Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 6, 2006

The Empire in Africa

Filed under: Africa,Film,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

Philippe Diaz’s documentary “The Empire in Africa” opens in NYC, Los Angeles and Madison, Wisconsin theaters this Friday. It is not to be missed. Focused on the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone, it is the perfect rejoinder to those who believe that the West has some kind of obligation to provide law and order through a “humanitarian” military intervention of the sort that NY Timesman Nicholas Kristof contributor calls for in Darfur or that Harvard professor Samantha Powers called for in Rwanda. Using interviews with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group widely portrayed as the Sierra Leone equivalent of the Janjaweed in Darfur, as well as supporters of military intervention against it, Diaz uncovers a rescue mission much more about rescuing diamond mining profits than lives.

“The Empire in Africa” makes no attempt to prettify the RUF, opening with a ghastly display of Sierra Leoneans who have had hands or legs chopped off by the rebels. We eventually learn that these acts were carried out as a reprisal against villagers who were implicated in government-sponsored murders against the group. Although the film does not make the specific connection with Iraq, the violence in Sierra Leone seems to have had the same kind of spiraling, out-of-control, vendetta-like quality seen in Iraq today but without the religious sectarian split. The RUF appears to be like many armed African resistance groups that begin with progressive goals but somehow get derailed in the process. While by no means as retrograde as the Khmer Rouge, the RUF gives the overall impression of a force that has allowed the gun and the machete to prevail over politics. That being said, interviews with at least one militant in the film reveals them to be bent on ridding Sierra Leone of imperialist predators and making the country’s riches, diamonds in particular, a basis for a more just economic development path.

As the violence deepened in Sierra Leone, the UN “came to the rescue”, just as the expensive full-page savedarfur.org ads in the NY Times call for now. Using Western funding from aboveground and clandestine sources, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected President with a clear mandate to stop the killing. A long-time employee of the UN, he had the enthusiastic support of the US, Great Britain and France who understand how to manipulate the international body to their own devices. He also had support from ECOMOG, an armed force made up of contingents from a number of African nations, with Nigeria supplying most of the muscle. In other words, Sierra Leone was a model for what is called for in Darfur. As those who urge “humanitarian” intervention in Darfur keep telling us, an effective fighting force made up UN and or African nations is all that is needed to save innocent lives. Nobody should have any such illusions after watching “The Empire in Africa”.

As Diaz’s footage makes clear, ECOMOG soldiers were as brutal as the RUF that they had been called into save the Sierra Leoneans from, if not more so. The camera reveals them to be total thugs, shooting people on the spot and mercilessly beating those that they do not kill. Why anybody would expect anything different from Nigerian soldiers is the mystery of all times. With its bloody suppression of the Ogoni people, they had plenty of experience in terrorizing a civilian population before coming into Sierra Leone. As for the British and their other “civilized” partners, their record in Africa going back to the late 1800s has been undiminished cruelty in the pursuit of profits. Asking Western Europeans, Americans and Nigerians to act selflessly on behalf of some kind of rescue mission is like asking Al Capone to look after your life savings.

With the support of the UN and the West, Kabbah was able to suppress the RUF and guarantee continued access to the country’s diamonds by outside interests.

Philippe Diaz came to Sierra Leone in 1991 with a commitment to getting beneath the official version of what was happening there. On the film’s website, he states:

The government had made it clear to us that we should not interview the rebels because our safety couldn’t be assured and as one minister put it, “they are so illiterate anyway, they wouldn’t be able to talk to you.” It took us a long time to establish a connection to the rebels, not because we didn’t know where to find them – they were officially in town – but because they had decided to not give any interviews to foreign journalists that “had manipulated the truth” for many years. It took us almost a month to convince them that we were not here to demonize them but to tell the truth. Once they believed us, they were all willing to tell their side of the story… and were perfectly able to do so. For “illiterate” people, I must say some of them were the most knowledgeable people I had met in the country with an analysis of world politics that was much more developed than that of some of the current ministers we had met. Our safety was never in jeopardy in their campground, even if we didn’t feel too at ease being surrounded by young soldiers, some teenagers, armed with AK-47.

