Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 30, 2014

UKRAINE: Report from a visit in Kiev in April 2014

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 1:45 pm

All left-wing activists said that the fascists or radical right wingers did not dominate the movement nor represented a big part of the protestors. They did describe fascist attacks on themselves and how they were excluded from the barricades, but that was rather a result of their own weakness then of the strength of the fascists. The mass waving of Ukrainian flags or chanting nationalist slogans were not signs of fascist or radical right wing ideas. Some protesters also had a blurry understanding of nationalism, expressing that for them it was fighting for a free world.

Racism or ethnic nationalism did not seem to catch on.Before Maidan the biggest right-wing force was the Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda (in parliament) with their fascist “youth organization” and militia C-14, with several fascist groups even further on the right (outside parliament). Pravy Sektor was founded by several fascist groups including paid activists and football hooligans at the beginning of the Maidan movement. One of these fascist groups (White Hammer) was later excluded after it had killed three policemen at the outskirts of Kiev. Not all fascists took part in Maidan, some also supported Yanukovich – and, of course, the Russian nationalist fascists did not take part either.

They are active now in the separatist activity in Eastern Ukraine, for instance, showing the black-yellow-white flag of the Russian monarchists or national-bolshevik banners.Most of the fascist leaders on Maidan were from the middle class and intellectuals, their infantry consisted of many students, and there were few workers or farmers. The fascist intervention on Maidan seemed like a contradiction from the start, since many of the main issues were liberal or left, like pro-democracy, for EU-association, against corruption, against police-violence, etc. These are topics the fascists do not represent, so their standing among the protesters was not based on their political program but their ability to organize the struggle against the police. When rightists attacked unionist or left-wing activists on Maidan in November, others supported that because everyone “communist” was identified with the Communist Party of Ukraine (which supported Yanukovich). However, even when the Right Sector led the struggle against the police in January, it constituted a rather small group.

via UKRAINE: Report from a visit in Kiev in April 2014.

April 29, 2014


Filed under: bohemia — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Last night I went to a panel discussion timed to the launch of “Bohemians: a Graphic History”, a comic book co-edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger. Paul gave the opening remarks and David concluded. Sandwiched between them were a number of artists who took part in the project. Based on my readings of previous projects Buhle was involved with along these lines, I expect this latest book to be a winner. In the past Buhle worked closely with Harvey Pekar on works such as “SDS”, “The Beats” and “Yiddishkeit”, in many ways a natural tie-in to “The Bohemians”. Given the centuries long tendency for American capitalism to crush all forms of human expression under its heel, it is only natural for a homegrown bohemia to have emerged. In his concluding remarks, Berger said that bohemia is dead but followed that observation immediately with one that it has always been dead. In Paris, back in 1850, you can be sure that someone would have been saying “La Boheme c’est mort.” Obviously as long as there is moloch—as Allen Ginbsberg once put it—there will be bohemia.

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 2.48.23 PM

Among the bohemians previewed/profiled by the artists was Walt Whitman, who was in many ways the precursor to Allen Ginsberg. Being based in Brooklyn, Whitman would be the natural forefather to young bohemians trying to scrape out an existence today in that borough, largely priced out of Manhattan and Greenwich Village in particular—now the priciest neighborhood in the city. Honestly, I don’t know if bohemia is alive or dead right now in places like New York and San Francisco—historical hotbeds of the counter-culture—but the ever-increasing cost of living in such places almost makes it mandatory to look elsewhere. Places that have been devastated by industrial decline like Pittsburgh and Detroit are now homes to many young artists and writers.

Along with Whitman, two other gay writers are profiled in “Bohemians”: Oscar Wilde and Carl Van Vechten. I was surprised to learn that Wilde spent a year touring in the USA, including visits to places outside the customary “metropolitan” venues deemed safe for gay writers. This delicious item from a New Mexico newspaper should give you an idea of his interaction with the real America celebrated by both Whitman and Kerouac:

The opening scene of Brian’s Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde shows the Irish poet and playwright arriving in Leadville, Colorado, on the back of a horse to cheers of “Yeeha!” and celebratory gunfire (in real life, Wilde arrived by train). The year is 1882. Wilde, played by Stephen Fry, is then lowered down a narrow shaft to visit with miners breaking silver from a seam named after its famous visitor. The miners are rapt with attention as Wilde, lit by torchlight, goes on about the importance of beauty. When one young shirtless and perspiring miner refills Wilde’s cup with drink, presumably whiskey, Wilde appears rapt in return.

Now I don’t know if this incident actually occurred or not but I’d like to think it did.

