Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 16, 2015

A New Chapter in the Fascist Internationale

Filed under: Counterpunch,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 1:15 pm

A New Chapter in the Fascist Internationale

An Ominous Prospect

With an insignia of a shield crossed by broadswords on a granite background, the World National-Conservative Movement announced its birth with the declaration, “The time has arrived to take responsibility for our peoples and nations of the world!” The confluence of some 58 parties, organizations, and groups, the World National-Conservative Movement (WNCM) developed out of the efforts of the Russian radical-right party, Rodina.

While its public document declares that “Communism, Nazism, and Islamism” comprise a “false alternative to totalitarian ideologies,” the WNCM’s ideology reads like a run-of-the-mill document of the radical right, which remains inextricably linked to fascism. Lamenting the sexual perversity of the super-national organizations like the EU and NATO, and calling for the return to the traditional “family and healthy moral values,” the WNCM attacks “the erosion of nations, massive migration,” which it blames on “liberalism, multiculturalism, and tolerance.” Instead, WNCM advocates “healthy nationalism and religious beliefs, patriotism, respect of one’s own and foreign traditional moral and ethical values, in other words, national conservatism.” Subverting the “global cabal” (read: Jews) requires a chain of “conservative revolutions” that will restore nations to themselves; “Victory of the conservative revolution even in one country without fail will provide an example for other countries.”

With participants including Golden Dawn, Jobbik, the Finns Party, and the British National Party, the WNCM hosts some of the most powerful radical right populist names in Europe. However, the umbrella group also includes some overtly-fascist groups and groupuscles like Poland’s Falanga, Italy’s Millennium and Forza Nuova, and the US’s American Freedom Party. Visiting senior fellow at Norway’s Legatum Institute, Anton Shekhovtsov, who broke this story on Thursday, characterizes the group as “clearly on the extreme right, verging on neo-Nazism.” That is putting it lightly. In spite of its formal denial, the WNCM seems more like a continuation of a potentially-disastrous formula combining fascist vanguards and populist radical right parties that continues to build steam around the world.

The Origins of the Fascist Internationale

In broad terms, it a “Fascist Internationale” that seems to be in the offing in the World National-Conservative Movement. The notion of a “left-wing” fascism, or a fascist system that would respect the autonomy of different nations while working co-operatively, developed out of the original “National Bolshevik” group, Association for the Study of Russian Planned Economy (ARPLAN), which featured Ernst Jünger and Georgi Lukacs, among others. These thinkers ideated, against the Hitlerite faction of National Socialism, that a bond between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could work, because, in the words of völkisch thinker Artur Dinter, Bolshevik Russia would become “a ‘Russian National Socialism.’”

While ARPLAN found significant traction in the early Nazi Party, with Gregor Strasser featuring prominently as Hitler’s number two, their hopes would be dashed in the Night of the Long Knives. Gregor was murdered, and his brother Otto fled the country. After the war, Otto Strasser rose to prominence on the neo-fascist circuit along with French intellectual, Maurice Bardèche, Italian occultist Julius Evola, US agent Francis Parker Yockey, and Belgian odd-ball Jean-François Thiriart. These thinkers helped model a European Social Movement (known today as the “second position”) that looked to a European Nation highly influenced by British fascist Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement. The European Social Movement effectively passed out of existence by 1957, due to a split over the difference between racist politics and cultural hegemony. Although the idea of a European Nation continued, a “Third Position” would develop to carry on the banner of “neither left nor right, neither communist nor capitalist.”

read full article

September 14, 2015

Syrian refugees, Hungary and the “axis of resistance”

Filed under: Hungary,immigration,mechanical anti-imperialism,Soros,Stalinism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:41 pm

Viktor Orban: member in good standing of the “axis of resistance”

It seems that a week does not go by without some incident in Eastern Europe involving the inhumane treatment of people who have fled Baathist terror in Syria.

For example, in the Czech Republic, cops wrote numbers on the arms of refugees in order to identify them, a chilling reminder of how Nazis tattooed such numbers on the arms of Jews in the death camps.

But it is Hungary that takes the cake apparently.

  • It put a razor-wire fence on the border with Serbia to keep refugees out.
  • It put up billboards (in Hungarian no less) warning anybody who made it through the razor-wire fence that “If you come to Hungary, don’t take the jobs of Hungarians!”
  • A TV news photographer kicked and tripped refugees running away from the police. The station she worked for was connected to the far-right Jobbik party that lines up with the “axis of resistance” on Syria, opposing “the systematic attempts of the West to find a casus belli for an armed intervention against the Assad government.”
  • At an internment camp for refugees in Hungary, cops threw bags of food to them as if they were hungry animals.

Since the refugees are only interested in making their way to Germany or Britain, the xenophobia is likely a strategy to mollify Hungary’s burgeoning ultraright groups like Jobbik and their voters. Key to success is the ability of President Viktor Orban to exploit simmering discontent over dire economic conditions. In fact this is exactly how German fascism succeeded. When economic disaster ruined Eastern European Jewry, the largely working class and impoverished small proprietors fled to Germany. Hitler then blamed “the Jews” for taking away German jobs.

