Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 19, 2010

Tony Hayward: we were too idealistic

Filed under: capitalist pig,Ecology — louisproyect @ 12:24 pm

June 18, 2010

A Grin without a Cat

Filed under: socialism,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

Speaking as an unrepentant Marxist, I don’t think I have ever seen a movie that has spoken more directly to my concerns than Chris Marker’s 1978 The Grin without a Cat, now available on Netflix. Another Marker film also spoke to these concerns as might be indicated by its title The Last Bolshevik, a study of Soviet film-maker Alexander Medvedkin who lived from 1900 to 1989. Like me, and like Marker, Medvedkin remained a revolutionary socialist till the very end—unrepentant, so to speak.

Marker was born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, a suburb of Paris in 1921. A life-long leftist, he fought in the French resistance during World War II. His movies have frequently been sympathetic treatments of socialist countries, including the 1961 Cuba Si!

The aforementioned grin is a reference made in part one of Marker’s 180 minute documentary to the disjunction between the masses and their self-selected vanguard, the guerrilla movements in Latin America in the 1960s. At first, the narrator refers to them as a “spear point without a spear” and then follows up with “a grin without a cat”, a reference to Lewis Carrol’s Cheshire Cat. Marker’s other passion, it should be mentioned, besides Marxism is the cat. From the wiki on Marker:

Chris Marker lives in Paris and does not grant interviews. When asked for a picture of himself, he usually offers a photograph of a cat instead. (Marker was represented in Agnes Varda’s 2008 documentary “The Beaches of Agnes” by a cartoon drawing of a cat, speaking in a technologically altered voice.) Marker’s own cat is named Guillaume-en-egypte.

Despite his commitment to revolutionary politics, Marker is careful not to editorialize in his movie. Instead he presents his interviews and carefully chosen stock footage (including some amazing shots of Czech partisans fighting against the Nazi occupiers at the end of WWII) in the form of a dialectic between the full-throated radicalism of the 1960s and the old left style Stalinism and social democracy that remained hegemonic in this period. It should be emphasized that the word Stalinism appears throughout the movie, as well as pointed references to its treacherous role in keeping the mass movement bottled up in bourgeois politics.

There are some eye-opening moments with a youthful Fidel Castro, who is the documentary’s main character in some respect, calling attention to the CP’s refusal to back the armed struggle. One Communist departed from the “peaceful road” strategy and formed a guerrilla foco in Venezuela. Today, Douglas Bravo, this 78 year old former Communist, now attacks Hugo Chavez from a rightist perspective cloaked in left rhetoric. Filmed in the jungle, a youthful Douglas Bravo appears discouraged, mostly out of a failure to connect with the masses in terms of the grin without a cat. Apparently, he has been consistent in marching out of step with the masses, even now.

The movie also takes a hard look at Che Guevara’s failure in Bolivia, providing a kind of ex post facto autopsy through the words of two key participants. One is a gloating Major Robert “Pappy” Shelton who is seen in his Pentagon offices telling Marker that Che’s big mistake was relying on the Communist Party.

This is a lead-in to the next interviewee: a truly unctuous Mario Monje Molina who was the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Bolivia and a saboteur of the guerrilla movement. There is also a fascinating interview with Regis Debray, who was arrested in Bolivia for being part of Che’s network. Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution was a kind of handbook for rural guerrilla warfare that sadly reflected the orientation of Che himself. Indeed, it was the combination of this misguided strategy and the treachery of the Bolivian CP that dashed the hopes of a generation anxious to see “Two, Three, Many Vietnams”.

With the collapse of the guerrilla movement, attention shifted to Chile where Salvador Allende’s popular front was now seen as the new opportunity for socialism to prevail. In a fascinating interview with Allende, we hear him explaining the superiority of the Chilean project in comparison to rural guerrilla warfare experiments. Unlike the substitutionist guerrilla movement, the working class of Chile was struggling to emancipate itself in accord with Marxist theory.

Moments later, we see Allende speaking to a group of grumbling working class representatives about the need to impose a wage freeze. He cajoles them: Without a wage freeze, Chile would suffer inflation. He adds that the only way to win a pay hike was to improve productivity, an analysis in keeping, of course, with what you might hear from Allende’s bourgeois enemies. Not surprisingly, this indifference to working class demands would lead to his toppling.

There is much more that I could recapitulate from this spectacularly political movie, but would only urge you to rent it from Netflix as soon as you can. There is nothing like it. Also of interest from this package put together by the Icarus Film Distribution company is a 15 page essay by Chris Marker that exhibits a kind of mastery of Marxist politics that made this brilliant film possible. Even if you for some unfathomable reason decide not to get your hands on this masterpiece, I do urge you to read the essay here. This is a telling excerpt:

In May anyway the final whistle came quickly: with the first casualty. Not too serious for revolutionaries, but it’s a fact, the murder of Pierre Overney by a Renault watchman would bring everyone back to the real value of lives, things and words. On the workers’ front, the great wave finally met its dikes, a phenomenon summarised by former minister Edgar Pisani in one sentence, ‘a terrible connivance between the conservative apparatus of the CGT (the communist-led union) and the conservative apparatus of the government’. And a great disorder fell on everyone’s mind.

Strangely, the small clannish fights used to draw a kind of overdetermination from the fact they had developed in this fuzzy space of the imaginary revolution. Left to their own devices amidst a reassured country, they became weakly and purposeless. Historical Anarchy had died – heroically – in Spain. To refer to it now made no more sense than being a royalist, unless it became an ideological business, quite profitable at that. The Communist Party had missed every helping hand offered by History and started the long spin of a motorless airplane. French Maoism would remain a landmark in the history of teratology. The foolishness of morons is a plague, but statistically speaking we have to put up with it. What is fascinating is the foolishness of clever people and in this particular case, some of the cleverest.

Elsewhere, things were more violent, more difficult than in France, but the curve was the same. For having gleaned a few traces of these luminous and murky years, I tinkered with these films. They don’t claim to be any more than that: traces. Even the most megalomaniac, A Grin Without a Cat (originally four hours long, wisely reduced to three but without modifying the content, just shortening it, with a short monologue at the end), is in no way the chronicle of a decade. Its inevitable gaps would become unjustifiable. It revolves around a precise theme: what happens when a party, the CP, and a great power, the USSR, cease to embody the revolutionary hope, what looms up in their place and how the showdown is staged. The irony is that thirty years later, the question is irrelevant. Both have ceased to exist and the only chronicle is that of the unending rehearsal of a play which has never premiered.

June 17, 2010

How a young Nicaraguan changed my life

Filed under: nicaragua,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Back in the early 1980s, when I had my first face-to-face with Peter Camejo about his new ideas for building a revolutionary movement, I asked where he got them since they were so different from anything I had ever heard. He smiled and said, “I stole them from the Nicaraguans”.

Of course, he was just making a joke of the sort that I and so many others had enjoyed over the years. But beneath the joke there was a serious message that I got a much better understanding of over the years. He was trying to say that the Marxism of Carlos Fonseca and other Latin American rebels who had been influenced by the Cuban revolution, Mariategui and other currents indigenous to Latin America had replaced the kind of doctrinaire Trotskyism he had believed in for decades.

I have now discovered that while my interpretation of Camejo’s quip was true, on another level he was being literal. He did in effect steal (or appropriate) the political approach of a Nicaraguan but ironically it was not one of the top Sandinista leaders, but a young rank-and-filer. My experience in Nicaragua in the late 1980s was almost identical. I was always astonished by the high level of comprehension of ordinary men and women in the barrios who knew more about US politics than 99 percent of the people living there.

Reading the chapter in Peter’s memoir “North Star” finally revealed to me the source of his confession about “stealing from the Nicaraguans”. As anybody who has been reading my commentary online over the years, it will be obvious that I stole my ideas from Peter who stole them in turn from a Nicaraguan.

* * * *

From “North Star: a Memoir”

Sometimes even a small event in life can bring about much greater understanding. I had such an experience in Nicaragua, one that started a change in my life.

