Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 14, 2010

Palestinian Avatar

Filed under: Palestine — louisproyect @ 1:45 pm

February 12, 2010

Alexander McQueen, Designer, Is Dead at 40

Filed under: fashion — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

NY Times February 11, 2010
Alexander McQueen, Designer, Is Dead at 40

Alexander McQueen, the renegade British fashion designer known for producing some of the most provocative collections of the last two decades, was found dead on Thursday morning in his London home, the police there said. He was 40.

At the beginning of his career, Mr. McQueen became a sensation for showing his clothes on ravaged-looking models who appeared to have been physically abused, institutionalized or cosmetically altered, all while peppering his audience with rude comments. “I’m not interested in being liked,” he said. He once mooned the audience of his show.

But he was enormously creative and intelligent, and he seemed to sense that the fashion industry needed to have its buttons pushed. His fall 2009 collection was the talk of Paris when, reacting to the recession, Mr. McQueen showed exaggerated versions of all of his past work on a runway strewn with a garbage heap of props from his former stage sets. He was suggesting that fashion was in ruins.

“The turnover of fashion is just so quick and so throwaway, and I think that is a big part of the problem,” he said. “There is no longevity.”

In his work, Mr. McQueen drew on Orientalism, classicism and English eccentrics, and also his ideas about the future, combining them in ways that were complex and perplexing.

As designers have done for centuries, Mr. McQueen altered the shape of the body using corsetry and anatomically correct breast plates as a recurring motif. More recently, his work took on increasingly futuristic tones, with designs that combined soft draping with molding, or ones in which a dress seemed to morph into a coat. At his last show, in October, the models wore platform shoes that looked like the hulls of ships.

Lee Alexander McQueen was born in London on March 17, 1969. His father was a taxi driver; his mother was a social science teacher. His father wanted him to become an electrician or a plumber, but Lee, as he was always known, knew he wanted to work in fashion. His father, Ron McQueen, survives him, as do five siblings.

Aware of his homosexuality at an early age (he said he knew at age 8), he was taunted by other children, who called him “McQueer.” He left school at 16 and found an apprenticeship on Savile Row working for the tailors Anderson & Sheppard and then Gieves & Hawkes. In a story he repeated on some occasions but at other times denied, he was bored one day and wrote a derogatory slur in the lining of a jacket destined for the Prince of Wales.

As he struck out on his own, Mr. McQueen was immediately recognized for his brashness. The models in his October 1993 collection walked the runway with their middle fingers extended, and their dresses were hand-printed to appear as if they were covered with blood; some of it looked fresh. He also showed trousers cut so low that they were called “bumsters.” Criticized at the time because some did not cover the rear, the trousers were credited with initiating a low-rise trend that eventually caught on with every mainstream jeans maker in the world.

“His was a hard show to take, but at least it offered one solution to the identity crisis of London fashion,” wrote Amy M. Spindler, then the fashion critic of The New York Times.

In March 1995, at his most controversial, Mr. McQueen dedicated his fall collection to “the highland rape,” a pointed statement about the ravaging of Scotland by England. The models appeared to be brutalized, wearing lacy dresses with hems and bodices ripped open, their hair tangled and their eyes blanked out with opaque contact lenses. This had come on the heels of a spring collection that, paradoxically, was full of precisely tailored suits and crisp shirts.

He was called an enfant terrible and the hooligan of English fashion. The monstrous, sometimes sadistic, styling of his collections became a hallmark, as when he showed models wearing horns on their shoulders. A collection in 2000 was shown on models with their heads bandaged, stumbling inside a large glass-walled room with the audience on the outside as if its members were looking into a mental ward. But many of these motifs were actually based on historic scenes, from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch to the films of Stanley Kubrick. Mr. McQueen once said he had sewn locks of human hair into his jackets as a nod to Jack the Ripper.

“Nicey nicey just doesn’t do it for me,” he said.

An Iranian responds to the Angry Arab

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

Hello all,

I wrote the comment below for Angry Arab blog’s recent posts about Iran:




Please let me know what you think. I would appreciate it.

Cheers, an Iranian

1- Journalists outside of Iran, like Nazila Fathi who was forced into exile, are unable to deliver the truth about the Iran’ demonstrations, according to the Angry Arab blog.

2- It’s unjustified for the Middle Eastern journalists to cover Iran’s demonstrations since in their own countries bigger human rights violations are taking place*, according to the Angry Arab blog.

3- The non-state journalists who are critical of the system and are living inside Iran are jailed, already forced into exile, or can’t write freely otherwise they risk being jailed. I personally know two journalists who are critical of the atrocities and are hiding in the houses of their relatives for fear of arrest.

Points 1-3 imply the only journalists who can reliably cover the atrocities committed by Iranian government must be the state TV of Iran or the state journalists! But in fact, believing the journalism of the regime is equivalent to dismissing the whole anti-fascist struggle of Iranian people. So is that what Angry Arab’s blog looking for: the dismissal of the whole anti-dictatorial struggle of Iranian people? I wonder about the journalism alternatives that Angry Arab would suggest given the circumstances?

In a hypothetical situation, if people in Cairo were to stand up to the goons –pour into the streets to oppose a dictatorial regime, taking the matters into their hands, without fear of being run over by a car, raped in the prisons, shot in the streets, or beaten to death– the Iranian journalists would cover that heroic act on the front page of their newspapers regardless of the harsh(er) human rights violations taking place in their country. I guess that is called international solidarity. Angry Arab seems to take these borders (especially the imagined borders between Arab countries and Iran) way too seriously; in fact, what happens in Iran can affect Cairo’s political atmosphere. If the anti-fascist movement in Iran succeeds, its achievements will belong to the whole world, and particularly other countries in the Middle East. If the anti-fascist movement in Iran succeeds, we can show imperialist powers that the people in the Middle East don’t need foreigner’s cluster bombs to overthrow their countries’ tyrants and the people can take matters into their own hands. Instead of putting countries such as Iran, Egypt or Palestine into a hurtful dichotomy, we should make bridges between people, against the oppressive ruling class and colonial powers.

How many Iranian Green Movement protesters would pour into the streets if they could demonstrate under the same conditions as the pro-government protesters? Conversely, how many pro-government protesters would remain in the streets if they risked being shot, imprisoned, raped, etc.? Because of extremely varying conditions, it is naive to measure the support for a cause by the numbers of protesters in the street. To have an understanding of the Iranian people’s anti-fascist movement, one needs only observe the presence of thousands of security forces in the streets, widespread state atrocities, and the imprisonment of thousands of people from varying sociopolitical background including workers, university professors, journalists, students, human rights activists, unionists, etc. Thus we should abandon the ridiculous business of counting protesters, unless the conditions were equally safe for both sides. Just as we didn’t give value to the quantity of Israelis who protested for more atrocities and a longer war against Palestinians in Gaza during the invasion of December, 2008, we shouldn’t give value to the quantity of pro-government protesters who are bused in by the state, and are (ab)used to give legitimacy to a government that has killed, tortured and raped its own citizens.

Who is buried in Lenin’s Tomb?

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 3:04 pm

Richard Seymour, for whom my admiration is well-known, has made a grievous mistake by allowing the disgusting editor of MRZine to publish her latest rant against the protest movement in Iran, which amounts to crowing over the ability of show trials, torture, arrest, rape and beatings to finally intimidate people aspiring to democratic rights and more. This, after all, is a comrade of the Cliffite current well known for its commitment to “socialism from below”. Poor Tony Cliff must be spinning in his grave at such a rapid speed that a transformer attached to the coffin could supply London’s electricity needs for the next decade at least.

February 11, 2010

Battle of Algiers

Filed under: Film,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 8:01 pm

(Since the most recent MRZine archives seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth, I am reposting this here to make sure it does not get lost as well.)


The Battle of Algiers

Looking Back at The Battle of Algiers

by Louis Proyect

La bataille d' AlgerChallenged by terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare in Iraq, the Pentagon recently held a screening of “The Battle of Algiers,” the film that in the late 1960’s was required viewing and something of a teaching tool for radicalized Americans and revolutionary wannabes opposing the Vietnam War.

Back in those days the young audiences that often sat through several showings of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 re-enactment of the urban struggle between French troops and Algerian nationalists, shared the director’s sympathies for the guerrillas of the F.L.N., Algeria’s National Liberation Front. Those viewers identified with and even cheered for Ali La Pointe, the streetwise operator who drew on his underworld connections to organize a network of terrorist cells and entrenched it within the Casbah, the city’s old Muslim section. In the same way they would hiss Colonel Mathieu, the character based on Jacques Massu, the actual commander of the French forces.

The Pentagon’s showing drew a more professionally detached audience of about 40 officers and civilian experts who were urged to consider and discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film — the problematic but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq. Or more specifically, the advantages and costs of resorting to torture and intimidation in seeking vital human intelligence about enemy plans.

Michael T. Kaufman, “What Does the Pentagon See in ‘Battle of Algiers’?” (The New York Times, September 7, 2003)

Larbi Ben M'HidiAt a press conference dramatized in The Battle of Algiers, the captive FLN leader Larbi Ben M’Hidi is asked what chance he has of defeating the French. He answers that it has a better chance than the French have of defeating history. M’Hidi’s reply was probably lost on the Pentagon audience since every imperial power in history seems utterly convinced of its own invulnerability. The film has an entirely different significance for the left. We watch it to become inspired, all the more so at a time when Americans are facing our own version of the battle of Algiers.

