Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 11, 2011

The Libyan rebels and human rights

Filed under: immigration,Libya,racism — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

On March 31, 2011 Wolfgang Weber published an article entitled,“Libyan rebels massacre black Africans.” The article appeared on numerous websites simultaneously. As the title suggests, Weber alleges that rebel forces have engaged in repeated massacres of black Africans. He provides no footnotes or other citations. He alleges that his primary source of information is an article by the German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn from the March 22, 2011 issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. A search of that newspaper’s website yielded no such article, although several other Heinsohn articles on unrelated topics did appear. Nor did repeated google searches  produce evidence of such a Heinsohn article. And I have found no other references to it, which is strange because Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is a world-reknowned newspaper.[xii]

When dealing with difficult subjects like this we need to be careful. We should be open-minded enough to accept facts which may challenge our assumptions. At the same time, it is irresponsible to engage in rumor mongering. From the scattered bits of reliable evidence we can piece together a story that is not pretty. But nor does it confirm the wild allegations promoted on numerous pro-Qaddafi, or anti-rebellion websites.

Like many petro-dictators, Qaddafi has relied on immigrant workers who come to Libya for employment opportunities. They come from eastern and southern Asia, the middle east, and northern Africa. The AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center estimates that sub-Saharan workers constitute as much as one-third of Libya’s active workforce.[xiii] Estimates vary, however. Precise demographic data is difficult to come by in a police state. Under Qaddafi’s rule immigrant workers had no legal rights and were barred from joining even the legally-constrained trade unions.

As is often the case in countries with large numbers of migrant workers, there have been periodic waves of anti-immigrant violence. Human Rights Watch has tracked cases of mob violence against sub-Saharan Africans in Libya since 2006.[xiv]

The outbreak of civil war in late February had particularly devastating effects on immigrant workers. Entire cities have been vacated. Production in many areas has shut down. HRW reports that thousands of migrants have been attempting to flee Libya since the beginning of the conflict. Those whose home countries have been willing to send rescue ships have been the lucky ones. Many others have been trapped in refugee camps, living in terrible conditions.

Within the camps several sub-Saharan workers have reported being victimized by mob violence. So far the reports do not make clear who the mobs were, or whether they have any connection to the rebel organizations. Nor, from the limited number of reports, can we estimate how many have been killed. [xv]

There is some evidence that some rebel fighters and authorities are guilty of racial profiling and racial violence. Included among the testimony provided to Human Rights Watch are accounts of beatings at the hands of rebel fighters. In reaction to Qaddafi’s widely-reported use of mercenaries from Chad and Niger[xvi], some Black Africans in Benghazi have been arrested on spurious evidence of collaboration with the regime. Again, it is difficult to tell how widespread this is. Most reports refer to a single event in Benghazi involving fewer than ten people. But it would not be surprising if it occurred more frequently, given the chaos of civil war, the primitive character of revolutionary justice in general, and the racial bigotry which is undoubtedly still common-place.

A March 29, 2011 Toronto Globe and Mail article provides some details of the above-mentioned events. It also indicates that the human rights situation has improved since mid-March. The TNC has appointed human rights activist Mohamed el-Allagi as its new Minister of Justice and has welcomed the involvement of HRW and the Red Cross to improve its human rights record. Whether this is more PR than reality, and whether el-Allagi will actually have power over anything is yet to be seen.[xvii]

We should be critically open-minded about these events. It may be that some rebel forces have  engaged in reprehensible attacks. And we should have no illusions that a successful revolution will end such attacks, any more than the Egyptian revolution has ended religious or gender violence. What we can say with confidence is that if the Qaddafi regime prevails it will reinstitute all of the racist policies that have made immigrant workers second-class citizens, and created the conditions for racial and ethnic conflicts. If the revolution succeeds, there is at least the possibility of new political forces emerging which can envision a different kind of social order.

read full article

April 10, 2011

MRZine regular circulates anti-Semitic filth

Filed under: anti-Semitism — louisproyect @ 10:01 pm

This is from the Sons of Malcolm blog of Sukant Chandan, a British citizen of Indian origin who has become quite the regular on MRZine:

The US State Dept and its Jewish cadres have been agitating the Egyptian youth movement since 2008 according to many references published on the internet. So this is something the US has been working on. Not just exploited after the fact, but guided. True the millions didn’t take to the street for the love of America, but the millions don’t have any clear direction so the youth who have taken classes with America’s State Dept. Jews are giving them guidance. And if there’s no leadership that actually does raise the international issues, then those won’t be raised by the masses spontaneously.

