Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 15, 2006

Ian Buruma on Hugo Chávez

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization,Islam,Latin America — louisproyect @ 4:45 pm

Ian Buruma

Not satisfied with embarrassing himself in the British press last February for "explaining" terrorism in terms of young men not being able to get properly laid, Bard professor Ian Buruma turns up again like a bad penny in Rupert Murdoch's London Times heaping abuse on Hugo Chávez–presently a guest of Mayor Ken Livingstone–and Fidel Castro.

Like many other intellectuals who have gotten swept up in the "war on terror," Buruma seems to have left his brain at the last turn in the road. Not only has he lost the critical ability to distinguish truth from fiction, he has also lost the ability to write clearly, a stunning indictment of Leon Botstein's hiring practices. Here is one of Buruma's ungainly clots of prose:

"Unlike many traditional caudillos, but like Silvio Berlusconi (who cut his coat from the same cloth), Chavez was democratically elected, in 1998, after having tried and failed to take the more traditional strongman’s route to power, by armed force in 1992."

Huh?

Since Buruma is a journalism professor, I would advise Bard students to study his writings in order to learn how to avoid mistakes, since so many are conveniently assembled in a single place.

Turning to the substance of Buruma's screed, such as it is, we are told that Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas was arrested in 1973 for being gay and for "ideological deviation." Actually, Arenas was arrested for child molestation–something that I understand is a crime in the U.S. and Great Britain as well. Buruma's understanding of the issues appears to be based on Julian Schnabel's lurid film about Arenas. However, most people except for the ideologically driven understand that whatever homophobia, official or unofficial, existed in Cuba over 30 years ago, steps have been taken to eradicate it. Gay activist Marcel Hatch reports, "The Infomed web page, the most visited Cuban Internet portal with 150,000 hits per day, includes the graduation photos of a group of transsexual and transvestite sexual health promoters, a glossary and the emblematic rainbow flag."

This is not to speak of the pro-gay rights "Strawberry and Chocolate," the most popular Cuban film in history.

When Buruma turns his attention to Chávez, there is even less attention paid to the facts. He writes, "Chavez, as well as his cabinet ministers, appears on television to denounce journalists who dare to criticise the revolution." This effectively turns the victim into the criminal. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the Venezuelan media situation understands that privately owned newspapers and television stations were caught red-handed in an abortive coup attempt in 2002. In the September 11, 2002 Le Monde Diplomatique, Maurice Lemoine reported:

"After Chávez came to power in 1998, the five main privately owned channels – Venevisión, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), Globovisión and CMT – and nine of the 10 major national newspapers, including El Universal, El Nacional, Tal Cual, El Impulso, El Nuevo País, and El Mundo, have taken over the role of the traditional political parties, which were damaged by the president's electoral victories. Their monopoly on information has put them in a strong position. They give the opposition support, only rarely reporting government statements and never mentioning its large majority, despite that majority's confirmation at the ballot box. They have always described the working class districts as a red zone inhabited by dangerous classes of ignorant people and delinquents. No doubt considering them unphotogenic, they ignore working class leaders and organisations."

Obviously, in Buruma's warped understanding of democracy, Venezuela would be better off if Chávez had been toppled in 2002 through a coup spearheaded by a mass media that was run by the local equivalents of Rupert Murdoch, who has so graciously offered him a bully pulpit in the London Times to rail against Hugo Chávez.

Buruma's article concludes with a paroxysm of rage against the socialist left and the New Left Review in particular. One can understand Buruma's fury. Notwithstanding some cavils about the way the wars have been conducted, Buruma has attached himself to the cause of US imperialism in the "war on terror" and has been railing against its leftist opponents for the better part of 3 years. In a September 13, 2003 Financial Times op-ed piece, Buruma claims that the radical movement has circulated monstrous lies, such as "The Bush-Cheney junta as bad as Saddam's dictatorship." [sic]

Actually, over the three years since Buruma wrote these words, it has become more and more obvious that life was actually better under Saddam than it is now. In an article on dissidentvoice.org, Tufts History professor Gary Leupp makes the case that life was "Better Under Saddam," as the article's title puts it. Leupp cites Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi man, as follows:

“Iraq, at the time of Saddam, was — I mean, I’m talking about as a gay Iraqi — it was not as bad as we can see now… There [were] no homophobic attitudes toward gay and lesbians. Most of them [were] welcomed in the community and the society… It’s a very dark age for gays and lesbians and transsexuals and bisexuals in Iraq right now. And the fact that Iraq has been shifted from a secular state into a religious state was completely, completely horrific. We were very modern. We were very, very Western culturalized — Iraq — comparing to the rest of the Middle East."

Since Buruma is so dedicated to gay rights, based on his special pleading for Reinaldo Arenas, one might expect him to take up the cause of the antiwar movement, which is pushing for an end to an occupation has empowered Shi'ite fundamentalism with its attendant misogyny and homophobia.

Swans

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:12 pm

Swans 10th Anniversary

The Revolution Continues

by Louis Proyect

(Swans – May 8, 2006) In the 1450s, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. For the first time in European history, books could be mass produced. This led to significant scientific and cultural breakthroughs that were critical for the rise of capitalism and the scientific revolution. The printing press also made it possible for the ordinary citizen to have an impact on the great political dramas of the age. As an owner of a printing press, Benjamin Franklin's skills were critical in the political awakening that would lead to the American revolution of 1776. Pamphlets such as Thomas Paine's Common Sense could be produced cheaply and in the massive numbers necessary to challenge the status quo.

