Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 17, 2012

God hates no one

Filed under: Gay — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

May 15, 2012

Elena

Filed under: Film,Russia — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

Isn’t it high time that we recognize the existence of Russian New Wave films? That was my reaction to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Elena”, a film that opens tomorrow at NYC’s Film Forum for a two week engagement and that incorporates two of the essential features of the new cinema in Russia: social criticism and artistic innovation.

With its money-grubbing and deceitful characters, “Elena” evokes Balzac—not surprising given contemporary Russia’s affinity with mid-19th century France. Indeed, as Le Père Goriot’s Vautrin observed, “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed.” That is both the case of the oligarchy running Russia today and the eponymous character of Zvyagintsev’s film, the zaftig, 60ish wife of Vladimir, an elderly retired businessman who owes his success to a properly executed crime, namely the privatization of the Soviet economy.

We first meet Vladimir and Elena in their sumptuous but sterile apartment that has flat-screen televisions in every room and a kitchen filled with electronic gadgets that would put the French couple’s ultramodern house in “Mon Oncle” to shame. Elena, a former nurse, has “married up” but she did not marry Vladimir for his money. When she met him as an appendectomy patient in the hospital she worked at ten years earlier, she fell for him almost immediately. The lavish life-style was a bonus.

However, their economic differences create tensions especially when it comes to Elena’s son Sergei and his family who live in a rundown Soviet-era housing project that looks just like the worst council housing in Britain. Sergei is unemployed, and probably unemployable based on his shiftless character. His favorite pastimes seem to be drinking beer, playing video games with his equally shiftless son Sasha, and spitting on the street from his balcony. His mother could care less about his failings and relies on Vladimir’s fortune to keep him afloat. In her visits to Sergei, where she spends quality time with her new infant grandson, she appears far happier than at her cold but palatial apartment.

When Elena’s allowance to Sergei falls short of Sasha’s college tuition, she pleads with Vladimir to make up the difference. Since he is not particularly happy about keeping his son-in-law’s refrigerator filled with beer to begin with, he is even more loath to come up with the tuition fees. When Elena reminds him that this would make him army-bait and eligible to serve in Ossetia, Vladimir shrugs his shoulders and says that the army provides the best education.

Growing ever more desperate and resentful of Vladimir’s obsession with money, Elena plots what Balzac dubs a “perfectly executed crime”. But to be sure, this is not so much a crime melodrama as it is a study of class society. In contrast to Elena’s lumpen-like son and grandson, Vladimir’s daughter Katerina (Yelena Lyadova) is an articulate, elegantly dressed product of post-Soviet society with a hatred for her father and an equal hatred for herself. Addicted to sex, tobacco, drugs and alcohol, she has nothing to live for. When her father tells her that he gave her everything, she replies in effect, “Thanks for nothing”. Like Père Goriot, this is a man despised by his daughter.

In the press notes for “Elena”, director Zvyagintsev states:

I’m thrilled by the chance this story provides to explore the central idea of the early modern period: survival of the fittest, survival at any cost. With the growth of individual freedoms, society requires a corresponding growth of solidarity. Ever-increasing disengagement and individualism mean that people start to behave more and more like a bunch of tarantulas in a jar. This will be a rough drama — a pitiless, uncompromising look at human nature.

We see two old people who have what appears to be an entirely normal relationship. You could even say that these people love each other, though it’s not a passionate, youthful kind of love. We see their mutual care, gentleness and tact, which, along with their dedication and fairness, persuade us that they are bound by a lasting love.

However, if we choose to call the illusion of a commercial relationship “love” then, in a moment of crisis, individuals will always act first and foremost in their own interests.

I can also strongly recommend Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2003 film “The Return” that I mentioned here and that is now available on Netflix streaming. Like “Elena”, the politics serves as a backdrop for some riveting human drama.

May 14, 2012

Ex-Marxist sociology professor cashes in

Filed under: Brazil,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Fernando Cardoso

John Kluge

Today’s NY Times reports that ex-President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso is being honored (or rewarded?):

The Library of Congress will award the $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime intellectual achievement in the humanities and social sciences to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who had a distinguished international career as a scholar before twice being elected president of Brazil. An official announcement will be made in Washington on Monday, with an awards ceremony there on July 10.