It must be noted that Viktor Orban has recently joined the “axis of resistance” after the fashion of Jobbik. All across Europe ultraright parties with zero exceptions have showed solidarity with the Kremlin in its ostensibly “anti-imperialist” struggle against NATO, the EU, and Washington. This Red-Brown alliance is a revival of the National Bolshevist tendency of the early 1920s when a faction of the German CP advocated a united front with the incipient fascist movement.

Orban is now Putin’s closest European ally. While the bonds involve mutual economic interests, including Hungarian access to Russian natural gas at bargain prices and a willingness to back Putin’s pipeline project that would bypass Ukraine, there are also ideological affinities. He has nationalist pretensions casting himself as an enemy of neoliberalism. He has also followed Putin in cracking down on NGO’s and pressuring Hungarian media to follow his strong man rule.

For a fascinating account of Orban’s political evolution, I would recommend the Intercept article by Adam LeBor titled “How Hungary’s Prime Minister Turned From Young Liberal Into Refugee-Bashing Autocrat”. It seems that early on he was not kindly disposed to Russian domination, speaking at a Budapest rally in 1989 commemorating the death of Imre Nagy, the leader of the failed 1956 revolution. In his speech he demanded the immediate withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary.

You don’t have to understand Hungarian to know that he was lambasting “Communist dictatorship”. Understanding which side of the bread was buttered, Orban hooked up with George Soros just before this speech was made. LeBor reports;

Orban was born in May 1963 in Alcsutdoboz, a small village 31 miles from Budapest. After graduating from high school he moved to Budapest to study law at Eötvös Loránd University. There he co-founded Századvég, a dissident social science journal.

He graduated in 1987 and joined the Central-Eastern Europe Study Group, which was funded by George Soros, the financier who had emigrated from Hungary after World War II. The following year Orban became a founding member of the Alliance of Young Democrats, known in Hungarian as Fidesz. The outspoken radicals quickly became the darlings of the Western media. They were young, smart and scruffily photogenic – Tamas Deutsch, another founding member of Fidesz, was a model for Levi’s jeans. Fidesz in its early years was a broad coalition, from near anarchists to nationalists. They all had one aim: to get rid of the Communists. Once that was achieved, like all revolutionary groups, the party began to fracture.

Having been born and raised in Hungary, Soros took a particular interest in his native land. He spent millions on cultivating a following among ambitious young politicians like Orban, paying for airfare and hotel costs in the USA where they were afforded red carpet treatment at Soros’s Open Society conferences. Soros was also shrewd enough to pay for photocopying machines that anti-Communist activists found crucial in their attempts in the late 80s to create a liberal pole of attraction against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Michael Lewis, by no means a critic of neoliberalism, traced Soros’s steps in a 1994 Guardian article:

IN 1984 Soros opened his first office, in Budapest, and began all manner of subversive activities for which he is temperamentally very well-equipped. “I started by trying to create small cracks in the monolithic structure which goes under the name of communism, in the belief that in a rigid structure even a small crack can have a devastating effect,” he wrote in Opening The Soviet System. “As the cracks grew, so did my efforts until they came to take up most of my time.”

Says Liz Lorant, who worked with Soros from the start: “It was the excitement of what we got away with [that is irreplaceable]. We got away with murder. [For example] at that time Xerox machines were under lock and key. That was the way it was. In Romania you had to register a typewriter with the police. Well, we just flooded the whole damn country with Xerox machines so that the rules became meaningless.” In short, by the time the dust settled over the Berlin Wall – boom! bust! – Soros had accumulated a highly-charged portfolio of gratitude. The Great White Gods of Eastern Europe – Havel, Michnik, Kis, Haraszti – were all in his debt. So were all sorts of lesser-known, highly motivated people wending their way to high political office.

For most people on the “anti-imperialist” left, Soros is a kind of archenemy symbolizing globalization, neoliberalism and all the rest. He is also a convenient symbol of liberal ignominy for the far right as the supposed puppet master behind Obama and the secret plans to transform the USA into a European-styled socialist state. Of course that is the paradox of George Soros. Like Fay Dunaway telling Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown” that a woman was both her daughter and her sister, Soros is both a neoliberal shark and someone favoring European style socialism, which is in reality nothing but a welfare state and incapable of being realized today.

With Soros’s record of intervening in Hungarian politics through his well-funded NGO’s, it is easy to understand why Orban would have a free hand in cracking down on them. Many Hungarians must have gathered that Karl Popper’s philosophy probably had more to do with a fast buck then it did with promoting civil society and equal opportunity.

Five years ago Soros’s firm was fined $2.5 million for illegal bank stock transactions in Hungary (a mere slap on the wrist.) It was his exploitation of short sales and other shenanigans from 2007 to 2010 that prompted the billionaire and major donor to my alma mater to confess that he was having “a very good crisis”, referring to the stock market crash that is still impacting countries like Hungary.

