Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 21, 2016

Disinformation Clearing House

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

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So their fundraiser is a disaster. With all the bad news from every corner of the globe, finally some good news.

This week an article appeared on this website by one Robert Bridge titled “US Elites Are Trying to Destroy Europe with Immigrants that has this astonishing comment:

According to a German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, by mid-21st century millions of migrants from Africa and Asia (950 million of them are already willing to relocate to the EU) will drag Europe back into the Dark Ages. So isn’t this exactly what Barack Obama, a man with African roots, should be willing to achieve through his foreign policy?

This Robert Bridge lives in Russia and writes for RT.com and Infowars. No big surprise there. When you see the reference to Obama having “African roots”, you need to remember that RT.com has been airing a lot of racist junk about Obama. Irina Rodnina, an MP from Vladimir Putin’s party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater photoshopped a picture of Obama with a banana on Twitter. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, Bridge’s article has drawn comments such as these from “Subluna” just like a pile of steaming shit draws flies. Love the reference to Khazar Jews, an obscure anti-Semitic trope if I’ve ever heard one:

“While on the surface it may seem that the refugee crisis has taken Western leaders by surprise, in fact it is all part of their plan for global domination, which was outlined in a paper by the now-defunct group of US neoconservatives known as The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).”

IT IS ALL PART OF THE JEWISH PLAN FOR GLOBAL DOMINATION! That is what I’ve been saying over and over again.

Now who are these US neoconservatives? The overall majority are the KHAZAR JEWS with dual nationality, US – Israeli.

Recently George Souros, the Jewish billionaire said that: “Europe Union should take “at least a million” refugees every year…” https://www.rt.com/op-edge/320747-soros-european-…

Have a look at Jewish Barbara Spectre in this 1 minute video where she calls for Jews to have a leading role in transforming Europe into a multicultural society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFE0qAiofMQ

The European Flag/Logo was the work of Jewish Paul Lévi, the 12 yellow stars on a blue background represent the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Count R. N. Courdenhove-Kalergi is seen by many as the father of the modern European Union. His father was a close friend of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.

Otto von Habsburg was Coudenhove-Kalergi’s successor as president of the Pan European Union. He is a honorary professor of the University of Jerusalem, and recipient of the ‘International Humanitarian Award’, of the ‘Anti Defamation-League’ (ADL) of the Jewish B’nai B’rith Masonery Lodge.

The Jewish owned media promote the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ by Samuel Huntington, who got the idea from Bernard Lewis, a Jewish scholar. Have the Christian West fight Islam, while the Jews conquer the world and make the Goyim their slaves.

Benjamin Freedman: “Act I was World War I. Act II was World War II. Act III is going to be World War III.

“The Jews of the world, the Zionists and their co-religionists everywhere, are determined that they are going to AGAIN use the United States to help them permanently retain Palestine as their foothold for their world government.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8OmxI2AYV8

Transcript: http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/israel/freedma…

The Feast of Tabernacles is the period when Israel triumphs over the other people of the world. That is why during this feast we seize the loulab and carry it as a trophy to show that we have conquered all other peoples, known as “populace”… Zohar, Toldoth Noah 63b

Anglocentrism and the real subsumption of labor

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

An antidote to Anglocentrism

Yesterday an old friend from my misspent Trotskyist youth sent me an excerpt from Harry Harootunian’s “Marx After Marx” that he described as “a further contribution to the transition debates and a polemic against Western Marxism, stagist theories, and by implication some aspects of Political Marxism (but no index entries for Brenner or Wood).” He warned me, however, that before tackling it I review Marx’s discussion of formal vs. real subsumption. This was in something called “The Results of the Direct Production Process”, which is part of a third draft of Capital that Marx wrote between the summer of 1863 and the summer of 1864, based on a plan Marx made for the work in December 1862 according to its introduction in MIA.

Needless to say Charles Post was someone who obviously had read this material on the evidence of having invoked “real subsumption” in his speech at the Ellen Meiksins Wood Symposium where he took on the “critics of Political Marxism” who harped on “the persistence of legally coerced labor under capitalism.” He referred them to Mike Zmolek’s recently published book on the history of capitalism in England from a Brennerite perspective, where the “the state plays a crucial role” in primitive accumulation by using “legal-juridical forces…necessary to ensure the sale of labor-power.” Once the state has finished playing this role by kicking the workers in the teeth, the markets can kick in after “capital has achieved real subsumption of labor.” Now, anybody who has not read Marx might scratch his or her head about this “real subsumption” business. What was it while the state was still a player? Unreal subsumption? No, Marx called it formal subsumption. Don’t ask me why. I have trouble enough with Hegel.

And if you read Marx on this, you still might end up scratching your head:

The labour process becomes the instrument of the valorisation process, of the process of capital’s self-valorisation — the process of the creation of surplus value. The labour process is subsumed under capital (it is capital’s own process) and the capitalist enters the process as its conductor, its director; for him it is at the same time directly a process of the exploitation of alien labour. I call this the formal subsumption of labour under capital. It is the general form of any capitalist production process; but at the same time it is a particular form alongside the developed mode of production which is specifically capitalist because the second involves the first, but the first by no means necessarily involves the second.

Got that? I hope so because I am going to give you a test later. When you come to what Marx wrote about real subsumption, it is a bit easier to fathom since it refers to the absolute versus relative creation of surplus value, topics that are explored in V. 1 of Capital, a work relatively easier to absorb than the thickets of the Grundrisse.

Just as the production of absolute surplus value can be regarded as the material expression of the formal subsumption of labour under capital, so the production of relative surplus value can be regarded as that of the real subsumption of labour under capital.

In any case, if each of the two forms of surplus value — absolute and relative — is considered for itself, in its separate existence and absolute surplus value always precedes relative — we can say that two separate forms of the subsumption of labour under capital, or two separate forms of capitalist production, correspond to the two forms of surplus value. The first form of production always constitutes the predecessor of the second, although the second, which is the further developed form, can in turn form the basis for the introduction of the first in new branches of production.

After I read this, I finally got it. Basically, the formal subsumption of labor refers to the creation of absolute surplus value and the real subsumption refers to the creation of relative surplus value. Which in turn refers to the contrast between the lengthening of the workday to extract profits, particularly through the exploitation of unskilled labor on one hand and the use of machines (dead labor in effect) to allow fewer workers to produce equivalent profits on the other. It would be illustrated, for example, by the difference between Black plantation workers working 12 hours a day during Jim Crow and the heavily mechanized cotton production of today. But keep in mind that when Marx wrote about formal subsumption, he was referring to what happened in Britain as wage labor was exploited under conditions that largely prevailed under feudalism. In other words, commodity production took place under artisanal conditions that were necessary to “subsume” under conditions in which the worker’s skills were reduced and became more like the replaceable parts of the machines they worked on–the conditions that created the Luddite revolt. What this might have to do with sugar plantations in 18th century Jamaica or Mexican silver mines is anybody’s guess.

Indeed, Post refers to such examples of “formal subsumption”:

Legally coerced wage labor also persists in capitalist agriculture, where the disjuncture between production and labor time makes non-market coercion necessary to secure adequate supplies of labor power during crucial periods like planting and harvesting. Legally coerced wage labor is also found in situations where capital has command of industrial labor-processes, but where workers are only partially separated from landed property. For example, in apartheid South Africa, workers were not “free” to enter or leave labor contracts at will.

So basically Post is admitting that in modern capitalist societies, non-market coercion can exist alongside market coercion. This, as a psychiatrist might say, is a sign of making progress.

The problem is that it does not address the nature of societies where non-market coercion dominated. This in fact is just about the entire colonial and postcolonial world throughout most of the last half-millennium. In Latin America, Africa and Asia, the creation of absolute surplus value was the norm as people cut sugar cane, picked cotton, chopped lumber, or mined silver under conditions of non-market coercion. Forget about an eight-hour day in 19th century Mexico. The army or police enforced the rules dictated by the man who owned the plantation or timberland. They worked under conditions just one step above slavery. Was it capitalist social property relations to use the Brennerite jargon? Certainly it was whatever they think.

From the time this academic smart kids club began, the emphasis has always been on real subsumption, even to the point of explicitly identifying it with capitalism itself. In Robert Brenner’s 1977 NLR article, which was his nailing the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, he made formal subsumption a virtual catechism:

Now, there is no doubt that capitalism is a system in which production for a profit via exchange predominates. But does the opposite hold true? Does the appearance of widespread production ‘for profit in the market’ signal the existence of capitalism, and more particularly a system in which, as a characteristic feature, ‘production is constantly expanded and men constantly innovate new ways of producing’. Certainly not, because production for exchange is perfectly compatible with a system in which it is either unnecessary or impossible, or both, to reinvest in expanded, improved production in order to ‘profit’. Indeed, we shall argue that this is the norm in pre-capitalist societies. For in such societies the social relations of production in large part confine the realization of surplus labour to the methods of extending absolute labour. [emphasis added]

Leaving aside Brenner’s confused reference to absolute labor time that simply means the lengthening of the workday, you can assume that he is simply establishing a ruling as a judge does in a courtroom: Formal subsumption/creation of absolute surplus value through the extension of absolute labor belongs to “pre-capitalist societies”. In the Belgian Empire of King Leopold, there was capitalism and pre-capitalism. In Brussels, there was real subsumption as men on assembly lines converted rubber into bicycle and then automobile tires, while in the Congo it was pre-capitalism as a variety of taxes and other repressive legislation violently dissolved the self-sustaining villages and forced men to climb trees and tap rubber with a knife.

