Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 10, 2005

Letter to Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:35 pm

Dear Leo and Sam,

I plan to read your entire NLR article in all its interesting detail but there is one thing that caught my eye:

“Though the mercantile empires of Europe’s absolutist states were present at capitalism’s birth, the first empire to be driven by capitalist logic–pursuing profits through the creation of value in competitive production rather than simply through exchange, and exporting capitalist property relations to its colonies–was that of Britain. Yet even as the 19th-century British state extended its territorial colonial empire, it was also pioneering a new type of ‘informal imperialism’: sponsoring foreign investment and bilateral trade-and-‘friendship’ treaties outside the administrative Empire, and even allowing other capitals to have access to these markets. Britain thus played the leading role in the extension of some of the key conditions for the operation of the law of value internationally, from the free-trade policy to the gold standard. Herein lay the seeds of the epochal shift from pre-capitalist territorial imperialisms to capitalist imperialism of the modern type.

“That said, there was a continuing tension between the imperatives of capitalism and those of British colonialism. Even as it exported capitalist property relations to its dominions, Britain also oversaw, and in some cases even reinforced, pre-capitalist ones.”

This obviously is in line with Ellen Meiksins Wood’s analysis, which also makes a sharp distinction between capitalist property relations driven by the logic of profit and “precapitalist” property relations that seemed to exist everywhere except in England.

Recently I had an exchange with Neil Davidson about bourgeois revolutions and the transition to capitalism, based on his Historical Materialism article. He made the very useful observation that the Brenner-Wood theory of capitalism has much in common with that of the Vienna school libertarians who also make market exchange on the basis of profit a ‘sine qua non.’ I agree strongly with Davidson on this point. I also found his delving into the Grundrisse useful, especially his reference to Marx’s statement that capitalism could have arisen anywhere–not just in Great Britain.

I found myself poking into the Grundrisse a bit, although I had to get over a certain prejudice against the work based on my perception that it was strictly the bailiwick of Marxist academics just as the novels of Jane Austen are the bailiwick of the MLA. I honed in on the sections that have been published separately as “Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations,” which seems very germane to the matter at hand.

For Marx, “pre-capitalist” is a category very much tied up with the production of use values, or what is often called ‘the natural economy’. Maurice Bloch wrote a number of books that described societies based on such social relationships. This is what Marx says:

The crucial point here is this: in all these forms, where landed property and agriculture form the basis of the economic order, and consequently the economic object is the production of use values — i.e., the reproduction of the individual in certain definite relationships to his community, of which it forms the basis — we find the following elements:

1. Appropriation of the natural conditions of labor, of the earth as the original instrument of labor, both laboratory and repository of its raw materials; however, appropriation not by means of labor, but as the preliminary condition of labor. The individual simply regards the objective conditions of labor as his own, as the inorganic nature of this subjectivity, which realizes itself through them. The chief objective condition of labor itself appears not as the product of labor, but occurs as nature. On the one hand, we have the living individual, on the other the earth, as the objective condition of his reproduction.

2. The attitude to the land, to the earth, as the property of the working individual, means that a man appears from the start as something more than the abstraction of the “working individual”, but has an objective mode of existence in his ownership of the earth, which is antecedent to his activity and does not appear as its mere consequence, and is as much a precondition of his activity as his skin, his senses, for whole skin and sense organs are also developed, reproduced, etc., in the process of life, they are also presupposed by it. What immediately mediates this attitude is the more or less naturally evolved, more or less historically evolved and modified existence of the individual as a member of a community — his primitive existence as part of a tribe, etc.

Needless to say, this is not about the creation of commodities.

However, everywhere that England established colonies–whether or not free labor or markets prevailed–commodity production prevailed. This was true of the slavery-based sugar plantations of the Caribbeans or the mines of South Africa, which involved all forms of coercion.

I would hope that you would avoid the temptation of using terms like “pre-capitalist territorial imperialisms” without rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work necessary to define them. This is something that has always annoyed me about Ellen Meiksins Wood’s forays into these questions. When you write a book titled “The Origin of Capitalism”, as she did, and devote a single paragraph to slavery, something is obviously wrong.


The Newsroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:35 am

Well over 5 years ago I used to watch a no-hold-barred satire on the TV news business called “The Newsroom” on the local PBS station in NYC. Like anything of quality that shows up there, it was eventually dropped.