In the 1960s scientists working at ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) developed a new technology that allowed communications across a network. As the name implied, they were interested in military research. Within a few years ARPA evolved into the Internet and would be responsible for the same kind of empowerment of the ordinary citizen as Gutenberg's press was for an earlier age.

When I first encountered the Internet in 1992, not long after taking a job at Columbia University, I became convinced immediately that this could be a tool for social change. Only a few years earlier I had been president of the board of Tecnica, a volunteer program that sent engineers, programmers, and other skilled technicians to work in Nicaragua, the frontline states in Southern Africa and with the African National Congress. Even before any of us had come across the Internet, we were using Peacenet — a private network — to exchange communications.

Although I had reached a point in my life where activism would no longer occupy the same central role as it had earlier, I was determined to use the Internet to bring socialists together in order to try to make sense of world politics and to create a new kind of political culture that would be free of the dogmatism and sectarianism that had destroyed the 1960s movement. The Marxism mailing list celebrated its 8th anniversary on May 1, 2006.

Another anniversary is being celebrated now. Swans.com is 10 years old. I began writing for Swans in 2003 and am proud of the work that I have done there. Although Swans is not identified explicitly with the Marxist tradition, it is singularly devoted to the pursuit of the truth. Therefore, as a Marxist, I find it hospitable to my ideals.

Although technology has evolved, the basic agenda since the time of Gutenberg is the same. Humanity needs culture and ideas that are untainted by the control of the privileged few, whether they are the Catholic hierarchy of Gutenberg's age or modern-day capitalists. But no matter the format that ideas arrive in, there is still a need for precision and for rigor. On that count, Swans has never disappointed me. Although Gilles d'Aymery is a volunteer, he adheres to the highest editorial standards that would put professional journals to shame. Not only is he engaged with the ideas of an article, he is a perfectionist with respect to style. It has been a pleasure to work with him for the past three years and I look forward to a continuing relationship.

May 13, 2006

Joanne Landy at it again

Filed under: antiwar,cruise missile left — louisproyect @ 3:50 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on May 13, 2006

In the latest attempt by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (a wholly owned subsidiary of the left-Shachtmanite New Politics magazine) to put a halo over its head, executive director Joanne Landy is gathering signatures for a petition that carves out a "third way" between the USA and Iran. Since the 1940s, this current has always adopted a sort of moralistic concept of politics in which one of the primary goals has always been to curry favor with middle-class opinion. It is inspired by the anti-Soviet open letters that people like Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler and Dwight MacDonald used to circulate in the 1950s.

Joanne Landy lecturing on the need for peace and democracy

MacDonald, who was in the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s, left with Max Shachtman but eventually cut his ties to organized politics completely and launched a magazine called "Politics." Trotsky had this to say about MacDonald : "Every man has a right to be stupid on occasion but Comrade Macdonald abuses it." Although I am no expert on the history of New Politics and have no plans to become one, I wonder if it was named after MacDonald's magazine in the same way that the neoconservative New Criterion of today was named in honor of T.S. Eliot's Criterion.

After the USSR disappeared, Joanne Landy and the New Politics milieu were forced to fish around for new causes upon which they could establish their Tolstoyan saintliness. It should come as no big surprise that Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro would serve as useful substitutes for the role that Josef Stalin once played. In two open letters drafted on the occasion of two separate wars with Iraq, they proclaimed their desire for peace and their utter antipathy to Saddam Hussein. This gesture was clearly designed to distinguish themselves from the Ramsey Clarks of the world, who saw no compelling need to curry favor with enlightened opinion in the academy or the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. When Cuba arrested people who were operating with funding and direction from the CIA and other US government agencies, Landy and company yelped for their release. How dare Cuba put people in jail who took their marching orders from diplomat James Cason? You'd think that the USA was freeing terrorists who were blowing up Cuban civilian airliners for this kind of overreaction to occur.

Landy's open letter on Iran consists mostly of unobjectionable characterizations of how bad life in Iran today, such as "Iranian women lack some of the most basic human rights" and "Workers who try to strike or form independent trade unions are violently suppressed".

She also makes the record that she too is opposed to Iran having nuclear weapons, even though Israel has between 2 and 3 hundred. To reduce the threat of nuclear war in the Middle East, "a new democratic U.S. foreign policy" is required. In keeping with the generally moralistic posture that characterizes the "third camp," there is not the slightest inkling of how such a policy can be realized, especially in light of the deepening bellicosity of the US ruling class and its two parties. Perhaps George W. Bush will read the open letter, slap his forehead and cry out, "Why hadn't I considered this before?" Nor is there much likelihood that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be moved by these words.

The open letter includes a laundry list of demands that would be part of a "new democratic U.S. foreign policy." Some seem dubious at best. For example, it calls for "Supporting the right of national self-determination for all peoples in the Middle East, including the Kurds, Palestinians and Israeli Jews." Anybody with a lick of sense would understand that there is a contradiction between calling for self-determination for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews unless you are talking about the discredited "two-state solution." Since the ineffable Michael Lerner, a leading 'left' spokesman for the two-state solution, has signed the open letter, one might gather that this is exactly what the open letter intended but lacks the forthrightness to defend openly.

The letter also urges the "Abandoning the effort to impose, through the IMF/World Bank or unilaterally, neoliberal economic policies of privatization and austerity that bring mass misery to people in large parts of the world." Although one must clap loudly for these lofty sentiments, the plain fact is that the only concrete moves taking place today against "economic policies of privatization and austerity" are occurring in Latin America under the inspiration and with the material aid of the despised Cuban government.

