Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 9, 2015

Monthly Review’s split personality

Filed under: Greece,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 11:57 am

Monthly Review is one of the most important institutions of the left in the USA dating back to 1949 when two veterans of the Henry Wallace campaign decided that a new magazine was needed. One was Paul Sweezy, who I had the good fortune to meet over “brown bag luncheons” at MR’s offices about 20 years ago; the other was F.O. Matthiessen, the Harvard literary critic.

For a number of years I considered myself quite close to the magazine and its book-publishing wing, writing numerous articles hailing the ecosocialist analysis of John Bellamy Foster who assumed the directorship of MR after Harry Magdoff’s death.

All that came to an end when MR launched a online publication called MRZine and gave the job of editor to Yoshie Furuhashi, a one-time subscriber to Marxmail, PEN-L, and LBO-Talk, arguably the three most well-known mailing lists of the left. At one point or another she unsubbed from the three lists after deciding that the hostility toward her idol Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was unbearable. Furuhashi, who was a relative newcomer to the left with a scanty publication record either in scholarly or popular journals, had come to the bizarre conclusion that Iran was “more socialist” than Venezuela. Her reviews were so at odds with both Marxism and common sense that a group of Iranian Marxists wrote an open letter blasting MRZine for publishing apologetics for Ahmadinejad’s dictatorship in 2006. Three years later Barbara Epstein resigned in protest from MR’s editorial board over the same issues.

I blame John Mage for imposing Furuhashi on the left. Mage, whose publication record is as meager as hers, is on the MR editorial board mostly tied to his custodianship of the MR foundation. Before his retirement he was an attorney representing the USSR in the USA and a member of the Lawyer’s Guild. As far as I know he fully supports Furuhashi’s mad ideological agenda. One imagines that Foster probably does not, although he obviously defers to Mage on personnel questions. Considering the fact that MR fired Ellen Meiksins Wood after a brief tenure running the book department and has allowed Furuhashi’s grotesque politics to be disseminated for over a decade, there is obviously poor judgment over these matters.

As opposed to Foster, Mage and Furuhashi, Michael Yates, who runs the book-publishing department, is a paragon of Marxist principle. It is reassuring that many people on the left who have grown disgusted with MRZine are smart enough to figure out that his sure hand keeps the publishing wing moored to the planet earth.

Lately MRZine has gone full-tilt-boogie on behalf of the KKE, the sectarian Stalinist party in Greece that refused to support Syriza after the fashion of the German CP’s disastrous “third period” policy in the 1920s, when it failed to make a distinction between social democracy and Nazism.

On almost a daily basis you can find tweets on MRZine linked to toxic attacks on Syriza, concentrated most frequently on finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Apparently Varoufakis passed muster with Furuhashi before he became part of the Greek government since she had published three of his articles, the latest appearing in 2012. But since Syriza took office, there has been nothing but vitriol.

The book department apparently has a different take on the finance minister based on this press release:

On January 25, 2015, the left-wing party, SYRIZA, won a stunning victory in Greece’s national elections. The new government, which says it intends to end the debilitating austerity measures forced upon Greece by the European Union, announced that the new Finance Minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a noted economist and good friend of Monthly Review (and MR author). We wish him well and trust that, unlike most economists, he will put his superb skills to work on behalf of the long-suffering Greek people and, indeed, all those oppressed by the policies imposed by the ruling classes of the European Union and United States.

MRZine’s ongoing campaign against Syriza mostly takes the form of tweets that reflect the POV of the KKE. Today you can find one linked to the blog In Defense of Greek Workers that makes an amalgam between Syriza and Golden Dawn. The blog is a bit of an oddity since it is written in English even though it is almost exclusively about Greek issues and obviously written by a Greek. The best way to describe it is as a scandal sheet aimed at Syriza. One can conclude that the bloggers behind it are very close to the MRZine’s addled sensibility since they were furious over Syriza’s support for the Syrian uprising against the Baathist goons. Frankly I was pleasantly surprised that despite Syriza’s tendency to support the Kremlin on Ukraine, it had the good sense to refer to the “barbaric regime” in Damascus. Good for Syriza, I’d say.

Let’s take a look at the case against Syriza on the Golden Dawn question. To start with, the In Defense of Greek Workers article includes a formulation that reeks of the German CP’s “third period”:

There is also the directly related question of whether SYRIZA and Golden Dawn really represent a clear, mutually exclusive choice. Is political reality in Greece interpretable in terms of the dilemma “SYRIZA or Golden Dawn” or is it rather that there is no dilemma, that the real formula for how capitalist power exercises itself at present in the country is in fact “SYRIZA and Golden Dawn”?

