Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 31, 2017

Don’t take your guns to town

Filed under: Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 6:35 pm

After writing a CounterPunch article last Friday on the black bloc and Richard Spencer getting suckered punched, I thought I had said everything that needed to be said about counterproductive ultraleft tactics but an article by Eric Ruder in the ISO newspaper convinced me otherwise.

Titled “How we made Montana Nazis back down”, Ruder explains how the left organized against a January 17th march in honor of James Earl Ray, the racist who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., that was to be held in Whitefish, Montana where Richard Spencer lives part-time and that was a project of Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the openly neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

The neo-Nazis called off their march for a variety of reasons but primarily because they realized that there was massive opposition in rural Montana and particularly within the town of Whitefish itself that despite its “red state” aura had been mobilizing against such groups for a long time.

I urge you to read Ruder’s entire article but want to call attention to something I found pretty disturbing:

Montana is an open-carry state. Consequently, when antifascist forces started talking about armed direct action, it created a real sense of panic. As I repeatedly explained to them in long-distance midnight calls, these antifascists had not laid any groundwork in introducing, much less, explaining themselves or their tactics. I could easily envision a confrontation between armed Nazis on one side and armed non-local anarchists on the other. Obviously, that would have been an unbelievable disaster in every respect.

The last time there was a confrontation between armed leftists and armed ultrarightists in the USA, the results were an “unbelievable disaster”. I am very glad that Eric and the ISO were on the spot to defend a mass action perspective and persuade the anarchist comrades to avoid such tactics.

In fact, it was not anarchists that came out on the losing end of a past confrontation. The victims were self-described Marxists of the Communist Workers Party—a Maoist sect that was founded in 1973 as the Asian Study Group by Jerry Tung, a former member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). When I was a member of CISPES in the early 80s, I worked alongside an African-American CWPer named Ron Ashford who frankly admitted that they had made a terrible mistake by bring guns to an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.

Another Maoist group named the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective that I know nothing about wrote an analysis of what went wrong that I urge you to read on the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line  (ie. Maoist) section of the Marxism Internet Archives.

On November 3, 1979 members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the name of the group at the time, had gathered near a predominantly Black housing project for a “Death to the Klan” rally. At 11:20 a caravan of cars and trucks filled with Klan members came driving by slowly. As the vehicles passed by, CWP members began beating them with sticks obviously spoiling for a fight. The Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson article described what happened next:

Meanwhile the Klansmen and Nazis pile out of their cars; some of them wave handguns in the air and then begin shooting into the milling crowd of demonstrators. Other Klansmen get rifles and shotguns from the van and the trunk of a car and begin firing into the crowd. A few WVO members have small handguns. While the onlookers, press and some WVO members have taken cover by this time, a number of WVO members make no attempt to take cover even though they are heavily outgunned. The Klan is able to fire repeatedly into this group of WVO members with high powered rifles and shotguns at distances of several yards or less.

Four CWP members died that day, and another a few days later. Others were wounded. Meanwhile, the police arrested two CWP’ers for inciting to riot and interfering with the police.

The CWP chose tactics just as inappropriate to the struggle in the period leading up to this disaster. On July 8th, the Klan, which was trying to build up a following in this part of North Carolina after the fashion of the alt-right in Whitefish, was showing the pro-KKK film “Birth of a Nation” in China Grove, a town not far from Greensboro. The Maoists launched a surprise attack on the screening and sent the Klan scattering. Afterwards, the CWP’ers returned triumphantly to their cars, got their guns, and marched up and down the streets of the small town.

Bob Avakian’s RCP cult-sect was operating in the area as well, competing with Tung’s group for who could come up with more adventurist tactics. When four of their members showed up to confront 50 or more KKK’ers at a library exhibit about the Klan in nearby Winston-Salem, the cops narrowly prevented another massacre. The people who went on to form the Cabral/Robeson collective had been in the RCP at the time. The library confrontation made them decide to leave the group after witnessing “the utter degeneration of the RCP into a band of ultra-left idiots”, something that led them to decide that “the struggle we had been waging to correct its line from the inside for almost a year was hopeless.”

In March, 1979 the CWP began building a “Death to the Klan” conference in Greensboro by passing out this leaflet. Get their proclamation about being opposed to both non-violence and racism, as if the two were equally evil? Sheer madness:

We are against Non-Violence and Racism and for Armed Self-Defense. We should beat the hell out of the Klan wherever we find them! These Dogs have no right to exist! The Klan has no support among the people, only hatred and disgust. In China Grove, the People, helped by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, drove the scum Klansmen into a building and burned their Confederate Flag before their eyes.

Summing up the Greensboro massacre, the Cabral/Robeson Collective wrote words that should be uppermost in the mind of anybody foolish enough to consider emulating the November 3rd disaster:

November 3rd and the sequence of events leading up to it was an exercise in “left” adventurist suicide. Entranced by their fantasies of themselves as revolutionary heroes, the WVO engaged in a wild escapade that was just as successful in achieving their own murders as if they had set out with that purpose in mind. In fact, many people in the Black community as well as the press have raised the possibility that the WVO leadership did have in mind achieving the murder of some of their members either in order to gain publicity or because some of the leaders were police agents.

While I am the last person to urge following Lenin’s party in a dogmatic fashion, it is useful to consider how they dealt with the Black Hundreds, which arguably was the very first fascist organization of the 20th century. This Czarist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and clerical party was very much in the mold of Italian and German fascism even if it made no effort to adopt “national socialist” rhetoric. They had a militia called the Yellow Shirts that anticipated the Brown and Black shirts of Italy and Germany.

It should be noted, by the way, that the Black Hundreds were vehemently anti-Ukrainian and were just as prone to breaking up meetings of Ukrainian cultural associations as in organizing pogroms against the Jews. It is no coincidence that a newly formed Black Hundreds group exists in Eastern Ukraine, holding rallies that denounce Jews and call for the reestablishment of the Czarist Empire.

Is there any indication that the Russian Social Democracy, either the Bolshevik or Menshevik factions, ever formed militias to take on the Yellow Shirts in the way that the CWP took on the KKK? I invite you to check the Marxist Internet Archives, where you will find nearly zero evidence of that. The Russian Social Democracy fought the Black Hundreds politically in the same way that the good people of Whitefish, Montana took on the alt-right except when the objective conditions had ripened to the point of open revolutionary struggle. In 1905, which was a dress rehearsal for 1917, the socialists of Borisoglebsk circulated a leaflet that stated it was: “starting a subscription for the organisation of armed self-defence, and invites all those whose sympathies do not lie with the government and the Black Hundreds to help in the organisation of self-defence groups with money and arms.”

Of course, those who are operating under the illusion that 2017 USA is similar to Russia in 1905 might try the same approach. However, if you can’t tell the difference between the first month and the ninth month of a pregnancy, you are likely to end up with an abortion.

Speaking of yellow, black and brown shirts, we had a group in the USA during the 1930s that was called the Silver Shirts in homage to the fascist groups that preceded it.

In chapter eleven of “Teamster Politics”, SWP leader Farrell Dobbs recounts “How the Silver Shirts Lost Their Shrine in Minneapolis”. It is the story of how the Trotskyist-led Local 544 of the Teamsters union defended itself successfully from a fascist expedition into the city. Elements of the Twin Cities ruling-class, alarmed over the growth of industrial unionism in the city, called in Silver Shirt organizer Roy Zachary. Zachary hosted two closed door meetings on July 29 and August 2 of 1938. Teamster “moles” discovered that Zachary intended to launch a vigilante attack against Local 544 headquarters. They also discovered that Zachary planned to work with one F.L. Taylor to set up an “Associated Council of Independent Unions”, a union-busting operation. Taylor had ties to a vigilante outfit called the “Minnesota Minute Men”.

Local 544 took serious measures to defend itself. It formed a union defense guard in August 1938 open to any active union member. Many of the people who joined had military experience, including Ray Rainbolt the elected commander of the guard. Rank-and-filers were former sharpshooters, machine gunners and tank operators in the US Army. The guard also included one former German officer with WWI experience. While the guard itself did not purchase arms except for target practice, nearly every member had hunting rifles at home that they could use in the circumstance of a Silver Shirt attack.

Events reached a climax when Pelley came to speak at a rally in the wealthy section of Minneapolis.

Ray Rainbolt organized a large contingent of defense guard members to pay a visit to Calhoun Hall where Pelley was to make his appearance. The powerful sight of disciplined but determined unionists persuaded the audience to go home and Pelley to cancel his speech.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the defense guard members had left their guns at home.

January 29, 2017

Divided We Fall

Filed under: Film,financial crisis,trade unions,ultraright,Wisconsin,workers — louisproyect @ 9:03 pm

If victorious strikes by teamsters in Minneapolis in 1934, by San Francisco dockworkers the same year and auto workers three years later in Flint define the rise of the American working class as a powerful force to be reckoned with, three confrontations between labor and capital in our lifetime mark its retreat.