Carl Van Vechten was a major figure in Manhattan’s bohemian underworld in the 1920s. I strongly suspect that “Bohemians” would stress his positive contribution to culture but I would be remiss if I did not mention that despite his support for the Harlem Renaissance (he organized Paul Robeson’s first concert), he wrote a novel titled “Nigger Heaven” that clearly reflected the outlook of many wealthy whites who used to go “slumming” in Harlem. White bohemia unfortunately saw Black performers as “primitive” and sexually potent, no doubt leading to artists such as Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker emphasizing “jungle” themes.

This tradition lingered on into the 40s through the 60s. If you read Kerouac, there was always the yearning to be like a “Negro”. From “On the Road”:

At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night.

When I arrived at Bard in 1961, a bohemian outpost if there ever was one, nobody would dare say anything racist but we routinely referred to Blacks as “spades”. We also went slumming in Harlem, just like an earlier generation. On one trip, a well-meaning art student got drunk in Harlem and began pawing women on the street. We had to haul him into our car to escape a growing mob.

There were clear signs that Buhle and Berger’s book steers clear of this kind of patronizing attitude since there was a presentation on the importance of jazz as a permanent resident in bohemia since its inception. Attention was paid to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, whose cerebral approach to music and to the arts in general marked them as elevated beyond the status of “entertainer”.

Another presentation dealt with Henry J. Clapp, the mid-19th century “King of Bohemia” who used to rule the roost at Pfaff’s beer hall, the equivalent in some ways of the 20th century Cedar Tavern on University Place that was favored by abstract expressionist artists and bebop musicians. The artist referred the audience to the The Vault at Pfaff’s, an archive of art and literature by New York’s 19th century bohemians (http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/pfaffs/).

This was not the first time I had heard about Henry J. Clapp. About six months ago, I read Mark Lause’s “The Antebellum Crisis and America’s First Bohemians”, a delightful book that would be a good companion volume to Buhle and Berger’s. I will let Mark Lause have the last word on Clapp:

As with the critics of capital in the form of slavery, the bohemians argued about not only an exploitation of the workers but what such obsession with material wealth does to the individual owner. For Clapp: “The golden Rule is the golden test; / The Golden Mean means gold alone; / And the goldenest thing is e’er the best”. John Burroughs thought it “a strange idea some people have of use; as if a man must go jingling his money in his pocket to establish his claim to wealth; or reciting passages from books to gain the honor of’ wisdom. Good painting and good sculpture need no explanation; and a really wise man need not hang out a sign-board or employ a trumpeter. Wisdom, like the sun, is its own herald.”

The preoccupation with wealth created a din that overwhelmed the community. Clapp heard “no twaddle so insufferable as that which has begun to be so rife in large cities like New York, where money is the chief end of man, and where, therefore, only so-called business (or those peculiar and distinct Wall Street operations by which money is, more or less honestly, made) is considered the legitimate sphere of occupation: The new city seemed peopled by “scamps … who always stand ready to profit by other people’s labors.” He declined to offer “a classification of these scamps, for fear that the various species of the genus ‘who profit by other people’s labors’ might include some reader’s most respectable friends: Despite this claimed desire for forbearance, Clapp referred to Wall Street as “Caterwaul Street”.

Sounds like Clapp would have fit right in at Zuccotti Park. As I said, as long as there is capitalism, there will be a bohemia.

April 27, 2014

Donald Sterling: racist and sexist pig extraordinaire

Filed under: capitalist pig,racism,real estate,sexism,sports — louisproyect @ 8:45 pm

This week there were blatant signs that America was not yet a “postracial” society. First we were treated to the spectacle of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, hailed by the libertarian right for his stand against a federal government he deemed non-existent, telling a NY Times reporter that Blacks abort their young children and put their young men in jail “because they never learned how to pick cotton.”

Fast on his heels, Donald Sterling, the 81 year old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a basketball team with a Black coach and star guard who also happens to be the president of the players’ union, was caught saying over the phone to his 38 year old girlfriend—of mixed Latino and Black ancestry—that she should stop showing up at his arena with so many Blacks. Quoting Sterling:

It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?

You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.

I’m just saying, in your lousy fucking Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.

…Don’t put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.

This was all on a tape that his girlfriend released to TMZ, a gossip website.

This story has burst through the seams of sports and become a hot topic on television news and the newspapers. In today’s NY Times, William C. Rhoden, a Black sports reporter, wrote:

The more compelling question for the league’s players is whether they will speak out — or act out — against Sterling. And what about the league’s other owners? How will they respond? Will they remain silent? Will they issue a collective statement? Or will individual owners like the usually vocal Mark Cuban, who declined to address the Sterling issue, send their own messages?

Mark Cuban has a reputation for being one of the more progressive-minded owners (his Dallas team, like Sterling’s, is in the playoffs). He also owns Magnolia Pictures, a prime distributor of hard-hitting documentaries including one based on the the March 2006 rape, murder, and burning of 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her parents and younger sister by U.S. soldiers.

But I am not that surprised he declined to comment on the Sterling affair. Cuban is a diehard libertarian and as such views property rights as sacrosanct, just like the Nevada rancher.

