Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 13, 2010

Harvey Pekar’s last appearance on the Letterman show

Filed under: capitalist pig,commercialism — louisproyect @ 3:17 pm

July 12, 2010

Tuli Kupferberg: another great loss

Filed under: beatniks — louisproyect @ 11:44 pm

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/tuli-kupferberg-poet-and-singer-dies-at-86/

July 12, 2010, 4:01 PM Tuli Kupferberg, Poet and Singer, Dies at 86

By BEN SISARIO

Tuli Kupferberg, the poet, singer and professional bohemian who went from being a noted Beat to becoming, in his words, “the world’s oldest rock star” when he helped found the Fugs, the bawdy and politically pugnacious folk-rock group, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 86 and had been a longtime resident of Greenwich Village.

He had been in weak health after suffering two strokes last year, said Ed Sanders, his friend and fellow Fug.

Mr. Kupferberg was something of a Beatnik celebrity when he and Mr. Sanders started the Fugs in 1964. Already in his 40s, he was an anthologized poet and published a series of literary magazines with titles like Birth and Yeah. And to his chagrin and embarrassment, he had also found a kind of notoriety as the inspiration for one of the characters in Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” He was the one who “jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten.”

Between 1965 and 1970 the Fugs released six albums of music that could be puerile (“Boobs a Lot”), politically provocative (“Kill for Peace”) or gentle and even scholarly (“Ah, Sunflower, Weary of Time,” based on a poem by Blake). The band became “the U.S.O. of the left,” Mr. Kupferberg once said, playing innumerable antiwar rallies, including the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in 1967 that was chronicled by Norman Mailer in his book “The Armies of the Night.”

In the years since the Fugs, Mr. Kupferberg has been a regular sight in Lower Manhattan, selling his satirical cartoons on the street and serving as an grandfather for bohemian types of all ages. He embraced the bohemian designation, tracing the word back to its origins back to 12th-century Paris, where “the craziest students once came from Bohemia,” he once said in an interview with the music Web site Perfect Sound Forever. Among his books were “1,001 Ways to Live Without Working.”

Lately he has been posting his sometimes ribald “perverbs” — brief videos punning on well-known aphorisms — on YouTube.

His survivors include his wife, Sylvia Topp; and three children.

A full obituary will follow.

Harvey Pekar is dead

Filed under: comedy,Jewish question,socialism — louisproyect @ 6:17 pm

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

I just discovered from a link that Dennis Perrin posted to Doug Henwood’s mailing list that Harvey Pekar is dead.

The article is worth reading in its entirety for people who were fans of Harvey, like me, and anybody else who wants to learn about one of America’s great literary talents. I first heard about him in a May 11, 1986 NY Times Sunday book review of a collection of his comic book stories titled “American Splendor” (I should mention that Harvey preferred the term comic book to the pretentious graphic novel term used for works like “Persepolis” and “V for Vendetta”):

Mr. Pekar’s work has been compared by literary critics to Chekhov’s and Dostoyevsky’s, and it is easy to see why. His stories, as he puts it, are about “the cosmic and the ordinary,” about the working stiff’s search for love and transcendence, the bleak reality of life in a hard town and the reflections of a volatile, passionate sensibility that vibrates with everything around it.

That was the first book of his that I read, joined eventually by a host of others, including what might be his last published book: “The Unrepentant Marxist”. Here’s the story on how that project came to be.

In 2008, I got a call from my old friend Paul Buhle, who had become Harvey’s writing partner on a number of comic book projects including ones about the beat generation and SDS. He was in town with Harvey to meet with their publisher and asked if I could put him up. Sure, I said. As a huge fan of his work, I was anxious to meet him.

Harvey is not much of a talker–at least he wasn’t that night up at my place. He had a tendency to interject “ya knows” into just about every sentence and seemed a bit out of it. So, to pass the time I began telling him about my past. Growing up in the Catskill Mountains resort area when people like Sid Caesar were coming up. Living above the Kentucky Club and hanging out with Jewish boxing legend Barney Ross, a greeter at the club, on the sidewalk where he would show me how to put up my dukes. Joining the SWP and going to Houston where I had a relationship with a woman comrade who had just quit her job as an exotic dancer. Dropping out of the SWP after a Chaplinesque stint as a spot welder. And all the rest.