After becoming a cable TV customer, I discovered that the show can be seen Wednesdays at 11:30PM on WLIW, the PBS affiliate on Long Island. This is great news for anybody who appreciates Canadian comedy, which is perhaps the finest in the world despite the bland reputation of the Great White North. In the 1980s, you might have seen SCTV out of Canada which was also a satire of the television business. In the cast were John Candy, Martin Short, Rick Moranis and others.

“The Newsroom” and SCTV both poked fun at Canadian cultural inferiority complexes. In SCTV, there was a segment called “Great White North” that featured Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as beer-swilling hockey fans who kept interjecting “eh” after every sentence. SCTV included this segment as a way of mocking CBC rules that network TV shows incorporate Canadian-based material.

In last night’s “The Newsroom” episode, the executive producer George Findlay (played to a tee by the show’s creator, writer and director Ken Finkelman) obsesses over whether CNN will pick up footage from his own station’s coverage of the kidnapping of anchorman Jim Walcott in Kabul. Recognition from CNN matters more to Findlay than anything else. He is also obsessed with winning the Order of Canada prize for news coverage. Unfortunately he is in competition with Walcott, who is in the empty-headed Ken-doll tradition of Ron Burgundy and Ted Baxter. When Walcott learns that he is being sent to Kabul, he remarks, “Great, I haven’t been to the Caribbean in a long time.”

Like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and any other quality comedy show on television, there is no laugh-track on “Newsroom”, something that Finkelman insists on. Each show consists of some crass undertaking by Findlay who is challenged by his underlings in the news department. He is a total sexist and completely uninterested in current events, except insofar as they can be exploited for ratings. When Walcott is kidnapped, the ratings go up, so much so that Findlay is reluctant to pay a ransom and lose the edge over his competition.

Christian Science Monitor, October 28, 1996
Rare TV Satire Tweaks Taboos In Canada
By Fred Langan, Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Canadian television has never been much good at situation comedy. Scripts are vetted by committees to ensure they don’t insult anyone: no racial slurs, no nastiness, and they often end with an earnest, moral message, which usually turns out to be saccharin sweet.

Now along comes a Canadian comedy that is so irreverent it’s hard to imagine how it ever got on the air. It is called “The Newsroom”, and it mocks the network that shows it, the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The setting is a local newsroom in Toronto. The first episode, which aired last Monday night, showed three newsmen arguing about whether to lead the newscast with a local story or an air crash in the Congo.

The news director wants the writers to use a line about a “piranha-infested river.” When someone questions whether there are piranhas in the Congo, the news writer is told to say “piranha-like fish” and lead with the angle that there was a Canadian involved.

“We’re hoping there was a Canadian on board,” says the writer. In this newsroom, they never let the facts get in the way of good story.

“The Newsroom” is written and directed by and stars Ken Finkelman, a Canadian who once wrote situation comedies and movies in Hollywood such as Airplane II.

Newsrooms long have been popular places for comedies, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” popular on re-runs in Canada, to CBS’s “Murphy Brown,” still a hit here.

Canadians haven’t fared well at producing homegrown TV comedy. Prime-time television here is filled with American sitcoms. But the CBC is trying to “Canadianize” itself. On the night “The Newsroom” debuted, the CBC lineup was all Canadian.

Mr. Finkelman has set up special rules for his new comedy: no laugh track, no corny gags, and no earnest, politically correct messages. The show savages the television news business with vicious satire. It portrays the anchors as shallow airheads only interested in themselves, not the news.

“All I ever asked for was a German car, a cottage, and the right to enjoy them both without thinking about anything,” says the anchor, with not a hair out of place.

The boss, played by Finkelman, is a selfish character who spends most of his time on office politics and trying to get other people to run errands for him.

When he interviews a well-educated black woman for a job as a researcher, he asks her if she skis. She doesn’t. He then hires a beautiful white woman who has never done any research and can’t use a computer. She, however, does ski.

“I don’t know how they got on the air,” says Peter Rehak, who has worked at CBC News and is now an executive at the commercial Canadian network CTV. “It’s a revolution for the stodgy CBC, where everything had to pass the political-correctness committee.”

The CBC receives almost all of its funding from the federal government but recently has taken some sharp cuts in its budget. That means many local newscasts, such as the one portrayed in “The Newsroom”, are about to disappear.