In 1981 Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 airline controllers who had gone out on strike as a signal that the partnership between labor and capital was a thing of the past. Four years later, the meatpacking workers organized as P-9 struck Hormel in an effort to maintain the good-paying jobs with generous benefits that were seen as essential for a decent middle-class existence. With the defeat of P-9, jobs at Hormel and other meatpacking jobs became non-union, low-paying and dangerous with a predominantly immigrant workforce made up in large part of vulnerable undocumented workers.

While not a strike as such, the union-led struggle in Madison, Wisconsin of 2011 was launched to prevent teachers and other public service employees from being “Hormelized”. When Governor Scott Walker introduced a bill in January of that year that would cut wages, benefits and eliminate dues checkoff—a mechanism that is essential to keeping a union functioning in a closed shop environment—over 100,000 people took part in a “kill the bill” movement that adopted many of the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street movement that erupted a couple of months later.

For those not old enough to have bitter memories of the P-9 strike, I recommend tracking down Barbara Kopple’s 1990 film “American Dream” that unfortunately is nowhere to be seen on VOD but that can be borrowed as a DVD from better libraries, such as Columbia University’s. Kopple is also the director of “Harlan County, USA”, another documentary about labor struggles, in that case a 1973 strike by coal miners in the legendary pro-union county that voted 8-1 for Donald Trump in November.

Kopple has declined in recent years, stooping so low as to make a documentary about Woody Allen in 1997 and following up with a docudrama about the Hamptons in 2002 that was a Yankee version of British soap operas like Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey.

Fortunately for us, a new Barbara Kopple has emerged, namely Katherine M. Acosta, the sociologist and obviously politically advanced director of “Divided We Fall”, a film about the Wisconsin labor struggle that I had the good fortune to watch yesterday. For now, the film has not found a distributor and hopefully this review will inspire some enterprising party to invest in this film that is equal to Kopple at her best and moreover a story that demands the attention of everybody trying to understand how we have ended up with an orange-haired baboon in the White House determined to throw us back to the 1880s. Essentially, the defeat of the public workers struggle in Wisconsin involved all of the players and all of the contradictions that led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the nightmare we are now living with.

Even if you’ve read every article about the Wisconsin struggle as it was unfolding in 2011, nothing comes close to seeing exactly how young people and workers rallied to the capitol building to put their bodies on the line to oppose Scott Walker’s anti-labor assault that was as calculated a bid to destroy organized labor that year as Reagan’s firing of the airline controllers was in 1985.

Acosta draws from a wide variety of interviewees, from relatively lowly teaching assistants at the U. of Wisconsin, including FB friend Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, who is a brilliant Marxist analyst in her own right, to sociology professor Rahul Mahajan, who I first ran into in the mid-90s as a graduate student on the list that would evolve into Marxmail. Rahul is witty, wise and as informed in class analysis as Wrigley-Field. So, with people like that in the front ranks of the occupation of the capitol building and in strategy meetings, what could have gone wrong? The title of the film says it all. The movement was divided and as such bound to fail.

There were basically three blocs involved within the workers’ camp but each with its own priorities. Those closest to the student movement like Wrigley-Field and Mahajan were revolutionaries, to put it bluntly. They saw the fight against Scott Walker in exactly the same way that Farrell Dobbs saw the fight to organize truck drivers in 1934, as the first step in building a new (in this instance, renewed) labor movement that could fight effectively for the interests of workers in general and lead ultimately to a transformation of American society.

In the middle were union officials at the local level who had to stand up for the rights of their membership, those people who would be forced to pay more for health insurance and face wage stagnation. Like the average member, the officials had a class status just one step above precarity. Losing a job as a clerical worker in an AFSCME union could plunge some into penury and worse. The officials often came directly out of that social layer and knew what was at stake.

The head of AFSCME, who was led off in handcuffs toward the end of the film, was Marty Beil. Beil, who died two years ago, was a bear of a man with Michael Moore’s physique (or lack thereof) who understood the importance of AFSCME better than the top officials in Washington. Formed in Wisconsin in 1932, AFSCME was the first and foremost organizer of predominantly white collar clerical government jobs even though it grew to include firefighters. It is of some interest that Beil’s first job was as a probation and parole officer, not exactly the sort of position that you would associate with labor militancy. As the film makes clear, the police presence at the capitol building was initially drawn from campus and local cops who were much more sympathetic to the struggle, even to the point of marching in support. Such contradictions might vex those addicted to Marxist schemas but one that the film skillfully engages with especially as these cops were replaced by state troopers who had no use for workers at all.

Another powerful presence from the local labor movement was John Matthews, the president of the city’s public schoolteacher’s union who combines a soft-spoken Midwest speaking style with a willingness to openly confront the national leadership of his union. These big shots parachuted into Madison and stayed at a luxury hotel, where they mapped out a strategy to settle the strike on terms favorable to Scott Walker.

For reasons probably having something to do with being reluctant to defend their role in in Acosta’s film, they are not heard from. But you don’t need to hear from AFSCME president Gerald McEntee to know what agenda he would follow in Madison. In 2009, McEntee was being paid $480,000 per year. When you make that kind of money, plus fringe benefits such as staying at Madison’s best hotel on the membership’s dime, you tend to lose track of the sort of class antagonisms that drove the average worker to rise up.

Another problem was the reliance on Democratic Party “friends of labor” who were just as eager as McEntee to deescalate the struggle in Madison and get things back to normal, even as they were giving speeches in support of the unions and in working to undermine Republican attempts to steamroll through Walker’s legislation.

If the film consisted of nothing but talking heads, it would still be worth watching, particularly to hear from Wrigley-Field, Mahajan and other radical students and professors at the U. of Wisconsin. But beyond that, Acosta was present throughout the occupation directing her film crew to capture the Occupy Wall Street type drama of those sitting in. That footage combined with the commentary by people involved with the struggle make up for an unforgettable movie experience that screams out for nationwide distribution.

The film makes clear that occupy type tactics could only go so far. The Republicans had a majority in the state legislative bodies and would ultimately prevail. Of course, the real question is why a shit-hook like Scott Walker could ever become governor of a progressive state like Wisconsin.

Once the occupation ran out of steam (helped along by “kettling” tactics by the state troopers), the trade union officials and Democrats thought that the answer was to replace Walker. Instead of considering ways to block the legislation by either a general strike (probably an over-projection by some leftists) or guerrilla tactics in the workplace like “sick-outs” or working by the rule, all the energy went into the recall campaign.

But the recall was to no avail. Walker was reelected. Why?

He was reelected because he was to Donald Trump as his Democratic Party opponent Tom Barrett was to Hillary Clinton. Walker had defeated Barrett in 2010 and by even more votes in the 2012 recall election. This has to do with Barrett running exactly the same kind of campaign as Clinton, one geared to the “swing voter” and careful to avoid any association with trade unions, sit-ins and the like.

But looking past the Wisconsin context, which the film understandably did not try to address, I would suggest that there was an important element that militated against success. As the film’s title implies, there were problems of being divided—but not just within the labor movement but in the Wisconsin population as a whole. Seen as benefiting from Democratic Party largesse, the taxpayers felt that these unions were a privileged layer. If Wisconsin was facing a fiscal crisis, why shouldn’t teachers et al not have to “chip in” to bail out the state?

The fiscal crisis, of course, was rooted in a system that included “starving the beast”. State budgets were in the red because taxes kept being cut. If the Democratic Party had stood up to the rich, returned tax rates to what they were under Eisenhower, pushed through single-payer health insurance and stood up for the rights of homeowners who had been devastated by the subprime meltdown of 2008, maybe the voters would have been more motivated to back the Democrats. This would have required a total transformation of the labor movement that might yet be in the offing as we sail into the stormy seas facing us over the next four years. As Harriet Rowan, one of the politically astute graduate students interviewed in the film, put it toward the end of the film, we can’t wait for the leadership to catch up with the people.

 

 

January 27, 2017

The Politics of a Punch: Richard Spencer and the Black Bloc

Filed under: black bloc idiots,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

The Politics of a Punch: Richard Spencer and the Black Bloc

Unless you do not own a computer or have been in a coma for the past week, you are probably aware of alt-right leader Richard Spencer getting punched in the face by a man dressed in black bloc garb. For a beleaguered left, this became as inspirational as the appearance of a silhouette of Jesus on the sidewalk created by bucket of paint dropped accidentally from the top floor of a building under construction would be for Christians. In either case, there is little connection between overcoming the evils of capitalism or Satan but it matters little to those desperately in search of a victory.