At some point, the conversation turned to his own work and I told him how much I appreciated the story about his father denigrating Harvey’s beloved jazz collection and telling him how superior Jewish cantorial music was. As it turns out, I love both jazz and cantorial music and invited him to listen to a few minutes of one of my favorite records that featured old-time greats like Yossele Rosenblatt. Here’s Rosenblatt singing a prayer for the dead, appropriate for the topic at hand:

About a month later, Harvey called me from Cleveland and asked me if I’d like to work on a book about my life. Sure, I said. I spent about six weeks putting together some material that he and the very gifted artist Summer McClinton turned into a book—the final page appears below.

I haven’t talked to Harvey since early 2009, but assumed that the book would eventually come out. He had a two-book contract with Random House and they have obligations to his widow and to Summer. But there is the possibility that they might just pay them off and let the book die in their vaults. Who knows? According to Paul Buhle and Summer, there is a strong possibility that his death might ensure its release since there is always a market for the remaining works of authors who have died, Chile’s Roberto Bolaño being a prime example.

Speaking on my own behalf, I would say that “Unrepentant Marxist” is a terrific book largely due to the incredible work done by artist Summer McClinton. The book is written in a kind of Jewish stand-up comedian style with lots of political observations familiar to anybody who reads this blog, including my evolution since 1981 after coming into contact with Peter Camejo, who is a major presence in the book. Ironically, I had plans to send Harvey a copy of Peter’s memoir in the next day or so. I should add that one of the last times I heard from Harvey was the day that Peter’s obit appeared in the NY Times.

I have no idea what is going to happen with this book but—believe me—I will not rest until it can be read by the public. I don’t have much use for publishing houses, or any other capitalist firm for that matter, and will make sure to remind them that this book was important to Harvey Pekar, one of the outstanding dissident voices of our era.

The last page of “Unrepentant Marxist”

Updates:

Very perceptive article on Pekar and David Letterman

Dennis Perrin on Harvey Pekar

My other articles on Pekar:

American Splendor

The Beats

SDS

The Quitter

North Star: a tribute to Peter Camejo

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,socialism,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:36 pm

North Star
A Tribute to Peter Camejo
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

ed. Louis Proyect’s tribute is based on his own experience and recollection as well as his reading of Peter Camejo’s unfinished memoir published posthumously, North Star: a Memoir, Haymarket Books, 2010, ISBN 978-1931859-92-9.

(Swans – July 12, 2010)   In November 1969, I was ready to drop out of the Socialist Workers Party in New York City just two years after I joined. Although I had no political disagreements, I felt alienated from the organization. I was in a kind of limbo that most people with regular jobs experienced. Unless you were a student at a place like Columbia University where all the action was going on or a full-timer with a sense of mission about being a “professional revolutionary” in Leninist terms, it was easy to feel like a fifth wheel.

Just before I had steeled myself to turn in my resignation and become a “sell-out” to bourgeois society, the organizer called me into his office to ask me to take on an important assignment. The Boston branch was out of step with the rest of the party and required reinforcing with “solid” people who would work with the organizer Peter Camejo to “turn things around.” Feeling a sense of validation that had escaped me before, I said yes on the spot. This would be my introduction to a comrade who I can describe as one of the major influences on my political evolution over the past 30 years. It was thus with a keen sense of anticipation that I turned to his posthumous memoir North Star, a book that not only captures his winning personality but also the ideas that transformed me.

Before moving up to Boston, I knew Peter only by reputation. Apparently, he was one of the few Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members who had won a following among the broad left, especially in Berkeley where his leadership in the Telegraph Avenue struggle of June 1968 had helped to cement his reputation. After the cops had attacked a rally in support of the French strikers, the movement mounted a counter-attack to defend the constitutionally protected right to protest. Although there was a considerable amount of violence, Peter played an important role in making it clear that the cops were responsible and not the protesters. His description of the confrontation would be especially useful to young people today grappling with the problems of black block machismo that have served to muddle the message of anti-globalization protests.

