Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 23, 2013

British fascist vists Syria as guest of Bashar al-Assad

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm
The Guardian, Tuesday 11 June 2013

BNP leader Nick Griffin visits Syria

MEP says he is on fact-finding mission to Damascus and wants to highlight risk of UK supporting opposition fighters

by , Middle East editor

Nick Griffin

Nick Griffin, who tweeted from Syria: ‘Why turn stable secular state into Iraq-style hell of sectarian hate?’ Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA

Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National party, has waded into controversy by paying an officially sponsored visit to Damascus as part of a delegation of far-right and nationalist European politicians.

Griffin, an MEP for north-west England, used his Twitter account to publicise selected details of his “fact-finding” trip, calling the Syrian capital a “modern, bustling city”. Aside from “occasional explosions” in the distance, life in Damascus was normal, he tweeted.

Syrian state media reported that suicide bombings in Marja Square in the centre of the city had killed 14 people and injured 31. Griffin later visited the site and commented: “Vile … smells like an abbatoir. Hague wants your taxes to arm these terrorists!”

The BNP spokesman Simon Darby said Griffin was not being paid by the Syrian regime and did not want his presence in the country to be seen as an endorsement of President Bashar al-Assad. But anyone entering Syria – as Griffin did by road from Lebanon – needs a visa, which would require the approval of the information and foreign ministries.

Other members of his delegation are MEPs and MPs from Belgium, Russia and Poland. The BNP is part of the Alliance of European National Movements in the European parliament. Other members include Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, France’s National Front, Italy’s Tricolour Flame, Sweden’s National Democrats and Belgium’s National Front.

Damascus has the full support of Russia and Iran but in recent months the government has stepped up efforts to win sympathy in western countries to capitalise on waning support for the rebels, fading calls for outside intervention and the rise of extremist jihadi elements such as the Nusra front in the armed opposition.

Assad’s friend Khaled Mahjoub, an influential Syrian-American businessman, has sought to improve government PR by circumventing the slow-moving ministerial bureaucracy to obtain visas for journalists and others. In April the leader of France’s Voltaire network, Thierry Meyssan, author of a bestselling book claiming the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, was in Damascus.

“What he [Griffin] wants is to let people have a proper view of what is going on in Syria, because at the moment all we have is William Hague and his infantile war-mongering,” Darby said. “He wants to ascertain just how many British citizens are fighting out there for the so-called Free Syrian Army and other elements opposed to Assad.

“He is representing the point of view of ordinary British people who don’t want any engagement in the Middle East and its troubles, any more than they wanted to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“He is MEP for the north-west and he is sick and tired of seeing lads from Manchester and Liverpool coming back in body bags or with arms and legs missing because the government got them involved in business that isn’t any concern of ours.”

On Monday Griffin updated his followers on a day in Lebanon, describing Beirut as “less alien than the streets of London”. He praised Hezbollah, the militant Iranian-backed Shia group, who helped the Assad regime recapture the rebel-held city of Qusair last week.

Ghadars, Sikhs, M.N. Roy, German imperialism, and Alexander Berkman

Filed under: anarchism,Germany,india — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm

Har Dayal, founder of the Ghadar movement

When I had occasion to speak by phone with Hari Dillon, the former director of Tecnica, on the occasion of the untimely death of Michael Urmann, the group’s founder, I mentioned the interview I had done with a Sikh activist who I had met at work. Hari reminded me of the conversations we had had long ago about the Ghadar Party that a relative of his had been a member of in California, where it was particularly strong. The Ghadar (Hindi for mutiny) group was a revolutionary nationalist formation spearheaded by Sikhs that was an alternative to Gandhi’s pacifism. After chatting with Hari, I had made a mental note to look into the Ghadars but put them on the front burner after discovering that M.N. Roy worked with them to procure weapons from the Germans during World War One to use against British colonialism.

In the same chapter in Sibnayaran Ray’s biography that described Roy’s sojourn in Mexico City that I posted last week, we discover that he had hooked up with the president of Stanford University who had hired Ghadar founder Lala Har Dayal to teach at the school. You can get a feel for how much American higher education has changed through Ray’s account:

Meantime at Stanford Dhanagopal introduced Roy to the President of the University, Dr. David Starr Jordan, who was an eminent pacifist with a democratic socialist outlook and who had earlier given Har Dayal his appointment as a professor. He not only sympathised with the Indian aspiration for independence, but was also deeply interested in the political developments in neighbouring Mexico where one of his friends, General Savador Alvarado, was at that time engaged on some kind of a socialistic experiment as Governor of the province Yucatan. He gave Roy an introduction to Alvarado and advised him see the experiment himself if he ever went to that country.