The FSLN gathered people together for block meetings by setting a tire on fire as a way to let everyone on the block know that a meeting was about to happen. One day I came across such a meeting by accident. I can’t remember who was with me but we decided to stay. A young man, probably no more than twenty-four, stood on a box and began speaking to the whole neighborhood that had come out to listen.

As he spoke it dawned on me. The way he communicated, the message he gave, was what I had always tried to say; but he used only clear, understandable words and his message built on the living history of Nicaragua and the consciousness of the workers and their families who were listening.

He explained how Nicaragua belongs to its own people. How rich foreigners had come and taken their country from them but that they were the people who worked and created the wealth of their nation. They had the right to run it and to decide what should be done. He spoke about the homeless children in the streets and how under the U.S.-backed dictatorship nothing was done for them. He described in detail how the FSLN was trying to solve each problem. That it would take time. That Nicaragua was still in danger of foreign intervention. To never forget those who gave their lives so that Nicaragua could be a free nation. At each mention of the departed, the crowd shouted, “Presente,” to affirm that the missing ones were still with them, here. At every meeting of the Sandinistas, regardless where it was held, someone would read off the names of people from that block, school, or union who had given their lives for freedom. Everyone at the meeting would shout “Presente.”

My mind began to race. Of course this young man was not going to use terms that would lead to confusion; he would place these issues in the culture, history, and language of his people. It dawned on me—that is why this movement had won. They didn’t name their newspaper after some term from European history; they didn’t speak of “socialism” or “Marxism.” While the rest of the left of the 1960s and ’70s was in decline throughout Latin America, caught up in the rhetoric of European Marxism and the influence of Stalinism, the FSLN had delivered a great victory for freedom.

I thought about the United States—the great traditions of our struggles for justice, our symbols, our language—and how disconnected the left was from that reality. I am not sure if it was on that night or another that I had the concrete thought, “We need a paper called the North Star” the greatest symbol of our nation’s struggle for freedom. I remember keeping these thoughts to myself. I didn’t talk to Fred about it. Possibly I told Gloria, I can’t remember. But etched in my memory forever is that block meeting with the fire in the middle of street and some unknown youth changing my life.

June 15, 2010

Monster Movie Bash

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

Ever since the 1950s at least, science fiction and horror movies have served to make some social or political point either tilting to the left (The Day the Earth Stood Still) or right (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). That tendency continues unabated as three recent movies have provided commentary on contemporary society while scaring the bejesus out of you or at least striving to do so. In order of success, I refer you to the following.

Splice refers to gene-splicing and particularly the attempt of two molecular biologists to create new life forms based on a motley collection of animals, drawing from the strengths of each. Their initial specimen looks a bit like an oversized slug. The hope is that the new species will be mined for genetic material that can fight diseases such as Parkinson’s, etc.

The two biologists are a husband and wife team played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. The casting of Brody, an actor known for a-list productions like The Jacket and The Pianist , might indicate that this is no run of the mill monster movie. Brody and Polley are Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, who come across as the sort of people who live in Tribeca rather than suburban tract housing. As expressions of their hipness, Clive is seen at one point in a plaid suit that you can spot in a Madison Avenue boutique if you ever wander along that outpost of conspicuous consumption. On their bedroom wall there is an oversized oil painting based on Japanese manga (comic book) art. On the evening after they have made their gene-splicing breakthrough for a powerful bioengineering firm, they sit around trying to decide how big an apartment they can now afford. When they get their comeuppance, as will be inevitable from their scientific hubris, you can’t suppress a feeling that they had it coming.

Elsa is even more ambitious than her husband, not only in terms of commodity fetishism but in pushing the envelope in gene-splicing. She says that the ultimate product will not be based solely on animals but on a combination of human and animal. This will be a better guarantee of curing diseases, as well of course of securing fame and fortune.

The result of their latest experiment looks more or less like an even larger slug on legs. It turns out that this is a human embryo that is growing outside a mother’s womb. As it progresses rapidly to maturity, the end result is something that looks a lot like Mariel Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Manhattan except with a serpent like tail and ostrich like legs and an inability to speak. She has the intelligence of a human being, however, as well as the sex drive.

Previews might have led you to believe that Splice had something in common with Species, another monster movie that did scare the bejesus out of you even if it lacked the sophistication and kinky intelligence of Splice. The true inspiration for Splice is not the run-of-the-mill monster flick but the poignant 1935 Bride of Frankenstein which has the monster demanding of his maker that he find him a mate since he can no longer stand being lonely. When the husband and wife created their version of Frankenstein, they did not anticipate that her hormones would be raging not three weeks after they created her. The complications that this would lead to, however, have nothing in common with the average teen romance. This is instead hormones from hell.

While one might not expect a mainstream movie like this to examine the contradictions of genetic splicing in the fashion it deserves, one might hope that it might inspire others to penetrate to the heart of the matter in the way that my old friend Mark Jones once did:

A genetic engineer has created a mouse with ears that glow in the dark, by splicing firefly genes into mouse DNA.

More practically, transgenic pigs that freeze to death if left in the open because the human genes they’ve got don’t let them accumulate fat, already make our bacon. Coming soon: bespoke pig heart transplants in case the fat-free pig didn’t help us avoid coronaries. I have been reading up on genes and transgenic science, and how the media handle it all. The stories and images arrive by stealth in our unconcscious from inside the labs where evolution is being undone. They ought to make your hair stand on end (when the journal Nature broke the story of Dolly the cloned sheep — ‘More important than Darwin, Einstein and Copernicus together!’ — its graphic designers airbrushed one leg black, to make the thing look more cuddly. They forgot a cloned sheep whose ‘parent’ has four white legs can itself only have four white legs).

These images of biotech at work are mostly like that: not stark tekno, but homely flesh-tones: a bowl of rice, an ear of wheat, cheerful rodents made literally anthropomorphic, like the mouse with a human ear growing on its back. Oh, cute!

These images condition us to accept something more terrible than anything Himmler, Pol Pot or Mengele did. None of them managed to rob their victims of their humanity. We can feel pity and terror for the hollow-eyed, numbered prisoners of Tuol Sleng, but a mouse with luminous ears? You cannot pity the loss of something that was never there in the first place. This not a living thing, it is quasi-alive, it is just an agglomeration of high-spec cells which happens to move around and stare vacantly. Now, just as the first slaves were modeled on the first domesticated animals (hunter-gatherers do not enslave) so the first not-human humans, or bits of humans, will be modelled on the mice with the ears. Headless humans grown from our own nail parings for our own transplants. Androids like in Dick’s 60’s classic, the basis of Blade Runner.

Daybreakers is a vampire movie with a difference. In the distant future, the vampires have taken over the world and are harvesting the remaining human beings for blood who are attached to various tubes that provide just enough nourishment to keep them alive. It is a metaphor, of course, for industrial meat production and a barbed commentary on how ghastly the capitalist mode of food production is.

In the same way that bluefin tuna is becoming extinct today, human beings are dwindling down to a few so much so that blood is rationed to the vampires who often are forced to accept an animal substitute that leaves them unsatisfied. It is the difference, one supposes, between soyburgers and the real thing especially if you prefer your burger drippingly rare.

Ethan Hawke stars as Edward Dalton, a researcher like the yuppie couple in Spice whose job it is develop blood substitutes for the bioengineering mega-corporation he works for. Like everybody else in the company, including the villainous president Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), Dalton is a vampire. And like any other employee working in a large corporation, he doesn’t like his job very much and won’t drink human blood on principle. In fact becoming a vampire has not turned out to be everything it was billed to be. You might live forever but you can’t even look at a sunny sky when you get up in the morning. Also like other vampires, Dalton drives around during daytime in a special car that has those smoked-over windows like rap stars drive, but even more opaque.

Eventually Dalton hooks up with a band of human beings, including an ex-vampire (Willem Dafoe, of course) who has learned how to become a human being. Turning his back on his bloodthirsty tribe, like Jake Sulley in Avatar, Dalton leads a desperate mission to destroy the vampire world by turning them into human beings.

Someday Hollywood might make the vampire movie we really need, one in which the Dracula figure is a hedge fund manager or an oil company executive. This will be the fitting epigraph rolling across the screen in the opening credits:

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.