Like Greece, Hungary had huge debts when the crisis broke and like Greece has been scrambling to nurse the country back to health—a dubious prospect given the world economic situation. In late 2008 Hungary pleaded with the International Monetary Fund for $25 billion in emergency financing. In 2010 unemployment reached 11.4 percent while the economy shrank by 6.3 percent. It was such suffering that convinced voters to back Orban’s party that promised to wave a magic wand and make things right.

For those who think that a Grexit would solve Greece’s problems, it is worth mentioning that Hungary’s failure to be part of the Eurozone was no silver bullet as the NY Times reported in 2012:

Zoltan Zsoter, an 80-year-old retiree, would seem to be about as far from the world of currency speculation as a person can get. Yet he is an example of how the workings of the global financial system, amplified by the policies of a single political leader, can have a devastating effect on ordinary people.

Mr. Zsoter is one of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who took out home loans that must be repaid in Swiss francs or other foreign currencies like the euro. Such loans offered seductively low interest rates when times were good. But then the Hungarian currency plunged, causing Mr. Zsoter’s monthly payment to almost double.

“I live day to day,” Mr. Zsoter said. After defaulting on his loan, he pays 40,000 forints, or about $163, out of his monthly pension of 51,000 forints to stay in his modest Budapest apartment as a renter. “Sometimes I have to choose between buying either food or medicine,” he said.

Hungary serves as a cautionary tale for those who argue that Greece could regain competitiveness by reintroducing its currency. The drachma would plunge against the euro, the theory goes, and allow Greek products to compete on price with countries like Turkey.

So if Viktor Orban is facing intractable economic problems, why not scapegoat Syrian refugees or the Roma who have been the target of persecution for a number of years now? And meanwhile, the left that admires Putin would have all the reasons to back Orban who after all is sticking it to the EU.

According to anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, our species homo sapiens has a tendency to think in terms of binary oppositions like life and death or good and evil. This would likely explain the eagerness for so much of the left to divide the world between those forces aligned with the West and those with the East. Like a plot out of a Tolkien novel, the Evil West is always seeking ways to destroy the Good East. Instead of elves with bows and arrow, we have people like Pablo Escobar, Mike Whitney and Eric Draitser rallying around the “axis of resistance” to the fire-breathing dragons of the West. And god help any decent folk in the East who managed to get on the wrong side of an elite in their neck of the woods. Everybody had to understand that it was their half of the world, love it or leave it.

Ironically, Hungary was a symbol of this binary opposition way of thinking in 1956 when the population rose up over Russian domination. In the same way that sections of the left make all sorts of excuses for Assad today, the CP justified the invasion of Hungary in order to “defend socialism”.

But in fact it was Russian tanks that created the animosity in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary that made it possible for George Soros, NATO, the CIA and the US State Department to get a foothold. By reinforcing bureaucratic rule in the name of “socialism”, ordinary people began to think positively of its opposite. In the most extreme example, Ukrainians regarded Stephen Bandera as a hero for opposing Soviet domination even if he was a fascist.

The bottom line is that the encroachment of NATO at the doorstep of Russia is a direct outcome of the encroachment of the Red Army on nations throughout Eastern Europe.

There was one Communist who was able to see through the lies. The Daily Worker, the British CP newspaper with the same name as the American paper, sent Peter Fryer to Hungary in 1956 fully expecting him to write articles that echoed the party line that Russia needed to quell a CIA-inspired plot. In other words, he was expected to write the same kind of crap that Max Ajl, Patrick Higgins and Adam Johnson are writing about Syria today. But Fryer obeyed his conscience rather than party bosses and filed reports that any radical journalist would be proud of. You can read Peter Fryer’s “Hungarian Tragedy” here. This excerpt shows that it doesn’t take much effort to see the similarities between Hungary in 1956 and the Arab Spring in Syria in 2011, no matter how it has been slandered in places like Jacobin, WSWS.org, MRZine and elsewhere:

But the crowds spoke also to me of their lives in this small industrial town, of the long years of grinding poverty, without hope of improvement, of their hatred and fear of the AVH [Hungarian secret police]. ‘I get 700 forints a month,’ said one. ‘I only get 600.’ said another. [1] They were ill-dressed, the women and girls doing their pathetic best to achieve some faint echo of elegance. They spoke to me about the AVH men. ‘They were beasts, brutes, animals who had sold themselves to the Russians.’ ‘They called themselves Hungarians and they mowed our people down without hesitation!’ ‘We shan’t leave a single one of those swine alive – you’ll see.’ They asked me what the West was doing to help, and some asked outright for arms. I for one do not regard these as counterrevolutionaries. If after eleven years the working people, goaded beyond bearing, look to the West for succour, whose fault is that? If the Americans are guilty of seeking to foster counter-revolution with the Mutual Security Act, surely the Rákosis and the Gerös are a hundred times more guilty for providing the soil in which seeds sown by the Americans could grow.

