Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 24, 2010

The death of the American newspaper

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 8:26 pm

The other day Doug Henwood posted a link to Harris Poll research that found Just Two in Five Americans Read a Newspaper Almost Every Day. Those findings helped me to think through some ideas I have had about the “death of newspapers” for some time, especially since the poll findings appeared at the very time that the New York Times announced that it was discontinuing free access to its website:

Taking a step that has tempted and terrified much of the newspaper industry, The New York Times announced on Wednesday that it would charge some frequent readers for access to its Web site — news that drew ample reaction from media analysts and consumers, ranging from enthusiastic to withering.

Starting in January 2011, a visitor to NYTimes.com will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month; to read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the print newspaper, even those who subscribe only to the Sunday paper, will receive full access to the site without any additional charge.

Well, I am not sure that this link on the new policy (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/business/media/21times.html) will get you past the firewall it is reporting on, but give it a try.  Sorry if it doesn’t, but I imagine that might not make much difference to you if you are one of those numbskulls described in the Harris poll:

Just two in five U.S. adults (43%) say they read a daily newspaper, either online or in print almost every day. Just over seven in ten Americans (72%) say they read one at least once a week while 81% read a daily newspaper at least once a month. One in ten adults (10%) say they never read a daily newspaper.

One reason for the dying of the daily newspaper is the graying of the daily readership. Almost two-thirds of those aged 55 and older (64%) say they still read a daily newspaper almost every day. The younger one is, however, the less often they read newspapers. Just over two in five of those aged 45-54 (44%) read a paper almost every day as do 36% of those aged 35-44. But less than one quarter of those aged 18-34 (23%) say they read a newspaper almost every day while 17% in this age group say they never read a daily newspaper.

I guess the graying of the daily readership describes me fairly well. I remember when I was first informed that reading the N.Y. Times was a necessity for understanding the world, as opposed to the cheesy tabloids that my father and his friends read each day, most of which have disappeared—like the Daily Mirror, a competitor to the N.Y. Daily News.

It was Gussie Kasofsky who gave us that lecture on the Times. She was our school librarian whose husband Rafael had launched the Grine Felder bungalow colony in the 1940s as a haven for Yiddish-speaking leftists. One bungalow was named after Emma Lazarus, another after Sholem Aleichem. Gussie was also the person who introduced me to “outside” literature in 1959 after figuring out that the whole American Graffiti thing was not happening for me. After reading James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, I finally felt that the rest of the world was nuts, not me.

No matter how rancid the N.Y. Times can be (I’ll never forget the biased reporting on the strikes I participated in as a welfare worker and a schoolteacher), I continue to value the paper highly for articles like the one that appeared today about the misuse of radiation therapy. It appears that because the machines have become so much more complex and because hospitals refuse to allocate money for proper training, one out of twenty cancer patients end up getting either under or overdosed. Two of those who were overdosed are described in grim detail:

As Scott Jerome-Parks lay dying, he clung to this wish: that his fatal radiation overdose — which left him deaf, struggling to see, unable to swallow, burned, with his teeth falling out, with ulcers in his mouth and throat, nauseated, in severe pain and finally unable to breathe — be studied and talked about publicly so that others might not have to live his nightmare.

Sensing death was near, Mr. Jerome-Parks summoned his family for a final Christmas. His friends sent two buckets of sand from the beach where they had played as children so he could touch it, feel it and remember better days.

Mr. Jerome-Parks died several weeks later in 2007. He was 43.

The article contains over 6500 words, a mammoth undertaking that required five reporters to research and write. This is the newspaper of record fulfilling its duty as watchdog for the public interest. I strongly suspect that the Times will continue to publish such stories until it is forced to go out of business. The driving force for this kind of stellar reporting, I would argue, cannot be equated simply to the bottom-line mentality of the people who are anxious to see the share price of the newspaper go up. The ruling class intelligentsia quite rightly understands that they have an obligation to report on such matters, even if they compromise the reputation of the various hospitals responsible for such abuse. They have a social need to fulfill, namely preventing capitalism’s tendency toward excess from undermining the overall viability of the system. After all, the management at the N.Y. Times might suffer cancer at some point in their life and are wary of getting maimed or killed by poorly maintained systems.

This is the same need that forces the newspaper to report accurately on imperialist war and exploitation. It has a responsibility to its elite readers inside the beltway to inform them about the developing quagmire in Afghanistan all the while that it repeats administration propaganda about the war on terror and the need to spread democracy.

This is one of the reasons I believe that there will always be a need for a New York Times, a Washington Post and a Wall Street Journal. These kinds of newspapers are like dossiers for the ruling class that help it decide policy. You simply cannot expect the Huffington Post to pull together an investigative reporting team that can get to the bottom of a radiation therapy scandal or the growth of the Taliban. Such “aggregation” websites are totally reliant on the Times, the Washington Post and other “graying” print publication for all their content. The readers of the Huffington Post are spared the expense of buying a daily newspaper, even if as a result it undermines the long-term viability of the print medium, which relies almost exclusively on advertising revenue to make a profit. When you go to an article from a Huffington Post link, you miss out on a full-page ad for mattresses at Macy’s after all.

The decline of the American newspaper is about as good an example of the contradictions of capitalism that one can imagine. For the most part, the newspapers serve as propaganda to keep the citizenry corralled by the hegemonic ideas of society. As Noam Chomsky once pointed out in the 1980s, the people who read the New York Times tended to come down on the wrong side of the wars in Central American than those who did not. But for those who have learned how to separate the wheat from the chaff in such newspapers, they are indispensable for radical research as Chomsky also pointed out in an interview with David Barsamian:

… Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis, two economists, in their work on the American educational system some years back… pointed out that the educational system is divided into fragments. The part that’s directed toward working people and the general population is indeed designed to impose obedience. But the education for elites can’t quite do that. It has to allow creativity and independence. Otherwise they won’t be able to do their job of making money. You find the same thing in the press. That’s why I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times and Business Week. They just have to tell the truth. That’s a contradiction in the mainstream press, too. Take, say, the New York Times or the Washington Post. They have dual functions and they’re contradictory. One function is to subdue the great beast. But another function is to let their audience, which is an elite audience, gain a tolerably realistic picture of what’s going on in the world. Otherwise, they won’t be able to satisfy their own needs. That’s a contradiction that runs right through the educational system as well. It’s totally independent of another factor, namely just professional integrity, which a lot of people have: honesty, no matter what the external constraints are. That leads to various complexities. If you really look at the details of how the newspapers work, you find these contradictions and problems playing themselves out in complicated ways….

With the decline, and possibly the death, of the great American newspapers, the capitalist system will surely lose one of its main ideological props. It is interesting that this decline was accelerated by the introduction of the Internet that some view—perhaps a bit too optimistically—as a harbinger of the communist society we seek since it represents the impulse of information to become free. By following the contradictions even further down the road, the Internet itself was a byproduct of military research around the feasibility of surviving a nuclear war. All this beggars the imagination, including my own.

January 23, 2010

Air America: gone and already forgotten

Filed under: liberalism,media — louisproyect @ 6:34 pm

It was perhaps more than just a coincidence that Air America, a radio network established in 2004 as a liberal alternative to Rush Limbaugh and company, announced that it was going out of business just two days after a Republican candidate won Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts. In either case, you are dealing with the exhaustion of liberalism and more particularly as expressed by the Democratic Party.

For just about every on-air host, the agenda both under Bush and now under Obama has been to rail against the Republicans. Obviously when Bush was in office this kind of programming had more of an edge than it does today. Given Obama’s one year in office functioning as Bush’s third term, however, it makes little sense for “progressives” to keep harping on Sarah Palin. After all, it is not Sarah Palin who has escalated the war in Afghanistan or catered to the needs of Wall Street. In fact, it has been the cozy relationship between the White House and the financial community that has been partially responsible for the burgeoning “tea party” movement.

On the Air America website, the demise is explained in terms of an overall slump in radio, and more particularly the loss of ad revenue:

The very difficult economic environment has had a significant impact on Air America’s business. This past year has seen a “perfect storm” in the media industry generally. National and local advertising revenues have fallen drastically, causing many media companies nationwide to fold or seek bankruptcy protection. From large to small, recent bankruptcies like Citadel Broadcasting and closures like that of the industry’s long-time trade publication Radio and Records have signaled that these are very difficult and rapidly changing times.