Although there are real differences between Algeria and France in 1958 and the United States and Iraq today, there are a number of crucial similarities. To begin with, the Algerians saw their struggle in religious terms just as many insurgents do today. The very first communiqué of the FLN — heard in voice-over in the film — calls for “The restoration of the sovereign, democratic and social Algerian state, within the framework of Islamic principles.” Then, as now, the outside power saw itself as rescuing people from feudal and theocratic backwardness. During the height of the battle, the FLN resorted to terror just as elements of the Iraqi insurgency are doing today. When M’Hidi was asked by a reporter at the press conference whether he thought it was “cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people,” he replied:

And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.

Another important similarity is the resort to torture, justified by the colonizers as a necessary evil. Today, after the growth of human rights activism, it is more difficult to mount the same brazen and open defense that the French did. Instead, you have references to “excesses” at Abu Ghraib, always the subject of review but never abolished. Liberal Joseph Lelyveld wrote a lengthy New York Times Magazine article on June 12, 2005 that amounts to a casuistic justification of “soft torture.” Sleep deprivation is okay; electrodes are not. He writes:

Here I have to admit to what may seem a moral debility. As a journalist who had reported on torture and torture victims, and who therefore thought he knew something about the subject, I was surprised that I was finding it harder than most commentators and most people I knew to take a fixed view of coercive force in interrogation.

The Battle of Algiers is a documentary-like, day-by-day, and even hour-by-hour, chronicle of the siege of the Casbah in 1958, which ended in a bloody rout of the FLN. However, just as was the case with the Tet Offensive of 1968 or the assault on Falluja in 2004, this was a pyrrhic victory. The political costs to the French far outweighed the tactical gains. As France grew isolated internationally, it found itself forced to deal with the FLN on its own terms, just as surely the United States will in Iraq.

The confrontation between the French and the FLN involves real and composite characters played nearly entirely by nonprofessionals. Director Gillo Pontecorvo once explained his preference for nonprofessionals. Queimada!When he has a face in mind for a certain character, he will not rest until he finds the person who has just the right appearance. When he was meeting with studio executives during the initial stages of the filming of Burn, they proposed that Sidney Poitier play the leader of the slave revolt. Pontecorvo stood his ground and insisted that Evaristo Marquez, a Colombian cane cutter who had never seen a film before working on Burn, be cast in the role instead.

Ali La Pointe is the pivotal figure in The Battle of Algiers. He is an Algerian everyman who represents the unquenchable and violent appetite for freedom described in Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. (Brahim Haggiag, who plays Ali La Pointe, was a peasant Pontecorvo discovered in the Algiers market.)

Ali La PointeWhen we first meet him, he is operating a Three Card Monty game on the sidewalk. While being pursued by the cops, he is tripped by a young Pied Noir man. After rising to his feet, he punches him in the mouth before being hauled off to jail. There he meets members of the FLN, who recruit him. After being released, we follow him on his daily rounds of armed assaults on French cops, paratroopers and civilians. We also see him in one of the most memorable scenes in the film. After a pimp ignores his warning to get out of the Casbah, Ali shoots him down with a machine gun concealed under his burnoose.

Ali La Pointe was a street urchin who sold gum and combs on the street before becoming a card sharp, pimp, and amateur boxer as a young adult. On his chest was the tattoo “Go forward or die” (“Marche ou crève”) and on his foot “Shut up.” The scenes based on his arrest, incarceration, and recruitment to the FLN are faithful to his history.

So is the scene in which he is instructed to kill a French cop with an unloaded gun. When he discovers that he had been tricked, he rages at Saadi Yacef, his organizer. Yacef explains that this was the only way that it could be determined that he was not a police plant. As is not the case in Iraq today, French cops had managed to penetrate the FLN with its agents. Yacef, who survived the battle of Algiers, saluted Ali La Pointe in his memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger:

Saadi Yacef TodayI met him for the first time around the end of December 1955, in the middle of the Casbah of Algiers. I found before me a handsome brown-haired man with the build of an athlete who, without big words, made known to me his calm resolution to fight and die for the independence of the Algerian fatherland.

His first armed action in the ranks of the soldiers without uniform of the FLN took place at the beginning of 1956. It was directed against a police informant and was crowned with success.

This confirmed me in my first impression, that is, that I was dealing with a truly elite personality. I decided to take him with me and install him in my own hideout, which was situated on the rue des Abderames. I myself was already being sought by the police. Ali’s presence at my side contributed to the strengthening of the security conditions of our small group of leaders.

In fact, it was he who first suggested to me the idea of a hidden passageway that would permit us, in case of alert, to rapidly find ourselves on the terraces of the houses situated near our hideout of the moment. The idea was often put into practice, and it was often its use that allowed us to escape and thus save our lives. At these moments Ali remembered all the techniques of his skill as a mason.

Saadi Yacef in The Battle of AlgiersIn the most stunning casting decision made by Pontecorvo, Saadi Yacef plays the character El-hadi Jaffar, a thinly disguised representation of Yacef himself. Yacef was one of fourteen children in the household of a Casbah baker, who began working for his father at the age of fourteen. He was released from prison as a goodwill gesture by de Gaulle in the waning days of the war of independence and became a member of the Algerian parliament and a film producer. Indeed, he is credited with the co-production of the film and suggested the project to Pontecorvo to begin with.

Although they have no lines in the film, the three female characters who set off bombs in the privileged French section of the city are crucial. After cutting their hair and donning makeup and French style clothing, they pass undetected to their destinations.

Women in the Battle of Algiers

One of the real life bombers was Zohra Drif, who — like Yacef — became a parliamentarian in liberated Algeria. Drif was a law student at Algiers University and the daughter of a respected cadi, or Islamic judge. During World War Two, her parents told her that Hitler’s invasion of France was “God’s revenge on the Frenchmen for their treatment of the Muslims.” Drif was moved to take desperate action by the spectacle of the guillotining of Ahmed Zabane and Abelkader Ferradj in Barberousse Prison in Algiers, an event that was dramatized in the opening scenes of Pontecorvo’s film.

When she was in high school, Drif became aware of the massacre of peaceful Algerian demonstrators in Sétif at the end of World War Two, an event that many historians describe as one of the main causes of the war of independence. In many respects, however, the Algerian revolt that began in 1954 was a continuation of a struggle that began in 1830 with the initial French colonization.

The Algerians had always been resentful of outside control. Dominated by Arabs and Berbers, who fought with each other when not confronting the invaders, it was more of a hodge-podge of tribes than a country. In 1832, the indigenous people rose up under the leadership of Abd-el-Kader, who said his leadership was a “means of uniting the great body of Moslems, of preventing dissensions among them, of according general security to all dwellers in the land, of checking all acts of lawlessness on the part of the disorderly against the well-disposed, and of driving back and overcoming the enemy who has invaded our country.” His affinity with both the FLN and the Iraqi resistance is striking. In North Africa and the Middle East, nationalist struggles always tend to have a religious dimension.

It took forty years for the French to suppress the revolt. Once French rule became unchallenged, the floodgates were opened for a massive settlement of the land, including many from Alsace-Lorraine. With a settler population at its height of over one million, the national struggle in Algeria took on added complexity. Unlike Tunisia or Morocco or even Indochina from which France had just been ejected, Algeria was viewed as a territorial extension. This meant that the battle would be much more like a civil war and would have a far more intransigent quality, not unlike Northern Ireland or Palestine.

Ferhat Abbas, who was born to a wealthy land-owning family in 1899, was one of the fathers of modern Algerian nationalism. After Leon Blum’s Popular Front government failed to implement a tepid reform program for Algerian Moslems, Abbas founded a new reform-oriented party called Union Populaire Algérienne (UPA) that would serve as a training ground for FLN leaders, including Ben Bella. When Abbas became radicalized during the war of independence, he joined the FLN and became a prominent spokesman.

Abbas had a rival in Messali Hadj, a shoemaker’s son born in 1898,Messali Hadj who joined the French CP while living in France after World War One. Messali was much more of a firebrand than Abbas, a Malcolm X to Abbas’s Martin Luther King Jr. As founder of the Paris-based Étoile Nord-Africaine, he inculcated a mixture of socialist and Islamic beliefs to his followers. His teachings were absorbed by the FLN leadership, despite their bitter and often violent rivalry during the war of independence. Messali quit the CP in disgust immediately after the party backed the crackdown at Sétif.

On May 8th 1945, Moslem residents of this nationalist stronghold decided to march in favor of Algerian independence. Timed to coincide with V-E Day, they hoped that a free world that had just defeated Nazism would welcome their own bid for self-determination. The demonstration called for the freeing of Messali — now a political prisoner — and raised the slogan “For the Liberation of the People, Long Live Free and Independent Algeria.” Although it is impossible to establish who fired the first shot, the march broke down into a violent confrontation between a few armed demonstrators and a much better-armed French constabulary. Around 100 Frenchmen were killed, and the death toll for Algerians ranged from 6,000 to 45,000. The Communist ministers in de Gaulle’s government supported the repression, while their Algerian comrades condemned the Moslem combatants as “Hitlerian.” A party leader, despite being of Algerian ethnicity, wrote in Liberté, the party journal: “The organisers of these troubles must be swiftly and pitilessly punished, the instigators of the revolt put in front of the firing squad.” Clearly, there are some antecedents here for the kind of relationship that the Iraqi CP maintained with American occupation forces.

