Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 16, 2018

The excuses some Marxists make for voting Democratic (part one)

Filed under: DSA,electoral strategy,Lenin — louisproyect @ 9:57 pm

Loved cats, hated liberals

On June 30th, Nick, a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia, posed the question on the Marxism list whether Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “emphasizing a class position” as part of “hostile takeover” type campaigns by the DSA in the Democratic Party had more of a potential for promoting socialist politics than intervening in the Australian Labour Party, a party that makes Tony Blair’s “New Labour” look radical by comparison. Since I was somewhat surprised to see a member of a group that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement warming up to the DSA’s Democratic Party orientation, I defended what I considered to be a Marxist position: “The key difference between a reformist Labor Party and the Democratic Party is based on class. For example, socialists have had a tactical orientation to the NDP in Canada for decades now but none have oriented to the Liberal Party. Unless we can distinguish between a bourgeois party and a reformist social democratic or labor party, we are missing the all-important class criterion.”

This prompted a DSA member on Marxmail named Jason to edify silly me on Marxist theory. Referring to Lenin’s “Ultraleftism, an Infantile Disorder”, he stated: “There is a shibboleth in the Trotskyist movement that this is from Lenin, but it’s not actually what Lenin argued. He said ‘the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party’”.

Showing a familiarity with Lenin probably not typical of DSA members, he backed up his claim the next day by referring to Lenin’s support for the Cadets in Czarist Russia:

Of course I didn’t meant to imply he ignored or we should ignore the relationships of various parties to various class forces, but even there, Lenin did not use the “clear class line” to refuse any electoral support or relationship, as one can see from the 1912 conference resolution he worked on and supported, which called for “exposing the counter-revolutionary views of the bourgeois liberals (headed by the Cadet Party)” while still saying in specific circumstances an “agreement must be concluded to share the seats” with them.

Although Lenin urging ultraleft Communists to support British Labour even though it was a “bourgeois party” just like the Democratic Party was a new excuse to me for crossing class lines, the business about Lenin approving a bloc with the Cadets was not. In 2010, when I insisted on the now defunct Kasama Project that Lenin never supported the Cadets—Russia’s liberal opposition to the Czar, its leader Mike Ely referred me to a book by a Bolshevik Duma elector named A.E. Badaev that stated: “But in order to safeguard against the possible victory of reactionary candidates, the Bolsheviks permitted agreements respectively with the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks, etc.) against the Liberals, and with the Liberals against the government parties during the second ballot for the election of electors in the city curias.”

In a way, the Maoist Mike Ely and the DSA’er trying to turn Lenin into a Menshevik relies on the sort of skills you see in the legal profession. When defending a criminal, you need to pour through the legal books to see if there is some precedent that will clear your client of a crime. Going through Lenin’s millions of words to find a couple of references to a bloc with the Cadets takes an enormous amount of patience and, even more so, the cynicism of a trial lawyer.

Marxist politics are not the same as courtroom proceedings. Furthermore, if precedence is what matters, all you need to do is search on Lenin and Cadets in the Marxist Internet Archives and you will find for every one cited by Mike and Jason another hundred  that distinguish Lenin from the Mensheviks who did have an orientation to the Cadets so much in common with the DSA’s toward the Democratic Party:

The Mensheviks’ main argument is the Black-Hundred danger. The first and fundamental flaw in this argument is that the Black-Hundred danger cannot be combated by Cadet tactics and a Cadet policy. The essence of this policy lies in reconciliation with tsarism, that is, with the Black-Hundred danger. The first Duma sufficiently demonstrated that the Cadets do not combat the Black-Hundred danger, but make incredibly despicable speeches about the innocence and blamelessness of the monarch, the known leader of the Black Hundreds. Therefore, by helping to elect Cadets to the Duma, the Mensheviks are not only failing to combat the Black-Hundred danger, but are hoodwinking the people, are obscuring the real significance of the Black-Hundred danger. Combating the Black-Hundred danger by helping to elect the Cadets to the Duma is like combating pogroms by means of the speech delivered by the lackey Rodichev: “It is presumption to hold the monarch responsible for the pogrom.”

Blocs With the Cadets, November 23, 1906

Substitute the word Republicans for “Black-Hundred” and Democrats for Cadets and you are basically getting Bernie Sanders urging his followers to hold their nose and to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Lenin was not for “lesser evil” politics. He was opposed to bourgeois parties on both the left and the right. He saw the Duma elections as a way of electing Bolshevik deputies so that workers could get representation in a society where repression was deep.

In fact, he was so committed to promoting working-class interests that he was not even averse to cutting deals with the Black Hundreds to get someone like A.E. Badaev elected. In 1911, he was ruthless in applying Bolshevik electoral tactics:

The democratic members of the gubernia electoral assemblies should form blocs with the liberals against the Rights. If it proves impossible to form such a bloc immediately (and most likely this is what is going to happen in the majority of cases, because the electors will not be acquainted with each other), the tactics of the democrats should be to unite first with the liberals to defeat the Rights, and then with the Rights to defeat the liberals, so that neither are able to secure the election of their candidates (provided that neither the Rights nor the liberals command an absolute majority by themselves, for if they do the democrats cannot hope to get into the Duma).

The democrats referred to above are the Bolsheviks and the peasant parties they were allied with such as the Trudoviks. In a 1906 article titled “Cadets, Trudoviks and the Workers’ Party”, Lenin characterized the Trudoviks as bourgeois democrats who “are compelled to become revolutionary, whereas the liberals, the Cadets and so forth, represent the bourgeoisie, whose conditions of existence compel it to seek a deal with the old authorities. It is natural also that the peasantry should clothe its aspirations in the mantle of utopias, i.e., unrealisable hopes, such as equalised land tenure under capitalism.”

With respect to A.E. Badaev and his reference to the Bolsheviks working out an agreement with the Cadets on the Second Ballot, Mike Ely (wherever he is nowadays), failed to mention upon what basis the agreement stood. Badaev’s “The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma” makes clear that it excluded any hint of political accord. He referred to the Prague Bolshevik Conference that set down guidelines for the Fourth Duma elections in 1912 as stipulating: “election agreements must not involve the adoption of a platform, nor must the agreements bind the Social-Democratic candidates by any political obligations whatsoever, or prevent the Social-Democracy from resolutely criticising the counter-revolutionary nature of the Liberals and the half-heartedness and inconsistency of the bourgeois democrats.”

I would only say that if the DSA concluded blocs with the Democratic Party that stood by the same exacting standards, I might ring doorbells alongside them myself. Fat chance of that happening. Oh, the fat chance is one of their candidates “resolutely criticising the counter-revolutionary nature of the Liberals and the half-heartedness and inconsistency of the bourgeois democrats”.

