying the complex relationship between his character and all the elites he is forced to compromise with in order to achieve his ultimate goal. Not only does he have to deal with outside powers, he has to balance clashing interests in Saint-Domingue, including those of the slaves, the Mulattos (the term used by the characters in the film as was the case historically) and the white plantation owners—some of whom were British.

Since this is a biopic, Niang used a narrative device that ties together all of the important stages of Louverture’s struggle against slavery. Jailed in France, he is visited by Pasquier, a cop sent by Bonaparte to find out where he has supposedly buried a vast treasure accumulated during his brief rule. This entails recording the details of Louverture’s life in the hopes of finally finding out the secret hiding place of the treasure, which eventually leads to a Citizen Kane Rosebud type ending.

Sitting in his cold cell, the ailing ex-General tells his life story that function as a series of flashbacks in the film. Most of it is true, even though it hardly conforms to the image that most of us have of Toussaint Louverture. I found myself consulting “The Black Jacobins” throughout the film just to make sure that Niang wasn’t making things up.

For example, in part one we see Louverture serving as a junior officer to Georges Biassou, an early leader of the revolt who is depicted in the film as a capricious drunk. Even if Niang’s portrait was overdrawn, James described him this way: “Biassou was a fire-eater, always drunk, always ready for the fiercest and most dangerous exploits.”

If there’s any value to Niang’s film, it is that it will spur audience members to study Haitian history, starting with CLR James’s classic. I plan to read it as soon as I can since its account of events in Louverture’s reign jibes with the film, as far as I can tell from a brief foray into “The Black Jacobins”. If you had the idea that James’s classic was some kind of hagiography, you will learn that for him Louverture was a combination of Trotsky and Stalin.

In part two of the film, we see Louverture—now a governor who has declared himself President for Life—inviting plantation owners back to Haiti and imposing forced labor on the former slaves after the fashion of the American south following the end of Reconstruction. As was the case in the cotton belt, former slaves in Haiti preferred to work on their own small plots rather than pick sugar cane. The film depicts Louverture directing his soldiers to impose labor discipline on a white-owned plantation. James writes:

His regulations were harsh. The labourers were sent to work 24 hours after he assumed control of any district, and he authorised the military commandants of the parishes to take measures necessary for keeping them on the plantations. The Republic, he wrote, has no use for dull or incapable men. It was forced labour and restraint of movement. But the need brooked no barriers.

His nephew Moïse, whose mother was killed by white rapists, was much more like the Louverture of our imagination. Played effectively by Giovanni Grangerac, he is constantly pressuring his uncle from the left—a Jacobin to his uncle’s Girondist in effect. Fed up by the refusal of Louverture to go “all the way”, he leads a Nat Turner type revolt that eventually is crushed by Louverture’s troops and lands him in front of a firing squad. James writes about Moïse’s resistance:

And in these last crucial months, Toussaint, fully aware of Bonaparte’s preparations, was busy sawing off the branch on which he sat. In the North, around Plaisance, Limb, Dondon, the vanguard of the revolution was not satisfied with the new regime. Toussaint’s discipline was hard, but it was infinitely better than the old slavery. What these old revolutionary blacks objected to was working for their white masters. Moïse was the Commandant of the North Province, and Moïse sympathised with the blacks. Work, yes, but not for whites. “Whatever my old uncle may do, I cannot bring myself to be the executioner of my colour. It is always in the interests of the metropolis that he scolds me; but these interests are those of the whites, and I shall only love them when they have given me back the eye that they made me lose in battle.”

Although I can recommend seeing this film without reservations, I would be remiss if I did not mention the highly critical review by historian Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall. Titled “Happy as a Slave: The Toussaint Louverture miniseries”, her article regards it as “well-intentioned” but bordering on Margaret Mitchell territory:

While Niang likely did not realize he was doing so, the film papers over the brutality of slavery. Violence against slaves is almost non-existent. Even in isolated instances (such as an invented scene where Toussaint’s chained father drowns; another where his invented sister reports being raped; and another in which mob of angry colons chases Toussaint), the film is quick to contrast bad whites with kindly slave-owners. Whippings are completely absent; work on the plantation looks peaceful and bucolic.

Yes, all this is true but one-sided. Niang probably didn’t see the need to portray slavery as brutal since this would have been assumed at the outset. Instead the focus is on Louverture’s heroic struggle to abolish slavery and to win independence for his nation against what turned out to be insurmountable odds. I say this on the day that Fidel Castro died, a man that CLR James would have likely regarded as the Toussaint Louverture of the 20th century.