–Karl Marx, Capital V. 1

Edward Dalton’s renegade status, so much like Jake Sulley’s in Avatar, is once again a dominant plot element in another monster movie, not nearly as successful as the other two despite its overweening ambitions to say something important.

Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is the Afrikaner supervisor of an ethnic cleansing project in Johannesburg, South Africa. The target, however, of the cops and military is not a group of undocumented workers from neighboring countries, a situation that occurs all too frequently today unfortunately in post-apartheid but class-divided South Africa. Instead it is thousands of space aliens who turned up one day out of the blue in a huge space ship hovering over the city. They are wrested from the ship and forced to live in a slum (district 9) where they are regarded as scum by their earthling neighbors, including black and colored South Africans. While it is true that backward attitudes prevail in much of South Africa today despite the victory against apartheid, there’s no suggestion in District 9 that xenophobia might be rooted in joblessness rather than in one’s genes. The general sense of District 9 is that the human race sucks. I admit to feeling this way from time to time, but would never make a movie along those lines, or write an article to that effect here.

District 9 is at its Hobbesian and misanthropic worst when it depicts a Nigerian gang in the same terms as Steven Seagal schlock. They operate as villainous stick figures who take advantage of the suffering space aliens who pay black market prices for the cat food their palate favors.

The first half hour or so of the movie is the most tedious, structured as a faux documentary following Wikus Van De Merwe on his rounds as he serves eviction notices to the space aliens, who are called prawns by the human beings because of their similar appearance to the marine life. They are going to be transported to a concentration camp outside of Johannesburg and any of them who refuse to sign the eviction order faces beatings or worse.

The movie only picks up when Wikus begins to turn into a prawn himself, the victim of some sort of mishap in one of their shacks that like so much in this movie remains unexplained. He then becomes a combination of Jake Sully in Avatar and Elliott in E.T who is determined to help the extraterrestrial return home.

Like E.T., the prawns are actually much smarter than the human beings who keep them in a virtual ghetto. They are capable of space flight and other advanced technologies. This, of course, does not square with their being so easily wrested from their space ship and forced to live in squalor, nor does it square with many scenes that depict them in anti-social behavior that is the stuff of all ghetto movies, including the unfortunate Precious.

I only decided to watch District 9 since it was now accessible from Netflix. If you sensibly avoided the price of admission for this confused and sorry movie, I can recommend renting it from Netflix where I promise you it will probably not be half as bad as Iron Man 2 or The A Team.

Argentina soccer players support the candidacy of the Grandmothers of May Square for the Nobel prize

Filed under: Latin America — louisproyect @ 3:17 pm

From an Argentine socialist:

Dear friends, I am attaching a picture of the Arg World Cup Team holding a banner in support of the candidacy of the Grandmothers of May Square for the Nobel prize. I am sending it for good reason.

It seems to have been censored on every mainstream media outlet, including Internet concerns they control, because the main owner of the main private media group in Argentina, Ernestina Herrera de Noble, has a couple of stolen children. After a most protracted justice process, they are at last to undergo a confrontation of their DNA with data in the world famous National Genetic Data Bank of Argentina.

The CEO of the group has been reported as boasting long ago that he had obtained the kids for Mrs. Herrera de Noble.

In the midst of a war against the great media, the results of this comprobation are unfathomable.

And it is the Grandmothers who are behind the whole thing.

Please circulate as widely as you can.

June 13, 2010

American Chernobyl

Filed under: Ecology,economics,Stalinism,ussr — louisproyect @ 6:05 pm

On April 26th, 1986 a power surge in the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, Ukraine led to explosions that spewed radioactive material throughout the USSR and neighboring countries. Some scientists blame this for an epidemic of thyroid cancers in the region, impacting my mother-in-law who lives in Istanbul.

This disaster was interpreted widely as precipitating the collapse of “existing socialism” in the USSR, including Mikhail Gorbachev who wrote 10 years afterwards:

THE nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl  20 years ago this month, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was a historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed.

(The Australian, Apr. 19, 2006)

Just two weeks after Chernobyl, the Soviet Union was implementing a “fight and talk” strategy in Afghanistan that does not sound much different than attempts being made today to reform the country, admittedly along a different ideological axis:

AFTER more than six years of inconclusive warfare in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union appears to have adopted a contradictory strategy: seeming to move toward a diplomatic solution while simultaneously deepening its involvement in the country.

On one hand, Soviet leaders have begun to talk publicly about a political settlement and a troop withdrawal, and they seem ready to have the subject discussed at a new round of indirect negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to begin in Geneva under United Nations mediation.

On the other, the Russians have indicated a commitment to longterm control of the impoverished, mountainous nation on their southern border. These include the education and indoctrination of Afghan children with methods similar to those Moscow used during other annexations -after World War II, when the Baltic states were taken over, and after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, when the new Government was able to ”Sovietize” portions of Central Asia that had been seized by the Tsarist Russian Empire.

(NY Times, May 4, 1986)

Just four years later the executive director of Tecnica, a leftist technical aid group I worked with, would visit Afghanistan to discuss joint projects with Soviet economists—his counterparts. As a sometimes entrepreneur, despite his 60s radical past, he made sure to buy some rugs when he was there at bargain basement prices. I remember the phone conversation I had with him after he arrived back in Berkeley. He told me that the Soviet officials could not stop talking about the “monster” they had created. With their own entrepreneurial appetites lurking beneath the surface, they would eagerly join Yeltsin and other repentant Stalinists in retooling the system along Milton Friedman lines.

Of course these efforts reflected personal ambition to lead the good life as well as a deeply entrenched conviction that the system was not working on its own terms. The Soviet economy, after a long post-WWII expansion, was in what appeared to be a permanent crisis.

Unlike our own crisis, which in superficial terms is all about an unregulated economy, pundits blamed too much planning for the Soviet morass:

The centralized pricing system is so askew that meat costing the state $4 a pound to produce sells for 80 cents a pound. Spare parts are all but impossible to find; pricing policy is that spare parts must cost the same as parts actually installed in manufactured equipment, making it entirely uneconomical to maintain stocks around the country.

Inefficiency is glaring, as are absenteeism, drunkenness and sloth. When contracting with Western suppliers to bring in heavy machinery, the Russians have taken to having Westerners build the housing, too, so the expensive imports would not rust in the open while Soviet workers got around to finishing enclosures.

An Austrian company that built a steel mill near Zhlobin in Byelorussia brought in Yugoslav and Austrian laborers, and built everything down to barracks for the workers.

(NY Times, March 15, 1985)

While people like Francis Fukuyama tended to blame the Soviet Union’s problems on “Communism”, a more informed analysis would associate it more with the modus operandi in the West, despite the obvious absence of a profit motive.

What our rulers and the Soviet-era Kremlin have in common is a tendency to regard working people as beasts of burden solely responsible for meeting quarterly earnings expectations and quotas respectively. Chernobyl blew up because inadequate safety measures were in place. This was a function of a bureaucratic mindset that made society’s interests secondary. A report by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group sounds eerily like what we have heard about BP:

The developers of the reactor plant considered this combination of events to be impossible and therefore did not allow for the creation of emergency protection systems capable of preventing the combination of events that led to the crisis, namely the intentional disabling of emergency protection equipment plus the violation of operating procedures. Thus the primary cause of the accident was the extremely improbable combination of rule infringement plus the operational routine allowed by the power station staff.

In contrast to the United States, the elites in the USSR were all too eager to dismantle a planned economy in favor of what exists today. The reason for this should be obvious. Despite all the lip service paid to Karl Marx under Stalin and his successors, the system was run strictly on a self-serving basis. People climbed the apparatchik ladder in the same way they climb the corporate ladder in the USA. Someone like Tony Hayward was not all that different from a Soviet plant manager, who after all became just like him after Yeltsin took power.

Our misfortune is that association with the Soviet era taints our socialist beliefs despite our best efforts to return to the original meaning of Karl Marx. Any attempts on our part to not make that distinction clear will only make our efforts to reach working people more difficult.