Furthermore, no matter how backward Ahmadinejad is around a whole range of questions, he has demonstrated a willingness to close ranks with Venezuela against imperialist attempts to reestablish control over oil resources. One imagines that the real hue and cry in the mainstream media over Iranian backwardness has more to do with this threat than it does over anything else, since the same kind of policies exist in Saudi Arabia where the "crime" of homosexuality is punishable by death.

The plain fact is that Joanne Landy and company are not really addressing the Iranian or US'an Presidents, but people like us: the organized, unorganized and disorganized left in the USA. She feels an almost irresistible compulsion to appear without sin among her peers in much the same manner that religious sects like the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Hasidim strive to distinguish themselves from the unsaved. And it generates the same reaction, especially when it is thrown in the face of the unbeliever: disgust.

UPDATE 5/17/2006

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DemocraticLeft/message/20957

Dear Friend,
In response to some comments we received when we started to circulate our Iran statement we decided that we needed modify a few points. Nothing changes the basic thrust of the statement, but we did want to run the revised version by you to be sure you are signing on to it.

The gist of the changes is below, followed by the full text of the revised version; in case you want the original statement for reference, it's is at the end of this message. To sign the revised statement, please let us know as soon as possible by replying to us at cpd@igc.org

The need for it grows every day, unfortunately.

Thanks!

Joanne Landy, Thomas Harrison, and Jennifer Scarlott

Co-Directors, Campaign for Peace and Democracy

1) we don't want to say that we are sure that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, so we amended the text to say that there's reason to doubt Tehran's assurances that it only wants to develop civilian nuclear energy. We also dealt with the question of civilian nuclear power, which we hadn't addressed in the original version.

2) we qualified the sections on women and labor, and made very small changes in the section on gays

3) we changed the text to say that the Administration may succeed in generating popular support for aerial attacks on Iran. Our original version said that "the administration's scare tactics are generating popular support for aerial attacks on Iran"

(This is followed by the full text of the original and revised petition. I wish that I had the list of original signers since I can swear that there was between 5 and 10 with Iranian names. Now there is only one.)

UPDATE 5/18/2006

Response to Campaign for Peace and Democracy's statement on Iran

Dear Directors of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy,
As concerned citizens of the world while appreciating CPD’s effort drafting a statement opposing a war against Iran, we regretfully decline to sign it due to several contradictory remarks and overall misleading language of this announcement. Notwithstanding, however, if the language of text is changed to accommodate our concerns, we would campaign for its universal acceptance.

Your statement begins correctly exposing the hostile intents of the U.S. administration by “manufacturing a climate of fear in order to prepare public opinion for another act of aggression, this time against Iran”, yet in the very next sentence –“three years ago it was the specter of Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction; today it's the Iranian nuclear bomb”, the word alleged is missing with regard to Iranian activities.

Any doubt as above being an unintentional omission is dismissed in the 8th paragraph which asserts   “Tehran's assurances that it only wants to develop peaceful nuclear energy are not credible” and the very next paragraph which begins with “We therefore strongly oppose Tehran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons”. These two sentences together contradict your opening statement and in effect validate Washington’s baseless claims against Iran.  Absent from your entire statement is any references to the fact that Iran as a signatory state to nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) is fully entitled to develop nuclear energy which includes enriching uranium for peaceful use under article 4 of the NPT ().

The rest of your statement is a diatribe of numerous accusations against the current regime which infringes in an area totally outside your jurisdiction. As evident from the daily reports of prisoner abuses, arrests without charge, human rights violations, and illegal wiretapping of Americans by our own government, we hardly hold the moral ground to preach those outside. Amnesty international reports that two years after the horrific images from Abu Ghraib prison shocked the world; the U.S. government continues to evade responsibility by blaming a handful of soldiers and officers—despite mounting evidence of the systematic use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Iran is by no means a perfect democracy but the Iranian people have never stopped striving for a better and more just form of government since at least the 1906 constitutional movements, and that struggle continues today. Any change is exclusively in the domain of the Iranian people alone and as history confirms, any outside interference with Iran's internal affairs has often produced the opposite result. 

Sincerely,

Daniel M Pourkesali
Aeronautical Engineer
Leesburg, VA
dpourkesali@yahoo.com

 

 

May 12, 2006

The Littlest Rebel

Filed under: Film,racism — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Last night while channel surfing, I took in about 10 minutes of "The Littlest Rebel" on the Turner Classic Movie network (TCM). It stars Shirley Temple as the daughter of a Confederate spy who is captured by the Yankees. In order to save her father from the firing squad, she goes to Washington to plead with Lincoln. It also features Bill Robinson, the "Bojangles" song-and-dance man.

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Shirley Temple

The film encapsulates the "happy darky" ethos of "Gone With the Wind," but is even more racist if such a thing is possible. It includes a Stepin Fetchit type character named James Henry, who is played by William Best, an actor who took roles in the 30's and 40s described by imdb.com as "shuffling, illiterate, superstitious porter, stableboy, chauffeur and the like served only to bolster Hollywood's then-unchallenged stereotype of the black male as somehow sub-human. Not surprisingly, Bob Hope referred to Best as one of the finest talents he had ever worked with. Up until the mid-1930s, if he was given screen credit, it would be as "Sleep 'n' Eat," his nickname.

The film was adapted from a 1913 play written by Edward Peple. You can actually download the novella he adapted from his play from Project Gutenberg.