That a popular consumer product would have a dirty secret hidden far from end users’ eyes in the Global South is almost to be expected these days.

A century ago, the bicycle was high on this list.

1890 was the year that a company called Dunlop Rubber formed primarily for the purpose of producing a newfangled and incredibly popular product — the inflatable bicycle tire, which provided a much smoother ride than their predecessors, the aptly named “boneshakers.”

The demand for bicycles surged. The first golden age of cycling had arrived. Many in Europe and North America — particularly the women’s movement — found liberation in having access to cheap, fast transportation for the first time.

This freedom came with an external price that was paid, in this case, by millions of workers and their families on rubber plantations throughout what was then the colonial world.

“The Rubber Terror” is what activists at the time dubbed the situation in central Africa. The Congo was, from 1885 to 1908, the private colony owned by (though never visited by) King Leopold II of Belgium. In the early 1890s, the king responded to the ever-growing demand for rubber by pressing millions of workers into unpaid labor, enforced by his brutal private army that was quick to mutilate, torture, and murder workers deemed slow or rebellious — or their families.

The resulting holocaust is calculated by some to have claimed the lives of 15 million people — over two thirds of the vast region’s population.


One of the most depressing things about the PM people is their utter lack of interest in the colonial world. I think Jim Blaut erred a bit when he characterized them as Eurocentric. Indeed, a better term would be Anglocentric since their entire effort seems to be the creation of a template based on British history, the latest installment of which is Mike Zmolek’s tome. If the Congo does not match this template, then it must be put into a Procrustean bed in which it ends up ideologically butchered as “pre-capitalist”.

If they could possibly be lured outside of their comfort zone, I’d advise them to read B. Traven’s “Jungle Novels” that are about as good an introduction to Mexican economic history as any history book. I especially love this quote from “Government,” the first in the series, which refers to Don Gabriel, the tax collector in a small Chiapas town:

Don Gabriel quickly took to it. He saw there was a fortune to be made, without real effort and without the need of allowing a margin for losses. He did not consider don Ramón any brighter than himself; and no intelligence was required. There were thousands of indebted peons and independent Indians in the district he was best acquainted with. In his own village alone there were more than a dozen who were deeply enough in his debt to give him the right to proceed against them in any way and by any means not expressly forbidden by the law. It was not illegal to offer them the chance of contracting with a monteria [lumber chopping company] as a means of freeing themselves from debt. On the contrary, the government was glad to see debts paid off, and even more glad that the companies who paid it well for licenses and concessions should be kept supplied with labor, so that production could be maintained and exports increased. Exports were necessary to the finances of the country and kept up the value of the peso on the money markets of London and New York. It was therefore a highly patriotic activity to supply the coffee plantations and the monterias with labor and to keep the supply constant; it was just as important as dying gloriously and miserably for the honor of your country assured of the joys of paradise.

Let me end with a passage from “Trozas”, the fourth in the series that illustrates in biting, sardonic prose how capitalism was a world system when the novel was written and how foolish it is to see it otherwise:

Don Remigio left the men, who had been on the march since one in the morning to get there from their last bivouac by midday, standing in the tropical glare of the sun as if they were blocks of stone. Whether they were seriously sunburnt or even collapsed or went off their head, that didn’t seem to worry him. They cost so much of his money. He had to pay off each individual’s debts, since it was on account of them that the man had been sold or peddled to him. For each individual he had to pay the president of the municipality of Hucutsin the tax on the labor contract at a rate of twenty-five pesos, so that the authorities would arrest the man if he ran away. What is more, he had to pay a high commission to the advertising agents who bought out peons from the fincas, the estates and the villages, who were in debt to their masters, as well as other Indians whose police fines had to be paid in order to bring them here. No one could expect that the enganchadores, the advertising agents, would work for nothing, still less as they were in a business in which they hoped to get very rich. Finally, a cash advance had been paid to every man recruited by the agents, the better to tempt the men to confirm their contracts before the municipal president and thus, in the eyes of the civilized world, give the impression that it was a simple labor contract such as can be concluded anywhere on earth. The old cacique knew far better than the newly fledged dictators how to conceal the true conditions in his country from the suspicions of the other nations, helped by a gagged and self-corrupting press that groveled before him. What the workers themselves said or spread abroad was nothing but lies and slander. Truth was only what was written in the labor contracts, acknowledged by the workers, and stamped by an official authority. That the Indian workers could neither read nor write the dictator did not regard as his fault. Why didn’t they learn to read and write? They were too stupid for it and just didn’t want to learn.

All the amounts and payments that the contratista [contractor] laid out for a man he had recruited, that man had to earn back in the jungle. A contratista could not be expected to pay out all those amounts for an Indian, or even for two hundred of them, out of pure philanthropy, and then tell the man: “Many thanks for your friendliness, allowing me to pay your debts and give you an advance, which you take so you can get pissed and go whoring. Go back to your father’s house, increase and multiply, and live happy and contented to the end of your days!”

What would become of a contratista who did that sort of thing? In this world, where everybody has to fight for a crust of bread, even a contratista cannot give things away without there being something at the other end. He has to work damned hard to be able to live and to make something of it. If it happens that he has nothing once he is old, then he can go begging. So he must take care of his welfare as long as he is in a position to. Wife and children at home have to live too. And if he has to work hard himself, why not the peons? They’re not used to anything else anyway and do nothing but fool around. If they have no work to do, they just get pissed. Instead of thinking of something else, most of all how they can pay off their debts and escape from enslavement, they waste their good strength on nothing but bringing a crowd of kids into the world.

Besides, the people in New York and London want mahogany furniture. Why they want it has nothing to do with us contratistas. That is their business. But there is money to be made from it, a lovely mountain of money. Our jungles are full of caoba. We have no idea what to do with so much caoba. We have such an infinite amount of it that we actually make our railroad ties out of mahogany and ebony. Why shouldn’t we provide a few tons of our rich excess of this handsome wood for suffering mankind? Of course, it does have to be got out of the jungle. We contratistas can’t do that by ourselves. I least of all. I get great blood-blisters on my hands if I cut caoba just for three hours. Mahogany is as hard as iron, damn it. But those Indians, boozy fuckers that they are, are lucky to be able to do something for their fatherland and raise the exports figure.

This attitude of the contratistas is thoroughly comprehensible; it shows reason and a profound insight into the confused laws of world economics. Of course, the Indian thinks about it differently. But then he is only a wretched proletarian, not a director of a bank. And it is simply incomprehensible to any normal-thinking man that those goddamn proletarians simply won’t ever grasp how reasonable and right and patriotic are the ideas and opinions that are hatched out with so much trouble and worry and sleepless nights by dictators and factory managers, for the good of the fatherland. Goddamn it all, all those proletarians should just be shot, then there would be peace in the country at last. Why is the miserable dog a proletarian anyway? It’s his own fault after all. It certainly isn’t the fault of the contratistas that the peons are permanently so deep in debt to their masters. The master needs his money too, and if he finally loses patience and wants to have his money, because he has to have it, and so sells the peons to the contratistas for the amount of the debt, then there is an outcry and a lot of screaming about the slave trade and slavery.

It is all so clear, so simple, so logical, so reasonable, that one has only to wonder why the proletariat won’t understand it when they are dictated to. Once they understand for the first time and fully accept that everything done is done only for their good, that no dictator, no shareholder, thinks or has ever thought of impinging on the value of the worker or making him into a beast of burden, once they begin to see that people only want their good, even their best, then the time will at last be ripe when they may be counted among the reasonable, and every single proletarian will have the prospect of actually becoming a factory manager and chairman of a board of directors. But as long as he does not, or will not, understand, he must keep his mouth shut and let himself be managed and dictated to.

Everything here was therefore going right. No one was treated unjustly. No one had any cause for complaint. All the business, that of the advertising agents, of the contratistas and the companies, was carried on, always and in all circumstances, within the framework of the law. If gaps showed in the legal network, there was a dictator who mended those gaps with a signature. And what the dictator did was always right, for all his activities were confirmed by the Cámara de Diputados. If by chance one of the Diputados raised an objection, he ceased to be a Diputado, because he was hindering the order and the well-oiled progress of business. Only yes-men were accepted in the Cámara and the Senate. It was a joy to live, and anyone who didn’t like it had no right to live, and was shot. If there were moderating circumstances, then he went to the concentration camp, El Valle de los Muertos, an area fenced in with barbed wire, in the middle of the best-chosen fever swamp in the south of the state of Veracruz. He went there never to return. It was the golden age of dictatorship.


January 20, 2016

Ricardo Duchesne: the Marxist-Hegelian who became a White Nationalist

Filed under: Fascism,immigration,racism,transition debate — louisproyect @ 6:05 pm

Ricardo Duchesne

Yesterday as I began reading the penultimate chapter of Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule”, one which deals with the “great divergence” between the West and Asia, I was surprised to see a history professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada named Ricardo Duchesne mentioned as a believer in the “miracle” of the West. Like the more straightforward believers of Western superiority covered by Jim Blaut in “Eight Eurocentrist Historians”, Duchesne attributes its domination of the rest of the world to its “higher intellectual and artistic creativity”.

The last time Duchesne came to my attention was in September 2003 when I commented on a critique of the Brenner thesis that he had written for Rethinking Marxism.