Dogmatic Marxist hostility to the aspirations of Islamic peoples in North Africa and the Middle East has long antecedents. In a January 5, 1898 article titled “The Struggle of Social Democracy and the Social Revolution,” Eduard Bernstein made the case for colonial rule over Morocco. Drawing from English socialist Cunningham Graham’s travel writings, Bernstein states there is absolutely nothing admirable about Morocco. In such countries where feudalism is mixed with slavery, a firm hand is necessary to drag the brutes into the civilized world:

There is a great deal of sound evidence to support the view that, in the present state of public opinion in Europe, the subjection of natives to the authority of European administration does not always entail a worsening of their condition, but often means the opposite. However much violence, fraud, and other unworthy actions accompanied the spread of European rule in earlier centuries, as they often still do today, the other side of the picture is that, under direct European rule, savages are without exception better off than they were before. . . .

In its paternalistic stance toward the “backward” natives, there is a strong sense of mission around the need to eradicate all sorts of irrational religious practices. Perhaps nothing aggravated the colonizers more than the veil that shielded Algerian women from their gaze. (Although there is no explicit reference to this in The Battle of Algiers, the veil does figure as a symbol of the impenetrability of the indigenous population.) Just as was the case in Afghanistan and now in places like Falluja — supposedly in thrall to Iraqi versions of the Taliban — force is seen as necessary to liberate women.

In A Dying Colonialism, Franz Fanon drew attention to the colonizer’s bid to “liberate” woman:

Beneath the patrilineal pattern of Algerian society, the specialists described a structure of matrilineal essence. Arab society has often been presented by Westerners as a formal society in which outside appearances are paramount. The Algerian woman, an intermediary between obscure forces and the group, appeared in this perspective to assume a primordial importance. Behind the visible, manifest patriarchy, the more significant existence of a basic matriarchy was affirmed. The role of the Algerian mother, that of the grandmother, the aunt and the “old woman,” were inventoried and defined.

This enabled the colonial administration to define a precise political doctrine: “If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight.” It is the situation of woman that was accordingly taken as the theme of action. The dominant administration solemnly undertook to defend this woman, pictured as humiliated, sequestered, cloistered. . . It described the immense possibilities of woman, unfortunately transformed by the Algerian man into an inert, demonetized, indeed dehumanized object. The behavior of the Algerian was very firmly denounced and described as medieval and barbaric. With infinite science, a blanket indictment against the “sadistic and vampirish” Algerian attitude toward women was prepared and drawn up. Around the family life of the Algerian, the occupier piled up a whole mass of judgments, appraisals, reasons, accumulated anecdotes and edifying examples, thus attempting to confine the Algerian within a circle of guilt.

With all of the arrogance of the colonial administration staffed by socialists or left-leaning Gaullists like Jacques Soustelle (an acclaimed authority on the Aztecs), it was virtually impossible for the voice of the Algerian resistance to be heard. It came across as “Hitlerism” or religious backwardness. One can understand why the epithet Islamofascism is hurled about today in the same manner.

Portrayal of Racism in The Battle of Algiers

Another charge made against the FLN, and which figures heavily in Pontecorvo’s film, is that of terrorism and the bombing of civilian restaurants and cafés in particular. The war in Algeria was an early version of the war on terrorism today. Of course, the outstanding contribution that Pontecorvo makes is to debunk these claims by showing that the French instigated the terror themselves. In the film, a group of cops organize themselves into a death squad, drive into the Casbah late at night, and set off a bomb that levels a tenement.

Colonial Terror in The Battle of Algiers

After several months of rising violence in 1957, a huge explosion rocked a building allegedly housing FLN terrorists in the Rue de Thèbes on August 10th. Three neighboring houses were also destroyed and the Algerian death toll reached seventy. No Frenchman was ever arrested for the Rue de Thèbes bombing.

This prompted Saadi Yacef to organize the bombing campaign that is dramatized so effectively in Pontecorvo’s film. While it is unstinting in its representation of the human toll, the perspective is very much in line with that of French leftist supporters of the FLN. Dr. Pierre Chaulet, who was sheltering FLN leader Ramdane Abane, observed: “I see hardly any difference between the girl who places a bomb in the Milk-Bar and the French aviator who bombards a mechta [village] or who drops a napalm on a zone interdite.”

There were members of the French left who saw otherwise. The most prominent of these was Albert Camus, who was born in Algeria and who identified strongly with the pied noir. It should not come as a very great surprise that Camus has become something of an icon for left intellectuals defending the war in Iraq, especially Paul Berman. This long-time supporter of U.S. foreign policy wrote Terror and Liberalism in 2003, an assault on Islamic radicalism that starts with a quote from Camus and includes a long exegesis of The Rebel.

In Camus’s view, there was no such thing as an Arab “nation.” For him, the salvation of Algeria was in the formation of Swiss-like cantons that would allow each nationality (Arab, French, Berber, Jew) to live in peace. The main obstacle to such an arrangement was extremism on either side. In “A Letter to an Algerian Militant” written in 1955, long before the battle of Algiers, Camus advises:

You Arabs must spare no effort to show your people that, when they kill civilian populations, terrorism not only raises justifiable doubts as to the political maturity of men capable of such acts, but also strengthens the anti-Arab elements, reinforces their arguments, and silences French liberal opinion which might find and put through some solution leading to reconciliation.

As the war intensified, so did Camus’s moralizing tendencies. In an obvious political statement, the Nobel Committee named Camus in 1957. At a Stockholm press conference, an Arab student denounced him as an agent of French repression no different from paratroopers. His reply to the student was broadcast around the world:

I have always condemned the use of terror. I must also condemn a terror which is pursued blindly on the Algiers streets and which may any day strike down my mother or my family. I believe in justice but I will defend my mother before justice.

Fortunately, Camus spoke for very few French intellectuals on the matter of Algeria. Jean-Paul Sartre was far more representative. Along with Simone de Beauvoir and other notables, they demanded freedom for a group of jailed activists led by Francis Jeanson, a colleague of Sartre’s at Les Temps Modernes. Jeanson and a network of activists dubbed the porteurs de valise (valise carriers) transported arms, men, money, and papers for the FLN. On September 6, 1960, the day of their trial, a Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the War in Algeria was circulated by 121 French intellectuals. It stated:

For the Algerians the struggle, carried out either by military or diplomatic means, is not in the least ambiguous. It is a war of national independence. But what is its nature for the French? It’s not a foreign war. The territory of France has never been threatened. But there’s even more; it is carried out against men who do not consider themselves French, and who fight to cease being so. It isn’t enough to say that this is a war of conquest, an imperialist war, accompanied by an added amount of racism. There is something of this in every war, and the ambiguous nature of it remains.

It should be obvious that these sentiments resonate with the antiwar movement of today. Sartre and his co-signers did not allow imperialist propaganda from muddling the real issues in 1958, just as we should not be deterred from our solidarity with the Iraqi people today, no matter the failure of the insurgency to play by the colonizer’s rules.

Torture in The Battle of AlgiersFinally, the common thread that runs through the battle of Algiers and the occupation of Iraq today is the widespread use of torture. The Battle of Algiers begins in a torture chamber, where an FLN captive has been coerced through repeated doses of electricity to reveal the hideout of Ali La Pointe.

After the arrival of French paratroopers into Algiers, led in the film by a Colonel Mathieu presumably based on General Massu, torture is put into practice without regard for professed French democratic standards. At a press conference, Mathieu explains his procedures euphemistically:

Colonel MathieuThe word “torture” doesn’t appear in our orders. We’ve always spoken of interrogation as the only valid method in a police operation directed against unknown enemies. As for the FLN, they request that their members, in the event of capture, should maintain silence for twenty-four hours, and then they may talk. So, the organization has already had the time it needs to render any information useless. What type of interrogation should we choose, the one the courts use for a murder case, that drags on for months?

La QuestionHenri Alleg, a journalist and French Algerian CP member (the party had reversed its earlier stance and had affiliated with the FLN), wrote about his own torture in a famous book titled The Question that was banned in France.

Alleg was arrested by paratroopers on June 12, 1957 and detained for a month in El-Biar, an Algiers suburb, where he was tortured systematically in order to reveal the names and locations of FLN militants. The Question includes an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre that reverberates today, especially these words:

Anyway, if he accepts the Moslems as human beings, there is no sense in killing them. The need is rather to humiliate them, to crush their pride and drag them down to animal level. The body may live, but the spirit must be killed. To train, discipline and chastise; these are the words which obsess them. There is not enough room in Algeria for two kinds of human beings; they must choose the one or the other.

I am certainly not suggesting that the Algerian Europeans invented torture, nor even that they incited the authorities to practise it. On the contrary, it was the order of the day before we even noticed it. Torture was simply the expression of racial hatred. It is man himself that they want to destroy, with all his human qualities, his courage, his will, his intelligence, his loyalty — the very qualities that the coloniser claims for himself. But if the European eventually brings himself to hate his own face, it will be because it is reflected by an Arab.

In looking at these two indissoluble partnerships, the coloniser and the colonised, the executioner and his victim, we can see that the second is only an aspect of the first. And without any doubt the executioners are not the colonisers, nor are the colonisers the executioners. These latter are frequently young men from France who have lived twenty years of their life without ever having troubled themselves about the Algerian problem. But hate is a magnetic field: it has crossed over to them, corroded them and enslaved them.