One of the best introductions to the Ghadar movement is http://www.sikh-history.com. Here’s their entry on the Ghadars:

Many Sikhs and Hindu Punjabis who tasted freeddom outside colonial India in USA started Ghadr movement to free India from British rule in early 1900’s. These Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus were sent to Canada which was under British rule for labour work. They crossed the border over to USA and settled in Western Coast of USA in cities like Portland, San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. These Punjabis created Gurdwaras [Sikh temples] and established societies. They were subject to draconian laws like “not allowed to marry to american woman” by many of these states at that time. The word Ghadr can be commonly translated as mutiny, was the name given to the newspaper edited and published for the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast which was founded at Portland, United States of America, in 1912. The movement this Association gave rise to for revolutionary activities in India also came to be known by the designation of Ghadr.

As I stated earlier, M.N. Roy worked assiduously to procure money and guns from Germany during WWI. Back then, when there was inter-imperialist rivalry and Britain ruled the world, it was considered a tactical question as to who you cut deals with. When WWII came along, the same outlook prevailed. Indian revolutionary nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose knocked on Nazi doors while Ho Chi Minh shook hands with the OSS. After WWII, there was no more inter-imperialist rivalry to speak of and it made perfect sense for the left and those fighting against colonialism to align with the USSR. Old habits unfortunately die hard and the pro-Baathist left continues to look at Putin and Assad as if they were Khrushchev and Castro.

Probably the best overall history of the Ghadar movement is Berkeley professor Maia Ramnath’s “Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism “, the first 90 pages of which can be read in Google Books. Most of Chapter three “Enemy of Enemies: the Nationalist Ghadar” can be read there.

I also recommend the 25 page history of the Ghadar movement that can be found on the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin website. It also details the alliance between Germany and Indian nationalists:

The German government had great sympathy with the Gadar movement because the German government and the Gadarites had the British as their common enemy. In September 1914, Indians formed Berlin Indian Committee (also known as the Indian Revolutionary Society) members of which were Har Dyal, Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay (younger brother of politician – poetess Sarojani Naidu), Maulvi Barkatullah (after his death, he was buried near Sacramento), Bhupendra Nath Datta (brother of Swami Vivekananda), Champak Raman Pillai (a young Tamilian) and Tarak Nath Das (a foundation is named after him in Columbia University, New York). The objectives of the society were to arrange financial assistance from German government for revolutionary activities and propaganda work in different countries of the world, training of volunteer force of Indian fighters and transportation of arms and ammunitions to reach the Gadarites for a revolt against the British Government in India.

The Indian Revolutionary Society in Berlin successfully arranged substantial financial aid for the Gadarites from Germany. The German Embassy in the United States engaged a German national to liaison with the Gadar leadership in San Francisco. Several ships were commissioned or chartered to carry arms and ammunitions and batches of Indian revolutionaries to India.

But what makes things even more interesting is how the anarchist movement fits into all these amazing conspiracies. This is from M.N. Roy’s memoir:

Barring Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, Har Dyal was the most important member of the Berlin Committee. Intellectually, he was by far the superior, but eccentric in emotion and erratic politically. From an orthodox Hindu he became an anarchist — a close associate of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman in the United States. But anti-British nationalism was still the dominating passion.

After having spent 14 years in prison for a failed assassination attempt against Henry Frick, the steel baron who drowned the Homestead strikers in blood, Berkman once again showed his willingness to put his beliefs on the line as the N.Y. Times of February 24, 1918 made clear. I especially love how Har Dyal was using an assumed name of Israel Aaronson. A novelist could not come up with something more mind-boggling.



June 22, 2013

Arab Idol

Filed under: middle east,music — louisproyect @ 10:28 pm

NY Times June 22, 2013

Palestinian ‘Arab Idol’ Victory Unleashes Rare Outburst of Joy


GAZA/RAMALLAH — Palestinian cities erupted in joy after Gazan singer Mohammed Assaf won the “Arab Idol” song contest final held in Beirut on Saturday night, providing a welcome break from the grinding conflict with Israel.

The fresh-faced 22-year-old from humble roots in a refugee camp endeared millions of voting television viewers with his Palestinian patriotic anthems and folk songs.

After watching Assaf’s victory from giant screens in the Gaza Strip and Israeli-occupied West Bank, tens of thousands of Palestinians set off fireworks, danced in the streets and blasted his music from cars idling in frantic traffic jams.

“This shows that Palestinians don’t just fight and struggle, but we rejoice and make great art,” beamed Awad Najib, a government employee, after a mass viewing outside the Ramallah presidential palace in the West Bank.

Some Muslim clerics in Friday sermons had dismissed the pageant, saying its title encouraged idolatry and that people’s energies would be better spent confronting Israel’s occupation.

Political activists, too, complained that the glitzy spectacle had little to do with the Palestinian plight.

But most Palestinians would have none of this, and Saturday’s revelry was like the end-of-Ramadan holiday combined with the World Cup Final.