One of those believers is Natasha Lennard who wrote an article for The Nation breathlessly announcing “Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer Got Punched—You Can Thank the Black Bloc”. For Lennard, the punch was a “transcendental experience”, akin to watching Roger Federer. Not being a tennis fan, it is a bit hard for me to relate to this. Maybe if she said it was like watching Muhammad Ali deck Joe Frazier, it would have had more resonance but Spencer hardly seemed worse off 15 seconds after the punch.

Lennard was not only a reporter; she was a participant in a black bloc action that consisted of 500 people, the largest she bragged since the antiwar protests ten years ago. I suppose if the USA had the same population as Iceland, this might have been impressive. I admit that if the goal is to run around in black clothes and break windows that number might count for something. Leonard describes the experience as if it were akin to a Sufi ceremony rather than a political protest: “You don’t know who does what in a bloc, you don’t look to find out. If bodies run out of formation to take a rock to a Starbucks window, they melt back to the bloc in as many seconds. Bodies reconciled, kinetic beauty.” Bodies reconciled, kinetic beauty? I hate to sound like an old stick in the mud but knocking over a trash can happens all the time in my neighborhood as drunken 24-year old Ivy League graduates pour out of sports bars late Saturday night.

Read full article

January 25, 2017

Is George Soros promoting a color revolution against Donald Trump?

Filed under: conspiracism,Soros — louisproyect @ 8:18 pm

George Soros

Recently one of the trolls who visits my website on occasion presented a rather unique interpretation of why the Kasama Project came to an end, differing with my analysis that it was a surfeit of Maoist sectarianism that was the cause.

Interestingly, the site flded [sic] quickly after the trolls began making connection between Kasama, BLM and George Soros. It’s interesting to note Kasama’s involvement with Occupy which is another Soros project. This helps to confirm the trolls assertion that Kasama (and RCP) are Soros fronts.

Could Occupy Wall Street have been a “Soros project”? Well, the first thing that came up when I googled Soros and Occupy Wall Street was an article in RT.com titled “Is George Soros behind Occupy Wall Street?” dated October 14, 2011 and strongly implying that the answer was yes. Meanwhile, Russia Insider went one step further. It published an article titled “George Soros: The Ugly Face Behind Many Protest Movements” that posed the question:

What do the “Arab Spring”, the “Maidan Protests”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Occupy Wall Street”, “Open Borders” and many other movements have in common? George Soros.

Further research revealed that among the other schemes Soros has hatched deep within the bowels of his Open Society, which for websites such as Russia Insider assumes the character of the villain’s lair in a James Bond movie, is the protests that took place in the USA on January 21. It was, as conspiracist Michel Chossudovsky par excellence put it, a “colored revolution”. He repeats the arguments of the Russian Insider as if they had been written by the same person:

What is at stake is a “color revolution” Made in America which is marked by fundamental rivalries within the US establishment, namely the clash between competing corporate factions, each of which is intent upon exerting control over the incoming US presidency.

The OTPOR-CANVAS-CIA model is nonetheless relevant. Several foundations involved in funding color revolutions internationally are involved in funding the anti-Trump campaign.

Moreover, while CANVAS’ mandate is to oversee “color revolutions” internationally, it also has links with a number of NGOs currently involved in the anti-Trump campaign including The Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS). OWS launched by Adbusters was funded via the Tides Foundation which in turn is funded by a number of corporate foundations and charities, including the Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation and the Open Society Institute. Ford is known to have historical links to US intelligence.

Iran’s PressTV was in sync with Professor Chossudovsky and Russian Insider. They ran an article titled “Soros orchestrating color revolution against Trump: Analyst” that began “Jewish business magnate George Soros has orchestrated a ‘color revolution’ against US President-elect Donald Trump, says an American political analyst, pointing to nationwide anti-Trump protests as evidence.” Very important to get that “Jewish” thing going on except most of these types of commentaries are a bit more discreet about their anti-Semitism like when RT.com published an article about a trip Soros made to the Ukraine: “Soros, born György Schwartz in Hungary, fled in the 1940s for the UK and later became an American citizen.” How can anybody trust someone with a name like György Schwartz, I tell you.

The “analyst” referred to in the PressTV article is one E. Michael Jones, the editor of Culture Wars Magazine, who asserted: “What we are seeing here now is George Soros once again intervening in the internal politics of the United States by creating a color revolution.” Wow, very radical. Succumbing to my insatiable curiosity, I visited Culture Wars Magazine and learned that it is behind a publishing company called Fidelity that includes titles by Jones and like-minded deep thinkers. One by Jones is titled “The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and Its Impact on World History” that according to one sympathetic critic makes the case that “when Jews rejected Christ, they rejected Logos in all its forms and became enemies of the social order”. I confess that sounds a bit like me.

Jeff Rense, an anti-Semite second to none, wrote a glowing review of the book that includes these intriguing insights:

The true “Jewish revolutionary spirit” is “to overturn” God and replace Him with Lucifer who represents the self-interest of the Illuminati (i.e. central bankers, Organized Jewry and Freemasonry.) This also was confirmed by Christian Rakovsky in his KGB interrogation.

 This also was confirmed by Christian Rakovsky in his KGB interrogation. “Christianity is our only real enemy since all the political and economic phenomena of the bourgeois states are only its consequences,” Rakovsky, says. Peace is “counter-revolutionary” since it is war that paves the way for revolution.

It’s not every day when you run into something like this. A convergence of Iranian clerical reaction, anti-Semitism and a defense of the legitimacy of the Moscow Trials. But then again after 6 years of deepening insanity on the left about the role of Iran and Russia in the world, I suppose anything is possible.

Turning to the question of “color revolutions”, I admit to originally having the same kind of Pavlov dog’s reaction as most people on the left, especially when I was writing about the Balkan Wars. Just mention the word Soros and I’d begin to salivate. But when I saw some on the left defending Putin’s invasion of Chechnya in 1999, I was sickened by the response. The carpet bombing of Grozny that became the template for the disaster in East Aleppo was unacceptable and no amount of “anti-imperialism” could justify it.

One of the first color revolutions took place in Ukraine in 2004. At the time, as far as I can remember, I was not quite a supporter of either the Orange movement as it was called or the Kremlin, largely a result of lingering concerns about NATO’s role in Yugoslavia. But it never occurred to me to look too deeply into what drove people to demand a break with Russia.

It was the “Green Revolution” in Iran in 2009 that helped me clarify my thinking. By that time I had become a friend and comrade of Reza Fiyouzat, an Iranian living in the USA who was part of the Iranian revolutionary movement. He was blogging at http://revolutionaryflowerpot.blogspot.com/ at the time, a website that is no longer active but that still can be accessed for a first-rate introduction to Iranian Marxist thought. Unlike most of the left, Reza was able to stake out a position that was distinguished from both Ahmadinejad and his opponent in the 2009 elections, Mir-Hossein Mousavi who was a leader of the Green Revolution supported by Nicholas Kristof, George Soros and all the other usual suspects. He wrote an article for CounterPunch in 2009 that could serve as a guide to all of these “color revolution” scenarios:

Where Ahmadinejad has made loud claims of victory — e.g., pushing forth Iran’s nuclear program — the ‘reformists’ hit back with the assertion that the nuclear program started some 25 years ago (when the ‘reformist’ candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was the prime minister), and that Ahmadinejad should stop pretending as if he was the sole creator of the nuclear program.

Where the ‘reformists’ have piled on the accusations of economic mismanagement, topped with a 25% inflation, Ahmadinejad has hit back with (I’m paraphrasing here): “It does not take a mere four years to be in such economic mess. Did it all just start with my government? Was there no unemployment before my government? Were there no addiction problems? Was there no inflation? Was I handed a spotless Garden of Eden created by you (Mousavi) and your reformist colleagues, which has now turned into ruins?”

If you see the conflict between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi as analogous to the current polarized situation in the USA, it is necessary to make distinctions that would be lost on conspiracist minded figures such as Michel Chossudovsky and other pro-Kremlin websites that have been propagating the nonsense about a color revolution taking place in the USA (including such Assadist strongholds such as Zero Hedge, 21st Century Wire, Signs of the Times and the Wayne Madsen Report).

It is certainly true that Soros is funding groups that are opposed to Trump but they would exist without his money, which seems to be rapidly vanishing. Apparently, Soros has lost a billion dollars on a gamble that the market would plummet after Trump took office. That’s on top of another two billion he lost betting against the possibility of a Brexit. People haven’t gone to Washington to protest Trump because Soros has funded them. It is because he is deeply unpopular as this graph would indicate:

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-2-44-57-pm

Soros’s goal is not to foment a coup. It is to throw his weight behind an emerging movement that is clearly designed to channel discontent into supporting Democratic Party candidates in Congressional elections, culminating in a recapture of the White House in 2020.

What is the role of the left in all this? As was the case in Iran, we should be for channeling that discontent into specific issues where the Democratic voter might be moved to rally around a struggle that has a class dynamic such as the pipelines that Trump has given the green light to, the right of a woman to have an abortion, his ban on immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, the proposed wall separating the USA from Mexico, etc.