The show portrays the executives scrambling for their jobs while promising to protect the people who report to them.

“I give you my word,” promises the news director to the airhead anchor. “You know how the corporation works. I don’t have final say, so my word is essentially irrelevant. But I want to make sure you’re happy.”

The anchor then reads about losing his job in a newspaper gossip column.

Another episode deals with hiring a news anchor. The choice is either an intelligent black woman or an aggressive blonde from a local station in Edmonton.

An “anchor consultant” (they really do exist) assures the news director that the black woman is so light-skinned she is only “subliminally” black. “In a test in Regina [Saskatchewan] most people couldn’t tell what race she was,” the consultant assures the news director.

Race is usually taboo stuff on Canadian television. But in “The Newsroom” the “hero” (the news director played by Finkelman) is a racist creep. Even he, however, is smart enough to rationalize not hiring minorities.

“A black anchor right now reads ‘equality,’ ” he reasons. “And ‘equality’ reads ‘social spending.’ And a social-spending message in this deficit-reduction climate looks like we’re taking sides, and we have to be objective.

“A white anchor, on the other hand, reads ‘deficit reduction.’ “

The anchor consultant shoots back: “Blonde doesn’t intimidate.” The blonde gets the job.

So far, reviewers have raved about the program. A group that monitors images of women in the media says there has been no negative comment. But CTV’s Mr. Rehak worries the satire may be lost on people outside journalism.

“People in the news business will love to hate it,” Rehak says. “But the show is so ‘in’ it might not appeal to the viewing public. We’ll see.”

November 8, 2005

History Channel on the Crusades

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:21 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on November 8, 2005

Generally I avoid the History Channel, which this week includes such fare as “Shootout: Hunt for Bin Laden” or “UFO Files The Day after Roswell.” When the programs involve more serious matters, such as the origins of WWII, etc., the tendency is place Great Men in the foreground so that Hitler’s wickedness rather than capitalist crisis is the determining factor.

Last night they showed part two of a program on the Crusades that I watched out of curiosity since the Crusades had been discussed on Marxmail a while back after Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” had premiered. The emphasis once again was on Great Men, Saladin especially, but also on Richard the Lionheart. The show benefited from commentary by Tariq Ali as well as some academics but unfortunately there was zero analysis of any underlying socio-economic factors such as the need to secure trade routes to the East, etc. Everything revolved around the need to impose one’s religious system on the Middle East and the military tactics employed to achieve that goal. That being said, the show was still useful in providing some background on the conflict. I plan to catch the first part, which I did not see, and urge others to check out the show which will be repeated like most cable TV fare often is.

You can read background information on the show at:


Last night’s installment focused on the attempt of Moslem warriors to wrest control of the Crusader kingdoms that had been established along the Mediterranean, including Acre, Tyre and Jerusalem.

The three key figures are Zengi, his son Nur al-Din and one of Nur al-Din’s top officers Sal al-Din (or Saladin). Zengi is depicted as a totally bloodthirsty warlord with little redeeming qualities. Nur al-Din and Saladin come off somewhat better. Their sole purpose is to wage jihad against the infidels. If it takes ruthlessness to achieve their goals, so be it. In other words, the Moslem resistance to the Crusaders appears as an early version of al Qaeda.

Zengi was a Seljuk Turk from Mosul who made Syria his base of operations. When he overran Edessa in 1144, it sent shock waves through Christian Europe. Sounds like things haven’t changed that much.

Using Edessa as a base, his son Nur al-Din expanded Moslem control which would include the strategic city-state of Damascus.

But it was up to Saladin to really defeat the Christians decisively. A great statesman as well as a general, he decided that the Christians could be defeated if Egypt was brought into the struggle. However, this would be a challenge since Egypt was Shi’ite and Syria was Sunni! Saladin was a Kurd born in Tikrit, the birthplace of another famous Iraqi.

His cause was helped by a typically bloody and treacherous Christian attack on a peaceful Moslem caravan that supposedly was protected by a treaty enacted during the First Crusade.

After the Moslem world found out about the massacre, they rallied around Saladin. In 1191 Saladin laid siege to the city of Acre that was surrounded by huge stone walls. He came up with the brilliant strategy of attacking the city from beneath the ground. His men tunneled underneath the city and set fire to the wooden foundations that it rested on. In 1453 a similar strategy was employed by the Ottomans who were laying siege to Constantinople. Tunnels were dug under the city to weaken the fortifications and provide a breach which Turkish soldiers could then enter.