This will give you some flavor of Peple's play. After James Henry tells Uncle Billy (played by Bill Robinson) that he intends to work for the Yankees because they will pay him a wage for the first time in his life and invites him to follow suit, he is remonstrated as follows:

At this combination of temptation and insult Uncle Billy's eyes narrowed with contempt and loathing. "Me?" he said, and a rigid arm pointed back at the house which had been for years his source of shelter and comfort. "Me leave Miss Hallie _now_? Right when she ain't got _nothin_'? Look heah, nigger; dog-gone yo' skin, I got a great min' for to mash yo' mouf. Yas, I _is_ a slave. I b'longs to Mars Cary–an' I b'longed to his pa befo' him. Dey feed me and gimme de bes' dey got. Dey take care of me when I'm sick–an' dey take care of me when I'm well–an' _I_ gwine to stay right here. But you? You jes' go on wid de Yankees, an' black der boots. Dey'll free you," and Uncle Billy's voice rose in prophetic tones–"an you'll _keep on_ blackin' boots! Go 'long now, you low-down, dollar-an'-a-quarter nigger!" as Jeems Henry backed away. "Go long wid yo' _Yankee_ marsters–and git yo' freedom an' a blackin' brush."

TCM screened this film as part of a month-long series on "Race and Hollywood," which includes both positive and negative images including "Birth of a Nation."

To introduce "The Littlest Rebel," they include an excerpt from Donald Bogle's "Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia":

This is a Shirley Temple vehicle, the story of a pint-sized Southern belle during the days of the Civil War. When Shirley's father (a Confederate officer) is captured and taken to a Yankee prison camp and her mother dies, little Miss Mop Top finds herself adrift on the family's big plantation. Of course, who comes to her rescue but the faithful servant, Uncle Bill, played by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. He's around to comfort little Shirley, to play and dance with her. And during one sequence when Yankees show up at the Temple mansion, Uncle Bill and the corps of slaves help hide the girl, who goes in blackface, hoping to pass for one of the darkies. The scene has to be seen to be believed.

Now I imagine that TCM's motives were probably innocent, but I have a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that Ted Turner influenced the selection because of his "South Will Rise Again" sensibilities. Turner produced "Gods and Generals" in 2003, a film tribute to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Rightwing actor Robert Duvall played Robert E. Lee (surprise, surprise) and Virginia Senator George Allen played a Confederate officer.

The choice of George Allen is not surprising considering the following:

But, while Allen may have genuflected in the direction of Gingrich, he also showed a touch of Strom Thurmond. Campaigning for governor in 1993, he admitted to prominently displaying a Confederate flag in his living room. He said it was part of a flag collection–and had been removed at the start of his gubernatorial bid. When it was learned that he kept a noose hanging on a ficus tree in his law office, he said it was part of a Western memorabilia collection. These explanations may be sincere. But, as a chief executive, he also compiled a controversial record on race. In 1994, he said he would accept an honorary membership at a Richmond social club with a well-known history of discrimination–an invitation that the three previous governors had refused. After an outcry, Allen rejected the offer. He replaced the only black member of the University of Virginia (UVA) Board of Visitors with a white one. He issued a proclamation drafted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans declaring April Confederate History and Heritage Month. The text celebrated Dixie's "four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights." There was no mention of slavery. After some of the early flaps, a headline in The Washington Post read, "Governor seen leading VA. back in time."

Full: http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20060508&s=lizza050806

May 11, 2006

Giuliani Time

Filed under: Film,racism,repression — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

 

"Gestapo Giuliani" by Robert Lederman, who is interviewed extensively in the film

If there's any other reason need to go see "Giuliani Time" other than it includes an interview with the good Doug Henwood, it is to watch the racist, plutocratic and authoritarian ex-Mayor nailed by his own words and deeds. This documentary, which opens tomorrow at the Sunshine Cinema in NYC, is a stunning achievement. Going against the well-orchestrated PR campaign that undoubtedly seeks to put him in the White House in 2008, it reveals him as little different from George W. Bush despite his reputation in some circles for being enlightened. After seeing this terrific documentary, you will come away with the feeling that he is about as enlightened as a blackjack.

Apparently, the film has struck the jugular vein based on the reaction of Giuliani backers at http://www.draftrudygiuliani.com/, who have begun to raise funds to counter what they consider the film's "propaganda":

"Even though many political pundits feel that the pro-choice, pro-immigration and pro-gay rights platform of Rudy Giuliani is simply nothing more than a longshot to win the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, some far-left filmmakers are taking him seriously enough to drop some cash in attempt to ensure that from occuring."

The main value of the film is that it cuts through the bullshit about Giuliani's claim to progressive values, as seen in the above quote. It actually takes an enormous amount of chutzpah to describe Giuliani as "pro-immigration" after the film makes crystal-clear that the Associate Attorney General became a "made man" with the Reagan administration after he made life hell for Haitian boat people.

After a class-action lawsuit seeking the release of 2,100 Haitian refugees from detention camps was filed in 1982, Giuliani said that repression in Haiti "simply does not exist now" and that refugees had nothing to fear from the Government of Jean-Claude Duvalier. (NY Times, 4/3/1982)

The film relies heavily on interviews with Wayne Barrett, the Village Voice author of "Rudy," a book that attracted attention for the startling revelations that the law-and-order Mayor's father was a low-level mafia operative and that his wife lived in the attic of Gracie Mansion while he was cheating on her with an aide.