It took a tremendous amount of courage for Diaz to make such a film. Not only does he deserve credit for debunking myths that have circulated about the “humanitarian rescue” in Sierra Leone, he has made a compelling film that ranks with some of the finest I have seen about the problems of war in Third World countries.

This is a film that will stick with you long after you have seen it. It is not only must viewing for political activists, but for anybody trying to understand the problems of war and peace in a continent that has become an obsession for liberals with a missionary complex. Africans indeed deserve better and Philippe Diaz has made a powerful contribution toward that end with “The Empire in Africa”.

Film website and scheduling information


December 5, 2006

Four more mainstream movies

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

Unlike the last batch of movies I reviewed here, I cannot recommend any of these as should be obvious from my remarks.

1. Babel: This is the latest work by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu that follows a formula he has used in past films, including “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams”. Coincidence joins together various characters whose stories are interwoven through the course of the film. This is a genre that Quentin Tarantino unleashed on the world in his 1994 “Pulp Fiction” and that has become internationalized based on the evidence of Iñárritu’s work as well as the 1998 German film “Run, Lola, Run”.

Iñárritu not only borrows this plot device from the American, but his nihilistic obsession with violence as well. As Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett wend their way on a tourist bus through the mountains of Morocco, two young local boys decide to test out the range of their new rifle on the bus. A bullet flies through the window and lodges in Blanchett’s shoulder. If this weren’t bad enough, the American couple’s two young children will soon end up in the Mexican desert with their housekeeper. Her nephew Santiago (played by Gael García Bernal, who played a thug in “Amores Perros” and Che Guevara in “Motorcycle Diaries”) has abandoned them trying to elude INS agents who have accosted the group in his car at a border-crossing. In a most unlikely turn of events, the housekeeper had decided to drag the kids into Mexico for her son’s wedding after nobody could be found to assume her duties.

If switching between the arid mountains of Morocco as Blanchett lies bleeding to death and the sun-parched Mexican desert was not depressing enough, the third subplot involves a Japanese father and his deaf-mute teenaged daughter who has been driven to nymphomania by one too many rejections. The tenuous connection between Tokyo and Morocco is made through the rifle, which was a gift to the father’s native hunting guide, who has sold it to the father of the two wayward youths being pursued by a posse of brutal local cops.

Iñárritu is trying to say something about communication–hence the title of the film. The Japanese girl degrades herself because she can’t speak. The Mexicans are harassed at the border because they don’t speak English. Brad Pitt is driven to distraction because the Moroccans, who speak no English, can’t respond to his remonstrations about the need to properly care for his wife.

Unfortunately, the tower of Babel is a better metaphor for this film’s inability to say anything meaningful to the audience. The Moroccan boys are grotesques, driven as much by sexual impulse as they are by the impulse to shoot complete strangers. Up in the mountains, they take turns masturbating and firing the rifle aimlessly. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are absolute ciphers. Their characters remain total mysteries to the audience, a function no doubt of the scriptwriter’s inability to put together meaningful dialogue. Pitt’s lines consist almost exclusively of him cursing at Moroccans for not moving fast enough to help his wounded wife. One only regrets that the two boys had not reserved a bullet for him as well.

2. Catch a Fire: I have seen two films by Director Phillip Noyce, one very good (“Rabbit-Proof Fence”) and one not very good at all (“The Quiet American”). I am afraid that “Catch a Fire” is also not very good at all, although it shares a certain political commitment with the other two. It is the real-life story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), an apolitical Black South African who decides to join the armed wing of the ANCafter he is falsely arrested and tortured. The screenplay was written by Shawn Slovo, the daughter of the late South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.