And if the youth in Jordan are deliberately avoiding these big issues as it may seem, and if they are going to limit their activity to that which the US can accept, then what good is this activity?

It doesn’t really matter if Chandan did not write this filth himself. He made the decision to publish the article by Muhammad Nasr, a long-time anti-Semite who writes for http://freearabvoice.org/. And Furuhashi made the decision to publish Chandan, who is backward and ignorant enough to feature this garbage on his blog.

It is also telling that the article was dated March 28, long after charges about State Department involvement with the anti-Mubarak youth had been discredited (I leave the business about “Jewish cadres” in the toilet where it belongs). It gives you a good idea of the conspiratorial mindset of the MRZine/Sons of Malcolm/Michel Chossudovsky wing of the left (I use the term left charitably.)

This Chandan is a real piece of work. He was sending links to his junk to the Marxmail list when he was a subscriber for a brief time. When I demanded that he at least try to defend his low-level synthesis of what he thought Marxism was (I imagine it came mostly from staring at Che Guevara posters) and radical Islam (and the al-Qaeda strain most alarmingly), he refused. I can’t remember whether I unsubbed him or he unsubbed himself. Needless to say, I should have booted him a week or so after he showed up. I remember Weatherpeople on acid trips from the 70s who made more sense than him.

Although Richard Seymour has erred in the past by providing a platform for the equally daffy Furuhashi on his blog, I think his most recent encounter with Chandan will inoculate him against this “anti-imperialist” mental ward. He spoke at a debate about intervention in Libya on the same side as Chandan but found himself feeling more akin to the other side in the debate after listening to the drivel coming out of Chandan’s mouth:

But he was relatively innocuous compared to Sukant Chandan, whose breathtaking defence of the Qadhafi regime and insistence on hectoring Libyans present, including Hamid from the Libyan Youth Movement, left activists infuriated. I mean, literally fuming. Sukant’s opening line was a cracker, to be sure. “Qadhafi never called me a p***. My beef is not with Qadhafi, it’s with the Brits.” The subsequent argument involved harnessing unexceptionable observations about imperialism to a less tenable argument that Qadhafi’s regime represented some kind of advanced welfare state, and that his opponents are ‘Contras’. He also argued that the uprising in Syria was an imperialist subvention, intended to undermine Hezbollah. Stunned gasps and disbelieving laughter from the Libyan activists in the audience.

Hamid offered only a qualified and very reluctant defence of the NATO intervention. “We did not want NATO to come, but what alternatives did we have? No one helped us, no one armed us. We know what the West is about, we know what NATO is – but if someone tells us what the alternative is, I will be happy to hear it.” I don’t agree with this, for reasons you know well enough, and I admit I rolled my eyes impatiently when he claimed that Libya had carried out Lockerbie. But he ended up spending far more of his time attempting to defend the reputation of the revolution from its calumniator, and to this extent I found I had far more in common with him than I had with the Son of Malcolm. At one point, as Sukant repeatedly barracked Hamid, demanding that he stipulate his opposition to Africom setting up a base in Libya and confirm that Palestine is the number one issue for Middle Eastern freedom – yes, literally, demanded – an Egyptian woman stood up and begged him to “drop it”. “This is why people are pissed off with you. It’s not about imperialism, we agree with you on all of that, it’s that you’re so arrogant!” After a few more mouthfuls of frustrated anger, she walked out. And there was more where that came from. As the crowd dwindled, people walking out or just drifting away, and the heckling and back and forth with audience members became more chaotic, the only people who backed Sukant up were a small amen corner, who nodded along at his most obvious pronouncements.

Now I doubt that Harry Magdoff’s Jewishness amounted to anything more than a taste for pastrami sandwiches, but I wonder what he would make of his imprint being associated with the likes of Sukant Chandan. I have heard that the crew who runs MR often rejects submissions because they are not “MR” enough. Maybe they can solicit something from Sukant Chandan and Muhammad Nasr along the lines of “How Jewish cadres of the State Department are behind the Arab Revolution”. That I am afraid would be MR enough.