There was a general movement in the direction of the hospital, where an immense crowd had gathered, clamouring more and more insistently with every minute that passed for Stefko to be brought out to them. The German journalist and I were admitted into the hospital, where we met the director’s wife and a French-speaking woman who had volunteered to help with the nursing. It was here that I got for the first time reasonably accurate figures of the number of wounded. There had been about 80 wounded brought here, of whom eleven had died, and about 80 had been taken to the hospital at Györ. The need for plasma and other medicaments was desperate if lives were to be saved and so was the need, said the director’s wife, to end the tumult outside. A deputation from the revolutionary committee was interviewing her husband to demand that Stefko be handed to the people.

A few minutes later the director was forced to give in, and we saw a stretcher carried by four men appear out of a hut in the hospital grounds. On it lay Stefko, wearing a blue shirt. His legs were covered by a blanket. His head was bandaged. He was carried close enough to me for me to have touched him. He was fully conscious, and he knew quite well what was going to happen to him. His head turned wildly from side to side and there was spittle round his mouth. As the crowd saw the stretcher approaching they sent up a howl of derision and anger and hatred. They climbed the wire fence and spat at him and shouted ‘murderer’. They pushed with all their might at the double gates, burst them open and surged in. The stretcher was flung to the ground, and the crowd was upon Stefko, kicking and trampling. Relations of those he had murdered were, they told me, foremost in this lynching. It was soon over. They took the body and hanged it by the ankles for a short time from one of the trees in the Lenin Street. Ten minutes afterwards only a few people were left outside the hospital.

I wrote later in my first, unpublished, dispatch:

After eleven years the incessant mistakes of the Communist leaders, the brutality of the State Security Police, the widespread bureaucracy and mismanagement, the bungling, the arbitrary methods and the lies have led to total collapse. This was no counter-revolution, organised by fascists and reactionaries. It was the upsurge of a whole people, in which rank-and-file Communists took part, against a police dictatorship dressed up as a Socialist society – a police dictatorship backed up by Soviet armed might.

I am the first Communist journalist from abroad to visit Hungary since the revolution started. And I have no hesitation in placing the blame for these terrible events squarely on the shoulders of those who led the Hungarian Communist Party for eleven years – up to and including Ernö Gerö They turned what could have been the outstanding example of people’s democracy in Europe into a grisly caricature of Socialism. They reared and trained a secret police which tortured all – Communists as well as nonCommunists – who dared to open their mouths against injustices. It was a secret police which in these last few dreadful days turned its guns on the people whose defenders it was supposed to be.

I wrote this under the immediate impact of a most disturbing and shattering experience, but I do not withdraw one word of it. Much of the rest of the dispatch was never received in London because the call was cut off after twenty minutes, and the first ten had been taken up by three different people giving me contradictory instructions as to the ‘line’ I should take. Mick Bennett insisted on reading me a long extract from a resolution of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. I had had enough of resolutions. I had seen where eleven years of terror and stupidity had led Hungary, and I wanted to tell the readers of the Daily Worker the plain unvarnished truth, however painful it might be. But the readers of the Daily Worker were not to be told the truth. The day after I had sent this dispatch they were reading only about ‘gangs of reactionaries’ who were ‘beating Communists to death in the streets’ of Budapest. The paper admitted in passing that ‘some reports claimed that only identified representatives of the former security police were being killed’. Next day Hungary disappeared altogether from the Daily Worker’s front page.

September 12, 2015

OIga Tseitlina: “Society does not understand why it should provide protection to Syrian refugees and refugees in general”

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:39 pm

Source: OIga Tseitlina: “Society does not understand why it should provide protection to Syrian refugees and refugees in general”

September 11, 2015

Is Europe exporting jihadists to Syria?

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:20 pm

Max Ajl: he thinks so

So does he

It should be patently obvious at this point that a large-scale propaganda offensive on behalf of the Baathist killing machine is taking place. Just as the August 2013 sarin gas attack in East Ghouta prompted a tsunami of articles warning about Obama’s “red line”, two years later we are witnessing the same phenomenon around the refugee crisis. In the hundreds of thousands of words from the “anti-imperialist” left, you can find virtually none that puts the blame where it properly belongs—at the doorstep of the bloodstained despot in Damascus.

In a Telesur article titled “Can Images of Refugees Speak?”, Jacobin editorial board member Max Ajl draws from the same dubious Washington Post article that fellow propagandists Patrick Higgins and Adam Johnson relied upon to make the case that an American “war on Syria” is to blame for the refugee crisis.

However, Ajl goes one bold step further in bending the facts—or maybe breaking them—to suit his ideological aims. He advises his readers that the dreaded terrorists who poured into Syria to join ISIS from Europe were not acting on their own. They amounted to agents of European governments:

However, some remedies might be called for. It is Europe which freely exports reactionaries to Syria [emphasis added], something it could consider ceasing.

According to the most conservative numbers from the Brookings Institute, at the very least over 900 French foreign fighters have invaded Syria. Over 650 Belgians, 500 from the United Kingdom, and at least 300 from Germany as well. Europol estimates an overall sum of perhaps 5,000. They are likely not joining the leftist Kurdish militia.