The newspaper of record finds Cardoso’s regime most laudable:

Brazil has become the world’s sixth largest economy, having recently passed Britain and Italy, and has a dynamic and growing middle class, numbering more than 100 million. As president from 1995 through 2002 Mr. Cardoso was the primary architect of that rise. He presided over the elimination of hyperinflation and initiated sweeping social investment and income redistribution programs, which his two successors have extended and deepened.

Although Cardoso’s political views are dubbed as “hard to categorize”, the two works of this sociology professor mentioned by the Times sound rather Marxist: “Dependency and Development in Latin America” and “Capitalism and Slavery in Southern Brazil,” that is described as “an examination of how racially based servitude contributed directly to Brazil’s economic and social backwardness.”

This is an irony that is missed by the gray lady—surprise, surprise. A Marxist, or at least Marxish sociology professor, becomes the president of Brazil and a leading advocate of what is popularly known as neoliberalism. Under Cardoso’s two terms (1995-2002), the economy did grow but at the expense of the working class, poor peasants and the indigenous peoples.

In a useful history of Brazil on the Mother Earth Travel website, we get the hard data on Cardoso’s “sweeping social investment and redistribution programs”:

Relatively few Brazilians have benefited from the economy. In a country with some of the world’s widest social differences, grinding poverty and misery coexist with great industrial wealth; 20 percent of the population is extremely poor and 1 percent extremely wealthy. Brazil’s Gini index in 1991 was 0.6366. According to the UN, Brazil had the most uneven distribution of wealth in the world in 1995. The richest 10 percent of Brazilians hold 65 percent of Brazil’s wealth (GDP), while the poorest 40 percent share only 7 percent. Brazil placed sixty-eighth out of 174 countries in the UN’s 1997 human development index.

No other organization articulated the needs of the “other Brazil” better than the MST (Landless Workers Movement) that Cardoso’s cops repressed on numerous occasions. On April 17, 1996 military police killed nineteen landless farmers, who were members of the MST and had been demonstrating for the right to take over an unproductive ranch in Pará, Brazil. In Brazil 90 percent of the population lives on 10 percent of the land, so there is obviously a burning need for land redistribution.

Despite expectations that the “radical” sociology professor who wrote so sensitively about slavery would stand up for the rights of indigenous peoples, encroachment on their land continued under his administration. In the first year of his rule, his Minister of Justice Nelson Jobim turned over Indian reservation land that equaled the size of Rhode Island to 14 ranchers.

In a way it makes perfect sense for Cardoso to be given the John Kluge prize in light of this billionaire’s career. In an October 15, 1989 profile on the tycoon, the London Times reported:

The Kluges again hit the headlines last year when three of their gamekeepers in America were convicted of killing federally-protected hawks, owls and even neighbourhood dogs. Kluge had organised an ‘authentic British shoot’ and invited his friends to come and kill imported pheasant and ducks. He feared his stock of game might be hurt or killed by its natural prey, so he ordered anything that would interfere with the good time slaughtered.

The New York crowd merely guffawed at Kluge’s misfortune with the law, and he was in even greater demand at Manhattan’s most chic dinner tables.

Kluge and his ilk have been labelled the ‘Nouvelle Society’, and nowhere were they more in evidence than at the recent spectacularly decadent seventieth birthday party of Malcolm Forbes in Morocco. Patricia’s fortieth birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria was not quite on a par, but it was quite an event. From Britain came the Sangsters, the Frosts, Lord Grade but no royals, other than the ex-empress Farah of Iran and her son, Ali Reza (who proclaimed himself shah after his father’s death in 1980, so he is a sort of royal).

Kluge, in his high-living, high-spending manifestation, fits in well with the new breed of celebrity entrepreneur who would make the American tycoons of yesteryear squirm with their brashness. The modern celebrity businessman loves the glare of publicity and the flash of the paparazzis’ cameras almost as much as he loves the money he makes.