With the fall of Constantinople, Christian rule came to an end in Turkey. The city was renamed Istanbul. Saladin accomplished something similar in 1187 when Jerusalem was conquered. A cross was removed from the Al-Aqsa Mosque and replaced by an Islamic Crescent. The same thing happened in Istanbul. Hagia Sofia, which had been built as a Catholic Church, was turned into a Mosque.

Despite the presence of Tariq Ali, there is nothing in the History Channel episode that reveals Saladin’s strengths as a ruler. Although all military leaders in that period had to be utterly ruthless to succeed, Saladin was relatively benign compared to his opponents. Tariq Ali, who has written a novel based on the life of Saladin (I am no fan of his fiction–I find it stilted), had this to say about the Moslem leader in an LRB article from February 2002:

“Saladin’s long march ended in victory: Jerusalem was taken in 1187 and once again made an open city. The Jews were provided with subsidies to rebuild their synagogues; the churches were left untouched. No revenge killings were permitted. Like Caliph Umar five hundred years before him, Saladin proclaimed the freedom of the city for worshippers of all faiths. But his failure to take Tyre was to prove costly. Pope Urban despatched the Third Crusade to take back the Holy City, and Tyre became the base of its operations. Its leader, Richard Plantagenet, reoccupied Acre, executing prisoners and slaughtering its inhabitants. Jerusalem, however, could not be retaken. For the next seven hundred years, with the exception of one short-lived and inconsequential Crusader occupation, the city remained under Muslim rule, and no blood was spilled.”

Full: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n03/ali_01_.html

After Saladin’s victory, a new Crusade was launched this time under the leadership of Richard the First, the King of England and an experienced military leader. Richard was able to recapture all the Christian city-states but left Jerusalem in Moslem hands since he lacked the forces to control it.

Despite the fawning version of Richard the Lionheart in the Robin Hood movies, he was quite a disgusting individual. When he retook the city of Acre, he wound up with 2700 of Saladin’s soldiers as prisoners. When he couldn’t come to terms with Saladin over ransom payments, he had the men executed. To this day, Moslems talk about this slaughter in horror. In fact, much of Crusade history is part of the culture of today’s Arab world. The show depicts a story-teller at a Syrian hookah shop regaling the smokers with tales of Saladin’s exploits.

At the very least, the show helps to put this monumental struggle into some kind of context. If I find the time down the road, I might do some further reading on the topic, especially material that hones in on the material economic conflicts between Christian and Moslem.

John Batchelor meets Jon Halliday

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:58 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on November 8, 2005

Just before going to bed, I like to listen to the radio. I tend to end up listening to WFAN, the sports talk station or to the John Batchelor show on WABC. Last night Batchelor interviewed Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, the co-authors of “Mao: The Unknown Story,” a biography that amounts to this year’s “Black Book of Communism.” Despite the fact that it is an assault on Mao’s career, the general conclusion anybody would be left with is that the Chinese people would have been better off under Chiang Kai-shek.

Jung Chang is the 53 year old author of a memoir about growing up during the Cultural Revolution titled “Wild Swans.” Her hostility toward Chinese communism seems to be cut from the same cloth as the sort of stuff that comes out of North Korea on a regular basis. You know the drill. Kim’s manicurist tells all: “my boss forced me to wipe his ass after he took a shit.”

Although the book has received accolades from uncritical critics, there are still some demurrers. Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, an anti-Communist whose family fled Russia in the 1920s, observed:

“Another problem: Mao comes across as such a villain that he never really becomes three-dimensional. As readers, we recoil from him but don’t really understand him. He is presented as such a bumbling psychopath that it’s hard to comprehend how he bested all his rivals to lead China and emerge as one of the most worshipped figures of the last century.”


“This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths. But how accurate is it? A bibliography and endnotes give a sense of sourcing, and they are impressive: the authors claim to have talked to everyone from Mao’s daughter, Li Na, to his mistress, Zhang Yufeng, to Presidents George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford. But it’s not clear how much these people said. One of those listed as a source is Zhang Hanzhi, Mao’s English teacher and close associate; she’s also one of my oldest Chinese friends, so I checked with her. Zhang Hanzhi said that she had indeed met informally with Chang two or three times but had declined to be interviewed and never said anything substantial. I hope that Chang and Halliday will share some of their source materials, either on the Web or with other scholars, so that it will be possible to judge how fairly and accurately they have reached their conclusions.”