Indeed, the French anti-imperialist left was just as disgusted with the effect of the occupation on French society as by what it was doing to the Algerians. A good part of the revulsion over Abu Ghraib today has the same sort of dynamic. We are appalled that young Americans have been transformed by a decaying culture into torturers. Whether the government that is responsible for this is staffed by “socialists” like Guy Mollet or by rightwing Republicans, the effect is the same. We feel debased.

Alleg spares nothing in describing these torture sessions:

J – – , smiling all the time, dangled the clasps at the end of the electrodes before my eyes. These were little shining steel clips, elongated and toothed, what telephone engineers call ‘crocodile’ clips. He attached one of them to the lobe of my right ear and the other to a finger on the same side.

Suddenly, I leapt in my bonds and shouted with all my might. C — had just sent the first electric charge through my body. A flash of lightning ex­ploded next to my ear and I felt my heart racing. I struggled, screaming, and stiffened myself until the straps cut into my flesh. All the while the shocks controlled by C — , magneto in hand, followed each other without interruption. Rhythmically, C — re­peated a single question, hammering out the syllables: ‘Where have you been hiding?’

Alleg is now 84 and still being heard on the questions of torture and injustice. Gen Paul Aussaresses, one of General Massu’s torturing paratroopers protected by the amnesty laws of 1962 and 1967, published Special Services, Algeria 1955-1957 in 2001. This book was a defense of torture.

Anti-racist and human-rights groups as well as torture victims filed seven lawsuits for crimes against humanity but a French judge decided that Aussaresses was “merely” guilty of war crimes and pardoned him. By contrast, General Paris de Bollardiere asked to be relieved of his command in Algeria in 1957 because of his opposition to torture. For this act, he was confined to quarters for 60 days. In 1961 he retired from active duty and began to speak out against militarism, especially nuclear weapons.

The Irish Times reported on November 28, 2001:

“We put electrodes on the ears or testicles of prisoners,” Aussaresses wrote. “Then we turned on the current, with varying intensity . . . The summary executions were an integral part of our task of maintaining order. No one ever asked me openly to execute someone — it went without saying.” Aussaresses recounted ordering the slaughter of 60 prisoners at one point, 100 others a week later.

Gen Aussarresses cheerfully admits killing 24 men with his own hands — murders covered by amnesty laws.

Maurice AudineAfter Aussarresses and his publisher were charged with apologizing for war crimes, they were confronted from the witness stand by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, author of Torture: Cancer of Democracy, France and Algeria 1954-1962, and Henri Alleg. They wanted to know what ever happened to Maurice Audin, a young mathematician and Communist who was “disappeared” in 1957. When Aussarresses confessed ignorance, Alleg replied, “He was tortured in the house where Aussaresses was commander — the idea that he doesn’t know is an unbearable lie. Aussaresses knows very well who killed Maurice Audin and how.”

Although The Battle of Algiers ends on a positive note, we know that the hopes of ordinary Algerians like Ali la Pointe were never fully realized. In a development that bears an eerie resemblance to the plot of Burn, the FLN emerged into a new elite whose class interests overlapped with imperialism’s.

This evolution took place because the revolution temporized with French capitalist interests. Despite the socialist rhetoric of the FLN, it never fully broke with capitalism. The Evian agreements of 1962 marked the formal end to the war of independence with France. The FLN allowed France to maintain naval and air force bases for fifteen and five years respectively. A more insidious legacy of the colonial era, however, was the persistence of the bureaucratic machinery of the old colonial state. It was not to be smashed but preserved and modernized. Seventy-seven percent of the new Algerian state personnel holding managerial positions owed their appointments to the colonial administration. This layer was augmented by FLN officials from exile in Tunisia and Morocco whom the Evian agreements recommended be trained in France.

The state firms in Algeria that came into existence with the victory over the French became reliant on money advanced by European and American banks. Imperialism used those debts as leverage to accelerate the bourgeoisification of Algerian society. In 1975, foreign debt amounted to $504 per Algerian citizen, approximately half the per capita income of the urban population and the equivalent of the peasantry’s. The World Bank has fostered Algeria’s dependence on imperial powers. At the end of 1982, it agreed to fund eleven big development projects, as well as provide nearly a billion dollars for various social projects in Algeria. Private banks have also taken advantage of investment opportunities. In 1979, Sonatrach, a big state enterprise, borrowed one-half billion dollars from a consortium that included Chase, Citicorp, and United California Bank. Algeria’s dependency on the United States has not only been tied to financing of major state projects. It has also been reflected in foreign trade.

After class divisions became more and more pronounced in Algeria, Islamist radicalism emerged as a response to perceived injustices in the same fashion as it has in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and elsewhere. The government’s response was to repress it out of existence.

None of this should be understood as an ex post facto excuse for colonialism. It has become fashionable in recent years to blame anti-colonial revolts for the frequently dismal conditions of newly independent countries. The Niall Fergusons of the world look back nostalgically at the British Empire and muse whether Africa would be better off ruled from the outside.

The only response to this is to deepen the revolution so that emancipation takes place on the social and economic level as well as the political level. Unless a revolution breaks with imperialism economically, it will be impossible to enjoy full national sovereignty. As Fidel Castro put it, “The anti-imperialist, socialist revolution could only be one single revolution, because there is only one revolution. That is the great dialectic truth of humanity: imperialism, and, standing against it, socialism.”


Although it is entirely possible that a radical or Marxist history of Algeria exists in English, I could not find one. This article relied on a number of sources that, taken in their entirety, begin to make sense of the drama of the country featured in The Battle of Algiers. While this list is by no means authoritative, it is a reasonably decent start.

1. Henri Alleg, The Question. A good companion to this work is Gangrene, an account by five Algerian students who were tortured in France. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find outside of university libraries.

2. Edward Behr, The Algerian Problem. Despite his employment by Time Magazine in 1957, Behr is sympathetic to the Algerian cause.

3. Martin Evans, The Memory of Resistance: French Opposition to the Algerian War (1954-1962). Testimony by and commentary on French support for the FLN.

4. Franz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism. Originally published in France as L’An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne.

5. Alister Horne, A Savage War of Peace. Horne’s history of the Algerian war is over 600 pages and very well-written. However, it fails to pay proper attention to the motivations and activities of the rebellion at the grass roots level.

6. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Torture: Cancer of Democracy, France and Algeria 1954-1962.

7. The Marxists Internet Archives has a section on the war in Algeria that is very good. Go to www.marxists.org/history/algeria/ where you will find communiqués from the FLN, statements by the French CP, etc.

Louis Proyect first became active in socialist politics in 1967. Throughout most of the 80s, he was active in the Central American solidarity movement, first with CISPES and then with Tecnica, an organization that sent computer programmers and other skilled professionals to Nicaragua. The project eventually took root in southern Africa as well, where it worked with SWAPO and the ANC. More recently, he has given workshops on the Internet to community and union groups, as well as moderating a Marxist mailing list at <marxmail.org>. He also serves as a member of the advisory group to Cultural Logic. Many of his writings are available at his blog: Unrepentant Marxist.


StatCounter - Free Web Tracker and Counter counter easy hit

The Linguists

Filed under: indigenous — louisproyect @ 4:48 pm

Despite its modest production values, amounting almost to a DIY venture, “The Linguists” deals with one of the biggest threats  late capitalism presents, even though it does not specifically use the term cultural genocide. It is an impassioned defense of “dying” languages mounted by the two scientists—David Harrison and Greg Anderson—who are the stars of this documentary directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger.

It follows Harrison and Anderson around the planet as they seek out languages that appear to be on their last legs. They go to Siberia to find people who speak Chulym. In a small rural village, it appears that the only people who still speak the language are in their 80s and 90s and can barely keep up a conversation because they are nearly deaf. They are ecstatic to discover that their driver, who is in his fifties, not only speaks the language but has taken the trouble to write a basic vocabulary using the Russian alphabet. (Most dying languages are non-literary.) When an ethnic Russian finds out that he is using their alphabet, he is reprimanded. In nearly every case involving a powerful state-based nationality and smaller tribal groups, the master nation’s language is used as a battering ram to assimilate the lesser group.

They go to Arizona and meet Johnny Hill, Jr of the Chemehuevi tribe. Like their Siberian driver, he is committed to preserving their language even though the odds against transmitting it to the younger generation are daunting. He admits “I have to talk to myself. There’s nobody left to talk to, all the elders have passed on, so I talk to myself… that’s just how it is.”

Harrison and Anderson have enormous barriers to conquer as they meet each new ethnic group whose language they seek to record for posterity. They tend to live in remote areas and are suspicious of outsiders, who they tend to associate with the dominant nationality. There are also vast cultural differences. When they meet a Shaman, one of a handful of people in Bolivia who speaks the Kallawaya language, they reprimand him for showing up three hours late. He rebukes them for lacking patience. Fortunately, they are able to preserve the Kallawayan vocabulary during the time spent there.

Marxism has not always understood the need to preserve such languages, despite its avowed commitment to the underdog. In 1849 Engels wrote an article titled The Magyar Struggle that was highly dismissive of the languages of oppressed peoples, associating them with counter-revolution:

There is no country in Europe which does not have in some corner or other one or several ruined fragments of peoples, the remnant of a former population that was suppressed and held in bondage by the nation which later became the main vehicle of historical development. These relics of a nation mercilessly trampled underfoot in the course of history, as Hegel says, these residual fragments of peoples always become fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution and remain so until their complete extirpation or loss of their national character, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution.