In digging into Sterling’s past, I made the discovery that he was born to Jewish immigrants surnamed Tokowitz. Like many men getting off the boat, his father made a living as a peddler just like my grandmother. Sterling’s father peddled fruit while my grandmother pushed clothing.

Sterling started off in Los Angeles as a divorce lawyer but soon switched to real estate cases. That led in turn to a full-time real estate business that included properties in Black and Latino neighborhoods. This is where his racism first reared its ugly head. Dave Zirin, a radical sportswriter for the Nation Magazine, details his sordid past:

Sterling is also the Slumlord Billionaire, a man who made his fortune by building low-income housing, and then, according to a Justice Department lawsuit, developing his own racial quota system to decide who gets the privilege of renting his properties. In November of 2009, Sterling settled the suit with the US Department of Justice for $2.73 million, the largest ever obtained by the government in a discrimination case involving apartment rentals. Reading the content of the suit makes you want to shower with steel wool. Sterling just said no to rent to non-Koreans in Koreatown and just said hell-no to African-Americans looking for property in plush Beverly Hills. Sterling, who has a Blagojevichian flair for the language, says he did not like to rent to “Hispanics” because “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building.” He also stated that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

One of my earliest memories was visiting “Tante Leya” in New York with my mother—I must have been 10 years old or so. This was most likely my grandmother’s cousin who spoke no English. After spending two of the longest hours in my life as Leya and my mother chatted in Yiddish over tea and cookies, we finally left to go downtown—probably to see the Radio City Christmas show or something like that. In the elevator, my mother turned to me and said,”Leya is a slumlord. She buys buildings and rents the apartments to Negros who complain about rats and broken boilers.” That was the first time in my life I heard the term slumlord.

At 81, Sterling’s values were a lot closer to Tante Leya’s than mine. This was a man who worshipped money not “Jewish values”. When a Satmar Hasidic slumlord was killed a few months ago, I was reminded of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”, a case in which Inspector Poirot was stymied by the fact that a multitude of people had motives to kill the victim. The Satmar was such a crook and so callous in his dealings with Black tenants that it was impossible to figure out who killed him. If Donald Sterling ever ends up with a knife in the back, the cops will have the same problem.

A Sports Illustrated profile on Sterling from 2000 analyzes his cheapskate behavior as a reaction to childhood poverty. Michael Selsman, his former publicist, told SI: “As a kid, Donald never had enough of anything. With him, acquiring great wealth is a crusade. He’s psychologically predisposed to hoarding.” Not every Jew who lived through the Great Depression ended up in quite that manner. My mother complained bitterly about my father’s reluctance to buy a house in the roaring 1950s but understood it as a reaction to childhood poverty. That being said, my father—like most Depression era men—had no ambition to build an economic empire over hapless victims, particularly Black people.

Perhaps taking the advice of another publicist concerned about his shitty reputation, Sterling got involved in a project to benefit Los Angeles’s enormous homeless population but like everything else the billionaire gets involved with, it was nothing but a scam. The Los Angeles Weekly reported in 2008:

These days, though, Sterling’s vow to help the homeless is looking more like a troubling, ego-inflating gimmick dreamed up by a very rich man with a peculiar public-relations sense: Witness his regular advertisements proclaiming another “humanitarian of the year” award — for himself. From homeless-services operators to local politicians, no one has received specifics for the proposed Sterling Homeless Center. They aren’t the least bit convinced that the project exists.

“He uses every opportunity to have it announced somewhere,” says Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest who runs the Skid Row day-care and education center Las Familias del Pueblo. “But it sounds like a phantom project to me.”

Like many other scumbags who made a fortune (George Steinbrenner, Fred Wilpon, James Dolan) in some other type of business, Sterling decided to buy a professional sports team at the top of his game. In 1981, he bought the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that was nowhere near as prestigious as the Los Angeles Lakers (Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s team) but a bargain at twice the price. His initial 12.5 million dollar investment is now worth a half-billion.

The SI profile captures a man who would make Scrooge McDuck look like Lucky Jim Fitzsimmons. He suggested to coach Paul Silas that they could save money if he taped the players’ ankles.

Nobody ever bothered to challenge Sterling until the superstar Elgin Baylor became general manager. Baylor was committed to making the team competitive even if it meant demanding that his boss open up his wallet. After 22 years of fighting a losing battle, Baylor was probably relieved to be fired in 2008 but not so much so to prevent him from filing a racial discrimination case against Sterling. The LA Times reported:

In the original lawsuit, Baylor said that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers and accused the owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during long-ago contract negotiations with Danny Manning. The lawsuit also quoted Sterling as telling Manning’s agent, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.”