Barrett's real contribution, however, was to lay out the almost daily assaults to NYC's progressive traditions by the Republican mayor. Barrett, a gifted and dogged investigative journalist, has been covering the Giuliani beat in the Voice for a number of years now. In the film, he points out that despite the perception (aided by the NY Times and other papers) that Giuliani cleaned up the crime problem in NYC, the truth is that Dinkins had already turned the corner as mayor:

When pressured by Congressman Gregory Meeks during his recent House testimony, Giuliani put his hand up in the air and swore that there'd been 50 percent fewer "police shootings" in 1998 than in 1993, the final year of his predecessor, David Dinkins. Since the Diallo incident was more than a mere "police shooting"— defined as the number of incidents in which police fire at a perpetrator, whether they hit him or not— it was a curious statistical choice. Presumably the mayor picked it, rather than the much more parallel stat of "police fatal fire," because the numbers worked better for him.

Had he focused on police killings, he would have had to admit that the number declined dramatically under Dinkins, falling from 39 in 1990 to 22 in 1993, a 44 percent drop. He would also have had to explain why it soared to 30 in Giuliani's first year and stayed roughly at that higher-than-Dinkins level for 1995 and 1996, declining only in the last two years. In 1998, cops killed 19 people, three less than in 1993, for a drop of only 13.6 percent over the five Giuliani years.

Full: http://www.villagevoice.com/news/9909,barrett,4254,5.html

Giuliani's rise to power owes much to the strategic insights of the shadowy Manhattan Institute, a rightwing think-tank. The film makes heavy use of interviews with Myron Magnet, one of their staff members, who is about as creepy as can be imagined both in terms of the words that come out of his mouth and his appearance, which ironically evokes Ebenezer Scrooge, mutton-chops and all.

Myron Magnet at New Criterion cocktail party held at the Metropolitan Museum

Magnet explains that Giuliani assumed power largely on the basis of the "broken window" theory pioneered by the ideologues at the Manhattan Institute. This posits the notion that petty crimes (or even offenses to bourgeois values) such as street-level drug dealing or panhandling have to be eradicated in order for larger law-and-order values to prevail. Unfortunately, many decent middle-class New Yorkers, who tended to vote Democrat, got suckered into voting for Giuliani because they were fed up with panhandlers, crack vials in their vestibule, etc.

Many probably now regret their decision after seeing Giuliani's mean-spirited assaults on the poor and on freedoms guaranteed by the bill of rights during his term in office. Unfortunately, as was the case with recent presidential elections, the Democrats failed to win office because they could not present a compelling alternative. It is probably the one flaw in this otherwise outstanding documentary that this problem is not given any real attention.

Film website: http://www.giulianitime.com/

A.M. Rosenthal

Filed under: media — louisproyect @ 5:33 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on May 11, 2006

Former NY Timesman A.M. Rosenthal died yesterday at the age of 84. Not surprisingly, the paper's obituary said virtually nothing about his role in pushing the paper to the right under his tenure as Executive Editor from 1977 to 1988.

A.M. Rosenthal

 

During the time I was involved with Central America solidarity in the 1980s, the Times was a key element in Reagan's foreign policy.

In the most pronounced example of Rosenthal collaboration with the White House, reporter Raymond Bonner was replaced as correspondent in El Salvador in 1982 after reporting on the El Mozote massacre. Rosenthal was reported to have said that Bonner "was too willing to accept the Communist side of the story." According to Mark Danner, an author of a book on El Mozote, Rosenthal "was very vocal that Bonner was sympathetic to the Communist side in Central America." Danner also reports on "a scene in a Georgetown restaurant a few weeks after the El Mozote story ran — it was the evening of the annual Gridiron dinner — in which Rosenthal criticized Bonner and angrily described the sufferings that Communist regimes inflict on their people."

Rosenthal replaced Bonner with Shirley Christian, a rightwing ideologue whose previous job was with the Miami Herald. Many of her articles consist simply of stenographer-like reports from the contra leaders. For example, in a September 13, 1985 item, she shamelessly quotes the monstrous contra military commander Enrique Bermudez: "I won't say that sometimes an isolated patrol might not commit an abuse. But this has not been a practice." You might as well have quoted Idi Amin saying that he was committed to human rights.

As bad as Christian was, nobody could top Claire Sterling for awfulness except perhaps for Judy Miller. Sterling used the pages of the NY Times to promote a wacky theory that the USSR was the mastermind of a plot to kill the pope as a means to countering the growth of Solidarity in Poland. The conspiracy supposedly involved the KGB, the Bulgarian government acting on its behest and Mehmet Ali Agca, who was supposedly paid $400,000 to carry out the hit.

Rosenthal decided to hire Sterling on the basis of her book "The Terror Network," written in 1980. She got much of her data from Robert Moss, who co-authored the lurid spy novel "The Spike" with Arnaud de Borchgrave, who would become the editor of the Moonie Washington Times. Edward Herman noted that "Sterling's fanaticism can be inferred from her statement (in Human Events, April 21, 1984), at the height of the Reagan era anti-Soviet frenzy, that the Reagan administration was 'covering up' Soviet guilt in the assassination attempt against the Pope in 1981 because of the Reaganite devotion to détente."

Full: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/AllNewsFit_Herman2.html

To this day, the NY Times never issued one of its famous corrections to the story about the KGB/Bulgarian plot to kill the pope. Even after a Roman court cleared 3 Bulgarians who had been arrested for involvement in the alleged conspiracy to kill the pope, the NY Times failed to accept the verdict. Herman notes, "When CIA officer Melvin Goodman testified during the Gates confirmation hearing in 1990 that the CIA professionals knew the Bulgarian Connection was a fraud because they had penetrated the Bulgarian secret services, the Times failed to reprint this part of Goodman's testimony."