One might wonder why Air America never explored the possibility of listener sponsorship, which combined with corporate and government support has enabled NPR to survive over the years. It is likely that the millionaires who launched Air America in the first place never thought in terms of that kind of grass roots empowerment since like most Democratic Party overlords they had no use for the people whose interests they were supposedly looking out for.

Sheldon Drobny, a Chicago venture capitalist who had been a major donor to the Democratic Party, thought up the idea for a liberal radio network in 2003. As the February 17, 2003 N.Y. Times reported, the initial investment group formed by Drobny saw it as just another venture capital project:

The group said it was prepared to go it alone, selling its programming to the individual radio stations rather than go through a middleman. It has an initial investment of $10 million, which radio analysts said was enough to start up. Ms. Drobny said the cash would be placed in a fund that she hopes to grow to at least $200 million within the next year, which she hopes to use to finance other media ventures like the acquisition of radio stations and television production.

The initial investment group included Drobny and his wife Anita, Jon Sinton, an Atlanta-based radio entrepreneur, and Javier Saade, a hedge fund operator. In other words, the same kind of people running the Democratic Party today.

I tried listening to Air America when it first went on the air but found it boring. It consisted mostly of people calling in to complain about how bad George W. Bush was. I suppose that there was a ready-made audience for that sort of thing, but I found it unsatisfying even as entertainment. While I cannot bear to listen to Rush Limbaugh for more than 15 minutes, he was much more of a master of the medium than somebody like Al Franken.

Franken, of course, was the biggest star on the network whose tepid centrist politics could not be made more palatable by the occasional witticism. My review of a documentary about Al Franken made in 2006 seems prescient:

The documentary next takes up Franken’s stint at Air America, a radio station funded by wealthy liberals that is intended to counteract rightwing radio. We see Franken and his staff celebrating after they get the news that their ratings are better than Rush Limbaugh’s, whose show airs at the same time as Franken’s. However, despite listener approval, the network did not achieve the same kind of commercial success as the rightwing competition. We see Franken looking glum over news that the Chicago and Los Angeles outlets were forced off the air. Perhaps Air America’s difficulties have something to do with the fact that bashing the Republican Party is not exactly pushing the envelope nowadays. A radio listener can tune into Don Imus any weekday morning and hear people like Frank Rich or Imus himself stick it to Bush. If one objects that Air America’s approach is more progressive than Don Imus’s, then I’d have to recommend listening to the station more frequently as much of it consists of the same sort of low level insult found on rightwing stations, but with different targets. It can be fun, but it grows tedious after a while.

While I never had strong feelings one way or another about Air America, that all changed when I learned of on-air host Randi Rhodes’s treatment of Ralph Nader.

While the interview speaks for itself, I can only add that Rhodes epitomizes the “anybody but Bush” stupidity that is offered up as a substitute for political analysis across the liberal spectrum. Rhodes eventually got fired from Air America after calling Geraldine Ferraro “a fucking whore” at an event sponsored by an Air America affiliate. The poor thing did not understand that such abuse is only tolerated when it is directed at leftist politicians operating outside of the Democratic Party.

Despite its ambition to make money, the station was not very good at it. So much so that it was forced to declare its first bankruptcy in 2006 after which it was reorganized under the ownership of the Green brothers. Stephen L. Green heads a company that controls 27 million square feet of real estate with a market capitalization of $12 billion. His brother Mark is a long-time New York City politician with liberal pretensions.

When Mark Green was serving as Public Advocate, he did virtually nothing to rally against the rent increases that were devastating the very public whose interests he was elected to defend. Since 12 percent of the nearly 6 million dollars he used in his campaign came from his brother, some raised the question of special interests including the liberal Village Voice that wrote:

Mark now promises “full disclosure” of direct business interactions between his administration and Stephen’s company—which already collects $10  million a year from the city for office space it rents to several agencies. But the candidate had to be forced by The New York Times editorial board to reveal what Stephen raised, after months of hiding behind the facade that he was a “fundraising agent” of the campaign and thus operating beyond the finance laws’ disclosure requirements. Only a Times slap on the wrist could get them to cough up the data.

In other words, just the kind of person who you would expect to own and run Air America.

Last year I finally found a program on Air America that I could listen to, if not actually enjoy. Ron Kuby, the New York attorney and long-time critic of Israel who used to work with Bill Kunstler, had an afternoon show that was fairly lively. Kuby used to co-host a talk show on WABC (Limbaugh’s network) with a cretin by the name of Curtis Sliwa who had founded the Guardian Angels, a police auxiliary. They operated under the same guidelines as Sean Hannity/Alan Colmes or any of a number of shows that derived some entertainment value by having liberal and conservative co-host’s bickering with each other.

Ron Kuby upbraiding Israel

As a trained attorney, Kuby obviously knew how to think and talk on his feet, a must for anybody running a talk radio show. But he also had a way of mocking himself in a way that most of the sanctimonious hosts of Air America could never achieve. Around two months into the Obama administration, that Kuby initially supported as the second coming of FDR, he decided that he had been conned and began making that clear on his show to my delight, but not to Mark Green’s. He was fired on June 22nd.

Air America went steadily downhill from there. Assuming that having more mainstream hosts would broaden his audience and bring in advertising revenue, Green hired two of the most unlikely people you could imagine. In the morning, there was Lionel, a veteran of WOR and WABC radio in New York whose real name is Michael William Lebron. Lionel is basically a “personality” with politics having less to do with his career than market share. Even more inexplicably, the afternoon hours were turned over to Montel Williams, the African-American TV talk show personality whose politics were even more secondary to his professional calling than Lionel’s.

Typical Lionel Fare

Apparently, the Green brothers assumed that with their proven track record of attracting listeners, the station would begin to make money. That calculation was almost as shrewd as the campaign that Martha Coakley ran in Massachusetts. Air America, gone and already forgotten.

January 22, 2010

Alexander Cockburn and the Oregon Petition

Filed under: Ecology,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

Alexander Cockburn, fading fast

Dr. Arthur Robinson: circulated Oregon Petition as well as publishing Dr. Edward Teller

In responding to Alexander Cockburn’s atrocious commentary on climate change over the past few years, my tone has been characteristically acerbic. Since Cockburn is one of my major writing influences, it should come as no surprise that I often take the same tone that he does. But all the while when I am responding to him, it is hard for me to suppress a feeling of sadness and worry that his outstanding mind is beginning to fade.

When I first ran into his writing in the Village Voice in the early 1980s, after having resigned from the SWP, I was amazed at his investigative reporting skills. Like a radical version of “Sixty Minutes”, he had a way of digging up the dirt on any number of malefactors. That’s why I am so dismayed by his seeming inability to check the sources he uses in writing about climate change. Perhaps he is unaccustomed to using search engines on the Internet but when he decided to cite Zbigniew Jaworowski as an expert on climate change, he apparently failed to turn up this character’s long standing relationship with the Lyndon Larouche cult, something I was able to do in less than 15 minutes. I fear that he is so into his climate change denialism that he lacks the ability to fact-check his own material. Since he is such a dominating figure, I doubt that his partner Jeff St. Clair has the backbone to take him on even though it is quite likely that he disagrees with him.

But more worrisome is the possibility that Alexander Cockburn has grown intellectually flabby over the years. I imagine that cranking out dozens of articles a year must take a toll on one’s mind. I have been programming for 42 years now and I know what it means to be burned out. Of course, I would switch jobs with him in a heartbeat even though I wouldn’t wish that disaster on the financial records at Columbia University.

The most recent occasion of Cockburn nuttiness was a January 4 Nation Magazine article titled “From Nicaea to Copenhagen” that is not worth reviewing in any kind of detail since it mostly rehashes old arguments with an aggressiveness buttressed by the British email hacks that were posted on the Internet. The opening sentences sets the blustering tone for the remainder of the article: “The global warming jamboree in Copenhagen was surely the most outlandish foray into intellectual fantasizing since the fourth-century Christian bishops assembled in 325 AD for the Council of Nicaea to debate whether God the Father was supreme or had to share equal status in the pecking order of eternity with his Son and the Holy Ghost.”

In the February 8th issues, there are a number of letters attacking this article that Cockburn responds to in his trademark supercilious fashion. One thing in his response did catch my eye: “More than 30,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, which refutes the AGW theory.” (Anthropogenic global warming.) My first impulse was to find out more about the Oregon Petition, something apparently that Alexander could not be bothered with.