The scale of the celebrations easily outstripped most political or protest rallies of recent years, and far exceeded those held after Palestinians gained non-member statehood in a vote at the United Nations General assembly last November.

Many political leaders, who have increasingly alienated Palestinians with their bickering, have sought to try to hitch a ride from Assaf’s galloping popularity.

Some greying officials had changed their Facebook profile pictures to his smiling face and spiked hair, urged people to text him their votes and praised his nationalist credentials.

“This win is a source of pride and a victory for our people on the road to achieving its dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.

Abbas was jolted this week by his prime minister’s surprise offer to resign and faces pressure by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to jump-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But for locals, Assaf was all, and politics took a back seat.

“In the middle of the political failures, Assaf achieved something that made Palestinians everywhere feel hope was still possible,” said Imad Ahmed, a teacher from Gaza watching the show with his family at a beachfront restaurant.

After the victory, Assaf was named by the U.N. as its first youth ambassador to Palestinian refugee camps in the territories and in neighboring countries. He is expected to visit the West Bank to perform.

(Reporting by Noah Browning and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Eric Walsh)

June 20, 2013

Poetry notes

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 8:32 pm

Paul Pines

Quite by coincidence two very interesting items that fall within the general rubric of poetry arrived in my mailbox within the last week. One was the long and very interesting article by Mark Edmundson titled “Poetry Slam, Or, The decline of American verse” that was part of the July 2013 Harper’s, a magazine that I have been subscribed to for three decades now. The other was Paul Pines’s latest book of poems titled “New Orleans Variations & Paris Ouroboros”, a collection that serves as a counter-example to the malaise described by Edmundson. While I don’t want to get a reprimand from Harper’s web-master about purloining their intellectual property (and worse?), I think that quotes qualify as “fair use”:

Contemporary American poetry speaks its own confined language, not ours. It is, by and large, pure. It does not generally traffic in the icons of pop culture; it doesn’t immerse itself in ad-speak, rock lyrics, or politicians’ posturing: it gravitates to the obscure, the recondite, the precious, the ancient, trying to get outside the mash of culture that surrounds it. The result is poetry that can be exquisite, but that has too few resources to use to take on consequential events.

 Mass culture and mechanical reproduction surely play a part in the current retreat of American poetry, but what about MFA programs? Poetry now is something of a business. You make your way into the game by getting a sponsor: often it’s a writer in residence from your undergraduate school. Then come the MFA and the first book, both of which usually require sponsorship—which is to say pull.

 To thrive in this process you often must write in the mode of the mentor—you must play the game that is there to be played. You must be a member of the school, you must sing in the correct key. If you try to overwhelm the sponsor, explode his work into irrelevance—well, the first law of success is simple: Never outshine the master. The well-tempered courtier knows how to make those above him feel superior. He knows that in his desire to succeed he must not go too far in displaying what he can do. The master will not like it—and there will be no first book, no fellowship, no job, no preferment. It is only by making the master look more accomplished, by writing in his mode, becoming a disciple, that the novice ascends.

When reading this it dawned on me that academy-based poets trying to “make it”, to invoke the title of Norman Podhoretz’s memoir about his climb to the top of the literary establishment, have lots in common with dissertation students who shy away from writing something that will irk a member of their board. Since their career is on the line, they avoid sounding too “Marxist” or any other ism that is frowned upon in the academy.

Paul Pines took another route entirely as should be obvious from the home page of his website.

Paul Pines grew up in Brooklyn around the corner from Ebbets Field and passed the early sixties on the Lower East Side of New York. He shipped out as a merchant seaman, spending 1965-66 in Vietnam, after which he drove a taxi and tended bar until he opened The Tin Palace in 1970, the setting for his novel, The Tin Angel (Wm Morrow, 1983). Redemption (Editions du Rocher, 1997), a second novel, is set against the genocide of Guatemalan Mayans. My Brother’s Madness(Curbstone, 2007) a memoir, has recently enjoyed wide critical acclaim.

This sort of background is equal to a thousand MFA’s. Oddly enough, it reminds me of what Karl Marx wrote to W. Bracke in 1875: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”

Perhaps the best illustration of Paul’s ability to write some of the most memorable and finely wrought poems of anybody on the scene today is the first one in the series titled “HELLO FROM NOLA” (NOLA is New Orleans, Louisiana):


I dress up for Mardi-gras
in a costume provided
by my hostess

on the package
Jesus, “one size
fits all.”

a long white gown
a red sash
a wild wig of auburn curls
down to my shoulders
and a beard
I can’t secure
to my ears which
are too small
must finally pin to
my “soft” crown
of thorns

When I appear
my hostess
“You look more
like a rabbi.”

I point out that many
called him this
which is what he
probably was.

Another in our group

“He looks more
like Moses.”