Baylor alleged Sterling said he wanted the Clippers to be “composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”

It should of course come as no surprise that Sterling was a sexist pig as well as a racist. ESPN, a sports magazine similar to Sports Illustrated, Jason Easly recounts his scandalous abuse of women. Christine Jaksy, a former employee, sued Sterling for sexual harassment in 1996. ESPN states:

Jaksy first worked for Sterling in 1993, as a hostess at one of his “white parties,” where guests dressed Gatsby style at his Malibu beach house; she eventually went into property management. Jaksy testified that Sterling offered her clothes and an expense account in return for sexual favors. She also testified that he told her, “You don’t need your lupus support groups I’m your psychiatrist.” Jaksy left her job in December 1995, handing Sterling a memo that read in part, “The reason I have to write this to you is because in a conversation with you I feel pressured against a wall and bullied in an attempt to be overpowered. I’m not about to do battle with you.” She carried a gun because, according to her testimony, she feared retribution.

One of the most shocking revelations about Donald Sterling was the NAACP’s decision to present him with a Lifetime Achievement award this year. (Of course, they also decided to give a Man of the Year award to the snitch Al Sharpton.) Even though they made the decision to present the award before the phone call tape was released to TMZ, they must have been aware of all his other anti-Black words and actions. What prompted them to overlook this was his handing out of from 2 to 3 thousand tickets to Black youth for home games of the LA Clippers. They have since rescinded the award.

Professional sports fascinates me both as a fan and as a critic of American society. What makes it unique is the tension between private ownership and the public’s sense that it is “their team”. Toward the end of the NBA season, New Yorkers planned to stage a protest against owner Jim Dolan in front of Madison Square Garden. They were sick and tired of his meddling in the team’s business, making decisions that undercut the team’s fortunes. Apparently nervous that the protest might lead to more escalated forms of action such as a boycott, Dolan hired Phil Jackson, a basketball legend like Elgin Baylor, to run the team and promised to not interfere.

When you listen to sports fans calling in to WFAN or the ESPN station in New York, they sound more informed about the team than Jim Dolan. Unlike their generally passive acceptance of whatever Chase Manhattan Bank has up its sleeves to screw the working person, the sports fan is ready to take to the barricades in order to win a championship. In the documentary “Manufacturing Consent”, Noam Chomsky states:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about — keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in (discussions of) sports (as opposed to political and social issues). I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

If and when that passion becomes devoted to challenging the corporate system as a whole, we might finally see the possibility of realizing that old-time vision of a Socialist America.


April 26, 2014

Boycott Lawrence and Wishart

Filed under: capitalist pig,intellectual property,Internet — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.30.07 AM

* * * * *

Lawrence and Wishart have just proved themselves to be opportunist bourgeois profiteers pimping of the workers movement by denying people access to works from a century and a half ago so they can extort money from, in the last analysis, college students or taxpayers.

A comrade hints that he might be OK with it because they co-published some book about a strike a hundred years ago.

Oh! I almost forgot. Eleanor Marx was involved. In the strike, not the book, but –perhaps– that makes L&W A-OK.

Information wants to be free, especially if it can help working people understand the nature of the system so we can smash it.

David Walters and the MIA have NO CHOICE but to respect this bourgeois “intellectual property,” or the MIA would be shut down. So I totally understand and support them in their stance of respecting bourgeois “intellectual property,” including making nice-sounding diplomatic noises about copyrights, the DMCA, and so on.

But the rest of us are not under those constraints. People should download the material to be censored and share it as widely as possible, especially through torrents, which are a very efficient means of distribution, and through “darknet” sites, though that is quite a bit more complicated.

*  *  *

I’m not just  being ornery or ultraleft. This is the right policy, the right response, to a bourgeois publisher who PRETENDS to be an ally to the socialist movement, but instead seeks to EXPLOIT working people when the opportunity arises.

The argument is that the translations are “new,” even if the works are old, and copyright fees are just because the people who made these new translations have to be paid royalties is 1,000% bogus.

Find me the translator who says they’re getting royalties from sales of Marx and Engels translations and I’ll show you a liar. Or any translator of ANY work. Apart from Gregory Rabassa, the translator of Gabo’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and one or two others, any translator who claims he or she has received one cent from royalties AFTER the initial fee is lying.

I’ve been translating “professionally” (i.e., for money) for more than four decades, and Rabassa is the only one of our tribe that I’ve ever met who got post-publication royalties. And as someone who has been and continues to be a “content creator,” I totally support writers, actors, and everyone else like that who is involved in actually creating “works of authorship” getting paid.

But PUBLISHERS (whether known by that name or others, like Hollywood studios, record labels, TV networks, web sites, content aggregators, or whatever), are parasites. They are the ENEMIES of content creators (authors, translators, editors, film makers, etc.). In the real world, the monopoly that copyright law grants benefits THEM much much more than it does US, and is even a weapon used against us. The media monopoly mafia use their hoards of “copyrights” to tell us we either sell to them cheap, or we won’t sell at all. They have tons of content that they already own and they don’t needs ours.