After seeing the power of a united left in the battle of Telegraph Avenue that included the Black Panther Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and thousands of unaffiliated radicals and progressives, Peter began to think about how “out of touch” the left, and Trotskyism in particular, was with “the reality of what it would take to build a mass current for social justice.” He found himself becoming more and more aware of how detached it was from American realities:

We were so disconnected from our own history that to join our organization and remain active, a member had to become interested in and invested in the internal factional struggles of socialism in Russia and Europe. This was important but couldn’t serve as the framework for a mass movement for social change.

He doubted that a single party member could name the first candidate of the Liberty Party, the original third party in American history formed to oppose slavery. It was also unlikely that any had ever read Frederick Douglass’s newspaper “The North Star” that would eventually become a symbol of the kind of broad left that Peter sought to build.

read full at: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/lproy62.html

July 11, 2010

The rooftops of Hebron

Filed under: Palestine — louisproyect @ 8:54 pm

An anarchist critique of the black bloc

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 12:13 am

In the wake of the G8/G20 economic summit protests in Toronto, Canada this past weekend, black bloc demonstrators have once again sparked discussion on the left and hysterics in the corporate media. Closely linked to anarchism, the continued popularity of the black bloc tactic colors the reputation of protesters, particularly anarchists, and merits a response with greater clarity from anarchists.

The black bloc phenomenon reputedly emerged out of Germany in the 1980s. It is predominantly a youth movement and no doubt only marginally within the influence of even other anarchist currents. Nonetheless, a more cohesive critique of the impact of black bloc tactics from within the more serious currents of anarchism will only aid in diminishing the phenomenon.

There is no doubt that black bloc protesters are sincere and on the right side of the larger issues. However, their failure to seriously engage with the broader movement over the utility of their tactics is indicative more of a subcutural identity clique than a continuation of the serious organizing carried out by, for instance, the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s.

Democracy requires discussing tactics in a format that ensures accountability to others organizing the demonstrations. Instead, the code words “diversity of tactics” are often used to cloak a range of actions that inevitably impact all activists involved in protests.

Granted, if the existing political climate in North America were far more radical, and wide swaths of the general population understood destruction of corporate bank facades as an act of political opposition to class exploitation, the tactic would not be harmful. However, it is quite evident we are not in such a period.

Masked faces simply alienate the very people that must be organized. It does not help that masks also facilitate infiltration by the police. The context is important. In the Chiapas region of Mexico, concealing one’s identity may well be a canny response to police repression.

full: http://ideasandaction.info/2010/07/black-bloc-headed/

July 10, 2010

Lebron James and the cash nexus

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 9:44 pm

Unlike professional baseball, basketball (and football) has a salary cap. That means that deep-pocketed owners cannot go out and buy championships like the NY Yankees. So-called smaller market basketball teams like San Antonio and Detroit can reach the top provided the managers know how to spend their money wisely. This is also true of baseball, despite the lack of a salary cap. But teams with a total salary below $60 million (Pittsburgh Pirates) tend to be at the bottom of the standings from year to year while those in the $100 to 140 million range (Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox) can win a World Series. The NY Yankees, who epitomize corporate greed, spent $206 million this year.

The premier players in all sports tend to be complete jerks, especially Alex Rodriguez who is paid $33 million per year by the Yankees. In a lurid biography of the slugger by Selena Roberts, she reveals that he wipes his mouth with $100 bills, signals to opposing hitters what pitch is coming for the return favor that swells his personal statistics, and requires clubhouse attendants to have a toothbrush squirted with toothpaste waiting for him. This is not to speak of his long time use of steroids.

None of this matters to NY Yankee fans. If you listen to WFAN, the all sports station in NY, the only thing that interests both the on-air hosts and the men (mostly) who call in is whether the Yankees are in first place. Interestingly enough, the conversation usually turns to cash as the callers make suggestions about which superstar the Yankee management can spend another $20 million on. In the last couple of days, rumors swirled around the possibility that the Yankees would sign up Cliff Lee, one of the sport’s top pitchers. Even on-air host Mike Francesa, a gung-ho Yankee fan, found this objectionable. It turned out that Lee ended up with the Texas Rangers, the team run by George W. Bush in the 1990s.