Perhaps he might have not heard about this very useful online resource called Wikipedia. If he had, he might have found an entry for “Oregon Petition” that reveals the following:

The original article associated with the petition (see below) defined “global warming” as “severe increases in Earth’s atmospheric and surface temperatures, with disastrous environmental consequences”. This differs from both scientific usage and dictionary definitions, in which “global warming” is an increase in the global mean atmospheric temperature without implying that the increase is “severe” or will have “disastrous environmental consequences.”

Well, what the heck. Who cares about scientific usage when you have bigger fish to fry? After all, Cockburn is dead set on establishing a vast conspiracy involving 99 percent of the world’s scientists and major corporations bent on developing nuclear power. When you are in the business of uncovering conspiracies, who wants to be bothered by petty details? Like the ability of jet fuel to melt steel?

The article that was attached to the petition also appeared to be damaged goods:

The article followed the identical style and format of a contribution to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal, even including a date of publication (“October 26”) and volume number (“Vol. 13: 149-164 1999”), but was not actually a publication of the National Academy. Raymond Pierrehumbert, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Chicago, said that the article was “designed to be deceptive by giving people the impression that the article…is a reprint and has passed peer review.”

There were also problems with the signatories, some of whom appeared to have little connection with climate science as the Seattle Times reported in 1998:

Several environmental groups questioned some of the names in the petition. For instance: “Perry S. Mason”, who was a legitimate scientist who shared the name of a TV character. Similarly, “Michael J. Fox”, “Robert C. Byrd”, and “John C. Grisham” were signatories with names shared with famous people.

It also seems that Cockburn failed to check what www.sourcewatch.org had to say about the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), the outfit that circulate the petition. One of its founders is Arthur Robinson, who was a biochemist not a climate scientist. Surprise, surprise. According to its website, it also markets a home-schooling kit for “parents concerned about socialism in the public schools” and publishes books on how to survive nuclear war. Like the Larouchite fellow traveler Zbigniew Jaworowski, the OISM tends to pooh-pooh the danger of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Just the kind of people Alexander Cockburn would normally have a violent aversion to, unless of course they shared his screwy ideas about climate change. Sourcewatch reports:

It published two books, Nuclear War Survival Skills (foreword by H-bomb inventor Edward Teller), which argues that “the dangers from nuclear weapons have been distorted and exaggerated” into “demoralizing myths.” Robinson also co-authored another civil defense book titled Fighting Chance: Ten Feet to Survival, in collaboration with Gary North, who like Robinson is a conservative Christian. North is also a prolific author of doomsday books with titles such as None Dare Call It Witchcraft; Conspiracy: A Biblical View; Rapture Fever; and How You Can Profit From the Coming Price Controls. Following his collaboration with Robinson, North built a web-based marketing empire built around apocalyptic predictions that the Y2K bug would make the dawn of the 21st century “the year the earth stands still.

When I read about the shoddy reality of the Oregon Petition and the group that circulated it, I almost felt a tear coming to my eye as I considered the sheer fecklessness of one of America’s most respected radical journalists. How the mighty have fallen.

January 20, 2010

History of the Marxist internationals (part 1, the IWA)

Filed under: history of the Marxist internationals,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 7:10 pm

Earlier this month Marxmail subscriber Joonas Laine asked about books that cover the history of the first International, known rather unfortunately as the International Workingman’s Association. I should add that this was more than just a sexist oversight. One of the standard histories of the first international written by G.M. Stekloff that can be read online at the Marxist Internet Archives describes the exclusion of women from the Paris branch of the IWA by its Proudhonist majority:

Regarding this matter, the French … had decided by a large majority: ‘Woman’s place is the home, not the forum; nature has made her nurse and housewife, do not let us withdraw her from these social functions and from her true sphere in life; for the man, work, and study of the problems of society for the woman, the caring for children and the beautifying of the worker’s home.’ Consequently, to the great scandal of the advocates of the so-called emancipation of woman, they had decided against the admission of women to the International.

These were the words of E.E. Fribourg, a Proudhonist who had written his own history in 1871, just around the time that the IWA was collapsing.

I read Stekloff’s book as well as the first chapter of Raymond Williams Postgate’s history as background for a series of posts on the four attempts to build socialist internationals. Ever since Hugo Chavez issued a call for a Fifth International, I had promised myself to carve out some time to take up this question. Most people who are veterans of the Trotskyist movement were indoctrinated to believe something like this. The internationals that preceded our own—the fourth—failed for one reason or the other. I was more familiar with the second and the third, which succumbed to the kinds of social democratic and Stalinist sins that our movement devoted so much energy to exposing. I knew much less about the first international, which usually received a brief review in a new member’s class or an educational. Of course, our own Fourth International was destined to lead the workers to power all over the world, just as long as they didn’t get misled by the bevy of Fourth Internationals that were pretenders to the throne of Leon Trotsky.

I looked forward to reading about the IWA for several reasons. I am always looking for ways to educate myself about our movement, especially since it helps to keep my brain cells exercised. I also had a hunch that during the lifetime of the IWA, there would be the same sorts of problems we face today. In both periods Marxism was a minority current on the left. If we are trying to piece together a movement out of the rubble of the collapse of the USSR, what better period to study than when socialism was in its infancy?

To start with, it is important to realize that the IWA was not initiated by Karl Marx. As it turns out the British trade union movement played a key role in getting it off the ground and, as might be expected, had very little interest in revolutionary socialism. Indeed, one of their primary motivations was to find a way of preventing foreign workers being used as scabs in British strikes. Stekloff writes:

Simultaneously with the growth of interest in the political struggle, there was a revival of internationalist leanings among the British workers. Here and there, the direct economic interests of the workers exercised an influence. At this date, the standard of life of the British workers was higher than that of the workers in other lands, and consequently the strike movement in Britain was hindered by the competition of the Continental workers. When there was a strike in Britain, the employers would threaten to import foreign workers who would accept worse conditions – and did actually import strike-breakers from Belgium and elsewhere. Naturally, therefore, the movement could not be confined within national limits.

Accepting at face value that British trade unionists were only opposed to scabs and not foreign workers “stealing jobs”, it is necessary to note that the American trade union movement did exhibit naked racism in this period, all within the framework of the IWA.

Timothy Messer-Kruse’s “The Yankee International” explores the factional divisions between Victoria Woodhull and Fredrick Sorge in the American section of the IWA. Woodhull was considered flaky by some dogmatic Marxists since she dabbled in spiritualism and was an early feminist of the kind derided by the Proudhomists. Sorge, on the other hand, had the full support of Karl Marx on most questions but his attitude toward Chinese immigration was hardly calculated to sit well with our movement today, regardless of Marx’s feelings. Messer-Kruse explains:

At their first annual congress after purging the Yankees [Woodhull] from their midst, Sorge’s Tenth Ward Hotel faction devoted much of its attention to the issue the Chinese. In honor to their West Coast comrades, the convention chose Robert Blissert. the proxy delegate of a San Francisco section, president of the convention. Beneath their red banner inscribed with the words “Workingmen of all Countries Unite,” the delegate representing San Francisco’s Internationalists read his report:

“The white workingmen see and feel daily the effects of the Chinese labor in that State. We cannot only perceive how it affects us, but know assuredly that it will seriously affect the destiny of the working classes of this country. The Chinese have driven out of employment thousands of white men, women, girls and boys…. They are in all branches of the manufacturing business, and it is only a matter of time when they will monopolize all branches of industry; as it is impossible for white men to exist on the same amount and sort of food Chinamen seem to thrive upon.”

California’s Internationalists appealed to their Eastern comrades to do all they could to publicize the plight of the Western white worker and the grave threat posed to all white workers by the continued immigration of the Chinese. Their communication ended on a murderous note. “If Chinese emigration is not stopped,” the message declared (according to one observer present at the meeting), “blood will yet flow in the streets of San Francisco on their account.” The convention voted unanimously to “use [all] their endeavors to give all the publicity possible to the document.”

There were problems with the French section of the IWA but of an entirely different sort. There the followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon enjoyed hegemony. While it would be a mistake to fall into the trap of economic determinism, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Proudhon’s philosophy of “mutualism” had a fertile soil in France since industry was not as developed as it was in Britain. If Britain’s trade union was governed by bread-and-butter issues, French radicals of the 1860s tended to have illusions that change could come about short of a proletarian revolution. Proudhon’s main emphasis was not on the class struggle, but allowing workers to have a fair share in the capitalist economy through co-operatives, the easy advancement of credit and other such reforms. Anybody who has seen Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: a love story” can easily see how seductive these ideas are in a period when the working class was not a fully developed social and economic force.