Sounds like Jon Halliday and Jung Chang picked up some pointers from “The Black Book of Communism.”

Halliday, who is 66 years old and married to Jung Chang, is a horse of another color. In 1975 he wrote “A Political History of Japanese Capitalism,” a MR book that is must reading if you want to understand how modern Japan evolved. Around this time he was also on the board of New Left Review and Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. How he ended up writing such a book is a real mystery.

One supposes that it might be genetic since Fred Halliday, his brother, has also broken with the left. In Fred’s case, the evolution has followed a Christopher Hitchens trajectory with support for the US war on “Islamofascism.” I deal with this at:


A word or two about John Batchelor might be in order. WABC radio is the most listened to talk radio station in the USA. It is the home of a rogue’s gallery of rightwingers, including Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Batchelor has their politics but a different style and emphasis. To begin with, he does not take phone calls and prefers to interview a fairly interesting lineup of guests each evening, which makes the show somewhat more tolerable than listening to a moron like Limbaugh and his “dittoheads.”

For example, liberal Sovietologist Stephen Cohen and his wife Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the publisher of the Nation Magazine, are frequent guests–Cohen more so than her. Cohen no longer seems to be on the A-list for shows like Charlie Rose or Nightline nowadays, so I guess that he looks at the Batchelor show as an opportunity to educate the listener about current events in Russia. I wonder if Cohen has any sense of who’s listening. Except for somebody with perversely eclectic tastes like my own (I even listen to Christian evangelists when the mood suits me), most of Batchelor’s listeners are hard-core reactionaries who hate any form of communism–including post-communism.

Batchelor led off his interview with a brief introduction that went something like this (no exaggeration): “Tonight my guests are Jung Chang and Jon Halliday who have written a powerful exposé of the 20th century’s greatest tyrant and murderer, a criminal who tortured and imprisoned the Chinese people, starved them to death and plotted to export his Red Mafia system across the planet. A real Satan, a man without any redeeming features who lived for one thing and one thing only: to achieve total domination and exercise absolute power.”

His first question to his guests was highly revealing. He asked them to expand on a theme in their book, namely that the Korean War came about because of a joint plot by Stalin and Mao expand their Communist empire. In other words, the Readers Digest version of the Korean War. On this question, Jung Chang had lots to say while Halliday remained silent. Perhaps it was because there was still a tiny shred of integrity that remained. After all, he is the co-author with Bruce Cumings of the 1988 “Korea: the Unknown War” that states:

“The photographer Margaret Bourke-White did a feature for Life magazine in December 1952 entitled ‘The savage, secret war in Korea’, in which she described a powerful guerilla force – which included many women – still highly active in mid-1952: ‘Some of the guerrillas are converts who went over to the Reds in their first great offensive. Thousands of others are North Koreans bypassed in the UN breakout from the Pusan perimeter. Others have filtered South through Allied lines’ – in other words, a composite force that could hardly have survived for two years, in harsh mountain conditions and in the middle of generalized warfare, without some substantial local support.”

Full: http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/Vietnam/cumings1.html

So what could have happened to Jon Halliday over the past 17 years since this was written to turn him into another David Horowitz?

To start off, it is important to understand that Halliday’s Marxist scholarship ended many years ago. Unlike his brother Fred, who still maintains leftist pretensions in the Hitchens or Norm Geras style, there is evidence that Jon simply became exhausted or something.

After the 1988 publication of “Korea: the Unknown War,” Halliday never wrote another book. Furthermore, reviewers have noted that the new book on Mao is mostly written by his wife and that his role has been mainly to research Mao’s connection with Stalin. (They argue that Mao was always completely subservient to Stalin, despite obvious evidence to the contrary.)

In addition, Halliday has shown signs from the beginning that perhaps Marxism was just one interest among many. He is also the author of “The Psychology of Gambling” and a collection of interviews with Douglas Sirk, the Hollywood director who was responsible for lurid minor masterpieces like “All That Heaven Allows,” “Written on the Wind” and “Imitation of Life.”