On the surface, “Seasons of a Life” sounds like a Lifetime movie. A lawyer and his wife are dealing with her inability to become pregnant and adopt a baby boy. To help the couple raise him, they hire a sixteen-year-old nanny—a poor orphan–who the boy adores.

So does the husband but on a different basis. When the wife takes a business trip, he forces himself sexually on the nanny and continues to do so whenever the wife is away. This leads to her becoming pregnant and a refusal to have an abortion that the lawyer insists on her having. After the baby boy is born, he applies pressure once again on the vulnerable young woman to put the baby up for adoption that he will have first dibs on through prior agreement with the adoption agency’s chief.

The nanny in Horatio Alger fashion gets great grades in high school and wins a scholarship to college and then into law school. Once she is established, she shows up at the man’s home and announces that she plans to sue him for custody of her child.

This is not exactly a film I would have sought out but since it was made in Malawi by a Malawian director, I decided to watch it and am damned glad I did. This is a film that will tell you far more about the ascending middle class in Africa than any Thomas Friedman column plus it is a well-written and well-acted old fashioned tale of the sort that might have starred Bette Davis. Strongly recommended.

Finally there is “Youssou N’Dour: Return to Gorée” that chronicles the great Senegalese singer’s attempt to bond with African-American musicians in a kind of pilgrimage to the New World.

Located near Dakar, Senegal, the island of Gorée was one of West Africa’s major slavery depots. The film begins with N’Dour reflecting on the great injustice done to his homeland and his hopes for a new project involving various musicians whose ancestors might have departed from this terrible place. He will visit the New World to gather together a diverse group of musicians who share a common identification with Mother Africa.

After being joined in Senegal by his pianist Moncef Genoud, a blind Frenchman born in Tunisia, the two depart for the U.S.-the first stop Atlanta, Georgia. There they meet the Harmony Harmoneers, a local gospel group that he watches performing in church. Despite his affinity for their music, he stresses the need to avoid references to Jesus in their performances together. The songs that he is recruiting fellow African descendants to sing with him have to do with children getting a good education, not being saved by Jesus. Without making any obvious points about their religious differences, we see Youssou praying toward Mecca in his hotel room later.

Next stop is New Orleans, where N’Dour looks up drummer Idris Muhammad and bass player James Cammack. Muhammad, a devout Muslim like N’Dour, is like a number of American jazz musicians who were drawn to a religion in which racial discrimination does not tend to rear its ugly head. The enlarged group now wends its way to New York, where they pick up jazz vocalist Pyeng Threadgill, who is the daughter of avant-garde musician Henry Threadgill. A reception for Youssou N’Dour includes a special guest, Amiri Baraka, who reflects on the importance of African identity for him when he became politicized in the 1960s.

Ultimately the musicians arrive back in Dakar where they hear a local griot lecture on the injustices committed at Gorée. Idris Muhammad and Pyeng Threadgill are shown bonding with local musicians and ordinary citizens.

Throughout the film, we see Youssou N’Dour in performance in a setting somewhat different from the customary Afropop context. He has obviously developed a new affinity for jazz and meshes well with his ad hoc band gathered together for the occasion. The band is eventually joined by the Harmony Harmoneers in a performance that illustrates how music is the universal vocabulary of humanity.

November 25, 2016

Don’t Think Twice

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 9:09 pm

“Don’t Think Twice:” Art is Socialism, Life is Capitalism

When I posted my movie consumer’s guide for 2012, among the recommended films was “Sleepwalk With Me”, a quirky “indie” film based on the real life career of Mike Birbiglia, a self-deprecating, mildly amusing standup comedian who is a sleepwalker. Among the things we learn about him in this modest work is that unless he spends the night in a sleeping bag atop a bed, there is a chance that he might walk out a second story window as he once did.

After getting an invitation from a publicist to see his latest film “Don’t Think Twice”, I was eager to see it based on his earlier work. On one level, it is the same kind of breezy entertainment as “Sleepwalk With Me” but on a higher level it is a dark and deeply perceptive meditation on the phenomenon that William James described in a letter to H.G. Wells in 1906: “The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.”