In my next post, I will take up the question of British Labour and the Social Democracy in general as “bourgeois parties”.

 

July 15, 2018

Richard Seymour on how “Project Fear” failed against Jeremy Corbyn

Filed under: Britain,electoral strategy — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

(This is the latest installment of excerpts from Richard Seymour’s book on Corbyn. I plan to review the book for CounterPunch next week since it is such an extraordinary combination of brilliant analysis and prose mastery that suggests Alexander Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens in their prime. It is criminal that this young man does not have a job writing for the Guardian or the Independent rather than the fossils they employ.)

The class valence of Corbyn’s supposed unelectabil-ity varied, depending on whom one was listening to. According to an opinion piece in the Telegraph, Corbyn’s `sub-Marxist drivel’ showed that he had ‘no understanding of the British people’,” whose great middle class had no need of the types of Leftist reforms he proposed. A simi-larly splenetic piece in the Guardian held that Corbyn’s Labour was so `poncified’ [effeminate] that working-class voters had turned off in droves.” These claims reached a comical zenith during an otherwise unremarkable by-election. The Times had insisted that Labour was ‘counting the cost’ of Corbyn’s peacenik antics in Oldham, where a UKIP challenge was ready to reduce Labour’s majority to a margin of error. John Harris, in a video report from Oldham for the Guardian, held that `Corbynmania’ was about to collide with `reality’.’ Corbyn’s leadership was ‘looking increasingly fragile’, Harris averred, and cited an encounter with an anti-Corbyn Labour voter to suggest that perhaps the only remaining Labour voters would be the hardened tribalists who put the party first. There being no polling in this by-election, journalists relied on a combination of anecdotes, vox pops and their own prejudices. In the end, Labour held the seat not only with a sizeable majority of over ten thousand, but increased its share of the vote with a 7.5 per cent swing in its favour. The anti-climax was palpable, and the Telegraph wondered whether `Muslims worried about war’ might not be to blame for the victory.’

Other hit pieces strained for effect. For example, a story Telegraph — a paper that, more than any other, has been out for Corbyn’s blood — referred to claims that n had a consensual relationship with Diane Abbot in the 1970s as `damaging’. Janet Daley of the Telegraph cited a horror story from Haringey in the seventies in which Jeremy Corbyn, as a local councillor, may or may not have been indifferent to the squatters residing in a house next to hers. Anne Perkins of the Guardian, with a tone so stiff as to be almost beyond satire, complained that Corbyn would not sang the national anthem at a commemoration service: ‘it was his job to sing’. The Sun published a false story alleging that Jeremy Corbyn was a ‘hypocrite’ since, as a republican, he was willing to bend his knee and kiss the Queen’s hand in order to secure state funds for Labour. This was complemented by another Sun ‘scoop’, claiming, again falsely, that Corbyn ‘refused to bow’ to the Queen, in apparently trivial defiance of protocol. Such contradictory characterisations suggested something of an internal conflict in the smear department: was Corbyn an inflexibly, excessively principled left-winger, or a conniving opportunist? This dreary sequence of contrived stories reached absurdity with the media’s extraordinary attention to Corbyn’s precise comportment in the laying of a wreath at the Cenotaph [war monument], with piece after piece suggesting that his solemn nod of the head was not quite solemn enough.

July 14, 2018

My 1968

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

The current issues of Jacobin and Bookforum are devoted to 1968. You can buy the Jacobin issue  for $12.98, a fair price considering the generally worthwhile content. I recommend in particular Paul Heideman’s “Half the Way With Mao Zedong” that deals with the implosion of SDS and Jonah Birch’s “How Beautiful It Was” about the May-June 1968 revolt in France. I was closer to their age when these things were going on and offer my reflections below. You can buy Bookforum at better bookstores and magazine shops. I have been subscribing to this magazine for about a decade now and consider it among the best available. Their approach is somewhat different than Jacobin’s and adopts much more of cultural critique angle. Go to Bookforum.com and have a look at the table of contents. You can also read a couple of articles that are not behind a paywall, including a brilliant take-down of John Updike who was a major literary figure 50 years ago, even appearing on the cover of Time Magazine. Author Christine Smallwood lets him have it with both barrels:

Updike was on the cover of Time magazine shortly after Couples came out. A little banner advertised the story: “The Adulterous Society.” Updike later said the decision to put him on the cover had been made before anyone at the magazine had read Couples, and after they read it, they regretted it. Like several of the contemporary reviews, the article willingly picks up the religious motifs of the novel, going on about the “black mass of community sex” and the absence of the old “Puritan gods.” Such overwrought symbolism is everywhere in Couples, and is just as unconvincing. In the end, the church that Piet has occasionally attended is burned down, struck in a storm by God’s own lightning bolt. But this leaves no impression on the reader, because no one in the book has felt anything resembling guilt, and the book has no vocabulary for dread, despair, or liberation. This is both its literary failure and a historical symptom. As Tony Tanner wrote in Adultery in the Novel,“A novel like John Updike’s Couples is as little about passion as it is about marriage; the adulteries are merely formal and technical.”

Now for my 1968 that starts in 1967.

In July, 1967 I made the most important decision in my life, next to getting married. I joined the Young Socialist Alliance, the youth group of the Socialist Workers Party, with the intention of joining the SWP after a few months. I am not sure whether the SWP had a candidate program in 1967 but I was under the impression that they scrutinized each applicant very carefully.

Sometime in late 1967, the SWP branch was voting on my membership application, which was the first point on the agenda. Headquarters were on 873 Broadway near Union Square and I sat in what amounted to a projectionist’s booth just above the main hall. Sitting there, I felt as vulnerable as someone in an orals exam for a PhD. After about 10 minutes, someone came up to usher me down to the meeting. As I walked toward a chair, everybody started applauding. I was a new member.

That meeting stuck out for two reasons. The next point on the agenda after the vote on my membership was a motion to expel Arne Swabeck, who had been in the Trotskyist movement since the early 30s and was prominent enough to earn a few minutes as a talking head in Warren Beatty’s “Reds”. For a number of years he had been evolving in a Maoist direction and the party had become fed up with him. I was hardly the person to fit into his shoes but among my liabilities, Maoism was not one. Indeed, what I saw didn’t exactly turn me on. An old friend from Bard College had been drawing closer to the Progressive Labor Party, a leading Maoist group that Swabeck would join after being expelled. He talked me into going to a contact class given by PLP leader Jake Rosen at his apartment in Washington Heights. I liked all his verbiage about the dictatorship of the proletariat but looked askance at PLP’s sectarian attitude toward the mass demonstrations. The other thing I remember about Jake’s talk was his playing with his toes as he spoke. If I had been to his class four years later, I would have repeated Gene Hackman’s immortal line in the 1971 film “The French Connection”: “Are you still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?”

