Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 31, 2017

Ai Weiwei and the refugee crisis

Filed under: art,Film,refugees — louisproyect @ 10:21 pm

Until February 11th, 2018 New York City will be hosting a public art exhibit by Ai Weiwei titled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”, an ironic reference to the refugee crisis that is the subject of his documentary “Human Flow” now playing at the Landmark W. 57th and Angelika theaters in New York.

The exhibit is divided into two types of works. The first are structures such as those seen in this video:

The Public Art Fund, which funded and organized the exhibit, describes the Washington Square and uptown structures as follows:

Ai often visited Washington Square Park when he lived nearby in the 1980s, drawn to its vitality as a hub for creative and political expression. His 37-foot-tall steel cage echoes the iconic form of the marble arch, which commemorates George Washington leading the nation toward democracy. While seeming to create an obstruction, Ai opens a passageway through its center in the silhouette of two united figures. Visitors are able to pass through, reflected in an undulating ribbon of polished stainless steel. Their outline takes its form from Marcel Duchamp’s 1937 Door for Gradiva, created to frame the entrance to Andre Breton’s art gallery in Paris. This is fitting reference to the immigrant conceptual artist since Duchamp used to play chess in Washington Square Park, and once notoriously made his way to the top of the park’s arch with a group of other bohemian poets and artists.

For the entrance to Central Park, Ai has created a giant gilded cage that simultaneously evokes the luxury of Fifth Avenue and the privations of confinement. Visitors are able to enter its central space, which is surrounded by bars and turnstiles. Functioning as a structure of both control and display, the work reveals the complex power dynamics of repressive architecture.

The other structures are described as fences and tend to be less ambitious. All of them are meant as metaphors for the enforced isolation of refugees behind fences. Although it is not obvious at first blush, there is a fence positioned vertically between the two red buildings at 48 East 7th Street that is described as followed on the Public Art website:

Since the 19th century, successive waves of immigrants have settled on the Lower East Side. Many who landed at Ellis Island made it their home. Throughout the city, lamppost banners portray those arrivals, as well as notable exiles and contemporary refugees. Works that combine images and texts about the conditions and experiences of refugees replace bus shelter advertisements. Also in this historic neighborhood, a narrative series at Essex Street Market depicts refugees’ epic journeys, while fence installations at 189 Chrystie Street and 248 Bowery appear unexpectedly, spanning rooftops between buildings.

There are also a series of bus stop shelter installations whose meanings are probably obscure to those waiting for a bus.

Considering the description at Public Art, they would be lost on most people as well:

The artist’s structures installed around ten JCDecaux bus shelters in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx embellish transportation infrastructure to highlight the fundamental human right of free movement. Making subtle reference to the Art Nouveau curves of Hector Guimard’s famous Paris Metro entrances, Ai brings a new aesthetic to the utilitarian language of metal fencing while incorporating additional public seating for passersby. As a complement to the sculptural installations surrounding this urban street furniture, the artist has also created artworks from documentary images to be displayed on this bus shelter and others city-wide. Like all of the works in the exhibition, it subverts our traditional expectations, here co-opting spaces generally reserved for advertising to call our attention to the dire circumstances faced by millions of displaced people.

Here’s an example of a replacement ad that is part of the bus stop installations:

Finally, there are hundreds of banners that appear on lampposts around the city such as this on Park Avenue between 89th and 90th Street about 5 minutes from my apartment building:

It depicts a refugee on the island of Lesvos, Greece, which has served as the entry point into Europe for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Senegal, Syria, Somalia, Cameroon, and elsewhere. “Human Flow” spends a considerable amount of time on Lesvos, where Weiwei shows great compassion for the refugees. To be honest, I am not sure what effect a banner such as this will have on people living on Park Avenue since they are rightfully described in the 60th and 5th structure as living in a gilded cage. In fact, for all practical purposes, we are living in a new Gilded Era.

I had mixed reactions to the two structures I filmed above. In Washington Square, I asked a number of people what they thought about the structure and the refugee crisis. An Australian tourist taking iPhone snapshots replied that they had problems with refugees there and left it at that. A New Yorker and self-described lesbian told me that she had no idea what the structure meant and had no idea that there was a city-wide exhibit by Ai Weiwei on the refugee crisis. Others appeared to be the typical selfie-taking tourists and not worth wasting time on. The most considered response was from a German woman tourist who thought the whole thing was unfortunate and was leading to big problems in her country because it pitted poor Germans against the newcomers who blamed the refugees for a cut in their own benefits. The whole encounter in Washington Square left me depressed.

It was a different story uptown. I spotted a couple looking to be in their sixties inside the gilded cage who turned out to be literature professors from St. Paul’s University in Japan on vacation here. He was a transplanted New Yorker and she was originally from Japan. He did most of the talking and sounded like someone who wrote for Salon. They were both deeply sympathetic to Ai Weiwei and outraged by the tsunami of xenophobia sweeping the planet. I suppose that their viewing of Ai Weiwei’s work was the polar opposite of the selfie-taking tourists in the Village. The two takes illustrate the great divide worldwide, which is not so much between the left and the right but between those who still have a heart and brain versus the great Idiocracy.

A few words about “Human Flow”.

I attended a press screening a couple of months ago but never got around to writing a review, mostly because I have been so burnt out over the refugee crisis, particularly how it affects Syrians. I have easily written a dozen film reviews about the refugee crisis in both narrative and documentary genres. I was just at a loss for words after seeing “Human Flow”.

Returning to it now, I can recommend it as a powerful work even if it can leave you exhausted (especially at 140 minutes.) It is a world tour of the refugee crisis with stops in Lesvos as mentioned above, the Mexican border, Rohingya and Palestinian refugee camps.

Throughout it all, Weiwei interacts with the refugees trying to mix compassion with his own self-deprecating humor. It is a film worth seeing, especially if you have not seen one on the refugee crisis before.

Keeping in mind that Nazism was made possible by the scapegoating of Jewish refugees from an economically devastated Eastern Europe who flooded into Germany in the 1920s, “Human Flow” is deeply relevant to our period.

Given Ai Weiwei’s take on the super-rich on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I wonder what he would say about Xi Jinping, the current “socialist” leader of China. As an expatriate from China who is deeply familiar with the hypocrisy of its billionaire Communists, I only hope that he will find time to hold their feet to the fire in his next public art exhibit.