In a very real sense, the fundamental crisis of our age is an ecological one in the broadest sense. Unlike the USSR, capitalism remains relatively dynamic.  But the costs have yet to be determined. The PBS news hour reported:

Some experts on the issue are striking a concerned tone. Monitoring will be crucial in the coming months and years said Edward Trapido, the Wendell Gauthier Chair of Cancer Epidemiology at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health, because the long-term health effects of a spill like this remain an unknown.

No one has ever done a longitudinal study of health impacts on workers or residents after previous oil spills, he said…

Trapido, who testified Thursday for a House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on the spill, is heading a research group at LSU that will look at a range of health effects, including psychiatric and behavioral effects, chronic diseases and cancers.

“Oil contains benzene … arsenic and other heavy metals, all of which are classified as class one carcinogens to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer,” said Trapido.

With inherited susceptibility and under certain conditions, Trapido said “these exposures could hasten the onset of cancer,” but that further long-term research is needed. The dispersants being used do not contain known carcinogens, Trapido said.

While much is made about the American addiction to the automobile and cheap gas, one wonders if that addiction would be so easy to come by if the environmental and epidemiological costs were well known. Unfortunately, the oil companies, the government and the media have a vested interest in masking these connections, including the PBS news hour that has been the beneficiary of oil company handouts.

My first introduction to ecology was a talk by Joel Kovel at the Brecht Forum in NY where he likened uncontrolled capitalist growth to metastasizing tumors. We have now reached the stage in the history of capitalism when this is no longer a metaphor but a reality.

June 12, 2010

The FBI knocks at my door

Filed under: middle east,repression — louisproyect @ 10:13 pm

June 11, 2010

Drunken Angel; The Idiot

Filed under: Film,Kurosawa — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

(Second in a series of articles on early Akira Kurosawa)

Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, made in 1948 just a year before Stray Dog, shares the latter film’s unblinking gaze at the social, psychological and economic misery of Japan immediately after WWII.

It is also the first movie that allowed Kurosawa full creative control, not having to deal with Japanese wartime censorship or that of the Allied occupying power. It is also the first movie to feature two actors who would become part of the director’s ongoing company, just as much as Max Von Sydow became associated with Ingmar Bergman. Toshiro Mifune is cast as Matsunaga, a Yakuza who comes to the drunken angel of the film’s title, a doctor in the slum neighborhood controlled by Matsunaga’s gang. Doctor Sanada is played by Takashi Shimura, who would appear opposite Mifune in Stray Dog and star in Ikiru, one of Kurosawa’s greatest masterpieces. In Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, the two actors share a father-son relationship with Mifune’s character given to youthful impetuousness. Doctor Sanada has a big job on his hands dealing with the snarling yakuza, who despite suffering from TB, insists on continuing his wastrel ways: drinking and fighting.

Sanada’s office abuts a fetid pond, almost a cesspool, where local children play despite his warnings that they can catch typhoid. This is not the Japan of later years. Like the postwar Italian neorealist movies, it is a landscape of poverty and disease with a Tokyo as ruined as Rome. Ironically, Kurosawa finds ways to turn this meager setting into something almost beautiful, as a local street musician plays a haunting tune not far from the pond late at night as the moon is reflected in the dank water.

Sanada is a drunken angel because he is an alcoholic and because he goes out of his way to keep Matsunaga alive, even turning away gangsters from his door out to punish his ward. He sees the humanity of the yakuza beneath the truculent surface, even continuing to care for him after Matsunaga beats and curses him after learning about his illness from the doctor. In the Homeric tales, the messenger of bad news is killed while in Drunken Angel, he is merely beaten and cursed.

Mifune’s performance is something to behold. As the dying man, he is determined to live each day as if it his last, which in his world means doing everything he can to undermine his health and hasten death’s arrival. In this scene from a yakuza nightclub hang-out, you get a sense of his desperate clutching at life. It is also a startling view of the Japanese embrace of American swing era customs that would appear in a similar scene in Stray Dog. Mifune is as exciting to watch as any scene in his samurai classics. Look at the crazed expression on his face!

Made in 1951, The Idiot, I’m afraid, can only be recommended to Kurosawa fans. It is an adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel that had an original length of 265 minutes, to be shown in two parts. The studio bosses cut 80 minutes from the film and the director was forced to use clumsy voice-over exposition to fill in for the deleted scenes.

I am not sure if seeing the uncut version would make much difference since the original material constrained what Kurosawa could do. The “idiot” in question is Kinji Kameda (Masayuki Mori), a World War Two veteran who came to within a whisker’s width of being shot by a firing squad for war crimes he did not commit. The trauma led to  epilepsy (an unlikely medical outcome) and a lengthy stay in a mental hospital. Kamada is not really lacking in the IQ department. He is an “idiot” only because he approaches people in a childlike manner, often committing social gaffes that would expect from a young child.

As such he is a passive and somewhat unknowable character. As I have pointed out in the past, the director is taking a calculated risk by making the lead character a victim of mental illness. When you cannot identify with a character whose experience is so at odds with everyday behavior, you put a wall between him or her and the audience just as was the case in Mussolini’s demented lover in Vincere. Not having read Dostoyevsky’s novel, I cannot say how this plays out in the original version but Kurosawa’s does not work for me.

The most interesting character in The Idiot is Akama, a crude and swaggering young man who has befriended Kamada mostly out of pity. Played by Mifune, this Akama manages to steal every scene he is in.

The movie is shot on location on Hokkaido Island, the northernmost part of Japan whose close proximity to Russia was meant to convey the atmosphere of Dostoyevsky’s novel. Snow falls throughout the movie. As evidenced below, the movie is often very lovely to look at even if it insists on keeping you at arm’s length.

June 9, 2010

Critiquing a critique of Lenin

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Lenin,national question — louisproyect @ 4:31 pm

Palgrave-McMillan, an academic publisher, has just come out with Rethinking Imperialism: a Study of Capitalist Rule for only $95. As a long-time observer of the ironies of anti-capitalist manifestos with such capitalistic price tags, I have to give credit to the authors—John Milios and Dimitris P. Sotiropolous—for putting it on the internet as well.

Since the book was cited in a debate over imperialism on the Marxism list recently, I felt obligated to read it from cover to cover, especially since it was billed as a frontal assault on Lenin’s Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism and the Monthly Review or dependency school of Marxism that included Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin et al. I tend to identify with MR even if I find the “anti-imperialist” posturing of MRZine an embarrassment. Suffice it to say that nothing has ever appeared in the print edition that remotely resembles the apologetics for Ahmadinejad on MRZine.

To begin with, there is something a bit odd about such a book coming out at this point, so late in the game, since for all practical purposes the dependency school is dead as a doornail. The simple truth is that the academic left decided long ago that Frank, Amin and company were fuddy-duddies who did not understand Marxism. The younger and hipper academics were determined to get rid of notions about “core” and “periphery” and put the emphasis back on class. Key to this was Robert Brenner’s article in the July-August 1977 New Left Review that concluded:

From this perspective, it is impossible to accept Frank’s view, adopted by Wallerstein, that the capitalist ‘development of underdevelopment’ in the regions colonized by Europeans from the sixteenth century—especially the Caribbean, South America and Africa, as well as the southern part of North America—is comprehensible as a direct result of the incorporation of these regions within the world market, their ‘subordination’ to the system of capital accumulation on a world scale. Frank originally explained this rise of underdevelopment largely in terms of the transfer of surplus from periphery to core, and the export-dependent role assigned to the periphery in the world division of labour. These mechanisms clearly capture important aspects of the functioning reality of underdevelopment. But they explain little, for, as the more searching critics of Frank’s earlier formulations pointed out, they themselves need to be explained. In particular, it was stated, they needed to be rooted in the class and productive structures of the periphery.

In journals such as Latin American Perspectives, the assault on dependency theory continued. Scholar after scholar, invoking Robert Brenner, called for a return to Marxism and an end to such fuzzy notions as “core” and “periphery”.