The other reason I remember the SWP meeting was a warning sign that I might have been perceived as a “petty-bourgeois” element early on. Not long after I joined the YSA, the comrades learned that my father was a shopkeeper and that I was a Jew. Could they have considered me to be the kind of person that backed Max Shachtman in the late 30s? It turns out that my fears were unfounded but I regret that they did not vote no, looking back on the 11 years I wasted in the sect. I had worn my new trousers to the meeting, a pair of gold, wide-wale, bell-bottom corduroys that I bought on St. Mark’s Place. Sitting next to Susan Lamont, I was startled when she grabbed a fold of my trousers and said “petty bourgeois” to me.

Susan was a Barnard student. A few months later, Columbia University was the site of massive protests led by SDS. Susan and three other Barnard students were the only presence Trotskyists had at this politically key campus. They were Pat Grogan, who was the daughter of a powerful trade union bureaucrat and former mayor of Hoboken, Cindy Jaquith and Paula Reimers. I really liked Pat because she was smart, funny and outspoken. Susan, Cindy and Paula were rather colorless figures but totally devoted to building the Student Mobilization Committee against the War in Vietnam at Barnard and Columbia. The SMC was the main recruiting tool of the YSA but could not begin to compete with SDS politically. The SWP insisted that the SMC remain a single-issue group but most college students were interested in a multi-issue organization but not necessarily the YSA since its old left Trotskyist politics were a turn-off for most students.

Since I had been out of college for a couple of years, SDS didn’t really speak to my needs. Furthermore, I was so totally radicalized by the summer of 1967 that the amorphous, participatory politics of SDS struck me as weak tea. I felt at the time like Bruce Willis in that scene in “Pulp Fiction” when he walking around the ground level of the army and navy store to find a suitable weapon to attack the two men in the basement who were about to sexually assault his nemesis played by Ving Rhames. He finally settles for a sword that seemed equal to the task. For me, the SWP was that kind of weapon. If the goal was to overthrow the most powerful capitalist country in history, you better find a lethal weapon.

Looking back at this period, I would say that the SWP made a serious mistake by counterpoising the SMC to SDS. It would have made much more sense to work as the antiwar caucus in SDS. With our generally sensible approach, this would have won many young people fed up with both the arrogance of the Mark Rudd/Mike Klonsky/Bob Avakian leadership as well as the PLP-led Worker Student Alliance that tried to win students to a workerist strategy that made no sense in 1968. Ironically, the SWP would dust off the PLP orientation 10 years later and force petty bourgeois elements like me to say goodbye.

As much as I believed in Trotskyist politics, I was a fish out of water in the YSA and SWP. If you weren’t on a campus, there wasn’t much of a contribution you could make. What kept me going was the individual reading program that Les Evans enrolled me in. He understood that I was seriously interested in Marxist theory and keep feeding me titles.

Trotsky’s writings had a spellbinding effect on me. Although my reading had been mostly in novels, poetry and religious literature (my senior project at Bard was on St. Augustine’s “City of God”), I found his ability to get to the heart of the matter using incandescent prose a heady potion. Just around the time that SDS was leading the occupation of Low Library that would make us feel puny by comparison, I began reading Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution”. Sentences like these was like taking a powerful drug straight into the vein:

By the end of 1916 prices are rising by leaps and bounds. To the inflation and the breakdown of transport, there is added an actual lack of goods. The demands of the population have been cut down by this time to one-half. The curve of the workers’ movement rises sharply. In October the struggle enters its decisive phase, uniting all forms of discontent in one. Petrograd draws back for the February leap. A wave of meetings runs through the factories. The topics: food supplies, high cost of living, war, government. Bolshevik leaflets are distributed; political strikes begin; improvised demonstrations occur at factory gates; cases of fraternisation between certain factories and the soldiers are observed; a stormy protest-strike flares up over the trial of the revolutionary sailors of the Baltic Fleet. The French ambassador calls Premier Stürmer’s attention to the fact, become known to him, that some soldiers have shot at the police. Stürmer quiets the ambassador: “The repressions will be ruthless.” In November a good-sized group of workers on military duty are removed from the Petrograd factories and sent to the front. The year ends in storm and thunder.

I very well might have been reading this paragraph when the French student uprising began on May 2, 1968. Whatever the limits of the movement, there could be nothing more exhilarating than the giant steps students and then workers were taking to change society. For someone like myself, it vindicated my belief in the correctness of the SWP’s “old left”, working class orientation. In November 1968, George Novack wrote an article for the International Socialist Review titled “Can American Workers Make a Socialist Revolution?” that made us feel vindicated. If French workers living in relative prosperity could confront the state, wouldn’t our time be coming soon? George wrote:

The year 1967, for example, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the October revolution, when the workers did conquer power for the first time in history, opening a breach in the structure of world capitalism which has been widened and deepened by a series of subsequent socialist revolutions. Will this process never be extended to the United States when it has already come within ninety miles of its shores?

The general strike of ten million French workers in May-June 1968 disclosed an unsuspected readiness for anti-capitalist action in the advanced industrial West. Cannot the American workers become imbued at some point with a similar militancy?

This was the beginning of the end of the New Left and of SDS. The May-June events in France turned all these people into Marxist-Leninists. Well, not maybe all. Mark Rudd became the leader of the Weathermen that adopted Narodnik type terrorism wedded to a crude Third Worldist anti-imperialism that, like the traditional SDS, discounted the working-class. It was up to Mike Klonsky and Bob Avakian to make the Marxist turn, even if it was couched in the Maoist ideology of the PLP that would before long denounce the Communist Party in China.

On March 31, 1968, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not be seeking a second term. This led to intense jockeying by Democratic Party “peace candidates” to get the nomination. Eugene McCarthy became the odds on favorite to get the nomination because his speeches were filled with bold, antiwar rhetoric even though buried beneath the rhetoric was support for negotiations rather than immediate withdrawal as the SWP favored (almost exclusively on the left.)

In his declaration for his candidacy on November 30, 1967 prior to LBJ’s resignation, McCarthy spoke for that section of the ruling class that worried about the costs of the war in terms of its transformation of a beatnik religion major into a hard-core revolutionary:

I am hopeful that a challenge may alleviate the sense of political helplessness and restore to many people a belief in the processes of American politics and of American government. On college campuses especially, but also among other thoughtful adult Americans, it may counter the growing sense of alienation from politics which is currently reflected in a tendency to withdraw in either frustration or cynicism, to talk of nonparticipation and to make threats of support for a third party or fourth party or other irregular political movements.