Generally speaking, the men who own and run baseball teams are the worst of the bourgeoisie, epitomized by George Steinbrenner who is adored by fans for turning the franchise into the most profligate in professional sports. Now suffering from Alzheimer’s, he was the subject of a biography this year by Bill Madden that reveals him to be as big a jerk as Alex Rodriguez. A NY Times review recounts:

After the second game of the 1976 World Series, [team president Gabe] Paul recorded an incident when Steinbrenner  suggested hiring the Black Muslims to deal with Mary Rivers, who he said was causing her husband, Mickey, to be distracted and go 0 for 9 in the series. On tape, Paul said: ”Black Muslims? This man will stoop to anything!”

Paul was astonished to learn from Steinbrenner’s wife, Joan, that her husband had barred her from eating in the stadium’s Yankee Club dining room. Paul said: ”He’s showing off with all his friends and cronies up there, but he won’t let her up there and I’ve got to try to explain to her why.”

One day, Madden writes, the organist Eddie Layton was practicing in an empty stadium when Steinbrenner startled him by shoving him and saying, ”Move over!” Steinbrenner began to play and told him: ”This is how you play the organ! You go walk around the stadium and see how the sound is and then come back here.”

New York sports teams are obviously scrutinized closely by the local media, which includes the NY Times and Rupert Murdoch’s trashy NY Post. Every little indiscretion by players or owners tends to come under a microscope. Also, if a player is not performing up to their salary, they tend to get raked over the coals. For example, Mark Teixera, the Yankee first baseman, is making $20 million per year but is only batting an anemic .243. The fans who call into WFAN get particularly annoyed by such underperformance since they have to pony up $300 for a good seat. Speaking for myself, I prefer to watch baseball played in Central Park. I can stand directly behind the catcher and don’t have to pay a penny.

But it was basketball not baseball that dominated sports talk in NY this week. The NY Knickerbockers had finally cleared enough salary cap to sign up Lebron James, the Cleveland small forward who is arguably the best player in the sport. NY was competing with other teams, who could offer the same salary given the sport’s egalitarian budgetary arrangements.

The job of freeing up salary had been assigned to Donnie Walsh, who had replaced Isiah Thomas in 2008. Thomas, unlike Walsh, had been a superstar with the Detroit Pistons but that did not help him pick the best players given the budget he was working with. In fact, he had a real knack for picking the worst players for the money, so much so that the Knicks got the reputation for being a toxic dump. This was a big step down from the team’s glory days when the starting lineup included future hall of famers like Walt Frazier and Willis Reed.

Thomas was not just unwise when it came to hiring talent. He was also a first-class skunk toward women, just like Jimmy Dolan, the creep who owned the team. In 2007 a federal jury decided that Dolan had to pay $11.6 million in damages to former New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders in her sexual harassment lawsuit. CBS News described the atmosphere that led to her legal victory:

Browne Sanders, fired from her $260,000 a year job in 2006, sued Thomas and Madison Square Garden. Her case presented the Garden as “Animal House” in sneakers, a place where nepotism, sexism, crude remarks and crass language were part of the culture.

The former Northwestern college basketball star characterized Thomas as a foul-mouthed lout who initially berated her as a “bitch” and a “ho” before his anger gave way to ardor, with Thomas making unwanted advances and encouraging her to visit him “off site.”

Walsh came in as part of a housecleaning exercise supervised by NBA officials who were embarrassed by the Knickerbockers. Born in 1941, the avuncular Walsh had helped to make the Indianapolis Pacers a first-rate team, depending largely on the talents of Reggie Miller.

His goal was not just to remove the stench left by Thomas but to lure Lebron James to the team. Supposedly, playing in NYC is some kind of sign that you have really made it.

To make sure that James would decide in favor of NYC, executives went out to Cleveland, the home of American Splendor comic book writer Harvey Pekar and about as apt a symbol of rust belt decline as can be found anywhere in the country, and tried to convince him that the Knicks salary was only the starting point. Since the city was the number one sports market in the country, he could expect to parley his playing with the Knicks into a range of lucrative sidelines including endorsements.

From that standpoint, it might appear that he would fit in well with the Knicks because he had professed a goal of becoming a billionaire like Tiger Woods.  In 2005 he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “In the next 15 or 20 years, I hope I’ll be the richest man in the world. That’s one of my goals. I want to be a billionaire.”