I paused over this passage and wondered what Ajl had in mind. Was he saying that the European security forces were lining up fanatics to go build the caliphate that is beheading Christians? I tried to imagine a cop at the airport security gate in Orly spotting a guy in black fatigues with a turban on his head and a beard down to his belly-button. After he pulls him aside for interrogation, the guy shows him an official letter from the Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure stating that he had been cleared to wreak havoc in Syria. After seeing this, the cop pats him on the back and sends him on his way.

After I posted a brief note about Ajl’s foolishness on Facebook, Dick Gregory (a British socialist and not the elderly Black comedian) referred me to another article that claimed Europe was exporting terrorists alongside BMW automobiles and Pinot Noir. This time it was Tariq Ali writing for the chichi London Review of Books, a periodical that mixes learned essays on Gothic cathedrals with long and tendentious defenses of the Baathist killing machine.

Written in Short Cuts last January, Ali’s article was an attempt to sum up the Charlie Hebdo killings that he linked to jihadists traveling to the Middle East from France and elsewhere. Apparently, they got clearance at the airport just as Ajl believes:

They sought comfort in the mosque. Here they were radicalised by waiting hardliners for whom the West’s war on terror had become a golden opportunity to recruit and hegemonise the young, both in the Muslim world and in the ghettoes of Europe and North America. Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) [emphasis added] to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively.

Leaving aside the question of how you “hegemonize the young”, a most infelicitous formulation, you have to admire Ali’s journalistic sleight of hand mastered over decades writing opinion pieces in the liberal British press. The use of passive voices in “Sent first to Iraq” and “taught how to use weapons” glosses over the identity of who abetted the jihadists. Was it a mosque somewhere or was it the French security forces? And look how clever Ali is by putting a question mark after “with the connivance of the French state”. This sort of rhetorical question gives him the wriggle room necessary to answer someone like me by saying that it is only a possibility. I suppose the Murdoch press might have influenced Tariq Ali with formulations such as “Do police have good reasons to fear Black youth?” or “Do Europeans have the right to defend their way of life against refugees from the Middle East?” (Zizek apparently takes the second rhetorical question to heart.)

I wrote Ali a note that challenged him on this matter:

Hey, Tariq

Max Ajl, the Jacobin editorial board member largely responsible for their Baathist propaganda, has a piece in Telesur that has this peculiar formulation with respect to how Europe is to blame for ISIS: “It is Europe which freely exports reactionaries to Syria, something it could consider ceasing. According to the most conservative numbers from the Brookings Institute, at the very least over 900 French foreign fighters have invaded Syria.”

I found it odd that a country that bans the hijab in public schools is at the same time “freely” exporting jihadists. This would make a great topic for an enterprising investigative journalist to take on–someone like Seymour Hersh. But then again Hersh seems more interested these days in shoring up Bashar al-Assad in the LRB.

Speaking of the LRB, just after I posted something about all this on FB a friend brought my attention to something you wrote in LRB, the august journal targeting serious and thoughtful people: “Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively.”

That is really quite a clever device you used to make it sound like Europe was “freely” exporting jihadists but you are seasoned enough as a propagandist to put a question mark after “the connivance of the French state”.

Too bad that people like you, Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass, David Bromwich and other A-List journalists and intellectuals care so little about digging beneath the surface. Cockburn, Glass and Bromwich can at least be understood as being a bit too close to ruling class institutions like the Independent newspaper, ABC news, and Yale.

What’s your excuse?

Tariq wrote me back a most outraged note that did not bother to defend his yellow journalism: “You were a pathetic sectarian when you stood up and denounced the NLR’s ‘sell-out’ when we relaunched. You’re still pathetic with your stupid conspiracies and denunciations. So go screw yourself and don’t bother me again.“

Odd that he would bring up my criticism from 15 years ago of NLR’s Perry Anderson writing that Francis Fukuyama had more interesting things to say than most Marxists. He really knows how to reopen an old wound. I suppose that Ali would prefer that the unwashed masses take everything that the NLR prints to be the gospel truth. No thanks.

The Communist Condition in Film

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:51 pm

The Communist Condition in Film

Each in their own way, three new films set in North Korea, China and Russia deal with Communism and its aftermath. As an experiment that will mark, but probably not celebrate, its centennial anniversary in October 2017, it is only Cuba that seems to have some affinity with the very early years of the Russian Revolution when everything good seemed possible. Today, we can talk about 21st century socialism and take heart from the continuing determination of the Bolivarian Revolution to defend the interests of working people, but there are few signs that any nation on earth is about to undergo a socialist revolution. As films, the three under consideration in this review can hardly substitute for the kind of rigorous analysis that a Marxist scholar can put forward about why this is the case but for anybody who has either dreamed about or worked to realize an alternative to capitalism, the films deserve your consideration and in one case demand it.

read full article

Trailers for films under review:

 

Ilya Matveev: A Word to the Wise (On Putin’s “Leftism” and Solidarity with Russians)

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:48 pm

Source: Ilya Matveev: A Word to the Wise (On Putin’s “Leftism” and Solidarity with Russians)