Threats of support for a third or fourth party or other irregular political movements? No, we can’t have that.

Students who became volunteers for the McCarthy campaign were said to be “getting clean for Gene”. The SWP published a pamphlet called the McCarthy Truth Kit that debunked his claims about ending the war as well as other flaws in his liberal program. Later on Robert Kennedy started his own primary campaign that was nipped in the bud by his assassination on June 6, 1968.

Just two months earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. These two killings led to the general sense that American society was unraveling. Nothing is happening today that begins to approach the depth of the polarization in the USA that existed 50 years ago. For all of Trump’s hatefulness, the brunt of his attacks is on immigrants. In 1968, every male college student in the USA felt like he had a target on his back. What if the draft called and you ended up in Vietnam being forced to kill or dying yourself in a senseless imperialist war?

In the fifty years that separates us from that period, the biggest thing that separates them is the restabilization of bourgeois society through a ruling class strategy to put a damper on risk-taking. The neoliberalism that kicked in under Carter makes job security a thing of the past. In 1968, you could pick up the Sunday NY Times and turn to the business section that had classified ads in the back pages.

You would see an entire page and often two filled with jobs for college graduates, no experience necessary. I answered one placed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. with no expectations other than getting a flunky position as a claims approver or something. When I was interviewed in personnel, they gave me an aptitude test of the kind where you have to deduce from 3 figures what the fourth should be, something that comes easy to me. After looking at my score, the interview asked if I would be interested in becoming a programmer trainee. The rest is history.

Today, students are much more security conscious. The idea of a radical student strike like the kind that took place at Columbia has to be weighed heavily. Is there anything happening today that would make a lost school year worth it? The truth is that nothing since the war in Vietnam has had the same radicalizing impact. If you want to understand the phenomenal growth of the DSA, this is a partial explanation. There are bad things happening in the USA that must be opposed but going so far as to join a revolutionary organization that puts demands on your time and that might even lead to jeopardizing job prospects, there will naturally be a tendency to choose a weapon not as lethal as the one that Bruce Willis chose.

 

July 13, 2018

The Dying Light

Filed under: Counterpunch,literature — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 13, 2018

The name Tony McKenna might ring a bell with CounterPunch readers since he has written a number of very informative articles here over the years, the most recent being one on “Trump, Obama and the Nature of Fascism”. When I learned that he had written a novel titled “The Dying Light”, I requested a review copy since I was curious to see if his fiction chops were as strong as his nonfiction’s.

Speaking for myself, I entertained hopes of writing fiction after I left the Trotskyist movement in 1978. It was only after reading the chapter in Saul Bellow’s “Herzog”, where he describes the bathroom toiletries of Herzog’s former lover in intimate detail as a way of casting light on her psychologically, that I decided to stick to politics. If I lived to a thousand, I could not write as brilliantly as Bellow. By the same token, if he could have lived to a thousand, he would not be able to write anything but trash when it came to politics.

On one level, “The Dying Light” might be described as a historical novel since it is based on a little-known aspect of life in London in 1940, when many of its citizens began living in abandoned subway stations, or what they call the Tube, to protect themselves from German bombs. In a nod to the “Newsreels” of John Dos Passos’s great U.S.A. trilogy, McKenna includes an editorial from a faux newspaper called the Birchington Gazette:

During the Blitz, when the bombing was at its most intense, hundreds of thousands of Londoners took shelter in the Underground. First realised as a temporary spontaneous measure, it was initially opposed by government who used the police to lock down tube stations. Nevertheless, large crowds pushed their w through, winning the right to occupy London subterranean levels.

The occupation, however, swiftly grew something more than a temporary means of escaping bombs. Rather, it became a way of life. People set up home in the spaces beneath the city. The social research organisation Mass Observation describes how “for the first time in many hundreds of years…civilized families conducted the whole of their leisure and domestic lives in full view of each other. Most of these people were not merely sheltering in the tubes; they were living there.

Using this premise, McKenna tells the story of children who have taken over an abandoned station that a child named Georgie calls Ruritania. He has a very active imagination just like the author.

Continue reading

July 12, 2018

Milford Graves: Full Mantis

Filed under: Film,Jazz — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

At the Left Forum in June, I had the great fortune to attend a panel discussion on the the Free Jazz movement of the 60s and 70s that included people like Archie Shepp, Pharaoh Sanders and Joe McPhee, one of the panelists. For me, this was the high point of the weekend since the “new thing” jazz of the 60s and 70s was close to my heart. As I told the speakers, when I entered Bard as a 16-year old in 1961, I was disaffected from the materialism and conformity of American society but could not figure out how to challenge it. In my freshman year, I heard Pharaoh Sanders in performance with other members of the Paul Bley band that blew my mind as they put it.

I have had the even greater fortune to have just seen “Milford Graves: Full Mantis” that opens tomorrow at the Metrograph in New York. In March 2017, I reviewed a documentary titled “I Called Him Morgan” that I described as the best film ever made about a jazz musician, in that instance trumpeter Lee Morgan who died tragically much too young after his girlfriend gunned him down in Slug’s in a fit of jealousy. He had rebounded from years of addiction, largely through her support, and was enjoying a revival. His loss was a crushing blow to the art of jazz.

I can now say that “Milford Graves: Full Mantis” is just as great a film but one that is filled with joy. Although they were contemporaries, Lee Morgan belonged to the hard bop school that preceded the Free Jazz movement percussionist Milford Graves pioneered. If heroin addiction was an epidemic during the bebop era that lasted roughly between WWII and the mid-60s, the Free Jazz movement was much more about finding transcendence through Black nationalism and spirituality, with Milford Graves a prime example.

You realize that you are about to meet an extraordinary figure as the film begins with the camera panning over Graves’s bookcase in his house in Queens. Coming into the foreground are Friedrich Engel’s “Dialectics of Nature” and Hermann von Helmholtz’s “On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music”. Most of my readers will undoubtedly know who Engels was but Helmholtz loomed large in Graves’s evolution as a musician and a medical researcher. Wikipedia describes him as a researcher who sought to provide a theoretical basis for human physiology:

In physiology and psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound, and empiricism in the physiology of perception.

In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics.