It wasn’t just the Knicks who were promising James that they would help him fulfill his ambitions. The new owner of the New Jersey Nets, a Russian billionaire named Mikhail Prokhorov, laid out his perspectives in a scene that had all the redolence of a James Bond movie:

The presentation of New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has been designed to reach LeBron James on his deepest and most superficial of levels. The self-made mogul has carefully crafted a detailed and daring plan to make James a billionaire. The Nets will show him the map of the world, where the mogul has gone in China and India and Russia to make his billions and convince James that there’s a blueprint here for him too.

But the Russian plutocrat could not top the New York Knicks, as the trashy tabloid NY Post reported:

Led by owner James Dolan, team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks held their long-anticipated meeting with LeBron James yesterday in the downtown Cleveland offices of James’ manager, Maverick Carter.

It lasted two hours, and the major themes were New York’s endless energy — and the chance for “The King” to reap as much as $1.94 billion in salary (from a five-year max deal) plus endorsements if he bolts Cleveland and finishes his career with the Knicks.

In the end, Lebron James decided to go with the Miami Heat, even though he would make less money than in New York. The Heat had recruited one other superstar already, Chris Bosh, to play alongside the team’s reigning superstar Dwayne Wade. The three players were good friends and had made plans long before the bidding war to team up and become a dynasty, something apparently that matters more than mere shekels. Whatever you want to say about Lebron James, who certainly strikes me as repellent as Alex Rodriguez, he still cares more about winning than money, which is not to say that he will end up a pauper in Miami.

The oddest thing about the press coverage is the tendency to accuse James of abandoning his fellow blue-collar Ohioans. (He grew up in Akron.) Josh Green, a senior editor at the centrist Atlantic Monthly, predicted that the tea party movement would grow in Ohio if Lebron James left town:

Back to Ohio. The unemployment rate is well above the national average, nearly 11 percent. The state’s manufacturing base has been decimated, and those jobs aren’t coming back. And now, suddenly, the biggest star in the state — an economic engine in his own right, and a guy who probably single-handedly made Cleveland a recognizable sports mecca all over the world — has forsaken its residents. And not just forsaken them, but utterly humiliated them by forsaking them on a globally televised ESPN Special!

Would you be angry? I sure would be. And I’d be that much more amenable to the Tea Party message that everything is going to hell.

Back in 1968 or so, Derrick Morrison, a charismatic African-American Trotskyist from Detroit, was holding court in the headquarters of the NY branch. Playing the contrarian, he said that there would be no sports under socialism. He of course was being outrageous, especially since he was not just referring to the cesspool of professional sports but all sports. He thought people would be better off doing some exercises to stay in shape and motivated to improve their mind in their leisure. Who knows, given the general decline of capitalist civilization, from BP to billionaire sleaze-ball athletes, maybe the socialist world we are struggling for will look a lot more like Derrick’s than anybody would anticipate.

July 8, 2010

On the Naxalites

Filed under: Film,india,indigenous — louisproyect @ 7:08 pm

Opening tomorrow at BIG Cinemas in New York (formerly called the Imaginasian Theater), Ananth Hahadevan’s Red Alert: the War Within reflects liberal opposition to the Naxalite movement. I suppose I was expecting too much from the film given the alarmist title. Indeed, “Red Alert” is the kind of title you might see attached to a 1950s anti-Communist movie, the second cousin of this Indian production. At the very least, it prompted me to read Arundhati Roy’s 25 page article Walking with the Comrades that appeared in Outlook, an Indian magazine, last March. The contrast between Roy’s reportage and the movie could not be more vivid, as I will now explain.

The main character in Red Alert is Narashima (Suniel Shetty), a penniless farmer who has joined the Maoists mainly out of economic necessity rather than ideological conviction. In exchange for his services as a cook, the “terrorists” (to use the press notes formulation) will fund his children’s education.

Things don’t start well for Narashima. In the opening scene, as he makes his way into the forest to hook up with the Maoists, he comes under attack from a squad of policemen who have trailed him. Opening fire on the cops, the Maoists kill each one, rescuing Narashima in the process who is then berated by the guerrillas for lacking caution. Indeed, throughout the entire movie the hapless Narashima receives one dressing down after another, for either not being good with weapons or for requesting permission to go home to his wife and children. Each time he is bawled out, he wears the pained expression of a grade school student being chastised by a schoolmarm.