Duchesne’s article is not only worth tracking down as a very effective rebuttal to Brenner and Wood but as a rarity in the academic world: a witty and highly readable essay that entertains while it educates. For veterans of PEN-L, it might come as some surprise to discover that he has written such an article for in the past he was one of the most vociferous opponents of James M. Blaut, both on that list and other lists where the origins of capitalism was a hot topic. For example in January 1998, he wrote the following on PEN-L:

“Now consider the dilemma Blaut finds himself: why did Europe came to dominate the rest of the World? Answer: geographical proximity of Europe to the Americas(!) gave it access to its metals and labor leading to the industrial revolution. Obviously the notion that European capitalism developed as a result of the exploitation of the Third World has been so roundly refuted I need not elaborate this here. Just a handy, if incomplete, stats: At most 2% of Europe’s GNP at the end of 18th century took the form of profits derived from commerce with Americas, Asia, Africa! (I think source is K.O’Brien).”

However, Duchesne now believes:

“The major drawback of Wood’s Origins is its Eurocentric presumption that explaining the transition to capitalism is simply a matter of looking for those ‘unique’ traits that set Europe or England apart from the rest of the world. Marxists can no longer rest comfortably with the story that England and Europe emerged from the Middle Ages with an internally generated advantage over the rest of Asia.”

As it turns out, his dissertation was on the “transition debate”. Written in 1994, it claimed that it would apply a “Hegelian” procedure to resolve a debate that reached an impasse in his view. His dissertation adviser was Robert Albritton, a Marxist scholar generally associated with the anti-Brenner camp. He also thanks David McNally, who we assume was on his dissertation committee, as being “helpful” despite their differences over deconstruction. Since I had just heard McNally paying loving tribute to Ellen Meiksins Wood yesterday, a person who never met a deconstructionist she wouldn’t have had for breakfast, I wondered what that was about.

Out of curiosity, I downloaded Duchesne’s dissertation that is titled “All contraries confounded: Historical materialism and the transition-to-capitalism debate” and turned to the conclusion. It certainly confirms his approaching the “transition debate” from a Hegelian standpoint, as this gibberish from his final paragraph would confirm:

Throughout this movement, however, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of our initial object of knowledge, our explanadum. Our explanadum must be the point of departure for the construction of our concrete whole: it sets the site of over-determination. It is the point from which we will derive a totality which is pertinent to our object of study, as opposed to an indifferent totality in which everything is related to everything else. It is also crucial that we remember our starting point in order to avoid the conclusion that this process of concretization is a reconstruction of history or society as such. Marx’s method of political economy comprehends one area of what Hegel called objective spirit, namely, socio-economic life. Our totality will be a part of a larger and still more complex whole – a totality which will always remain incomplete.

Having followed Duchesne’s interventions around the Brenner thesis on two different mailing lists in the early 2000s, the Hegelian influence is obvious to me seen in retrospect. I state that as someone who studied Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind” in 1966 at the New School when I was dodging the draft. Key to Hegel is the dialectic, which poses one set of ideas against another in an ongoing struggle that finally resolves itself in the Prussian state that Hegel bowed down to. Whenever Hegel’s name came up on Marxmail, Jim Blaut raised a stink since he considered Hegel an arch-reactionary and urged us to steer clear of him. Whether Duchesne was a Marxist at the time was open to question but there is little doubt what he turned into today, a vicious racist who has the same worshipful attitude toward the Canadian state of his dreams—one that is devoted to Western values and the White Race–that Hegel had toward the Prussian state.

The first indication that Duchesne had thrown in his lot with the Eurocentrists was a 2005 article taking issue with Kenneth Pomeranz, the author of “The Great Divergence”, a book that held that China was superior to Britain in many respects in the 18th century, and that if not for British access to New World plunder and the availability of coal in the early stages of the industrial revolution it would have remained subordinate to China. Duchesne’s article remained within the parameters of scholarly norms, even though one might wonder whether it harbored a willingness to break ranks with the anti-Eurocentrists that the capricious scholar had tenuous ties to.

But it was the next article that appeared that year that amounted to a “coming out”. Titled “Defending the rise of Western Culture against its Multicultural critics”, it was the sort of article that you would expect to read in The New Criterion or The Weekly Standard. From that point on, everything that Duchesne has written is in the same vein with a brazen disregard for scholarly impartiality. It culminated in a 528-page book titled “The Uniqueness of Western Civilization” that was published in 2011. It has a chapter titled “The Restlessness of the Western Spirit from a Hegelian Perspective” that is a reminder that Blaut knew what he was talking about. It is followed by one titled “The Aristocratic Egalitarianism of Indo-Europeans and the Primordial Origins of Western Civilization”. I am sure that you know that Aryan is another word for Indo-Europeans.

But nothing would prepare you for Duchesne’s personal blog that is a blatant defense of White Nationalism of the sort that is tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates and other groups that follow the KKK, neo-Nazis, et al.

The blog is titled Council of European Canadians and describes its goals as follows:

We believe that existing strategies for immigration reform have not been successful and must be abandoned. We believe that assimilation (of non-Europeans in the current state of mass immigration) would be fatal to our European heritage, and that if we aim to enhance European Canada we must rely upon the current mechanisms afforded by multiculturalism while it lasts. Multiculturalism recognizes the right of ethnic groups to preserve and enhance their identity and cultural heritage.

We are against an establishment that is determined to destroy European Canada through fanatical immigration, imposition of a diversity curriculum, affirmative action in favor of non-Europeans, and promotion of white guilt. The domination of the cultural Marxists is so deeply seated, so entrenched inside the psychology of Canadians that we cannot engage only in ordinary party politics.

It has racist articles by Duchesne and crosspostings from other fascist-minded filth such as Tim Murray, the author of “Ban Muslim Immigration? Trump Is Right” and “Students for Western Civilization”, a group at York University that was formed by “White/European students to challenge those arguments about the inherent illegitimacy of our civilisation’s existence.”

Over the past couple of years, Duchesne has become a public figure in Canada for his racist views. On May 26 2014, he wrote a blog post titled “Chinese Head Tax, White Apologies, and “Inclusive Redress” that assailed Vancouver City Councilor Raymond Louie for urging that discriminatory laws and policies imposed on Chinese immigrants in the city between 1886 and 1947 be investigated. For Duchesne, this was a “cultural Marxist” assault on the city’s White values. (I should mention that his use of this term is consistent with the way it was used by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.)

Kerry Jang, another Chinese-Canadian councilperson, complained to the administration at Duchesne’s college that predictably defended his academic freedom. Meanwhile, some of his peers wrote a letter to the Toronto Star disassociating themselves from Duchesne:

The principle of academic freedom has long been established in Canada and continues to be a cornerstone of the Canadian university system. As such, Dr. Ricardo Duchesne has a right to use that freedom as a member of the Sociology Unit in the Department of Social Science, University of New Brunswick, Saint John.

However, academic freedom entails neither a right to be listened to, nor a right to an audience. We, the undersigned, also exercise our academic freedom and state categorically that we reject Dr. Duchesne’s expressed views on “Western civilization” and consider them void of academic merit. His views are his alone and are not shared by the ten signatories below from the Department of Sociology, UNB Fredericton.

Professors Gary Bowden, Dan Crouse, Tia Dafnos, Nick Hardy, Catherine Holtmann, Jacqueline Low, Nancy Nason-Clark, Paul Peters, Lucia Tramonte and Maria Costanza Torri, Department of Sociology, UNB, Fredericton

I don’t know enough about Duchesne personally to speculate on how he could have ended up as White Nationalist except to say that he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Apparently the colonial condition was insufficient to keep his head screwed on right. In contrast, Jim Blaut had a very close connection to the island that sustained him until his death. He was married to America Sorrentini-Blaut, whom he met when he was teaching at the University of Puerto Rico. She was a central leader of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, a group that he strongly identified with and no doubt that influenced his decision to take up the question of Eurocentrism. Long after riffraff like Ricardo Duchesne are six feet under, serious scholars will be reading Blaut to get ideas on how to understand the phenomenon that Mahatma Gandhi once described in the following terms when asked what he thought of Western Civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”


Michael Karadjis on Madaya

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:16 pm

January 19, 2016

Ellen Meiksins Wood: a political assessment

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 10:43 pm

Ellen Meiksins Wood

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was first getting a handle on the academic left, Wood’s articles on postmodernism were very useful to me. She co-edited a collection of articles published by Monthly Review in 1997 with John Bellamy Foster titled “In Defense of History” that was a frontal assault on Baudrillard, Lyotard at al. Now, looking back at the work, I can see how far I have distanced myself from that project.

One article is by Meera Nanda, an Indian physicist who was closely linked to Alan Sokal’s crusade against pomo obscurantism that I embraced at the time especially since I had a particular dislike for the bad writing that he spoofed in Social Text. However, a few years later I was shocked to discover that Nanda was an ardent defender of the Narmada Dam in India that would displace thousands of peasants and risk major ecological damage.

Another contributor was Kenan Malik, who was a member of Frank Furedi’s Revolutionary Communist Party at the time and a contributor to their magazine Living Marxism. In 1996, a year before the Wood-Foster book came off the press, Malik wrote an article for LM titled “Dying Languages” that had this subheading: “It would be no loss if most of the world’s languages died out, argues Kenan Malik”. In keeping with the RCP’s vulgar Marxist belief that capitalism was a “revolutionary” bludgeon against what the Communist Manifesto called “all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations”, the article claimed that “Cultural homogenisation is something to be welcomed, not feared.” Did Wood or Foster have any idea how such homogenization takes place? For the American Indian, it took place at the leading edge of a whip in residential schools. Well, who knows. Maybe they had not bothered to look into Malik’s background. They were busy people, after all.