On our way through
the French Quarter
to a party
in Jackson Square
at La Petit Theatre
(oldest community
theater in the U.S.)
celebrants ask
for my blessing
attempt to kiss
the hem of my

I confess relief
when a beefy guy
in a New Orleans Saints
football jersey jumps
in front of me

“Hail, Bacchus!”

obviously mistaking
my crown of thorns
for grape leaves.

“New Orleans Variations & Paris Ouroboros” can be ordered direct from the publisher: http://www.dosmadres.com/shop/new-orleans-variations-paris-ouroboros-by-paul-pines/.

Slim Whitman dead at 90

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:46 pm

When I lived in Houston, Texas from 1973 to 1975, there were two C&W stations that played a lot of classic sounds, from Hank Williams to Ernest Tubb. But among my favorites was Slim Whitman whose yodeling was obviously influenced by Jimmie Rodgers as mentioned in the NY Times obit. A new C&W station was launched in NYC a couple of months ago. The music is utterly plastic. What a shame that such stations can’t include vintage music like this.

NY Times June 19, 2013

Slim Whitman, Yodeling Country Singer With a Regular-Guy Image, Dies at 90


In the 1996 movie comedy “Mars Attacks!” Slim Whitman’s yodeling, high-octave rendition of “Indian Love Call” causes the heads of the invading Martians to explode, saving Planet Earth.

Mr. Whitman, the country crooner with the weather-beaten face, velvet voice and sentimental lyrics, was often the object of humor, almost always good-natured. In the early 1980s a disc jockey offered Slim Whitman makeup kits “complete with receding hairline, furry black eyebrows and a cream to make your upper lip quiver.” In 1997 Rush Limbaugh whimsically suggested that when Mr. Whitman’s songs were played backward, the Devil’s voice could be heard. (It couldn’t.)

In 2003 Jim Nayder, who hosts “The Annoying Music Show!” on NPR, announced that he was giving Mr. Whitman a lifetime achievement award. A generation of late-night television hosts joked about him.

The reason for all this jocularity about Mr. Whitman — who died at 90 on Wednesday in Orange Park, Fla. — was his ordinary-guy, squeaky-clean sincerity in writing and singing songs that were, depending on one’s taste, inspiring love ballads aimed at middle-agers or pure cornball. But the bottom line is that Mr. Whitman could laugh all the way to the proverbial bank.

He recorded more than 500 songs, made more than 100 albums and sold more than 70 million records. In the 1970s his recording of “Rose Marie” was No. 1 on the British pop charts for 11 weeks, a feat the Beatles never accomplished. Michael Jackson named Mr. Whitman one of his 10 favorite vocalists. George Harrison credited him as an early influence. Paul McCartney said Mr. Whitman gave him the idea of playing the guitar left-handed.

Elvis Presley, in his first professional appearance in Memphis in 1954, opened for Mr. Whitman. Mistakenly billed as Ellis, he was paid $50; Mr. Whitman got $500. Mr. Whitman later let Presley borrow his trademark white rhinestone jacket.

Through an eclectic repertory that included Broadway show tunes, European folk music, religious songs, cowboy songs and, of course, love songs, Mr. Whitman said he strove to reach everyday people, to bring “the big songs down to the people’s size,” as he put it.

For better or worse, he helped put a twist on how records were sold. In 1979 he blitzed daytime and late-night television for months with advertisements for a greatest-hits album, “All My Best.” Without radio airplay or record-store sales, it became a strong seller. He followed up with three more albums of old songs in the 1980s and ’90s. “Twilight on the Trail,” his first studio album in 20 years, came out in 2010.

Ottis (pronounced AH-tis) Dewey Whitman Jr. was born in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 23, 1923, and liked to listen to Jimmie Rodgers yodel on the family radio. After leaving high school he worked at a meatpacking plant, where he lost part of a finger in an accident. In 1941 he eloped with Alma Crist, who would help him overcome his severe stutter.

He joined the Navy, where he served in the South Pacific and entertained shipmates by singing, yodeling and playing the guitar, which he had learned to play upside down and left-handed.

After the war he played weekly in a supermarket and was hired to perform on local radio stations. Colonel Tom Parker, who later managed Presley, heard him and helped him get a contract with RCA Victor Records. Mr. Whitman adopted the stage name Slim and began to appear on the radio show “Louisiana Hayride,” whose performers also included Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In 1952 he had his first hit song, “Love Song of the Waterfall,” which 25 years later became part of the soundtrack for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He nonetheless kept his day job as a postman. “Indian Love Call,” which later killed fictional Martians, soon followed and also became a hit. Mr. Whitman stopped carrying mail.

In 1954 he recorded “Rose Marie,” which raced to the top of the charts. His long popularity in Britain began when a promoter arranged to have the song broadcast there from a radio station in Luxembourg. Not until 1992 was the song’s long reign at the top of the charts surpassed, by Bryan Adams’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” In 1956 Mr. Whitman became the first American country artist to play the London Palladium.