“Catch a Fire” is much more the story of one man’s desire for vengeance than it is about politics. Unlike “Autobiography of Malcolm X” or “Battle of Algiers”, the main character has very little to say about why he wants to risk his life. Once he makes the decision to join the ANC, the film dwells almost exclusively on the minutiae of military training, crossing the border back into South Africa from training camps, planting explosives at the refinery Chamusso once worked at, etc. Now there is nothing wrong with making a movie about a military operative sneaking into enemy territory and blowing things up, “Guns of Navarone” being exemplary. But Shawn Slovo does not have a flair for writing these kinds of action stories evidently. Nor does she seem that interested in drawing out the political motivations of the characters. Even her father Joe Slovo, who runs the training camp in Mozambique that Chamusso trains in, has not a single interesting thing to say politically.

Apparently, Shawn Slovo has a bit of a history in suppressing politics. She wrote the screenplay for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” which was based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres that has a cult following. Although I have not seen it, I recall that it is about the romance between a music-loving Italian fascist officer played by Nicholas Cage and a local woman named Pelagia whose Greek isle his men are occupying. Just what the world was waiting for, fascism with a human face.

In the novel, there’s a Greek character named Mandras who has organized a revolutionary militia to expel the fascists. Slovo decided to soft-pedal the politics and make Mandras Captain Corelli’s rival for Pelagia’s affections rather than a rival in politics. This is how she explains her decision:

It makes the love story between Pelagia and Corelli more exciting. For me the main draw in the film is the love story. There are two people who are not looking to fall in love – I mean, he certainly isn’t, she’s got a fiance – and I think it’s that kind of reluctance, that coming together in spite of the obstacles, that makes a good love story, don’t you?


The Village Voice summed up “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” pretty well as a Kumbaya type movie that sounds a bit like the final scene where Chamusso decides not to beat his torturer to a pulp after the ANC has taken power:

The locals are unfailingly, anachronistically plucky. (The mayor’s official response to the Italians’ request for surrender: “Fack off!”) The big message seems to be that tolerance is good, but since the film doesn’t differentiate between politics and jingoism, it needs to demonstrate that We’re All the Same Inside, right down to how everybody on the island speaks English with a similar intermittent Mediterranean accent.

3. Little Miss Sunshine: I have gotten lots of complaints about this horrible movie based on my impressions of it after 10 minutes (I walked out.) Here’s just one:

A scathing review of the first 10 minutes of any movie is not going to be very convincing to anyone. If you’re not going to watch it don’t review it.

Since I got a screener from the studio in conjunction with our awards nominations in NYFCO, I decided to satisfy my critics and sit through till the bitter end. As should be obvious, I remain scathingly yours.

Basically, “Little Miss Sunshine” is a road movie about a dysfunctional family along the lines of Chevy Chase’s 1983 “Vacation” that even includes an elderly relative dying en route. While Chase’s movie exploited this incident to great comic effect, “Little Miss Sunshine” hardly knows what to do with it. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the family smuggles the dead grandfather’s body out of a hospital and sticks it in the trunk of the rickety VW bus they are traveling in. Filling out official papers would have made them late to a beauty pageant their daughter competing in, so they decide to take care of the corpse later on. When a cop pulls them over on the highway because of a broken horn, he fails to spot the body. The comic moment instead turns feebly on his discovery of a couple of porn magazines that are stashed next to the concealed body.

For a movie that wears its “indy” colors proudly, there is a lot of prudishness in the film. We are supposed to laugh at the gay men’s porn the cop discovers, we are also supposed to laugh at the grandfather’s homophobic outbursts, etc. Oddly enough, when the film concludes with the daughter doing a sort of strip tease to the shock of the beauty pageant’s judges, we (or I at least) fail to identify strongly with the family rallying around her performance. Too much petty bigotry has preceded it.

4. United 93: Like Oliver Stone’s “WTC,” this is one of those rally-around-the-flag efforts that depict innocent Americans under siege from swarthy, Koran-reading fanatics. That being said, it is fairly well-crafted. The best decision made by director Paul Greengrass is to cast unknowns in the leading roles. I could not recognize a single actor from previous flicks. This comes as a bit of a relief. The last thing I wanted to see is somebody like Bruce Willis in the control room barking orders to his subordinates. The film moves along at a brisk pace until the plane crashes into a Pennsylvania field.