The late Jim Blaut, my old friend who wrote The Eurocentric Model of the World, had a political explanation for the turn against Frank and company:

Robert Brenner is one of the most widely known of Euro-Marxist historians. His influence stems from the fact that he supplied a crucial piece of doctrine at a crucial time. Just after the end of the Vietnam War, radical thought was strongly oriented toward the Third World and its struggles, strongly influenced by Third-World theorists like Cabral, Fanon, Guevara, James, Mao, and Nkrumah, and thus very much attracted to theories of social development which tend to displace Europe from its pivotal position as the center of social causation and social progress, past and present. Euro-Marxism of course disputed this, and Euro-Marxists, while strong in their support of present-day liberation struggles, nonetheless insisted as they always had done that the struggles and changes taking place in the center of the system, the European world, are the true determinants of world historical changes; socialism will rise in the heartlands of advanced European capitalism, or perhaps everywhere all at once; but socialism will certainly not arrive first in the backward, laggard, late-maturing Third World.

Milios and Sotiropolous (referred to hereafter as M&S) are more ambitious than Brenner and his acolytes. By singling out Lenin as the source of all this theoretical confusion, they follow Commander James T. Kirk and go “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Well, bully for them to have the audacity to challenge Lenin. If anything, Marxism needs more iconoclasm than ever, given the doctrinaire cult formations that speak in its name.

Of course, it is not sufficient to be an iconoclast. You also have to be right.

M & S are heavily indebted to Althusserian Marxism and a fellow Greek exponent of that philosophy, the late Nicos Poulantzas, in particular. In my own rather limited exposure to the branch office of the Althusserian movement in the USA, the economics department at the U. of Massachusetts that publishes Rethinking Marxism, a journal that resonates with the title of M&S’s book, I have read little that would win me to their cause. My main complaint is that it lacks a historical dimension, no accident given the Structuralist foundations that the movement rests on.

Given the focus on “modes of production” in Althusserian Marxism, it should not come as a surprise to see M&S define imperialism in those terms. For them, the proper analytical tools come from Marx’s Capital and not the questionable sources that Lenin relied on, starting from the under-consumptionist book on imperialism by Rudolph Hilferding.

The crucial distinction for them is absolute surplus value versus relative surplus value. In simple terms, absolute surplus value is generated by unskilled workers using simple tools working long hours, in other words what took place before the industrial revolution. Relative surplus value involves machinery and skills such of the kind that dominated after the Industrial Revolution. A country dominated by the former tends to be the victim of imperialism while those characterized by the latter tend to be the victimizer. They write:

The transformations we have described, which apply for all social levels in advanced capitalist formations, distinguish the form of capitalist domination even in the first period after the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century (capitalism of absolute surplus-value) from the later form of this domination (capitalism of relative surplus-value). That which was transformed is not the ‘laws’ of capital accumulation corresponding to the CMP, or in other words the structural characteristics of capitalist relations at all social levels, but the conditions and forms of appearance of capitalist relations in the historical perspective. In other words it is a question of historical transformation of the power balance and accordingly of the organizational forms of power in developed capitalist social formations.

In this modified social, political, institutional and international framework the preconditions were shaped which led to the rise of nationalism in all countries of developed capitalism and to the intensification of the antagonisms among them on the international arena, over markets, colonies and political influence. The era of classic imperialism is thus the specific historical outcome of the antagonisms and contradictions which prevailed during the transition of developed capitalist social formation to Capitalism of Relative Surplus-value and not the expression of a transformation of the CMP (from the stage of ‘competitive’ to the stage of ‘monopoly capitalism’).

Now all this is well and good, but it does little to explain how one country advanced from absolute surplus value to relative surplus value. For example, how was it that Britain advanced toward a mechanized textile industry while India remained mired in traditional hand-spun goods? This, of course, would involve a study of the relations between the two countries and the use of military power and other means of duress that is at the heart of the unfashionable world of Samir Amin and Andre Gunder Frank. And, lord knows, who wants to be unfashionable.

For me, the eighth chapter of Rethinking Imperialism (Internationalization of Capital) is key since it—unlike all the others—descends from the ethereal world of theory and settles down into the world of economic data. It is the one place in the book that you will find, for example, a table on distribution of FDI by region, the sort of thing that is found on nearly every page of Lenin’s pamphlet.

M&S begin by making an argument that I have heard before, namely that Lenin’s theory and that of his successors posits a kind of aristocracy of labor, even though they do not use this term. They write:

This contraposition of the model of the periphery to the model of the centre effectively whitewashes the capitalism of the centre. The exploitative and ‘irrational’ character of the system may be duly condemned, but the basic political conclusion that emerges as far as the centre is concerned is the same as that of the dominant ideology. The interests of the working class and the popular masses of the centre converge with those of ‘their’ ruling classes, as workers benefit from the exploitation of the periphery and the social system develops and progresses in such a way that the conflicts within it are blunted.

How odd that M&S blame this revisionism on Lenin, when you can read similar charges in Marx and Engels themselves. After all, in his 1916 essay “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, Lenin quotes remarks from these two “mode of production” authorities that sound almost like the “white privilege” rhetoric of the Weathermen:

In a letter to Marx, dated October 7, 1858, Engels wrote: “…The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable.” In a letter to Sorge, dated September 21, 1872, Engels informs him that Hales kicked up a big row in the Federal Council of the International and secured a vote of censure on Marx for saying that “the English labour leaders had sold themselves”. Marx wrote to Sorge on August 4, 1874: “As to the urban workers here [in England], it is a pity that the whole pack of leaders did not get into Parliament. This would be the surest way of getting rid of the whole lot.” In a letter to Marx, dated August 11, 1881, Engels speaks about “those very worst English trade unions which allow themselves to be led by men sold to, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie.” In a letter to Kautsky, dated September 12, 1882, Engels wrote: “You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies.”

On December 7, 1889, Engels wrote to Sorge: “The most repulsive thing here [in England] is the bourgeois ‘respectability’, which has grown deep into the bones of the workers…. Even Tom Mann, whom I regard as the best of the lot, is fond of mentioning that he will be lunching with the Lord Mayor. If one compares this with  the French, one realises, what a revolution is good for, after all.”[10] In a letter, dated April 19, 1890: “But under the surface the movement [of the working class in England] is going on, is embracing ever wider sections and mostly just among the hitherto stagnant lowest [Engels’s italics] strata. The day is no longer far off when this mass will suddenly find itself, when it will dawn upon it that it itself is this colossal mass in motion.” On March 4, 1891: “The failure of the collapsed Dockers’ Union; the ‘old’ conservative trade unions, rich and therefore cowardly, remain lone on the field….” September 14, 1891: at the Newcastle Trade Union Congress the old unionists, opponents of the eight-hour day, were defeated “and the bourgeois papers recognise the defeat of the bourgeois labour party” (Engels’s italics throughout)….

M&S raise the question next:

How is one then to explain that the proportional share of international capital movements and international trade being channelled to the Third World always remains small compared to the respective shares of developed capitalist countries?

If the goal of imperialism, according to Lenin, is to extract super-profits, then how does one explain the fact that the USA invests far more in places like Canada or Britain than Nigeria or the Philippines? Moreover, they argue that the “periphery” countries that attract the most FDI are those that are characterized by “rapid economic development”, such as China today and Taiwan and South Korea in the 1980s.

Perhaps they have not considered the possibility that “rapid economic development” and being in the “periphery” are not mutually exclusive. The country that experienced the most “rapid economic growth” in Central America in the 1960s was Somoza’s Nicaragua that was introducing conditions of “relative surplus value” production throughout the countryside. Peasants using subsistence agriculture were being thrown off their land to make way for highly advanced cotton plantations and cattle ranches using airplanes for crop spraying, etc. But this kind of development was destroying the lives of the majority of the population, who would soon rise up against the imperialist-backed dictator.

What M&S have to say about “the agrarian question” is not too reassuring:

We argued above that the ability of the bourgeoisie in the LDCs [least developed countries] to extend its influence over the antagonistic (pre-capitalist) modes of production and bring about the latter’s disintegration is the most important prerequisite for capitalist development.

In social formations where pre-capitalist modes of production continue to reproduce themselves on an expanded scale, the social and spatial territory of capitalist relations and of capital accumulation suffers restriction (what has been described as ‘dualism’, etc., see Chapter 2), even if at the level of the society and of the state overall the CMP is dominant.