It is a world where wealth is not worth having unless it can be flaunted, and where no expense is seen as over the top. In Manhattan, Patricia has organised a three-floor penthouse over her husband’s office which is the last thing in glitz and bad taste: solid bronze electric doors, a waterfall that flows over one balcony, a huge sunken bar and sliding walls that rise between the dining room and the lounge at the touch of a button.

In Virginia, there is a butler imported from England, and black servants dressed in antique livery for the bigger parties. ‘We live like we want to live, and it is nobody’s business but ours, ‘ Patricia replied to a critic of her lifestyle.

Dying at the age of 95 in 2010, Kluge was named the richest man in America in 1986, largely through the profits made in the television business. So, like Alfred Nobel, the arms manufacturer, he set up a foundation to award prizes to the deserving.

The question of Cardoso’s political evolution is intriguing. As the title of one of his books should indicate, “Dependency and Development in Latin America”, he is a “dependency theorist”. As someone who has written in support of dependency theory against its critics in the Robert Brenner school, I suppose I should be embarrassed to be connected in any way with some like Fernando Cardoso.

But it should be understood that like all political tendencies on the left, dependency theory had both revolutionary and reformist wings. Cardoso was a reformist as was Raúl Prebisch, an Argentine economist who Nestor Gorojovsky once described to Marxmail as follows:

Raúl Prebisch was much more than a sell-out, dear Lou!

His origin was the pro-imperialist Partido Socialista of the 20s. He broke with the party and entered the Partido Socialista Independiente of De Tomaso and Pinedo, who provided the think tank for the establishment of the pro-imperialist regulatory regime that was imposed on the country during the early 30s.

During those times, he worked as a primary official of the British imposed Central Bank of Argentina (this Central Bank was the carbon copy of the one that Sir Otto Niemeyer had failed to impose on India!) and from that post he developed a very particular form of Keynesianism, a Keynesianism aimed at keeping Argentina within the bonds of the imperialist regime, not at saving central capitalism from itself.

Later on, Peronism swept away Pinedo, Prebisch and all this host of “pure” technicians of economics (of dependent economics) from the high positions in the financial and economic structure of the Argentinean state, while profiting from these structures to put the state to the service of self-centered economic development. This was an attempt to develop a bourgeois revolution without any revolution, a transformation of the role of the state by modifying the direction in which it moved.

As opposed to figures like Cardoso and Prebisch, the theorists grouped around Monthly Review never lost sight of the revolutionary goal. In their ranks were Samir Amin, A.G. Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein. What some on the right and left shared in common was a professional affiliation with the UN’s Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA). Both Frank and Cardoso worked there.

In an article on dependency theory that I wrote about a decade ago, I summed up Cardoso’s conversion to neoliberalism as follows:

Cardoso, another ECLA economist, turned his back on dependency theory in the mid 1970s. In a 1976 article (“The Consumption of Dependency Theory in the USA”), he made a number of counter-arguments against the MR school:

1. Capitalist development at the periphery is viable. 2. Underpaying labor in the periphery is not essential. 3. The local bourgeoisie is capable of leading dynamic growth. 4. The penetration by multinational firms does not have political consequences. 5. The only alternatives in Latin America are socialism or fascism.

In any case, after Cardoso “saw the light”, he decided to enter the bourgeois political arena. Here are quotes from his earlier dependency phase and his new, more sophisticated understanding:

“It is not realistic to imagine that capitalist development will solve basic problems for the majority of the population. In the end, what has to be discussed as an alternative is not the consolidation of the state and the fulfillment of ‘autonomous capitalism,’ but how to supersede them. The important question, then, is how to construct paths toward socialism.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“I am in favor of deregulating the economy. To put an end to inflation means to deregulate the economy, right? The economists invented indexation of the economy to correct the devaluation of the currency. When inflation disappears, indexation will disappear. As we want to defeat inflation, we will deregulate the economy.” (Oct. 6, 1994, news conference.)