What it does not deliver is drama. Since “United 93” involves villains, you want to know what makes them tick. Even in a James Bond movie, we get some insights into what motivates a Goldfinger to want to take over the world, namely greed. The Muslim terrorists in “United 93” are totally opaque. The audience has no idea what would lead them to such desperate acts. When popular culture takes such an adamant stand against informing the audience, no wonder so many Americans continue to believe that Iraq was behind 9/11.

December 4, 2006

Cynthia Cochran memorial meeting

Filed under: socialism — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm


Cynthia and friend at an antiwar demonstration (her button says, “It’s the oil, stupid”)

Yesterday I attended a memorial meeting for Cynthia Cochran, who died at the age of 82 on a plane flying from South Africa to Great Britain. We assume that she suffered a blood clot on the plane. Although her doctors had advised her against travel, she decided to take a world tour one more time. Everybody who spoke at the memorial meeting concurred that this is the way she would have wanted to go.

Cynthia was the widow of Bert Cochran, a leader of the Trotskyist SWP who had split with the party in the early 1950s over what he perceived as a flawed sectarian model. Back in 1971, during a faction fight in the SWP between party leaders who oriented to the campuses and a small minority that favored a “proletarian orientation”, I was asked by Peter Camejo (my branch organizer in Boston) to prepare some remarks on the Cochranites for the preconvention discussion. I said that since being factory workers did not prevent them from becoming conservatized, there was no sense sending students into factories as a kind of prophylactic.

Years later after I left the SWP I began to reconsider what the Cochranites stood for. Ultimately I decided that they were on the right track but only failed because of the difficulties facing any kind of left group in 1954, including one with a correct perspective. Using an introduction provided by the late Sol Dollinger, I contacted Cynthia Cochran with an eye toward putting selected articles from Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s American Socialist on the Internet. Over about a year I would go over to Cynthia’s, pick up a volume for scanning and chat with her.

Cynthia belonged to a generation that is now dying out, namely people in their 80s and older who had direct experience in a radicalized workers movement. Eventually I videotaped an interview with her in which she recounted her time in aircraft plants during WWII. Like Sol’s wife Genora, she was like Rosie the Riveter but with Marxist politics.

In the official version put forward by SWP party historians, the Cochranites turned tail in the 1950s and hid under their beds. When they came out, they all became solid middle-class citizens putting their radical past behind them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

During an entire lifetime, Cynthia was politically engaged until macular degeneration began to prevent her from getting around as freely as she would have liked. As a professional nurse, she felt an immediate connection with the ACT-UP activists and took part in militant demonstrations well into her late 1960s. She also took part in antiwar demonstrations until the last minute. Indeed, her latest trip took her to some of the more interesting places in the world politically. She started off in China and then to Vietnam. From Vietnam she sailed to South Africa. Speaking as somebody who is plagued by jet lag for at least 10 days after arriving in Turkey, I am in awe of any 82 year old that can get around like that, with a compromised circulatory system and 75 percent blindness to boot.

I had the chance to meet Cynthia’s niece Deidre Griswold on a couple of occasions and came away very favorable impressed. Deidre is a leader of the Workers World Party and a really likable and smart person. Deidre was the stepdaughter of Vincent Copeland, Cynthia’s brother, who was one of the top leaders of the WWP until his death in 1993. Although Cynthia and Vincent clashed politically, she nursed him tirelessly in his waning years. Every single person who spoke at the meeting testified to her big heart and her generosity, even as this was mixed with a large dollop of cantankerousness. I doubt if anybody would have preferred a more modulated Cynthia, especially me. Her outspokenness was reminder of the fighting spirit of the generation of radicals that preceded mine. It takes a lot of guts to take on American capitalism and Cynthia had plenty of that.