In terms of the “mechanical foundation of thermodynamics”, you can obviously understand why Graves would keep a copy of “The Dialectics of Nature” alongside Helmholtz. Key to Graves’s approach to our world is the interconnectedness of all living things. In his backyard garden, he makes the case that plants are not passive organisms. Photosynthesis is a process that has much in common with our own biological cycle. Drawing close to a plant, he states that its leaves waving in the wind create low-frequency sounds that can be heard with the right equipment.

For Graves, equipment is not just the drum kit that he performs on throughout the film. In his exploration of the sonic aspects of the human body, he has built up an elaborate array of electronic measuring devices including an electronic stethoscope. Browsing in the medical shelves at Barnes and Noble many years ago, he stumbled across an LP titled “Normal and Abnormal Heart Beats” that led him on a journey to discover the affinity between heartbeats and drum rhythms. Even more remarkable, he discovered a kind of harmony in heartbeats based on their oscilloscope variations. These explorations led to a Guggenheim grant in 2000.

The best way to describe Milford Graves is as a Leonardo Da Vinci of our time. In all of my encounters with larger than life figures over a sixty year period, I have not seen anybody with as restless a mind and as gifted artistically as Graves. A case can be made that he is the most influential musician of the Free Jazz movement with his full-time professorship at Bennington College from 1973 until becoming Emeritus in 2011 as a sign of his stature.

“Milford Graves: Full Mantis” consists almost entirely of filmed performances of Graves and interviews at his home in Queens. At the age of 76, his intellect and his philosophical acumen strike me as the benefits of living a life in which your talents are matched to your ambitions. If we didn’t live in such a warped society, most people would be able to enjoy the kind of life that Graves has led if only on a more modest scale. The other reaction one might have to this film is a deepening sense of the injustice in this world where a Black skin precludes developing the kind of career that he has enjoyed. Probably the worst thing about capitalism is that it robs us from benefiting from the other Leonardo Da Vinci’s that the Black, Latino and working class world might have produced.

Finally, tribute has to be paid to director Jake Meginsky who has made a film that rises to the Olympian stature of its subject. For aspiring documentary film makers, this film bears repeated viewings since it shows how sensitive camera work and fully engaged interviewing techniques can produce great art. Meginsky is a drummer himself who was an aficionado of Milford Graves and later became a technician assistant to Graves at Bennington. This is the first film he has ever made and has the inside track for my NYFCO ballot as best debut as director of 2018.

 

 

July 11, 2018

Andrew Zimmerman on Marx, Engels and Slavery

Filed under: Civil War,slavery — louisproyect @ 8:44 pm

Today I received the new collection of Marx and Engels’s writings on the Civil War from International Publishers. Although this book belongs in any collection of their books, I would say that the introduction by Andrew Zimmerman justifies the purchase all on its own. I have not heard of Zimmerman before but on the basis of the excerpt below, I plan to put him on my must-reading bucket list.

The excerpt resonates with a topic that I will be addressing in the next few days that has been prompted by various leftists on FB and Marxmail arguing that Marx and Lenin would vote for Democrats if they were alive today, just like the people writing for Jacobin and in the leadership of DSA. When I get around to a rebuttal of the three most common arguments along these lines, I will certainly consult Zimmerman’s introduction as well as the articles by Marx and Engels that illustrate his point that while they were very far-sighted on the Civil War, they still had a flawed interpretation.

Back in 2007, we had a CP’er or CP sympathizer on Marxmail who when challenged to identify an leading Marxist supporting a bourgeois politician, he referred to Karl Marx’s articles in praise of Abraham Lincoln. When I get around to writing my answer to this, I will bring up Marx’s support for Friedrich Sorge against Victoria Woodhull who in my view understood the flaws in official Marxism that Zimmerman alludes to below. She ran for president with Frederick Douglass as her running-mate. That Marx could have referred to Woodhull as a faker and instead endorsed the dreadful Sorge shows that he was just as capable of making mistakes as any other human being, including those today who view the Democratic Party as if it were some sort of social democratic party with distinctly American features. Baloney.

Andrew Zimmerman:

Marx and Engels recognized white supremacy as part of the slave system that lay at the root of the American Civil War, and noted also, especially in their discussions of Andrew Johnson, how racism limited the extent of emancipation after the war. Still, especially in their private correspondence, their own views of blacks sometimes limited their ability to analyze the Civil War. Perhaps the most jarring manifestation of this is their repeated use of the English racial epithet “nigger” in their private correspondence—nine times in the texts reproduced in this volume. They used this term ironically, however, to highlight a racism that they criticized rather than endorsed. Marx and Engels opposed racism at every turn, and the communist movements they inspired have remained some of the most powerful and consistent anti-racist and anti-imperialist forces in the world, including in the United States.

Still, Marx and Engels sometimes wrote as if the fight against slavery was primarily a white working-class struggle, with black workers and soldiers playing a vital, but only supporting, role. When Marx wrote in Capital that “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded,” he connected the struggles of white and black workers, but also suggested that they were separate (document 108). When he called “slave revolution” the “last card up its [the Union’s] sleeve,” he attributes agency to the white Northern leadership who might play this card rather than to enslaved black workers themselves (document 10). When Marx remarked, in 1853, that US blacks who were born into slavery were not “freshly imported barbarians” from Africa but rather “a native product, more or less Yankeefied, English speaking, etc., and hence capable of being eman-cipated” (document 104), he did not only denigrate African cultures; he also blinded himself to the many African and African American political traditions that contributed to the defeat of slavery in the Americas.

Marx and Engels did grasp the American Civil War as a victorious workers’ struggle, but, unlike most Marxist analyses today, they overemphasized the importance of free white workers at the expense of enslaved black workers in this struggle. Marx and Engels rightly pointed to the many white American workers who fought on the side of Union, the white British workers who made British intervention on behalf of the Confederacy polit-ically impossible, and even to the working-class backgrounds of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. What they missed was the largest worker rebellion of all at the heart of the Union victory and the Civil War: the determination of great numbers of the four million enslaved black workers to withdraw their labor from their erstwhile masters, to transform fop war for the Union into a war against slavery, and to throw their collective intelligence, capacity for labor, and armed might behind the Union.

Marx and Engels were thus correct that the Civil War was a struggle of workers against slavery, although perhaps not precisely for the reasons they thought it was. Their comrades who served in the Union Army, however, worked with, and fought alongside, formerly enslaved African Americans and thus gained a better understanding of the importance of black workers in the conflict (see document 94). All this suggests that the fight against racism is not a matter of white people perfecting their own ‘1m-racist’ ideas hot rather develops through interracial political solidarity.