April 8, 2011

Malcolm X and chickens coming home to roost

Filed under: african-american — louisproyect @ 6:46 pm

In a predictably lukewarm review of Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm X in the N.Y. Times, Michiko Kakutani cannot help but repeat an ancient canard:

There is one ill-considered effort in these pages to rationalize Malcolm X’s violent rhetoric in his Nation of Islam days. “In retrospect,” Mr. Marable writes, “many of Malcolm’s most outrageous statements about the necessity of extremism in the achievement of political freedom and liberty were not unlike the views expressed by the 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who declared that ‘extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.’ ”

This hardly seems an apt comparison given Malcolm X’s description of a 1962 airplane crash, killing more than a hundred well-to-do white residents of Atlanta, as “a very beautiful thing,” proof that God answers prayers. Or his description of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as an instance of “the chickens coming home to roost” — to which he added that “being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.”

While the JFK quote is far better known, the “very beautiful thing” business needs some context that you of course will never find in the N.Y. Times. In 1962 the Los Angeles police department raided a NOI mosque and shot unarmed men in the aftermath of a typical “racial profiling” incident on the street that victimized a couple of Black Muslims. Frederick Knight wrote about the incident in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 79, 1994:

On the night of April 27, 1962, scores of policemen ransacked the Nation of Islam Mosque in Los Angeles and wounded seven unarmed Muslims, leaving William Rogers paralyzed and Ronald Stokes dead. Newspapers from New York to Los Angeles printed the story in their headlines, presenting the gruesome image of the slain Muslim, suited, face-down, handcuffed, swimming in a pool of his own blood. The political struggles which erupted after the shooting soon overshadowed this story of human pain and suffering. And the headlines of local and national newspapers quickly recognized that the siege was certainly not the normal police brutality case.

To many white political leaders, the conflict substantiated their worst fears about the violent nature of the Nation of Islam. On the other hand, many black leaders condemned the police for what they considered to be a racially motivated assault. Though contemporaries viewed the shooting from different perspectives, they agreed on the importance of the attack and its aftermath. Several recent scholars have marked the event as a watershed event in the ideological development of Malcolm X and in Los Angeles racial politics preceding the Watts Rebellion of August 1965.

It was exactly such incidents that had a history going back to the 1870s that made Malcolm X speak with some bitter satisfaction about the plane crash. Of course, this is the big difference between those who have power and those who do not. Those with power do not utter inappropriate statements, but on the other hand do send their police into places of worship to shoot and kill unarmed men.

With respect to the chickens coming home to roost, Malcolm X’s full statement on this has never appeared in print. He was responding on December 1, 1963 to an audience member who had attended a talk titled God’s Judgment of White America.

The next day the N.Y. Times reported on the exchange in an article titled “Malcolm X Scores U.S. and Kennedy”. Malcolm is quoted as saying that Kennedy twiddled his thumbs at the killing of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, adding that JFK “never foresaw that the chickens would come to roost so soon.” Certainly JFK’s CIA did more than just twiddle its thumbs when it came to foreign leaders it found inconvenient. The White House had lined up mafia hit men to kill Fidel Castro, as well as taken part in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Malcolm´s rather uncontroversial statement simply pointed out that if you were going to kill people overseas in such a fashion you invited being killed in the same way.

The Times says that in further criticism of the late president, Malcolm referred to the young Black girls who died in the bombing of a Birmingham church. A week before the bombing Governor George Wallace told the Times that Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.” Wikipedia states:

A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.

Meanwhile, the FBI stopped pursuing the case because of a “lack of evidence”.

Malcolm X explained what he was trying to say later on. Fortunately you can see the great Black Nationalist leader make his own case on Youtube:

Like Ward Churchill nearly 40 years later, Malcolm was crucified for telling the truth. When you break the law overseas and allow killers to go free in your own country, you create an atmosphere where men decide to take the law in their own hands.

Yemen protesters carry Che Guevara banners

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

April 6, 2011

How to play the piano like Phillip Glass

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 7:11 pm

Armadillo

Filed under: Afghanistan,Film — louisproyect @ 6:52 pm

Despite the fact that it covers basically the same terrain as “Restrepo”, I do recommend the Danish documentary “Armadillo” that arrives at the IFC Center in New York on April 8. Like “Restrepo”, it gives you a close-up view of soldiers operating in Taliban-dominated territory in Afghanistan, in this case the Helmand province.