Birbiglia stars as Miles, the founder and director of an improvisational comedy group called The Commune that performs in a theater named Improv for America. While there is nothing overtly political about the group’s performances, their improvisational techniques suggest a certain kind of value system familiar to those of us who lived through the 60s:

1/ Say Yes: Always accept your partner’s cue on stage to move the improvisation forward.

2/ It’s All About the Group: The individual is subordinate to the collective performance. Stardom is frowned upon.

3/ Don’t Think: This is about getting out of your head and acting on your impulses. It is also a reference to the film’s title, one of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs that we hear in the closing credits of the film.

Read full article

November 24, 2016

Rand Wilson’s road to Damascus-like conversion to the Democratic Party

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,trade unions — louisproyect @ 6:01 pm

Rand Wilson

If I was a conspiracy theorist like many on the left, I’d suspect that the glowing tributes to the fresh-faced Marxism of Bhaskar Sunkara’s Jacobin Magazine in the bourgeois press are a calculated bid to keep radicals tied to the Democratic Party. Unlike the musty, grandfatherly Dissent Magazine that was tainted by the likes of Michael Walzer, Jacobin was graced by the brash hipster image of Sunkara who was clever enough not to hide the fact that the seed money for the magazine came from “hustling away, doing whatever: from selling marijuana to small-scale bootlegging”. Certainly, if you were in your early 20s and on the left, that was something you could identify with as opposed to the magazine that Woody Allen once described as being merged with Commentary in order to form a new one called Dysentary. Plus, it also helped to have flashy graphics. If you are going to sell people on the Democratic Party, it helps to have magazine covers that look like they were drawn by some Futurist living in Moscow in the early 20s.

If there was a conspiracy to keep the left tied to the Democratic Party, you might wonder if Bernie Sanders was part of it. What a perfect complement to the Jacobin, a musty, grandfatherly politician who was not part of the Dissent old guard. Or wasn’t he? Like Obama in 2008, Sanders was a Rorschach test that allowed you to see him in multiple ways. For Jacobin readers, he was the key to moving toward a socialist future in the USA. Of course, neither Sanders nor Sunkara really meant socialism in the way that Marx meant it. They really meant welfare-state capitalism after the fashion of FDR’s New Deal, an altogether utopian project given the American capitalist class’s ineluctable drive toward finding cheap labor overseas. The answer to Rust Belt desperation was not in electing a president who made empty promises to bring jobs back to the USA. It was in abolishing the capitalist system globally and creating one based on human need rather than private profit. You can bet that it burns my ass to see Sanders running around professing his love for Eugene V. Debs out of one corner of his mouth and urging a vote for Hillary Clinton out of the other.

Today on the Jacobin website today, you can read Labor Notes editor Dan DiMaggio’s interview with SEIU staff member Rand Wilson who was a convert to the Sanders political revolution. It is about as probing an interview as the kind that Charlie Rose conducts with Bill Gates or Nancy Pelosi.

DiMaggio has had a rather predictable trajectory trying to find himself after leaving Socialist Alternative in 2010. His first foray was into academia, entering NYU’s sociology department where Political Marxism is the reigning ideology. After I raised a ruckus over being heckled by NYU’s Vivek Chibber at a Historical Materialism conference, DiMaggio told me off on the Marxism list. How dare I tell such a highly regarded professor that he would regret it if he ever heckled me again? I guess anybody who has different expectations from a loudmouth like me hasn’t figured me out yet. Eventually DiMaggio sent me a note trying to smooth things over. As is always the case with me, I responded positively. Despite being an asshole, I really don’t hold grudges.

A few months ago, my wife asked me about DiMaggio having a kid, something she noticed on FB. I told her that was news to me and wondered how I hadn’t noticed that. The answer was that he had defriended me at one point, almost certainly because I was opposed to Sanders and the Democratic Party. In other words, I had run into the same crap I had run into when I “threatened” Chibber. If you are building a career out of the NYU sociology department or the “progressive” wing of the AFL-CIO, it is best not to be associated with riffraff like me. Running into situations like this, I am always reminded of Groucho Marx’s telegram to the Friar’s Club: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member”.

The interview is designed to get leftists to join the Democratic Party, just like Rand Wilson tells DiMaggio: “I joined the Democratic Party the day after Bernie announced, because I knew I wanted to go to the convention. You’ve got to be a member of the party to participate in its activities. So I joined, at sixty-two years old, for the first time.”