Regardless of these shortcomings, Marx and Engels did help lay the groundwork for one of the most, if not the most, important interpretations of the Civil War to date: W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1935 Black Reconstruction. In that work, Du Bois analyzed the southern slave as “the black worker” and portrayed the central drama in the Civil War as the “general strike” by which these black workers transformed the war between Union and Confederacy into a revolution against slavery. The capitalist outcome of Reconstruction Du Bois attributed to what he called a “counterrevolution of property.” Historians have only begun to give Du Bois’s interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction the credit it deserves. The essay by Du Bois that is the final text of this volume makes clear his critical appreciation of the writings of Marx and Engels on the Civil War.

 

July 10, 2018

Chris Hedges, Glen Ford and the “diversity” question

Filed under: racism,sexism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

As a follow-up to his February 5, 2018 assault on “identity” politics titled “The Bankrupcy of the American Left”, Chris Hedges now takes aim at “diversity” with Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford as an all-too-willing accomplice. The July 8th Truthdig article titled “The Con of Diversity” allows the two to defend what they see as a class-based politics against the liberal Democrats using “identity”, “diversity”, “multiculturalism” and other tricks to sidetrack the necessary fight against the capitalist system.

Diversity in the hands of the white power elites—political and corporate—is an advertising gimmick. A new face, a brand, gets pushed out front, accompanied by the lavish financial rewards that come with serving the white power structure, as long as the game is played. There is no shortage of women (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile), Latinos (Tom Perez and Marco Rubio) or blacks (Vernon Jordan, Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson) who sell their souls for a taste of power.

To his credit, Glen Ford emphasizes the need for affirmative action even though for some on the left, starting with Walter Benn Michaels, it is just as much of a con game. However, he complains that somewhere along the line it mutated into diversity and as such no longer served the needs of the Black community. “Stripped of its core, affirmative action morphed into ‘diversity,’ a vessel for various aggrieved groups that was politically versatile (and especially useful to the emerging Black deal makers of electoral and corporate politics), but no longer rooted in Black realities.”

The one thing that surprises me in this put-down of diversity is how tone-deaf it is when it comes to the most urgent issue of the past year or so, namely the #metoo movement that is taking on the sexual assault culture that exists in some of the key sectors of the American economy from the film industry to restaurants and the media.

As a film critic, I have been paying closer attention to the abuses that have been around since the 1920s through the “casting couch”. For the past 90 years Hollywood management has been male-dominated in a way that other industries have not been. Unlike finance, for example, Hollywood producers can rely on an “old boys network” that would not be allowed in banking or the brokerage business after the 1970s forced human resource departments to act on complaints by women being treated as sex objects and denied opportunities. All you need to do is look at the statistics for 2016. Women accounted for only 17 percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors who worked on the top-grossing 250 domestic films. Blacks did not fare much better. Across the 100 top movies of 2017, only 6 directors were Black while 92 percent of all top executives are white.

What this means is that it is easier for a bastard like Harvey Weinstein to force himself on women trying to work in film and for the top studios to put obstacles in the way of Black directors and actors. As must be understood, film is one of the most powerful ways in which mass consciousness is shaped in the USA. For every Ava DuVernay, there are a dozen hack Caucasian directors who feel no particular need to address the racism that has brought us Donald Trump. Obviously, having women, Blacks and Latinos in powerful management positions in the film industry will not lead to socialism but on the other hand if it has some mitigating influence on the sexism and racism of this empire in decline, why treat their presence as if it were an insidious plot to preserve the status quo?

A lot of the reasoning embodied in the Hedges/Ford collaboration is reminiscent of what I heard around the time proposals were being made to allow gays in the military. If you are for allowing gays in the military, this must mean that you are a supporter of American imperialism. This absurd argument did not engage with the reality that many people join the armed services because they had no other employment options. Gay teens in some isolated rural village were not likely to read some advanced revolutionary thinker before going down to the recruitment station on a main street filled with empty stores, after all. And even if they did, the revolutionary rhetoric would not put food on their table.

Once inside the military, they had a right not to be killed by homophobic soldiers as was the case with Private Barry Winchell who had begun dating a transgender showgirl in 1999. When he was sleeping, another soldier crept up next to his bed and smashed his skull with a baseball bat. All this happened during Bill Clinton’s homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. What was needed then and what is needed now is the kind of diversity and diversity training that makes such acts impermissible. If homophobic soldiers cannot be educated to respect their gay comrades, they can at least understand that a gay captain or a gay general might have the power to put their ass in the stockade for a few months for stepping out of line. This would have been the kind of thing The Weinstein Company needed or Mario Batali’s restaurant empire as well.

If there’s anything that cries out more for some diversity, it the underrepresentation of Muslims across the board in American society. It is especially egregious in the military where Muslims have to put up with treatment that is even crueler than what gays and Blacks have put up with on occasion.

Two years ago Raheel Siddiqui, a Marine recruit of Pakistani origin, committed suicide after putting up with months of harassment from a drill instructor who forced him into a dryer multiple times. The drill instructor ended up being sentenced to a long prison term but why submit any soldier to this kind of abuse even if there are stiff punishments associated with it? The presence of Muslim captains and generals can go a long way in preventing such behavior even if risks being denounced as a capitalist trick in Truthdig.

Until we have a new society based on respect for every human being, there are measures that can be taken to uphold such respect even if they are being meted out by managers or by judicial writ as is the case with affirmative action. When a Hollywood studio, a media company or a restaurant empire decides to carry out preferential hiring and promotion practices to help ensure that the upper ranks reflects the ethnic, racial and gender make-up of the lower ranks, we have no business opposing that. Such “diversity” policies are in their own way a reflection of the same social forces that produced affirmative action. In a perfect world, working people would have the good sense not to mistreat their fellow workers but in country like the U.S. that has been built upon racism, colonialism, and the secondary status of women, a little force is advisable whether by statutes or by managers intent on punishing wrong-doers.

Let’s never forget what happened in Cuba after the revolution triumphed. Fidel Castro declared that refusing to cut an Afro-Cuban’s hair was now a crime. That, much more than stirring speeches about racial equality, helped to elevate the status of Black people in Cuba even though racism continues to this day. Racism took hundreds of years to take root in Cuba and even a revolutionary government cannot uproot it overnight.

July 9, 2018

Richard Seymour on Momentum

Filed under: Britain,electoral strategy — louisproyect @ 5:30 pm

(As part of a project to help me write about the differences between the Democratic Party in the USA and Labour in the United Kingdom, I started reading Richard Seymour’s book on Corbyn that was written in 2016. Having grown frustrated with his Lacanian drift over the past 5 years or so, I am relishing every page of this book that is both politically astute and lively reading. Highest recommendation.)