Ai Weiwei’s father was Ai Qing, one of China’s leading poets and a powerful figure in the Communist Party. In 1957 he made the mistake of opposing the persecution of Ding Ling, another Communist leader and writer, during an “anti-rightist” campaign. Accused now of “rightism”, Ai Qing was banished to a state farm and his work went unpublished for another 20 years.

Obviously, Ai Weiwei inherited both his father’s talent as well as the courage of his convictions. He was the chief architect for the 2008 Olympics stadium in Beijing that he eventually disavowed. In a statement, he not only attacked China for cracking down on dissidents but—warming the cockles of my heart—lashed out at Stephen Spielberg for his cozy connections to the CP bosses: “All the shitty directors in the world are involved. It’s disgusting. I don’t like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment. It is mindless.”

Like the late Roger Ebert, Ai Weiwei became totally involved with the Internet to get out his ideas, both through blogging and Tweeter. After a mammoth earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 that cost the lives of more than 5000 children due to shoddy construction, he created a work in their memory that like Maya Ling’s Vietnam Memorial is simply a list of their names. He used Twitter to gather together the names of the children.

A year later the Chinese cops conducted a raid on his apartment and beat him so badly that he required emergency brain surgery.

Not content to use physical violence, the state has also tried to pressure him into keeping quiet through legal persecution over alleged tax evasion. If you enter aiweiwei.com as a URL, you will be directed to fakecase.com that has the facts on the latest round of repression. On April 6, 2011, Xinhua News Agency reported: “Ai Weiwei is suspected of economic crimes and is now being investigated according to the law.” Considering the amount of corruption at the highest levels that the top officials of the CP are engaged in, it is a stunning exercise of chutzpah for the state to single him out for obviously trumped-up charges.

For $2.99 you can watch a great documentary on Ai Weiwei titled “Never Sorry”. Never Sorry? Doesn’t that mean something like Unrepentant?

October 30, 2017

China’s State-Owned Enterprises: a reply to Michael Roberts

Filed under: China,economics — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

Michael Roberts

Although this article will be critical of British economist Michael Roberts, I strongly recommend his blog that features several well-researched and thoughtful articles a week, including one on China that I will be commenting on now. Despite my disagreement with his analysis, I can at least recommend it as a source of valuable statistics on the remarkable growth of the Chinese economy. Of course, we are at odds on how to characterize its class character. Roberts writes:

This brings us to the question of whether China is a capitalist state or not? I think the majority of Marxist political economists agree with mainstream economics in assuming or accepting that China is. However, I am not one of them. China is not capitalist. Commodity production for profit, based on spontaneous market relations, governs capitalism. The rate of profit determines its investment cycles and generates periodic economic crises. This does not apply in China. In China, public ownership of the means of production and state planning remain dominant and the Communist party’s power base is rooted in public ownership. So China’s economic rise has been achieved without the capitalist mode of production being dominant.

For Roberts, the main justification for describing China as “not capitalist” is the preponderance of state ownership. He refers to 102 key state enterprises worth about 7.5 trillion dollars. This includes oil companies, telecommunications, power utilities and weapons. Furthermore, the presence of CP officials as president of the board of directors of these companies means that the party controls a major part of the economy and will likely resist privatization, according to CP leader Xi Jinping whose speech at a 2016 conference sounded as if it was meant as a direct appeal to people like Michael Roberts, as reported by China.org:

China’s basic economic structure is at the core of its success; a position that Xi reaffirmed. “The mainstay status of public ownership and the leading role of the state-owned economy must not waver.”

Yet, it is precisely this that Western economists and advisors have identified as the main problem in China throughout the last 30 years. They maintain that free markets and private property must play the leading role. However, it is quite clear Xi is right on this, and the pro-capitalists are wrong. This holds important lessons for left-wing forces internationally.

The driving force of capitalism — the pursuit of profit — does not dominate China’s economy. Instead, it is the needs of economic development and the process of planned urbanization. However, the complexities, difficulties and advantages of an economy led by public ownership and state-owned enterprises, are rarely studied in the West from a positive standpoint.

Nevertheless, there are highly competent Marxist economists and thinkers in the West, and a large layer of critically-minded social scientists and brilliant creative minds in the humanities and arts. If they are given the chance, they will be more than happy to help to foster new forms of urban life and workplace democracy in China.

China has become a sort of laboratory of socio-economic formations. This embrace of experimentation can offer dramatic insights capable of confirming or refuting various economic theories. For example, in the 1980s, the emergence of township village enterprises with “fuzzy” and unclear property rights was interpreted by economists like Joseph Stiglitz as evidence refuting the theory that economic dynamism must be based on private ownership.

Similarly, if we can discover why China grew by 7 percent after 2008, at a time when the world economy was in crisis, then there is a very strong chance that this will reveal how socialist economics can surpass the dynamics towards capitalist economic crisis everywhere.

If you search Roberts’s blog for references to “state ownership”, you’ll note a significantly more critical stance when it is applied to a country not ruled by a Communist Party leader who urges his ranks to read Karl Marx. In a 2012 article titled “Irresponsible capitalism” that looks at developments in the British financial sector, you see Roberts disgusted with British state-owned banks that are no different than Goldman-Sachs as a means of further enriching the one percent:

It’s the same story with the large UK banks that are now state-owned. The 83% taxpayer-owned RBS is set to pay its chief executive Stephen Hester a bonus of £1m on top of his £1.2m salary, while the man who brought RBS to its knees, the former chief executive, Sir Reg Goodwin (knighted for his services to the banking community) is still set to pick up his huge pension entitlements (£700,000-plus a year).

Unfortunately, the same due diligence does not apply when it comes to looking under the cover of Chinese SOE’s.

Let’s take a look at one of them, the Anbang Insurance Group that attracted a lot of publicity this year for its bid to invest millions of dollars in a building owned by Jared Kushner. The largest shareholders are state-owned car maker Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp and Sinopec, a state-owned oil company Sinopec.

Of course, trying to figure out who exactly “owns” Anbang is not easy. Like many huge Chinese firms, they make discovery difficult as an American trade union found out when pressing charges against it for unfair labor practices as the Times reported in September 2016.

The Anbang shareholders in the Pingyang County area hold their stakes through a byzantine collection of holding companies. But according to dozens of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of Anbang filings by The New York Times, many of them have something in common: They are family members and acquaintances of Wu Xiaohui, Anbang’s chairman, a native of the county who married into the family of Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader in the 1980s and ’90s.