“A real process of dependent development does exist in some Latin American countries. By development, in this context, we mean ‘capitalist development.’ This form of development, in the periphery as well as in the center, produces as it evolves, in a cyclical way, wealth and poverty, accumulation and shortage of capital, employment for some and unemployment for others. So, we do not mean by the notion of ‘development’ the achievement of a more egalitarian or more just society. These are not the consequences expected from capitalist development, especially in peripheral economies.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“I am certain we must continue to fight inflation, because inflation is what impoverishes Brazil and the Brazilian people. Inflation causes an unfair distribution of income, it prevents calculations from being made and it prevents domestic and foreign investments.” (Oct. 6, 1994 news conference.)

“Of course, imperialist penetration is a result of external social forces (multinational enterprises, foreign technology, international financial systems, embassies, foreign states and armies, etc.). What we affirm simply means that the system of domination reappears as an ‘internal’ force, through the social practices of local groups and classes which try to enforce foreign interests, not precisely because they are foreign, but because they may coincide with values and interests that these groups pretend are their own.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“The international system is a field of opportunities, of resources, that must be sought naturally. We are a great country, with a clear vocation for an active and responsible participation in world affairs.” (“Let’s Work, Brazil”, Cardoso campaign manifesto)

“It has been assumed that the peripheral countries would have to repeat the evolution of the economies of the central countries in order to achieve development. But it is clear that from its beginning the capitalist process implied an unequal relation between the central and the peripheral economies. Many ‘underdeveloped’ economies — as is the case of the Latin American — were incorporated into the capitalist system as colonies and later as national states, and they have stayed in the capitalist system throughout their history. They remain, however, peripheral economies with particular historical paths when compared with central capitalist economies.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“The process of liberalization of the economy and opening toward the outside world will continue, not an objective in and of itself, but as a strategic element in the modernization of our economy.” (“Let’s Work, Brazil”)

“We stress the socio-political nature of the economic relations of production, thus following the 19th-century tradition of treating economy as political economy. This methodological approach, which found its highest expression in Marx, assumes that the hierarchy that exists in society is the result of established ways of organizing the production of material and spiritual life. This hierarchy also serves to assure the unequal appropriation of nature and of the results of human work by social classes and groups. So we attempt to analyze domination in its connections with economic expansion.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“Privatization cannot be proposed or carried out under ideological banners. Privatization imposes itself in order to increase society’s investment capacity, to increase competitiveness and, where it is the case, improve management. (“Let’s Work, Brazil”)

May 13, 2012

New works of poetry by Paul Pines and Daniel Marlin

Filed under: literature,Paul Pines — louisproyect @ 10:28 pm

This is a belated review of books by two of my favorite poets, Paul Pines and Daniel Marlin. The fact that I have know them for fifty years does not in any way influence my high esteem for their work. Both are part of the living tradition of the poetry renaissance of the 1950s and early sixties, whose impact lasts with me all these decades. Although sometimes facilely described as the poetry of the “beat generation”, it was much deeper and much more universal. It incorporated spiritual and philosophical motifs going back thousands of years, if not to our earliest collective memories as members of our human tribe.

Paul’s “Reflections in a Smoking Mirror: poems of Mexico and Belize” is a powerful engagement with the culture of the indigenous peoples, the Aztecs in particular. Part one, titled “Configurations of Conquest”, is exactly what the title suggests: reflections on the Spanish colonization and genocide of the native peoples. In his own words:

Reflections in A Smoking Mirror is a crazy quilt of historical and personal material knit by themes unraveled over the last thirty years. I first went to Mexico in the 60s, before there was a paved road between Mexico City and Yucatan, and most of the archaeological sites referred to here were still covered by bush. I went again after returning from Vietnam when the remains of lost civilizations and the legacy of conquest drove me to search for what might be reflected in the Smoking Mirror, both as volcanic lake, and metaphor. During that time I’ve come to understand what I may have done beyond my intention, to let the ancestors speak in ways that have not always been apparent to me, except for the blood-smoke on these pages.

In 1959 Jack Kerouac wrote “Mexico City Blues”, an attempt to write poems in the same way a jazz musician improvises. Paul Pines’s poems bear up well in comparison to Kerouac’s, no surprise since he was deeply involved in the jazz scene in NYC in the 70s as owner of the Tin Palace, a groundbreaking venue for avant-garde musicians. Today he hosts the yearly Lake George jazz festival.

