Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 1, 2017

George Soros and the Central European University

Filed under: Academia,Hungary — louisproyect @ 9:30 pm

On March 29th, the NY Times reported that the Central European University in Hungary will be shut down because of a new law passed by the ultraright government headed by Viktor Orban that requires CEU to operate a campus in the USA, something that is beyond its means according to the school’s president Michael Ignatieff. The CEU was founded in 1991 by financier George Soros who was born and raised in Hungary. He had a master plan to build up a network of schools globally that reflected his “Open Society” philosophy—a liberal anti-Communist worldview inspired by Karl Popper. Soros served as the chairman of the CEU board until 2007, when Bard College President Leon Botstein took his place. Bard College was part of Soros’s acquisitions. When the school was on the ropes financially in the late 70s, Botstein—who is a fundraiser par excellence—talked Soros into becoming a major funder and a partner in his own ambitions to make Bard the hub of a worldwide Open Society network.

You can get a feel for CEU’s orientation from the appointment of Michael Ignatieff to President in May, 2016. Ignatieff was one of the most prominent defenders of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq who recanted his support in 2007 that some found lacking in conviction. He remains one of the key backers of “humanitarian interventions” and issued a statement in 2013 supporting such a move in Syria. My own position is that the USA does not have the right to meddle in other country’s internal affairs as a matter of principle. In fact, by stationing the CIA on the borders of Syria to prevent MANPADs from reaching the rebels, it helped to keep Assad in power. If the USA had not intervened in such a criminal manner, the war would have probably ended in 2013.

Hungary is ruled by Viktor Orban of the Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Alliance) party that is first cousin to the Trump wing of the Republican Party, UKIP in England, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom and other anti-EU, nativist and Islamophobic outfits closely aligned to the Kremlin. Like Putin, Orban uses nationalistic rhetoric to bolster his case that NGO’s, universities and other institutions funded by the West are inimical to the “national interest”.

The irony is that Fidesz got started with Soros funding, just like the CEU. The story of Soros cultivating the support of Hungary’s elite, many of whom were in the Communist Party, is instructive. You can get an idea of how Soros viewed Hungary as his wholly owned subsidiary from a New Republic article written by Michael Lewis on January 10, 1994. Lewis is a well-known and highly respected financial reporter with little interest in exposing the super-rich. A Matt Taibbi he is not. That Soros comes across as such a scumbag should tell you how appalled Lewis was by his “masters of the universe” posture:

In 1984 Soros opened his first office, in Budapest, and began all manner of subversive activities for which he is temperamentally very well-equipped. “I started by trying to create small cracks in the monolithic structure which goes under the name of communism, in the belief that in a rigid structure even a small crack can have a devastating effect,” he wrote in Opening the Soviet System. “As the cracks grew so did my efforts until they came to take up most of my time and energy.” Says Liz Lorant, who worked with Soros from the start: “It was the excitement of what we got away with [that is irreplaceable]. We got away with murder. [For example] at that time Xerox machines were under lock and key. That was the way it was. In Romania you had to register a typewriter with the police. Well, we just flooded the whole damn country with Xerox machines so that the rules became meaningless.” In short, by the time the dust settled over the Berlin Wall—boom! bust!—Soros had accumulated a highly charged portfolio of gratitude. The Great White Gods of Eastern Europe—Havel, Michnik, Kis, Haraszti—were all in his debt. So were all sorts of lesser—known, highly motivated people wending their way to high political office.

The Hungarians probably had no idea what they were getting into when they gave Soros a spare set of keys. In 2010, Soros’s firm was fined $2.5 million for illegal trades in Hungary’s largest bank, the OTP. Through short sales, Soros made a fortune even if Hungarians got the shitty end of the stick. On April 2, 2009, the NY Times reported:

In a small walk-up apartment on the outskirts of Budapest, George Ivanyi, a founder of the Association of Bank Loan Victims, does his best to cope with an unceasing flow of Hungarians who have come to seek advice because they can no longer pay their mortgages after the forint’s collapse. Volunteer law students sip Red Bull while they counsel couples, and amid the buzz of activity a perpetually ringing phone goes unanswered.

“I feel the desperation of the people,” Mr. Ivanyi said. “The banks are responsible – but so is the government. They should not have approved these loans.”

One woman, he recounts, was so overwhelmed when the monthly mortgage bill on her Japanese yen-denominated loan from OTP suddenly soared 50 percent that she ingested a dose of rat poison and narrowly escaped death.