It must be said that Wilson was not exactly opposed to the Democratic Party in principle as are troglodyte Marxists like us. In 2006, he ran for State Auditor as the candidate of the Massachusetts Working Families Party. You are probably aware that the NY WFP endorsed Andrew Cuomo for Governor in 2014, a candidate who is as hostile to the working class as Hillary Clinton and one who probably has the inside track to be the DP candidate for President in 2020. If Trump decides not to run in 2020 and the Republican Candidate ends up being the alt-right’s Richard Spencer, you can bet that The Nation will beat the drums for Cuomo and lash out at any Green Party candidate who dares taking votes away from Cuomo.

Wilson contrasts being part of the “political revolution” with the time he spent in the Labor Party in the 90s. Like Seth Ackerman, Wilson saw it as a valiant but doomed venture mainly because it threatened to siphon votes away from progressive Democrats. When the Republicans were running a reactionary monster like (fill in the blanks), of course you had to rally around Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Clinton… I always got a laugh out of how Ted Rall saw this logic:

Wilson puts it this way:

In the day-to-day life of the union, you’re expected to deliver for your members, and to do that, you’re going to have work with incumbent politicians, with Democratic Party politicians. Naturally they will expect you in turn to support them. So what are you supposed to do? Go off and support some third-party candidate who’s going to wreck their chances of winning? Supporting a minor party candidate because they’re perfect and inadvertently electing your worst enemy will certainly piss off your friends.

Sounding exactly like the Sanders campaign sheepherding tendencies diagnosed by Bruce Dixon, Wilson describes how he corralled a stray sheep who maybe had figured out that he was destined for the slaughterhouse:

But I know many people are disgusted with the party. I have a friend who’s worked at GE for many years, up in Lynn, Massachusetts, and before that, at a GE plant in Fitchburg. He’s a lifelong union guy, a working-class, gun-toting factory worker. He lives in a little town in Massachusetts called Westminster, and he’s the chair of the Democratic Party there. He was a big Bernie guy.

But after the primary, he was so disgusted with what happened to Bernie that I had to talk him off the cliff of quitting the Democratic Party. I said, “Don’t quit now! I’m just getting into it.” A few moths later, he says, “Okay, now I want to be part of taking over the Democratic Party. How are we going to do that?” I said, “Join Our Revolution.”

I assume that the “moths” referred to in the paragraph above is not a typo since being a radical in the Democratic Party is akin to eating insects.

The rest of the interview is as nauseating as what you have read so far and there is no point in commenting further on it.

There are some things that should be pointed out however. To start with, the SEIU, Wilson’s union, was led by Andrew Stern from 1995 to 2010. Stern was the figure most associated with “progressive” trade unionism over the past twenty years, just the kind that Jacobin orients to. He is now a senior fellow at Columbia University where he will be promoting progressive causes of the sort that he trashed when the SEIU organized a hostile takeover of a genuinely progressive union, the California Nurses Association/NNOC. For a good takedown of Stern and the officials who like Wilson are part of his machine, I recommend Steve Early’s Counterpunch article where he writes:

Opportunities for … career-advancing appointments abound in SEIU, to a degree unique in the labor movement. That’s because, under Stern, nearly 80 local unions have been put under headquarters trusteeships and/or re-organized with new leaders named by him, rather than elected by the members. (Due to its consolidation into huge, regional bodies, SEIU now has only 300 “locals” left.)

No wonder Wilson has become a registered Democrat. His training in the SEIU was ideally suited to the top-down, corporate-minded, business as usual, class-collaborationist dealings of the Democratic Party—the oldest continuously functioning capitalist party in the entire world.

 

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.

Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis

“You can jail a Revolutionary but you can’t jail The Revolution” – Syrian Rebel Youth banner, Homs 24/7/2013

Exiled Razaniyyat

Personal observations of myself, others, states and exile.

Qunfuz

Robin Yassin-Kassab

amerikanbeat

cerebral. communist. hyper. analytical.

Sangh Samachar

Keeping Track of the Sangh Parivar

Cerebral Jetsam

JETSAM–[noun]: goods cast overboard deliberately, as to lighten a vessel or improve its stability

Paulitics

Paul's Socialist Investigations

The Cedar Lounge Revolution

For lefties too stubborn to quit

Canadian Observer

A home for satirical, edgy and serious articles about Canadian politics and business

auntie vulgar

notes on popular culture

Una Voce

The obscure we see, the completely obvious takes longer

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.