Some on the left are wary about the Women’s March because so many Democratic Party officials were involved with it. I have some experience dealing with such issues as a socialist and Vietnam antiwar activist. In 1969, David Hawk and Sam Brown, two staff members of the unsuccessful 1968 Eugene McCarthy campaign, proposed a Moratorium as a deliberate alternative to the coalition that the SWP had been part of. If we had taken a sectarian position, we would have denounced it and kept our distance. Instead we embraced it and joined the organizing drive to make it as big and as successful as possible. So instead of a watered-down and pro-DP festival, the Moratorium turned into one of the most powerful protests of the 1960s.

People who have not become radicalized always tend to follow the cues of bourgeois politicians. When I was 21 years old, I kept hoping (and even praying) that a peace candidate could be elected and end the war in the same way people today hope that a liberal Democrat could replace Trump and be a far better keeper of his or her promises than Barack Obama. While Bernie Sanders might run again in 2020, I expect that the candidate will be someone much more in the Elizabeth Warren mold. Soros is pumping money into groups that are promoting such hopes. It will be up to the left to figure out a way to exploit the rising discontent with Trump to channel it into mass actions that can have the same kind of impact that the Standing Rock protest did. Condemning this ferment as “reformist” would be a mistake but none so nearly as rotten as those on the far reaches of the American “left” that have the low political IQ to take Michel Chossudovsky, PressTV and RT.com seriously.

January 22, 2017

Wilbur Ross: the dubious savior of the steel industry

Filed under: Donald Trump,economics,trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

Wilbur Ross

When it comes to Trumponomics, most of the left’s attention has been riveted on the new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for obvious reasons. As CEO of OneWest, he pushed mercilessly to foreclose on homeowners whose mortgages he held, making the banker played by Lionel Barrymore in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” look like a member of the Catholic Workers by comparison. Politico reported:

Two years ago, OneWest filed foreclosure papers on the Lakeland, Florida, home of Ossie Lofton, who had taken a reverse mortgage, a loan that supplies cash to elderly homeowners and doesn’t require monthly payments.

After confusion over insurance coverage, a OneWest subsidiary sent Lofton a bill for $423.30. She sent a check for $423. The bank sent another bill, for 30 cents. Lofton, 90, sent a check for 3 cents. In November 2014, the bank foreclosed.

So, this is a guy that is supposed to stop “the carnage”?

Much less attention has been paid to Wilbur Ross, the 79-year old “King of Bankruptcy” that is the new Secretary of Commerce, a department that is charged with promoting economic growth. Ross would seem to be a perfect fit for Trump’s “America First” outlook since he is credited with saving thousands of jobs in the Rust Belt, particularly in steel. His approach is to buy distressed companies and make them profitable again, saving jobs in the process. Part of his strategy is to lobby for tariffs that would protect companies like LTV (Ling-Temco-Vought) that he bought at fire sale prices in 2002. His strategy mimicked that of Steve Mnuchin who bought IndyMac in 2012 at a bargain basement price and turned it into OneWest.

As the ostensible savior of American steel, Ross earned plaudits from Leo Gerard, the USW president. NPR, a public radio station with a liberal slant a bit to the left of PBS, put Ross in the best possible light:

“With Wilbur it’s been almost 15 years now, and those mills are [still] running and some of them are the most productive in North America,” Gerard says.

By that time, ISG had become the largest steel company in America by buying up failing steel companies including Bethlehem Steel, LTV Steel and Acme Steel. Gerard says the jobs Ross saved were at the mills themselves and at the companies in supply chain.

If Trump and Ross are hoping to replicate policies that are supposed to be a radical departure from neoliberal “carnage”, it is useful to remember that George W. Bush was a major supporter of protectionism for the steel mills that Ross owned.

With Bush anxious to win over the kinds of voters that helped Trump win the presidency, he announced on Feb. 27, 2002 that tariffs would be imposed on steel imports for three years and a day. That was the same day when Ross announced a deal to take over LTV. Perfect timing, I’d say.

What NPR did not mention is the downside of the deal. After taking over LTV, he fired half the workers. His “rescue” was the same kind as Trump’s of Carrier, which also sustained a heavy loss of jobs to stay in the USA. Since Ross bought LTV in bankruptcy court, he was able to shed $7.5 billion in pension funds to the government.

In 2006 Frontline, a PBS documentary show, reported on the fate of LTV retirees, including a man named Chuck Kurilko. This was his story:

After 38 years in the mill (most of it working night shifts so he could be with his kids after school), Chuck had retired from LTV in late 2001 with a lifetime pension and guaranteed health coverage for himself and Carolyn. “It was looking great,” recalled Chuck. “The first retirement check I got was $2,700 a month. And that’s a nice pension.” Health insurance, he said, was running about $200 a month.

But the Kurilko’s retirement security didn’t last long. Through bankruptcy, LTV had sold off its productive assets and jettisoned its unwanted and underfunded liabilities, like pension and health benefits. LTV’s pensions were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the PBGC), the federal corporation that insures private pensions. PBGC uses a reduced payout formula for retirees under 65, and retirees like Chuck were among the hardest hit. He saw his monthly pension checks slashed by $1,000, and his monthly health insurance payment skyrocket to $1,300. The bankruptcy proceedings that “saved” LTV cost the Kurilkos about $25,000 a year, a devastating turnabout in fortunes. By the time I arrived, the Kurilkos’ savings were down to about $13,000. Every month was a struggle to keep from digging the financial hole deeper.

I expected anger and dismay. What I found was more troubling. Good people that had been justifiably proud of what they’d accomplished through a lifetime of hard work — in the mill, in their community and at home — had lost control of their financial future, and with that their dignity. “We just shouldn’t have to live like this,” Carolyn kept saying, shaking her head as if it was all just a bad dream.

A couple months later, Carolyn’s nightmare got worse. She called me in early April to tell me that Chuck had died from a massive heart attack. We talked about Chuck and about his funeral, and after we talked, I began to think about how Chuck’s passing had come to represent the passing of an era when a lifetime of hard work, at most big companies, was rewarded with retirement security and with dignity. I also thought about Carolyn and the financial predicament she suddenly faced alone. But it wasn’t until later that I came to understand that Carolyn too represents a troubling national trend — the growing number of women facing severe financial difficulty in retirement.

One huge problem in retirement for women like Carolyn Kurilko is longevity. On average, women live longer than men, and nearly a third of all women who reach 65 will live to at least 90. “Chances are the husband will die and the wife will live on and on and on, and she will be the poorest she’s ever been in her whole life,” explains Notre Dame labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci.

The story of LTV and Wilbur Ross is a microcosm of the American class struggle—or the lack thereof. You have labor bureaucrats like Leo Gerard making common cause with a scumbag like Ross in the same way that UAW president Dennis Williams has gone along with deals that led to a two-tiered pay system and reduced benefits so as to “save jobs”. If there was a labor movement instead of what we have now, both Obama and Trump would have been put on the defensive.

The problem, of course, is that the bosses can exercise leverage on the workers by threatening to pick up and move to another country. The threat of runaway shops is what helped Trump get elected even if his solution a la Ross is to make an offer that workers can’t refuse.

Global competition puts pressures on workers everywhere to accept less. This is what “globalization” has accomplished. It cheapens the price of labor and commodities simultaneously. Indian steel mills supply commodities at a price far below those of their competitors in more advanced capitalist countries. Ross cashed in on globalization in 2005 himself: He sold his steel company to an Indian company Lakshmi Mittal for $4.5 billion in 2005, making 12 ½ times on his initial investment.

Mittal is now the far largest steel producer in the world. A lot of Trump’s animosity toward China has to do with its ability to produce steel even more cheaply than Mittal. Like Ross, Mittal screws workers out of their pensions and fires them when they no longer serve the bottom line.

What is happening now is a race to the bottom. Trump is incapable of reversing this trend since it is not susceptible to policy solutions. It is tantamount to King Canute commanding the tide to stop. We are in the throes of capitalism’s decay. I think Trotsky was misguided in the way he went about building a Fourth International but each time I return to his writings, I remained impressed by his ability to size up the political conditions of his epoch in a work like the Transitional Program:

All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet “ripened” for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.

We are not in any position today to construct such a revolutionary leadership but if there is one thing that is clear, it is the need to break with the two-party system that entrusts people like Wilbur Ross, Leo Gerard, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to get us out of a deathtrap they created in the first place.

January 20, 2017

Words are cheap department

Filed under: two-party system — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

From President Obama’s January 21, 2009 Inauguration Speech:

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.  The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.  All this we can do.  All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.  Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.  What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.  Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.  Where the answer is no, programs will end.  And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.


From President Trump’s January 20, 2017 Inauguration Speech:

From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?