The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:08 am

Source: The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement

September 10, 2015

Where “Talents” Go To Die: diary of a US call centre worker

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

Source: Where “Talents” Go To Die: diary of a US call centre worker

Two other members of the Syria amen corner: Slavoj Zizek and the Nation Magazine

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:14 pm

The Elvis Superstar of Marxism

I wonder how I became so perversely obstinate on the question of Syria when so many people were united on the belief that it was a US “regime change” operation such as the one that plunged Iraq into misery. Why were so few willing to agree with me that the root of the crisis was Baathist determination to make good on the promise that “without Assad, we burn down the nation”? Surely, if such a broad array of influential analysts such as Alex Jones, Patrick Cockburn, Ron Paul, George Galloway, the Angry Arab, Robert Fisk and Jacobin Magazine can agree on the need for a “war on terror” in Syria while disagreeing on other matters, what stopped me from joining the amen corner myself? I guess it boils down to having made up my mind four years ago that they were all full of shit.

Speaking of the amen corner, let’s hear from some of its other members who have weighed in on the refugee crisis.

Turning first to Slavoj Zizek, whose LRB article “The Non-Existence of Norway” on the refugee crisis can be described as toxic formulations covered with a progressive patina, we should not be surprised by the venue. The LRB has been pumping out a steady stream of Baathist propaganda for the better part of four years and surely finds Zizek amenable to its amen corner editorial outlook. As for Zizek, he is an old hand at denigrating the Syrian revolt having written a piece in the Guardian two years ago referring to it as a “pseudo-struggle”. The Elvis superstar of Marxism wrote:

All that was false in the idea and practice of humanitarian interventions exploded in a condensed form apropos Syria. OK, there is a bad dictator who is (allegedly) using poisonous gas against the population of his own state – but who is opposing his regime? It seems that whatever remained of the democratic-secular resistance is now more or less drowned in the mess of fundamentalist Islamist groups supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with a strong presence of al-Qaida in the shadows.

Interesting to see the prolix philosopher summing up the amen corner analysis in so few words.

Zizek strikes a disgusting plague on both your houses pose in the LRB:

Public opinion is sharply divided. Left liberals express their outrage that Europe is allowing thousands to drown in the Mediterranean: Europe, they say, should show solidarity and throw open its doors. Anti-immigrant populists say we need to protect our way of life: foreigners should solve their own problems. Both solutions sound bad, but which is worse? To paraphrase Stalin, they are both worse.

Well, what can you say? I would have thought the superstar of Marxism would have at least found the call for solidarity and throwing open the doors of Europe for those fleeing barrel bombs to be better than the nativist, ultraright parties that would have them drown in the sea. Of course, since most of these ultraright parties (probably all of them) are closer to Zizek than they are to me, he might see some merit to their racism.

So what is the cause of the refugee crisis? It is American intervention that resulted in “failed states”:

If we really want to stem the flow of refugees, then, it is crucial to recognise that most of them come from ‘failed states’, where public authority is more or less inoperative: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, DRC and so on.

This poses an interesting question. What does it mean to say that “public authority is more or less inoperative” in Syria? I would love to ask the Elvis superstar of Marxism if there was ever any such thing as “public authority” in Syria if that rests on the consent of the governed.

He does allow that refugees should be accepted but only by promising to behave themselves. They must accept the “social norms of European states”, which can mean practically anything. Even if Zizek is on record as opposing French laws that ban the scarf in public schools, his statement that “it is not inherently racist or proto-fascist for host populations to talk of protecting their ‘way of life’” makes you wonder if he has any clue what UKIP, Le Pen are up to at all.

Finally, there is the question of “open borders” that he has apparently not given much thought to. An examination of the history of passports, visas and the like will reveal that they were institutions created by class society just as prisons were. In an article for Swans five years ago, I tried to sketch out the largely neglected history:

The first blow delivered to such feudal encumbrances was the great French Revolution of 1789, or at least that was the hope. A delegate to the Estates General pleaded that each citizen “must be free to move about or to come, within and outside the Kingdom, without permissions, passports, or other formalities that end to hamper the liberty of its citizens…” Such hopes were in vain since the bourgeois republic reflecting the class interests of those who made it retained passports as a means of controlling the poor who were pouring into Paris.

It was not just the poor who were kept on a tight leash. When King Louis XVI was caught trying to flee the country disguised as a valet, the republicans cracked down. Anybody trying to flee the country without authorization would be subject to arrest, thus making the sublime sentiments of the conclusion of Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca ring a bit hollow.

Worries over counter-revolution did not only stem from flights from the country. There was also a consensus that foreigners might find their way into France harboring subversive ideas. Subversive in this context, it should be added, meant a belief in the divine rights of Kings. France eventually resolved this problem by abolishing internal passports — in deference to the hopes of the democratically minded and a burgeoning capitalist class in need of “free” labor while institutionalizing them at the border. Henceforth, the concept of “foreigner” would be enshrined in the piece of paper that defined one in relationship to the bourgeois republic.