The susceptibility of Wood and Foster to this sort of stuff was very much a function of a drift in Marxism toward a knee-jerk reaction to anything with the slightest whiff of postmodernism, making it especially vulnerable to the RCP’s interventions on the left. Of course, nobody could possibly make the same mistake today since LM is long gone with the group having mutated into an openly libertarian think-tank funded in all likelihood by major corporations.

In 1997, after Wood had come on board, MR republished a Pluto book titled “Science and the Retreat from Reason” by John Gillot and Manjit Kumar. At the time I was so shocked by this that I contacted MR immediately to alert them to the fact that the authors were RCP members and that their book contained an attack on Rachel Carsons. Since it was too late to cancel the contract with Pluto, Foster was put in the awkward position of having to pan the book in MR. Now I don’t know if this all happened before Wood was in the driver’s seat but it should give you a sense of the disorientation that was widespread at the time.

People like John Bellamy Foster and Ellen Meiksins Wood live in a very rarified world, one circumscribed by Historical Materialism, NLR, Verso Press, the Left Forum and other institutions that tend to be isolated from criticism. If you don’t like an article in the New Left Review or Historical Materialism, that’s just too darned bad. The people who run such august institutions had to scale major hurdles before getting on their editorial boards so they must know what they are talking about. Right?

In terms of Woods’s contributions to Marxism, I imagine that her book “Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy” is probably worth reading at least on the basis of David McNally’s talk at a symposium on her life and work that was held at Birbeck College in England in conjunction with Verso’s republication of some of her books.

But most of the symposium that you can listen to here (as I did today) is devoted to her co-thinkers’ reflections on her major contribution to Marxist theory, the so-called separation of the political and the economic.

Listening to Robert Brenner, the first time I ever heard him speak actually, I was struck by how much Political Marxism is based on the sort of theorizing you can read in Althusser, G.A. Cohen, and other figures in the academy. Despite the assurances by just everybody there that Wood disdained academia and was trying to relate to activists, I doubt that anybody who slept in Zuccotti Park could have made heads or tails out of Brenner’s review of Wood’s ideas.

Brenner described her 1981 NLR article “The Separation of the Economic and the Political In Capitalism” as a kind of major statement of her views, something that had somehow eluded me over the years. It begins portentously: “The intention of Marxism is to provide a theoretical foundation for interpreting the world in order to change it. This is not an empty slogan. It has—or ought to have—a very precise meaning. It means that Marxism seeks a particular kind of knowledge, one which is uniquely capable of illuminating the principles of historical movement and, at least implicitly, the points at which political action can most effectively intervene.”

Well, who can argue with that?

Much of Wood’s article is a critique of G.A. Cohen who she faults as an exponent of “base/superstructure” Marxism of the sort that was rife in Second International Marxism (Plekhanov, for example). Now, that is something I could buy into especially since my own reading of Cohen led me to the same conclusions. As opposed to Cohen’s dualism, Wood urged the need for a “new approach to Marxist theory” that attempts to bridge the discontinuities between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ by broadening the meaning of the ‘base’ itself. She writes: “The virtue of this ‘unitarian’ approach is that it attempts to restore some kind of social and historical content to the ‘economy’ and that, unlike both economistic and structuralist Marxisms, it recognizes and rejects what has been called the ‘fetishism’ of capitalist categories.”

I should add at this point that the reference to “structuralist Marxisms” is a jab at Althusser so if you want to be initiated into the Political Marxism fraternity, you’d better be up to speed on G.A. Cohen and Louis Althusser before you get your foot in the door.

Once she establishes the theoretical basis for Political Marxism, she gets down to brass tacks and explains how this approach can explain the difference between capitalism and the systems that preceded it. Unlike Cohen, who viewed capitalism as arising out of a natural tendency to revolutionize the means of production (a vulgar notion no doubt encouraged by having read the Communist Manifesto at too early and tender an age), Wood sees it as contingent and arising out of class struggle. The separation of the political and the economic distinguish capitalism from earlier forms of class domination. This statement encapsulates her approach and that of all the other members of the PM tribe. Once again from the 1981 NLR article:

Although the coercive force of the ‘political’ sphere is ultimately necessary to sustain private property and the power of appropriation, ‘economic’ need supplies the immediate compulsion that forces the worker to transfer surplus labour to the capitalist in order to gain access to the means of production. The labourer is, therefore, ‘free’, not in a relationship of dependence or servitude; the transfer of surplus labour and its appropriation by someone else are not conditioned by such an ‘extra-economic’ relationship. The forfeit of surplus labour is an immediate condition of production itself. Capitalism in these respects differs from precapitalist forms to the extent that the latter are characterized by ‘extra-economic’ modes of surplus extraction, political, legal, or military coercion, traditional bonds or duties, etc., which demand the transfer of surplus labour to a private lord or to the state by means of labour services, rent, tax, and so on.

To put it in plain language, she is saying that “extra-economic” modes of surplus extraction such as slavery, debt peonage, etc. are precapitalist. This means that when King Leopold dragooned the Congolese to become rubber tappers, he was presiding over a precapitalist society. But when the rubber made its way to Belgium to become automobile tires, it was within the sphere of capitalist property relations. I don’t think this makes much sense but that’s the analysis for better or for worse.

In Charles Post’s speech to the gathering, he referred to PM’s critics (but not me, I’m sure, who is beyond the pale) that harp on the persistence of the “extra-economic” in today’s world. If you’ve been following the furor over NYU’s use of what amounts to indentured servants in Dubai, you can hardly ignore it. Referring to South Africa’s pass laws, which obviously were key to the accumulation of capital, Post saw them as a kind of transition to full-scale capitalism:

This “partial proletarianization” required the “pass laws” that legally restricted geographic mobility of labor-power in order to ensure steady supplies of ‘cheap’ African labor power to capital.

A whole book could be written about the word “required” in the above sentence. Capitalism entailed massive unfree labor in its early stages because it was required to do so on account of its scarcity in the New World. American Indians had the ability to subsist in the “wilderness”—that is those who had not already been killed by the white man’s diseases—and those that were unable to do so were so ill suited to the tasks of tending to tobacco, sugar or cotton growing. Debt peonage, slavery, and other forms of “extra-economic” exploitation were essential to capital accumulation in the system’s infancy, even this remained difficult for someone like Wood to understand for her entire life.

Although the Political Marxists have an almost cult-like devotion to their cause, there are signs of indiscipline. In groups like the SWP, this could lead to expulsion. Fortunately, tenured professors who publish in NLR have no such worries including Benno Teschke who has grown concerned about some basic flaws in the Wood-Brenner methodology. He told the gathering that once there was “rigor” but now it seems more like “rigor mortis”. If you want to be spared listening to his talk, you might want to take a look at an article he wrote with Samuel Knafo, another speaker at the symposium. Titled “The Rules of Reproduction of Capitalism: A Historicist Critique“, it zeroes in on a tendency in PM to shirk the responsibility of engaging with history’s messy details that might be at odds with its “structural” purity (a bad case of Althusserian relapse?)

However, the path pioneered by Brenner and Wood would in turn create its own set of pitfalls. For the ability to ground concretely the analysis of capitalism in the study of social property relations gave incentives to the first generation of Political Marxists to stylize theoretically the implications of this historical work. Robert Brenner, in particular, formalised his conception of capitalism in the form of an ideal type (Brenner, 1986), which was in turn stereotyped in Wood’s distinction between pre-capitalist markets as an opportunity and capitalist markets as an imperative (Wood, 1994). In time, the elaboration of a more substantial conception of capitalism with its inner logic was to become a structural impediment to the original historicist aspirations of PM.

In plain language, Teschke and Knafo are saying that Wood and Brenner conceive of capitalism in almost Platonic terms, as a system that has the essence of resting on markets rather than “extra-economic” compulsion for the creation of surplus value. Well, I could have told them that twenty years ago at least but they wouldn’t have listened. That’s okay. The tide has finally turned as nearly each month a new book on slavery and capitalism rolls off the presses of some of America’s most distinguished academic presses.

January 17, 2016


Filed under: Film,Gay — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

This year publicists sent out three film screeners about the lives of LGBT people for consideration by NYFCO in our December 2015 awards meeting. One was “Tangerine”, a film that was distinguished technically for having been made with IPhones but I could not even watch to conclusion since it was undistinguished in every other way. It starred transgender actress Kitani Kiki Rodriguez as a transgender prostitute who is trying to track down her pimp in Los Angeles and take revenge on him for cheating on her. I found it amateurish, cartoonish and exploitative despite the 96 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Moving right along, there’s “The Danish Girl”, a biopic based on transgender artist Lili Elbe who was the first man to ever undergo sexual reassignment surgery. It was a high-minded affair that smacked of Merchant-Ivory and hardly worth the 71 percent fresh rating it received on Rotten Tomatoes.