Season one of “Sense8” has been completed and season two has just started. The show’s title is a play on the word “sensate” that means being perceived through the senses as should be obvious from its spelling. However, the word takes on a heightened meaning as the eight leading characters are endowed with special powers that allow them to share each other’s field of vision from thousands of miles away and even be transported from long distances to share thoughts with their cohorts and assume their identity at critical points. Most frequently this involves a skilled martial arts fighter inhabiting the body of an unskilled member of the group in order to ward off an attack by gangsters, assassins or other miscreants. Think of Woody Allen becoming Jackie Chan temporarily and you’ll get both the action and comic possibilities of this conceit.

The eight leading characters are:

1/ A female DJ from Iceland who works in London, hangs out with drug dealers, and eventually becomes the love interest of the character below.

2/ A NY cop who is haunted by the image of a woman committing suicide (she turns out to be a tormented fellow sensate.)

3/ A safecracker from Berlin named Wolfgang who becomes part of the octet’s muscle-on-demand just like the cop.

4/ A Korean businesswoman who is also a highly skilled martial artist and rounds out the Sense8 special forces.

5/ A woman from India working in the pharmaceutical industry who on the eve of her arranged marriage becomes drawn to the safecracker through sheer sexual magnetism.

6/ A Mexican movie star famous for his macho roles who is a closeted gay.

7/ A transgender woman named Nomi who is a blogger and hacker in a lesbian relationship with an African-American. She is played by Jamie Clayton, a trans woman who has acted in such roles since 2010.

8/ A Kenyan minibus driver whose vehicle is nicknamed “Van Damme”, after the action hero he idolizes. He is constantly being rescued in confrontations with Nairobi gangsters by the Korean woman who kicks ass like it is going out of business.

On the most basic level, the message of the series is human solidarity as the eight grow closer and closer based on their commonly shared gifts as well as the need to offer emotional support to each other. If the Kenyan is incapable of delivering a karate chop he is certainly able to console the Korean woman who has been sent to prison unjustly for embezzlement. He is just as likely to show up in her prison cell as an avatar as she is in a seat next to him on his minibus.

Read full article

January 19, 2017

Assessing an assessment of the defunct Kasama Project

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 10:02 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 2.38.06 PM

The article below by “chegitz guevara” is being posted in full since it appeared originally on FB, a medium some people understandably might choose to abjure. The author is a rather ubiquitous figure on the Internet left who might have even been on Marxmail or the Marxism list that preceded it. I honestly can’t remember. He attributes the collapse of Kasama to the decision made to turn it into a cadre organization. Surprise, surprise. He also takes issue with my article (https://louisproyect.org/2016/06/19/notes-on-the-demise-of-the-kasama-project/) that questions the use of the word communist, an argument I have made on occasions after reading points made eloquently by Michael Lebowitz. In fact, the Kasama Project was too consumed by the Marxist-Leninist regalia of hammers and sickles to ever emerge out of the communist cocoon. My comments are in italics.

Whither Kasama?

KASAMA PROJECT·WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2017

by chegitz guevara

(The Kasama Project ceased functioning over a year ago, without issuing any formal statement. This note, by one of its original supporters, represents his own viewpoint only, and is shared as a point of information. The struggle continues.)

At Kasama’s peak, we were the target of an FBI raid and Glenn Beck’s radio and TV ire. We had a million page hits a year on our blog. We had comrades who were part of struggle in living history. We were sending comrades to Nepal and Greece, the Jackson, MS, to investigate the struggles there first hand. We brought together communist and anarchist forces up and down the West Coast for the Everything for Everyone festival. Our comrades played key roles in Occupy around the country (including the Occupied Wall Street Journal). We were in discussions with a number of different organizations for a merger of post Occupy communist organizations. People who weren’t in Kasama, and who were even opposed to our politics said we were the must read communist blog. And then one day, Kasama went silent….

==

It’s been more than a year now since the demise of the Kasama Project. It happened quietly, and to most of the members, unexpectedly and without warning. One day we learned that much of our leadership had quit over the previous months. A handful of us tried to keep going, tried to keep the blog running, but it was only ever a handful of what was left.

Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get a different story as to why things went south. This is mine. If you’re looking for salacious details, for dirt, for sectarian infighting, you’re going to be disappointed. Kasama was the best organization I was ever in. I don’t regret it for a minute.

To understand why Kasama folded, you must understand what K was. Depending on whom you asked, K was: a bunch of hard Maoists, soft Maoists, social democrats, liberals, anarchists, Marxist Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, the RCP-lite, a cult, pigs, or the communist plot behind Occupy (thank you Glenn Beck). None of that was completely true, some of it was completely false, and some of it was a little true.

The truth is, few, if any, ever fully understood K, whether inside or outside the group. Everyone tried to pigeon hole us, figure out what we were. Hell, we didn’t even know what we were. We were an experiment. We were riding the tiger trying to figure it out. If anyone who wasn’t in Kasama tries to tell you what K was, they’re either lying or don’t know what they’re talking about.

For me, the loss of Kasama was both expected, and a bitter blow. If you weren’t around at the beginning, you may not understand today how so many people felt about K, even today, after over a year of relative silence, and years of decreasing activity.

==

When the Kasama Project began, or rather, when it fired it’s shot across the bow of Bob Avakian and his cult, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Facebook wasn’t a factor in people’s lives. The internet left was in their own isolated email groups and on MySpace, on RevLeft.com. The Socialism group on MySpace had 10,000 subscribers, and one day in December of 2007, everyone started discussing Nine Letters to Our Comrades, aka, The 9 Letters.

Unlike many other papers announcing breaks with a previous organization, The Nine Letters didn’t announce a split, the formation of a new organization. It didn’t dish dirt, but talked about systemic problems, a slow degeneration, opportunities missed, mistakes made, and a failure to sum up lessons learned.

The one comment I read again and again from people reading The Nine Letters was, that sounds exactly like my organization. The 9L was a general indictment of the whole of the left, dealing with the problems of one particular organization. And the effect was like Luther nailing his theses to his church door.

==

I’d personally known Comrade Mike Ely, under whose name The Nine Letters were penned (though he was not the sole author). In Chicago, I’d been part of the New World Resource Center collective, an all-points-of-view-on-the-left bookstore. “Mike the Maoist,” as we all knew him, would come in about once a week or so, and buy a copy of every new communist and socialist paper, and often talk to the comrades in the store. We all liked and respected him, even though we disagreed. He was very respectful to everyone there.

One day at the bookstore, Mike asked me one day what I knew about the Chinese revolution. Now, as a Trotskyist (at the time), I had a position: that it was a anti-colonial, national bourgeois revolution, socialist in name only, blah blah blah. I opened my mouth to say just that, and I realized this was a teaching moment. I had an opportunity to learn something. Instead I said, “Nothing really. What can you tell me about it?”

That was not the answer Mike was expecting and it caught him up short. Then he got this twinkle in his eye like the Coca Cola Kris Kringle and said “wait here.” He went through the bookstore (my bookstore!) finding various books for me to read. That’s the kind of person he is. When he’s talking to you, he’s giving you his full attention. He gives you the kind of respect that you don’t often see from anyone these days. And people respond to that.

Mike encouraged and challenged comrades. When I wrote about the events leading up to the Haymarket Massacre on an email list, he mentioned it a few months later, and said what he liked about it, and then offhandedly mentioned it made him think about something that the article wasn’t about, how natural disasters often give birth to revolutionary struggle. That’s the kind of comrade he was and is. It’s no secret Mike was the heart of Kasama, and probably the driving force.

==

When The Nine Letters came out, I reached out on the blog, talked about what I felt it represented. I engaged on the blog, and there was a very different kind of discussion. On most forums where different tendencies of socialists engaged, then, like on Facebook now, the discussion was typical of the internet. At best, people were talking past each other, cherry picking points to “score” against your “opponent,” engaging in all the worst habits.

On the Kasama blog it was different. People considered each other’s arguments, wrote to each other respectfully, disagreed as comrades. That wasn’t accidental. There was heavy moderation, and the worst excesses were removed, people were gently reminded to engage better.

That manner of discourse began to spread out from Kasama. As I wrote internally at the time, if K only lasts a few years, if we did nothing but change the way communists speak to each other, then it served to advance the struggle. And comrades around the world oriented to that kind of discussion. When the blog went down for renovation, people who did not agree with us, kept asking us when it would be restored. For its first four years, the K blog was averaging a million page hits a year. K mattered.

==

One other important thing Kasama did was to help bring back the word communist. While so much of the left was shamefacedly referring to itself as “revolutionary socialists,” K was openly and proudly communist. Something that Louis Proyect, in his recent obit on K considers an error, a problem, that we need to abandon the term permanently.