His other hits included “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Red River Valley,” “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His wife of 67 years died in 2009. Mr. Whitman, who lived in Middleburg, Fla., is survived by his daughter, Sharon Beagle; his son, Byron; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His son told The Associated Press that he died of heart failure.

Mr. Whitman told The A.P. in 1991 that he wanted to be thought of as “a nice guy” and a good father. “I’d like people to remember me,” he said, “as having a good voice and a clean suit.”


James Gandolfini, dead at the age of 51 from heart attack

Filed under: obituary,television — louisproyect @ 12:19 am

New York Daily News, June 19, 2013

James Gandolfini dead at 51: ‘Sopranos’ star suffers massive heart attack in Italy

‘Everyone is in tears,’ a source close to the Emmy Award-winning actor tells the Daily News.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 7:30 PM

Actor James Gandolfini is dead at 51. A source tells the Daily News he suffered a massive heart attack in Italy.
 James Gandolfini, the New Jersey-bred actor who delighted audiences as mob boss Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos” has died following a massive heart attack in Italy, a source told the Daily News.

“Everyone is in tears,” the source close to the 51-year-old TV tough guy said.

A press-shy celeb who got his start as a character actor and became famous relatively late in his career — thanks to his breakout role on “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini has largely avoided the spotlight since the last season of the beloved show aired in 2007.

The burly Westwood, N.J. native has appeared in several supporting roles since then, playing the director of the CIA in “Zero Dark Thirty” and the gruff blue-collar father of a wannabe rock star in “Not Fade Away” last year.

Gandolfini hit Broadway in 2009 with the Tony Award-winning comedy “God of Carnage.”

“I seek out good stories, basically — that’s it,” he told The Star-Ledger last December.

“The older I get, the funnier-looking I get, the more comedies I’m offered. I’m starting to look like a toad, so I’ll probably be getting even more soon.”

Gandolfini’s wife, former model Deborah Lin, gave birth to a baby girl last October. The couple married in Hawaii in 2008.

Gandolfini — who spent part of his early career supporting himself as a bartender and nightclub manager — also has a son with his ex-wife, Marcy Wudarski.
His first break came in 1992 when he landed a role in a Broadway version of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.

Smallish parts in major films followed — Gandolfini played a submarine crew member in “Crimson Tide” in 1995 and a gangland bodyguard in “Get Shorty” the same year.

Fame came for the Italian-American actor after 1999, as “The Sopranos” garnered critical acclaim and cult popularity on its way to becoming a TV classic.

Gandolfini won three Emmy Awards for his sparkling depiction of protagonist Tony Soprano, a mobster trying to balance the mundane stresses of family life and his unusual occupation: organized crime.

* * * *


The Sopranos, Capitalism And Organized Crime

by Louis Proyect

November 15, 2004   

“A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we look a little closer at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as commodities. . .The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc.; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them.”

—Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value

Having just completed its fifth season on premium cable station Home Box Office, “The Sopranos” has garnered well-deserved accolades for innovative writing, directing and acting. Along with other HBO series such as “Sex and the City” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” it is continuing evidence of premium cable’s ability to rise to the standards of golden era television. Before rampant commercialization took over in the early 1960s, network television pioneered breakthrough weekly dramatic series such as Playhouse 90 that drew upon gifted playwrights, many of whom like Walter Bernstein had been blacklisted from the film industry.

HBO shares the social and political vision of television’s early days. “The Sopranos” offers up sharply observed insights about American class society reminiscent of Theodore Dreiser’s naturalistic novels. Revolving around the character of New Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano and his friends and rivals, the series makes clear that criminality is deeply engrained in American society. It also reveals that Tony Soprano has the same hunger for social acceptance as any other ‘nouveau riche.’ Ironically, his criminal mystique seems to open up more doors for him in polite society than the barbecues and church donations he lavishes on his New Jersey bedroom community.

“The Sopranos” can be categorized with other post-Romantic and post-Affluent Mafia narratives. By post-Romantic we mean the following. As in the case of Mike Newell’s film “Donnie Brasco,” the main characters lack the Corleone family’s charisma. Rather than appearing as a sort of chivalric order with the sense of noblesse oblige of Coppola’s “Godfather,” Soprano and his crew would steal from their own mothers. In addition, like the character Lefty Ruggiero played by Al Pacino in “Donnie Brasco,” they are always under constant pressure to make ends meet. In the post-affluent world of “The Sopranos,” just as is the case in any small proprietorship today, sales quotas in a framework of declining market share have to be met. But the gangster has the added complication of being continuously hounded by the feds. When an underling cannot come up with Tony Soprano’s share of gambling profits, he might get a broken nose. In the straight world, the consequence might be a loss of a job and economic collapse. Who can say which is worse?