By this definition, countries such as El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia and Honduras should be prime candidates for a capitalist “take-off” since they have virtually wiped out subsistence (what they call pre-capitalist) agriculture. But instead they have not become anything like China, Taiwan or South Korea. They remain agricultural export nations whose foreign revenue largely goes toward keeping the rich plantation owners living in luxury. The introduction of large-scale mechanization in the countryside has done nothing except to increase the reserve army of the unemployed desperate to make its way into the USA, an “informal sector” selling chewing gum on the streets and guerrilla movements determined to break the cycle of dependency.

As most people would recognize, including M&S, Lenin’s views on imperialism were closely related to those on what was called the “national question”. I find their views on this question in chapter four (The State as a Vehicle of both Capitalist Expansionism and Decolonization: Historical Evidence and Theoretical Questions) rather disturbing. In many ways, their hostility toward the national struggle is reminiscent of Hardt and Negri’s “Empire” which regarded the struggle for national emancipation as a “poison pill”. They write:

Within a nation-state the nation manifests itself as a totalitarian tendency: incorporation of the populations of the state into the main body of the nation, and differentiation through negative discrimination against whoever does not become part of the nation, sometimes to the point of expelling them from the main body of the nation.

Historically, the process of political structuring of a nation through attainment of independence is generally described in terms of the ‘tendency towards freedom’ at first implied in it: emancipation from an empire or a multinational state entity (embodying – for those seeking ‘national independence’ – national subjugation and oppression). The ‘tendency towards freedom’ is frequently manifested through the irrevocable decision of large sectors of the population seeking independence to apply the principle of ‘Freedom or Death’, sacrificing their lives for the sake of national integration in an independent nation-state.

Citing Poulantzas, they find all this struggling for self-determination to be a potentially dangerous and reactionary thing:

National unity (…) becomes historicity of a territory and territoriaization of a history […]. The enclosures implicit in the constitution of the modern people-nation are only so awesome because they are also fragments of a history that is totalised and capitalised by the state. Genocide is the elimination of what become ‘foreign bodies’ of the national history and territory: it expels them beyond space and time […] Concentration camps are a modern invention in the additional sense that the frontier-gates close on ‘anti-nationals’ for whom time and national historicity are in suspense.

No wonder they think that Lenin’s views on imperialism must be attacked since they can lead to concentration camps if you don’t watch out.

Against this dyspeptic view, the Leninist tradition has always been in favor of oppressed nations gaining their independence. To argue that independence from colonial rule opens the door to a “totalitarian tendency” would mean taking a hostile position toward recent struggles such as the East Timorese, the Palestinians, or much of Africa in the 1960s. Frankly, it does not matter that a local bourgeoisie has replaced the colonizer. The Comintern favored national liberation movements even if their outcome could not be guaranteed in advance. “Freedom or Death” for the Indonesian, the Egyptian or the Vietnamese was understandable given their existence as a subordinate peoples under foreign rule. We understand that Nasser was defending the prerogatives of the Egyptian bourgeoisie when he seized the Suez Canal, but Marxism must not put itself in the position of “a plague on both your houses” when one powerful nation-state like Britain 0r France attacks another that is much weaker, like Egypt. To adopt such a stance implicitly puts you on the side of the imperialists.

There is much more to be said, but I will conclude on this note. Lenin’s article on imperialism was composed during the greatest crisis that confronted Marxism up to this point in history. Socialist parliamentarians were voting for war credits while the working class was being slaughtered by the millions. Lenin was not interested in writing a “theory” of imperialism for all time. He was far more interested in making the ties between monopoly capital and war, a relationship that is sadly missing in “Rethinking Imperialism”. If there is one thing that remains valid in Lenin’s work, it is this. Imperialism and war are joined at the hip. Furthermore, unless imperialism is overthrown, we will certainly perish in a nuclear war that will remain a possibility as long as the imperialist system is intact.

For a good summary of Lenin’s aims in writing “Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, I will end with Neil Harding’s words in the always useful Lenin’s Political Thought:

The object of Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism was to provide a coherent Marxist economic analysis for the overtly socialist and international revolutionary strategy which he had begun to develop in the first days of the war. He sought in particular to demonstrate that capitalism was not only in decline, not only had it exhausted its progressive role in history, it had become, in its imperialist phase, positively retrogressive, parasitic and oppressive…

These were, of course, far from academic points. Lenin’s concern was not to construct an abstract historiography of the development of capitalism: it was rather to convince all those who called themselves Marxists that the time had now arrived when revolutionary action to overthrow capitalism had become imperative. His primary intention was to impress upon all the faint-hearted who had consistently blanched at the immediate prospect of revolutionary action, who had ever and anon invoked the concept of unripe time, arguing that capitalism had not yet exhausted its progressive potential, that time had run out for capitalism. His object was to convert the faint-hearted and, as important, to seal off once and for all the bolt-holes down which the waverers ran to hide themselves from the actuality of the revolutionary situation. All the proponents of the possibility of a post-war peaceful imperialism, the pacifist dreamers of a democratic peace without annexations, the Lib-Lab, philanthropists who envisaged a gradual redistribution of income as the solution to imperialism; all of them, Lenin argued, saw revolution staring them in the face.

June 8, 2010

Guest post: The Philanthropic-Zionist Complex

Filed under: capitalist pig,middle east — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

The Philanthropic-Zionist Complex

By Michael Barker

We live in a world of unnecessary illusions and unnecessary death, but there is no doubt that capitalism must be eradicated to dispel the ongoing spectre of mass slaughter. The ruling classes Necessary Illusions must be dismantled:[1] however, to successfully replace “our” current system we must first identify the root causes of the problems we face. In this regard it is vital to observe that the military-industrial complex is not the only enemy of anti-capitalist activists, as arguably our most insidious enemy is what I refer to as the Philanthropic-Zionist Complex.[2] Instead of being composed of die-hard war-profiteers, like for example Haliburton, the main purveyors of the latter form of violence mask their militarism under a veil of humanitarianism, thus rendering most of their potential critics inert. One significant, but by no means only proponent of such profitable propaganda is the Chicago real estate mogul Lester R. Crown. By reviewing the Crown dynasties outstanding commitment to charitable Zionism this article will throw some light on an oft neglected side of elite power.

Lets begin by sketching out the Crown families profitable involvement with one of the United States most powerful military contractors, General Dynamics – a group that a long history of dealing with “Israel’s Apartheid [weapon] contractor,” Elbit Systems. Lester Crown’s father, Henry Crown, first took a “controlling block of stock” in General Dynamics in 1959, and when Henry passed away in 1990 (having retired some years earlier) Lester was already serving as their chairman; although at present the only member of the Crown family serving on General Dynamics board of directors is Lester’s son James S. Crown (who is also a board member of JPMorgan Chase). Given the Crown’s families interest in charity and war, it is fitting that The New York Times’ obituary for Henry noted that his “personal style was reported to be self-effacing and elusive”; adding that he “would portray himself as a ‘sand and gravel man’ of limited education, veiling his moves and quietly consolidating his power.” Thus given Henry and the Crown family’s ability to work quietly and methodically behind the scenes, it is important to explore the extent of their influence.

Since 2004 Lester Crown has been the chairman of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a group whose longstanding board members include Michelle Obama, the present First Lady of the United States; and whose president (Marshall Bouton) came to the post after spending two decades working with the Asia Society in New York.[3] The Chicago Council was created in 1922 and their founding president was former US Secretary for War (1909-11) Jacob Dickinson, so it is perhaps fitting that before Lester became chair of the Council his predecessor had been the former CEO of Boeing Company, Philip Condit. This coincidence is especially relevant with respect to this article as Noami Klein notes: “Israeli defense giant Elbit… partnered with Boeing to construct the Department of Homeland Security’s $2.5 billion ‘virtual’ border fence around the United States.” The current chair of Elbit Systems is Michael Federmann, an individual who In addition to making generous profits from death is presently the chair of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, having taken on this role in 2009 when he replaced recent General Dynamics board member Charles Goodman. Keeping the Crown the family in the picture, one should add that Goodman’s late wife (Suzanne Crown) was one of Lester Crown’s cousins, and Goodman himself is presently vice-chair of the investment firm, Henry Crown and Company.