Chapter five of Stekloff’s history hones in on Proudhon’s philosophy which can be described as a form of anarchism, although distinctly at odds with Bakunin’s anarchism, another current that was also well represented in a highly heterogeneous international.

Proudhonism was organised as a system in the period of extreme reaction which supervened in France upon the suppression of the proletarian rising in June 1848. On the one hand, it was tinged with political indifferentism, which was a reflection of the political indifferentism of the masses during the Second Empire; this aroused sharp criticism on the part of the Blanquists, who declared that the International (during the early days the French members of the organisation were mainly Proudhonists) was in the service of the Bonapartist police. Or, the other hand, Proudhonism was characterised by a narrow doctrinairism. In a society based upon the dominion of large-scale capital and upon the centralisation of economic life, the Proudhonists hoped to solve the social problem by economic measures which should not transcend the limits of petty production and exchange. The difficulties arising out of the exploitation of wage labour by large-scale machine industry, in a society where banking capital had become highly concentrated, were to be overcome – so thought the Proudhonists – by the organisation of people’s banks, with free credit, and by the “equitable” (non-monetary) exchange of products among isolated producers, who were to exchange these goods for their actual (“constituted”) value.

Put in its most simple terms, Proudhonism was a system that prioritized the implementation of economic “alternatives” to capitalism to political assaults on the system. It was akin to the utopian socialist experiments of the time that took root in Britain and the United States. Utopian thought obviously continues to this day as demonstrated by the fascination with the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain, which have now grown into a powerful multinational company. As was the case with the Proudhonists, the Mondragon co-op has almost no interest in strikes or political action. If you are expecting the Mondragon management to be on the front lines against the “war on terror”, immigrant rights or gay liberation, you will likely be disappointed. This is not to say that co-op’s are not of benefit to some workers or that Proudhonism was not a genuine movement of the left. It is only a problem when such politically confused initiatives represent themselves as precursors to socialism.

Turning now to the other anarchist party represented in the IWA, we find ourselves communing with the ancestors of the Black Block rather than Mondragon. As master of the “propaganda of the deed”, Mikhail Bakunin—like Proudhon—was undoubtedly opposed to the capitalist system. But he had little interest in co-ops. His main interest was in insurrectionist activity by enlightened intellectuals over and above the heads of the proletariat.


While Bakunin saw the IWA as an organization to spread his influence, his main identification was with something called the Alliance of Social Revolutionaries founded in 1868 that he proposed as a kind of international within the First International, which the IWA understandably rejected. That, of course, did not prevent Bakunin from operating as a secret faction within the IWA. As a past master of intrigue, he probably considered his Marxist comrades with as much contempt as the bourgeoisie since both groups obviously adhered to statism.

Marx and Bakunin both emerge out of the radical wing of the Hegelian School of philosophy but by the early 1840s, they both struggled to transcend this framework. At the outset this was manifested by a tendency to see the struggle for a classless society in moral or philosophical terms. They hoped to lead European society to a better future through a kind of prophetic denunciation of contemporary ills. Proudhon’s notion that “property is theft” epitomizes this approach.

Unlike his anarchist comrades, Marx eventually came to the conclusion that a critique of capitalism had to be rooted in political economy rather than ethics. Written in 1846-47, “The Poverty of Philosophy” is not only an answer to Proudhon’s “Property is Theft,” it also contains some of the basic economic insights that would be more fully developed in Capital.

Besides the philosophical differences, you also have a basic disagreement over what Marxists call “agency,” a term designating the social class capable of transforming society through revolutionary action. Despite the fact that the industrial proletariat had not achieved the sort of numerical strength and social power that it would later in the century, Marx staked everything on this emerging class. The reasons for this are developed extensively throughout his writings, but suffice it to say at this point that it is related to his analysis of the capitalist economy. Since the capitalist system can only survive through competition and revolutionizing the means of production, it would of necessity introduce machinery and–hence–a proletariat. In struggles over wages and working conditions–as well as a host of ancillary issues–the two classes will confront each other in revolutionary battles for power.

Although Bakunin was no friend of the bourgeoisie, he never seemed to be able to make up his mind on the ‘agency’ question. Addressing Marx’s belief that the proletariat be “raised to the level of a ruling class,” Bakunin pointed out that some other class, like the peasant rabble or lumpen-proletariat might be the most willing to rise up against the capitalist system. Whether they, or the philosopher-kings leading them, had a grasp of the political tasks leading up to the final insurrection could hardly matter less.

Despite the clashes in the IWA over such basic questions, it continued to grow as workers became radicalized in struggle. While the Paris Commune was not directly led by IWA members, there is little doubt that the bourgeoisie saw it as the most consistent defender of the first proletarian revolution and a future organizer of such challenges to capitalist rule.

Torn apart by internal rifts and bourgeois repression, the IWA went into a crisis after 1871. The meeting at The Hague in the summer of 1872 would be its last. The IWA decided to expel Bakunin who was charged with mishandling funds. 300 pounds had been advanced to Bakaunin to translate Capital into Russian but he failed to follow through. He was also charged with organizing a secret faction. Additionally, Marx and Engels decided to withdraw from the leadership of the IWA in order to focus on completing Capital and other major theoretical works.

The headquarters of the IWA was transferred to the United States where it sputtered along for a few years until its final convention in July 1876. The American branch was led by Daniel DeLeon, a Jew born in Curacao in 1852 who would move to the United States as a youth and graduate from Columbia University. The American branch of the IWA would eventually become known as the Socialist Labor Party. Unlike the IWA, the SLP continued to exist right until today.

The IWA was a workers international that probably was destined to have a short life, given the social and political contradictions of the movement in its earliest phases. When it finally collapsed, Marx and Engels had already begun to consider how the next phase of the movement would take shape. Marx did not live long enough to see that development—the second international—but clearly his ideas were at its core, as opposed to the inchoate first international.

In September 27, 1873, Marx wrote to Sorge giving his assessment of where the IWA stood:

According to my reading of the European situation, it will be a very good thing that the formal organisation of the International shall, for the time being, be allowed to retire into the background – though it may be just as well that we should keep our hands upon the nucleus in New York, lest idiots like Perret or adventurers like Cluseret might get hold of it and compromise the affair. The course of events and the inevitable development and interlacement of things will spontaneously ensure the uprising of the International in an improved form. For the nonce, however, it will suffice that we avoid allowing ourselves to get quite out of touch with the really efficient workers in the movement in various lands.

One year later, it was Engels’s turn to write to Sorge about the end of the IWA. He was reflective about the organization’s internal contradictions:

‘Tis just as well. The organisation belonged to the epoch of the Second Empire, when the labour movement was again beginning to become active, but when the oppressions that prevailed throughout Europe made unity and abstention from internal disputes absolutely essential. It was time when the joint cosmopolitan interests of the proletariat could come to the front. Germany, Spain, Italy, and Denmark had recently entered the movement, or were just entering it. In 1864, throughout Europe (among the masses at any rate), there was still very little understanding of the theory underlying the movement. German communism had not yet found expression in a workers’ party, and Proudhonism was too weak to impose its whimsies; Bakunin’s new-fangled idea had not yet found its way into his own head. Even the British trade-union leaders felt able to participate is the movement upon the basis of the program formulated in the Preamble to the Provisional Rules of the Association. It was inevitable that the first great success should break up this simple harmony of all the factions. The success was the Commune, which, as far as its intellectual inspiration was concerned, was unmistakably the child of the International, although the International had not stirred a finger to bring it into being – for the International is with good reason made responsible for its creation. But when, thanks to the Commune, the International became a moral force in Europe, the quarrel promptly broke out. The members of each faction wanted to exploit the success on their own account. The break-up of the organisation was inevitable, and speedily ensued. Jealousy of the rising power of those who were ready to continue working along the lines laid down in the old comprehensive program, jealousy of the German communists, drove the Belgian Proudhonists into the arms of the Bakuninist adventurers. The Hague Congress was, in fact, the end of the International, and for both parties in the International. There was only one country in which something might still be done in the name of the International, and it was a happy instinct which led the congress to decide upon the removal of the General Council to the United States. But now, even there, its prestige has waned, and any further attempts to galvanise the corpse to life would be a foolish waste of energy.