After I began to study the connection between indigenous struggles and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism in general, I developed an analysis sharply opposed to Engels. Although the documentary does not make an explicit connection between the two, it does crop up as the two linguists visit a remote area of India in order to meet with a tribe that speaks Sora. They are worried about the presence of Naxalite guerrillas in the area who have a strong base of support there. To connect the dots, the Naxalites are defending the Sora peoples from the national chauvinism of the dominant linguistic and economic power in India.

Unfortunately, “The Linguists” is not available from Netflix but can be ordered from the official website for $30.  I also recommend a visit to the PBS website on the movie that was shown last year. It has useful information on the struggle to preserve the nearly 7000 endangered languages, whose loss would be as great as the extinction of flora and fauna. In the final analysis, the pressures of globalization, another word for world capitalism, is what makes their survival and that of the human race in general questionable.

February 10, 2010

Two guest articles on Haiti

Filed under: Haiti — louisproyect @ 9:19 pm

(The author is a long-time Haiti solidarity activist and a member of the TWU in New York.)

Humanitarian aid for Haiti — Not troops and occupation!


After a 7.0 earthquake hit the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, U.S. President Barack Obama solemnly told the Haitian people two days later, “In this hour of need you will not be forsaken.” The quake was a catastrophe that may rival the deadly tsunami of 2004. At press time, the death toll is estimated at 200,000, and the number of affected or displaced persons is perhaps as high as 3 million to 3.5 million out of Haiti’s population of nine million.

Yet, for all the media hype, U.S. aid came with big strings: a U.S./United Nations military occupation and the prospect of more U.S.-led World Bank economic misery for the masses. In short, it’s a continuation of a 200-year war by U.S. imperialism against the world’s first successful slave revolution. The intention of Washington’s so-called relief effort is not the long-term welfare of the Haitian masses but their compliance with U.S. policy at the point of a gun. In response, socialists say, “Food In, Troops Out!” “U.S./UN Troops Out of Haiti!”

As Time magazine described it, “Haiti for all intents and purposes, became a 51st state at 4:53 p.m., Tuesday, in the wake of its deadly earthquake. If not a state, then at least a ward of the state.”

Thus far, the Obama administration has pledged $100 million in aid to Haiti. That amounts to slightly over $11 per person. In comparison, the U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion on wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan; 10,000 times as much as the U.S. pledge to Haiti. U.S. banks alone gave $150 billion to its top executives last year, 1500 times larger than Obama’s pledge.

As stated by U.S. officials, the first priority in Haiti was military “security,” but against whom or what was unclear. On Jan. 17 Navy Rear Admiral Michael Rogers said, “We have seen nothing to suggest to us widespread disorder.” Marine Major Gen. Cornell Wilson, in charge of Marine operations in Haiti, refused to outline the “rules of engagement,” as bursts of gunfire were being heard around the capital.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said, “There is no logic that U.S. troops landed in Haiti. Haiti seeks humanitarian aid, not troops. It would be madness [if] we all began to send troops to Haiti.” Former Cuban President Fidel Castro said in his denunciation of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, “We send doctors, not soldiers.”

Most reports on the ground revealed not only relative calm but widespread cooperation, as ordinary Haitians met the incredible challenges of saving lives with their bare hands.

New York City solidarity activist David Wilson, who was in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake, told Socialist Action, “At first everyone seemed to be in shock, but some people got to work quickly, taking care of the injured. The aftershocks kept coming, so the neighborhood residents slept outdoors in the street, and many of the people passed the night singing hymns or listening to what sounded like an evangelical preacher.

“By the morning most people were digging out, covering the dead with sheets, looking for family members. Young men with handtools were out systematically looking for survivors in the ruins of bigger buildings like schools, often at considerable risk to themselves. It was inspiring, actually.”

Wilson reported that in the immediate aftermath of the quake, Haitian police and UN troops were “basically invisible. I left early on Jan. 17, and up until then, the few police and soldiers I saw were mostly just riding around in trucks. I guess they were supposed to be looking for looters, but I never saw anyone looting—and no one else I knew did, either.”

The rhetoric of U.S. officials, reinforced by corporate media, honed in on the so-called threat of riots and looting over supplies, without much evidence. The endlessly repeated racist image of Haitian culture as somehow responsible for the poverty in Haiti—most live on less than $2 a day—ignores reality. Haiti is undergoing its fourth U.S. occupation in the last century. The capitalist media ignores decades of U.S. support for Haiti’s dictators and the imposition of U.S.-dominated World Bank policies based on slave-labor assembly sweatshops.

The U.S. puppet regime of Haitian President Rene Preval and the U.S. surrogate forces of the United Nations were exposed as incompetent and criminally negligent, despite having experienced four deadly hurricanes in 2008. Under U.S. pressure, Preval signed an agreement relinquishing control of Haiti’s badly managed airport to the United States. Once in charge, the U.S. quickly gave landing priority to military transport. Jarry Emanuel, the air logistics officer for the World Food Program, complained, “There are 200 flights going in and out every day. … But most of those flights are for the United States military. Their priorities are to secure the country.”

Obama has ordered some 16,000 U.S. troops to Haiti with de facto control of the entire “relief” effort. The despised occupation forces of the United Nation’s Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), which had taken over for U.S. imperialism when Washington needed more troops for its slaughter in Iraq, announced it was adding 3500 troops to its 9000 total, and 1500 more cops to its 2100 international force.

As Dan Beeton writes in NACLA, a left-of-center magazine on Latin America and the Caribbean, “The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which began its mission in June 2004, has been marred by scandals of killings, rape and other violence by its troops almost since it began.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard cutters surround Haiti to intercept Haitians attempting to reach South Florida. The prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, originally scheduled by President Obama to close on Jan. 11 over human-rights abuses, was fitted with 1000 cots for Haitians captured at sea.

In a victory for immigrant-rights advocates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Jan. 15 that some 30,000 Haitians would receive Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for those in the U.S. who face deportation. TPS, which has been granted immigrants who face natural disasters at home, will give Haitians an 18-month reprieve on deportation, with the right to seek work permits. Napolitano warned Haitians that those caught seeking refuge in the U.S. after the Jan. 12 earthquake will immediately be sent back to Haiti.

“New Orleans all over again”?

And what of getting food, water and medical care to Haiti’s earthquake victims? Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush-era holdover in the Obama administration, said, “Without having any structure on the ground in terms of distribution … an airdrop is simply going to lead to riots.”

Six days after the quake, the Miami Herald reported, “Thousands of Haitians living in tent cities around the capital and awaiting medical aid outside hospitals show little sign of having received any international aid. An eight hour drive through the capital on Monday produced three sightings of water trucks but no widespread aid distribution.”

In a report filed on Jan. 21, the legal director of Doctors Without Borders, Francoise Saulnier, said a plane carrying over 12 tons of aid was turned back from Port-au-Prince airport three times that week. “Now everything has been mixed together, and the urgent and vital attention to the people have been delayed, while military logistic—which is useful, but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight—this military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagement, real mismanagement of vital issues,” said Saulnier. Their plane was diverted to the Dominican Republic, delaying the medical aid three days. In addition, teams of Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, Mexican, and French doctors and aid workers, and a delegation from the Caribbean member-nations of CARICOM were also turned back at the airport.

A searing opinion piece, authored by three surgeons at the Cornell Medical Center in New York City, appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 26, which highlighted the gun-crazy priorities of U.S. imperialism. The three assembled a medical team the day after the earthquake in cooperation with the U.S. State Department and the Boston-based Partners in Health.

“We wanted to reach the local hospitals in Haiti immediately—but were only allowed by the U.S. military controlling the local airport to land in Port au Prince Saturday night. We were among the first groups there.”

“This delay proved tragic. Upon our arrival at the Haiti Community hospital we found scores of patients with pus dripping out of open fractures and crush injuries. Some wounds were already infested with maggots. Approximately one-third of the victims were children.”

“Our operation received virtually no support from any branch of the U.S. government. … As we were leaving Haiti we were appalled to see warehouse-sized quantities of unused medicines, food and other supplies at the airport, surrounded by hundreds of U.S. and international soldiers. … For all the outcry about Katrina, our nation has fared no better in this latest disaster.”

CNN’s Karl Penhaul reported on Jan. 20 from Port-au-Prince General Hospital, where U.S. paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division had just taken up positions. Doctors there said that there was no security problem at the hospital—until troops arrived. Penhaul wondered aloud, “Will this be New Orleans all over again?”

The reporter interviewed a Haitian woman trying to visit her daughter who had been told that she couldn’t enter the hospital by a U.S. soldier. “What are you white people in here for? What are you white people coming in and occupying Haiti for?” she told the reporter.

Penhaul said he spoke with other Haitians who accepted the intervention but others who definitely did not. “They say the last thing we need right now is guys with guns; we need medicine, we need food, we need water, and fewer guys with guns.”

Already on the ground and without guns were some 400 Cuban doctors who are part of a permanent mission in Haiti. The Cubans reopened three hospitals in Port-au-Prince and set up field hospitals. Cuban-operated clinics, according to Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health and the present administrator of the General Hospital in the capital, have already served 40,000-50,000 quake victims. In addition, Cuba has trained 400 Haitian doctors at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine. The young Haitian doctors are in Haiti responding to the crisis.