And because they own the distribution channels, the threat is quite credible.

In practice, this works out to the overwhelming majority of content creators being forced to work under conditions where their EMPLOYER, a corporation, is the “author,” and the actual creative human beings have no rights, none whatsoever, under copyright law.

This corporate monopoly has been based on the capitalist’s control of the means of producing and reproducing works and distributing them.

What gave rise to this sort of copyright law is the printing press. You need to be a capitalist to have one.

We journalists know that “freedom of the press belongs to those that own one,” but the same is true of copyright. Copyright belongs to the capitalists, to the bourgeoisie.

Digital technology and especially the Internet has given regular people –us– tools to begin shattering that monopoly. David Walters and his friends in the MIA deserve credit for using those tools to give untold millions of people access to something that belongs to everyone.

Now, some will say that a publisher, even in this day and age, needs to recoup their investment in these “new” translations, otherwise there will be no more.

But in the REAL world, a publisher pays for a translation on the basis of the expected sales of a book over at most 2-3 years. The reason for that is simple, and mathematical. The money paid out for a translation is an investment, and the value of that investment compounds over time. Because it is a risky investment, it needs to have a high rate of return. Either you make back the money very quickly, or after a few years a $10,000 investment needs to yield double, triple or quadruple that figure (or even more).

Why? To compensate for inflation, pay for the publisher’s bets that didn’t work, provide the “normal” rate of return for a “safe” long-term investment and provide a hefty premium on top of that since this isn’t a safe investment.

But these MECW works aren’t five or ten years old, they were done DECADES ago. And they were not done as a profit-making capitalist venture. The technology available in those days did not allow massive free distribution, but the intent was clear from pricing that was a small fraction of comparable academic editions of other works from previous centuries.

Claiming bourgeois “intellectual property” rights on these works to put them behind a pay wall after they have been freely available for many years is obscene. L&W’s suggestion that this will somehow preserve or guarantee the access to these works is ridiculous. There would be countless academic institutions quite willing to host the entire corpus for free, if given the chance.

What L&W are doing is pure and simple rapacious corporate profiteering by executives who had NOTHING to do with these editions, who contributed absolutely NOTHING, but now want to put them behind a pay wall, to pocket the profits.

So fuck them.

Let’s pirate, not just the M&E collected works, but EVERYTHING under the imprint of these profiteering scumbags.

BOYCOTT anything you have to pay L&W for, unless you’re accessing it to pirate it.

Joaquín Bustelo, Marxmail subscriber

April 25, 2014

Irwin and Fran

Filed under: comedy,Film — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Like “American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs”, another documentary about a long-time leftist, “Irwin and Fran” starts with its protagonist Irwin Corey walking down a city street with the aid of a walker. Each film is a deeply touching tribute to a personality who kept true to their beliefs over a lifetime at some personal risk. While Corey’s main emphasis was on making people laugh, there were some who did not find him funny at all. After performing at a fund-raiser for the Foner brothers, who were facing charges of being “subversives”, Corey ended up on the blacklist himself.

Professor Irwin Corey in his prime:

His wife Fran had more in common with Grace Lee Boggs although her loyalties were to the CPUSA rather than the Trotskyist movement. Made 5 years ago, when she was 92 and he was 95, they reminisce about the 1930s. She was out organizing demonstrations against Franco while he was performing in leftwing musicals like “Pins and Needles”. Seen smoking pot (she prefers cigarettes), Irwin says that the CP rejected his membership application. Taking a hit off his pipe, he says between coughs, “They thought I was an anarchist.”

The CP probably had a point. Like Lord Buckley, another comedian I grew up loving in the late 50s, Corey did not tell jokes. Instead he worked in what came across as stream-of-consciousness riffs on high culture, with the emphasis on high. As “the world’s greatest authority”, Corey could be relied upon to mangle references to Shakespeare or the Bible, mocking the sort of people who define the parameters of high culture. In one scene from this deeply touching documentary directed by Jordan Stone, we see Corey in his standard issue frock coat bumming a cigarette from an audience member and then smoking it as if it were a reefer. He quips, “I hope we don’t get arrested”. Considering that this was from 1958 or so, that took a lot of balls.

Irwin Corey was born to a poverty-stricken Jewish family in 1914. So desperate were they that they were forced to put him in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, the same place that the Trotskyist Sol Dollinger and his brother ended up and for the same reason.

Lenny Bruce considered Professor Irwin Corey, as he was known in performance, as the greatest comedian of his age. When Thomas Pynchon won an award for “Gravity’s Rainbow”, he sent Corey to receive it on his behalf. According to the NY Times, his speech was “…a series of bad jokes and mangled syntax which left some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.” Over on the Irwin Corey website, you can read a loving tribute to Corey by Kenneth Tynan, one of those people who the comedian likely had in mind when he was telling those bad jokes in mangled syntax: “a cultural clown, a parody of literacy, a travesty of all that our civilization holds dear and one of the funniest grotesques in America. He is Chaplin’s clown with a college education.”