And then there is “Carol”, a film for the ages based on a Patricia Highsmith novel about the love affair of two lesbians. A number of her novels have been made into films, including the Hitchcock masterpiece “Strangers on a Train”. “Carol” was based on her 1952 novel titled “The Price of Salt” that appeared under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. Unlike many films and novels about homosexuals or lesbians such as “Brokeback Mountain”, Highsmith defied convention and gave her tale a happy ending. Perhaps this was related to the fact that she was a lesbian herself but just as easily could have been a function of her affection for outlaws in her novels, most especially Tom Ripley, the shifty and resourceful working class criminal of a number of her novels who aspires to join the bourgeoisie and succeeds on its own terms.

Unlike Gore Vidal’s 1948 “The City and the Pillar”, a gay coming-of-age novel that appeared under his own name and was published by the prestigious E.F. Dutton, Highsmith’s novel was rejected by Harper’s—her regular publisher. It ended up as a 25 cent Bantam pulp paperback with “The novel of a love society forbids” appearing on the front cover.

Highsmith wrote the novel after spotting a beautiful woman in a fur coat when she was working as a clerk in Bloomingdales the same year Vidal’s novel came out. Unlike her novel, Highsmith never ended up in bed with the woman but was sto smitten by her beauty that she was moved to write what amounted to a wish fulfillment story. What is so unusual about “Carol” is its ability to identify with the two main characters whatever your sexual orientation. As part of Hollywood’s general drift into the sewer, there are fewer and fewer love stories that have the power of the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn epoch. Working with Highsmith’s gold, director Todd Haynes has exactly the right sensibility to make sure that not a single carat is lost.

As an openly gay man, Todd Haynes was obviously some suited to treat the material lovingly. Beyond his sexuality, he has a flair for the ambience of “Carol”, which is close to that of “Far from Heaven”, his 2002 film about a repressed gay man living in suburban Connecticut in the 1950s whose wife develops a platonic relationship with a Black gardener that comes within a hair’s width of becoming physical. “Far from Heaven” was viewed as homage to Douglas Sirk, a filmmaker who might have made a film like “Carol” if it was permissible in his day. Fortunately for Highsmith’s legacy, Todd Haynes is the Douglas Sirk of our day.

The film stars Cate Blanchett as Carol, the wealthy shopper who becomes the embodiment of Highsmith’s 1948 fantasy. While shopping for a Christmas present for her daughter, she runs into Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a younger aspiring photographer, who persuades her to buy an electric train instead of the typical feminine gift, a clever way to signal that the two women are not interested in playing by society’s rules.

Therese eventually gets invited out to Carol’s mansion in Connecticut for a Christmas dinner. As the two settle in for a comfortable and possibly intimate evening, their mood is broken by the arrival of Carol’s husband who is in the process of divorcing her. When he spots Therese in the house, he goes ballistic at the two women for their sexual transgressions.

To get away from the angst of her divorce, Carol suggests to Therese that she join her for a cross-country drive in her Cadillac. Like Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassidy, the two women go on the road to discover America and to satisfy their physical and spiritual needs. In a series of motels, their love deepens until her husband’s crude and vengeful intervention drives a wedge between the two—at least temporarily.

Since Highsmith is a novelist of the greatest story-telling ability and profound psychological insights with dialog to match, suffice it to say that the film is equal to the original material. While my respect for Alfred Hitchcock is second to none, Todd Haynes was a director born to make such a film. Through effective costume design, film score, and sets, “Carol” has a lot of the atmosphere of “Mad Men” but it is not meant to call attention to itself. It is instead just a backdrop to the story and as such works perfectly. Haynes is also a master of cinema and the road scenes are deeply evocative when traveling across the USA in a Cadillac was everybody’s fantasy, including Jack Kerouac’s.

Almost eight years ago, I wrote an article on Patricia Highsmith for Swans. My recommendation is to see “Carol”, my pick for one of the best three films of 2015. If you enjoy it and other film adaptations of her work including “Strangers on a Train” and the Ripley films, I urge you to read her fiction that I regard as neglected masterpieces. Let’s hope that the deserved acclaim for “Carol” leads to a Patricia Highsmith revival since she certainly deserves it.

Patricia Highsmith

The Crime Novels Of Patricia Highsmith

by Louis Proyect

(Swans – January 28, 2008)   Well-read Americans might not be familiar with the name Patricia Highsmith. At least this was the case for me before I stumbled across the movie Ripley’s Game on the IFC cable channel a couple of years ago.

Directed by Liliana Cavani and starring John Malkovich as Tom Ripley, a professional thief, it was quite unlike anything I had ever seen. Ripley, an American émigré living in rural France, pressures Jonathan Trevanny, a British frame shop owner in the local village who has never committed a crime in his life, to carry out a series of hits on Ripley’s enemies in the Italian mafia. Since Trevanny is suffering from leukemia, Ripley reasons that he would be amenable to killing complete strangers for a handsome fee in order to help meet family expenses after his death. Ripley has another motive in recruiting Trevanny. At the start of the movie, Ripley overhears Trevanny describing his estate as typically nouveau riche and out of character with the French countryside. Further study on my part would reveal that the Ripley films, and the nonpareil novels they are based on, nearly always involve such class resentments at their core.

Eventually I discovered that Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game also provided the narrative for Wim Wenders’s The American Friend that featured Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley and Bruno Ganz as the frame-maker Jonathan Zimmermann (a Germanized character in keeping with the film’s relocation to Rotterdam from rural France). Wenders took some liberties with Highsmith’s novels that are not quite successful in my view. The Ripley character seems more in keeping with Dennis Hopper’s public image rather than the fictional character. With a cowboy hat lodged permanently on his head, Hopper’s Ripley is much more macho than Highsmith’s character, whose epicene malevolence is rendered far more successfully in Cavani’s movie.

Since Ripley’s Game was such an outstanding film, I was persuaded soon afterwards to watch The Talented Mr. Ripley, based on a much younger Tom Ripley’s introduction to the criminal world. Starring Matt Damon as the title character, it involves Ripley’s introduction to the world of the haute bourgeoisie. Hired by a shipping magnate to persuade his playboy son to return home to America from Italy, Tom Ripley allows himself to become the son’s paid companion in a relationship that has strong homoerotic implications, another theme that is omnipresent in Highsmith’s novels. When Tom Ripley learns that Dickie Greenleaf, the boating heir, has plans to dump him, he murders him and assumes his identity. Damon, like Malkovich, is adept at capturing the utterly cynical and amoral psyche of this most intriguing character.

As so often happens with excellent movies like Ripley’s Game, I make an effort to read the novel upon which the screenplay is based in order to find out more about the author. Eventually I discovered that Highsmith’s novels have inspired some of the finest movies over the past 50 years including her first, which provided the scenario for Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Like the Ripley novels, Strangers on a Train involves homoerotic themes and a penetrating study of the lifestyles of the rich and infamous. Unlike the movies, however, the novels are blessed by Highsmith’s narrative voice, which is an utterly distinct one as demonstrated by this excerpt from Strangers on a Train.

That evening, Charles Anthony Bruno was lying on his back in an El Paso hotel room, trying to balance a gold fountain pen across his rather delicate, dished-in nose. He was too restless to go to bed, not energetic enough to go down to one of the bars in the neighborhood and look things over. He had looked things over all afternoon, and he did not think much of them in El Paso. He did not think much of the Grand Canyon either. He thought more of the idea that had come to him night before last on the train. A pity Guy hadn’t awakened him that morning. Not that Guy was the kind of fellow to plan a murder with, but he liked him, as a person. Guy was somebody worth knowing. Besides, Guy had left his book, and he could have given it back.

For those who have seen Strangers on a Train, you will remember Bruno as the worthless rich boy who cuts a deal with the tennis pro Guy Haines (an architect in the novel), who he has met on the train. If Guy will kill Charles Bruno’s wealthy father, thus facilitating his inheritance of a fortune, Bruno will kill Guy’s estranged wife, another worthless person, who has refused to give him a divorce. In the movie, Guy Haines struggles to release himself from the deal, even after Bruno has killed his wife. Despite Hitchcock’s dark sensibility, the movie is a sanitized version of the novel in which Guy Haines does carry out his end of the deal and is apprehended by the cops in the end.

This is not the only sanitized treatment of a Highsmith novel. In an otherwise masterful production, René Clément’s 1960 treatment of The Talented Mr. Ripley released in France as Plein soleil (the title Full Sun becomes Purple Noon in the English release) ends with Tom Ripley being nabbed by the cops for murdering his patron Dickie Greenleaf. In the novel Ripley goes scot-free and inherits Dickie’s fortune, thus proving that crime pays. It also downplays the homoerotic aspects, which is understandable given the period in which it was released. Starring Alain Delon as Tom Ripley and Maurice Ronet as Philippe Greenleaf (he has been Frenchified), the film does excel at showing the class distinctions between the two men. In one memorable scene that takes place on Greenleaf’s yacht, Ripley is humiliated by his bourgeois companion for not using his silverware properly. Delon was cast perfectly in this underdog role, as indicated by a particularly useful Wiki article:

At 14, Delon left school, and worked for a brief time at his stepfather’s butcher shop. He enlisted in the army three years later, and in 1953 was sent to fight in the First Indochina War. Delon has said that out of his five years of military service he spent 11 months in prison for being “undisciplined.” After being dishonorably discharged from the army he returned to Paris. He had no money, and got by on whatever employment he could find. He spent time working as a waiter, a porter, and a sales clerk.