Armadillo was the name of the base that 170 British and Danish troops occupied. Director Janus Metz focuses on a group of his fellow countrymen as they depart from Demark and serve a brief but horrific tour of duty. Like the men in “Restrepo”, they are addicted to violent video games, rough-housing, pornography and other macho pastimes mostly intended to relieve the boredom. This is not a war in which the combatants face off in large-scale set pieces like the Battle of Gettysburg. Mostly, the occupying forces go out on patrols that lead to no encounters with the Taliban who prefer to use IED’s to punish the invaders. In the course of the film, there are repeated injuries due to the devices.

Also, like in “Restrepo”, the villagers openly complain about the hardships they suffer due to the occupation. Mortar attacks directed at the Taliban often result in the loss of civilian life. The soldiers suspect the villagers of secretly backing the Taliban so it is no surprise that they are indifferent to collateral damage.

The big story with “Armadillo” is that a scene that takes place toward the end of the film has led to major soul-searching in Denmark. In the only serious firefight that takes place in the entire film, a Danish soldier throws a hand grenade into a ditch in which four Taliban fighters have taken cover. When the blast leaves them severely wounded but still alive, other soldiers empty their guns on them.

The Guardian reported on the film’s impact:

Guess which film knocked Prince of Persia off the top spot at the Danish box office this week. Sex and the City 2? Valhalla Rising 3? Wrong: it’s a new film called Armadillo, by young Danish director Janus Metz, that has provoked a furious debate in Denmark since its premiere in Cannes last week. The film, its director calculates, has already been the subject of 300 to 400 articles in the Danish press. The Danish minister of defence, Gitte Lillelund Bech, has seen it, as have many other politicians and senior members of the military, who have now commissioned an inquiry into events it shows. There has been such a clamour among the public to see it that the film has been rushed into cinemas this week, almost two months in advance of its original release date.

It is a sign that there are residues of civilization in Denmark that such behavior could have provoked outrage. Those of us who live in America have become inured to the notion that American soldiers are operating as total savages in Afghanistan. If the Danish got worked up about four Taliban wounded combatants being shot to death, what would they make of their soldiers killing Afghans basically for sport?

The current online Rolling Stone has a chilling article on the men of the 3rd Platoon of the 5th Stryker Brigade who operated in Kandahar Province. Frustrated by their inability to have direct combat with the Taliban who relied on IED’s just as they had in Helmand Province, they decided to start killing civilians because they were deemed guilty of harboring loyalties to the Taliban anyhow. Like New York City cops, they got into the habit of planting weapons on the bodies of the men they shot. Unlike NY cops, at least at this point, they took pictures of themselves standing over the dead bodies as if they were deer bagged during hunting season. They also chopped off fingers and kept them as trophies.

From the Rolling Stone article by Mark Boal

The article was written by Mark Boal, the author of the screenplay for “In the Valley of Elah”, a good movie about out-of-control veterans of the Iraq war, and the dreadful “Hurt Locker”. Boal writes:

Back at the wall, soldiers arriving on the scene found the body and the bloodstains on the ground. Morlock and Holmes were crouched by the wall, looking excited. When a staff sergeant asked them what had happened, Morlock said the boy had been about to attack them with a grenade. “We had to shoot the guy,” he said.

It was an unlikely story: a lone Taliban fighter, armed with only a grenade, attempting to ambush a platoon in broad daylight, let alone in an area that offered no cover or concealment. Even the top officer on the scene, Capt. Patrick Mitchell, thought there was something strange about Morlock’s story. “I just thought it was weird that someone would come up and throw a grenade at us,” Mitchell later told investigators.

But Mitchell did not order his men to render aid to Mudin, whom he believed might still be alive, and possibly a threat. Instead, he ordered Staff Sgt. Kris Sprague to “make sure” the boy was dead. Sprague raised his rifle and fired twice.

As the soldiers milled around the body, a local elder who had been working in the poppy field came forward and accused Morlock and Holmes of murder. Pointing to Morlock, he said that the soldier, not the boy, had thrown the grenade. Morlock and the other soldiers ignored him.

To identify the body, the soldiers fetched the village elder who had been speaking to the officers that morning. But by tragic coincidence, the elder turned out to be the father of the slain boy. His moment of grief-stricken recognition, when he saw his son lying in a pool of blood, was later recounted in the flat prose of an official Army report. “The father was very upset,” the report noted.