You remember who Deng Xiaoping was, right? He was Mao Zedong’s successor who took “the capitalist road” in the first place. I guess his friends and relatives were quite happy with the NEP-type reforms since it put them in the position of buying the Waldorf Astoria and coming close to bailing out Trump’s son-in-law who will hopefully be arrested this week.

As should be obvious at this point, “state ownership” is a convenient fiction in China, especially since anybody can buy shares in such companies, including Western investors. For example, Roberts is impressed with the fact that the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp has begun to incorporate Western technologies, However, it is traded publicly on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, as is the case with the largest Chinese SOE’s, and thus no different from any other capitalist firm. In the final analysis, it is the class character of those who own the means of production that determines their social role. While the number of shares available to outside investors has been relatively small, “reforms” enacted in 2015 to transform SOE’s into mixed enterprises will likely increase their numbers as indicated by the transformation of the second largest mobile carrier.

Unlike China today, Soviet Russia never had a stock exchange. The children of Soviet bureaucrats could never look forward to inheriting their daddy’s holdings like Donald Trump did from his father. That is true state ownership.

Although ownership data is difficult to come by, you can read an article co-authored by Curtis J. Milhaupt and Wentong Zheng titled “Beyond Ownership: State Capitalism and the Chinese Firm” on the Columbia University Law School website. It hones in on Ping An, another insurance company. The largest block of shares is owned by HSBC Ltd., a multinational bank that originated in Hong Kong even though most shares are owned by other SOE’s. In 2016, Mexican families sued the bank for money-laundering the drug proceeds of the Sinaloa Cartel that had killed members of their families, just the sort of outfit you’d want to help overcome the law of value, as Roberts put it.

Milhaupt and Zheng refer to the “blurred boundaries” between private and state-owned firms in China, as I have tried to establish. To get an idea of how tangled things can get, this is how they describe ZTE, China’s second-largest telecom:

According to the website of ZTE Holdings, it is one of the “national key SOEs” designated by the State Council. The third shareholder of ZTE Holdings, Zhongxing WXT (also known as Zhongxingweixiantong), is a private firm owned by a group of individuals, of whom the founder, Hou Weigui, holds the largest percentage (18%). According to the website of ZTE Holdings, it was the first firm in China to adopt a “state owned, privately managed” model in 1993. Under this so-called “ZTE model,” the majority state shareholders contractually authorize the minority private shareholders to assume sole responsibility for managing the firm, subject only to the requirement that the state shareholders be guaranteed a minimum rate of return. Under the ZTE model, therefore, a firm is an SOE from the standpoint of ownership, but a POE [privately owned] from the standpoint of management.

It is best to think of SOE’s in China as a chainlink in the transition to capitalism. Given the constant references to “building socialism” in the Chinese press and the nation’s origins in a powerful revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party that is still in the driver’s seat, it is understandable why some might still believe that Xi Jinping is a new Mao Zedong rather than a pioneer in the construction of capitalism.

If you put China in the context of the origins of capitalism in Europe in the 17th and 18th century, the role of SOE’s might be seen as analogous to the state monopolies that flourished under what Marx called mercantile capitalism. In 1773, the Crown took control of the East India Company and used it as a means of expanding the empire in East Asia, a key element of primitive accumulation.

Another tool of primitive accumulation was separating the peasant from his means of subsistence through the Enclosure Acts around the same time, thus making it possible for a reserve army of the unemployed to be transformed into wage slaves.

Hasn’t China had its own version of the Enclosure Acts? That’s the argument made by Richard Walker and Daniel Buck in a July-August 2007 NLR article titled “The Chinese Road” (behind a paywall, contact me for a copy). They refer to the hukou, a Mao-era law that established household registration. If you migrated to the city in search of work, you might be considered in violation of the hukou and as such not entitled to the same rights as other citizens, thus making you vulnerable to super-exploitation. Walker and Buck write:

The harshness of the hukou system recalls Britain’s Speenhamland laws. Rural migrants must pay for the right to move and are prevented from becoming rightful members of urban society; they ‘float’ through the cities, poorly housed and lacking social services. The hukou is a pernicious method of discriminating among classes of people and keeping the floating population marginalized. It functions to maintain a low-wage labour force, reduce the demand for urban infrastructure such as schools, and facilitate rapid capital accumulation. In Beijing, reforms since 1997 have at least allowed purchase of temporary residence, and today Chongqing is experimenting with dismantling the hukou altogether, allowing people to acquire permanent residence in the city in exchange for relinquishing land rights in the countryside.

Like Britain, China is “taking off” in its own version of the Industrial Revolution made possible by such harsh measures. In the same way that becoming a major exporter of textiles in the 19th century helped Britain’s workers begin to enjoy a standard of living that was the envy of the rest of Europe, China’s workers appear content with the status quo, at least according to a Pew Research Center Poll that Roberts takes as a barometer of Chinese opinion. “No matter how you measure it, no matter what questions you ask, the results always indicate that the vast majority of people are truly satisfied with the status quo.”

Of course, it helps when you jail anybody foolish enough to complain about the status quo, especially those who would like to use the Internet to connect with like-minded citizens. Under the Great Firewall, a system intended to police thought, there are 3,000 websites that the Chinese cannot access. Here are some of the most notable according to Wikipedia.

 

 

October 28, 2017

The hairdo hall of shame

Filed under: aging — louisproyect @ 1:26 am

(Men, when you reach old age, wearing the hairstyle of a 21-year-old will not make you look younger. It will only make you look like a clown.)

Leon Wieseltier: arch-Zionist, social climber, crappy writer and sexual predator

Graydon Carter: Vanity Fair editor who turned into everything he satirized in Spy magazine

Ernest Moniz: Obama’s Secretary of Energy, who argued that fracking is good for the environment

Richard Branson: Rich bastard who sends rockets into space with atomic fuel that have already blown up.

Steven Pinker: sociobiologist who defends the idea that capitalism is a great advance over every social system that preceded it.

 

625

Ken Burns: documentary filmmaker who views Vietnam war as a tragic mistake rather than a deliberate imperialist grab.

October 27, 2017

The Political Economy of Fascism

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism — louisproyect @ 12:33 pm

Considered Keynesianism as a “useful introduction to fascist economics.”