In an effort to capitalise on the energy of Labour’s ranks of new, radical members, some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters set up the campaigning group Momentum. The idea was positive: members who had mobilised in the heat of a campaign should not just be ignored and left to their own devices once the election was concluded. While Labour has never been a socialist party and is unlikely to become one, activists can at least create a durable space for themselves. Yet it has produced a chorus of condemnation from the Labour Right and their allies in the media for its supposed bullying of Labour MPs. Even Deputy Leader Watson, a seasoned and nuanced warrior of the Labour Right who tends to pick his fights carefully, denounced it as ‘a rabble’.”

In truth, there is little evidence for this, and it is not absolutely clear what Momentum will become. The group has encouraged members to participate in classic forms of street activism and protest, but it has also sought to make advances on Labour’s internal bodies — with some modest success thus far. It could be a genuinely democratic grass-roots movement, or a left-wing equivalent of pressure groups such as the New Labour-backing Progress and the soft-left Compass, or a machinery for the furthering of the influence of seasoned hard-left operators in Labour’s committees. As with any such fragile new organisation, it is betraying a propensity to attract various groupuscules, factions and office-seekers, which could end quite badly. If members of proscribed groups decide to join Labour in order to work within Momentum, they could hand the party machine an opportunity to disrupt its efforts by using i the Compliance Unit to purge the interlopers. Irrespective of the fairness of such proscriptions, misguided entryism merely legitimises such crackdowns and makes life harder for Labour activists.’ Some members also complain of the excessive dominance within the group of factions like the Livingstone-aligned Socialist Alternative, or specific individuals. It is difficult to parse these claims, which others members dismiss as paranoia or a right-wing hobby horse, but it would be a shame if the first steps in organising a fragile new Left were to be bogged down in the minutiae of individual careers, jockeying for influence and the back-ward tendencies of Britain’s old, exhausted, fractal Left.

What is more, many of the newer members are as yet ideologically unformed and politically indeterminate, while the older Bennite and Militant-style leftovers are, in general, too ideologically formed and too politically inflex-ible to be effective. Frenzied stories about Trots taking over branch meetings aside, the new Labour Left is more potential than reality, its organisation is nascent, and it is roughly divided between those who lack experience and those whose experience is one of trauma. The cultural schism between those who still sing the Red Flag at parties, and those who emerged from the more modern-day milieux of Climate Camp, the student movement and Occupy, is a palpable obstacle. The younger are more culturally fluent, know how to use Twitter, aren’t obsessed with setting up street stalls on a Saturday morning, and are capable of expressing the Left’s arguments in an idiom that is accessible — but they do not, as yet, have the confidence to lead. It is also not yet clear what kind of party they will want Labour to be, how they want it to relate to the wider organisational and social stream of the Left, or what their attitude to trade unions will be. The various left-wing groupings within Labour — be they Momentum, the Labour Representation Committee or Red Labour — are as yet underdeveloped, and hardly any match for the immense, lordly dominion of the parliamentary party and the electoral-professional caste running daily party life.

 

July 8, 2018

Rhino horn poaching: brought to you by the BRICS

Filed under: animal rights,China,South Africa — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Three days ago a NY Post article titled “Lions fatally maul poachers who broke into reserve to hunt rhinos” got shared widely on Facebook, including by me. For obvious reasons, this was a story that made you feel that some kind of animal revolt was taking place a la Planet of the Apes.

What you don’t get from Murdoch’s tabloid is any sense of the complexity that lay beneath the surface of this incident. For that you had to go to the NY Times, a newspaper that many radicals despise because it is for big business, etc., ad nauseam. However, as true as that may be, there is no substitute for the kind of newspaper that Karl Marx used to read in gathering the facts. For him, it was the London Times. For us it is the NY Times.

Titled “Lions Eat Men Suspected of Poaching Rhinos. Some Saw ‘Karma.’”, the Gray Lady coverage identified the socio-economic circumstances that led to the poaching epidemic:

Rhino horn is worth about $9,000 per pound in Asia, driving a lucrative and illicit trade. It is a prized ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine and is considered a status symbol.

South Africa is home to about 20,000 wild rhinos, more than 80 percent of the world’s population. About one-third of the animals are owned by private breeders. Since 2008, more than 7,000 rhinos have been hunted illegally, with 1,028 killed in 2017, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.

“Selling a single horn can exceed the yearly income of most rural people,” Dr. Hübschle said.

The Eastern Cape is South Africa’s poorest province, with a gross domestic product of less than $3,700 per capita. The unemployment rate here, including people who have given up looking for work, exceeds 45 percent, significantly higher than the national average.

“Behind poaching there’s a bigger story of structural inequality,” Dr. Hübschle said. “People were chased off their land during colonialism and apartheid, losing their customary hunting rights and tenure. Today, many local communities experience some trickle-down from poaching, while attitudes are generally negative towards private game owners and protected areas.”

Anybody who has been following this story, as I have mostly as a result of seeing a number of films about poaching over the years, you’re probably aware that the Chinese see rhino tusks as a magic elixir that can cure cancer, impotence, etc. China has also been a major black market for elephant tusks that are used to carve expensive trinkets that the bourgeoisie likes to display as a symbol of having made it. For all of the lip-service paid to Maoism in this fucked up country, there seems to be little progress made in either scientific understanding of medicine or aesthetics. Superstition and ostentation rule.

However, even with a ban on both commodities, the demand continues. For rhino tusks, there is a logic that is reminiscent of the subprime mortgage boom of the period prior to the stock market crash of 2007. They have become for investors the equivalent of the tulip mania of early 17th century Holland.

Takepart, an online magazine associated with Participant Media that produced the documentary on Edward Snowden, lays it all out:

But a new paper in the journal Biological Conservation raises a startling alternative theory. Rhinos are dying by the hundreds for what may be in essence an investment bubble, like tulips in 17th-century Holland or real estate in 1920s Florida.

It’s part of a trend over the past decade in China, according to Yufang Gao and his coauthors, of treating art and antiquities as a place for investors “to store value, to hedge inflation, and to diversify portfolio allocation.” Rhino horn assets typically take the form of cups, bowls, hairpins, thumb rings, and other ornamental items.

“Rhino horn pieces are portrayed in the Chinese media,” Gao and his coauthors write, “as an excellent investment opportunity whose value is tied more to the rarity of the raw materials rather than the artistic nature of the item. The aggressive media attention has played a significant role in the growth of the art market.” Press reporting about outlier items—those sold for astronomically high prices—“drives the perception that collecting rhino horn is highly profitable and influences black market prices.”