Decades ago, after I had split from a tiny Trotskyist sect called The Spark, a comrade I knew from my time in the group told me about her experience at work lunch, where she and the other women would talk about current events. She didn’t call herself a communist, but she expressed a communist point of view.

Eventually one of the other woman at the table said, “You’re a communist!” and got up and left the table. The other women were like, “All that stuff you were talking was communism? You’re a communist?” She said, “Yeah, I’m a communist.” They said, “Tell us more.”

People aren’t stupid. They’ll figure you out. If you’re a communist, but won’t own the word, then you’re ashamed of it, and people will see that too. And I’m not ashamed. I’m proud to be a communist. And Kasama was proudly communist.

That was our politics: communism. Not Maoist communism, not left communism, not Trotskyist communism, but communism. We had ex anarchists, ex Trotskyists, Maoists, left communists. There was no ideological litmus test, no tendency to which we had to swear allegiance. We were communists. We were for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. We took the “scientific” in scientific socialism seriously. We understood the place that making mistakes and being wrong has in getting to better answers, to a deeper understanding.

We were more interested in figuring out the questions that needed to be asked, than coming up with a set of ready answers. And that, and communism, were the golden threads running through the blog. It wasn’t just politics. It wasn’t just politics we agreed with. We often posted stuff we disagreed with, in order to engage with it and understand it, and our own thoughts better. People always asked why we let a “reactionary” like Carl Davidson post, but they never saw that people like Carl and others served to help us develop and clarify a revolutionary communist politics, in distinction to reformist politics. And not just politics, but music, art, discussions of movies, scientific advances.

[In my original article, I explained why the word “communist” should be put to rest. Let me restate it succinctly. Marx used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably but after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the term communism became synonymous with the Comintern parties that were flawed at the beginning and by 1927 irredeemably so. For most young people, the term is inextricably linked to Stalin, Mao and the leaders of other parties associated with the Soviet bloc. It means political repression, bureaucratic privilege and more importantly for people trying to build a new left a way or organizing that hearkens back to the inflexible and self-destructive “Leninist” model. Frankly, I am not convinced that the term socialism is that useful either now since it is so much associated with the Sanderistas and the Scandinavian countries he identifies with. It is practically synonymous with the welfare state and hardly appealing except as an alternative to the dreadful neoliberalism associated with Blair, Obama, Hollande, et al.

Without going into too much detail, I believe that the name of a new left party will emerge out of the concrete struggle and shaped by the consciousness of its frontline fighters. For example, if Jesse Jackson had been much more like MLK Jr. and had come to the realization that the Democratic Party had been a dead-end, he might have been inspired to create something called The Rainbow Party that would have been a framework for revolutionaries to operate in (not as an entryist tactic but to sincerely build an alternative to the two capitalist parties.) Leaving aside the flaws of Syriza and Podemos, this is the path that the left in Greece and Spain have followed. Obviously, there have been both objective and subjective problems that have made Syriza dysfunctional but as a model for us on the left in the USA, it had much more to offer than small self-declared vanguard formations calling themselves something like the Communist Workers Party with a website festooned with hammers and sickles and red stars.]

==

Internally, at first, Kasama seemed a lot like a hospice for people escaping the cult of Bob Avakian. Whatever those of us outside the Revolutionary Communist Party thought of it pretty much from the 80s onward, those inside were engaged in a serious struggle with capitalist society. The rest of us might be trying to organize workers for better wages and conditions, they were in streets of D.C. in a pitched battle with the police … even in the hospital to which the injured of both sides were taken. They were in one of Chicago’s worst projects, Cabrini Green, organizing people against the evictions and destruction of their homes. The Chicago Police labeled the RCP a criminal gang because of this effort. However disconnected from reality those of outside the RCP thought they were, they were serious. And they were even more serious in the 70s. If people think the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, that we were the RCP without Avakianism, well, that’s not really a bad thing to be.

[This reflects the kind of ultraleftism that plagued the Kasama Project from the start even though for some people this kind of tactical militancy meant much more than theoretical clarity.]

Being in an organization like the RCP does things to you. It was (is) a cult, like much of the revolutionary left. You need time to come to terms with your life, with how you were treated. For the first few years of K’s existence, we didn’t rush to repeat that experience. Rather than purposefully, the organization grew organically. We didn’t order the creation of locals. When the FIRE Collective declared itself a Kasama collective, it was a bit of a shock to me. In my mind, we were still in the, let’s figure out what the fuck happened to communism phase. And then Red Spark was created. And then One Struggle, which wasn’t a Kasama collective, but we all read and discussed Kasama, and several had direct relationships with Kasama. And so on. Each one different, each set of comrades in and around Kasama, figuring out their own way.

I think that openness to experimentation, to allowing comrades to figure out how to contribute to Kasama, to planting that communist flag, was the best thing about K. But it never sat well with some comrades. Both inside Kasama and outside it, there were those comrades who thought we needed a more cadre style organization, and pushed for it. Two years ago, that impulse got a full head of steam.

I wasn’t specifically opposed to it. But I always felt that impulse was more ideologically driven, ‘this is what a communist organization should be,’ rather than being driven by, ‘this is our analysis of the moment, this is what we think the organization needs to be to respond to that moment.’ As K geared up to have its first convention, I asked the questions, ‘why this? why now?’ and never received an answer.

From the very beginning there was a problem with that plan. The size of Kasama had been over estimated. The willingness of comrades who couldn’t make the convention to switch to a cadre mode of organizing wasn’t that great (the fact they couldn’t rearrange everything to come to a conference should have been a clue). The new leadership and the membership had two different realities. And as that dawned on the new leaders, they began to drift away, one by one.

I’m not saying some of them weren’t engaged in difficult, and emotionally draining work. They misjudged the organization’s membership, as well as the political moment in the U.S.

==

I’ve shared this with others, and I’d like to add a bit about the push for a more cadre organization, as has been explained to me. Hopefully I’ll do it some justice. From what comrades who knew more than I, Kasama was reaching the limits of what it could do organizationally, and was beginning to slowly fade. Some people left, some of those who stayed were either never that active or began to lose energy (we had not a few grey heads). Even I noticed that.

What the hope was, was to change Kasama into more of an Iskra type organization, with more investigation of struggle, using the blog to do “revolutionary social investigation,” investigate the fault lines in this society, and aid struggle there. But, we lacked the capacity to do so. The people with the knowledge to do this didn’t have the time or energy, and those with the time and energy didn’t know how to do this, therefore, we needed more of a cadre type organization to build our capacity.

Another, and much more serious issue also needed to be addressed, that of male chauvinism and supremacy. Towards the end, there were a couple serious cases that had to be investigated and dealt with. I wasn’t part of the process, so I can’t tell you anything about it, but all of those who were on the investigative committee resigned. They engaged in their work with the seriousness and commitment such a task requires, and in the end, it drained them.

With their resignations, we discovered that only two of the original seven chosen at the convention to lead the organization were still in the organization. More people drifted away, with only a handful desperately scurrying to try and hold things together. But that was a task beyond us.

[I can’t add much to this since it is stated in a somewhat cryptic manner that I tend to associate with the Kasama Project unfortunately. But it is clear to me that the comrades never understood that Kasama should have never operated as a group per se. The most promising thing about it was its open-endedness that they obviously decided to ditch in favor of forming RCP II. I have been at this “regroupment” business for 33 years now and expect to be at it until I die. In many ways, it is nothing but a continuation of what Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman were trying to do in the 1950s. If you don’t take the long view of history, you will burn out rapidly.]

==

You might ask, where was Mike in all of this. Part of the reason for the convention and the election of new leadership was to give Mike a break from running Kasama. Mike announced he was taking some time off running the blog to write a book or two. This all happened in his absence. And let’s face it, if we couldn’t manage to keep the organization going without him, there wasn’t an organization even if he had been there.

I’m not putting the blame on the membership. And I’m not putting the blame on the leadership for the failure of the organization (though abandoning us when things got tough, I’m still upset about that).

Kasama outlived, just barely, the political moment that gave birth to it. It was an expression of what led to Occupy, a revolt, not just against the system, but against the tired, stale, ossified, sects that claimed to be communist, or, “revolutionary socialist.” Dozens of new anti-capitalist collectives appeared just before and in the wake of Occupy, and Kasama was the north star of that moment.

==

All of that is a sort of history of Kasama, tho. It doesn’t tell you what we were about. Why were we so vital? And what was the real weakness that lead to it’s demise.

An anarchist friend of mine describes the fall of the USSR as a blow from which the world has yet to recover. He likens it to being hit by a blow which knocks you senseless, in which you’re completely disassociated with reality. You’re not even trying to get back up, yet, you’re still unaware of what’s just happened.