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 27, 2017

For all of the millions of words written about the fascist danger posed by Donald Trump, there are very few devoted to an actual analysis of fascist economics both as ideology and state policy. Instead there is a fixation on marchers in Charlottesville chanting “blood and soil” or other Nazi era memes. Before considering whether people like Donald Trump or Steve Mnuchin seek to impose a fascist dictatorship on the USA, it might be useful to take a look at some of the demands found in the Manifesto of the Fascist party founded by Benito Mussolini in 1919 that was co-written by labor syndicalist Alceste De Ambris and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the author of the 1909 Futurist Manifesto that had a powerful impact on Russian art in the 1920s.

+ The quick enactment of a law of the state that sanctions an eight-hour workday for all workers

+ A minimum wage

+ The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions

+ To show the same confidence in the labor unions (that prove to be technically and morally worthy) as is given to industry executives or public servants

+ A strong progressive tax on capital (envisaging a “partial expropriation” of concentrated wealth)

+ The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor

Unlike Donald Trump, whose populism was mostly campaign bluster and a rightwing version of the hokum Barack Obama used in 2007 to get votes, Mussolini’s dictatorship could hardly be confused with the neoliberalism that has been hegemonic since the early 1970s under Republicans and Democrats alike.

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Comments (13)

October 26, 2017

China maintains its capitalist course

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

Source: China maintains its capitalist course

Comments (2)

October 25, 2017

Reactions to recent anti-fascist analysis

Filed under: Fascism — louisproyect @ 6:24 pm

An Austrian not into Austrian economics

(1) Alternet: an interview with Mark Bray:

Ilana Novick: How you would define Antifa?

Mark Bray: Antifa is, of course, short for anti-fascism. But it really is a shorthand for a specific tendency that in English is usually referred to as militant anti-fascism. Militant anti-fascism is essentially a pan-radical-left politic of direct action against the far right.

IN: Is it more of a tactic or a guiding principle, rather than a specific movement that someone can join?

MB: Think about it like socialism. Is socialism something that someone can join? No, it’s a politic. But are there socialist groups you can join? Yeah. Same with Antifa. Antifa is either an activity or a mode of politics, depending on exactly what kind of phrasing you prefer. In that sense, anyone can make their own Antifa group. There is no Antifa central command, but there are Antifa groups with membership that you could join. Or you could make your own group.

In that way, it’s no one group, but there are groups.

Comment:

A highly disingenuous comparison. Antifa groups by their very nature are clandestine. They punch photographers because pictures might be used to “dox” them. They never identify themselves by name on places like It’s Going Down for the same reason. This means that you really can’t have a productive relationship with them because secrecy trumps accountability. They decide in advance within their own hermetically sealed circles what tactics they are going to carry out and then impose them on others. United fronts are impossible with them because they operate in secrecy. Within the broad left, you will never see a single antifa activist defend their positions publically in places like ZNet or CounterPunch because they have little interest in dialog. They never organize public forums where they defend their ideas at the Left Forum or elsewhere. Except for people like David Graeber and Mark Bray, there is not a single public prominent spokesperson for the antifa defending their ideas. This kind of elitist, self-anointed, combat-oriented leftism is singularly disruptive and easily exploitable by the cops. This is exactly how the Weathermen operated as soon as they adopted the position that they were out to deliver America from fascism in 1972. If the USA ever reaches the point when it is necessary to conduct an armed struggle, this sort of behavior might be acceptable but in the meantime, it is just childish acting out that undermines the kind of united mass actions grounded in democratic decision-making that is so necessary.

(2) Salvage: Charles Post, “Fascism and Anti-Fascism: reflections on recent debates on the US Left“:

In this article, Post refers to me critically:

While we must mobilize as many people as possible so that we outnumber the fascists, mass mobilizations alone will ultimately be insufficient despite the claims of some on the US left. We must prepare ourselves for the inevitable physical confrontations that have historically been crucial to defeating fascism. Our model needs to be the successful anti-fascist actions like Cable Street in London in 1936, Madison Square Garden in New York in 1938, the Mutualite arena in Paris in 1973, and Lewisham in London in 1977 — where the revolutionary left mobilized mass actions that included broader layers of people opposed to fascism, and that both outnumbered and physically dispersed the fascists.

“[D]espite the claims of some on the US left” links to a CounterPunch article I wrote on September 8th. Frankly, I have no idea what Post could have possibly been referring to. My article says zero about preparing for combat in the streets. Instead, it was a refutation of the idea that an insufficient amount of street-fighting during the Weimar Republic explains Hitler coming to power. My central point was that a combination of CP ultraleftism and SP reformism short-circuited the possibility of effective resistance. I don’t know if Salvage is understaffed or something but a sharp-eyed editor might have checked Post’s reference especially when you are dealing with a vindictive skunk like me.

Additionally, there is some confusion in Post’s article that reflects his agreement with what Salvage éminence grise Richard Seymour has written. When Post writes, “Put simply, we need to ‘no platform’ fascists”, he is simply recapitulating the long-standing orientation of the British SWP out of which Seymour emerged. This “no platforming” means something like the 1936 Cable Street in London that has an iconic value for people like Post and Seymour. This was meant to keep Oswald Moseley’s followers off the streets of Jewish neighborhoods in the East End. I recommend Janet Contursi’s “No, Antifa, This is Not the 1930s and We Don’t Need to Punch a Nazi” in the September 18th CounterPunch that takes up this action:

What the anti-fascist forces did achieve at Cable Street was a singular victory in stopping a single march. But at what price? In the aftermath of that action, membership in the BUF grew. Rather than smashing fascism, the battle turned out to be a recruitment tool for the BUF. The organization gained an additional 2,000 members immediately, and its membership continued to climb steadily. Seven months before the battle, BUF membership was around 10,000; one month after the battle, it rose to 15,500. It continued to rise until, by 1939, the BUF had about 22,500 members.

The anti-fascist actions didn’t dampen the peoples’ enthusiasm for Mosely’s message. In the weeks after the battle, pro-fascist crowds in the thousands turned out for BUF meetings, listened to Mosley’s fascist proselytizing, and marched through London without much opposition. An intelligence report on the battle noted that afterwards, “A definite pro-Fascist feeling has manifested itself. The alleged Fascist defeat is in reality a Fascist advance.”

Post also refers to another iconic action that unfortunately is misrepresented by most people adapting to the antifa nonsense, namely the SWP-led protest against a German-American Bund meeting in Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939. This was not an instance of a successful “no platforming” action at all. Instead, it was an attempt by thousands of workers to exercise their democratic right to protest at Madison Square Garden that was blocked by the cops as the SWP newspaper made crystal clear:

Action began on 48th Street. From the corner of 8th Avenue where a solid line of mounted cops was stationed, stirrup to stirrup, they made a furious attack on the assembled demonstrators. Moving in both directions, one group of cops trampled down a throng of patriotic war veterans and cut their American flag to ribbons, while another group smashed brutally into the mass of workers.