“Irwin and Fran” opened last night at the Anthology Film Archives in New York. If you care about the left, popular culture, and America’s true values, don’t miss this wonderful documentary.


April 24, 2014

Tony Blair joins “axis of good”

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 1:32 am


West and Russia must unite to tackle radical Islam, says Tony Blair

The former prime minister says that the danger from religious extremism is ‘growing’ and is more important than differences over Ukraine

By Hayley Dixon, and agencies

Highlighting the ”growing” danger from religious extremism, the former prime minister is to call for it to be put at the ”top of the agenda”.

Failing to ”take sides” with moderates in the Middle East and North Africa could mean the 21st century is dominated by conflict rather than peaceful coexistence, he will say.

Mr Blair is due to make the intervention in a speech at Bloomberg in London on Wednesday morning.

It comes with tensions still running high in eastern Ukraine, and after Russia was jettisoned from the G8 group of nations over Vladimir Putin’s decision to annexe the Crimea.

But Mr Blair will describe a wider crisis with its roots in ”a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message”.

”The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world.

”It is destabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful coexistence in an era of globalisation.

”And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.”

Mr Blair – Middle East envoy for the quartet of the United Nations, EU, US, and Russia – will say there needs to be a new policy of ”engagement” in the region and beyond.

”We have to elevate the issue of religious extremism to the top of the agenda,” he will say.

”All over the world the challenge of defeating this ideology requires active and sustained engagement.

”Consider this absurdity: that we spend billions of dollars on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems and in civic institutions of the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships.

”Some of those countries of course wish to escape from the grip of this ideology.

”But often it is hard for them to do so within their own political constraints. They need to have this issue out in the open where it then becomes harder for the promotion of this ideology to happen underneath the radar.

”In other words they need us to make this a core part of the international dialogue in order to force the necessary change within their own societies.

”This struggle between what we may call the open-minded and the closed-minded is at the heart of whether the 21st century turns in the direction of peaceful coexistence or conflict between people of different cultures.”

Conceding that recent conflicts such as Iraq had eroded the willingness of Western nations to act, Mr Blair will say it is nonetheless necessary to ”take sides”.

”The important point for Western opinion is that this is a struggle with two sides. So when we look at the Middle East and beyond it to Pakistan or Iran and elsewhere, it isn’t just a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support,” he will say.

”It is in fact a struggle in which our own strategic interests are intimately involved; where there are indeed people we should support and who, ironically, are probably in the majority if only that majority were mobilised, organised and helped.

”But what is absolutely necessary is that we first liberate ourselves from our own attitude. We have to take sides. We have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time. We have to have an approach to the region that is coherent and sees it as a whole. And above all, we have to commit. We have to engage.”

Mr Blair will argue that ”on this issue, whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and cooperate with the East, and in particular, Russia and China”.

He will repeat his defence of the popular coup that overthrew Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi last year.

The Muslim Brotherhood had been ”systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country”.

”The revolt of 30 June 2013 was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new government and help,” he will say.

Aides to the former premier insisted it was too ”blunt” to suggest Mr Blair is simply advocating more military action.

He is trying to make clear the issue has to be addressed in its ”religious as well as its political context”, they said.

April 23, 2014

A couple of great dance scenes in New Wave films

Filed under: dance,Film — louisproyect @ 8:04 pm

At some level what makes films great defies analysis, especially the sort of bullshit you are going to hear from a Film School “expert”. While watching the scene below from Marco Bellocchio’s “Fists in the Pocket”, I was both reminded of another iconic dance scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”, made a year before Bellocchio’s, but struck by the difference. Although both dance scenes reflect the pure joy of dancing, there is a world of difference socially. Godard’s dancers are bohemians, while Bellocchio’s are petty-bourgeois, the very people he was skewering in this debut film.

The two men seen at the beginning are brothers. The dark haired guy is Augusto, a self-employed and completely no-nonsense guy anxious to move out of his mother’s villa and the company of his siblings—two brothers and a sister—who are epileptics, unemployed (unemployable is more like it) and constantly getting into trouble. The clip comes from a full version of the film that is available only with Spanish subtitles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5emT2n0HMY).

The blonde guy is Alessandro, a ne’er-do-well and the real anti-hero of the film. Augusto warns him to stay out of trouble at the party being thrown for his fiancé, particularly to lay off the booze.

The couples are doing a cha-cha-cha, a dance very popular in the late 50s and early 60s. I learned to do it at a boy scouts dancing lesson. The key scene comes toward the end as Alessandro sits by himself, wondering what he is doing there. The dancers come in and out of view. It is pure magic.

