Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 6, 2015

Alex Callinicos: propagandist

Filed under: British SWP,Greece,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

One of the bad habits of the “Leninist” press is its tendency to adopt the journalistic standards of the bourgeois press but putting it at the service of a tacitly leftist agenda. Ultimately it rests on a cherry-picking technique that both Time Magazine and Pravda were famous for. In Time Magazine, you would gather that the USSR was a misery-laden concentration camp and from Pravda you would think that the masses of America were groaning under the weight of capitalist oppression in the 1950s when the economy was rising to new heights and American society was basking in relative contentment. The word for this, of course, is propaganda.

To some extent, the left assumes that cherry-picking is not such a problem because the information it is providing is supposed to balance what you read in the bourgeois press. However, it does become a problem when it serves an ideological agenda that undermines our credibility. For example, there is little doubt that the USSR was making great strides in the 1930s but if you ignored Stakhanovitism, for example, you were functioning as a propagandist rather than a Marxist analyst.

Needless to say, the propagandist impulse is strongest when you belong to a “Leninist” party. When I was a member of the SWP, I would not dare admit in a public gathering that Cuba ever did anything wrong. Now that I am no longer a propagandist, I have no problem calling attention to the fact that Cuba has often compromised its socialist principles when confronted by the need to adapt to foreign policy exigencies that might determine the country’s economic survival. For example, because of the PRI’s nationalist origins that had not been completely extinguished, Mexico stood up for Cuban sovereignty at OAS gatherings. This certainly must have persuaded the Cuban leadership not to attack the Mexican government in 1968 when it was gunning down students in Mexico City.

In a classic example of propaganda, Alex Callinicos has been cherry-picking news reports on SYRIZA to make it look as much as possible like PASOK, the social democratic party that ruled Greece along neoliberal lines after the fashion of British Labour or the French SP. This means that anything that cuts across this ideological agenda has to be either minimized or completely sidestepped.

The most recent example of this is an article titled “Has Syriza reached its moment of truth?” When I read such articles, I wonder whether Callinicos is plagiarizing WSWS.org or the other way around.

The brunt of Callinicos’s attack on SYRIZA is directed at a meeting that Alexis Tsipras had in Cyprus with Egypt’s General al-Sisi, a sign apparently of Tsipra’s going over to the dark side. I would be loath to turn al-Sisi into some kind of litmus test for the left in light of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist’s role in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013.

On July 5, 2013 the Revolutionary Socialists issued a statement hailing the overthrow of Morsi, describing it as having a significance that “surpasses any participation by old regime remnants, or the apparent support of the army and police.” Really?

A month later, the comrades woke up to reality: “But we have to put the events of today in their context, which is the use of the military to smash up workers’ strikes. We also see the appointment of new provincial governors, largely drawn from the ranks of the remnants of the old regime, the police and generals.”

I should add that some on the left were all too anxious to read the RS out of the movement because they made a mistake in July 2013. “At every stage, the RS sought to subordinate the working class to one or another section of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, in order to block it from developing its own political leadership and organising a conscious political struggle against capitalism and imperialism.”

You can probably figure out who wrote these words, right? It was WSWS.org, the same outfit whose attacks on SYRIZA today are virtually indistinguishable from Callinicos’s.

Once you get past the hysteria over Tsipras meeting with al-Sisi, you discover that it was Cyprus that was the main beneficiary of an economic deal with Egypt, not Greece, as the article cited by Callinicos indicates:

For Nicosia [the capital of Cyprus], energy cooperation with Cairo is a major component of the talks. Egypt has expressed interest in securing natural gas from Cyprus’ Aphrodite offshore field.

Cyprus and Egypt have already signed an EEZ delineation agreement in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern Mediterranean.

In December 2013 the two countries also concluded a treaty on the joint exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves on the median line between the two countries’ respective EEZs.

What is expected from Greece? To avoid joint economic ventures with Egypt because al-Sisis murdered Muslim Brotherhood members? What kind of litmus test is this for countries trying to survive in a capitalist world? Does Callinicos have any idea of how the USSR, even before it became “state capitalist”, reacted to the death of CP leaders in Turkey?