The Palestinians in occupied Gaza also showed their solidarity with Haiti by collecting funds. The Gazans themselves were victims of an Israeli bombing campaign that claimed the lives of 1400 civilians in December 2008. Said Jamal Al-Khudary of the Committee to Break the Siege, “We are here today supporting the victims of Haiti. … We feel for them the most because we were exposed to our own earthquake during Israel’s war on Gaza.”

The Three amigos: Obama-Bush-Clinton

President Obama selected former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush to work jointly to coordinate relief efforts for Haiti, symbolizing the continuity of imperialist policy toward Haiti.

The bitter irony for many Haitians was George Bush’s support for a brutal CIA-backed coup in 2004, which ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide from his second presidency with the aid of paramilitary thugs, often called “Tonton Macoutes,” as the death-squad backers of the former Duvalier family dictatorships (1957-1986) are known. Aristide and the Democratic Party’s Black Congressional Caucus begged for international help, that is intervention. Bush obligingly sent in the Marines, who exiled Aristide aboard a U.S. Air Force plane.

Aristide, now living in South Africa, says he wants to return to Haiti. Previously, the U.S. has cited security concerns over the still popular president’s return.

Today, Bill Clinton is defending the criminally slow pace of the U.S. relief effort.

In the past, President Clinton intensified George Bush I racist naval blockade around Haiti, designed to seize and return Haiti’s “Black boat people” back to a CIA-backed military regime (1991-1994). Clinton’s “interdiction” policy violated U.S. and international asylum law. As a candidate, Clinton had condemned as “racist” the same policy when campaigning against George Bush I.

In 1994, in exchange for agreeing to a U.S.-led U.S./UN military occupation that would restore Aristide to the presidency, Clinton persuaded Aristide to sign the Governor’s Island Accords, which included adherence to World Bank economic reforms in Haiti, including “free-trade zones” for the slave-wage international assembly industry and “reconciliation” with CIA-backed killers behind the 1991 coup.

Said Christian, a Haitian activist living in New York City, “One of the legacies of Aristide’s capitulation to imperialist interests is the legalization of the framework of ‘humanitarian intervention.’ It set a precedent for the use of UN and other multilateral efforts in contravention of existing laws. It justified the favorite means used by the imperialists to intervene in cases of ‘failed states.’”

At the heart of the Obama administration’s military intervention is the policy of securing Haiti for what author Naomi Klein has dubbed in the title of her book, “The Shock Doctrine”—that is, exploiting a political crisis or a natural disaster by massively restructuring the economy toward pro-U.S./World Bank objectives, often by the use of military force.

A key example was New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane of 2005. About 67% of New Orleans residents were African American, 28% of whom were living in poverty. Democratic and Republican politicians worked hand in glove with powerful capitalist investors to drastically change the economic and racial composition of that mostly African-American city. Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

Following the Haiti earthquake, the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation posted on its website an entry entitled, “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.”

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance,” said the article, “the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake offers opportunities to reshape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.” This was quickly replaced by more diplomatic language, though the posting reflects the real thinking of ruling-class policy makers.

Similarly, Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., who also held the same post during the 2004 CIA-backed coup, told C-SPAN, “There is a silver lining. What was not politically possible was done by the earthquake. We will rebuild differently.”

At a large meeting of international donors and investors in Montreal after the quake, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive for talking about “decentralizing” the Haitian economy. Clinton continued, “As part of our multilateral efforts to assist Haiti, we should look at how we decentralize economic opportunity and work with the Haitian government and people to support resettlement, which they are doing on their own as people leave Port-au-Prince and return to the countryside from which most of them came.”

Referring to her husband Bill’s efforts as UN envoy to Haiti, “He had just had a conference with 500 businesspeople,” Clinton said. “They were signing contracts, they were making investments.”

* * * *

The World Bank’s role in Haiti


Beginning in the 1980s, the U.S.-led World Bank tightened its grip on Haitian economic policy. Essentially, it decided that the dysfunctional Haitian elite should encourage international investment in export-oriented assembly sweatshops. This was called a “structural adjustment program.” Haiti’s trade tariffs on foreign goods were to be removed, public utilities privatized, and all state subsidies removed—including on essential items like gasoline, subject to sharp price fluctuations that can greatly increase transportation costs for workers and street vendors.

Assembling the goods, of course, would be the super-exploited Haitian worker, considered by World Bank experts to be Haiti’s greatest asset. The ideal was to make Haiti “the Taiwan of the Caribbean.” Today, textile assembly plants produce 90% of exports.

There are about 20,000 assembly workers in Haiti. They make about 20 cents an hour, about 70 Haitian gourdes a day (40 gourdes equals around $1). A study by the Haitian government showed that a subsistence salary would be closer to 300-400g a day.

Despite heavy quake damage to assembly-plant buildings, Haitian workers in some plants have been ordered back to work. Said Laurance Merzy, 32, a worker at DKDR Haiti in Port au Prince, “The walls are still standing, but they are cracked. It is not safe in there.” The New York Times reports that the Palm Apparel T-shirt factory in Carrefour, a few miles outside of the capital and at the epicenter of the quake, collapsed, killing at least 500 people.

An essential player in maintaining the plantation system in Haiti is Obama asset Bill Clinton, who, in addition to promoting tourism and sweatshops in Haiti, successfully campaigned for passage of the Hope I and Hope II trade bills. Hope I and II require yearly certification that Caribbean countries are complying with guidelines that mirror World Bank policies—that is, super-low wages that attract foreign investors.

Last summer, a struggle erupted for passage of a minimum-wage increase from 70g to 400g a day. Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets in August, but a massive deployment of UN troops blocked their entry to the assembly sector. In the end, Preval bowed to pressure from Bill Clinton to increase the minimum daily wage to 125g ($3) in 2009, which would rise to 200g ($5) in 2012. Assembly workers are exempt from the new wage levels and will only receive the 200 gourdes in 2012.

In reality, the initial 125 gourdes is worth less than half of the minimum wage that existed in 1980 under the U.S.-backed dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Annual inflation in Haiti over the last decade was about 12-14%, although accurate figures are hard to come by.

Another key goal of the World Bank plan was to redirect food production away from satisfying the nutritional needs of Haitians to producing food for the export market.  A 1982 document of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal “aid” agency often linked to the CIA, proposed the “gradual but systematic removal” of domestic crops from 30% of all tilled land, whose products can then be exported.

The result was the massive migration of Haitian rural farmers and workers from the countryside, where most Haitians live, to already over-crowded urban centers like Port-au-Prince, where unemployment stood at 70-80% before the earthquake.

Rice, a staple of the Haitian diet, used to be produced in quantities that would satisfy domestic needs. However, World Bank economic policy meant dropping tariffs on imported goods. Within a few years, cheaper “Miami rice” flooded the Haitian market, resulting in the destruction of domestic rice farming.

In 2008, after a 45% jump in the price of Miami rice in two years, there were “food riots,” as thousands poured into the streets in the capital shouting, “We’re hungry. Feed us!” Some described their hunger pains as “swallowing Clorox.” UN troops killed about a dozen protesters throughout Haiti. The practice of eating mud laced with sugar is not uncommon in Haiti.

Keeping Haiti politically dependent on the World Bank and Western capital are loans from the World Bank and imperialist governments that come with political strings attached, as do the “structural adjustment” programs. Today, over 50% of the almost $1 billion Haitian budget originates from so-called foreign aid.

Foreign debt had multiplied 17.5 times between 1957 and 1986, the years of the Duvalier family dictatorship. In 2001, the yearly debt servicing alone was $321 million.

However, last June the WB, IMF, and Paris Club reduced the current debt by $1.2 billion out of $1.4 billion to make payments “bearable” as part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC), after years of delay. New loans will increase the debt again unless a genuine debt cancellation is enacted. In order to qualify for HIPC, however, Haiti had to be certified by imperialist institutions as being in compliance with World Bank/IMF policies of “structural adjustment,” the privatization of public utilities, the elimination of tariffs on foreign goods, and the elimination of all price subsidies, etc.

A government study of the public phone company found that its annual revenues amounted to approximately $600 million, but as a result of privatization, this amount was lost to the Haitian people for schools, roads, and medical care—as well as debt repayment.

Although in the wake of the crisis there has been an international call to cancel Haiti’s debt, much of it having originated with dictatorships, Haiti is still on the hook for about $764 million to U.S.-dominated lending institutions, which constitute about 80% of all Haitian debt.

Activists in the Jubilee USA network and author Naomi Klein launched a campaign that pressured the World Bank’s International Monetary Fund into restructuring a recent $100 million loan into a no-interest loan, with the possibility that the IMF might decide that it does not have to be repaid at all.

What is needed is a powerful workers’ movement in Haiti that will challenge the entire system of vulture capitalism and imperialism and reconstruct Haiti under the democratic control of Haiti’s working masses. It would enforce the cancellation of all foreign debts. That would require building a revolutionary party and working for a socialist revolution in Haiti, and building a powerful solidarity movement in the U.S.

As the early 20th-century revolutionary leader Rosa Luxemburg put it, the choice faced by humanity is a choice between “socialism and barbarism.”