By and large, the 19th century was marked by a more permissive attitude toward the right to travel without restriction since a capitalist industrial revolution would not be possible without mobile pools of labor, in the same way that California agribusiness relies on an ample supply of Mexican stoop labor today.

Prussia, a state that symbolized absolutism, enacted legislation in 1817 that permitted its citizens to “travel freely and unhindered” without papers, but only within its borders. Leaving the country without a passport was strictly verboten, however.

If Prussia’s restrictions mirrored its inability to break cleanly with the feudal system, how does Britain — an exemplar of liberal free trade — stack up by comparison? As was always the case with Britain, the right to emigrate was joined at the hip to the capitalist economy. An economic downturn in the period 1810 to 1820 prompted bread riots by the poor. In face of such troubles, the ruling class decided to relax restrictions. That explains the enormous migration to Australia and other former colonies that would follow.

Changing economic circumstances in the German states (the country had not yet unified) also led to increased mobility by the 1850s. Liberal-minded industrialists insisted on the right of labor to move freely within and outside the country. This need was felt especially keenly in cases where foreign workers could be used to break strikes. However, the impulse to greater freedoms was countered by traditional German social structures, especially strong in Prussia.

Things came to a head in 1867 when the Reichstag would debate a sweeping legislation that would go the furthest in removing restrictions. If passed, both citizens and foreigners would be allowed to travel to the states within the North German Confederation that included Prussia as well as more economically developed entities.

While the motive of bourgeois politicians was purely to secure cheap labor, the working class representatives to the Reichstag were not prejudiced against legislation that would grant workers more freedom. Wilhelm Liebknecht, the father of Rosa Luxemburg’s close collaborator Karl Liebknecht, made a clarion call in support of the bill.

The fact that some sectors of the capitalist class favor labor mobility today as a way to undermine trade unions in places like the United States and France, just as was the case in Germany in the 1860s, should not stand in the way of our call for freedom of movement.

Lenin, who counted himself as a disciple of the German Social Democracy led by Wilhelm and Karl Liebknecht, was emphatic on this. In a 1913 article titled Capitalism and Workers’ Immigration, he wrote:

Capitalism has given rise to a special form of migration of nations. The rapidly developing industrial countries, introducing machinery on a large scale and ousting the backward countries from the world market, raise wages at home above the average rate and thus attract workers from the backward countries.

Hundreds of thousands of workers thus wander hundreds and thousands of versts. Advanced capitalism drags them forcibly into its orbit, tears them out of the backwoods in which they live, makes them participants in the world-historical movement, and brings them face to face with the powerful, united, international class of factory owners.

There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations. Emancipation from the yoke of capital is impossible without the further development of capitalism, and without the class struggle that is based on it. And it is into this struggle that capitalism is drawing the masses of the working people of the whole world, breaking down the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth.

For the past four years I have heard that American liberalism has called for the “right to protect” in Syria just as it did in Yugoslavia. If that is so, someone must have failed to remind the Nation about their “humanitarian intervention” responsibilities based on a couple of items that appeared on the magazine’s website.

An editorial titled “Europe’s Refugee Crisis Was Made in America” puts them pretty much in the same territory as Jacobin and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. It states:

The rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS—now terrorizing Syria and Iraq and threatening neighboring countries—was sparked by the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and further fueled by the misguided tactics of the United States and Britain in Syria.

While I am in accord that ISIS was midwifed by Shiite sectarianism in Iraq, what exactly were the American and British “misguided tactics” that fueled its growth in Syria? For the past four years Anglo-American imperialism has pretty much adopted a hands off policy reminiscent in many ways of FDR’s attitude toward the Spanish Civil War that effectively helped Franco take power. Indeed, it was the Baathist tolerance of ISIS in its early stages that allowed it to take root and become such a menace. A report appeared in February 2015 Time Magazine that reveals the continuing collaboration between the fascists in neckties and the fascists in beards:

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has long had a pragmatic approach to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), says a Syrian businessman with close ties to the government. Even from the early days the regime purchased fuel from ISIS-controlled oil facilities, and it has maintained that relationship throughout the conflict. “Honestly speaking, the regime has always had dealings with ISIS, out of necessity.”

Assad does not see ISIS as his primary problem, the businessman says. “The regime fears the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front, not ISIS. They [the FSA and Nusra] state their goal is to remove the President. But ISIS doesn’t say that. They have never directly threatened Damascus.” As the businessman notes, the strikes on ISIS targets are minimal. “If the regime were serious about getting rid of ISIS, they would have bombed Raqqa by now. Instead they bomb other cities, where the FSA is strong.” That said, the businessman does not believe that the regime has a formal relationship with ISIS, just a pragmatic one. “The more powerful ISIS grows, the more they are useful for the regime. They make America nervous, and the Americans in turn see the regime as a kind of bulwark against ISIS.”