Although the Cossacks made repeated sallies into the workers’ crowd, the mass formed and reformed, stoutly determined to hold their own until they gathered sufficient strength to exercise their right to assemble and to picket whether the cops granted it or not.

The fury of the workers increased with every minute. They kept shouting angrily at the Cossacks, and booed them for every vicious plunge into the crowd.

“Down with the Nazi terrorists!” they roared the cry of the Socialist Workers Party.

“We demand the right to picket!” they shouted. 

Surrounded by an unbreakable phalanx, one SWP speaker after another, lifted on the shoulders of huskies, made terse and militant speeches to the workers, who cheered so lustily that they could be heard, literally, for blocks away.

Max Shachtman, editor of the Socialist Appeal , was the first to speak. He pointed out that the La Guardia administration, elected to office by the vote of New York labor, was showing an amazing concern over the so-called “democratic rights” of the Nazi assassins to hold a mobilization meeting- which was an insult and a provocation to the working people of the city. The same administration, however, which gave such unprecedented police protection to the Fascist gang, was using the police to deprive the workers of their democratic rights, notably the right to assemble and to picket—rights supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution and by several decisions of the Federal and Supreme courts.

[emphasis added]

There is not a word in the article about trying to prevent the meeting from taking place. Indeed, it is the approach I have been defending ever since the antifa adventurists imposed their provocative behavior on the mass picketing of the Milo Yiannopoulos at the Berkeley student union building.

(3) Monthly Review Editor’s Note:

If you follow my blog, you might remember that I criticized John Bellamy Foster’s article “Neofascism in the White House” on May 3rd. The editor’s note repeats a number of the mistakes found in Foster’s article.

The editors write:

But with the deepening crisis of the system, marked by the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–09 and the subsequent years of stagnation, significant fractions of the capitalist class, mostly connected in the United States to the finance and energy sectors, have sought to stabilize their rule by shifting from neoliberalism to neofascism.

It is clear what neoliberalism means. We have been confronting it in one way or another ever since Allende was overthrown during the Reagan and Thatcher regimes. It is fundamentally an attack on the welfare state under the general rubric of Austrian or Chicago school economics as symbolized by Milton Friedman’s deep involvement with Pinochet’s assault on Chile’s social provisions that were a legacy from Allende and prior administrations.

Is there anything about the Trump administration that indicates a retreat from neoliberalism? Furthermore, what are the economic principles that would underpin “neofascism”? Who is its Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman?

There are few suggestions in the MR editor’s note about the economic policies of a neofascist regime. Originally, fascism meant corporatism. Indeed, the late Lynn Turgeon, an economics professor who was influenced by Paul Sweezey and a frequent contributor to MR, argued that FDR’s Keynesianism and Nazi economics had something in common, namely strong state intervention, especially using a military build-up to offset the Great Depression:

Some wag has defined an economist as someone who has seen something work in practice and then proceeds to make it work in theory. In some respects, this may have applied to Keynes, who was certainly aware of the tremendous economic miracle of Adolf Hitler in reducing unemployment from over 30 percent when he took office in 1933 to 1 percent by 1936, the year in which the German edition of the General Theory appeared. In his special introduction to the German edition, Keynes recognized how “thirsty” the Germans must be for his “general theory,” which would also apply to “national socialism.”

(From “Bastard Keynesianism: The Evolution of Economic Thinking and Policymaking Since WWII”)

There is more to Nazi economics than simply military Keynesianism. Despite Trump’s demagogic appeal to help out unemployed coal miners, there were signs that Hitler was ready to carry out measures that had little to do with Milton Friedman as I pointed out in an article on Daniel Goldhagen 16 years ago:

Goebbels launched a “winter aid campaign” in 1933-34 that provided charity donations in the form of goods and money to the very needy. The recipients were the old, sick and large families. The Nazi press used these campaigns to their full advantage.

Over and beyond such immediate social programs, there was the promise of a new system that would eliminate unemployment and poverty. The whole basis for social transformation was to be through a synthesis of urban and rural life, called “rurban” values by Arthur Schweitzer in his “Big Business and the Third Reich.” The Nazis promoted the view that the class-struggle in the city could be overcome by returning to the villages and developing artisan and agricultural economies based on cooperation. Ayrans needed to get back to the soil and simple life.

The ramifications of this were felt most immediately in farming where the Nazis seemed to be on a collision course with the big rural estates of the old-line bourgeoisie. The Nazis passed a law on September 13, 1933 that introduced the principle of cooperative organization into agriculture. They also created a state marketing agency that would set prices and regulate the supply and demand of produce. Finally, they stipulated that farms could no longer be sold nor foreclosed. While the Junkers were assured that the new laws would not affect them, they did feel nervous about the apparent radicalism of the new Nazi laws.

The core of Nazi rural socialism was the idea that land-use must be planned. Gottfried Feder was a leading Nazi charged with the duty of formulating such policy. He made a speech in Berlin in 1934 in which he stated that the right to build homes or factories or to use land according to the personal interests of owners was to be abolished. The government instead would dictate how land was to be used and what would be constructed on it. Feder next began to build up elaborate administrative machinery to carry out his plans.

Does anybody think that American fascism, neo or otherwise, would ever adopt such statist measures? I plan to deal with all this in an article on the political economy of fascism for this week’s CounterPunch.

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October 24, 2017

Blade of the Immortal

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Starting off as an enfant terrible film director in 1991, Takashi Miike—now 57—has just made his 100th film. Showing no signs of mellowing, his “The Blade of the Immortal” is a 140-minute samurai movie that climaxes with its two main characters fending off an entire battalion of Shogunate soldiers in a sword fight that sums up Miike’s esthetic in William Blake’s words: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” Considering the length of the film (11 minutes were cut from the original) that defies commercial expectations and required the recruitment of 300 extras for the mind-boggling climax, Miike demonstrates an independence that is all too lacking today, including in Japan where the film industry has lost its edge.