Soros is past master of demagogy. Like Donald Trump, he knows how to speak out of both sides of his mouth. He makes donations to environmental groups at the same time he invests in some of the filthiest extractive industries in the world. For example, the Guardian reported on August 19, 2015 that Soros is pumping money into coal companies such as Peabody and Arch Coal, which he bought at bargain basement prices. Maybe he knew something about Trump’s chances than other investors. He is also into fracking as the Huffington Post reported on November 3, 2014, making a huge bet on Argentina’s YPF SA, the state-owned oil company that has begun operations in the Neuquen basin, the second-largest shale gas deposit in Argentina and the fourth-largest in the world.

And all the while he is plundering Hungarian banks and despoiling Argentina’s waters, he uses every opportunity to sound like someone giving a plenary at the Left Forum in NY. In 2009, he writes an op-ed piece for the Financial Times titled “Capitalism Versus the Open Society”. He has the gumption to brag about one of his NGO’s getting “oil companies and mining companies to disclose the payments they make to various governments.” You can bet that Soros paid off somebody in Argentina to get first dibs on the Neuquen basin.

He writes:

Communism failed because of the agency problem. Karl Marx’s proposition—from everybody according to their ability and to everybody according to their needs—was a very attractive idea, but the communist rulers put their own interests ahead of the interests of the people.

The Open Society, which apparently operates on some ethereal plane above the marketplace, is under assault because the capitalist class has also put its own interests ahead of those of philosopher-kings like him. Of course, Soros cannot conceive of a solution that entails collective ownership of the means of production. That would rob citizens of their freedom to enjoy the bounties of their hard work and to pass them on to their children. In Soros’s case, that is his 30-year old son who is writing a dissertation on “Jewish Dionysus: Heine, Nietzsche and the Politics of Literature” at Berkeley. With such a heavy workload, no wonder he needs to unwind at the 20,000-square foot Water Mill estate that he bought with the 24 billion dollars fortune he has inherited from dad. Page Six, the NY Post gossip column, filled in its readers on all the fun they were missing:

It’s an August weekend at “Camp Soros,” a $72 million Water Mill estate, and the rosé is flowing. Models, NBA players and club kids kick it by a pool overflowing with rubber duckie floats. There’s a personal chef presiding over lobster bakes and a 20,000-square-foot mansion for games of drunken hide-and-seek (a favorite of fashion designer and sometime guest Timo Weiland).

The host with the most? Billionaire heir Alex Soros.

Alex Soros with supermodel date

Sometimes when I walk around NY’s Upper East Side and see the townhouses a few blocks from my apartment building that go for $10 million and up, I am reminded of class differences in the USA. No matter how liberal the people who live in them, the notion that their privileges would have to be surrendered for the good of society would strike them as a fate worse than death. And among them, those who are fervent Trump voters would likely be the first to blow up the world rather than live for one day under genuine socialism.

The irony is that despite his wretched Open Society pretensions, Soros did some good in founding the Central European University. One of its students is a Roma FB friend named Dan Cirjan who had this to say:

So my university, CEU, is in danger of closing its doors …

As a distant outcome of the US elections, the Hungarian government finally had the courage to do its job as an dubious authoritarian post-neoliberal concoction: there’s a law proposal which would render CEU’s activity illegal.

Now, tbh, there are a lot of things about CEU which I don’t like. And yet, amongst the few university environments I’ve been through, I never felt so much at home as in Budapest. This is the place where I first had some inklings of political consciousness and social understanding, something much more than distant liberal empathy; where I really felt bad that I hadn’t learned any non-Western language; where I read Rosa Luxemburg but also Albert Hirschman, A. Chandler. This is the place where I actually had the feeling of intellectual comradeship, as tough and demanding as it was kind; the place where I found out about the Polish socialist traditions, about radical feminism, about the Finnish Reds, about the Bulgarian Agrarian Revolution, about the Kiev Arsenal, about Attila József, Auktyon; the place where I found out that the intellectual world is not confined to London, Paris, NY, as in a strange academic replica of the fashion circuit, but it includes Belgrade, Istanbul, Algiers, Kharkiv …

Is it possible to oppose what George Soros stands for and simultaneously defend CEU’s right to exist in an increasingly repressive and barbaric Hungary? I would hope so. My advice is to go to the CEU support page and show your solidarity: https://www.ceu.edu/istandwithCEU/support-statements

 

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