This is really quite something, not being able to distinguish between Syriza and Golden Dawn.

The main charge specifically is that Syriza has stood up for the right of Golden Dawn to function as a political party, including the right of its elected officials to serve in parliament. Before Syriza took power, the New Democracy had been cracking down on Golden Dawn—something Syriza objected to. The KKE-oriented blog complained:

On May 8 2014, SYRIZA MP Nikos Voutsis, speaking in an interview with the Real-fm radio station, returned to the issue of the imprisonment of Golden Dawn MPs and stated that the evidence the Greek state had collected against them was laughably inadequate and “had no chance” in court.

For a more sensible analysis of Syriza’s stand on such matters, I refer you to David Renton’s “lives; running” blog, where his latest article delves mostly into the bloc Syriza made with ANEL but includes some commentary on the Golden Dawn stance that is markedly more balanced than the one cited by MRZine:

Critics of Syriza to its left have taken umbrage at Syriza’s suggestion that elected Golden Dawn MPs should be released from custody to attend votes in Parliament suggesting that Syriza is extending too much deference to the right, and warning that Syriza may be cooling as to the prosecution itself. At this distance, it is impossible to know whether they are right about the prosecution itself (which is necessarily in the hands of the judiciary rather than the politicians) or these are the exaggerated fears of people who have committed themselves in advance to the narrative that Syriza will betray its supporters. But Syriza’s friends should be watching closely and urging the government to take no steps which help the fascists.

Needless to say, this is an attempt to understand Syriza rather than to sling mud at it. Syriza is in a very difficult position in Greece and trying to navigate a path forward against much more powerful forces–no easy matter as Renton reminds us:

Some of the Bolsheviks’ compromises went deep. As Isaac Babel pointed out, long ago in Red Cavalry (and as Brendan McGeever has shown again in research which, when it makes it into print, should be compulsory reading for anyone nostalgic for a time which never existed), these compromises included in 1918-1919 leaving local Soviet power in many areas in the hands of people who were murderously anti-Semitic. This approach proved temporary because the Civil War finished and there was then a struggle within the fragile Soviet regime to purge itself of these elements.

So, a compromise with conservatives or racists is always unwanted and undesirable (means and ends always interconnect), but may be necessary as a temporary device provided as a minimum that it is the right making the principal compromises and the direction of travel is towards liberation.

I can’t recommend Renton’s blog highly enough. This socialist scholar first came to my attention more than a decade ago when I learned that he shared my admiration for Harry Braverman, the co-leader of the Socialist Union with Bert Cochran. Braverman eventually ended up at Monthly Review after the “Cochranites” dissolved their organization in 1959. In an article titled “Against Management: Harry Braverman’s Marxism”, Renton writes:

If the American Socialist Workers’ Party was unable to understand the tensions within the Communist Party, then this was the sign of its sectarianism, which prevented the Trotskyists from becoming a real force on the US left. After the 1953 split, Braverman left the SWP and joined Cochran’s group, the Socialist Union. He worked on their paper, first titled the Educator and later the American Socialist for five years, until the paper was closed down. Later, he allied himself with the magazine, Monthly Review, whose contributors were drawn from a milieu of Maoists and former fellow-travellers of the American CP. It was also at this time that Braverman dropped the pseudonym, Frankel. Braverman remained a supporter of the Monthly Review until his death in 1976, holding to the gut class feeling, but also the political black spots of the orthodox Trotskyist legacy which had helped to shaped him.

When MRZine was first launched, the best hope was that it would have been an outlet for people like David Renton, a serious thinker who was capable of seeing political questions in their full dialectical complexity. It is really most unfortunate that it has become the playpen of Yoshie Furuhashi who like so many sectarians is not only uncomfortable with complexity but is susceptible to the kind of cartoonish reductionism that has tainted Stalinism since its birth in the 1920s.

 

11 Comments »

  1. It is Antonis Balassopoulos, professor of comparative literature at the University of Cyprus, who runs the blog “In Defense of Greek Workers”. He is running also the blog “Lenin Reloaded” in greek. Both these odious pro-KKE blogs, are characterized by a hooligan-like neostalinism, a growing tendency inside the party.