Immediately below is the scene from “Band of Outsiders”. Rather than try to “explain” it, as if it needed an explanation, I will allow New Yorker film critic Richard Brody to do so. It’s not so much that he is wrong; it is that he overdoes it after the fashion of all film school professors.

New Yorker, April 5, 2013

Behind the Scenes of an Iconic Godard Scene

Posted by Richard Brody

It’s one of the iconic scenes of the modern cinema, part of a movie that its director has called one of his worst and to which he soon responded with a work of analytical and politicized modernism. But the scene itself is, in its way, a surprising work of modernism—I’m referring, of course, to the line dance done in a café by Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Claude Brasseur in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”—and this clip, of its production (that my colleague John Bennet sent along), suggests a practical basis for its most original fillip of invention.

First, the substance of the clip itself (the commentary and interview are in French, unsubtitled). The commentator says that the cast and crew have gathered to shoot the scene “in a bar at Vincennes, at the busiest hour,” which explains why a crowd of onlookers is pressing close to the rail that separates the rest of the café from the part, right nearby, where the shoot is taking place. Godard himself hosts the television report like a sort of puckish master of ceremonies, doing the clap himself and calling the second take (“the sound was bad, it’s for television”). The interviewer asks Godard about the title of the film: “Why do your characters form a band of outsiders—in other words, how do they distinguish themselves from others?” Godard answers, “I’d say rather that they are normal people; people distinguish themselves from them.” He says that the movie is based on a “fait divers” (“news in brief” or “crime blotter”), and adds, “I wanted to call it—it could as easily be called ‘Fait Divers.’ ”

The dance starts two minutes in; it’s fascinating to note that the café patrons press so close to it and all the more remarkable to hear the music on the jukebox to which they’re dancing—John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It Baby” (thanks to Shazam, as John let me know). Compare the sequence as seen in the finished film (which isn’t the same take—it features more patrons and a busy waiter in the background). The music that’s heard on the soundtrack is composed by Michel Legrand and is conspicuously dubbed in—and the dance doesn’t catch its beat perfectly, or, rather, vice versa. I wonder whether the question was one of rights—whether the production (and the movie has an American producer, Columbia Pictures) was unable or unwilling to get rights to the song, or whether Godard himself (who was administering the hundred-thousand-dollar budget through his own production company) had little interest in doing so.

I can’t help wondering whether, since the music is dubbed in, so are the claps, foot-stamps, and finger-snaps (because, of course, if another piece of music was playing in the café, there would be no way to remove it from the soundtrack while keeping the other ambient sounds)—or whether, for the take used in the film, there was no music playing at all, and the trio did their dance to the time of music playing in their minds. It would be all the more remarkable, inasmuch as none of the three actors—they’re now all in their seventies—is a trained dancer (they rehearsed that scene every day for a month before filming it).

In any case, the greatest flourish in the sequence is one involving the soundtrack. The music cuts out, and Godard speaks, in voice-over: “Now it’s time to open a second parenthesis, and to describe the emotions of the characters.” It cuts out three more times, and here’s what Godard says about each of the characters. First, Brasseur’s: “Arthur [Brasseur] keeps looking at his feet but he thinks about Odile’s mouth, about her [or, maybe, his] romantic desires.” Then, Karina’s: “Odile is wondering whether the two boys noticed her two breasts, which move beneath her sweater with every step.” Finally, Frey’s: “Franz is thinking of everything and nothing. He doesn’t know whether the world is becoming a dream or the dream, a world.” And that’s what distinguishes this notable sequence from its imitators and tributaries, whether scenes by Quentin Tarantino or by Hal Hartley or this one, from a movie I’ve never seen, “The Go-Getter,” by Martin Hynes.

For that matter, it distinguishes the scene from so many scenes in so many films where so many filmmakers are so concerned with bringing out their characters’ emotions solely by means of action. The fussily naturalistic framework of most movies by most filmmakers is more or less rendered obsolete in advance by this little scene. Filmmakers unwilling to break the sacrosanct continuity of action compel themselves to reveal character through action—and little is more tiresome in movies than scenes showing action that is supposed to reveal some aspect of character. That’s why many movies—and many wrongly hailed—give a sense of being constructed as illustrations of script elements, the connections of dots planted in just the right place to yield a particular portrait. Godard’s example is as much a lesson in substance as in style—in composition through fragmentation, in expression through directness and audacity, of artistic impulse combining with necessity as a means to enduring innovation. Whatever an experimental film might be, this sequence is one—it’s an experiment the discoveries of which have yet to be fully assimilated by the world of filmmakers, almost half a century later.