In some ways, “Mao: The Unknown Story” continues along the road he explored with Douglas Sirk. Since there is every likelihood that Hollywood will make a film based on this outrageously stupid book, they might as well use Sirk’s purple melodramas as a model.

November 4, 2005

Spiked-online update

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:00 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on November 4, 2005

First, a little background. www.spiked-online.com is the website of a group of ex-Marxists in England who are also involved with a number of innocuous sounding think-tanks like “Institute for Ideas”, etc. I should add that there is one member who still maintains Marxist pretensions, namely Jim Heartfield. You can find him posting occasionally on Doug Henwood’s list but he is not the ubiquitous figure on Internet mailing lists he once was.

The reach of this group is quite remarkable. Despite their shady connections with outfits like the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, they still manage to con people like Norman Solomon into speaking at their confabs. Last year he participated in “Communicating the War on Terror” at Kings College. The main organizer for this was a character named Bill Durodie, who–like the rest of them–was in the Revolutionary Communist Party at one time. Another organizer was the Center for Defense Studies which is funded by the UK Ministry of Defense.

Even when these characters were nominally Marxist, they were distinguished by their hostility to environmentalism. Using a bowdlerized version of some sections of the Communist Manifesto, they had convinced themselves (and some unsuspecting souls) that advocating nuclear power and genetically modified food was practically the same thing as erecting barricades during the Paris Commune.

This tradition, stripped of Marxist pretensions, continues unabated in spiked-online. You can find articles on almost a daily basis filled with skepticism about global warming, arguing that GM food is good for you, etc. In today’s edition, there’s something on the Kyoto accords that states, “The rush to cut emissions was thoroughly irrational.” The author is Rob Lyons who is the IT director for spiked. He also is the webmaster for a pro-GM lobby group called “Sense about Science.”

The director of “Sense About Science” is one Tracey Brown, another spiked online regular. Before assuming the directorship of “Sense About Science,” she was a senior analyst for the PR firm Regester Larkin. Sourcewatch.org, who keeps an eye on their shenanigans, informs us:

“Their clients are nearly all pharmaceutical, oil, or biotechnology companies, including BioIndustry Association, Shell Chemicals, TOTAL, Bayer, Pfizer, Aventis CropScience, and gas company BG Group.

“It is probable that Brown fell under the influence of LM group godfather Frank Furedi while working as a Research Associate in the Sociology Dept. at the University of Kent, Canterbury, where Furedi is a professor. She went on to co-author ‘Complaining Britain,’ Society Vol.36 No.4 with Furedi.”

For 5000 pounds a day, Regester Larkin advises its clients how to fend off environmental assaults on Frankenfood.

There’s also an article in today’s spiked-online titled “Science Goes Down the River” by Dr. Elizabeth Whelan which assures us New Yorkers: “EPA maintains that PCBs, particularly in Hudson River fish, pose a cancer hazard – but there is no evidence that such a risk exists. The stark truth is that there is no benefit to public health in mandating that traces of PCBs be removed from the river. There are, however, big costs – all of which will be borne by consumers.”


Whelan is president of the American Council on Health and Science (http://www.acsh.org/), an outfit she founded after accepting a freelance writing assignment with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. It seems that they wanted a background paper on “the Delaney Clause” — which Dr. Whelan had never heard of.

She “was soon to learn that the Delaney Clause was part of the 1958 Food Additive Amendment, and it banned any food additive that caused cancer in laboratory animals.” Apparently this capricious measure was so offensive to her that she went through a transformation akin to Paul’s on the road to Damascus. Henceforth she would devote herself to Better Living Through Chemistry.

On the Council on Health and Science home page, you can find links to articles on the National Review website and other sordid material.

Someday a scholar will write an authoritative history on the defection of large sections of the radical movement over the past 10 years into the enemy camp. There certainly will be a chapter on this peculiar subspecies of Marxism gone wrong.

November 1, 2005

Eric Posner, his leftist allies and kangaroo courts

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:54 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on November 1, 2005

As comrades know, I try to keep track of what rightwing social democrats and liberals are saying on the Internet. Sometimes, I feel like I am trudging through the sewer when I look in on red-baiter Leo Casey’s mailing list, the “decent left” pro-war blogs, etc. Most days I don’t have anything to say about what I find there, because it falls into the category of “dog bites man”.