The word immortal in the film’s title does not connote fame. Instead, it refers to the main character’s inability to die. In the opening scene that is a mirror image of the climax, samurai warrior Manji (Takuya Kimura) takes on fifty or so bounty hunters who want to reap the reward for bringing him in. After ten minutes of gloriously choreographed hacking and stabbing, all the bad guys are dead and a bloody and staggered Manji appears to be taking his last breath. A deus ex machina appears in the form of a wizened female demon who casts a spell on him. This involves the infusion of “bloodworms” (minute demonic creatures) into his body that miraculously brings him back to full health no matter how many times he is stabbed, beaten or otherwise injured. Like the wolfman Larry Talbot played by Lon Chaney Jr., Manji eventually realizes that immortality is a curse. But unlike Larry Talbot, a silver bullet (or sword) will not do the job.

This is not the only (and probably unintentional) echo of American popular culture in Miike’s film. After Manji retreats from civilized society and begins leading a hermit-like existence in a shack on the outskirts of town, he is visited by a teen girl named Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) who heard about the swordsman who cannot die. She sees him as the ideal candidate to take revenge on Kagehisa Anotsu (Sōta Fukushi), the samurai who killed her father. He was the master of a samurai academy that Anotsu sought to shut down as part of a move to monopolize sword-fighting instruction in the Shogunate under his Itto-ryo academy. Essentially, the teaming up of Manji and Rin against the evil Anotsu evokes “True Grit”, with Manji having the same combination of crustiness, obstinacy, and fighting skills seen in Rooster Cogburn and Rin exemplifying the determination and spunk of Mattie Ross.

Showing the same blend of mayhem and humor as Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”, but with Miike’s flair for the Grand Guignol, Manji fights off another group of bounty hunters midway through the film that costs him his left hand. After he dispenses with the bad guys, he nonchalantly picks up the severed left hand and tucks into his kimono where he will reattach it later through the help of the bloodworms.

“Blade of the Immortal” is based on mangas (comic books) by Hiroaki Samura that must have been irresistible to Miike since it is a mash-up of samurai action and anachronistic punk attitudes and style. One of the female warriors in the film wears a skin-tight purple costume that looks like something a member of Prince’s band might wear.

You can get an idea of what to expect in a Miike film based on who he considers his favorite directors: Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Paul Verhoeven. My advice is to go see “Blade of the Immortal” when it opens on Friday at the Quad Cinema. If you enjoy it, you might want to find his other films in the regular streaming and DVD venues:

Dead or Alive (http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/dead_or_alive.htm)

Happiness of the Katakuris (http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/Katakuris.htm)

The Great Yokai War (https://louisproyect.org/2006/06/21/the-great-yokai-war/)

Zebraman (https://louisproyect.org/2007/08/09/zebraman/)

13 Assassins (https://louisproyect.org/2011/07/14/three-samurai-movies/)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (https://louisproyect.org/2012/07/24/hari-kiri-death-of-a-samurai/)

Plus Audition, a great film that was my introduction to Miike that I never got around to reviewing. The influence of David Cronenberg is palpable.

 

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October 22, 2017

Russian Revolution: a Contested Legacy

Filed under: art,Russian Revolution — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

One of the ironies of post-Communism is that two of the artists making the most radical statements in N.Y. right now are émigrés from China and Russia respectively, the two nations that were at one time the top fixations of the Cold War establishment. While Chinese and Russian émigrés tend to be seen reflexively as new-found admirers of American freedom (especially of free markets), Ai WeiWei and Yevgeniy Fiks are throwbacks to the day when artists were expected to be the visual counterparts of the poets that 19th century radical Percy Bysshe Shelley called the “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”.

I plan to post about WeiWei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” later this week but now will report on a show at the International Print Center in New York that features the work of Yevgeniy and another Russian émigré named Anton Ginzburg. Titled “Russian Revolution: a Contested Legacy”, it is the most thoughtful and necessary show you are likely to see during the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, whose legacy was trashed in the NY Times Book Review today by a motley crew of Cold Warriors.

Curated by Masha Chlenova, an art historian at the New School, it reflects the spirit of the Russian revolution in a dual sense. It is a spirit that animates the human being and leads to greater aspirations but is also the spirit in the sense of a ghost whose presence haunts someone like Hamlet or Scrooge.

In the catalog for the show Chlenova sets forth the dialectical method that is severely lacking in the NY Times:

The exhibition Russian Revolution: A Contested Legacy at IPCNY uses a similar strategy. It celebrates the centennial of the Russian revolution by highlighting those genuine objectives that are important to preserve today: namely its pursuit of individual freedoms, such as the emancipation of women; racial equality and the rights of ethnic minorities (especially Jews) as part of a push towards internationalism; and sexual and gay liberation. While the rhetoric of individual freedoms and civil rights in the Soviet Union outlived their actual implementation and thus largely lost credibility by the mid- to late 1930s, it is important to remember the real gains that did take place, even if their lifespan was limited.

To capture the emancipatory spirit of the heady days of the revolution as well as contemporary examinations of how to recapture that spirit, Chlenova has curated works from the early Soviet Union as well as Yevgeniy and Anton Ginzburg’s artistic meditations on the past.

While Stalin was cracking down on the opposition in the late 20s, there are some works on display in the show that demonstrate the living spirit and rebelliousness of its artists who would eventually be pushed aside by the Socialist Realism imposed by the bureaucracy by the mid-1930s. Among them is a poster for a lottery to raise funds for Birobidzhan, the Jewish state that Stalin decreed.

Like much else that was happening until the Stalinist regime imposed a totalitarian straightjacket on society, Birobidzhan was an experiment that both expressed the top-down nature of the regime that decided for the country’s Jews where they would live as well as a genuine pioneering spirit that captured their imagination.

Among Yevgeny’s works on display is one titled “Leniniana” that fully expresses the overall theme of the show. It is based on Aleksandr Gerasimov’s iconic “V.I. Lenin at the Tribune”, a work that while anticipating the sort of adulatory and culturally degraded portraits of Stalin and Mao also captured the burning embers of 1917. For many Russians, 12 years of growing bureaucratization were not sufficient to extinguish the memory of last century’s greatest revolutionary uprising.

Gerasimov

Fiks

Yevgeniy’s portrait of an absent Lenin was part of a series of works painted in 2008 that were united around the theme of Lenin’s place in Russian history. By removing Lenin from a series of paintings such as the one depicted in the show, he challenges us to come to a deeper understanding of what he represented. He describes the aim of the paintings on his website:

This project is a post-Soviet “Leniniana,” a “Leniniana” of denial and repression, which questions Lenin’s place in the Russian historical narrative as well as the place of the legacy of the Russian Revolution in that narrative today in general. This project presents Lenin as a silenced figure of the post-Soviet era. The project suggests that only through return of this figure (as any other repressed historical figure) from the repressed of our collective memory, can the narrative of Russian history regain its wholeness.