Bellocchio Versus the Barbarians

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Italy — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

One of the Left’s Greatest Film Directors

Bellocchio Versus the Barbarians


From April sixteenth to May seventh, the Museum of Modern Art is presenting a retrospective of the work of Italian director Marco Bellocchio, one of the great film directors of the Italian left. As with Bertolucci, Pasolini, Visconti and Pontecorvo, Bellocchio’s films are intensely political as well as artistic triumphs. Born in 1939, Bellochio, a friend of Pasolini, joined the Maoist Union of Italian Communists (Marxist–Leninist) in 1968, a sect whose newspaper bore the title popular in those circles: “Serve the People”. His motto would ultimately be “Serve the Audience”.

Bellocchio was always far more interested in human drama than propaganda. Made one year before he joined the Maoists, the narrative film “China is Near” is anything but propaganda if you take Pauline Kael at her word (and who wouldn’t?). She describes the film’s Maoist anti-hero Camillo, who is committed to sabotaging his older brother’s campaign for municipal office on the Socialist Party ticket, as a “prissy, sneering despot” and “a seventeen-year-old seminary student turned Maoist who looks the way Edward Albee might look in a drawing by David Levine.” The film derives its title from graffiti scrawled by Camillo on the walls near his brother’s campaign HQ.

If you have access to Hulu Plus, I recommend a look at “Fists in the Pocket”, Bellocchio’s debut film. Made in 1965 when he was only 26, it is deeply influenced by Godard and Buñuel. Like “China is Near”, the film is about a family at war but the story has only a tangential relationship to Italian society. Living in a decrepit villa in the Italian Alps, a blind matriarch has four grown children living under the same roof with her. A good Catholic, she tries to maintain her sanity in the face of nonstop quarrels, often turning violent, and tearful reconciliations among her troubled brood. The oldest son is the only one gainfully employed, while his younger sister and two younger brothers spend their days alternating between juvenile pranks and coping with the epileptic seizures that run in the family. Alessandro, one of the younger brothers, has the devilish soul and self-loathing of a Karamazov brother. He plots to kill his mother, himself and his two other epileptic siblings in order to allow the oldest brother to live a normal life. I should add that this is a comedy and a very good one at that.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/23/bellocchio-versus-the-barbarians/

April 21, 2014

The return of Stefan Zweig

Filed under: Fascism,Film,Jewish question,literature,war — louisproyect @ 5:23 pm

Counterpunch April 21, 2014

Madness and War

The Return of Stefan Zweig


When a publicist from IFC invited me to a press screening of Patrice Leconte’s “A Promise” (the film opens Friday in NY), I could not resist. Leconte was one of my favorite directors and I considered his “Ridicule” a masterpiece. Since IFC described “A Promise” as a tale about a young man of humble origins taking up a clerical post in a German steel factory at the beginning of WWI, it sounded as if Leconte had returned to the concerns of “Ridicule”, a film that pitted a minor aristocrat in pre-revolutionary France against the snobbery and authoritarianism of Louis XIV’s court. It seemed all the more promising (no pun intended) given the screenplay’s origins as a Stefan Zweig novella titled “Journey into the Past”. I was aware that there was something of a Stefan Zweig revival afoot, reflected by Wes Anderson’s homage to him in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and new editions of his fiction and nonfiction work from both New York Review of Books and Pushkin Press, a boutique publisher specializing in fine literature.

This much I knew about Stefan Zweig. He was the quintessential fin de siècle author from the quintessential fin de siècle city—Vienna. He was a pacifist who opposed WWI and a Jew who fled Nazi Germany. He was also connected to a wide range of intellectuals and public figures, ranging from the Zionist Theodor Herzl to Richard Strauss, the German composer who had an ambivalent relationship to the Third Reich but who stood by Zweig when it came to including his librettist’s name in a programme. He was particularly close to Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler and Romain Rolland, three other key figures from fin de siècle Vienna. After relocating to Brazil, Stefan Zweig and his wife committed suicide together. Like fellow Jew Walter Benjamin, he succumbed to despair.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/21/the-return-of-stefan-zweig/

Ivan Ovsyannikov: Friends of the Imaginary People

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:27 pm

Essential reading…

The Russian Reader


Friends of the Imaginary People

There is one point on which there is striking agreement among liberals, Putinists, and the “populist” segment of the Russian left. This is the idea that the majority of the Russian population adheres to leftist values, as opposed to the narrow strata of the middle class and intelligentsia in the big cities.

This simplified representation of societal processes, typical of both semi-official and opposition propaganda, is based on a juxtaposition of the so-called creative class with the notional workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank and railway car manufacturing plant, supposed wearers of quilted jackets with alleged hipsters. Discussion of such complicated topics as the Bolotnaya Square protests, Maidan, and Anti-Maidan revolves around this juxtaposition. The various ideological camps differ only in terms of where their likes and dislikes are directed.

Leaving aside left-nationalist figures like Sergei Kurginyan and Eduard Limonov, the most prominent proponent of…

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