Eventually, after Rosenthal was retired from his post, the NY Times edged a bit more toward the center and away from his excesses. Even though the disease went into temporary remission under a new editorial team, it never went away as the Judith Miller affair reveals. It can safely be assumed that as long as the U.S. government needs an "official" voice to explain the wisdom of its decisions to the public, there will always be a need for the NY Times as it is currently constituted.

Rosenthal continued to work for the NY Times, turning out the flatulent op-ed column "On My Mind" until 1999. Then he went to work for the Daily News, a trashy tabloid published by rightwing billionaire Mort Zuckerman, where he adopted the persona of the windbag uncle everybody has to put up with at the Thanksgiving Dinner table. His very last column, written on February 6th of this year is proof positive of how detached from reality he was:

But the Bush haters should hold their applause. This story is far from over. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was absolutely right in telling a Senate committee on Wednesday, "We may eventually find it [the WMD stockpile] in the months ahead." As the secretary pointed out, those weapons may be buried in a still unexplored area, they may have been smuggled into another country [think Syria] or they may have been destroyed just before the invasion.

CIA Director George Tenet smartly reinforced Rumsfeld's argument yesterday, stressing in his congressional testimony that the search for WMDs is "nowhere near 85% finished."

May he rot in hell.

May 10, 2006

Did Karl Marx endorse imperialism?

Filed under: imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 3:37 pm

the-life-and-death-of-colonel-blimp-prints

Colonel Blimp

There’s an article today on the Guardian newspaper’s “Comment is free” blog by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a Thatcherite journalist who has remained somewhat critical of the war in Iraq but not the right of great powers to dominate weaker ones, as demonstrated by article’s title: “They should come out as imperialist and proud of it.” Wheatcroft is referring to a certain diffidence on the part of the Euston Manifesto’s drafters to proclaim their incipient imperialist yearnings. Of course, there is also the possibility that Wheatcroft is employing Swiftian irony, but since he was called upon by the NY Times Book Review to pen a hatchet job on Robert Fisk’s “The Conquest of the Middle East,” that seems a bit remote.

Since Wheatcroft’s article portrays Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as defenders of imperialism, a reply might be in order. As is commonly understood, there is a long-standing tradition on the British left to try to make an amalgam between socialism and the foreign policy imperatives of the British Empire. Indeed, two different and very useful blog contributions have connected the Euston Manifesto to this tradition.

From Histomat, a group blog based in Great Britain, there’s an entry titled “Euston, we have a problem” that examines the Coefficient Club of the Fabian Society as a precedent to Norm Geras and company’s project: “Basically, the Fabians wanted a new world imperial order spreading out from a militarised and newly efficient British state that would spread universal suffrage internationally. While the bit about ‘universal suffrage’ was not accepted by the non-socialist members of the Coefficients Club, these conservative and liberals who attended saluted the idea of remilitarising British society as they felt British parliamentarism had gone soft.”

From Reading the Maps, another excellent group blog based in New Zealand, there’s a complementary article titled “The Peculiarities of the Pro-war Left” that complements Histomat’s:

“To many intellectuals in nineteenth century Britain, the first section of the Manifesto read less like history than prophecy. The first British Marxist organisation of any size and durability, the Social Democratic Federation, was led by a man who can rightly be called a forebear of today’s pro-war left. Described by Eric Hobsbawm as a ‘gentleman, cricketer, and stockbroker leading the masses toward revolution in a top hat and frock-coat’, Henry Hyndman worried the working class rank and file of the SDF by using the Communist Manifesto to make pseudo-Marxist defences of the British Empire, arguing that Britain’s colonies were the ‘just desserts’ of the British working class. Hyndman’s views found an echo amongst the so-called socialist imperialists of the early Fabian Society.”

It should be understood that these Fabians were capable of quoting Marx as well as the devil cites scripture. Although Wheatcroft is a Thatcherite with zero sympathies for socialism, he seems to have absorbed much of the mischievousness of people like Hyndman.

He writes:

In the next century Mill, Macaulay and even Marx made approving noises about British rule in India. Macaulay thought it proper to elevate the Indians by teaching them Shakespeare and the doctrines of the Glorious Revolution. Early on, Marx believed “the English were the first conquerors superior, and therefore inaccessible, to Hindu civilisation”; for much the same reason Engels approved initially of France’s conquest of Algeria.

While it is true that Marx and Engels held such attitudes early in their career, it is important to understand that they eventually discarded them. Marx wrote his articles on India in the early 1850s, but even if he gave critical support to Great Britain, there was no mistaking his analysis for those of the Fabians or Norm Geras. Even at this early date, Marx believed that “The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the now ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindoos themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.”

(The Future Results of British Rule in India, July 22, 1853)

Furthermore, even if Marx offered the barest concession to British capitalism as a force that could create the conditions for the future emancipation of India, there were clear indications that by the end of his life, he no longer held such beliefs. In his correspondence with the Russian populists, he characterized English rule in India as a “bleeding process with a vengeance” and advised the populists to reject the idea that a capitalist stage was necessary precondition for Russia to make the socialist revolution.