The father’s grief did nothing to interrupt the pumped-up mood that had broken out among the soldiers. Following the routine Army procedure required after every battlefield death, they cut off the dead boy’s clothes and stripped him naked to check for identifying tattoos. Next they scanned his iris and fingerprints, using a portable biometric scanner.

Then, in a break with protocol, the soldiers began taking photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. Holding a cigarette rakishly in one hand, Holmes posed for the camera with Mudin’s bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing the boy’s head by the hair as if it were a trophy deer. Morlock made sure to get a similar memento.

Despite the fact that this kind of savagery has been going on since October 2001 and that a Democratic president elected on the basis of a return to civilized behavior has largely continued with the status quo, it is amazing that nothing seems to change. Like a nightmare that refuses to end, the war in Afghanistan continues along its bestial path. As a nation that was dedicated early on to building an empire, it is no surprise that the elected officials who swear by its founding values are incapable of changing course, especially since they cannot recognize the Original Sin of Empire.

We shall divert through our own Country a branch of commerce which the European States have thought worthy of the most important struggles and sacrifices, and in the event of peace [ending the American Revolution]…we shall form to the American union a barrier against the dangerous extension of the British Province of Canada and add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country thereby converting dangerous Enemies into valuable friends.

–Thomas Jefferson letter to George Rogers Clark, 25 December 1780

April 5, 2011

Blank City

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:40 pm

Now mostly in their fifties and sixties, the film-makers celebrated in Céline Danhier’s documentary “Blank City”, opening tomorrow at the IFC Center in New York, were at one time the epitome of youthful rebellion. Although I had at most only a glancing familiarity with their work, I found myself developing a real sympathy for some people whose main goal in life apparently was to aggravate other people in the same fashion as punk rock bands, the inspiration for the “no wave” film movement.

Indeed, the primary impetus for this new film movement was to capture live performances of bands such as Television, Talking Heads and the Ramones that were appearing at venues such as CBGB’s. Lydia Lunch, a prime mover in both the music and film scene downtown at the time, describes how she recruited a drummer for one of her bands. She says that when the fellow demurred, saying that he had no experience whatsoever as a drummer, she replied that was exactly what she was looking for.

The “no wave” movies were shot almost exclusively on Super-8 cameras that predated the camcorder revolution. These hand-held cameras, about the size of a camcorder, were fairly inexpensive and not terribly hard to learn how to use. People like Lydia Lunch were not bothered that the movies made with them had a crude appearance. As should be obvious, that was the visual counterpart of the music they were making. All in all, the punk scene was a reaction to the bloated and commercial direction rock-and-roll had taken, with overproduced disco albums especially targeted. The movies that followed in punk’s footsteps had the same esthetic, a nose-thumbing rebuke of Hollywood. As is stated throughout the movie, the interviewees described their work as influenced by Dadaism and surrealism, the two artistic trends that had similar ambitions in the 1920s and 30s, namely to repudiate the status quo.

Most of the people involved with this movement are faded memories today. Along with Lydia Lunch, we hear from Scott and Beth B. who were at the time quite prominent as “no wave” film making pioneers. Other key participants were Lizzie Borden, James Nares, Eric Mitchell, and Michael Oblowitz. Some others managed to use their notoriety as experimental directors (and even some actors like Steve Buscemi) to launch careers in independent film. Jim Jarmusch is probably the best known. His “Stranger than Paradise”, an exercise in dead-pan humor reminiscent of the Finnish genius Aki Kaurismäki, is available from Netflix and is a pretty good introduction to the genre’s commercial offspring. Susan Seidelman made a rather exploitative feature film on the downtown scene called “Desperately Seeking Susan” that starred Madonna. I think you will find that it is much more dated than Jarmusch’s work.

Most interesting for me is the political stance taken by a number of the “no wave” film-makers that despite being expressed in rather obscure forms was aimed at the Reagan administration and the sense that American capitalism was a corrupt and decadent system. I especially appreciated the sensibility expressed by Nick Zedd and other members of the “Cinema of Transgression” school that was denounced by the Wall Street Journal. They put together a manifesto that incorporates a blast at “film theory” that I fully embrace, especially after enduring a month or so of it in a documentary film class at Columbia University:

We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged. We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possessed the vision to see through this charade. We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over.

Legitimizing every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centers and geriatric cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank – such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straightjackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man. We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition. Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men.

We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema. We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed. Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression – to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.

BRAVO!!!