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art10/lproy20.html

June 19, 2013

Left Forum 2013

Filed under: Left Forum — louisproyect @ 8:57 pm

To preface my report, I should mention something that I probably never have mentioned before. As a rule of thumb, I go to workshops that hold out the promise that I will find out something new. By the same token, I avoid plenaries since they tend to be opportunities for celebrities on the left to address the Big Questions of the day in a vaporous manner.

The only other point worth making is that the weekend was graced by the opportunity to have lunch with a couple of Marxmailers I have known for some time now, “Red Arnie”, a veteran of the Asian student movement of the 60s and 70s, and Robbie Kwan Laurel, who came over from the Philippines to the Left Forum for the second time since 2009 and who presented me with a gift copy of his new book “Philippine Cultural Disasters” that has a chapter on “Academic Entrepreneurship and Scholarship in the Age of Hyper Capitalism”. Not having read it yet, I confess to a sneaking suspicion that Leon Botstein and John Sexton come under scrutiny based on the title. Here’s a nice profile on Robby timed to the publication of an earlier book, a collection of short stories.

1. Class Struggle in Contemporary Quebec

This was the perfect example of what I am looking for in a Left Forum panel discussion. I think that most people on the left are like me. You followed the student struggle over tuition hikes when it was happening and sort of lost track after it came to an end. The discussion was not so much centered on the outcome, which was to be taken up in a separate panel and appeared to be something of a compromise, but on the social and economic background that was most illuminating. Since two of the panelists were student activists, the discussion was really quite detailed and interesting.

There were two things I learned. To start with, a Quiet Revolution in Quebec took place in the 1960s that led to the province becoming a secular welfare state with the least amount of social inequality in the Western Hemisphere.

In keeping with the austerity drive taking place everywhere, the Liberals tried to impose higher fees by demagogically appealing to tax payers about the “privileged” students gaming the system. The alternative to the Liberals is the Parti Quebecois that despite its leftish coloration proposes a more “intelligent” approach to managing austerity, reminding me of the Social Democrats in Greece.

The session was chaired by Matthieu Dufour who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which like the U. of Utah economics department is an unlikely hotbed of leftism.

2. Unpacking the University-National Security State-Corporate Complex

With my keen interest as indicated above in Academic Entrepreneurship as displayed, for example, by Bard College hosting a week-long conference on the mystical droolings of a self-published jeweler to the big bourgeoisie, I was anxious to hear what Marxmailer Alan Ruff and FB friend and fellow CP contributor Steve Horn had to say about Khazakstan, a nation I have more than routine interest in since a young woman I had a lot of contact with when she was working on PhD at Columbia University Teacher’s College on Education Reform in Khazakstan turned out to be a neoliberal opportunist with a distinct aroma of the CIA about her.

Alan and Steve are looking into how major American educational institutions with a liberal veneer like U. of Wisconsin, where they have close ties, are like buzzards feasting on the carcass of Khazakstan—a country that is developing a GINI coefficiency rating that threatens to break past the 100 percent ceiling.

Joining the two intrepid investigators was the inimitable Liza Featherstone who spoke about the ties between “leftist” academics and the war machine through their research on “focus groups” intended to gauge what is effective propaganda—in other words movies and radio shows that were intended to get young Americans to go kill axis soldiers. Brilliant stuff.

3. The Future of World Capitalism

This involved a bit of false advertising but not egregiously so. I went to this panel chaired by Alan Freeman to find out when the Big One was going to hit according to the FROP crystal ball. But it turned out instead to be talks from the authors of a series of Pluto Books that Alan and Radhika Desai are editing. I was more than mollified to meet Henry Heller for the first time. He spoke about his book on “The Birth of Capitalism” that I couldn’t recommend highly enough as the definitive answer to the Brenner thesis.

And just as enticing is another book in the series titled “To Live and Die in America: Class, Power, Health and Healthcare” that was reported on by Robert Chernomas, a co-author. Chernomas makes the claim that most modern diseases that cut life short, from cancer to high blood pressure, are a function the capitalist mode of production. Two hundred years ago cancer was an uncommon illness.

For her part, Radhika Desai spoke about “Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire”, a book that challenges the idea that the US ever was a true hegemon in the same way that Great Britain was. It sounds like a good companion piece to the new Gindin-Panitch book.