As a gay, Jewish man, there is probably nobody more qualified than Yevgeniy to understand the dual character of the former Soviet Union. Like most people with a deeper and unbiased understanding of Soviet history, Yevgeniy knows that the Bolsheviks took radical steps to decriminalize homosexuality in the 1920s while the Soviet state reintroduced repressive laws in the 1930s as part of a general retreat from the revolution’s ambitious social goals.

The troubled past of the Soviet Union’s relationship with society’s underdogs—gays, Jews, and Blacks—have been the enduring themes of his work that I have documented since meeting Yevgeniy in 2012. I invite you to see the record of my interaction with this great artist over the years and even more so to see the show at the International Print Center that continues until December 12th.

A conversation with Yevgeniy Fiks, a Post-Soviet Conceptual Artist: https://louisproyect.org/2012/11/26/a-conversation-with-yevgeniy-fiks-a-post-soviet-conceptual-artist/

A Gift to Birobidzhan: https://louisproyect.org/2014/09/19/a-gift-to-birobidzhan/

The Lenin Museum: https://louisproyect.org/2014/12/17/the-lenin-museum/

 

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October 20, 2017

Was Syria an exception to the Arab Spring: commentary on Stephen Gowans’s “Washington’s Long War on Syria”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 12:29 pm
Stephen Gowans
COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 20, 2017

One can debate whether to label the ideology that structured the Arab nationalists’ economic policies as socialism, but U.S. officials unquestionably regarded the economic demarche of the Arab nationalist countries, including Syria, as socialist. As mentioned, some even went so far as to brand Assad’s father, Hafez, an Arab communist. Others described Syria’s economic policies under Bashar as inspired by Soviet models.

— Stephen Gowans, “Washington’s Long War on Syria

Late last year, a group of big-name investors — including Bill Miller of Legg Mason Capital Management and Barton Biggs, managing partner of Traxis Partners, a New York hedge fund — spent a week in Syria and Lebanon. They met with top political leaders and local businesspeople and were feted with elaborate dinners with the cream of society.

Traveling to far-flung corners of the world to get an early look at promising markets has long been a staple of global investing. But Syria — until recently a pariah state in the eyes of the U.S. — proved irresistible, drawing an unusual array of money managers.

Long isolated from international finance, Syria is one of the last remaining investment frontiers. It has a sizable economy, an educated populace, and, lately, a new degree of openness to foreign investment.

“This was not a group of naive investors, and [I] have to say it opened all our eyes,” said Steven Galbraith, a partner at Maverick Capital, a $11 billion hedge fund.

— Joanna Slater, “Syria Woos Investors From Half a World Away”, Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2010

Published in April, 2017, Canadian blogger Stephen Gowans’s “Washington’s Long War on Syria” is a 282-page full-throated defense of Bashar al-Assad, who, according to the excerpt from the book’s Introduction above, amounts to a heroic figure defending socialism just as much as Fidel Castro did during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. In a Manichean-like understanding of politics that permeates the openly pro-Assad left, the world is divided between Good and Evil. On one side, you have vintage Arab nationalism that stood up to Israel, exploited a nation’s resources for the common good, opposed medieval Islamic institutions, and generally took the side of people struggling against imperialism everywhere in the world. On the other hand, you had villainous Salafi jihadists funded by the Saudis and other Sunni states in the Middle East who sought to kill “infidels” such as the Shia and the Alawites. These mustache-twirling fiends were in turn backed by the CIA and Israel. According to this scenario, the revolt that began in 2011 was nothing but a plot hatched by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria to foment discord among a comfortable and untroubled Sunni population that was unfortunately susceptible to demagogic appeals based on religious dogma. It was not hardship that drove people to protest but differences over who is entitled to speak in the Prophet’s name.

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October 19, 2017

One of Us; Jane

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

After I described “Baby Driver” as a supremely stupid movie on Facebook, someone wrote that “I knew its was something of a love project for edgar wright, so i just turned my brain off rather than wait for any quirky humour to arise.” What a coincidence. After seeing the two documentaries reviewed below, I said to myself that they were superior to “Wonder Woman” and “Baby Driver” because they made me think. For many people, especially those who prefer Hollywood blockbusters top-heavy with CGI such as “Wonder Woman” or car chases such as “Baby Driver”, the goal is to stop thinking. They are escapist fare while my deepest need is to be engaged with social realities. This can mean watching a narrative film like “Menashe” that made me think about the contradictions of Orthodox Judaism but there are far too few narrative films worth watching, especially in 2017 that has been a plague year for Hollywood, as Daniel Defoe would have put it.

Turning to the first documentary, “One of Us” is an examination of three young people who left ultra-orthodox Hasidic sects and that is closely related to “Menashe”. Although Menashe was sorely tested by the demand the sect elders put upon him as a single father to award custody of his young son to his brother-in-law, he was not likely to leave the Hasidic world. Ironically, the Hasid (Menashe Lustig) who played Menashe was an Internet personality with a considerable following on Youtube where his Yiddish-language comic riffs on Hasidic life persuaded the film’s director that he would be ideal for the part.

As is made clear by Ari, the 18-year old who we see being shorn of his peyot (sidelocks) in a barber shop, it was an encounter with the Internet that convinced him to leave his sect. He refers to Wikipedia and Google rapturously. It was a miracle that all the world’s knowledge was accessible to him at his fingertips.

We see a clean-shaven Ari in Gap-style clothing sitting in a park in the middle of Hasidic territory in Brooklyn gazing at his laptop when he is approached by a bearded Hasid in the standard black frocks. He begins by asking Ari if children can access the Internet from within the park, to which he replies “of course”. This leads quickly to a discussion about the threats to Hasidic life posed by all the bad things on the net and why Ari has decided to throw in his lot with the outside world. Why didn’t he want to be “one of us” as the Hasid puts it, from which the film derives its title?

The film includes footage of a remarkable rally that took place at Shea Stadium in Queens in May 2012, where a Hasidic leader referred to young children getting iPads or iPhones in anguished tones as if they decided to drink milk with meat. The NY Times reported on how difficult it would be for the community to swear off the Internet:

For an event billed as taking aim at the Internet, signs of the digital age seemed to pop up everywhere.