Remembering Laura Kronenberg

Filed under: aging,Friends — louisproyect @ 4:39 pm

Laura Kronenberg

Yesterday I received word that one of my oldest and dearest friends died. Although we had a parting of the ways around 12 years ago, she still meant a lot to me. From what I can glean from people who have stayed in touch with her, she had lost the will to live. A couple of days ago she took a nasty fall that resulted in a head injury. Despite its seriousness, she refused to go to a hospital. Her ex-husband had phoned her Brooklyn apartment repeatedly only to get no answer. He then he asked a neighbor to check in on her, who discovered that she had passed away.

Laura was a year or so older than me and grew up in the same little village in the Catskill Mountains. I became friends with her when taking a seniors English class in 1960 in order to get the extra credit I needed to graduate a year early. My mother had grown increasingly alarmed about my alienation from the high school scene and decided to send me off to Bard College as a 16 year old freshman. Although Laura was not as much of a misfit as me, she had begun to develop an interest in the bohemian/beat culture that we had learned about from reading Time Magazine. She appreciated my take on the poetry we discussed in class, from Dylan Thomas to T.S. Eliot, and soon adopted me as a kindred spirit.

Given my general hostility and ill manners, it was no surprise that her Republican golf-playing parents looked askance at me. Her mother, who was a regular customer at my father’s fruit store, once told Laura that I had an “amorphous” personality. We both had a big laugh over that. I may have been cold and obnoxious but there was nothing “amorphous” about me. At the age of 16 I had already developed the jagged, sharp-edged personality that has helped define me on and off the Internet, for better or for worse.

In 1961 we went off to college. Laura went to Boston University to study art and I went to Bard College. These places served as a kind of bohemian finishing school where the two of us got up to speed on all the cultural icons of the age, from Williams S. Burroughs to Lenny Bruce. It was also when both of us began to smoke pot, which at the time was almost as transgressive as drinking absinthe.

In the summer of 1961, when her parents were off vacationing somewhere, I dropped by her house to smoke some weed. We got totally blasted and took a tour of the house, including a look her father’s tie collection which both of us found totally hilarious. Later that night—still totally blasted—I turned on the TV in the basement apartment at my parent’s house that I had turned into a “beatnik pad” and watched Ella Fitzgerald scat-singing “How High the Moon” on the Ed Sullivan show. That evening was one of the first in my life when I felt truly happy.

Not long after I graduated Bard, I got involved in Trotskyist politics and pretty much turned my back on the bohemian scene even though I had absorbed enough of it to prevent me from becoming thoroughly assimilated into the SWP. Thank goodness for William S. Burroughs. Laura had married a sculptor named Tony Long and the two of them lived in a loft on the Bowery which I used to visit from time to time. She had a job at Grove Press, one of the hippest publishing houses in the U.S. that had challenged obscenity laws involving “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”, “Tropic of Cancer” et al. One of the senior editors was Harry Braverman who co-edited American Socialist in the 1950s, a magazine that I strongly identify with.

Laura had begun to spend her evenings at Max’s Kansas City in New York, a “happening” scene where Andy Warhol and his entourage held court. She gravitated immediately toward this milieu and developed a friendship with Viva, who appeared in his movies. Years later, in tow with Laura, I met Viva at the Chelsea Hotel in New York and found her pleasant enough. But I didn’t understand her mystique.

The scene at Max’s Kansas City testified to the breadth of the cultural and political revolution going on at the time. For those too young to remember the sixties, it is easy to reduce it to the radical movement and the hippies. But there was another undercurrent that Max’s and the Chelsea Hotel symbolized. It was the world of Patti Smith, the Warhol groupies, the downtown art scene and hard drugs, all of which had not that much to do with the “groovy” vibe of Woodstock and Vermont communes.

In 1970 I went up to Boston in order to get involved in a faction fight developing in the SWP and lost touch with Laura who would soon break up with Tony and marry Frank Cavestani, a Broadway actor who had just completed his service as an artilleryman in Vietnam. Frank and Laura shared an enthusiasm for making videos, using equipment that had become affordable by the early 1970s.

Frank had returned from Vietnam as an opponent of the war and sought Laura’s help in making a groundbreaking documentary on the protests at the 1972 Miami Republican Party convention titled “Operation Last Patrol” that I reviewed here. The movie featured Ron Kovic, whose autobiography “Born on the Fourth of July” was made into a movie by Oliver Stone, who hired Frank to supervise the protest scenes. Frank also had a small part wheeling around Tom Cruise during the movie’s reenactment of the Miami protests.

Excerpt from “Operation Last Patrol”

If Laura had one foot in the downtown, Warholian scene, she had another in the left even it had little to do with the kind of organized Leninist business I was involved with. She made a short video about Abby Hoffman making gefilte fish that is priceless.

Excerpt from “Abby Hoffman makes gefilte fish”

In the mid-80s, long after I had washed my hands of American Trotskyism, I attended a high school reunion in my home town. Laura showed up, much to my delight. I learned that she had a new husband (Frank) and had moved out to Los Angeles with him, where they were in the screenwriting business. She seemed totally happy with her life. For old time’s sake, we smoked a joint out on the terrace of the house where the reunion was being held and where we were joined by a former math teacher that students lived in fear of. The influence of the 1960s counter-culture was powerful enough to have mellowed out even him.

A couple of years later I made the first in a series of trips out to the West Coast to meet with Peter Camejo who had been booted out of the SWP and who was trying to launch a new non-sectarian network called North Star. At the same time I met with Michael Urmann, the executive director of Tecnica, the solidarity group working in Nicaragua whose East Coast recruitment efforts I was directing.

The trips included a visit to Frank and Laura’s place on Mulholland Drive, the famous neighborhood in Hollywood Hills that featured houses on stilts overlooking the canyons just like the one that Mel Gibson tore down in “Lethal Weapon 2”. Theirs, however, rested firmly on a small lot.

I looked forward to my stays with Frank and Laura, even if I realize now that it was very possibly an imposition on them. After having guests from Turkey staying at our apartment in New York, I understand now what a job it is to have company for more than a day or two. But I would have rather spent a week with them than any tourist hotel in the world for they were perfectly hospitable and great fun to spend time with. I remember spending hours on end chatting about politics with Frank who felt that the intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua was a repeat of the Vietnam War.

Laura had come into her own as a hostess for the Hollywood hipster/left community and threw memorable parties when I was there. Although the guests never included superstars like Mel Gibson (who would want that creep anyhow), they were much more interesting. I remember a conversation with director Michael Elias vividly. Elias, who had grown up in the next town from Laura’s and mine, was best known for silly comedies like “Young Doctors in Love”. Our conversation, however, revolved around American society and politics. Like Frank, he was unhappy with the Reagan presidency.

Laura never quite agreed with my socialist views and had particular problems with my anti-Zionism. She used to badger me about the need to be effective, which for her meant getting coverage in Time Magazine. Looking back in retrospect, I guess that her friendship with Abby Hoffman involved more than gefilte fish. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, there was nothing that I could have ever said or done to warrant attention from Time Magazine.

Although physically petite, there was nothing petite about Laura’s personality. She was brassy enough to take me on in political debate—something that takes a lot of guts from man or woman. She was also hard-laughing, hard-drinking, hard-eating and not above using recreational drugs of one sort or another. Most of all, she loved to party and lived as if each day was her last on earth.

Frank and Laura split up in the early 90s, as far as I can remember, and she returned to New York where she lived off an inheritance from her father. We began spending time together and I tried—not too successfully—to join her in late-night jaunts to places that were as “happening” as Max’s Kansas City once was. One night I went with her to a disco called Nell’s on 14th street and was shocked to see it filled with people dancing at 3am on a weekday night. Earlier in the evening we had visited Laura’s friend, a photographer who was famous for her portraits of John Belushi and who shared Laura’s (and Belushi’s) appetite for hard drugs.

As much as she enjoyed partying and the night life, Laura was unhappy being single. Now that she was over fifty, it was harder to find Mr. Right. One night in the mid-90s she met a painter half her age at a disco and the two of them hooked up immediately. After he moved in with her our friendship came to an end since he insisted that she could not spend time with me alone and I couldn’t stand his company.

Unlike her earlier marriages, this artist did not do much for her culturally or psychologically. I have only learned after her death that the two descended into a long journey into drugs and alcohol that left her in a state of despair. After he left their apartment a couple of months ago, she fell into a deep depression that eventually led to her untimely death. Laura was one of the most remarkable women I ever knew. I only regret that I lost contact with her nearly 15 years ago, if only to have provided some moral support in difficult times.

Ultimately, her fate was not that much different from many rebellious figures from my youth who have had lots of trouble adjusting to middle age and onwards. As we move into the autumn and now winter of our lives, it takes a lot more than booze and drugs to give you a lift. I only wish that Laura had found something more to keep her going in the past 10 years or so since she had so much to offer the world, and consequently herself.


I just received a couple of photos of Frank and Laura Cavestani from their old friend Fred Baker with this note:

I found and thought I’d share these photos of Laura and Frankie in Miami Beach during the Vietnam Vets VS The War & Anti-Re-Elect Nixon actions at The Republican National Convention of 1972.  They are relaxing with us near my mom and dads place in South Beach–Frank sporting an injured right eye and socket gotten the day before from the Miami Storm Troopers who pushed his camera into his face.
Laura looks fiesty enough herself…caught her in a moment w/her eyes shut unfortunately..but she does look great anyway.