April 4, 2011

Who are the anti-Qaddafi rebels?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 7:58 pm

Left Forum 2011 — part three

Filed under: financial crisis,Left Forum — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

This is the third installment of video-based blogging on the 2011 Left Forum, although it won’t be my last report. The final one will cover some panel discussions that I attended but did not videotape, or in one case forgot to turn my camcorder on (sorry, Michael.)

On Sunday afternoon Doug Henwood, David Harvey and Mark Weisbrot spoke on “Post-Financial Crisis: Neoliberalism and the Global Economic Recovery”, a high point in many ways for me. Doug and David’s talks touched on something that has been on my mind for a year or so at least and led me to offer up a comment during the discussion period (I recorded most of the discussion.)

Both addressed the failure of the Obama administration to implement anything resembling a New Deal, notwithstanding David Harvey’s hope that a new New Deal might be enacted. I should add that Harvey first raised such expectations in 2003, long before Obama’s election:

In my own view, there is only one way in which capitalism can steady itself temporarily and draw back from a series of increasingly violent inter-imperialist confrontations, and that is through the orchestration of some sort of global “new” New Deal. This would require a considerable realignment of political and economic practices within the leading capitalist powers (the abandonment of neo-liberalism and the reconstruction of some sort of redistributive Keynesianism) as well as a coalition of capitalist powers ready to act in a more redistributive mode on the world stage (a Karl Kautsky kind of ultra-imperialism). For people on the left, the question is whether we would be prepared to support such a move (much as happened in leftist support for social democracy and new deal politics in earlier times) or to go against it as “mere reformism.” I am inclined to support it (much as I support, albeit with reservations, what Luis Inacio Lula da Silva is doing in Brazil) as a temporary respite and as a breathing space within which to try to construct a more radical alternative.

Ironically, Harvey felt that it was a waste of time expecting Obama to deliver the FDR type goods a few years later, when the Nation Magazine et al were fostering exactly such illusions. Here is Harvey in 2009 stepping back from his earlier projections:

The collapse of credit for the working class spells the end of financialisation as the solution for the crisis of the market. As a consequence of this we will see a major crisis of unemployment and the collapse of many industries unless there is effective action to change that. Now this is where you get the current discussion about returning to a Keynesian economic model, and Obama’s plan is to invest in a vast public works and investment in green technologies, in a sense going back to a New Deal type of solution. I am skeptical of his ability to do this.

My comment to the panelists focused on why the ruling class did not opt for a new New Deal, leaving aside the question of whether the absence of mass pressure is sufficient to explain this. I have found Shane Mage’s reference to FDR’s very early reform measures, taken long before the sit-down strikes et al, very convincing. What could possibly explain the difference between FDR and Obama, and as a corollary the difference between the bourgeoisie that backed FDR and that of today?

As I pointed out in my comment, there is absolutely no indication that the ruling class of today is willing to act in its own long-term interests. If serious financial re-regulation is the only way to avoid a new financial meltdown, why is so hard for Wall Street to back serious reform? If “fracking” will unleash carcinogens in the water supply that will cause cancer for the rich and poor alike, why won’t the billionaires who live on Park Avenue do something to protect our waterways?

Fresh from his research on a new book about the American ruling class (that one hopes he will find the time to complete one day), Doug Henwood replied to my question by pointing out that it is not as homogenous as it once was and poorly structured to act in its own interests and in a “noblesse oblige” fashion of the FDR type gentry.

All this, of course, leads to the conclusion that socialist revolution is the only solution as we used to put it in the 1960s.

April 3, 2011

The Juan Cole/Gilbert Achcar controversy

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 9:32 pm

Juan Cole

Gilbert Achcar

(Part two of a series of articles on Libya)

Perhaps the reason people on the left are so upset with Juan Cole and Gilbert Achcar’s “humanitarian intervention” arguments is that they are widely considered “one of us”. In Achcar’s case, the pain is even more acute for the Marxist wing of the left since his credentials are so well established.

Turning first to Juan Cole, we are operating on a plane fairly far removed from the Marxist literature on such matters. Whatever his position, he must be commended for sticking his neck out as a public intellectual. His blog article “An Open Letter to the Left on Libya” has 356 comments, including his own responses. Could you imagine Samantha Powers ever engaging with her critics in this way when she was at Harvard?