4. Prospects for the Syrian Revolution

I blogged about this stellar session here: https://louisproyect.org/2013/06/10/prospects-for-the-syrian-revolution/

5. Political Ecologies of Developmental Terrorism: Neo-liberalism and People’s Resistance in India

This was a presentation by members of the Sanhati collective, a group of mostly Indian academics and activists in India and the USA committed to the cause of India’s most oppressed, including the indigenous forest dwellers that provide the basis of the Maoist movement. While the comrades are not Maoists themselves, as far as I can tell, they know which side of the barricade they are on. These are not only some of the sharpest people politically I have run into in recent years but also some of the most fearless. One speaker, Partho Saratha Ray, had some interesting comments in reply to a question I posed about a possible disjunction between the forest-dwelling adivasis (tribal people) and the city dwellers appeared dedicated mostly to a consumerist life-style, alluding to problems that I had read about in the Mexican revolution of 1910 when a similar city-rural divide existed. Partho talked about his own experience in the struggle, one in which the conditions of life in the city were just as miserable. Here is a BBC report on this remarkable comrade’s dedication to the cause:

18 April 2012 Last updated at 05:55 ET

Indian Professor Partho Sarathi Ray freed from jail

A molecular biologist who was arrested in India’s West Bengal state for allegedly participating in a protest, has been freed after 10 days in jail.

Partho Sarathi Ray was arrested on 8 April for protesting against a slum eviction drive in Calcutta.

He says he was not even in the city on 4 April, the day of the protest.

More than 50 activists and academics from India and abroad wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene.

A well-known scientist, Prof Ray’s work has been published in respectable journals around the world.

Police charged him with assaulting policemen during the protest, but he denies the charge.

His lawyers say he was at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Nadia district to attend a faculty meeting on the day. They say he stayed there for the night and did not leave until the next day.

‘Clear message’

His arrest was condemned by scientists and academics who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene to secure Prof Ray’s release.

“There seems to be a clear message to others not to raise voices of dissent,” said the letter, signed by activists and academics including Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Noam Chomsky, Mrigangka Sur, Abha Sur and others.

7. Hollywood and the CIA

Got a chance to exchange ideas with a couple of leftie film buffs. Dumped all over Katherine Bigelow and Ben Affleck. Yeah!

Anti-Assad Syrians protest against Islamists in Raqqa

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:31 pm

In my long piece on Syria, I refer to a New Yorker magazine article that details the willingness of revolutionary-minded Syrians, including a geezer my age who used to smuggle ammunition to the FSA, to stand up to Islamist authoritarianism. This Youtube clip (hat tip to Pham Binh) shows them in action:

From my archives on Ray Markey

Filed under: Islamophobia,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 1:44 am

This guy is a former member of the SWP who just wrote a stupid baiting comment on my long piece on Syria. Ordinarily I don’t pay much attention to Islamophobes but a word or two might be useful. Markey was on the NYC Central Labor Council for years as the President of the Librarian’s Union. At some point he joined the Committees of Correspondence and turned into a typical Ed Schultz Democratic Party pwogwessive labor leader fulminating about how the evil Republicans were destroying the country. Ten years ago, long before I began blogging, I sent him an open letter about his crappy reformist politics. What’s interesting, now that I’ve had a look at it for the first time in years, is how his buddy Carl Davidson had the hots for Colin Powell who was taking the fight to al-Qaeda. Disgusting.

Letter to Ray Markey on stopping Bush

 posted to www.marxmail.org on September 25, 2003

 (Ray Markey is President of the New York Public Library Guild, Local 1930, in New York City)

Dear Ray,

I can’t say that I am totally surprised by your signature on “Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left”.


The letter seems to be a project of the Committees of Correspondence, which I joined on your recommendation over a decade ago. I dropped out after attending my one and only convention, where much time and energy was wasted–in my opinion–on how to boost the fortunes of Democratic Party candidates.

Camejo was in the C of C at the time and although I stopped communicating with him after he screwed up my portfolio, I suspect that he switched to the Greens after drawing conclusions similar to my own. I remember when the three of us would discuss the problem of the Democratic Party back in 1981 when we were all involved with the North Star Network and before the C of C had been formed. Memory can play tricks on you, but I think that we said that we could belong to a radical group that endorsed Democrats on a local level and that we did not want to make that a split question. I am much less sanguine about that nowadays after seeing the steady degradation of the Democratic Party. When an NPR interviewer asked Camejo how he felt about the Nader campaign helping Bush to win (www.votecamejo.org/debate_links.php), he replied that the Democrats had ensured their own defeat by failing to challenge the Republican Party. What kind of opposition party stands up to cheer George W. Bush’s State of the Union speeches, he asked quite pointedly.

I think to an extent the furor over George W. Bush reflects a kind of failure to fully appreciate how awful the Clinton administration was. In the latest Village Voice, there’s an article by Richard Goldstein on how progressives like Leslie Cagan (your co-signer) and NOW leader Rita Haley are all “are willing to break bread with the Democratic mainstream”, even going so far as to stop “focusing on Clinton’s perfidy these days”.