One of my favorite poems in the collection comes from part three, “The Belize News”. Titled “Rum Point Sutra”, it pays homage to the local scene and the late Paul Blackburn, one of the greatest poets of the 1950s renaissance. (My apologies to Paul for not getting the poem’s typography right since MS Word is hostile to those kinds of esthetic considerations, but the words should suffice.)

RUM POINT SUTRA

Another rainy day,
cobalt clouds along the peninsula
turn sand grey.
Bananas I bought
last week in Mango Creek
are turning too.
It will be
a challenge to eat them
before they go black.

Also I am out of propane
and must dispose of fruit
in the fridge
I brought back
from San Cristobal
two weeks ago.

No,
this is not a poem
about domesticity
unless that be the place
one contemplates

the implications
of what is
or will become
indigestible.

No!
this is
the song of an idiot
who can’t let go,
a lover with a stomach ache
waiting for a dial tone

No! no-
body on the other end
no reason to pretend the heart
is not a fruit
shriveled by
desire.

No!

this is about fire,
a Sutra
in which the senses
are sutured like old wounds.
No pain,
but a refrain
by Blackburn

(composed three months
before
he died)

contemplating his coffee cup, he wrote:

EMPTY AND ALIVE!

Reflections in a Smoking Mirror can be ordered from Dos Madres, the publisher.

Daniel Marlin is a Yiddishist, a socialist, an artist and a poet. What more can you ask for, nu?

In the introduction to “Amagasaki Sketchbook”, Daniel states:

From 1999 through 2009,1 spent roughly half of each year, late December through late June, living in Amagasaki City, between Osaka and Kobe, Japan. This collection includes some of the art I made on walks past fields in Mukonoso, Sonoda and Itami, and along the banks of the Mukogawa and Mogawa rivers. I painted the colors of the darkening western sky at dusk, sketched as I rode trains and lingered at Hankyu Umeda station, and at intersections nearby, where I was fascinated by the relentless, fluid landscape of crowds.

As an outsider, I used writing and art as quiet portals of entry into Japanese life. These disciplines helped me to overcome isolation, as did the friends I made, Japanese language study, involvement in the local anti-war movement and in Amnesty International, and a walking temple pilgrimage on Shikoku Island.

Trees and clouds were indifferent to my artistic attention, but at close quarters in train cars, I needed to be discreet, and thus discovered a method which permitted me to observe other passengers indirectly, without being noticed. Sitting at the end of the car, my pad and pencil hidden behind the backpack placed on my lap, I learned to sketch my fellow passengers’ reflected images in the glass of the adjoining door or opposite window. Or, I simply peered into the next car, whose riders never looked my way.

A drawing of weary Japanese train passengers, filled with the humanity that pervades all of Dan’s work:

Despite Dan’s claim that trees and clouds were indifferent to his artistic attention, I suspect that their souls were more than pleased with his beautiful watercolor renditions.

And finally, here is one of my favorite poems in the collection, “Crow Log”, a most enchanting homage to one of nature’s least enchanting creatures:

CROW LOG

In the neat rows of a field of spinach and green onions, shiny silver DVDs and hand mirrors hang from stakes, their glare intended to repel foraging birds. Nearby, two rubber facsimiles of crows have been tied by their feet, limp heads inches above the soil. The message,”Woe to ye who trespass here!”

Working its way down an unplanted furrow nearby, a large crow takes awkward, plodding steps in soft dirt, stopping occasionally to inspect debris and peck a stray seed, then passes under its own lynched image without a glance or tremor.

With three barks,
barrel-deep like a seal’s,
crow lands
at the temple gate

Crow glides from an old tree, bearing a persimmon in its beak, lands on a dark, tin roof. Cocking its head with what seems both pride and confusion, it lays the bright orange fruit down, and begins poking it—as if expecting it to flee, or fight back.

Perched on the aluminum rail of the apartment house parking lot, crow is engaged in conversation, a low-key, hollow, two-note call. When I approach, it’s tone changes suddenly, to a single sharp “Crahh!”