Cole begins with a trip down memory lane:

I can still remember when I was a teenager how disappointed I was that Soviet tanks were allowed to put down the Prague Spring and extirpate socialism with a human face. Our multilateral world has more spaces in it for successful change and defiance of totalitarianism than did the old bipolar world of the Cold War, where the US and the USSR often deferred to each other’s sphere of influence.

Clearly, Cole is missing the main point. If the disappearance of the USSR makes it easier for America to intervene, the only outcome that is guaranteed is a unipolar Empire of the sort that Queen Victoria ruled over. If Queen Victoria was committed to “human rights” in the Sudan, including the very same sorts of issues that George Clooney, Nicholas Kristof and Mia Farrow get worked up over today, why would we expect the American imperialists to behave any differently?  Their interest is never about stopping human rights abuses but broadening their global reach.

Like Achcar, Cole does make some very good arguments against the MRZine/Cockburn/Chossudovsky wing of the left:

The libel put out by the dictator, that the 570,000 people of Misrata or the 700,000 people of Benghazi were supporters of “al-Qaeda,” was without foundation. That a handful of young Libyan men from Dirna and the surrounding area had fought in Iraq is simply irrelevant. The Sunni Arab resistance in Iraq was for the most part not accurately called ‘al-Qaeda,’ which is a propaganda term in this case. All of the countries experiencing liberation movements had sympathizers with the Sunni Iraqi resistance; in fact opinion polling shows such sympathy almost universal throughout the Sunni Arab world. All of them had at least some fundamentalist movements. That was no reason to wish the Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians and others ill. The question is what kind of leadership was emerging in places like Benghazi. The answer is that it was simply the notables of the city. If there were an uprising against Silvio Berlusconi in Milan, it would likely unite businessmen and factory workers, Catholics and secularists. It would just be the people of Milan. A few old time members of the Red Brigades might even come out, and perhaps some organized crime figures. But to defame all Milan with them would be mere propaganda.

Unfortunately, he undermines the credibility gained with such solid arguments when he refers to Qaddafi as follows:

The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.

It would be a good idea for the left never to refer to Qaddafi as a “mad dog” considering the origins of this epithet. At an April 9, 1986 news conference, Reagan stated: “Well, we know that this mad dog of the Middle East has a goal of a world revolution, Moslem fundamentalist revolution, which is targeted on many of his own Arab compatriots.”

Cole is also rather disingenuous in the way he finds legitimacy in an intervention that was not even approved by Congress (Dennis Kucinich, a creature that I would describe as invertebrate generally, has called for Obama’s impeachment):

The intervention in Libya was done in a legal way. It was provoked by a vote of the Arab League, including the newly liberated Egyptian and Tunisian governments. It was urged by a United Nations Security Council resolution, the gold standard for military intervention.

It is doubtful that anybody can take the idea that the Egyptian and Tunisian governments are “liberated” seriously. Right now the army holds power in Egypt and in Tunisia, the prime minister was appointed by the dictator Ben Ali’s unelected successor. This is not to speak of the role of Saudi Arabia in tilting the Obama administration toward intervention. You can be sure that Saudi Arabia has not yet been “liberated”, not even on the highly qualified basis of Egypt and Tunisia. Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar reports:

You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck between the Barack Obama administration and the House of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a “yes” vote by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya – the main rationale that led to United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.

This does not sound very much like the high-minded principles that are taught in Ivy League international relations seminars but more like “The Godfather part one” or HBO’s “The Sopranos”.

Cole tries to refute the arguments Marxism traditionally rests on against intervention by making a rather specious case:

Leftists are not always isolationists. In the US, progressive people actually went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, forming the Lincoln Brigade.

In fact, this has about as much to do with a NATO no-fly-zone as Obama has to do with Paul Robeson. However, there is a point that is worth taking up and that is whether “outsider” interference is always wrong. I will address that after a look at the case made by Gilbert Achcar.

As might be expected, Achcar, who is a Trotskyist at least by reputation, grounds his arguments in Marxist orthodoxy—or at least attempts to. The article titled “Libya: a legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective”,  like Cole’s, is a defense offered up to his comrades. It begins with an epigraph by Lenin:

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was indeed a compromise with the imperialists, but it was a compromise which, under the circumstances, had to be made. … To reject compromises ‘on principle’, to reject the permissibility of compromises in general, no matter of what kind, is childishness, which it is difficult even to consider seriously … One must be able to analyze the situation and the concrete conditions of each compromise, or of each variety of compromise. One must learn to distinguish between a man who has given up his money and fire-arms to bandits so as to lessen the evil they can do and to facilitate their capture and execution, and a man who gives his money and fire-arms to bandits so as to share in the loot.