Finally, falling smack dab in the middle of the Red-Brown alliance, there’s an article by Stephen F. Cohen titled “Has Russia Been Right All Along About the ‘Arab Spring’?” that is consistent with his nonstop advocacy on behalf of the separatist cause in Ukraine. After all, if Russia is playing a progressive role in Novorossiya fending off fascists, wouldn’t you expect it to play the same sort of enlightened role in the Middle East?

Stephen F. Cohen

The article contains a link to John Batchelor’s WABC radio show where Cohen has become a weekly guest. Nowadays the professor emeritus seems incapable of writing an article (and even if he was, it is doubtful that it would be published in scholarly journals) and relies on his excursions to the WABC studio where his host eats up his every word.

Batchelor is the author of “Aren’t You Glad You are a Republican” and is a diehard Likudnik whose other favorite guest next to Cohen is Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Batchelor and Hoenlein have co-hosted shows from Israel on numerous occasions, including during the wars on Gaza where they cheered on Israeli jets. I suppose that Cohen is aware of all this but does not really care. For that matter, Putin himself is a friend of Israel despite the impressions to the contrary of our “anti-imperialist” friends.

I really don’t have the time or the stomach to listen to Cohen and Batchelor schmoozing it up but assume that the audio clip is faithful to this description. You can have it:

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian cold war. Heading this installment is the Obama administration’s vehement opposition to Moscow’s suggestion that it might deploy Russian air power to Syria against ISIS forces. Cohen argues that this is due to a number of irrational positions in Washington: the new American cold-war reflex of seeing every Russian proposal in a negative light; the Obama administration’s determination to fight a two-fight war in Syria—against ISIS and against Syrian President Assad, whom Moscow supports; and an unwillingness to consider Russian President Putin’s longstanding argument that the US policy of regime change in the Middle East invariably worsens conditions there, as already evidenced by events in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya.

September 7, 2015

An exchange about John Muir with Donald Worster

Filed under: Ecology,indigenous — louisproyect @ 9:36 pm

Donald Worster

For my money, Donald Worster is  the finest environmental historian in the USA, probably the world for that matter. This exchange grew out of a comment by Survival International’s executive director under my article criticizing Jedediah Purdy. Purdy had written an article in the New Yorker Magazine charging Muir with favoring the ethnic cleansing of American Indians from Yosemite and Curry agreed with it.

My email to Worster:

Hi, Donald I am a huge fan of your work and own every book you have written except the one on John Muir. A while back I wrote a critique of Jedediah Purdy’s attack on Muir in the New Yorker Magazine: https://louisproyect.org/2015/08/17/the-racism-of-early-environmentalism-or-environmentalists/ Just today I got a comment on the article from Stephen Curry, the Executive Director of Survival International who agrees completely with Purdy. He referred me to a Truthout article he wrote that stated: “Conservation leaders like John Muir believed that the indigenous people who had inhabited Yosemite for at least 6,000 years were a desecration and had to go.” I wrote him a note:

I am not sure what you mean by “believed”. Donald Worster’s bio of Muir makes no such reference. I have also read Muir extensively and do not recall words to that effect although he did express racist views common to the period. So maybe you can help me out by telling me exactly where in Muir’s writings do you find support for your allegation.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

Thanks, Louis

* * * *

Dear Louis, I am flattered that you are such a loyal reader. But do get the Muir biography, which addresses in many pages this old hackneyed charge against him. There is nothing that I could find anywhere in all the extensive Muir papers that expresses the racist views he is charged with, unless we use a very broad brush definition of racism (ie., to mean any criticism of another group of people. By that standard the world is full of racists, including most Indians, blacks, etc.). If racism means a theory that some races of people, whatever “race” means, are genetically inferior to other races, then Muir was not a racist. I write specifically about Muir’s encounter with a group of Indians, not in Yosemite valley exactly, but on a trail in the nearby mountains, a year or so after he had arrived in California. He did find those people dirty and frightening. So might Mr Purdy if he had been in Muir’s shoes, all alone with a group of strangers dressed in animal skins, with strong odors, demanding tobacco and alcohol and pulling at his clothes. Try it on the streets of Naples or Calcutta. But if Mr Purdy would simply turn the page in that journal (My First Summer in the Sierra) he would read contrary evidence—Muir feeling ashamed of his initial fearful and negative reaction, Muir asserting the vision of poet Robert Burns that we will all, including the Indians, come to be brothers one day. Those Indians, by the way, did not live in Yos Valley, they came from the Mono Lake area, and the Yos Indians feared and deposed them (were they also racists?). And it was those Mono Paiutes who massacred the Yos Indians and left the valley uninhabited, except for a lone individual or two. No one destroyed inhabited settlements to make way for Yosemite Park. Muir was a friend of a man he called Indian Tom in the valley, a guy who carried his letters out to civilization. Then there is all of Muir’s experience with Indians in Alaska. There Muir criticized the nation’s treatment of native peoples, etc. etc. Purdy has done no homework, while he recycles worn out, prejudcial, and highly selective charges. He repeats old slanders that a true scholar should be ashamed to pass on. I don’t think his intellectual or moral responsibility rises much higher than Fox News.

Don Worster

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