The one thing that comes through loud and clear from both Marx and Engels’s letters is an utter lack of sentimentality when it comes to the question of organization. Rather than seeing the IWA as a movement in permanence, they viewed it as an episode in the history of the revolutionary movement that was valid for a particular time and place. As we shall see, this insight would be lost on future leaders of workers’ internationals who tended to invest in them universality and permanence they ill deserved.

January 13, 2010

The left debates “Avatar”

Filed under: Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 7:02 pm

Jake Sully

John Brown

“Avatar” has triggered one of the more interesting debates on the left in quite some time. Some critics such as me and Prairie Miller, a comrade from the James Agee Critics Circle, hail it as pop culture assault on colonialism while others view it as a paternalistic treatment based on the White Savior paradigm found in “Dances With Wolves”.

For example, the very first comment under my review, by blogger Macon D. who I would generally consider a fan (dare I use that word?) of the unrepentant Marxist, demurred:

Sure, it’s a marvelous, technologically proficient spectacle, but in terms of how reaches into white hearts and minds in basically the same old racist way, I’d say it’s a very cheap thrill.

He also referred to an article by Annalee Newitz who edits the io9 website (“We come from the future” is their motto; it is owned by Gawker) that is titled appropriately enough as When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like “Avatar”? She reaches a level of vituperation that is generally associated with Marxist polemics, although her ideology appears much more in the post-Marxist vein based on the fact that she was co-founder of the Bad Subjects website, now defunct. As the author of Routledge Press’s “White Trash: Race and Class in America”, she seems to have the scholarly credentials necessary to speak on such matters. She writes:

Sure, Avatar goes a little bit beyond the basic colonizing story. We are told in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong to colonize the lands of native people. Our hero chooses to join the Na’vi rather than abide the racist culture of his own people. But it is nevertheless a story that revisits the same old tropes of colonization. Whites still get to be leaders of the natives – just in a kinder, gentler way than they would have in an old Flash Gordon flick or in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels.

She also makes the comparison with “Dances With Wolves”, which is fairly de rigueur if you are mounting a criticism of “Avatar”:

This is a classic scenario you’ve seen in non-scifi epics from Dances With Wolves to The Last Samurai, where a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member.

Ironically, this analysis does not fall exclusively within the radical subculture. Nobody can be more “establishment” than the NY Times op-ed columnist David Brooks and here is what he says in a January 7 column titled “The Messiah Complex”:

Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

When “Dances With Wolves” came out, there was a torrent of criticisms from indigenous peoples in the same vein as Newitz, who felt it necessary one supposes to take up the cause of the Na’vi, an imaginary people. As such, her closest relative speaking ideologically was Ward Churchill who trashed the movie in a 1998 Lip Magazine article:

The propaganda function served by the revisionist formula is to allow constituents of America’s dominant settler society to avoid confronting the institutional and cultural realities, which led unerringly to the historical genocide of American Indians. Moreover, in first being led to demonize men like Custer, and then helped to separate themselves from them via the signification of characters like Jack Crabbe, Christa Lee and Costner’s Lt. Dunbar, white audiences are made to feel simultaneously “enlightened” (for having been “big” or open enough to concede that something ugly had occurred) and “good about themselves” (for being so different from those they imagine the perpetrators to have been).

Thus reassured, mainstream moviegoers and TV viewers are psychologically positioned to join Sully, the “nice white guy” in Dr. Quinn, intoning in unison that, since they who are so different from Custer now comprise it and despite what “he” did to the Indians, “this is still the best country in the world” Translated, (after viewing a movie like Dances With Wolves) mainstream audiences feel-ever-so-much more entitled to participate in the American system, and to gorge themselves on the material benefits accruing from it, than they did before.

Ironically, we eventually learned that it was a distinct possibility that Ward Churchill was not that much different from Kevin Costner’s character in “Dances With Wolves”. When pressed to prove his Cherokee ethnicity in the U. of Colorado witch-hunt, he was not able to come up with anything much more than the fact that his grandmother used to tell him that the family had Cherokee blood or that he was an honorary member of a tribe in Oklahoma.

At the time, Jim Craven, a Blackfoot economics professor who was subbed to the Marxism mailing list, questioned whether Churchill’s blood lines mattered that much. Craven’s own mother used to tell him that blood mattered a lot less than what was in your heart. Full-blooded Blackfoot Indians at the reservations in Canada and Montana did a lot less than Jim, who was only 1/8th Indian himself.

Interestingly enough, Churchill was not only annoyed with people like Kevin Costner who meddled in indigenous politics. He also lashed out at Karl Marx whose white European ideology had no place in indigenous affairs. In an essay contained in Ward Churchill’s collection “Marxism and Native Americans”, Russell Means argues that there is little to distinguish Marxism from other European ideologies based on the worship of science and technology. One supposes that if you are consistently “indigenist”, you’d have to reject Karl Marx as just another missionary. That perspective, however, would have been rejected by José Carlos Mariátegui, the founder of Peruvian Marxism who sought to synthesize Marxism and the native Incan traditions of his own country.

Considering Mariátegui’s impact on the Latin American revolution today, especially in countries with a large indigenous population like Ecuador and Bolivia, it is worth considering what one leader makes of “Avatar”.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 12, 2010
Bolivia’s Morales Lauds Social Themes in ‘Avatar’
Filed at 2:40 p.m. ET

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia’s first indigenous president is praising ”Avatar” for what he calls its message of saving the environment from exploitation.

A self-proclaimed socialist, Evo Morales says he identifies with the film’s ”profound show of resistance to capitalism and the struggle for the defense of nature.”

James Cameron’s ”Avatar” tells of the mystic, nature-loving Na’vi — tall blue creatures who inhabit the planet Pandora and must contend with humans intent on grabbing its resources.

It has earned more than $1.1 billion worldwide since its release last month.

Morales’ comments were reported Tuesday by the official news agency ABI.

ABI said he watched the film with his daughter Sunday in his third-ever trip to the movies.

Finally, a word or two should be said about one of the most noted “race traitors” in American history, a white man who not only placed himself at the head of a slave revolt, but used Messianic language in justifying his role:

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done–as I have always freely admitted I have done–in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments–I submit; so let it be done!

These are the words of John Brown Speech to the Court at his Trial in November 2, 1859. This is one American hero who not only deserves a movie that treats him as such but one who challenges the analysis of Annalee Newitz, no matter how well intended.

January 11, 2010

Turkey: Children Political Prisoners

Filed under: repression,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

Turkey: Children Political Prisoners

Yuruyus [The March], n. 184, 21 June 2009

Recently, hundreds of children were taken into custody, tortured and arrested in Diyarbakır, Adana and İstanbul. There are more “political prisoners” in Turkish prisons than ever before. The trial of children became possible with the revision in the Law Against Terror in 2006. So, it became possible to punish the children in Turkey because of their crimes of “terror” as if they were adults. In Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia, 1572 children were put on trial between 2006-2007, because of the Law Against Terror and Turkish Penal Law. 174 children were arrested and 92 of them were from Diyarbakır.

What were the crimes of those children? Participating in demonstrations and throwing stones at the police! But why are those children throwing stones at the police? What are their problems? These children are subjected to oppression, cruelty and exploitation. Their right to education and health was abrogated. Their fathers and mothers are unemployed. Children will either submit or find their own ways to survive, including a revolt against living this way. In so doing they are choosing the best way. Of course they will take part in their country’s struggle and of course they will face oppression with their stones.

Can our children be accused because they do not want to live such a life? Of course not. They are not the guilty ones. The only guilty party is the system which dooms them to live in poverty. But the unjust legal system imprisons our children for dozens of years.

In Diyarbakır, 4 children between ages 15 and 17 were arrested in July 14, 2008 because they threw stones at the police after the press declaration of DTP (Democratic Society Party). They were charged with crimes that could have resulted in 23 years imprisonment, but “only” received imprisonment for 6 years 11 months each.

In Adana, 13 children between ages 13-17 received a total of 112 years 10 days imprisonment in April 28, 2009 by the High Criminal Court of Adana. Only one child was found with a weapon, a sling and 9 marbles.

In this country the children are punished more heavily than the torturer policemen. In our country the children are tortured, punished as they were adults and they are subjected to isolation in high security prisons. Is it possible to talk about justice in such a country which fills its prisons with children?