This is an account of my first meeting with Cynthia. I found out from her that a number of the facts were wrong, but I stand by my overall assessment:


Talk for Cynthia’s memorial, Dec. 3, 2006 by Deidre Griswold. Held at apartment of Kathy Klein Eddy, a neighbor and close friend.

We’re here to celebrate the life of Cynthia Copeland Cochran, who died in London on Oct. 21 near the end of a glorious trip. Even though she was 82 and her health was beginning to fail, she wouldn’t give in to old age and decided to travel once more around the world. She flew first to China, then went to Bangkok where she boarded a ship to Durban, South Africa, stopping in Vietnam along the way.

After spending a wonderful time with friends in Durban and Johannesburg, she took a long flight to London, but collapsed just before it landed and died the following morning in a London hospital. She died doing what she loved to do and avoided what she had most feared–being incapacitated at the end of her life.

I’m the stepdaughter of her brother Vincent, and I’ll tell you a little of the highlights of her life, as I know them.

Cynthia was born in 1923 in Buffalo, N.Y., the youngest of seven children. Her mother, Ethel, was born in England and while quite young had gone to Canada as an indentured servant–she had to work off the cost of her passage before she was free to do what she wanted. Ethel was another bold woman, who left her family for a new continent at a time when most women feared traveling alone.

Cynthia’s father, A. Stanley Copeland, was an attorney who only took cases he believed in, so that meant they had very little money, especially after the Depression started. Later you’ll hear in Cynthia’s own words about her father, who was both a dreamer and an activist in his own way.

I guess you could consider their family middle class, but they lived very near the edge, especially after her father died. Vince joined the Army in the middle of the Depression just to get the “three hots and a cot” and so he could send a little money home to his mother and brothers and sisters. But he finally was able to buy his way out and get jobs acting, and eventually joined the road company of a play called “Mamba’s Daughers,” starring Ethel Waters, where he had a chance to see much of the country.

These experiences during the Depression convinced both Vincent and later Cynthia that capitalism was a crisis-ridden, inhuman system and had to be replaced with socialism. They both remained committed socialists their whole lives.

Full: http://www.marxmail.org/deidre.htm

Remarks to Cynthia’s memorial by Katherine Stapp, her grand-niece.

A couple of years ago, Cynthia started working on a book that was a combination of reminiscences about her life and a cautionary tale about the problems she was having with her sister Lois’s conservator.

I helped her organize it for a while until I had my daughter Nika, but I still have some of the files, and reviewing it recently I was reminded what a good writer she was, and what an interesting life she led.

Quotes from Cynthia’s memoirs:

It’s not big events that stick on the floor of memory so much as little things, impressions. Like the picture, framed by the windshield of [my brother] Dick’s new/old rumble-seated roadster of a broad band of sunlight, like they have in religious paintings, dust particles drifting earthward in the sunlight as it did back on Emerson Place in Buffalo where I was born in 1923, the last of seven kids. Each particle of dust was visible, not crowded together but hanging like a veil and there before me was the dustbin of personal belongings waiting for the rubbish pickup. I happily rescued high-heeled rundown shoes so untypical of my own mother, so exciting for a six year old.

I remember again that same strange light in the summer of 1942. What is that lovely place somewhere between Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs? Bryce Canyon? My brother Dick softly nudged my shoulder to wake me just as the sun rose. He had stopped the car. A family of sheep was crossing the two-lane country road quietly, softly baaing to each other with no recognition of the foreign object, us, sitting quietly barely breathing, inches from their curly shoulders.

We are the first generation of women who knew emancipation without a struggle before the inspired Women’s Movement. World War II had opened up a new world for women. But come easy, go easy. Most of us foreswore skirts for lack of time. We wore nothing but jeans and slacks from ’41 through ’45, with our hair in snoods as welders, milling machine operators, riveters. I personally spent the last year or so of the war as a shipyard welder on Terminal Island in California. My sister Lois, I remember was an aircraft inspector wandering through the huge hangars with her micrometer checking for errors. We had equal pay and the government subsidized nurseries for $2.50 a day per child so we could work. Before that we knew the depression and worked through school.