Continuing along in his bumbling manner, Wheatcroft opines:

According to Marxist doctrine, socialism could arrive only after bourgeois capitalism. A comparable outlook was found on the left well beyond the Marxists. Europeans instinctively believed that Europe “had achieved the highest form of civilisation ever known”, which was its duty to export throughout the world, AJP Taylor wrote. He added, only part playfully, that “these were radical beliefs”: that was why the Fabians supported the Boer war and championed the British empire.

Contrary to Wheatcroft, Marxists came to understand that the main obstacle to the historic goals of the bourgeois revolution in places such as India, Algeria and elsewhere was colonial rule itself. For example, one of the cornerstones of a modern capitalist society is a land reform that will hasten the development of commodity production in the countryside, a precondition for future capitalist growth. However, the colonists preferred to utilize the plantation system and forced labor as a way to guarantee a steady supply of cheap agricultural goods and superprofits. It would take socialist and anti-imperialist struggles to uproot the plantation system, not the beneficence of the mother country which fought such changes till the very end.

May 9, 2006

Update on Hugo Chavez’s “25 year term”

Filed under: Latin America — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

Monday, May 08, 2006

Associated Press falsely portrays Chavez as seeking 25-year term
By Justin Delacour
Latin America News Review

A little scrutiny of a recent Associated Press report about Venezuela provides a lesson in how the English-language press often gets the story wrong. Take the first sentence: "President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that Venezuelan voters should have the chance to decide whether he should govern the country for the next 25 years."

No, such a referendum would not be about "whether he should govern the country for the next 25 years." A referendum would be about whether Chavez would be permitted to run every six years and –in the event that he were to continue winning elections– serve multiple presidential terms. The AP report's opening sentence makes it sound as if such a referendum would do away with elections in Venezuela, as if its intent would be to grant Chavez a new 25-year term in office! The website of The Calgary Sun even titles the wire report "Chavez seeking 25-year term"!!

full: http://lanr.blogspot.com/2006/05/associated-press-falsely-portrays.html

—–

Eli Stephen's Left I on the News:

The corporate press has been all over a speech given by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday. Headlines include such claims as "Chavez says he will govern until 2031," "Chavez seeking 25-year term," "'Indefinite' Chávez reign?," "Chavez Proposes Referendum to Stay President Until 2031," and so on. Lost in the headlines was the fact that the writer of the widely circulated AP story didn't even know what the speech said: "It wasn't clear if Chavez, 51, was talking about holding a legally binding vote to eliminate limits on re-election or proposing a plebiscite." Also missing from the headlines was the conditional aspect of Chavez's "proposal" (more of a rhetorical point in a speech than an actual proposal, of course)–the proposed referendum would only take place "if the opposition pulls out of the presidential vote, as it did last year's congressional election."

And why would the opposition pull out of the elections? Because all polls suggest they are going to be trounced in that election, and by pulling out, they will delegitimize the election. Not in the eyes of Venezuelans, of course, but in the eyes of the U.S. (more specifically, the U.S. ruling class), thus providing "justification" for further interference on the part of the U.S. (coups, blockades, invasions). In other words, such an act on the part of the opposition would be borderline treason.

full: http://lefti.blogspot.com/2006_05_01_lefti_archive.html#114710749275543053

—–

Posted to Marxmail by Michael Hoover:

hamilton proposed a 'president for life' at 1787 constitutional convention and while there was not a single comment/question/ response pro or con, delegates imposed no term limits on the office, in effect, leaving open the possibility a lengthy george washington presidency (hamilton's very proposal was partially motivated by such a wish) even as the short term of 4 years indicated a concern with entrenched power…

terms limits place direct curbs on the power of the electorate *and* on the power of the president, when it was possible, even if unlikely that a u.s. president might seek a 3rd term, that individual had more influence than president who made known their decisions not to run again, congressional members, governors, and other politicians are much less inclined to oppose the former in party primaries… mh

May 8, 2006

Marc Cooper and term limits in Venezuela

Filed under: Latin America — louisproyect @ 4:06 pm

 

Marc Cooper 

I think everybody has gotten used to the idea that Marc Cooper has pretty much landed with both feet firmly planted in Hitchensville. Despite his formal opposition to the war in Iraq, Cooper redbaits the actual movement that has come together to bring the troops home in the pages of the bourgeois press. And when he is not busy redbaiting the antiwar movement or boosting the "sensible" Kennedy-McCain immigration bill (a new version of the 'bracero' program of the 1940s, a form of indentured servitude), he lashes out at Cuba for not allowing the National Endowment for Democracy to have free rein. But perhaps his biggest gripe is with Hugo Chavez, who has the temerity to stand up to American imperialism and use oil profits for the benefit of Venezuela's poor.

In a May 7th entry on his blog titled "Hugo's Ploy," Cooper relies on an AP dispatch that states that Chavez is seeking a 25-year term. It quotes Chavez as saying, "I am going to ask you, all the people, if you agree with Chavez being president until 2031." However, AP is forced to admit that "It was not clear if Chavez was talking about holding a legally binding vote to eliminate term limits or proposing a plebiscite."

Well, if Cooper were a serious journalist rather than a Matt Drudge wannabe, he could have tracked down an item that was forwarded in the comments section of his blog by one Brian Jones beforehand. It has a link to a Yahoo Spanish News article that clearly states that Chavez was only seeking an end to term limits:

La actual Constitución "bolivariana" de Venezuela, aprobada en 1999, permite la reelección una sola vez. Un eventual referendo podría modificar esta condición.

This says, "The actual 'Bolivarian' Constitution of Venezuela, approved in 1999, permits reelection only once. An eventual referendum would modify this condition."