Michael Federmann and Lester Crown solidify their Zionist interests by acting as representatives of the Jerusalem Foundation, an organization which ostensibly “seeks to create a just society for all citizens of Jerusalem” and was founded by the well-known Zionist the late Teddy Kollek (the Mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 until 1993).[4] Best illustrating the disturbing links between Zionism and “good work” (environmentalism in this case) we can turn to former Jerusalem Foundation board member Richard N. Goldman, who used to be a president of the Jewish Community Federation — a group whose current CEO is the former AIPAC executive director, Thomas Dine (1980-93). Goldman commitment to charitable Zionism means that he is also a member of the national council of the conservative free-market group, The Conservation Fund, a member of the board of counselors of the eugenic-inspired Save the Redwoods League, and in 1990, along with his wife Rhoda Goldman (of Levi jeans fame), he founded the world famous Goldman Environmental Prize. Given such ideological serviceable chartable work it should come as no surprise that the former propaganda Director of the Jerusalem Foundation is now the chief Israel emissary to the tree-planting Jewish National Fund, which is better known as the principal Zionist “colonialist agency of ethnic cleansing.”

But it’s not all roses and Zionism at the Jerusalem Foundation, as weapons manufacturers and big oil are represented on the Foundations board as well. For instance Elbit Systems board member, Avraham Asheri, sits on the Jerusalem Foundation’s board of governors; while the Foundations emeritus chair, Joseph Vardi, is the cofounder of major Israeli defence contractor, NESS TSG, is the former chair of the Israel National Oil Company, and has served as an adviser to the CEO’s and the chairmen of Occidental Petroleum Corporation.[5] These few connections, however, do not do justice to the full extent of Vardi’s elite networking, and to sample just a few of his other ties we might note that he is a member of the board of governors of Hebrew University, was Consul for Economic Affairs of the State of Israel in New York, a cofounder of Israel’s largest venture capital firm (Pitango), and is a former board member of the US-based State of Israel Bonds.[6]

This is not just to say that the Jerusalem Foundation is simply concerned with oil, guns, and Zionism, as their members include leading human rights activists too!: for example, another member of their board of governors is Ruth Gavison. Gavison helped cofound the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (in 1974), serving for many years as its chairperson (and most recently as their president, 1996-99); and at present she is senior fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, whose mission is “based on the Van Leers’ vision of Israel as both a homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic society, predicated on justice, fairness and equality for all its residents.” In the latter organizations case, what this means in reality, is justice for Zionists. Thus the Insitute’s hononary chair (Zelman Cowen) is an advisor to the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, and their chairman is Dutch banker Tom de Swaan. It just so happens that Tom is the vice-chairman of the supervisory board of the global retail chain, Royal Ahold, where he serves alongside the former executive vice president and CFO of Sara Lee Corporation, Judith Sprieser.[7] Sara Lee is of course famous supporter of Israel, and one of their current board members is James S. Crown, the president of Henry Crown and Company.

Remaining on the trail of the Dutch industrialist, the late Bernard Van Leer (1919-1958), we might notice that his major philanthropic legacy is the Van Leer Group Foundation. Here we find Foundation trustee Amos Mar-Haim who serves on the Jerusalem Foundation’s board of governors and is the former deputy chairman of the Israel Corporation. Sitting alongside Mar-Haim on the Van Leer Group Foundation’s board of trustees is former senior partner at McKinsey & Company, Wilfred Griekspoor (who also served as vice chairman of Doctors Without Borders Holland, see footnote # 6), a board member of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (Rien van Gendt), and human rights activists extraordinarie, Peter Bell. Given the fascinating (read: sickening) relationship between the Philanthropic-Zionist Complex and human rights it is worth briefly looking at Bells background in more detail.

For a start, Peter Bell is a former board member of the imperialist Human Rights Watch (1988-95) and currently serves on their Americas advisory committee; while more recently, in 1999, Bell helped found the Business Humanitarian Forum, which works to “bridge the gap of understanding and promote cooperation between humanitarian organizations and private business, encouraging both sides to work together to solve complex development problems.” Other notable individuals involved in founding this dubious group included notable “humanitarian” warriors John C. Whitehead and former US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

More recently, Bell has served as the president of the inhumanitarian CARE International, a body whose current chair of Lydia Marshall, a former managing director of Rockport Capital Incorporated. This latter finance group belongs to Peter Ackerman, who also runs the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict which employs “peace activist” Stephen Zunes as the chair of their board of academic advisors. Bell formerly used to serve alongside Ackerman and Marshall on the board of CARE USA, and presently sits with him on the international management advisory group of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Finally, returning to the Crown family, it is noteworthy that Susan Crown has been a board member of CARE USA since 2006, and is also the vice-president of Henry Crown and Company.

Lester Crown’s daughter, Susan Crown, is the former chair, now board member, of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which was founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, the “prominent Hollywood Zionist” who became “inspired” to take charitable action while making Schindler’s List (for a detailed examination of Hollywood Zionism, see “Hollywood’s Corporate Conservation Collaborators”).[8] Now known as the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, their honorary co-chairs are media mogul’s Lew Wasserman and Edgar Bronfman, Jr. (the latter of whoms father is the former president of the World Jewish Congress), and Lester Crown’s wife Renée Schine Crown. Lester and Renée’s daughter, Susan, is also senior mentor for the Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown fellowship program (as is their son James S. Crown). This program is an exemplar of elite social engineering, and was set up in 1997 to “develop” the “next generation of community-spirited leaders, providing them with the tools necessary to meet the challenges of corporate and civic leadership in the 21st century.” To be chosen for this program is a sign of future (and previous) success, as only twenty “accomplished entrepreneurial leaders (between the ages of 25 and 45)” are selected each year to “hone their skills in values-based leadership.”[9]

Lester Crown serves on the board of overseers of Aspen’s Henry Crown program, but amongst the leading capitalists serving alongside him the most interesting is Margot Pritzker (who similarly sits alongside Lester on the board of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs). Pritzker is a committed new humanitarian which is evident by her serving on the committe of the Chicago chapter of Human Rights Watch, and by her service on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a group that apparently provides “non-sectarian disaster relief and long-term development assistance worldwide.”  Call me cynical, but this type of language reminds me somewhat of the noxious discourse adopted by the Zionist-linked Project for a New American Humanitarianism. Not surprisingly other board members of this “aid” Distribution Committee include Ronald Lauder and Stanley Chesley, who are respectively the chairman and president of the ethnic cleansing outfit, the Jewish National Fund. This is not to imply that the Committee’s humanitarian aid is used to directly kill people, far from it, it does help some people, if only to help legitimize the murder of Palestians.

It is fitting that Margot should serve alongside a vertiable orgy of democracy-manipulating elites on the advisory board of a group called the America Abroad Media which was founded in 2001 and apparently aims “to harness the power of  media to inform America and the world about the critical international issues of our time.” Particularly notable advisors include former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Peter Ackerman, John C. Whitehead, Richard Armitage, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Martin Indyk, and Vin Weber.[10]

The political repercussions of the lack of critical commentary regarding the power of the Philanthropic-Zionist Complex are tragic, and sadly “Zionism is alive and well, even in some of the most self-proclaimed radical or progressive political spaces in the United States.” This is no accident of nature. Rather it is the logical result of a highly sophisticated propaganda campaign: a Zionist strategy which “strategically uses the discourse of ‘civil rights’ to promote Zionism” while “promoting extremely right-wing, white supremacist viewpoints in relationship to the Arab world in general and Palestine in particular.” This cynical strategy “impacts every community’s access to resources in that individuals, organizations, or communities of color who oppose Zionism risk defunding or slander.”[11] The Philanthropic-Zionist Complex is a more than capable ally of the Zionist Power Configuration, and taken together these two bodies play an integral function in contributing to what Edward Herman and David Peterson refer to as The Politics of Genocide (Monthly Review Press, 2010). In a sorry reflection on the state of progressive activism, Herman and Peterson conclude that: “The inability of any sector of the U.S. establishment to recognize fully that the human and material destruction in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are the consequence, not of accident, much less error, but of deliberate policies that produced this result, ranks among the greatest intellectual and moral failures in U.S. history.” Only by challenging the legitimacy of all aspects of Zionism’s genocidal legacy will anti-capitalist activists be able to unite to work to systematically build viable human-centered alternatives that can end our worlds “politics of genocide.”