In 1970, capitalism was on the ropes. One third of the world’s people lived under socialist government, revolutions were winning around the world. In the imperialist centers, there were massive antiimperialist movements and struggles against the old order. It would be impossible to conceive at that moment, the situation in which we are today, with the world’s first workers’ revolution overthrown, with capitalism ruling in China, Vietnam, and the United States victorious and straddling the globe like a colossus.

Kasama set its primary task the question of, what happened? How did we go from winning to total defeat in the span of a generation? What was there to learn from twentieth century socialism, both positive and negative? How can we build a twenty first century communist movement?

All the old ideas had failed, regardless of their theoretical and explanatory power. Old dogmas needed to be shed. We needed to relook at everything. Retest ideas we thought were solid. Look at old ideas once rejected. Consider the context of everything. Examine what worked and why, what failed and why, and what has changed.

Unlike every other communist organization, Kasama didn’t pretend to have THE answers. We had questions. This was Kasama’s power, why it was so appealing to so many.

==

Kasama’s power was also its weakness. An organization with answers can organize people around those answers. It’s much harder to organize around a question. A lot of people called Kasama a talk shop, and that’s not completely unfair. Given the state of people recovering from the Avakian cult, the fact that most of us didn’t live anywhere where Kasama had more than a couple comrades, Kasama was often largely a virtual network.

Many of us were also stuck in our previous modes of organizing and thinking. If Kasama didn’t pretend to have THE answers, many comrades in Kasama still operated as if we already had the answers, answers we’d learned in previous groups, when we needed radical new thinking. This is a weakness we never overcame, and I think the change Kasama made was rooted in this failure to overcome outmoded ideas.  As time went on, it became more and more difficult to make Kasama move. It was becoming ossified in its own form of disorganization. Kasama needed to change, but the change and the discussion were rushed in some ways, and rather than being healthy, ultimately broke the network.

I think the change we made was a mistake. I think Kasama functioned best as a network of comrades who participated in the struggle in their own ways, as way of putting ideas and culture back into the communist left, as an ideal to strive for. We needed to change, but we made change the wrong way.

[This is the takeaway from this article. “I think Kasama functioned best as a network of comrades who participated in the struggle in their own ways, as way of putting ideas and culture back into the communist left, as an ideal to strive for.” That is exactly what was needed and it is too bad that the Kasama Project lost sight of that.]

==

Everything has a birth, growth, decline, and end. Revolutionary organizations are no different (and some of them need to realize that). If an organization exists for more than a couple decades without participating in a revolution, it’s ceased being an organization for revolution, and has become an organization for self-perpetuation. It’s become its own reason for existing. While I am sad Kasama is no more, I am glad it ended well before it became its own purpose.

It’s said in show business you should end leaving your audience wanting more. Kasama did that. We ended before we became a stale, ossified sect. But we still need a Kasama. The tasks Kasama tried to carry out still need to be carried out. The revolution waits for no one.

Lal salaam, comrades!

Post Script: I want to mention a last word here about organizational security. In Louis Proyect’s laughable obit on Kasama (to which this is a rather belated response), he calls us obsessed with paranoia and security.

[I will never get over Mike Ely telling me not to videotape him at the Brecht Forum as if he would end up in Guantanamo if I put it up on Youtube. Pure infantile ultraleftism, as demonstrated further in his talk when he or his comrade Eric thought that driving a car through the front door of a bank in Greece amounted to anything.]

Like I mentioned at the beginning, Kasama got raided by the FBI when the Feds were going after the anarchists in the Northwest. In fact, K was the first raided. Glenn Beck was regularly calling out the name of one of our comrades on his program, as the mastermind behind Occupy and the link with The Coming Insurrection. And that’s just the stuff I’m gonna mention.

And not all the threats to K were from the state or the right. Some very disturbed, left wing individuals made credible threats against the lives of some of our members. A comrade’s mother was doxxed, by a “comrade.” And that’s just the stuff from the left I’m gonna mention.

And two people very close to us were murdered (though not for political reasons).

As Louis should remember well from his own life, revolutionary politics is not a game, even if some so-called comrades don’t take it seriously.

January 17, 2017

The Sunshine Makers; The Modern Jungle

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:05 pm

As I sat watching the terrific documentary “The Sunshine Makers” that opens on Friday at the Village East in New York, the phrase “Breaking Good” kept running through my mind since the film was about two men who became LSD manufacturers in the 1960s only to change the world rather than make money. Since scientists today have rediscovered the benefits of LSD, including its ability to reduce anxiety in terminal cancer patients, the two–Nick Sands and Tim Scully–were certainly on to something.

Born in 1941, Sands took mescaline 20 years later when he was a Brooklyn College undergrad. Like many people around that time (including me), psychedelics were the perfect accompaniment to Eastern religion and other forms of mysticism that appealed to many young people turned off by what Allen Ginsberg called Moloch.

This led him to become a regular at a mansion in Millbrook, New York owned by Billy Hitchcock that had become the LSD temple of Timothy Leary. Millbrook was about a half hour’s drive from Bard College and I had heard through the grapevine that Bard students had been spending time there in “psychology experiments”. Even if I had been invited to take part, I doubt that it would have interested me since my drugs of choice were marijuana and hashish that were cheap and plentiful at the time.

Eventually Sands hooked up with a Berkeley mathematical physics major named Tim Scully who was born in 1944 and just 5 months older than me. Scully became the Walter White of their operation largely on the strengths of his brilliance in all things scientific including chemistry. Wikipedia states that “In his junior year of high school, Scully completed a small linear accelerator in the school science lab (he was trying to make gold atoms from mercury) which was pictured in a 1961 edition of the Oakland Tribune.”

I imagine that everybody who sees this film will be swept off their feet but it had a heightened resonance with me. There is a certain poignancy in seeing geezers like these reflecting on their misspent (or spent perhaps) youth as you see home movies from when they were in their twenties. Sands, an Adonis in his youth, is now a slow-moving walrus-like figure who still retains a glint in his eye and a quick wit. Scully, as rail-thin as he was in his youth, is completely bald and wrinkled. But neither man shows the slightest regret in breaking the law just as I have no regret in taking part in my own kind of lawless behavior.

I only had one experience with LSD, just two months before joining the Trotskyist movement. I went to my friend Chip’s apartment on the opposite end of the floor in my West 92nd building to drop acid while he and his wife smoked pot and served as my anchor in case things got out of hand. After swallowing a sugar cube, I didn’t notice anything happening for the first 15 minutes but then the strangest thing. A rather tacky landscape on the wall depicting a fish jumping out of a lake surrounded by mountains became—how should I put it—animated. The water began rippling and the fish kept jumping out of the water. How are you doing that, I asked Chip, positive in my mind that the painting was a “novelty” he bought in Times Square that could be activated by a remote control he had concealed in his hand. Open your hand, I demanded, let me see the remote control. When he opened both hands, I couldn’t believe it. I was hallucinating. For the next two hours, I watched what amounted to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” on the living room walls but that was about it. It might have been a deeply spiritual experience for Sands and Scully but for me, it was just entertainment.

Sands and Scully were partners with Oswald Stanley who died in 2011. His words are heard throughout the film as are Billy Hitchcock’s but neither are seen on screen for reasons not given. Stanley is far better known than the others largely through his connections to Ken Kesey, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. When I say connection, I mean that both spiritually as well as in the more conventional drug trafficking sense.

The film also includes interviews with the women in Sands and Scully’s lives who, like them, are as rebellious as ever even if they look like your grandmother. In fact, it is the boldness and refusal to conform in all of these characters that makes this film so appealing. If the key to a successful documentary is “casting” the right people, British director Cosmo Feilding Mellen struck gold with these elder statesmen of the psychedelic revolution.

Mellen is the son of Amanda Feilding, whose family is descended from the House of Habsburg that came to England in the 14th Century. Like many in the British upper class, she became a renegade in her youth. And like Sands and Scully, she experimented with mind-altering substances in her youth and even conducted a trepanation on herself in 1970, a discredited procedure that consists of drilling a hole in your head for medical reasons. (She used a dentist’s drill.) Her goal was to see if it could affect her consciousness. Today, she is far more responsible as the founder and director of the Beckley Foundation that advocates for a more humane drug policy and investigates the use of psychoactive drugs for beneficial purposes.

In a profile on the Feildings in the London Times (behind a paywall but give me a shout if you want a copy), Cosmo reminisces on his youth:

Most kids find their parents embarrassing at some point, but it was definitely more pronounced for me. I was christened Cosmo Birdie for a start. The thing people knew about my parents was that they were druggies who drilled holes in their heads. [In her twenties, Amanda carried out the ancient practice of trepanation, which people believed could improve health and wellbeing.] As I got older, I developed a huge respect for what Mum stands for, but trust me, there was no cachet in it as a kid. She’s quite bohemian and has a pronounced posh voice. I can remember her coming to pick me up at school and shouting: “Cooee Bubba!” Not really what you want.

There will always be an England.