Perhaps director Mahadevan might have been better served if he had simply made a movie based on the real-life event that inspired the movie, as related to Screen Magazine, an Indian publication:

A couple of years ago I read of a farmer in Andra Pradesh who needed money for his kids’ education. So he started a service to deliver food. On one occasion he realized that he is delivering the food to Naxalites! He was taken as a hostage by them. But eventually he managed to escape. This human story inspired me to make the film.

By turning someone that was a hostage into an unwilling fighter, he ended up with a drama that is less satisfying than what might have been possible. If the goal of the movie was to explore the psychology of a “terrorist”, it subverts that goal by making the central character so out of step with those he has joined. One imagines that the director identified so strongly with mainstream thinking in India that this would have been impossible.

Indeed, the Naxalites are best described as cardboard figures who invariably mouth “Marxist-Leninist” rhetoric about the need to be ruthless with the enemy. By contrast, the cops come across as fairly reasonable despite the inclusion of a female character who is found cowering in a police station that the guerrillas have overrun, one more rape victim of a sadistic police force. Given the close scrutiny of Indian censors, who perhaps are to blame for most of the movie’s unwillingness to give too much credence to the Maoists, it is surprising that this state-sponsored terror was allowed to be represented.

What drives the plot forward is Narashima summoning up the courage to break with the Naxalites whose role in the film is mainly to take part in one battle scene or another when they are not giving tough as nails speeches about the need to destroy their enemies. Despite my obvious reservations about Red Alert, I can at least recommend it as a useful snapshot of liberal thinking in India with respect to an obvious growing menace to capitalist law and order.

One of the minor characters in Red Alert is a journalist who comes deep into the jungle in order to get the real story on what makes the terrorists tick. An opportunity is lost for the film to convey some of the reality of the Naxalite movement. With the militants uttering the same tired rhetoric, the journalist naturally finds the pathetic Narashima much more to his liking, suggesting that the director identified with the journalist. In a story that appeared in Indo-Asian News Service, director Mahadevan reveals the source of his Maoist dialog:

“Probably for the first time in Indian cinema you will get to hear dialogues which are actually spoken lines and not fabricated. We actually did extensive research. My writer Aruna Raje and I downloaded a lot of interviews with the Maoists and cops from the internet. Every line they spoke was volatile and we ended up using those lines,” the director said.

Perhaps he would have been better served if he had put in the effort to speak face-to-face with the guerrillas as Arundhati Roy did. The opening paragraph of her article cites a typewritten note slipped under her door setting down the protocol for her rendezvous with the Maoists: “Writer should have camera, tika and coconut. Meeter will have cap, Hindi Outlook magazine and bananas. Password: Namashkar Guruji.”

The circumstances of her first encounter departed from the script:

I arrived at the Ma Danteshwari mandir well in time for my appointment (first day, first show). I had my camera, my small coconut and a powdery red tika on my forehead. I wondered if someone was watching me and having a laugh. Within minutes a young boy approached me. He had a cap and a backpack schoolbag. Chipped red nail-polish on his fingernails. No Hindi Outlook, no bananas. “Are you the one who’s going in?” he asked me. No Namashkar Guruji. I did not know what to say. He took out a soggy note from his pocket and handed it to me. It said, “Outlook nahin mila (couldn’t find Outlook).”

“And the bananas?”

“I ate them,” he said, “I got hungry.”

He really was a security threat.

His backpack said Charlie Brown—Not your ordinary blockhead. He said his name was Mangtu. I soon learned that Dandakaranya, the forest I was about to enter, was full of people who had many names and fluid identities. It was like balm to me, that idea. How lovely not to be stuck with yourself, to become someone else for a while.

Needless to say, there are no characters in “Red Alert” that come within a million miles of the reality of this young boy with his Charlie Brown backpack. It would have been an infinitely more interesting movie if both the director’s political background had been more open to it—and even more importantly—the Indian censors were not in a position to put a gag over his mouth as they sought to do with Arundhati Roy. Shortly after her article appeared, the Times of India reported:

Addressing the gathering state general secretary, Youth Congress, Hardev Singh said, “Today the problem of Naxalism has become more alarming than terrorism and Naxalites are posing a serious threat to the country. Issuing any statement in favour of Naxalities at this juncture by the writer is nothing short of treason. Moreover by criticising the policy of non-violence enunciated and propagated by Mahatma Gandhi and supporting the violent means of Naxalities, the writer [Roy] has justified wring means to achieve good or bad ends for the young generation. If the government fails to put a check over such persons it is going to prove disastrous in future.”