Unfortunately, this treaty had little to do with the immediate question of an imperialist intervention in Libya. Frankly, there is little in Marxist literature that deals directly with such a matter since it is a phenomenon that only really began to take form long after Lenin’s death. We are dealing with various forms of “rescue” that combine multinational structures like the UN or NATO, or temporary coalitions with a veneer of legality, with powerful military assets, especially cruise missiles. Over and over again, we see operations like Kosovo, East Timor, and now Libya that follow a well-trodden path. The West intervenes to prevent “genocide” or massacres. The closest analogy, at least from a propaganda standpoint, is with Hitler’s genocides but it only works with East Timor.

While opposing Achcar’s arguments for intervention, Alex Callinicos offers an interesting example that seeks to make Achcar look like less of a renegade, not that this accusation made much sense to begin with:

Gilbert is right, revolutionaries have sometimes been prepared to take help from imperialist powers.

Soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917, invading German armies were threatening the survival of the infant Soviet republic. Britain and France offered help. Lenin wrote to the Bolshevik central committee: “Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.” (The citation: The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution: Central Committee Minutes of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) August 1917-February 1918 (London, 1974), p. 215)

But I don’t find this analogy very useful, or one that I have heard on Marxmail, namely that of Lenin coming to Russia on a German train. If you are going to use an analogy, it has to be much closer to the problem under consideration.

Ironically, Achcar’s trump card is one that makes his connection to the Trotskyist movement tenuous at best:

To take another extreme analogy for the sake of showing the full range of discussion: could Nazism be defeated through non-violent means? Were not the means used by the Allied forces themselves cruel? Did they not savagely bomb Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing huge numbers of civilians? In hindsight, would we now say that the anti-imperialist movement in Britain and the United States should have campaigned against their states’ involvement in the world war?

Ernest Mandel’s analysis of WWII holds up rather well against this line of reasoning that so many of us Trotskyist veterans who heard it from CP’ers in the 1960s and 70s but again from Christopher Hitchens during the wars in the Balkans and in Iraq.

I think that there must be a different way of evaluating situations such as that which confronts us now in Libya. The real problem is in determining the nature of the Libyan revolt that now has been condemned by the “anti-imperialists” as ex post facto counter-revolutionary because of Western intervention. In this schema, Qaddafi is “anti-imperialist” because Western jets are bombing his troops. I posed this question on Mike Ely’s Kasama Project but have not gotten any takers:

Just a hypothetical example but not that far from what happened. Let’s say that the Australian army encountered serious resistance from Indonesian militias trying to hold on to East Timor and that the East Timorese had been armed by the US. Would we support the Indonesian militias?

If Cole and Achcar err on the question of understanding the nature of the beast, their opponents in this debate err on the side of demonizing the men and women who took up arms against Qaddafi. By harping on CIA involvement with the rebels, they essentially reduce the opposition to something akin to the Nicaraguan contras or Savimbi’s killers in Angola. While I think both sides will outlive any errors (MRZine of course being excepted) made in this debate, neither has shown their best side.

Finally, although I oppose “humanitarian interventions” by the imperialists, I do think that outside rescues can play a role. When Tanzanian troops entered Uganda to topple Idi Amin, this was a genuine humanitarian intervention all the more so since the murdering tyrant was receiving outside support from guess who:

The same Gaddafi is said to have urged Idi Amin to declare himself as Life President and Amin did so but with dreadful consequences. Amin had to be removed from power by force. When his regime’s doomsday finally arrived in 1979, Amin’s dreaded State Research Bureau, or ‘superior’ army equipped to the tooth with MIGs, tanks, missiles, artilleries, and backed up by constant supplies from Godfather Gaddafi, became utterly useless.

Actually, Libyans fought side by side with Amin’s soldiers. 2,500 Libyan troops sent to aid Amin were equipped with T-54 and T-55 tanks, BTR APCs, BM-21 Katyusha MRLs, artillery, Mig 21s and a Tu-22 bomber, but they were easily defeated by the better organized combined Ugandan-Tanzanian forces commanded by David Oyite Ojok, Tito Okello and Yoweri Museveni.


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