    Comment by John Aposperites — March 9, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

  2. To people who are hostile to this blog, don’t waste your time writing comments since I am no free speech purist. They go immediately into the trash bin. If you want to get your hostility out of your system, find an Exxon service station on the Interstate, go to the men’s room (you are most assuredly a guy) and scrawl your venomous comment on the walls of the bathroom stall. Just remember–it is the Interstate and not the Internet that is your destination.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 9, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  3. Mpalasopoulos, the person, is an invention of the basement of Sygrou. (HQ ND)
    To be honest, I did not think John Mouroutis could be so clever.
    New Democratia to her desire to break the so-called “reconciliation” between Dora Mpakogianni and Aleka Papariga created a SuperDuper Marxist simply to say no to any approach.
    The man behind the curtain moves all the puppets in order to miscalculate the patriotic consent.
    His name is John. John Mouroutis and as a fellow use to say: “The elections are over. Dismantle the 100 avatars Mr Mouroutis”.(@Nick Chatzinikolaou)
    John Aposperites also knows about that. Ask him!
    “Hellas unita mai conquerita”

    Comment by Michel Pablo — March 9, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

  4. Must say, “hooligan-like neo-Stalinism” sums up MRZine’s political line pretty well; at least when it comes to Yoshie’s attitude towards Iran.

    Over the years I have had to engage her on Iranian politics on a few occasions. On one occasion, I was addressing one of her arguments, in comments section of her blog. The point I was trying to get across to her was that the Iranian clergy (meaning the most reactionary section of Iranian society) had made generous use of lumpen masses throughout our history as their shock troopers. I personally got some sound beatings from their ranks in demonstrations in Iran, right after the revolution, when for about fifteen months or so there was absolute political freedom for all political organizations and parties to hold public meetings, rallies, etc. I would also have my behind handed to me whenever, with other comrades, we’d go to working class neighborhoods to sell our newspapers or hand out fliers.

    So, knowing from those encounters, and more generally from knowing the history of the role of the lumpen masses in our country, I pointed out to Yoshie that Ahmadinejad and his fellows are nothing but a bunch of lumpen, backward, superstitious bunch who would hang her and all her readers in public in Iran, should she or her readers ever dare express their ‘socialist’ ideas in public in Iran.

    She wrote back (paraphrasing) that Iran’s future would be *saved* by the lumpen masses (or something to that effect)!!!

    So, yes, hooligan-like neo-Stalinism is the best succinct description. I have come across many a leftists in more than thirty five years of having been a socialist, but have never, ever come across a more bizarre, more confused and obstinate line of muddled thinking than MRZine’s. They hold a class of their own in obstinate muddled thinking.

    Comment by Reza F. — March 9, 2015 @ 11:44 pm

  5. I think that John Aposperites and Michel Pablo must give some concrete evidence for their accusations, if they don’t want to look as mere slanders.

    Comment by Ger-asimos — March 10, 2015 @ 8:50 am

  6. Just thought I’d mention relevant to Reza’s comment that the clergy–including Khomeini–supported the overthrow of Mossadegh.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 10, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

  7. Just for the benefit of the readers of this blog (foes and the enemies included) … Here is an urban scene from the battles we had to endure with the goon squads of the type that Yoshie Furuhashi advocates as being the saviors of my country, Iran.

    It is 1979, some months after the Shah had fled, and the country was run by a coalition of ‘liberal’ forces and the theocratically inclined. The leftist students and supporters of Fedayeen organization had organized a march through the city. I was one of them. Half way through our march, we were faced with what we call the Hezbollahi’s (the shock troops of the counter-revolution, in Marxist language). They were brandishing chains, brass knuckles, knives. They were shouting, “Hezb faqat hezbollah, Rahbar faqat Ruhollah!” (Party only the Party of God, Leader only Ruhollah [Khomeini]). Among them pimps, thugs that ran whorehouses (generally speaking, the goon squads of the organized crime), and whomever they could recruit to fight the Godless.

    Soon, behind them, came one of those big rig trucks, filled with bricks. The truck backed up and started lifting its back bed, emptying its entire load of bricks onto the streets. It was a special delivery of amo for the goons. As soon as the truck emptied its load and took off, the goons started grabbing bricks and lobbing them at us. We had to scatter, trying to protect our sisters and the older and smaller people among us. Soon, our scattered groups were backed into walls, where the chains started raining on our faces, our limbs protecting our heads, lashing at us indiscriminately and mercilessly.