My advice is to read her article since it is obvious that the Naxalite movement is growing as this article from Countercurrents, a left-oriented Indian website would indicate:

Ms Arundhati Roy’s piece has been subjected to unfair censorious remarks by her critics. It had been alleged that she “has conjured up another bad dream in tribal India and perhaps unwittingly is working overtime with other misguided ideologues to make it come true”. But these flag bearers of the establishment missed the essence of the Indian Constitution which provides for a pluralistic society where a hundred ideological flowers can bloom and co-exist. As to his wrongful thinking that Maoism would fade out, as had happened to many such insurrectionary movements in the past, one may perhaps speculate that it might not because hard facts give contra-indications. Naxalism started in April 1967 in one State (West Bengal), in one district (Darjeeling) and in one police station area (Naxalbari–from which it derives its name). Forty two years later, according to the statement of the Union Home Minister in November, 2009, it had spread to 23 States, 250 districts and over 2000 police station areas. Thus spatially the movement had spread over 2000 times. A guess estimate suggests that during this period combined police budget of the Centre and States had gone up by 600 times (firm figures are not available in one place). Perhaps a statistician could find out whether there was any significant co-relation between increase of police budget and spread of Naxalism. Naxalism seems to be a hardy plant in a sturdy soil. So far it has shown no sign of wilting or waning.

I want to conclude by highlighting a section of Roy’s article that might provide some insights into the nature of the conflict, which in many respects has more to do with the Brazilian rainforest than Mao’s China. Or for that matter, James Cameron’s “Avatar”, for interestingly enough the social base of the Naxalites are forest dwellers outside of the capitalist economy who are threatened precisely by the large-scale capitalist mining and agriculture operations mounted in the name of “progress”.

As indigenous peoples, the Indian adivasi are the nation’s aborigines. Unlike Brazil, where there is a racial difference between the white settlers and the Yanomami, this is not the case in India. Unlike Africa and Latin America, the internal onslaught against the indigenous peoples was mounted by the Indian majority not British or Spanish colonists. In this sense, the conflict is much more like the one that took place between Colonel Custer and Sitting Bull than the classic colonial conflict. Of course, internal colonization can be just as deadly and cruel in the pursuit of profit as the more conventional kind introduced from beyond the borders.

Finally, a word on the political ramifications of the Naxalite struggle. Despite my sympathy for the movement, increased considerably by Roy’s superlative reportage, I can only wonder if it is facing the same problems that peasant-based movements in Latin America have faced when they fail to offer a solution for the urban population. In Peru, a powerful Maoist movement known as the Shining Path failed to take power because of its indifference—if not open hostility—to traditional urban sectors such as the trade union movement. In Colombia, a non-Maoist but “surrounding the city by the countryside” movement known as the FARC has failed to become much more than an armed force in defense of poor peasants and coca growers specifically. While one can never gainsay the importance of an armed force standing up for the rights of the most degraded and despised elements of society, there is still the question of what future the movement has in light of a somewhat narrow political focus.

Arundhati Roy wrote at the beginning of her article:

The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organised, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion. The Maoists and the paramilitary are old adversaries and have fought older avatars of each other several times before: Telangana in the ’50s; West Bengal, Bihar, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh in the late ’60s and ’70s; and then again in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra from the ’80s all the way through to the present. They are familiar with each other’s tactics, and have studied each other’s combat manuals closely. Each time, it seemed as though the Maoists (or their previous avatars) had been not just defeated, but literally, physically exterminated. Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever. Today once again the insurrection has spread through the mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal—homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.

One can only hope that somehow the left in India will become united so that the indigenous peoples, the factory workers, the student rebels—all those who feel cheated by the neoliberal “miracle” gushed over by the Thomas Friedmans of the world—will prevail. Long live the spread of the insurrection! Down with the corporate world!

July 7, 2010

The G20 protests: provocation and state repression

Filed under: anarchism,repression — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

July 6, 2010

They don’t make music the way they used to

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 11:15 pm

Curtis Mayfield 1942-1999

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