C of C leader Carl Davidson, who initiated “Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left”, might understandably be in a position to look more fondly on Clinton than on Bush, despite the war on Yugoslavia serving as a model for the current war on Iraq since–after all–Davidson was an outspoken supporter of US goals in the Balkans.

More recently, he has found himself seduced by the war on terror. He called for “all necessary forces–police, civil authority, national guard, intelligence and military, here and abroad” to defeat al-Qaeda and projected a tactical alliance with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has “maintained a ‘narrow the target’ focus on al-Quaida and has worked to build a broad coalition of support.” (www.isreview.org/issues/21/anti_imperialism.shtml)

I must say that the older I get the more adamantly I am opposed to supporting the Democratic Party even in a backhanded “Part of the Way with LBJ” fashion. Perhaps it is my Trotskyist indoctrination. Or perhaps it is an identification with Eugene V. Debs who said that “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want and get it.” Or Malcolm X who said about the supposed differences between the two major parties: “One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.”

My hostility to the two-party system was only deepened by research I have done recently on slavery, the civil war and reconstruction–aided in no small part by Camejo’s book on the topic. What I discovered is that the modern two party system really grows out of agreements made in the 1870s to basically run the country as a kind of joint stock company run by the two capitalist parties. Whatever principled differences they had up to and including the Civil War were papered over in the Gilded Age.

In Goldstein’s Voice article, he quotes the Nation Magazine’s Katrina vanden Heuvel who says the left is less obsessed with the Democratic Leadership Council these days because “it has lost its sway on the party.” This is a remarkable statement in light of the Democratic Party’s willingness to vote for war in Iraq, Bush’s tax cuts, prison spending, etc. If, as blackcommentator.com’s Glen Ford put it, the issue is “Anybody but Lieberman”, then I suppose we deserve what we get. Just as Ronald Reagan’s rightwing revolution permanently changed the character of the Republican Party, so had the DLC’s policies changed their opponents. Both, of course, were driven by the same class forces: the need to maximize corporate profits and expand US imperialist hegemony.

June 18, 2013

They “have convinced Putin that the United States isn’t trying to overthrow the Assad regime”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:38 pm

From last night’s Chris Hayes show on MSNBC

CHRIS HAYES: You could almost feel the iciness emanating from Vladimir Putin.Syria right now is a barrel that people from all over the region and world are stuffing more and more gun powder into. And today, two of the people responsible for the gun powder stuffing had to sit down together and talk about it.It`s been a while since we were in a pro [propaganda?] war with Russia. That seems to be where we’re headed right now.

NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is in Ireland with the president.

Chuck, I got to show you this photo that`s been floating around the Internet this afternoon here in the States of President Obama and Vladimir Putin both looking frustrated, disinterested, forlorn even, as a kind of graphical representation of the nature of their relationship right now. You were in the room during this press availability. What was it like?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I wasn’t in the room. That was pooled press. I don`t want to mislead people on that front.

But, look, it was clear they made an effort to try to not look as if there was some sort of huge divide between the two. Remember, they actually got together about six months ago in Cabos during the G-20 when it was in Mexico and it was a very, very icy pairing between the two of them. So, this one it seems like they took pains to show that there was some jocularity between the two, the president joking about judo and basketball, and Putin admitting that, look, what he`s trying to do, he`s trying to make me relax.

The fact of the matter is they have a bunch of disagreements when it comes to the issue of Syria. But I thought what was the most important thing that happened today is what Putin did not say, Chris, which he didn’t say the same things that he said when he was with David Cameron yesterday, the British prime minister, in London. And the fact he decided to ratchet back the rhetoric a little bit shows whatever happened there seems to at least have convinced Putin that the United States isn’t trying to overthrow the Assad regime, they just want Assad out of there which is what the Obama administration took pains to make clear both publicly today and to Putin.

HAYES: So is it your sense, the folks in the White House, view today as basically a victory insofar as they came away with Putin not saying something like what he said with David Cameron yesterday?

TODD: You mean the fact that Putin didn’t make a cannibalism reference?

HAYES: That`s exactly right. That`s a win.

TODD: Yes, that`s a win right there. He didn’t talk about somebody eating somebody`s organ. I mean, I guess in that case it`s a win.

They feel cautiously — I wouldn’t even call it optimistic. They`re just not pessimistic. They feel like they spent a lot of time only talking about what they agreed upon.

What we were told, they set aside the real differences when be comes to Syria now and seems to put this emphasis on just get everybody to the table, no Assad, but the Assad regime can say this is all about the longer conversation the Obama administration wants to have with Putin which is to say, look, we know you have interest there in Syria, we know you want access to the Mediterranean, we know you don`t want to suddenly have chaos reign in and you no longer have a foothold in the Middle East. We don`t want that. We simply want Assad gone and some sort of political solution.

HAYES: NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd reporting from Ireland tonight — thank you.

TODD: You got it, Chris.

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