Is it a look-out while its partner
nearby breaks into someone’s minivan?

Inquiries on purchasing “Amagasaki Sketchbook” should be directed to Daniel Marlin.

Other posts about the works of Paul Pines are at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/last-call-at-the-tin-palace/ and https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/11/26/my-brothers-madness/.

And Daniel Marlin: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/isaiah-at-the-wall/ and https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/03/19/heart-of-ardor/

May 11, 2012

Gerry Foley memorial meeting

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 6:19 pm

Big Country

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

HBO Girls: Hipsterism gone awry

Filed under: comedy,television — louisproyect @ 2:47 pm

Dunham’s Jugs A-Flashin’ Ain’t Gonna Save Girls

The HBO series Girls misfires again in this week’s episode that has viewers pulling their hair out wishing the characters would just stop their whining, grow a spine and grow up. In the wake of the recent backlash, it’s curtains for the series for this viewer (and many others) as the backlash grows.

{Note: I admire all who create. Creating is not easy. Still, when you put something you create into the world you open yourself up to criticism. Girls has been getting a fair share of it as of late, some of it deserved. The following is my opinion, take it for what it’s worth. I believe that Lena Dunham can do better.}

The problem with the HBO series Girls (by creator & star Lena Dunham) isn’t so much the backlash and controversy against the show, although that was on an epic scale. (In case you missed it, one of the show’s writers tweeted insensitive comments that were deemed “racist” which lead to a critique that for a show set in Brooklyn, a very diverse borough, it lacked diversity.) The problem in addition to that is — the show isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. The characters are so pathetic while being so arrogant at the same time that it’s hard not to feel they deserve every horrible thing that happens to them. In short: They act like idiots.

And not the endearing kind.

“Hannah’s Diary” doesn’t show them changing anytime soon. They’re still clueless girls who want us to revel in their cluelessness. They are the kind of moronic idiot that is hired as a nanny, goes to the park to talk down their nose at actual (multi-cultural) nannies, and then loses your kids. Then said nanny goes home to flirt with your husband who tells said nanny that losing children in public “happens to all of us.”

God bless and god help us all but um, cough, no — it does not.

full: http://www.sheknows.com/entertainment/articles/959665/hbo-girls-episode-recap-hannahs-diary

Evolving

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 2:04 pm

May 10, 2012

The Greek left: notes from afar

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

To start off, I want to make clear that this post is not intended as anything more than my own struggle to understand why the Greek left is so divided, prompted in large part by the KKE’s (the CP) refusal to unite with SYRIZA, a party/coalition that received the second highest vote totals this week. In the past my attention has been focused more on the deeply engrained ultraleftism of the anarchists but the much larger and better organized groups that run in elections have far more responsibility today for the failure of the left to move forward.

SYRIZA is a coalition of left groups that is dominated by Synaspismós, a split from the KKE. Formed in 2004, it is roughly analogous to Die Linke in Germany and Rifundazione in Italy. But Synaspismós started out as an alliance in the late 80s between the KKE and something called the Greek Left that emerged in turn from the KKE Interior, a Eurocommunist party. Differences over strategy led to a break between the two groups analogous to the split in the CPUSA, with the Eurocommunists remaining in Synaspismós and occupying a political space equivalent to the Committees of Correspondence. Unlike the CPUSA, the KKE is still committed to revolutionary transformation—at least programmatically—and has even scolded the CPUSA for its “revisionism”.

SYRIZA serves as an umbrella group for a number of much smaller self-proclaimed revolutionary organizations including the Maoist Communist Organization of Greece that emerged PLP style out of the KKE. You can find the COE’s material crossposted on the Kasama Project. SYRIZA is also a home for International Worker’s Left, a state capitalist formation whose wiki write-up can give you a sense of the kind of small proprietorship mentality that flourishes in Greece and elsewhere:

The Internationalist Workers’ Left (Greek: Διεθνιστική Εργατική Αριστερά, Diethnistiki Ergatiki Aristera, abbreviated ΔΕΑ or DEA) is a revolutionary marxist organization in Greece, founded in 2001, having split from Socialist Workers’ Party-International Socialist Tendency (SEK-IST). It is particularly active in the Greek Social Forum and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). It maintains a sisterhood relationship with the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the United States. Through the ISO, DEA has developed connections with Socialist Alternative (Australia) and Movement for Socialism (Switzerland)

God help us when such internecine horse-trading takes place among groups with almost zero political differences.