This is somebody who would understand in the marrow of his bones what it meant to be a Tom Ripley. In Highsmith’s novel, we are introduced to the character as somebody who lives by his wits and on the fringes of the law. Indeed, he is even more dissolute than the character played by either Alain Delon or Matt Damon. He is sharing a seedy apartment with a window dresser (traditionally, a job done by gay men) where he spends his days sending out letters to unsuspecting victims in the name of the IRS demanding back tax payments.

When Dickie Greenleaf’s father approaches him with the proposal to go over to Italy to persuade his son to return to the U.S., Tom Ripley leaps at the opportunity since it would enable him to leave this sordid life of petty crime behind. After joining Dickie, Tom finds himself more and more drawn to the wealthy young man, to the point of trying on his clothes one day in secret. Matt Damon draws out all the homoerotic implications of this act, Delon less so.

Ripley is caught in the act, however, and humiliated by his social better — thus helping decide to take his eventual revenge. The scene is pivotal both to the American film (directed by the Briton Anthony Minghella) and Purple Noon. In Highsmith’s novel, the writing conveys what is beyond any movie to convey, once again establishing the priority of the written word as an art form. (The Marge referred to in the dialog is Dickie Greenleaf’s girlfriend.)

“What’re you doing?”

Tom whirled around. Dickie was in the doorway. Tom realized that he must have been right below at the gate when he had looked out. “Oh—just amusing myself,” Tom said in the deep voice he always used when he was embarrassed. “Sorry, Dickie.”

Dickie’s mouth opened a little, then closed, as if anger churned his words too much for them to be uttered. To Tom, it was just as bad as if he had spoken. Dickie advanced into the room.

“Dickie, I’m sorry if it—”

The violent slam of the door cut him off. Dickie began opening his shirt, scowling, just as he would have if Tom had not been there, because this was his room, and what was Tom doing in it? Tom stood petrified with fear.

“I wish you’d get out of my clothes,” Dickie said.

Tom started undressing, his fingers clumsy with his mortification, his shock, because up until now Dickie had always said wear this and wear that that belonged to him. Dickie would never say it again.

Dickie looked at Tom’s feet. “Shoes, too? Are you crazy?”

“No.” Tom tried to pull himself together as he hung up the suit, then he asked, “Did you make it up with Marge?”

“Marge and I are fine,” Dickie snapped in a way that shut Tom out from them. “Another thing I want to say, but clearly,” he said, looking at Tom, “I’m not queer. I don’t know if you have the idea that I am or not.”

“Queer?” Tom smiled faintly. “I never thought you were queer.”

Dickie started to say something else, and didn’t. He straightened up, the ribs showing in his dark chest. “Well, Marge thinks you are.”

“Why?” Tom felt the blood go out of his face. He kicked off Dickie’s second shoe feebly, and set the pair in the closet. “Why should she? What’ve I ever done?” He felt faint. Nobody had ever said it outright to him, not in this way.

“It’s just the way you act,” Dickie said in a growling tone, and went out the door.

Although Patricia Highsmith wrote almost exclusively about the homoerotic tensions between male characters, she knew the gay life from her own experience as a lesbian. Written under the pseudonym Clare Morgan, her 1952 The Price of Salt is the story of a love affair between two women based on her own coming out experience in New York. Along with Gore Vidal’s 1947 The City and the Pillar, it is an honest account of the gay experience and a breakthrough for American fiction.

Like Gore Vidal, Highsmith’s outsider sexual identity went hand in hand with outsider politics. As a student at Barnard College in New York City, Highsmith discovered an attraction for communism around the same time that she discovered an attraction for other women. As a native Texan, she found herself marching to the tune of a different drummer from an early age. Eventually, the contradictions of living in a society that was hostile to her political views and sexual identity became unbearable and she moved to France.

Despite working almost exclusively in the crime genre, Highsmith was not the typical pulp fiction author. In everything she wrote, there was an affinity with the more complex psychological novels that she studied as an undergraduate, including such favorites as Gide and Dostoevsky. Indeed, as one of the few openly gay novels of the 1920s, Gide’s The Counterfeiters had a major influence on Highsmith’s work. With a plot focused on forgery (Tom Ripley’s specialty) and its shifting identities — including the use of a pseudo-author — one can see how Gide’s masterpiece informed Highsmith’s work. Andrew Wilson’s very perceptive biography of Highsmith titled Beautiful Shadow: a Life of Patricia Highsmith makes this connection clear:

For Gide and for Highsmith, feelings, like love, were prone to the fantastical fluctuations. Highsmith’s protagonists bore witness to Gide’s theory, outlined at the end of The Counterfeiters, that emotions taken on as pretence, those which are feigned, can be felt as keenly as so-called ‘real’ feelings. Just as Gide uses the counterfeited gold coins to symbolise the notion of the fabricated personality, so Highsmith would work out elaborate plots featuring fakes and con-men in order to explore the mercurial fluidity of human identity.

It seems as if Highsmith used Gide’s novel as a blueprint for her writing; she reread it in late 1947, together with his journals and Corydon [four dialogues on homosexuality written in the spirit of Socrates] and looked to the character of Edouard as a kind of fiction-dised mentor figure. Like Edouard, Highsmith believed that reality did not exist unless she saw it reflected in her journal, while she also subscribed to his theory of depersonalisation, the ability of writers to negate their identities and take on the qualities of others. Such writerly empathy, Edouard states, ‘enables me to feel other people’s emotions as if they were my own’. Similarly, Highsmith, in her notebooks, often wrote about how her imagination provided her with inner experiences which were more ‘real’ than the actuality being played out around her. Although she was occasionally attacked for creating characters riddled with inconsistencies and illogicalities, Highsmith articulates the paradox of human nature: the irrationality of the civilised rational man. Gide, in The Counterfeiters, expressed another contradiction — the fact that in fiction one is often presented with men and women who behave in a logical fashion, while in real life it is common to meet people who behave irrationally.

With the advent of the 1960s radicalization, Patricia Highsmith became more outspoken on the issues tearing apart the United States. She opposed the war in Vietnam and took a keen interest in the plight of the Palestinians, as Andrew Wilson makes clear:

In an unpublished essay Highsmith wrote about the Middle East conflict in August 1992, she outlined the historical background that had formulated her position. When Israel was created — in May 1948, while Highsmith was at Yaddo, writing Strangers on the Train — following the withdrawal of the British, she remembers feeling optimistic about its future. ‘How happy and cheerful we all were then, gentiles and Jews alike!’ she wrote. ‘A new state had been born, and was therefore to be welcomed into the community of democracies.’ Yet soon after the state was formed — initially an area comprising of Jewish and Arab land, together with an internationally administered zone around Jerusalem — it was invaded by Arab forces, a move which in turn prompted Israeli troops to seize and gain control of three-quarters of Palestine. Highsmith was appalled at what she saw as Israeli brutality and insensitivity, remembering how some of her Palestinian friends were forced to flee their homeland. Since then, of course, the area has been the site of a series of complex, and increasingly violent, power struggles, yet from the beginning Highsmith aligned herself with other writers such as Gore Vidal, Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky and Edward W. Said, who believed in Palestinian self-determination. In December 1994, Highsmith nominated a collection of Said’s essays and talks, The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination 1969-1994, as her book of the year for the Times Literary Supplement, commenting that she thought him ‘both famous and ignored. His eloquence on the real issues makes America’s silence seem all the louder.’ Highsmith agreed with Said’s opinion that the alliance between Zionism and the United States had resulted in the continued displacement of Palestinians. As a result, she felt forced to take a stand, no matter how small. After the election of Menachem Begin as Prime Minister in 1977, Highsmith would not allow her books to be published in Israel. ‘I’m sure the world couldn’t care less, but it shows that not every American refuses to see what’s happening,’ she said. In interviews she told journalists that she loathed Ariel Sharon and the Likud party, and that she found America’s support of the Israeli regime to be despicable.

‘Americans and the world know that America gives so lavishly to Israel,’ she wrote, ‘because the United States wanted Israel as a strong military bulwark against Soviet Russia during the Cold War. Now that the Cold War is over, America has cut none of its aid . . . What is an American tax-payer to make of the fact that the USA gives thirteen million dollars a day, still, to Israel without any request for repayment? . . . I blame my own country for the majority of injustices now being inflicted by the Israelis in what they consider Greater Israel… I blame [the] American government for the bad press permitted about the Arabs in the United States.’

As someone who has written about spy genre novelists in the past for Swans (e.g., Eric Ambler’s A Coffin For Dimitrios and Alan Furst’s Red Gold), I am happy to recommend Patricia Highsmith’s crime genre novels to its readers. While a source of great entertainment, the crime novel has the distinction of being able to serve as commentary on the phenomenon described by Honoré de Balzac in Le Père Goriot: “behind every great fortune lies a great crime.”

Ernest Mandel, the great Belgian Marxist economist and Trotskyist politician, was a life-long fan of crime novels and took time off from his busy schedule to write Delightful Murder: a Social History of the Crime Story in 1984.

In the chapter titled Inward Diversification, Mandel treats the class detective story in which the hero (Sherlock Holmes, et al.) outwits the villain as a kind of parable on commodity production in the early competitive days of industrial capitalism:

With the arrival of monopoly capitalism, however, reason has more and more trouble triumphing over irrationality, particularly in the era of fascism. A Sherlock Holmes has little chance of coming out on top of a jackbooted SS member who would defy the law even when confronted by his guilt. To get to the top of the heap under such a system, having superior intelligence is insufficient. Instead you need cunning and determination, two qualities that typify Tom Ripley, the quintessential modern man.