E.H. Carr’s description of these events is essential. He states that Mustafa Kemal decided to eliminate the Communist Party in Turkey that had been constituted as the Green Apple for its ties to a militia called the Green Army primarily made up of peasants that was a contingent of the Kemalist armed forces. On January 6, 1921, the Green Army was brought to heel and its leaders fled to Greece. Kemal next turned his attention to the Green Apple. Carr writes:

Suphi [the CP leader] was seized by unknown agents at Erzerum, and on January 28, 1921, together with sixteen other leading Turkish communists, thrown into the sea off Trebizond — the traditional Turkish method of discreet execution. It was some time before their fate was discovered. [Soviet leader] Chicherin is said to have addressed enquiries about them to the Kemalist government and to have received the reply that they might have succumbed to an accident at sea. But this unfortunate affair was not allowed to affect the broader considerations on which the growing amity between Kemal and Moscow was founded. For the first, though not for the last, time it was demonstrated that governments could deal drastically with their national communist parties without forfeiting the goodwill of the Soviet Government, if that were earned on other grounds.

Now I am not one to advocate this kind of realpolitik but would only say that based on a universal code of conduct, SYRIZA is far less guilty than the Bolshevik leaders Callinicos is so anxious to apotheosize.

Finally we are led to believe that SYRIZA has become part of the “war on terror” because the Cyprus meeting came out with a statement “to jointly combat terrorism and violent extremism for the sake of security in the eastern Mediterranean.” In doing so, it has simply joined the amen chorus at a thousand other leftist websites, including the one I write for. But given all of the difficulties facing Greece, the last thing I expect to see is the Greek military intervening in Iraq or Syria. The only reason this red herring appeared in Callinicos’s article was to tarnish SYRIZA’s reputation, which after all is based on resistance to austerity and not joint exploration of oil fields in the Mediterranean with Egypt. In fact, this article that appears in today’s Financial Times is a much better indicator of SYRIZA’s mettle than all the crap that Callinicos has written:

Financial Times, 5/6/2015
Greece overturns civil service reforms
by Kerin Hope in Athens

The Greek parliament has approved a law proposed by the leftwing Syriza­led government overturning civil service reforms by the previous government aimed at streamlining the country’s inefficient public sector.

The legislation, which was passed on Tuesday night, called for the rehiring of about 13,000 civil servants whose jobs were cut in an overhaul of the public administration agreed with bailout lenders. It also eliminated annual evaluations for civil servants and promotions based on merit.

Giorgos Katrougalos, the leftwing Syriza­led government’s deputy minister for administrative reform, called the measures “a Band­Aid to repair the most extreme injustices and restore legality to the system”.

“This is not our last word, it’s the first step of [administrative] reforms we’re going to make that won’t be neoliberal but will have a social aspect,” he said, without giving details of how his plans to increase the public sector payroll would be financed.

The government rejected claims by opposition lawmakers that the legislation violated the terms of Greece’s current €172bn bailout which requires the country’s government to agree economic measures with creditors before presenting them to parliament. “We aren’t going to consult the institutions [the EU, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund], we don’t have to, we’re a sovereign state,” Nikos Voutsis, the powerful interior minister, told parliament.

The municipal police force, which was disbanded 18 months ago, will be revived and several thousand caretakers at state schools, known as “guards”, are to be rehired.

Almost 600 women cleaners sacked by the finance ministry as a cost­cutting measure are expected to get their jobs back next month. The cleaners, who worked at tax offices around the country, have staged a round­the­clock sit­in for the past 12 months, occupying a stretch of pavement close to the finance ministry building in central Athens after they filed a collective lawsuit claiming unfair dismissal.

“I have a great feeling of satisfaction now that our campaign has succeeded,” said Anna Chrysikopoulou, a tax office cleaner who said she spent several nights a week at the sit­in sleeping in a tent. Mr Katrougalos, a lawyer who specialises in labour disputes, has become a controversial figure in the government.

He was accused soon after his appointment to the cabinet in January of conflict of interest over his involvement in cases of unfair dismissal brought by school guards. Mr Katrougalos denied the allegation, saying other partners in his law firm were representing the school guards. Government officials at the time defended Mr Katrougalos’s appointment on the grounds that his legal specialisation qualified him for the position.

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