February 9, 2010

Howard Zinn and the myth of the “People’s War”

Filed under: antiwar,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 6:47 pm

Despite serving as a bombardier, or perhaps because of it, Zinn opposed the idea that WWII was a “People’s War”

In the days following Howard Zinn’s passing, there was some discussion on the Marxism list trying to put him into an ideological context. One subscriber wrote:

I don’t want to start a … flame war over the dubious merits of “A People’s History.” Howard Zinn had an enormously influential career and is beloved by the American left. His “Voices of a People’s History” is of great merit as a collection of source material which will enrich the study of American history. He was, in many ways, the Charles Beard of this era which is fitting considering how of his work replicates Beard’s approach.

This led another subscriber, a professional historian, to respond:

Classing Zinn as a “Beardsian” seems not to understand these central differences related to race. This isn’t some triviality like misunderstanding Whig foreign policy. There is the racial conquest of the continent foundational to the civilization, and the entire racial enslavement of Africans. Related, too, are the issues of Jeffersonian, sectionalism and the agrarian particularism for which Beard had great affinities and Zinn regarded with due skepticism.  In this regard, the “Marxist” writers of the 1930s and 1940s were far more “Beardsian” than Zinn. Indeed, these are some of the central issues that distinguished the body of New Left scholarship from the old line dogmas of those writers connected with the CP.

This discussion led me to thinking about Zinn’s approach to WWII in chapter sixteen of “People’s History of the United States”, titled appropriately enough “A People’s War?” (The entire book can be read online here.) Written in 1980, the book adopts a “revisionist” perspective that was associated with a number of younger New Left historians such as Gar Alperovitz whose 1965 book “Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam” revealed U.S. war aims as setting the stage for the Cold War.

Along with many other “revisionists”, Alperovitz studied history at the University of Wisconsin under William Appleman Williams who was a seminal figure of the New Left. Williams was born in 1920 and could be seen as a contemporary of Zinn. His 1959 “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy” was a highly influential work, arguing that the U.S. had imperial ambitions from the days of Thomas Jefferson.

Charles Beard is widely recognized as having an influence on Williams and those who followed in his footsteps. Best described as an “economic determinist”, Beard is known for a kind of class analysis of the American constitution. But he is most controversial for his refusal to toe the line on WWII. As a member in good standing of the Progressivist current in American politics, he was immune to the pressures that allowed CP historians to get on FDR’s bandwagon.

While Beard might not have deployed the analytical tools of “The 18th Brumaire” in his writings on WWII, he was much more in line with Marxist principles in refusing to treat WWII as a “people’s war”. Unlike the “revisionists”, the Stalinist Daily Worker celebrated the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 8th, 1945, the paper’s military analyst wrote “We are lucky to have found The Thing and are able to speed the war against the Japanese before the enemy can devise countermeasures. Thank god for that.” He added: “So let us not greet our atomic device with a shudder, but with the elation and admiration which the genius of man deserves.”

The Stalinist fools had little inkling that Truman only bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to “teach the Russians a lesson” as Gar Alperovitz reported.

The term “New Left” was largely coined in order to distinguish the 1960s radicals from the political dry rot that the Communist Party had bequeathed. To some extent, it was also a rejection of the dogmatism of all Marxist groups but whatever the movement lacked theoretically it made up for politically by breaking with the social patriotism of the CP.

It was to Howard Zinn’s everlasting credit that he identified with this outlook, even though he never attacked the CP specifically for its WWII treachery. To generations of young people, he demonstrated that WWII was an imperialist war even if it coincided with anti-imperialist struggles and the necessary defense of the USSR. For the veterans of the New Left who had absorbed his analysis, they were in a much stronger position to resist new efforts to “fight fascism”, especially in Yugoslavia and Iraq—two arenas that people like Christopher Hitchens have specifically likened to the efforts to defeat Hitlerism.

Although I had been thoroughly inoculated against the “People’s War” garbage during my training in Trotskyist politics, I found Zinn’s chapter on WWII essential in writing an article on Zimmerwald and Imperialist “Humanitarian” Interventions in 1992 prompted by a British Stalinist’s support for NATO intervention on the original Marxism mailing list. Parenthetically, I should mention that Britain did not appear to have the kind of political cleansing that the New Left historians carried out here. Lacking the equivalent of a Gar Alperovitz or a Howard Zinn, they seem far more susceptible to the sort of “People’s War” malarkey that typifies the Socialist Unity blog that in the interest of transparency should probably be renamed Stalinist Unity.

Here are excerpts from that article that rely heavily on Beard and Zinn:

Washington’s anti-fascism was the result of a recent “conversion”. American businesses sent oil to Italy in huge quantities after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Mussolini used the oil to keep the war against the African colony. When the fascists rose up in Spain in 1936, Roosevelt declared his neutrality while the fascist powers gave complete aid to the Francoists. This ensured the victory of fascism in Spain.

What brought the United States into the war was not a determination to rid the world of fascism, but a response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was only when Japan threatened US economic interests in the Pacific that Washington entered the war. There is a transcript of statement made to the War Cabinet by Henry Stimson in November, 1941 that confirms this interpretation. Charles Beard cites it in his “President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War 1941.”

One problem troubled us very much. If you know that your enemy is going to strike you, it is not usually wise to wait until he gets the jump on you by taking the initiative. In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the ones to do this so there should remain no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who were the aggressors. We discussed at this meeting the basis on which this country’s position could be most clearly explained to our own people and to the world, in case we had to go into the fight quickly because of some sudden move on the part of the Japanese. We discussed the possibility of a statement summarizing all the steps of aggression that the Japanese had already taken, the encirclement of our interests in the Philippines which was resulting and the threat to our vital supplies of rubber from Malay. I reminded the president that on Aug. 19 [1941] he had warned the Japanese Ambassador that if the steps which the Japanese were then taking continued across the border into Thailand, he would regard it as a matter affecting our safety, and suggested that he might point out that the moves the Japanese were now apparently on the point of making would be in fact a violation of a warning that had already been given.

Beard belonged to the earlier Progressive school of history and politics. Other members were John Dewey the philosopher and cultural historian Vernon Parrington. The Progressives predated the intellectual milieu of both the CP and the New Deal–granted they are somewhat identical–and were much less likely to believe WWII war propaganda. These were people of Eugene V. Debs’ generation and likely to take the “people’s war” rhetoric with a grain of salt.

Beard was a scholar of tremendous integrity, but his outspoken opposition to World War Two caused him to become a rather isolated figure in the world of cold-war liberalism. Younger liberal historians considered him an odd duck and perhaps a little disturbed. Thomas Kennedy, in his “Charles A. Beard and American Foreign Policy”, entertained critical speculations that Beard was surely deaf and possibly senile when he went on the attack against WWII. He cites a critic who views Beard’s attacks on Roosevelt as “superstitions that occupied Beard in his senility.”

Of course, Beard was completely sane and clear-headed. It was the muddle-headed New Deal liberals and their CP chums who had lost control of their sanity. A new generation of “revisionist” historians came along in the 1960’s and put their support behind Beard’s interpretation.

Did the United States intervention as an ally of the USSR against the Nazis prove that it was fighting a “people’s war” as opposed to a war based on the need for power and profit? One can question the purity of the motives in the war with Japan, but how can anybody gainsay the crusade for democracy in Europe?

To begin with, Washington showed no intention of extending democracy to the colonies of its European allies. Diplomat Sumner Welles assured the French that they could hold on to their colonies. He said, “This Government, mindful of its traditional friendship for France, has deeply sympathized with the desire of the French people to maintain their territories and preserve them intact.”

Lurking beneath the surface of altruistic government propaganda of the sort uttered by Henry Wallace was the occasional honest assessment. Secretary of State Cordell Hull said “Leadership toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership, and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of national self- interest.” The poet Archibald MacLeish, at that time an Assistant Secretary of State, predicted the outcome of an allied victory. He declared, “As things are now going, the peace we will make, the peace we seem to be making, will be a peace of oil, a peace of gold, a peace of shipping, a peace, in brief…without moral purpose or human interest.”

Did WWII rescue European Jewry to some extent? Supporters of imperialist intervention in Bosnia tend to make analogies with this presumed mission of WWII, but Roosevelt had no interest in saving the lives of Jews. I need not go over this sad tale in detail. You should read “While 6 Million Died”, by NY Times reporter Arthur D. Morse, which details the indifference at best, and anti-Semitic hatred at worst, that existed in the US State Department. The President refused to take decisive action against the Nazis and caused the deaths of many thousands of Jews.

Despite the no-strike pledge of Communist Party, the class-struggle continued at home with mounting fury. During the war, there were 14,000 strikes, involving 6,770,00 workers, more than in any period in American history. A million miners, steelworkers, auto and transportation workers went on strike in 1944. In Lowell, Massachusetts, there were as many strikes in 1943 and 1944 as there were in 1937. It was a “people’s war” in the eyes of CPers and their liberal allies. Despite this, textile workers there resented the fact that the bosses’ profits grew by 600% during the war while their wages only went up by 36%.

(I gathered much of the information above from chapter 16, “A People’s War?”, in Howard Zinn’s indispensable “People’s History of the United State 1942-Present”. A new edition of this classic has just appeared and I urge people to make time for careful study of this work. Howard Zinn was a bombardier on a B17 and flew in many missions during WWII. His disgust with allied bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima turned him into a pacifist.)

February 8, 2010


Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 11:13 pm
« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.