[1] While Noam Chomsky’s work on propaganda is very useful (see Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies), his work on the influence of liberal foundations and Zionism leaves much to be desired: for criticisms, see Michael Barker, “Noam Chomsky and the Power of Letters,” Swans Commentary, December 15, 2008; James Petras, “Noam Chomsky and the Pro-Israel Lobby: Fourteen Erroneous Theses“, James Petras Website, June 4, 2006; Jeffrey Blankfort, “Damage Control: Noam Chomsky and the Israel-Palestine Conflict“, Voltaire, September 20, 2006 (see 2010 radio interview with Blankfort); M. Shahid Alam, “Chomsky on Oil and the Israel Lobby“, Dissident Voice, January 31, 2009.

[2] The  Philanthropic-Zionist Complex is by no means unique and its works alongside the secular Non-Profit Industrial Complex, building upon decades of experience of the United States leading so-called liberal foundations. For two seminal critiques of elite philanthropy, see Robert Arnove (ed.), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (G.K. Hall, 1980); Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (State University of New York Press, 2003). Liberal foundations and elite social engineering more generally have also been heavily critiqued by William Domhoff who is the coauthor along with Richie Zweigenhaft of Jews in the Protestant Establishment (Praeger, 1982).

[3] Lester Crown notes that: “On the national front, the most noteworthy Council [on Global Affairs] activity was the landmark study of the importance of agricultural development to reducing global hunger and poverty, made possible by a generous grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that became the blueprint for the Obama Administration’s global food security initiative.” (For a critique of the  Gates Foundation’s take on feeding the poor, see “Bill Gates as Social Engineer: Introducing the World’s Largest Liberal Philanthropist” – ironically this conference paper was presently at the Hilton Hotel (Brisbane, Australia), a hotel chain that Lester Crown has a major financial stake in.)

Here it is worth adding that the Asia Society provides an early example of a “democracy promoting” organisation (i.e., it served as a conduit for CIA funding). Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III to foster understanding between Asians and Americans, the Asia Society’s current president and CEO, Vishakha Desai, is married to former Asia Society president, Robert Oxnam, who in turn is a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Asia advisor to Bill Gates.

[4] The chairman of the US board of the Jerusalem Foundation, Alan Hassenfeld, is the former CEO of toy manufacturer Hasbro, an emeritus board member of the imperialist Refugees International, and is a board member of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy. (For a critique of corporate “philanthropy,” see “Corporate Social Responsibility as a Political Resource.”) US board member of the Jerusalem Foundation and former US Deputy Secretary of State, John Whitehead, cofounded the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy in 1999 (with Peter Malkin), and notable honorary chairs of this group include David Rockefeller and Paul Volcker.

[5] Current Occidental Petroleum board members include former US Ambassador to Israel, Edward Djerejian; the powerful right-wing Christian Zionist Spencer Abraham; and Occidental Petroleum’s chair and CEO is Ray Irani, who serves on the advisory board of the Center for Middle East Public Policy (where he mixes with the likes of Frank Carlucci).

[6] Jewish National Fund president and AIPAC luminary, Stanley Chesley, is a former board member of the State of Israel Bonds (also known as the Development Corporation for Israel); while the former CEO of State of Israel Bonds, Nathan Sharony (1994-97), is a board member of military giant Elbit Systems.

Pitango Venture Capital cofounder, Rami Kalish, used to serve on the board of directors on the Zionist non-governmental organization, the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (now known as the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education). Needless to say this organization might be better known as the Center for Enabling War and Legitimating Intolerance as their advisory board includes the infamous right-wing Zionist Daniel Pipes. That said, another board member of the “Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace” is Jean-Christophe Rufin, the former vice-president and cofounder of Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF). This implies that some limited form of peace might possibly be promoted at the Center. Yet a closer look at Rufin’s background suggests that his inclusion on their board is another Zionist smokescreen, as Rufin is currently the president of Action Against Hunger, a group whose most notable board member is the former vice chairman of Rothschild Inc., Yves-André Istel. On top of this, it is interesting to highlight the fact that Séverine Autesserre — who served as an advisor to the imperialist Center for Preventive Action in 2008, see “Preventing independent Action in the Congo” — acted as an advisor for Action Against Hunger’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (between 2005 and 2007), and prior to this worked in a variety of jobs (including as a consultant for Doctors Without Borders, in the Congo and elsewhere (between 2001 and 2004).

Doctors Without Borders has come along way since their founding in 1971, as Bernard Kouchner, another cofounder, “left MSF in 1979 to form a break-away organization called Medecins Du Monde” which “later developed the doctrine of the ‘right to intervene’” (Richard Seymour, The Liberal Defence of Murder, p.172.) Initially MSF and Rufin did not follow this imperialist evolutionary pathway and they were one of the few humanitarian organizations that subjected their colleagues to critical scrutiny; for an example, see former MSF research director Fiona Terry’s Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action (Cornell University Press, 2002). However, things appear to have changed in recent years, as the former recent chair of MSF’s US advisory board is Richard Rockefeller (the head of Rockefeller Brothers Fund), while another notable advisory board member is the treasurer of Goldman Sachs Group, Elizabeth Beshel.

[7] The longstanding CEO of Sara Lee, John Bryan (1975-2000), is the former chair of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a board member of Goldman Sachs, and serves on the international board of governors of the Peres Center for Peace (along with the likes of Desmond Tutu, Henry Kissinger, and Lester Crown).

The chair of Royal Ahold’s supervisory board is Rene Dahan, who is the former president of Mobil Oil, and who until recently served as a board member of Exxon Mobil.

[8] One might add that Steven Spielberg is a trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where he serves alongside Bruce Ratner (who is a member of the board of overseers of the CIA-linked International Rescue Committee), and Howard Rubenstein (who is an adviser to the right-wing human rights outfit AmeriCares).

[9] The executive director of the Henry Crown fellowship program, Peter Reiling, had prior to joining the Aspen Institute in 2004, served for eight years as the president and CEO of TechnoServe – a group formed in 1968 to “grow businesses and industries in the developing world.” TechnoServe’s two largest funders are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, closely followed by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations (Peter Ackerman even rears his nonviolent power head again as a TechnoServe member). At present TechnoServe’s work is being directed by Bruce McNamer who used to be an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and a management consultant at McKinsey & Company.

[10] Margot Pritzker’s husband is Thomas Pritzker, an individal who amongst his many other corporate affiliations is the chair of Global Hyatt Corporation. Thomas’s cousin, Nicholas Pritzker, who is vice-chairman of Global Hyatt Corporation, is a former chair of the biotech corporation Eos Biotechnology, and is the co-vice-chair of Conservation International (see “When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder”). Nicholas’s wife Susan is in turn a board member for Mother Jones magazine (see “Mother Jones and the Defence of Liberal Elites”). Here one might add that James S. Crown’s wife, Paula Hannaway Crown, who is a principal of Henry Crown and Company, presently serves on the board of directors of Conservation International, and is a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art (a body whose honorary chairs are Ronald S. Lauder and David Rockefeller).

[11] Nadine Naber, Eman Desouky, and Linda Baroudi (for Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, San Francisco Chapter), “The Forgotten ‘-ism’: An Arab American Women’s Perspective on Zionism, Racism, and Sexism,” In INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology (South End Press, 2006), p.98, p.110. As Soraya explains: “Since Zionists have a long history in progressive circles in the US even though their stance on Palestine contradicts their stance on other political issues, they play a role in the funding of non-governmental organizations. Many activists fear publicly supporting Palestine because a precedent has already been set that you will lose your funding or you will not be funded at all if you support Palestinian liberation.” (p.110) For a related discussion of funding problems, see “Engineering Human Rights in the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

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