Younger than 18, but in Isolation

The Turkish Chamber of Doctors (TCD) carried out research about children between ages 13 and 18 who are imprisoned and being judged under the scope of Law Against Terror (LAT) in Diyarbakır E-Type Closed Prison. According to this report which was made public in June 6, it is stated that there are 80 children prisoners and 24 of them are under the scope of LAT. The report says that the living conditions of children are extremely bad, that they only have 3 square meters of living space per person and that they are experiencing serious health problems. The children are subjected to curses, insults, beating, tightening of the handcuffs, and malnutrition. They are also not allowed to sleep, not allowed to go the toilet and to see their parents. 65-75 percent of the children are having psychological problems. Although they declared that they are tortured in custody, their declaration is not recorded.

The children have problems of malnutrition and of an unbalanced diet. Forced labour is very widespread and the children are not given enough water for their laundry and bath. The toilets and the washbasins are dirty. The dorms are airless and they have very small windows which do not allow sunlight. They do not have any sport areas.

A permanently employed doctor does not exist in the prisons. There are no dentists. Although it is illegal to sell medicine to the kids, the prison administration sells it nevertheless.

Strict isolation is imposed on children in prisons. They are subjected to torture, sexual harassment, hunger and are not allowed to see their parents. The own words of the children in the report clearly show the state’s viewpoint in terms of the children:

“. . . The police hit my head with the butt of his gone. My head was sutured. I went in front of the judge with my bloody dresses. . .”

“. . . In the children department there was a police hitting me with his knee. Also towards my abdominal cavity with his hand. He did this to me and to other children. . .”

“. . . I was taken from my work. They let me into a private car. . . I was handcuffed from the back. They filled my mouth with soil and beat me with clubs. . . One police came in and said that my father had a heart attack.”

“. . . We were taken in from the back door. My hair was torn out and I was hit towards the wall. I was beaten ten or fifteen times with the clubs similar to baseball clubs. Generally on my back, feet and shanks. They hit to my sexual organs with their hands. . . The public prosecutor came. He asked me if I have any complaints, I said “Yes, I have”. He answered “If I did what you did, they beat me too. . .”

“. . . I am arrested for fourteen fifteen months. I have nine siblings. I used to work in construction sites. No lawyer visits. I don’t know how much longer I will be here. . .”

“. . . I told that I have beaten to doctor. My head was aching and swollen. There were red marks in my back. I said the police beat me. Doctor said that “the police are angels”.

“. . . They do not take me to doctor. The policeman himself filled the document and the doctor signed it: No traces of being beaten. They did not look to my body. . .”

“. . . The doctor asked if there were any beatings or traces. I said “Isn’t it obvious?”. Policeman showed his gun. I remained silent.”

“. . . I am in prison for two months. I feel sick even if I see the policemen on TV. I cannot even repeat the insults that they say. One cannot bear it.”

“. . . My biggest dream is being free. Everybody outside is not free also. I want to go out and win my freedom. . .”

Doing such kinds of things to children is a violation of human rights. In fascist systems the tendency is to rule over people through torture and repression without regard to whether they are young or old. Respect for the individual does not exist in the morality, culture and politics of Fascism.

It is the AKP government that is responsible for such tortures, isolation and all other inhuman treatments. When the people of Diyarbakır carried out a democratic demonstration, the Prime Minister Erdogan said that “our security forces will do what is needed even if they are women or children.” The gendarmerie, the police and the guards of the state are doing “what is needed” according to Erdogan’s wishes. A state which tortures and harasses its children! Is it your understanding of governing?

Such oppression towards the children was mentioned in the courts, many times. But nothing was done for the people who were responsible of it. Plus, the arrest, punishment and the torture of children went on uninterruptedly.

As long as exploitation, cruelty and torture continue in this country, our children have the right to take any action, including throwing stones. The continuation of such an oligarchic order means the continuation of the torture and cruelty. Therefore, everybody have the legitimate right to struggle against this order.

In 23 of April 2009, an anti-terror police attacked and beat one of our children to death, the policeman was not punished:

This is the link to the report of Turkish Chamber of Doctors, unfortunately it is in Turkish:

In 2008, a policeman broke the arm of a Kurdish child in front of the cameras during the Kurdish festival Newroz:

This is the link to the journal Yuruyus:

Yuruyus journal is a weekly revolutionary socialist journal which has been published for over 5 years.

January 10, 2010

An article that MRZine refused to publish

Filed under: Islam,repression,Turkey — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

MRZine rejects criticism of Turkish PM

Here is Turkey, and Israel!


During the football games in Turkey, when the police tend to use violent methods against the supporters, they shout a slogan: “Here is Turkey, not Israel!” Actually, here is Israel and this slogan, despite being shouted with anger, is just a wish or a supplication rather than a statement of fact.

Nowadays everybody is speaking about Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “legendary” fury against Israeli President Shimon Peres during the Gaza raw held in Davos on January 29. Erdoğan, having mentioned the crimes of Israel in Gaza, stormed off the TV program and had been welcomed in Turkey as a hero. This story is too médiatique to repeat here.[1] A less famous one is, for example, that of the murder of a 16 year old boy by the police.

İbrahim Halil Çoban, in accordance with Anatolian Muslim traditions, had two first names as the PM did. He was living in Urfa, a city which is in the same region as the polling district of PM. He was shot in the head for not obeying the “stop call” just three days before PM shouted at Peres’ face: “You know killing very well … you murdered children!”

The police were in the quarter investigating a theft. İbrahim had a theft in his criminal records. Why İbrahim had to steal in his past? According to his family, because of “bad friends.” But we know that the quarter Akabe where he lived is one of the poorest in Urfa and being a porter, as İbrahim’s father is, means to work hard and gain little. Theft and poverty are always very close friends.

Anyway, İbrahim didn’t steal that night; even the police do not claim this. But he didn’t have his ID card on him, so he ran away. For a poor and, moreover, Kurdish boy not to carry an ID is itself a fatal crime! According to the policeman’s account, he caught İbrahim and fired his gun accidentally during a struggle to restrain the boy. Police also claimed that İbrahim had a blank pistol which he attempted to frighten off the cops with, a claim which his father boldly rejects: “How can a boy, who took 2 Turkish Lira [2]  for going to an internet café from me, possibly find a pistol?” [3]

And now, even on MRZine’s pages, one can read how Erdoğan “[stood] up and defend[ed] the human rights of an oppressed people.”[4] Even one of the respected dissident columnists, Yıldırım Türker, before reporting about the murders committed by Turkish state, was forced to write: “To be able to shout at the face of a murderer ‘You are a murderer’ is unconditionally a magnificent action.”[5] Which it really is! But what if some “conditions” render this action an extremely hypocritical one?[6]

One aspect of this hypocrisy is “internal”. To use violence against the dissidents, including murdering and torturing the children, is an everyday reality. In the 1980’s “active” coup d’état days, 6 months old child of a revolutionary couple[7] had been tortured by police to force them to speak (but they wouldn’t). But also in today’s “passive” coup d’état days, coinciding with the bid to join the EU, it is not difficult to find news articles about how children and adults are killed and tortured. Whereas the PM claims that “Turkey isn’t anymore the country that kept Nazım Hikmet in the prison for 12 years,” [8] Turkish prisons are full of political prisoners who recently sacrificed 122 comrades of theirs as martyrs in the most legendary prison resistance of all times and who are still under torture and isolation on a daily basis. Despite the best wishes of the football audience, here is Turkey and Israel at one and the same time!

For, as the NYT states, Turkey and Israel “are pragmatic, strategic allies, and cooperation between their militaries goes back decades.”[9] This also points to the “external” aspect of said hypocrisy. But one does not need the testimony of NYT; the PM himself, in the meeting of his party, said: “Maybe there is no other country in Middle East, Balkans and Europe, with which Israel is so concordant and shares so many benefits” as it is and does with Turkey.[10] Thus on one hand Israel planes kill children in Gaza, and PM Erdoğan flares against the massacre, on the other hand Turkey buys some of those planes from Israel.

The most bizarre side of this hypocrisy is its “internal” aspect. Despite much ado about how Erdoğan opened a front against Israeli attacks, he makes it clear that, he was just angry about the attitude of the moderator of the TV program, who did not share the time fairly between him and Peres, and who acted “shamelessly” by “touch[ing] at the shoulder of a PM during an international meeting.” This is an Erdoğan classic. When you hear the tone of his rhetoric, you think that he is speaking of overturning the mountains; when you focus on the content, you find out that he is only speaking about, e.g., making a telephone call.