    Just like that, and one demo at a time, attacking demonstrations by women’s rights supporters opposing the mandatory ‘hejab’ (Islamic covering for women), attacking independent workers councils sprouting all over the country, attacking Kurdish people with full scale military invasion for demanding equal cultural and linguistic rights and representation, attacking leftist organizations, and on and on. One battlefield at a time, the savage goons, the counter-revolution, crushed the revolutionary demands of the people through a ruthless process. To add insult to the crushing kick in the teeth, the counter revolutionary forces declared themselves the revolution! And to this day, people like the cruelly clueless editors of MRZine buy the story of the goon squads and peddle that story as the line we are to supposed to swallow.

    Incidentally, and to Louis’s point, the same goon squads, about a quarter century or so before, had helped the CIA to carry out its coup against a democratically elected Prime Minister of ours, Mohammad Mossadeqh.

    Ironically, the Japanese equivalent of our version of shock troops that killed the revolution (and helped the CIA’s coup in 1953) are the foot soldiers of the Yakuza (the Japanese largest organized crime syndicate). Surely Yoshie Furuhashi knows HER own society. So, I wonder how she would feel if somebody in a position of some power (editors are, after all, gatekeepers and thereby in power to decide what gets aired and what doesn’t), at some leftist prestigious publication were to advocate that the future of Japanese socialism is to be brought to the Japanese people by the Yakuza. Or, something as egregious as that.

    How twisted are these people? PA-LEEZE Lord, deliver me from this idiocy!

    Comment by Reza F. — March 11, 2015 @ 12:30 am

  8. The same criminals as you describe are the “Golden Dawn” thugs, in Greece.

    In the following link, Golden Dawn MPs Panagiotis Iliopoulos and Giorgos Germenis, with other party members, attack immigrant street vendors, Rafina, Attica, 8 September 2012.

    Unfortunately, Zoi Konstantopoulou, SYRIZA MP and new Chair of the Parliament, argued that the operation of the parliament, was illegal for several months, because “Golden Dawn” MP’s, who are in prison, for criminal actions, weren’t allowed to be present at the Parliament, praised after that from GD, for her stance!

    “The worrying re-legitimation of Golden Dawn”
    http://left-flank.org/2015/03/04/worrying-re-legitimation-golden-dawn/

    Comment by Ger-asimos — March 11, 2015 @ 10:52 am

  9. Reza F

    Your comments remind me of this article:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/10/24/the-iran-us-tango/

    Are you the autor of this piece?
    Very interesting stuff.

    On the other hand. I fail too see what benefit can the pimps get from supporting a clerical fascist regime.

    Comment by rebelscum — March 13, 2015 @ 11:31 pm

  10. Rebelscum said: “I fail too see what benefit can the pimps get from supporting a clerical fascist regime.”

    Reza replies: The pimps, along with drug dealers, alcohol smugglers, and temporary bride exporters; they all benefit immensely from this regime. Prostitution in Iran is at epidemic proportions (compared to the Shah’s time); addiction to hard drugs like heroin is at historical records; and people in Iran know fully well that the main source of importation of alcohol, which is officially illegal, is the regime goons themselves. As for temporary brides (which is called Siqheh in Farsi, and is legal in Shiite Islam), they even export Siqheh brides to UAE.

    (‘Temporary bride’ or Siqheh, is a form of ‘marriage’ that can last as long as the participants wish it to last: it can last an hour or a lifetime. The only thing you have to do is go see the local cleric and in front of him, declare your intention to be temporarily married. A lot of Iranians consider this a legalized form of prostitution; which makes the mullah the pimp in this instance.)

    The pimps and the goons who are the foot soldiers of the organized crime have always been the foot soldiers of the most reactionary forces in our country. We know that, for example, going back to the feudal days, local mullahs would employ their own private armies of goons. These relations go back a long way. So, there’s no contradiction at all. You have to have lived in a society that had feudalism for centuries to understand these traditional relationships. Fortunately for Americans, they skipped that historical stage of development (feudalism). Unfortunately, what that means is that as a people Americans rarely understand the distortions feudalism injects forward into class relations long after feudalism itself has disappeared as the dominant form of social relations. It is this lack of understanding that confuses a lot of leftists in the U.S. about the nature of the Iranian state; for example, most U.S. leftists do not understand that you can oppose imperialists from a *reactionary* point of view. In other words, not all opposition to imperialism are progressively minded.

    Comment by Reza F. — March 14, 2015 @ 5:24 pm


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