“The Modern Jungle” is documentary that will be shown at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 20th. Since I doubt that any of my readers except those living in Utah will be able to make the screening, I urge you to look for it if it opens eventually at your local art theater or on VOD.

Set in a village in southern Mexico largely populated by the Zoque Indians, it is a respectful but unsettling account of the lives of two elderly Zoques who live in rudimentary huts, a man named Juan Juarez Rodríguez and a woman named Carmen Echevarría Lopez. Their lives are circumscribed by daily routines of chopping wood for their stoves and gathering corn from nearby fields. Their lives are probably close to the ones lived by their ancestors a hundred years ago, even if it has been impinged upon by the forces of global capitalism and the Mexican landowning class. It was that class that killed Carmen’s husband 45 years before the film was made and that makes both her and Juan’s so difficult today. Even if much of the Zoque land has been swindled from beneath their feet, they still feel the pressures of landlords who would like to see them and the rest of the Zoques gone.

At first blush, I thought the film would be similar to those that I have seen in the past about Indians fending off the rich but there are some wrinkles. Juan is determined that he be paid for his services as a subject in a film that he expects to make money. In several cringe-worth scenes he haggles with director Charles Fairbanks over his pay. It will remind you that in such ethnographic films going back to “Nanook of the North”—the original—the filmmaker has the upper hand. It is to Fairbanks’s credit that he acknowledges this in very revealing footage. (The film is co-directed by Saul Kak, a Zoque Indian who did the translation.) He puts it this way in the press notes:

Here and elsewhere, THE MODERN JUNGLE is also about documentary. As it portrays cross-cultural encounters structured by and through the camera, our film doesn’t shy away from the messy interpersonal, economic, and social repercussions of filming in impoverished communities. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm describes how the author of nonfiction tends to represent himself differently than all other characters: “He forms the exception to the rule that nothing may be invented. The ‘I’ of journalism” [and, I contend, documentary]:

…is connected to the writer only in a tenuous way––the way, say, that Superman is connected to Clark Kent. The journalistic “I” is an overreliable narrator, a functionary to whom crucial tasks of narration and tone have been entrusted, an ad hoc creation, like the chorus of Greek tragedy. He is an emblematic figure, an embodiment of the idea of the dispassionate observer of life.

In contrast to this convention, I wanted to depict ‘the documentary director’ as a complex and flawed character, despite ‘his’ (that is, my) best intentions. Likewise, I wanted to show that making this film had real repercussions on the lives of its main characters. It became evident, while filming, that I too am an intruder, an outside force, a symptom of globalization in the world of Juan and Carmen. So, to make an honest film about their encounters with modernity, it seemed necessary to subvert this convention and address the ways we negotiate the power of representation.

Kudos to Fairbanks and Kak for making a film with a difference.

January 15, 2017

When Syria used water as a weapon against Iraq

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

(The Baathist Amen Corner is distinguished by its faith in the anti-imperialist credentials of the family dynasty in Damascus, most recently reflected in its blind acceptance of Bashar al-Assad’s accusation that the rebels in Wadi Barada sabotaged the water station supplying Damascus. This excerpt from Musseref Yetim’s “Negotiating  International Water Rights: Resource Conflict in Turkey, Syria and Iraq” should convince you that bastards like Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar should not be taken at their word.)

By April 1975, Iraqi-Syrian relations seriously deteriorated over the use of the waters of the Euphrates, yet the conflict had been brewing for some time because of concerns deeply rooted in the strategic, ideological, and political realms. Seale analyzed the situation as follows:

If Damascus and Baghdad had not been so much at odds, they might perhaps have been able to resolve their longstanding dispute over the division of the Euphrates waters (…) Dam-building and irrigation projects in all three countries from the 1960s onwards caused a row to break out over the volume of water each was entitled to […) The squabble over water rights grew into a vast bone of contention, not to be assuaged by mediation attempts, most notably Saudi efforts. From 1975 onwards the two countries began abusing each other over the airways — `fascist right-wing criminal’ was standard invective — arresting each other’s sympathizers, moving troops threateningly to the border, setting off explosions in each other’s capitals.39

The bitter rivalry between the two opposing Ba’ath Parties deepened the tension and distrust between Iraq and Syria.40 Both governments sought to undermine each other and were rightly suspicious of each other’s subversive activities and feared the other one was plotting to bring their downfall. The exclusive nature of domestic political institutions created opportunities to exploit internal tensions arising from ethnic and sectarian divisions. The conflict between the Ba’thist rulers of Syria and Iraq was the main culprit for the failure of negotiations.

The tension between the watercourse states, Syria and Iraq, had been on the rise following the nationalization of the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC). The Syrian demand for the increase in royalties in early 1973 and the subsequent closure of the oil pipeline that carried Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean Sea crossing Syrian soil did not help either.41 Furthermore, Iraq signed an agreement with Turkey for the construction of an oil pipeline to transport Iraqi oil throughout Turkish lands to the Mediterranean Sea on 26 August 1973. Not only did Syria lose a substantial amount of oil revenues and alienated Iraq, it also gave Turkey an opportunity to develop its relations with Iraq and to gain a new source of revenue. Disturbed by the Iraqi oil policy, Syria accused Iraq of not following Ba’thist ideology, not keeping its promises about expanding the capacity of the Syrian-Iraqi oil pipeline, and of favoring Turkey — a non-Arab state. Iraq’s good relations with Turkey concerning the Euphrates waters were also source of a concern for Syria. Indeed, Iraq did not express any displeasure throughout the crises towards Turkey and did not include Turkey in its protests of Syria during the 1975 crisis.

Another important source of tension between the two Ba’thist states was Israel. Since 1948, Israel has been a contentious issue among the Arab states. In 1975, Iraq firmly opposed to a partial Middle East agreement and was accusing Syria of being in the process of accepting such a peace agreement with Israel. The last straw in Iraqi accusations took place in May 1975, when Iraq proposed the creation of the ‘Northern Military Front’ against Israel. Iraq’s policy at that time was likely designed to deepen the Ba’th party rule in Iraq and to steer the members of the Iraqi Ba’th Party away from any involvement with Syria.42 Syria responded by charging Iraq with surrendering Arab land to Iran, the betrayal of the Arab people, and deriding Iraqi aid during the October war.43 Furthermore, Syria retaliated by using its newly gained strategic advantage: manipulation of the water flow entering Iraq. Indeed, Syria reduced the water flow entering Iraq first in the spring 1974 and then in 1975, as we have seen. This led to the destruction of 70 percent of Iraq’s winter crops44 and also formed the basis to Iraqi claims of deliberately holding more water in the lake of the Tabqa dam.45 Iraq also charged the Syrian Ba’th party with betrayal of the Ba’th party ideals. The short and long-term repercussions of Syria’s vast usage of the Euphrates water, including the reclamation of 640,000 ha of land,46 the evaporation of the water from the reservoir of the Tabqa dam, and the quality of water that flowed into Iraq, provided Iraq with good justification for its protests. Overall approximately 3 million Iraqi farmers of Shi’i origin suffered economically.47 In some sources, the spread of the Shi’i underground movement, Al-Dawa, has been attributed to this water shortage.48 This highlights a crucial dimension of the water rights conflict: minorities inhabiting the Euphrates and Tigris watercourse. Here one should also note that the majority of the Iraqi army was at the time of Shi’i origin.49

Every development concerning the Euphrates and Tigris water has important repercussions in domestic politics, especially in Iraq and Turkey. Following the Algiers Agreement in March 1975 between Iran and Iraq that helped Iraq to crack down on the Kurdish insurgence in northern Iraq, Syria attempted to instigate Shi’i unrest in order to weaken the Iraqi government’s hold on power by reducing the Euphrates flow. For a number of reasons, Syria interpreted the Algiers agreement as a harmful development. First, Syria’s position in the Arab world as an ardent antagonist of Israel might be undermined, because having settled its protracted dispute with Iran and established stability in northern Iraq, Iraq now had resources at its disposal use against Israel. Iraq had already accused Syria of selling out to Israel and wrongly opposed Syrian disengagement negotiations with Israel. Secondly, .q could undermine the Alawite dominated Ba’th rule by playing on the suspicions of the Sunni Arabs in Syria concerning the indifference of the Alawite regime to the struggle with Israel. At this point, Iraqi allegations ‘re not groundless and appealed to Syrian Sunnis, who were already suspicious of Assad’s regime, developing conspiracy theories about Assad d the collusion between his regime and the Zionists. Iraq and Sunni Arabs Syria justified their claims by arguing that during the 1967 war Israel occupied the Golan Heights without a fight while Assad was the defense mister; furthermore, in 1970 Assad betrayed Palestine by refusing to allow the deployment of the air force in a Syrian expedition to assist the PLO against Jordan; the Assad regime also sabotaged the Iraqi attack against Israel in 1973.

 

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