Nowadays, his supporters are calling Erdoğan as “The Conqueror of Davos.” Since the Turkish state hardly conquered any place since the heydays of Ottoman Empire, the reactionaries of our country are fond of the words derived from the root “conquer.” But what about “The Ethics of Davos?” These two expressions[11] are rhymed with each other in Turkish! But of course we are not as naïve as expecting high moral values from oligarchic governments, which will be an even more naïve attitude than searching the truth in the rhymes.



[1] E.g. see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/davos/7859417.stm

[2] Around €1.

[3] Article on the newspaper Radikal on January 30, 2009 by Hasan Kırmızıtaş and Ali Leylak.

[4] Cem Ryan, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/ryan310109.html

[5] http://www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazarYazisi&ArticleID=919683&CategoryID=97

[6] Türker is well aware of this hypocrisy and this article is not intending to raise a criticism about his stance.

[7] İbrahim and Sevgi Erdoğan. Former had been killed during a police operation in 1991, latter had become martyr following 266 days of death fast in 2000.

[8] Nazım Hikmet is the great communist poet of the Turkish language imprisoned for 13, not 12, years. News from http://www.kontratv.com/242076/cetin-altan-buyuk-odul

[9] Sabrine Tavernise, January 10, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/world/middleeast/11turkey.html

[10] http://www.akparti.org.tr/tbmm/tbmmgrup/2009%20%C5%9Eubat%2003%20%20Grup%20Konu%C5%9Fmas%C4%B1.doc

[11] Davos Fatihi and Davos Etiği

January 8, 2010

Waiting for Armageddon

Filed under: Christian fundamentalism,Film — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

“Waiting for Armageddon” joins two other documentaries, “Jesus Camp” and “Unborn in the USA”, in lifting up the rock and showing the creepy, crawly things that have begun to play a larger and larger role in American politics since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Indeed, there are grounds for dating the fundamentalist turn back to Jimmy Carter who was the country’s first “born again” President. After all, he was the first as well to open up an attack on the working class and poor at the time of his “malaise” speech, considered by some to be the opening salvo in a thirty year war on the welfare state.

Directed by Kate Davis, Franco Sacchi and David Heilbroner, this movie allows its bible-thumping principals to hoist themselves on their own petards. By simply sticking a microphone in front of their mouths and a camera on their universally Caucasian faces, the directors are spared the job of commenting on the madness, by any definition an exercise in superfluity.

We first meet James and Laura Begg, a Connecticut couple who are convinced that the “rapture” might come at any day and are doing everything they can to prepare for it, which mostly means sticking your nose in the bible rather than stocking canned goods. Mr. Bagg is an aeronautics engineer and his wife a software developer at the same military aircraft company. Their belief that Jesus Christ will return to earth and lead an army of archangels against the minions of Satan near Mount Megiddo in Israel, which will result in the death of all except the saved (Bill Maher, watch out—me too, I guess) is totally at odds with their professional training based to one extent or another on the laws of physics. Listening to them reminded me of Trotsky’s observations on the rise of Nazism:

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of National Socialism.

In addition to people like the Baggs, who hold down day jobs, we meet a gaggle of full-time professional sky pilots going from conference to conference at places that look like a Ramada Inn to lecture the faithful looking for clues about the return of Jesus Christ and how to get set to be lifted into the air with the rest of the saved. Looking at the girth on some of these believers, you wonder if they will ever be able to get off the ground.

One of the best known believers in rapture is John Hagee who is seen preaching to his followers:

There is a war between Islamofascism and freedom. There is a war between the culture of death and those who love life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a war WE MUST WIN. The Bible says that you, ladies and gentlemen, are the light of the world. May God anoint each of you and there can be a spiritual awakening in this country. That Christ will be seen as the answer. For there is no other name given among men whereby we might be saved.

Key to winning this war is support for the state of Israel, which in the twisted theology of more than 50 million Americans who believe in this stuff is a precondition for the return of Christ. Rightwing fundamentalists have raised 75 million dollars on behalf of Israel and tour the country all the time in the same way that people like me used to go to Nicaragua. They have tour guides showing them all the key sites where Jesus will lead his troops against Satan, while our tour guides used to take us to coffee farms or clinics. In the past, there were some who used to label me and other Marxists as millenarian but in our defense I can say that our beliefs were rooted in world history rather than fantasy.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that the Revelations of St. John, which is the foundation for the Rapture movement, would be harmless if Christianity remained a powerless sect just as it was at the time of its birth. It is only when you combine such beliefs with the reality of Cruise missiles, F-16’s and hydrogen bombs that things get dicey. The same thing is true of Judaism as well. Nobody felt particularly bothered by the book of Exodus with its savage narrative of death and destruction of Egyptians as long as Jews lived powerlessly in the shtetl.

Drawing upon critics of what amounts to a Christian Zionist movement like Chip Berlet and Mel White, a gay clergyman who once wrote speeches for Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, we learn about its role in shoring up support for Zionist expansionism in the Middle East. Indeed, one might even make the case that this is much more of a factor than outfits like the American Jewish Congress since it uses the authority of the Christianity that is the religion of the nation’s most powerful policy-makers. Israel’s support from the evangelicals also represents the height of cynicism since it is well understood that people like Hagee believe that most Jews will not be on the winning side in the coming battle. One evangelical is cited as believing that only 144,000 Jews will be lifted up during Rapture. The rest will go to hell. Considering the personalities and psychology of the people featured in this movie, that’s fine by me.

Don’t miss “Waiting for Armageddon”, now playing at the Cinema Village in New York.

January 6, 2010

MRZine: drunk on its own rotgut ideology

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 8:31 pm

Just as it did immediately after the elections in March of 2008, MRZine is posting material that strives to legitimize the government of Iran. As is widely known, the website functions pretty much as an outlet for Editor Yoshie Furuhashi’s peculiar devotion to Ahmadinejad despite having much useful information. One perhaps might take the same kind of forgiving attitude toward MRZine that one has to Counterpunch, a generally valuable publication despite Alexander Cockburn’s well-known eccentricities. MRZine’s positions were sufficient to cause Barbara Epstein to resign from the editorial board of Monthly Review and earlier on to generate an open letter of protest by Iranian radicals living in the West.

Among the remaining editors, there is only one who shares Furuhashi’s odd predilections–namely John Mage, whose main distinction seems to be membership in the National Lawyers Guild and a long-time position as attorney to the Soviet Union. Mage is too cagey to stake out the high profile position of his co-thinker on the Internet or in print. She recently posted 238 comments defending the Iranian government on the popular Lenin’s Tomb blog prompted by Richard Seymour’s article stating among other things that “There were those, some months back, who tried to characterise the Iranian reform movement as a flash-in-the-pan upsurge of the ‘Gucci crowd’, a collective bed-wetting of the bourgoisie”, an obvious reference to those like MRZine, James Petras, and Edward Herman who put a plus where the State Department puts a minus, as Trotsky once put it.

Among the more interesting items that appeared on MRZine this go-round is a statement from the Venezuelan government that includes the following:

The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela expresses its most energetic condemnation of the attempts at destabilization promoted by the United States government against the government and people of Iran.

The Bolivarian government is surprised that a group of governments, led by the US Empire, is repeating a campaign of violence to divide the people of Iran, thus contravening the elemental rules of peaceful coexistence, non-interference, and respect for state sovereignty.

This implicitly accepts the idea that Venezuela’s leaders have the last word on such matters. While I tend to agree with much of what Hugo Chavez says, I do find myself demurring from time to time, especially when he came out in favor of the “Truther” analysis of 9/11. As a rule of thumb, Marxists in the USA or any other country are better off thinking for themselves than invoking the authority of a Red Vatican somewhere. I understand that independent thinking can be difficult at times, like doing push-ups, but it is necessary and even good for you.

More recently, MRZine has posted items that implicitly endorse Green Movement leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s warnings against “extremists”. In an item headlined “Mousavi makes 5 demands”, we learn that the reformist figure insists on the following: “We disapprove of those who don’t respect their country’s national and religious beliefs and customs. The extremist slogans chanted and (extremist) acts carried out by some protesters on Ashura are unacceptable.” Sounds a bit like what I heard in the 1960s from Spiro Agnew. Considering the fact that MRZine has posted some Weatherpeople nostalgia, it does strike one as a bit of a paradox. I guess it was okay for Bill Ayers to run amok in 1970 but how dare the Iranian students act up in this fashion, especially on Ashura? What is this world coming to?