Full: http://www.marxmail.org/cynthia.htm

December 2, 2006

Stan Goff rejects Marxism: a reply

Filed under: socialism — louisproyect @ 6:09 pm


Is he to blame?

Recently Stan Goff posted an article on Feral Scholar that has generated a fair amount of discussion. Nominally an explanation for his retreat from sectarian politics, it touches on the viability of Marxist theory. While I welcome anybody’s decision to withdraw from the world of self-declared vanguard politics, I am a little less comfortable with some of Stan’s broader challenges to Marxism. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to obscure the points of demarcation between his own particular experience with Freedom Road, other sectarian groups and Marxist theory in general. Let’s take a look at the following paragraph to get an idea of the sort of confusion that this leads to:

One of my primary disappointments has been what I consider the failure to take seriously the struggle against patriarchy, and to give it the same weight in our organizing as we do class and national oppression. There have been only token efforts in this regard, and no serious initiative that I have seen to go outside the canon to understand this system. Worse, there has been a reactive embrace of liberal-libertarian “feminism” by many comrades… which I consider to be a sly academic reassertion of male power in the consumer-choice package of “freedom,” undermining the whole analysis of gender as a system. But this is not the crux of the issue for me. Feminism was the gateway to a number of other interrogations of the assumptions of organized Marxism.

Who are the “many comrades” referred to above? Freedom Roaders? If so, why not refer to exactly what kind of “liberal-libertarian ‘feminism'” they have been espousing? Without a specific reference, Stan’s complaint has a somewhat vaporous quality.

If the Freedom Roaders could be faulted on their commitment to fighting patriarchy, at least Stan gives them credit for pushing “refoundation”:

My own last association with organized Marxism was with members whose work I greatly admire. In particular, I was attracted to their analysis of national oppression, which remains in advance of most of the US left, and their stated committment to refoundation of a politically efficacious left in the US.

For those who follow left politics, the term refoundation might ring a bell. There is a party in Italy called Communist Refoundation, which is more or less of an attempt to build on Eurocommunist initiatives of the 1970s and that mixes together genuine militancy with the traditional horse-trading that has tainted the Italian left since WWII.

The Freedom Roaders proposed their own kind of refoundation in 2000, which amounted to a kind of embrace of the same ideas that were being promoted by Solidarity and Committees of Correspondence, which in the 1950s was called “regroupment”. It was an attempt to build a new Marxist or radical left without the traditional “Leninist” concepts that were actually alien to the way that the Bolshevik party operated. Although the left would have benefited from a new party that included all of these various currents opposed to sectarianism, their own habits and inertia prevented them from coming together.

Perhaps the failure of “refoundation” to go anywhere after it was proposed in 2000 led some Freedom Roaders to pull back from this approach. In an article from 2 years ago on their website, Badili Jones wrote:

I believe that Freedom Road must uphold and demonstrate to the Left at large the value of the organizational principle of democratic centralism. It must be clear that we do reject bureaucratic centralism. Democratic centralism has become the bogeyman for many on the Left. This is because the practice has been perverted and misunderstood historically.

Perhaps Freedom Road adopted Badili’s proposal and retreated to older organizational concepts. As such groups customarily keep such decision-making processes to themselves, it is impossible to say. My guess is that Stan would have been uncomfortable with moving back in that direction based on the evidence of his article.

After chewing over the failures of the sectarian left at some length, Stan switches gears and begins to look at more fundamental problems. This is where I begin to part company with him.

The industrial utopia imagined by Marx and touted by Lenin (who even embraced the soul-killing efficiency doctrine of Frederick Winslow Taylor) is not possible in the real world, and less so each day, and it is a Man’s world in any case, a notion based fundmentally on the patriarchal belief in Man-Nature dualism (and the gendered pronoun is not an accident, nor has it ever been neutral). It is the Marxist method of inquiry that exposes the fetishism of the machine — the idea that technology is innocent of the social system that produced it, and that a factory under socialist control works differently than one under capitalist control, even though the spirit-murdering machinery of capitalism remains unchanged. It was Lukacs theses on reification that gave rise to the most radical version of Western feminism, which also called the Man-Nature dualism to account. And these were summarily rejected by the “organized” left.