How does being opposed to term limits get translated into a 25 year presidency? The answer is obvious. The same way that Maurice Bishop's Grenada got turned into a Russian military base or that Sandinista Nicaragua became a totalitarian dungeon–despite having democratic elections throughout the 1980s. There's a word for this: disinformation. Using his by now 33 year old service as a translator for Salvador Allende as left cover, Marc Cooper is performing the same role on his blog and in the pages of the LA Times that people like Shirley Christian carried out in the NY Times in the 1980s. It is not a pretty sight.

Harry Magdoff memorial meeting

Filed under: economics — louisproyect @ 3:10 pm

Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy

Yesterday I attended a memorial meeting for Harry Magdoff at NYC's Ethical Culture Society, the very same place where a memorial meeting was held for Paul Sweezy a little over 2 years ago. The passing of these two giants of Marxist thought represents the end of an era in many ways. As veterans of the 1930s, they were dedicated to keeping alive the traditions of the earlier radical movement as well as mentoring the new generation that came along in the 1960s.

I was acquainted with both of them but felt somewhat closer to Harry, who as all the speakers pointed out yesterday was warm and gregarious by nature. The two men were a study in contrasts. Harry was a plump avuncular figure from the Bronx who spoke with a NYC Yiddish accent while Paul was a lean WASP with icy blue eyes who came from a wealthy New England banking family.

My first contact with Harry took place about 15 years ago at a Brecht Forum picnic that was held annually at his summer home in Croton, NY in a leftist enclave. He gave a class on the world economic situation that left me spellbound. After the class I mentioned to him that I was very impressed with "Money," Andrew Hacker's new book. He invited me to write a review and submit it to MR. My submission was rejected later on since, according to Harry, it was not really "MR". This was the first in a series of Charlie Brown type encounters with the giants of Marxism that would leave me feeling angry and cheated. After going through the same kind of experience with James O'Connor and then Immanuel Wallerstein, I finally resolved to stick to the world of Internet 'zines, mailing lists and blogs where I really fit in.

This experience with MR and a subsequent one which was even more painful left me feeling personally alienated from the people who ran the magazine, even though I continued to openly acknowledge my ideological affinity. Eventually I patched things up and was honored when Harry himself became a subscriber to Marxmail. I got notes from him from time to time asking me to resend him some item that appeared on the list. He was especially interested in a thread that had taken place on radical films, a subject that was obviously very close to my heart.

(Although Harry had the well-deserved reputation for his writings on economics, Annette Rubinstein, who is in her nineties now, said that he had an avid interest in culture that he rued not having enough time to pursue.)

The first speaker was his son Fred Magdoff, who spoke at length about his love for his father and his respect for his scholarship. He quoted Paul and Harry on the subject of mortality. When both were in their nineties and in poor health, the question of their impending passing was obviously very much on their mind. Paul said that the only reason he would regret dying was that he would no longer be able to read the NY Times in the morning! Harry said that death would rob him of the opportunity to "see how it all turned out." These were obviously two men who were political in the deepest sense.

Apparently, when Harry reached his nineties he began to rely more and more on the computer to keep up with the type of contacts he had when he was more active. Fred reported that Harry was always glad to get email from Michael Lebowitz about developments in Venezuela. Just to give you an idea about how relative the whole notion of aging is, Harry wrote back to Michael once saying that if he was only 80 again, he'd be down in Venezuela talking to people and learning about the revolutionary process!

The main thing that came through from the various speakers was Harry's indefatigable spirit. No matter what the challenges were, he rose to the occasion–standing up to the McCarthyites or keeping the revolutionary spirit alive in times of seeming apathy. Robert Engler, a University of Chicago professor and good friend of Harry's, reported on his reaction to a fire that destroyed a lifetime of records that he had been keeping on the economy: "I should rework my materials and calculations on investments, productivity, exports and imports, employment–they were getting somewhat dated."

Bernadine Dohrn spoke about the importance of Monthly Review to SDS'ers like herself in the 1960s and 70s. Although they were anxious to overthrow the system, they keenly felt the need to grasp the theory that would allow them to develop an effective strategy. Meetings were held with Paul and Harry on numerous occasions with young scholars of the New Left who were feeling their way around the problems of Marxism and how to apply it to American society. During Dohrn's remarks, I could not help but think of the challenge that faces MR today with the passing of Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff. Will John Bellamy Foster and his associates be able to play the role that Paul and Harry did, as mentors to young activists? There has always been a tension in MR between the requirements to serve as the voice of a current within academic Marxism and the needs of the mass movement, which operates on a somewhat different logic. Paul and Harry emerged out of the broad mass movement that arose with FDR's New Deal. It would be incumbent on John and the collective editorial board to think about ways that it can connect to the young radicals of today, some of whom have actually launched the creation of a new SDS. Unless the magazine can find a way to relate to people on the streets who are confronting the system, it will not be fully reflective of the magazine's roots.

One of the high points of the meeting was a snippet of a filmed interview with Harry made about 2 years ago in which he described what made him decide to become a socialist. First and foremost was WWI, which even at a very young age struck him as a supremely irrational and inhuman event. After his mother learned that her brother was going to be shipped off to fight in the European trench wars, she fainted dead away on their apartment floor. Harry said that this left an indelible mark on him. A few years later, as he began to develop an interest in politics, he attended a meeting on the fight for Indian independence. As he sat in the meeting learning of British cruelty and greed, he couldn't help but think how insane it was for one country to own another. That feeling obviously stuck with him for the rest of his life.

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