Of course, we understand that MRZine takes a dim view of student protestors in Iran who must be taking their marching orders and funding from the CIA and George Soros, just as was the case in Eastern Europe, Lebanon and Venezuela. It is fairly easy to develop this kind of analysis. All it takes is a scan of the NY Times op-ed pages. If Nicholas Kristof has kind words to say about student protestors in Caracas and in Tehran, they both must be up to the same dirty business, especially when the Venezuelan government just about says the same thing. Right?

The most recent dispatch is in the same vein. Appearing originally in Asia Times, reporter Kaveh L Afrasiabi poses the question “Iran, from confrontation to reconciliation?” He approvingly points to the closing of the ranks between the “conservatives” and the “reformists” in Iran:

Mousavi’s move toward reconciliation may be interpreted by other factions of the heterogeneous green movement as “capitulation” and, consequently, he must show his followers some tangible gains by making his political “retreat”. Any reconciliation process is sure to be complicated and subject to the strains of a highly polarized polity.

In addition to Rezaee, a number of leading Tehran politicians, including former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, have called for “unity of all” and a “return to calm”.

Hence, the early part of 2010 will likely feature a qualitative turn-around from the tumult of the past seven months following the controversial presidential elections in mid-June and the intermittent flurry of opposition demonstrations in Tehran and other cities. The protests were most recently motivated by the death of pro-reform Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, whose funeral ceremonies gave the green movement an opportunity to drum up its democratization demands.

A serious miscalculation on the part of the green movement, by holding political rallies last Sunday during the holy ceremonies of Ashura, has clearly backfired, especially since some militant demonstrators turned violent and attacked police stations, threw Molotov cocktails at police vans, and beat up members of the riot police.

Both Mousavi and a number of intellectual leaders of the green movement, such as Akbar Ganji, have explicitly distanced themselves from the violent demonstrators, with Ganji going further and writing that “our problem today is that some notable personalities of the movement and many of its intellectuals have mortgaged themselves to the collective populist action [the opposition street rallies] … Resorting to violence is not justifiable under any excuse.”

This is not the first time that the two-party system in Iran has subordinated its differences in an effort to restore law and order. In July 1999, students organized protests against the closing of a reformist newspaper. Back then the reformists were in power and endorsed the protests, as the July 11 NY Times reported:

A day after a violent police raid on a Teheran University dormitory, more than 10,000 students demonstrated here and in other Iranian cities today, chanting slogans against Government hard-liners and clashing at times with the police.

The nation’s moderate Higher Education Minister, Mostafa Moin, offered to resign in protest against the university raid, which was apparently backed by some Islamic conservatives in the government.

Further, seeking to appease the demonstrators, Iran’s highest security body, led by the moderate President, Mohammad Khatami, condemned the police raid as “intolerable” and vowed to dismiss the official who ordered it.

The protests began on Thursday after the Government closed a leading reformist newspaper, Salam, and Parliament approved new measures to curb the country’s fledgling press freedom.

Just as is the case today, the hard-liners used paramilitary-like violence against the students as the July 11, 1999 Observer reported:

BLOODY clashes erupted in Tehran yesterday for the third consecutive day between pro-democracy students and Islamic extremists, raising fears that a long-expected national crisis is under way in Iran.

At least 10,000 students crossed the line from suppressed anger to open defiance, staging a pro-democracy sit-in at Tehran University, in the heart of the Iranian capital. In the largest protest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the students demanded the resignation of the country’s parliament and vowed not to end their struggle until President Mohammed Khatami took complete control of the country.

The demonstration was the largest in three days of unrest which began on Thursday evening when hardline vigilantes attacked a much smaller protest across town at the university dormitories.

About 500 students demonstrated against parliament’s approval of a new press law on Wednesday which severely restricts freedom of expression, and a court order banning the leading moderate Salam newspaper, which gives its backing to Khatami.

Conservative extremists from the Ansar-e Hizbollah broke into the dormitories, smashed windows, set rooms ablaze and beat students with clubs on Thursday and Friday. Witnesses said at least three students were killed and up to 300 were taken to hospital. Officials have made no comment on the reported casualties.

Over the next few months, the situation became increasingly polarized to the point where the reformist politicians decided to repudiate the students who had taken up their cause initially. Just as is the case now, they decided to fight for a change in the system and not just cosmetic reforms that would allow a small group of unelected clerics to wield absolute power above the parliamentary façade.

The reformist President Khatami decided that enough was enough and, joining Mousavi and MRZine today, called on the students to disperse as the July 14, 1999 Independent reported:

THOUSANDS OF Iranian students demanding reform defied a government ban on protests to do battle with police yesterday on the very streets on which demonstrators fought the Shah’s security forces 20 years ago in what was to become the Islamic Revolution.

In violent scenes not witnessed in Iran since the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, police fired their guns into the air and showered tear gas on hundreds of young men who tried to storm the heavy iron gates of the Iranian interior ministry as the demonstrations widened beyond Tehran University, the scene of six days of unrest.

By last night the security forces and armed Islamic vigilantes had taken back control of most of central Tehran and President Mohammad Khatami went on television to warn that the riots were threatening Iran’s national security and his government’s reform programme. Under immense pressure to accelerate promised reforms in the face of consistent challenges from powerful conservative clerical opponents President Khatami accused those “with evil aims” of whipping up what had started as peaceful student protests. “I am sure these people have evil aims. They intend to foster violence in society and we shall stand in their way… We take the security of our country and our citizens very seriously.”

By September, the movement had been repressed off the streets and four of the leaders were found guilty of anti-Islamic behavior and sentenced to death in a show trial not much different from the ones that have just transpired.

We assume that MRZine will breathe a sigh of relief once order is restored at the colleges and universities of Iran, where students will cut out all the spring break foolishness funded by George Soros and the CIA and return to their studies.

Cyrus Bina and Hamid Zangeneh, two Iranian scholars based in the United States (Bina is a highly respected Marxist economist), have a different take on things than MRZine. In an Open Letter to Academic Colleagues and the Academic Community At Large that appeared in Political Affairs, the magazine of the Communist Party, they describe the “Para-militarization of Universities in Iran”:

The clerical regime is now transformed into a full-fledged paramilitary state. These paramilitary agents of repression are now in the driver’s seat in both the administrative leadership and the faculty committees, and thus set the academic agenda in major universities. Just a few days into the post-election upheaval, the plain cloth Basij picked up Dr. Mohammad Maleki – a prominent scholar and former chancellor of Tehran University. These plain cloth Basijis are the member of the same unit that in the immediate aftermath of post-election upheaval suddenly (and unprovoked) stormed through the Tehran University dormitories, destroyed much of the structure, beaten and arrested the residents, and tied up several students before throwing them down from the roof on the concrete pavement below to their eventual death. Dr. Maleki has been kept incommunicado in the notorious Evin Prison till the time of this writing. And no amount of appeal to the United Nation Secretary General has so far produced a tangible result. According to his spouse, Maleki – a 76-year old who suffers from advanced cancer of prostate, abnormal heartbeat and diabetes—did not even vote for any of the proposed presidential candidates and certainly had no involvement with Mir Hossein Mousavi’s camp. He is accused of “collaboration with the enemy,” a blanket charge that has been commonly conjured up, and nowadays is rather methodically leveled, against those who defy the arbitrary political arrests by this government and its ruthless and rent-a-cop paramilitary goons. Simply put, barrel of the gun emanates more “reason” than the wisdom of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Rumi, Hegel, Russell and Whitehead combined in today’s Iranian universities.

Now this is the kind of information that MRZine should be publishing if hadn’t become so drunk on its own rotgut ideology.

Marx at the movies

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 3:41 pm

WBAI Arts Magazine
MARX AT THE MOVIES: What’s wrong with this picture? An ideological deconstruction of Hollywood.
A couple of Unrepentant Marxists join The Arts Magazine this week to unravel the politics of screen romance, impersonating the working class in movies, revisionist royalty, best movie lines, worst movie moms, class warfare vs. imperialist war porn at the plexes; filmmaker self-censorship vs, going all the way, how to seize the means of cinematic production, why do we need Unrepentant Marxist movie critics anyway, and more…

Plus, The James Agee Cinema Circle comes out swinging, with The Anti-Oscars 2009. From Our Daily Bread Awards to The Trumbo,The Brando and other left accolades.

I am interviewed at some length on this show and take the opportunity to defend “Avatar” against its leftist critics. Go to http://archive.wbai.org/ and select play at the right of the Arts Magazine listing.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.