The Synaspismós leadership of SYRIZA’s approach can best be described as social democratic in the traditional Leon Blum or Salvador Allende sense. International politics has shifted so far to the right over the past 25 years or so that they end up being described as “far left”.

In a very useful article in the November 2011 New Left Review titled “The Greek Cauldron“, Stathis Kouvelakis summarizes SYRIZA’s approach:

Faced with this impasse, elements of Synaspismos—notably the ‘left current’ led by SYRIZA’s current parliamentary spokesman, Panagiotis Lafazanis—and members of SYRIZA who have reformed as the Front for Solidarity and Rupture, led by one-time Synaspismos leader Alekos Alavanos, are breaking with the Europhile consensus. They advocate a ‘Kirchner-style’ renegotiation of the national debt, involving cessation of payments, accompanied by exit from the euro and nationalization of the banking sector; this would allow for devaluation of the currency, offering a way out of the logic of ‘internal devaluation’—essentially a dramatic reduction in labour costs—that has been imposed by the high priests of austerity. Such a break with European institutions, without an immediate exit from the EU, is necessary on political as well as economic grounds, in order to release the country from Troika supervision and restore its basic democratic functions. This agenda, strongly argued for by the London-based economist Costas Lapavitsas and colleagues, is already promoted by the extra-parliamentary far-left group Antarsya, as the basis of a programme for an anti-capitalist rupture.

The idea that Greece should follow the “Argentine road” must be fairly widespread. Just today Marxmail received a link to an article on Marxist economist Michael Roberts’s blog titled “Eurozone debt, monetary union and Argentina“. He writes:

A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (Default and lost opportunities: a message from Argentina, May 2012) showed that Argentina was lucky in 2001 when they defaulted and devalued the peso. After a big drop in GDP, real GDP per capita rose by 7% a year for next seven years. But that coincided with the huge global commodity boom benefiting sales of agro products that Argentina produced. A similar default and devaluation of 1983 did not deliver a great recovery. Then, in the depths of a global recession (much like now), real GDP fell 15% and did not recover to pre-crisis levels until 10 years later.

While purists might dismiss the importance of Greece following in Argentina’s footsteps, there is little doubt that the big bourgeoisie on Wall Street and its hired thugs in Washington would welcome this as much as Fidel Castro’s procession into Havana on New Year’s Eve 1959.

(It is worth mentioning that according to the savvy Mark Weisbrot, Argentina’s economic recovery had little to do with a commodity export boom.)

Another coalition is ANTARSYA, the Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left, that is made up small hard-left groups similar to those in SYRIZA. Its politics are exemplary but there is some question as to whether a group that received 1.19 percent in last week’s election can go very far in becoming a true revolutionary leadership. The Kasama Project, which has been doing a very good job reporting on Greece, has ANTARSYA’s analysis of the elections:

The solution is a strong Left in the perspective of a break with the system and the anti-capitalist revolution! The parliamentary parties of the Left do not meet their historical responsibilities. SYRIZA suggests a “leftist government”, but does not dare to say anything against the euro and the EU, and is increasingly in search of “solutions” to the debt problem through agreements with the creditors! The Communist Party (KKE) rejects now the recognition of debt and takes a stand against the EU position, but points to the metaphysical presence of “peoples’ power” that should come into existence through parliamentary channels and through the conquest of the parliamentary majority in the election. This party avoids any overt political conflict and still refuses to participate in a united front for a workers and popular uprising. Such a logic is a barrier to the struggles. Joint action is more necessary than ever!

It is symptomatic of the left’s malaise that ANTARSYA’s 10 member groups have not figured out a way to fuse. I imagine that each one is putting out its own propaganda as well as that of the coalition. What a terrible waste of resources.