On a No. 7 train headed toward the stadium, several men wearing the clothing of the ultra-Orthodox whipped out smartphones as soon as the subway emerged from the East River tunnel, poking at e-mail in-boxes and checking voice mail messages.

Several opponents of the rally gathered outside the stadium, including a crowd that stood by police barricades holding signs that read, “The Internet Is Not the Problem.”

Like Ari, Luzer was seduced into leaving the Hasidim but by another snake in Eden, namely Blockbuster video where he used to rent DVD’s before Netflix obsoleted the chain. He used to rent 3 or 4 DVD’s and sit in a shopping mall parking lot to watch them in his car. When a cop thought he looked suspicious, he asked him what he was doing. When Luzer told him he was watching a movie, the cop asked why he didn’t do it at home. Because I can’t was the answer.

Now 32, Luzer is trying to make it as an actor. He divides time between LA, where he lives in an RV, and NYC. We see him visiting Monsey, NY where he is now persona non grata and not even permitted to see the two children of his previous marriage. Ironically, the town is named after the Munsee Indians who were ethnically cleansed from NY in the same way that Palestinians have been driven out of Israel.

The third subject is a woman in her mid-30s named Etty who despite being in early 30s has seven children. She has separated from her husband who was introduced to her through an arranged marriage, just as was Menashe’s recently deceased wife. In the case of the fictional Menashe and the real-life Etty, there was no love in the marriage but even worse for Etty, it led to a decade or so worth of beatings and humiliation. For Etty, there is also custody battle but one that she is likely to lose just like Menashe. A civil court in Brooklyn is likely to side with the husband as is usually the case with Hasidic divorces since the community exerts influence through bloc voting.

Like Ari and Luzer, Etty is appalled at the willful ignorance of the Hasidim as well the sexism that facilitated the oppressive household conditions she lived under. She shows us a book her daughter uses in a religious school that embodies Hasidic backwardness, including the blacking out of young girl’s faces who are depicted in the book’s graphics. It reminded me of the intervention my grandmother took but in the opposite direction. She altered a photo of my great-grandmother to block out the religious head covering she was wearing. My grandmother was religious but she had no use for shtetl backwardness.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 1.16.35 PM

“One of Us” is reminiscent of “Trembling Before God”, a 2001 documentary about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews that adopted secularism because the homophobia in the community became unbearable. If you don’t mind Portuguese subtitles, the film can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts7bhOau0Wc

As they say, 90 percent of the success of a documentary involves the selection of attractive and interesting subjects. On this basis, “One of Us” succeeds admirably and will certainly gain my vote for best documentary in 2017. It can be seen at the IFC Center in NYC starting tomorrow as well as on Netflix.

Also opening tomorrow at the Landmark theaters on both West 57th St. and East Houston St is “Jane”, a biopic documentary about Jane Goodall, the woman who studied chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania starting in 1960 when she was 26 years old. Recently National Geographic that funded her studies came across an archive of film footage from Gombe that they turned over to Brett Morgen who would be responsible for molding them into a documentary. “Jane” consists of this footage with commentary by Jane Goodall who is now 83 years old.

As someone who was enthralled by Goodall’s “In The Shadow Of Man” when it came out in 1974, I was looking forward immensely to this film. I was a bit disappointed because the focus was much more on her life story rather than her research. For example, there is only about a minute or so showing a chimpanzee fashioning a twig into a tool to extract termites from their nest. When I read about this in her book, it made me rethink what I had read in Engels’s “The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”:

Labour begins with the making of tools. And what are the most ancient tools that we find – the most ancient judging by the heirlooms of prehistoric man that have been discovered, and by the mode of life of the earliest historical peoples and of the rawest of contemporary savages? They are hunting and fishing implements, the former at the same time serving as weapons. But hunting and fishing presuppose the transition from an exclusively vegetable diet to the concomitant use of meat, and this is another important step in the process of transition from ape to man.

Despite her lack of a college education and specialized training, Louis Leaky decided to send his secretary Jane Goodall to Tanzania because he thought that most animal behavior scientists would carry too much intellectual baggage with them and not be able to allow the chimpanzee’s behavior to speak for itself.

Leakey had come to the conclusion that studying chimpanzees would give us insights about homo sapiens. Much of what Goodall saw did have relevance, especially the use of tools and how mothers looked after their children. In addition to Goodall, Leakey also recruited Dian Fossey to study gorillas.

What I did find somewhat troubling, however, was the footage of what Goodall referred to as a virtual war between rival bands of chimpanzees that she regarded as proof that warfare is in our genes. Obviously, this is consistent with the sociobiology of Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond.

As was the case with the use of fashioning twigs, the film spends only a few minutes reviewing the so-called war. One supposes that the director had to make a choice. Given the standard 90 minutes or so allocated to a feature film, you could not tell both her life story and do justice to her in-depth research.

As soon as I returned home from a press screening and did some searching on chimpanzee wars. I recommend the articles in Scientific American written by John Horgan who speculates that the aggressive behavior might have even been triggered by Jane Goodall feeding bananas to the chimps in order to bring them closer to her husband Hugo van Lawick’s camera, as is seen in “Jane”. In an article titled “Quitting the hominid fight club: The evidence is flimsy for innate chimpanzee–let alone human—warfare”, Horgan writes:

The first lethal gang attack was witnessed in 1974 at Gombe, after Goodall and her co-workers had spent 14 years closely observing chimpanzees. Goodall, who began supplying bananas to chimpanzees in 1965, once expressed concern that the feeding “was having a marked effect on the behavior of the chimps. They were beginning to move about in large groups more often than they had ever done in the old days. Worst of all, the adult males were becoming increasingly aggressive. When we first offered the chimps bananas the males seldom fought over their food; …now…there was a great deal more fighting than ever before.” (This quote appears in Sussman and Marshack’s paper.)

Chimpanzees throughout Africa are also increasingly threatened by poachers, farmers and other humans. Ian Tattersall, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, told me that chimpanzee violence is “plausibly related to population stress occasioned by human encroachment.” In other words, outbreaks of lethal violence among chimpanzees may stem primarily from environmental and even cultural factors. Wrangham himself has emphasized that chimpanzees display “significant cultural variation” in tool use, courtship and other behaviors.

My advice is to see “Jane” for some thought-provoking material to chew over as well as spectacularly beautiful cinematography produced by van Lawick, widely considered the greatest photographer of wildlife in Africa. If you, however, are interested in escapist entertainment, there is always “Wonder Woman”. You can leave your brain at home.

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