But today, an item written by U. of Chicago lawyer Eric Posner that originated on something called http://www.opendemocracy.net showed up on Casey’s list and Marc Cooper’s blog that deserves some commentary. Basically it defends the idea that the ends justify the means in the trial of Saddam Hussein. Even though the US invasion of Iraq violated international law, it is okay for it to put Saddam Hussein on trial because his evil is equivalent to Adolph Eichmann’s. Posner likens the trial to the Israelis kidnapping the Nazi war criminal. Obviously, Posner, Postel and Cooper don’t really get the Nazi analogy right since it is the United States that is launching blitzkriegs based on lies and deception, not a tin-pot dictator like Saddam Hussein. In fact, Saddam Hussein only invaded Iran and Kuwait after getting the green light from Washington.

At first blush, www.opendemocracy.net looks like Commondreams or Alternet, but in reality it is quite a few degrees to the right. The execrable Todd Gitlin is on the editorial board, as is Danny Postel who crossposted Posner’s article to Casey’s list. Postel was briefly involved in Central America solidarity in the 1980s but seems to have found his niche in recent years as a Paul Berman wannabe. But the editor I really get a kick out of is Roger Scruton, the English “philosopher” who got in trouble for receiving kickbacks from the tobacco industry for making the case that smoking won’t hurt you. On February 5, 2002, the Independent reported:

PROFESSOR ROGER Scruton, the darling of the intellectual right, was sacked as a commentator for The Wall Street Journal yesterday in an editotial after admitting he took money from the tobacco industry to place stories in the national press.

The philosopher, a professor of aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London University, has been told to “take a holiday” from the prestigious newspaper because he failed to disclose his ties with Japan Tobacco.

An editorial in yesterday’s European edition of The Wall Street Journal admitted: “We’ve come in for criticism lately because one of our contributors, the British conservative writer Roger Scruton, wrote an essay for our European edition while being paid by a Japanese tobacco company.

“Our long-time standard is that such financial ties should be disclosed, so readers can make up their own minds.” The move follows his sacking last week by the Financial Times over his tobacco links.

The Wall Street Journal had intervened to defend Professor Scruton over his pounds 4,500-a-month contract with the tobacco giant.

But it said yesterday: “Mr Scruton had an obligation to tell us and his readers about his tobacco financing when he was writing about tobacco issues; he didn’t, and so he will be taking a holiday from our pages.”

Just the sort of person, in other words, who you would expect to serve on the editorial board of an Internet publication that provides left cover for a United States kangaroo court.

Googling “Eric Posner” will point you to a U. of Chicago lawyer’s blog that he participates in. There he makes no effort to disguise its reactionary Alan Dershowitz/Alberto Gonzalez type reasoning with respect to Saddam’s trial. An entry titled “Should Saddam Hussein’s Trial Be Fair?”makes the case for bending the rules:

“When conventional procedural protections would ensure that highly dangerous people go free under conditions of fragile security, the standard of proof is lowered, independent lawyers are prohibited, access to evidence is reduced, and the other conventional protections are similarly compromised. (A more familiar example is the practice of allowing exceptions to the warrant requirement when the police are in hot pursuit and in similar circumstances.)

“Saddam is not an ordinary criminal defendant, and so there is no reason to think that fairness requires that he enjoy ordinary criminal defense protections.”

Full: http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2005/10/should_saddams_.html

Posner co-authored something called “The Limits of International Law” with Jack L. Goldsmith that argues that states should engage in international laws and treaties only when it is consistent with their national interests. In other words, the John R. Bolton approach.

An amazon.com reviewer awarded the book one star (you are evidently prevented from handing out zero stars) and opined, “While claiming to be an academic book, the text reads more like a neconservative, ideological condemnation of international law.”

As the United States becomes more and more polarized politically, you will continue to see characters like Postel, Cooper et al lurching more and more to the right. This is an inexorable process as was demonstrated by the tendency of many liberals to beat the drums of anti-Communism during the Cold War. Today, the crusade is against “Islamfascism” but the logic is the same. They have convinced themselves that the USA, despite its flaws, is an agent for progressive change even if it comes at the hands of a President who is not likely to be invited on a Nation Magazine cruise. The human mind is capable of all sorts of self-deception, but in this case we are talking about a feat that can best be described as a pretzel-like contortion.


Since posting this earlier today, I have discovered that Eric Posner has defended torture here and the Patriot Act here.

« Previous Page

Blog at WordPress.com.