Last but not least you have the KKE. Unlike most CP’s you are familiar with, this is a pretty damned radical group. In showing an awareness for the need to connect with other radicals globally, the group maintains an English-language website in keeping with the practically lingua franca standards of the Internet.

The vitriol directed toward the SYRIZA leaps off the pages, a reflection no doubt of the bitter feelings that grow out of a divorce:

In relation to the question of alliances, the KKE did not submit to the pressure which has been exerted in Greece by the argument of “left unity”. An argument which in our country is supported by the member of the ELP, SYN. (This is a union of opportunist forces, some of which left the KKE in 1968 under the flag of Eurocommunism and in 1991 under the banner of “Gorbachevism”)

You also see a kind of defensiveness that is most often found in much smaller groups, like the American SWP—an altogether puzzling stance for a group that received 8 percent of the vote last week. Here they defend themselves from Junge Welt, a German Marxist newspaper:

Over the last days we read amongst others the report of the left German newspaper “Junge Welt” from Athens which while it extols the election result achieved by SYRIZA, a coalition of opportunist forces and forces that left the social democrat and former governing party PASOK, it refers to the election result of the KKE in a hostile and contemptuous manner claiming amongst others that “it was voted merely by the traditional electorate of the party”.

The KKE has blasted the CPUSA, a group that it once felt more fraternally toward. Its criticisms should be familiar to anybody who has read the Maoist press of the 1970s:

It [the CPUSA] proposes the replacement of our theory by an eclectic hotchpotch which does not go beyond the limits of liberal bourgeois ideology. It attacks Marxism-Leninism directly, which constitutes one of the central laws of the existence and activity of the party of the new type, as V.I.Lenin pointed out: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement… the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.” In this specific platform various extremely old opportunist positions are promoted as new (e.g. Marxism-Leninism is foreign, anti-democratic, it is a distortion of Marxism by Stalin etc.), these are positions which disarm the labour movement and surrender it, without theoretical tools, to the claws of the exploitative system.

I don’t know. I would say that the CPUSA could be accused of lots of things but the notion that it is somehow taking a stand against Stalin seems pretty far-fetched to me. The one thing that defines Stalinism in the U.S. is its orientation to the Democratic Party, a policy that was developed by the Kremlin during the 1930s as part of its Popular Front turn.

In some ways, the KKE’s “leftism” is a throwback to the Third Period that predated the Popular Front in which the social democrats were seen as just as bad as the fascists. The hostility to SYRIZA is fundamentally an ultraleftist mistake of the sort that Lenin identified in “Left-Wing Communism: an infantile disorder”.

If KKE was interested in winning the SYRIZA voters to its cause, it would remove barriers such as condemning its leadership and refusing to bloc with it electorally. If there’s any party that is more compromised than SYRIZA, it is certainly the British Labour Party of the 1920s. When British Communists took the position that Labour was the enemy, Lenin upbraided them:

On the contrary, the fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people—an experience which was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to communism—undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd George and Churchill. To act otherwise would mean hampering the cause of the revolution, since revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone.

If the Hendersons and the Snowdens reject a bloc with us on these terms, we shall gain still more, for we shall at once have shown the masses (note that, even in the purely Menshevik and completely opportunist Independent Labour Party, the rank and file are in favour of Soviets) that the Hendersons prefer their close relations with the capitalists to the unity of all the workers. We shall immediately gain in the eyes- of the masses, who, particularly after the brilliant, highly correct and highly useful (to communism) explanations given by Lloyd George, will be sympathetic to the idea of uniting all the workers against the Lloyd George-Conservative alliance. We shall gain immediately, because we shall have demonstrated to the masses that the Hendersons and the Snowdens are afraid to beat Lloyd George, afraid to assume power alone, and are striving to secure the secret support of Lloyd George, who is openly extending a hand to the Conservatives, against the Labour Party.

Much has changed since the 1920s but these words still ring true.

May 9, 2012

People of Greece Shake Europe

Filed under: anti-capitalism,Greece — louisproyect @ 1:13 pm

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