The crime novelist of the monopoly capitalism epoch can even decide to subvert the norms of the genre by making the criminal rather than the detective the real hero. Indeed, Mandel points to Patricia Highsmith as best representing this category. In Ripley’s world, the criminal always comes out on top. Even if Tom Ripley achieves his goals through brutal violence and a talent for falsehood, he will be a mere piker in comparison to the men who have invaded Iraq and wrought the financial scams that have resulted in the forfeiture of millions of American homes. Unlike Ripley, who retains a raffish charm throughout the series of novels that bear his name, these criminals evoke nothing but disgust and a fervent desire to disarm them before they manage to destroy the planet.


January 16, 2016

Flint, Michigan and the Second Contradiction of Capitalism

Filed under: Ecology,economics,water — louisproyect @ 7:18 pm

In recent days Flint, Michigan has been in the news because the city’s water has not only become undrinkable but also hazardous for use in bathing or dishwashing. To save money, the cash-strapped city discontinued using nearby Detroit’s water supply in April 2014 that fed from Lake Huron and switched to the Flint River. Flint, like most of Michigan’s rust belt including Detroit, has lost tax revenue because the auto industry and most manufacturing began to go belly up in the 1970s.

Not long after the city began drawing water from the Flint River, residents began to complain about the foul smell and taste of the water. Scientists conducted a test and discovered that there were levels of lead that were dangerous to one’s health. The lead was not found in the Flint River itself but leached from the lead in pipelines that had corroded under the impact of the river’s excessively chloridated water, about 8 times as much as that found in Detroit’s and likely the result of road salts flowing into the river as well as the chlorine used for purification. To complicate matters, by interacting with the pipelines the chlorine had dissipated as part of a chemical reaction and lost its ability to suppress bacteria. Flint has had a spike in Legionnaire’s Disease, with ten fatalities since the switch. Undoubtedly there is a connection to this epidemic and water contamination.

Thus, the water had a double whammy of lead and toxic organisms.

As of last month, more than 43 people had elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream. Lead poisoning is a serious business. Not only is it painful, it can also lead to permanent brain damage—and ultimately to death. In the 1970s there were frequent reports about young children getting lead poisoning by eating paint chips in slum housing to slake their hunger.

City residents have been living under a Greek-style austerity regime ever since December 2011 presided over by “emergency managers” appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder. In 2014, the switch to Flint River was mandated by Darnell Early, an African-American and long-time Democrat. After leaving Flint in such dire straits, Early went on to his next job running Detroit’s school system. The city’s teachers have staged a series of “sickouts” to protest cutbacks in health coverage.

As another sign of Democratic Party dereliction of duty, the local EPA chief Susan Hedman learned about the contamination threat in February 2015 but failed to put it on the front burner until November. A Huffington Post article dated January 12th provides telling detail on the EPA’s role in the disaster. It appears that after an EPA whistle-blower named Miguel Del Toral released a report on the hazardous state of Flint’s water to a city resident, Hedman sought damage control rather than an emergency response. A phalanx of local officialdom assured the world that everything was okay:

City and state officials downplayed Del Toral’s report, and the EPA said it was only a draft that wasn’t supposed to be released. Brad Wurfel, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, told a local reporter in July that “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.” In August, department officials met with Flint residents — including Walters — and told them that Del Toral had been “handled” and that his report wouldn’t be finalized.

Although I’ve never been to Flint, I probably know more about the city than most people having read Sol Dollinger’s “Not Automatic” and having interviewed him about doing political work in the city alongside his wife Genora in the 1940s and 50s.

Sol’s book was a chronicle of the Flint sit-down strike of 1937 in which Genora played a key role as organizer of the women’s auxiliary that fought the cops in a famous pitched battle outside the GM plant gates. As she recounted in an oral history session with Susan Rosenthal in 1995, Flint was as poverty-stricken in 1937 as it is today:

Conditions in Flint before the strike were very, very depressing for working people. We had a large influx of workers come into the city from the deep South. They came north to find jobs, because there was no work back home. They came with their furniture strapped on old jalopies and they’d move into the cheapest housing that they could find. Usually these were just little one- or two-room structures with no inside plumbing and no inside heating arrangements. They just had kerosene heaters to heat their wash water, their bath water, and their homes. You could smell kerosene all over their clothing. They were very poor.

Another important source of knowledge about Flint comes from Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me”, his first film and by far his best. It begins by recounting his father’s job on the assembly line making a good union wage that was made possible by the 1937 strike that the film includes footage from. Whether or not Moore also credited FDR’s New Deal as well, I cannot remember at this point but there is little doubt that as Moore became more of an establishment figure that is certainly how he saw the “good years” of the 1950s—a product of workers struggles and FDR’s taking on the fat cats. What is missing in Moore’s analysis and that of the Democratic Party left that remains nostalgic for the New Deal is an understanding of how capitalism works.

Flint collapsed not because GM boss Roger Smith was a bad guy or because Ronald Reagan became president but because the auto industry became unprofitable. Capital flows where profits can be made. To think that Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Pittsburgh or any other of these rust belt cities can return to the “good old days” is utopian capitalism, to coin a phrase.

This is not to say that we should not single out Republicans for being evil bastards. This Rick Snyder, who gained his wealth as a venture capitalist, is about as bad as they come. He supports open shop legislation, which would have the effect of undermining what’s left of the organized labor movement in Michigan. He is also hostile to abortion rights and blocked same-sex couples from sharing health benefits as do married couples enjoy (a right that “radicals” opposed to gay marriage fail to appreciate.) His last “accomplishment” was banning Syrian refugees from Michigan.

Although he never wrote about Flint specifically, I could not help but think of James O’Connor as I read about the water crisis over the past few days. Now 85, O’Connor has dropped out of sight over the past fifteen years at least, attributable to advancing years and a host of health problems as I understand it. That is too bad because he certainly would have a lot to say about what is going on the USA today, just as much as David Harvey, Naomi Klein, or any other critic of the capitalist system if not more so.

I got to know O’Connor a bit in the late 90s when he was a subscriber to PEN-L. We exchanged friendly emails from time to time that led to him inviting me to write an article about David Harvey for the journal “Capitalism, Nature and Socialism” at the time. Probably a mistake for him to extend the invitation and me for accepting it since I find writing on the Internet much less problematic.

In any case, despite my angry response to him nixing the article, I remain influenced by his writings and urge younger comrades not familiar with his work to look into them since they remain as relevant as ever, especially his theory of the “second contradiction of capitalism” that can be read in “Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Socialism” online.

O’Connor describes what is happening around the country with alacrity:

Examples of capitalist accumulation impairing or destroying capital’s own conditions, hence threatening its own profits and capacity to produce and accumulate more capital, are many and varied. The warming of the atmosphere will inevitably destroy people, places, and profits, not to speak of other species life. Acid rain destroys forests and lakes and buildings and profits alike. Salinization of water tables, toxic wastes, and soil erosion impair nature and profitability. The pesticide treadmill destroys profits as well as nature. Urban capital running on an ((urban renewal treadmill” impairs its own conditions, hence profits, for example, in the form of congestion costs and high rents.’ The decrepit state of the physical infrastructure in the United States may also be mentioned in this connection.

The first contradiction is generated by the tendency for capitalism to expand. The system cannot exist in stasis such as precapitalist modes of productions such as feudalism. A capitalist system that is based on what Marx calls “simple reproduction” and what many greens call “maintenance” is an impossibility. Unless there is a steady and increasing flow of profits into the system, it will die. Profit is the source of new investment which in turn fuels technological innovation and, consequently, ever-increasing replacement of living labor by machinery. Profit is also generated through layoffs, speedup and other more draconian measures.

However, according to O’Connor, as capital’s power over labor increases, there will be a contradictory tendency for profit in the capitalist system as a whole to decrease. This first contradiction of capital then can be defined as what obtains “when individual capitals attempt to defend or restore profits by increasing labor productivity, speeding up work, cutting wages, and using other time-honored ways of getting more production from fewer workers.” The unintended result is that the worker’s loss in wages reduces the final demand for consumer commodities as is obviously borne out by the closing of Wal-Mart stores all around the world this week.

This first contradiction of capital is widespread throughout the United States and the other capitalist countries today. No amount of capitalist maneuvering can mitigate the effects of this downward spiral. Attempts at global management of the problem are doomed to fail since the nation-state remains the instrument of capitalist rule today, no matter how many articles appear in postmodernist venues about “globalization”.

The second contradiction of capital arises out of the problems the system confronts in trying to maintain what Marx called the “conditions of production”. The “conditions of production” require three elements: human labor power which Marx called the “personal conditions of production”, environment which he termed “natural or external conditions of productions” and urban infrastructure, the “general, communal conditions of production”.

All three of these “conditions of productions” are being undermined by the capitalist system itself. The form this takes is conceived in an amorphous and fragmented manner as the environmental crisis, the urban crisis, the education crisis, etc. When these problems become generalized, they threaten the viability of capitalism since they continue to raise the cost of clean air and water, raw materials, infrastructure, etc.

During the early and middle stages of capitalism, the satisfaction of the “conditions of production” were hardly an issue since there was apparently an inexhaustible source of natural resources and the necessary space to build factories, etc. As capitalism reaches its latter phase in the twentieth century, the problems deepen until they reach crisis proportions. At this point, capitalist politicians and ideologues start raising a public debate about the urban and environmental crisis (which are actually interconnected).