Well, I first heard this sort of thing from Stan about 5 or 6 years ago when he was a subscriber on Mark Jones’s a-list. It is utter nonsense from top to bottom. Marx never imagined an “industrial utopia”. He in fact was the foremost ecological thinker of the 19th century who identified declining soil fertility as a symptom of that very “industrial utopia” that bourgeois ideologists were championing. Marx wrote:

If small-scale landownership creates a class of barbarians standing half outside society, combining all the crudity of primitive social forms with all the torments and misery of civilized countries, large landed property undermines labor-power in the final sphere to which its indigenous energy flees, and where it is stored up as a reserve fund for renewing the vital power of the nation, on the land itself. Large-scale industry and industrially pursued large-scale agriculture have the same effect. If they are originally distinguished by the fact that the former lays waste and ruins labour-power and thus the natural power of man, whereas the latter does the same to the natural power of the soil, they link up in the later course of development, since the industrial system applied to agriculture also enervates the workers there, while industry and trade for their part provide agriculture with the means of exhausting the soil.

(“The Transformation of Surplus Profit into Ground-Rent” in V. 3 of Capital)

You will note that Marx takes aim at “large-scale industry and industrially pursued large-scale agriculture” and “the industrial system”. Now it is up to Stan to decide whether or not Marx has something to say on the environmental crisis, but I would at least ask him to argue with what Marx actually wrote rather than some Frankfurt School distortion.

As I stated above, Stan frequently makes an amalgam of the sectarian left with the writings of Marx, as if the author of Capital were somehow responsible for the nonsense that appears in some sectarian rag. It would have probably been better if he had settled accounts with the vanguard left in one post and Karl Marx in another, but I imagine that he is so busy that he sought to kill two birds with one stone–leaving political clarity a victim as well. This is especially true when he takes up the question of the working class, something that goes to the very heart of Marx’s writings:

Every one of the Marxist formations, in accordance with its most teleological assumption — that the working class, once forged in struggle as a class-for-itself — will be the inevitable midwife of socialism (claim for which there is not yet one shred of supporting evidence), have hewn to a dying trade union movement in the US, and one with its remainder so woven into the military-industrial-security complex as to be almost indistinguishable from it. The Crisis of Socialism can be found here, I believe, in the heart of Marxist doctrine, and not in treasons and deviations and contigent “errors.”

As I have stated in an earlier reply to an article by Stan on truthdig.com, he has a tendency to exaggerate the backwardness of working class people. Using the scare-mongering reports of the Southern Poverty Law Center as documentation (they rely on such reports to pressure liberals into donating), he tried to make the case that Timothy McVeigh was somehow typical of the American military. From there, it is only a small step to conclude that the working class is “so woven into the military-industrial-security complex as to be almost indistinguishable from it.”

I find it odd to hear such claims so soon after the Democrats swept both houses of Congress. Stan’s business about workers as willing collaborators with the military-industrial-security complex is not that much different from what we heard from Thomas Frank and other “red state” theoreticians after Bush was reelected. California and New York had to secede from the rest of a country that was an undifferentiated mass of wife-beating, football-watching, flag-waving apes.

Speaking as somebody who helped to organize antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s, I am astonished to hear such views today when ordinary working people have either voted for peace candidates or voted with their feet in union contingents on peace demonstrations. And this is without a draft. I think most socialists, including myself, assumed that the war in Iraq could go on forever as long as there was no draft and as long as the costs of the war were not too onerous to bear for the average worker. Well, we were wrong. Working people have become appalled by the blood-letting, the lies, the torture and the sheer sense of doing wrong. When they eventually come to understand that the same class system that savages the Iraqi people is their enemy as well, classical Marxism will be vindicated just as it was in 1968 when French workers joined the students in a general strike.

« Previous Page

Blog at WordPress.com.