What they don’t realize is that these problems are rooted in the capitalist system itself and are constituted as what O’Connor calls the “second contradiction”. He says, “Put simply, the second contradiction states that when individual capitals attempt to defend or restore profits by cutting or externalizing costs, the unintended effect is to reduce the ‘productivity’ of the conditions of production and hence to raise average costs.”

Pesticides in agriculture at first lower, then ultimately increase costs as pests become more chemical-resistant and as the chemicals poison the soil. In Sweden permanent-yield monoforests were expected to keep costs down, but the loss of biodiversity has reduced the productivity of forest ecosystems and the size of the trees themselves. A final example is nuclear power that was supposed to reduce energy costs but had the opposite effect.

If capitalism were a rational system, it would restructure the conditions of production in such a way as to increase their productivity. The means of doing this is the state itself. The state would, for example, ban cars in urban areas, develop non-toxic pest controls and launch public health programs based on preventative medicine.

Efforts such as these would have to be heavily capitalized. However, competition between rival capitalisms, engendered through the pressures of the “first contradiction” (in other words, the need to expand profits while the buying power of a weakened working-class declines), destroys the possibility for such public investment. As such possibilities decline, the public infrastructure and the natural environment continue to degrade. Each successive stage of degradation in turn raises the cost of production.

What Engels observed in the “Great Towns of England” was an acute crisis based on the Second Contradiction of capitalism. Places like Manchester were becoming uninhabitable due to the necessity of capital to maximize profits without being ready to make the commitment to defend the conditions of the reproduction of capital itself: clean water, fresh air, public health, education, etc.

England, Germany, the United States and Japan of course made great headway in the twentieth century in resolving these types of contradictions at the expense of the colonized world. While the air and water of Manchester may have became *relatively cleaner*, the air and water of Calcutta worsened as the satanic mills of England migrated overseas.

And just as conditions in Flint in 1937, based on the First Contradiction of Capitalism, created the sit-down strike, so will the Second Contradiction lead to protests today. When the stakes were a living wage in 1937; the stakes of living—period—are even greater today:

January 15, 2016

Starvation is infidel

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:34 pm

NY Times, Jan. 14, 2016

In Syrian Town Cut Off From the World, Glimpses of Deprivation

“We don’t eat in the morning. We save the food until evening,” he explained. By food, he referred mainly to water, spices and sometimes grass. “But nowadays there is no more grass,” Hamoudi lamented. “The whole area is covered with snow, and some of the grass is bitter.”

When a donkey was slaughtered, he took home a few ounces of meat, though eating it is prohibited by Islam.

“Starvation is infidel,” he explained. “There is no more halal and haram,” he added, referring to religiously permitted and prohibited foods. “We’re eating everything.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 9.32.19 AM

January 14, 2016

What’s at issue in the siege of Madaya: Mass starvation, or a few fake pics?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:02 pm

Source: What’s at issue in the siege of Madaya: Mass starvation, or a few fake pics?

January 13, 2016

David Gibbs on Srebrenica

Filed under: Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 11:24 pm

David Gibbs

In the latest issue of Class, Race and Corporate Power, a scholarly and eclectically leftist open access journal launched by Ronald Cox in 2013, there is an article by David Gibbs titled How the Srebrenica Massacre Redefined US Foreign Policy that generated some interesting feedback from a wide range of scholars, including Kees van der Pijl. Gibbs responds to his interlocutors here.

When I first heard about these exchanges, I fully expected an angry attack from  people such as Marko Atilla Hoare who wrongly accused Gibbs of being a genocide denier in an underhanded campaign that was the subject of a 2011 post on this blog. As it turns out, the commentary was civil and thoughtful even when it took a position at odds with the article.

In essence Gibbs argues that the killing of 8,000 Muslim residents of Srebrenica was certainly a war crime but not a genocide, an analysis I agree with. In general, I find Gibbs’s scholarship on the Balkan Wars to be informed, cogent and well-researched as I indicated in a 2009 review of his First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Indeed at the time I was taking the Serb side to such a degree that some of Gibbs’s more critical statements about Milosevic got me hot under the collar. While I would not disown anything I wrote about the Balkan Wars, I certainly would be much more open to the arguments of the other side. Specifically, I had a tendency to demonize the Muslims because of the presence of foreign fighters. For me, fighting against the Russians in Afghanistan was prima facie evidence of being on the side of the Devil. But if there is anything I have learned from five years of writing about Syria, it is the need to avoid Islamophobic demagogy of the sort found in both electronic and print media from a cast of thousands.

Gibbs’s article is very much reading in its entirety but one passage really made me realize once again how the truth is the first casualty in war:

The idea that genocide was occurring seems to have originated with the issue of Serb-run detention centers in Bosnia, which housed Muslim and Croat prisoners, where major atrocities and abuses undoubtedly occurred. Beginning in 1992, the Bosnian government promoted the idea that these detention centers were Nazi-style extermination camps, similar to Auschwitz or Treblinka. New York’s Newsday helped publicize the idea of Serb extermination camps. In reality, the detention camp atrocities had been deliberately exaggerated by the Bosnian government, and President Izetbegović confessed this exaggeration shortly before his death, in a 2003 interview with former French official Bernard Kouchner. This confession was later reported in Kouchner’s memoirs:

Kouchner: You claimed the existence in Bosnia of “extermination camps.” You repeated this journalists… [Kouchner then notes he visited one of the main camps.] Conditions there were terrible but there was no systematic extermination. Did you know this?

Izetbegović: Yes, I thought the claims would help trigger a bombing campaign by the Western powers… I tried but my claims were false. There were no extermination camps in Bosnia, even though conditions were terrible. [emphasis added]

This exchange resonated with me especially since the anti-Baathist town of Madaya is now literally being starved into submission. Stephen Lendman, a supporter of the dictatorship in Damascus, writes that Syrian rebels are killing any of the townspeople trying to escape–a totally fabricated business not even cropping up on RT.com. While I would be the last person to describe what is happening in Syria as genocidal, I do know mass murder when I see it. I also know that things have reached a grievous state on the left when people speaking in its name can simply make things up to defend their support for the Syrian dictatorship that uses the same “anti-al Qaeda” rhetoric I used from time to time in the late 1990s.

With respect both to Lendman’s yellow journalism and Izetbegović’s cynical use of the big lie, the left has to draw a line over the need for journalistic integrity. It is a slippery slope from bending (or breaking) the truth and becoming a hired gun for any state pursuing a narrow path of self-aggrandizement as the sorry history of the USSR would indicate. When people like Lendman (and those with a much more elevated status such as Slavoj Zizek) can so easily write lies, we are in trouble.

Let me turn to some comments made by Jean Bricmont, the Belgian physicist who collaborated with Alan Sokal in a book that basically expands on the famous Sokal hoax. One of Bricmont’s other avocations besides trashing postmodernism is promoting the reputation of dictators who are regarded as enemies of the West, a stance that I was far too accommodating to in my pro-Serb phase. Bricmont complains that Gibbs cedes far too much to the other side of the debate, an error in his eyes that objectively suits the needs of the imperialist war-machine. He writes:

As Gibbs points out, the Srebrenica myth has been a standard pretext for justifying US attacks against one country after another. It was used against Serbia to detach the province of Kosovo, where a huge US military base was immediately installed. It was cited to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was used in Libya to kill the country’s leader and destroy the country. It is currently being used to justify efforts to overthrow the government of Syria.

The idea that the USA is trying to overthrow the government of Syria is widely accepted on the left, probably even by Ronald Cox and David Gibbs. However, the truth is that Obama never had George W. Bush “regime change” ambitions.

In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.” In other words, the White House policy was and is allowing the Baathists and the rebels to exhaust each other in an endless war, just as was White House policy during the Iran-Iraq conflict.

In conclusion let me say a word or two about how I went through an attitude adjustment that led me to break with the “anti-imperialist” mindset of people like Jean Bricmont. During the war in Kosovo, I was contacted by a 1960s radical named Jared Israel who had been a leader of the Progressive Labor Party wing of SDS called the Worker Student Alliance. After years of inactivity, Israel had been stirred into partisan journalism on behalf of Milosevic. For obvious reasons, Israel saw me as a kindred spirit and sought my advice on how to spread the word.

I suggested that he start a website (these were the days before the blog had been invented) to promote his views. The fruit of that suggestion was something called the Emperor’s Clothes that had the same relationship to the Serb cause that CounterPunch or Global Research have to the Baathists today. What Jared Israel and people like Mike Whitney had in common was a visceral Islamophobia that was actually a counterpart to what Christopher Hitchens was writing in 2004 except on behalf of the Kremlin rather than the White House.

Not long after the war in Kosovo wound down, Jared Israel took up a new cause—the war on the Chechens who he regarded as a jihadist threat to the peace-loving and diversity-minded Russian people. When I heard this nonsense, I began to rethink my positions immediately since I regarded Putin as a malevolent figure dedicated to enriching himself and his cronies no matter who got in the way—Russian reporters or people living in Grozny being bombed into oblivion.

I felt vindicated in my course redirection when about a year later, Jared Israel’s Islamophobia went full-tilt boogie. He became an ardent Zionist and began writing for ultraright Israeli newspapers since it was obvious to him that the Muslims wanted to exterminate the Jews. To my knowledge, Jared Israel has since retired from political life—a benefit to himself and to the rest of humanity to say the least.

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