So you might think that this kind of speculation represents a combination of medieval backwardness and the frenzied search for fast bucks in today’s China. However, the real origins of this sick exploitation of animals at the top of the food chain is in Mao Zedong Thought. Although folk medicine has been around for thousands of years in China, it was Mao’s state-based elevation of the practice that led to the poaching epidemic. In the 1950s, facing a shortage of trained doctors in China, Mao ordered the creation of a directory of all these snake oil medications to make up for the deficit even though he thought it was bogus. In other words, Mao had no problems with people eating powdered rhino tusk for their heart problems but you can be damned sure he would get proper, modern medical treatment.

For all of China’s flaws, and they are biblical in proportion, South Africa—a fellow BRICS member—has very few of the institutional advances of China that were part and parcel of the Chinese revolution. While most people, including me, had high hopes that the ANC and the South African Communist Party, would make huge economic changes and even go so far as to advance beyond capitalism, the country is the most unequal in the world with a GINI coefficient of 63.40. (A perfectly equal society would have a GINI coefficient of zero.)

The Eastern Cape in South Africa is a province formed out of the Xhosa homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, two Bantustans—in other words, places where Blacks were forced to live. Under apartheid, these places were allowed to run casinos and topless revue shows that the racist government had banned elsewhere as being immoral. In one such Bantustan – Bophuthatswana in what is now North West Province – Sun City was created as a resort that became the eye of the hurricane in anti-apartheid protests. Like BDS today, many performers crossed the picket line for a lucrative pay check, including Elton John, Rod Stewart and Linda Ronstadt. Leading the boycott attack on Sun City apartheid, Bruce Springsteen’s sideman Steve Van Zandt made a record with artists pledged to shun Sun City and South Africa in general.

So what might you expect if the ANC refused to tackle the deep poverty that apartheid’s worst victims were facing? Poaching, that’s what.

You’d think that the Eastern Cape’s favorite son would have done something to attack the province’s deep-seated economic weaknesses. I speak here of Nelson Mandela who Steve Van Zandt and all these other activists placed their hopes on.

Let me conclude with a long excerpt from a Time Magazine article by Alex Perry titled “The Eastern Cape, Mandela’s Homeland, Still Suffers from Neglect and Misrule” that is a depressing read, especially for someone like me who put considerable time and effort in the early 90s supporting Tecnica’s work in the new South Africa:

When Nelson Mandela’s body is flown to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape Saturday ahead of his burial Sunday in the nearby village of Qunu, he will be returning to his home and to the heartland of his African National Congress (A.N.C.) – and also to one of the most egregious examples of A.N.C. failure in power. Today while cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town enjoy a new cosmopolitanism, a third visit on Wednesday confirmed once again that transformation is far less marked in the Eastern Cape. So do the statistics. A full 88% of people of the province’s population still live below the poverty line, according to government figures, millions of them in the same township shacks and grass-roofed huts that they occupied under apartheid. Government services are dire to non-existent: power, if it exists, can black out for days, while provincial statistics show 78.3% of the population have no running water and 93.3% have no sewers, prompting intermittent outbreaks of cholera. HIV/AIDS rates run at 13%, rising to a third in some townships. Unemployment is officially 41%, though non-governmental studies put it at 70%.

The destitution nurtures an epidemic of violent crime. The South African Police Service says the Eastern Cape has the country’s highest homicide rate and Mthatha’s, at 130 people per 100,000, is three times the provincial rate and one of the highest of anywhere in the world. Most horrifying are the rape statistics. The SA Medical Journal found rape in Mthatha rose from 39 per 100,000 women in 2001 to 417 in 2006. Since studies indicate that at most only 10% of rapes are reported, it concluded a more accurate but still conservative figure was 1,300 per 100,000 a year. That’s 45 times the equivalent figure in the U.S. and makes Mthatha a contender for rape capital of the world. Grimmest of all, children are at particular risk. The study showed 46.3% of the victims were under 16, 22.9% under 11 and 9.4% under six.

Apartheid left an atrocious legacy in the Eastern Cape. South Africa’s white supremacist social engineers divided much of the province into two areas it designated autonomous black homelands, Transkei and Ciskei, which it continued to rule as puppets but cut off from any government spending. The injustice of that racial marginalization fueled a wave righteous rebellion which bore many A.N.C. leaders – Mandela, and also Oliver Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Chris Hani, and Govan and Thabo Mbeki, as well as Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko.

Among them was Laura Mpahlwa. Born in Johannesburg in 1929, she was among the first to move to the South Western Township (Soweto) when it was designed a black dormitory town after apartheid was set up in 1948. In the 1940s Mandela moved from Qunu to Johannesburg, then Soweto. Mpahlwa went the other way, going to work in as a nurse in Mthatha hospital in 1953. “Back then, it was mud huts all the way from East London to Durban,” says the 83-year-old, referring to two major coastal cities.

With Transkei’s government little more than an apartheid puppet, the struggle was as fierce in Mthatha as Soweto. Mpahlwa’s first son spent five years on Robben Island for subversion, her second fled into exile and her third was tortured. Mpahlwa herself helped smuggle A.N.C. leaders in and out of South Africa from Transkei.

In 1990, Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison. In 1994, he became South Africa’s first black president. Mthatha was ecstatic. “There was such euphoria,” says Jennie, now 72. “It was such an amazing thing. We felt so hopeful.” There were also some immediate improvements. “People got lights,” says Laura. “Some got water. Work started on roads. There were social grants.” Still, when the A.N.C. asked Mpahlwa to become an MP in the new parliament, she declined. “I was scared,” she says. “Deep down I knew in my heart it was too big a position. I wasn’t trained for it. I wouldn’t cope.”

Other A.N.C. members did not share her modesty, with predictable results. The government of the new, free South Africa still left some of its people short of what they needed – books, teachers, medicine, roads, houses, jobs – and failed to protect many from what they didn’t. “Drugs, high rates of teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS,” says Mpahlwa. “There was mismanagement, misuse and, very disappointing, a lot of fraud.”

July 7, 2018

Donate to Philly Socialists Fund-drive

Filed under: DSA,electoral strategy,racism — louisproyect @ 4:45 pm

Reading about the Philly Socialists participation in a sit-in at ICE headquarters in Philadelphia was all the motivation I needed to donate $100 to their fund-drive. Rewire.news reported:

Hundreds of protestors in Philadelphia on Monday night set up camp with tents, tarps, lawn chairs, and beach umbrellas. They organized a space for volunteer medics and a people’s kitchen, providing free first aid and food to those at the camp. They received so many supplies they had to start rejecting and moving the supplies to an off-site location.

“From the beginning of the camp, from its inception, the tactic that we agreed upon was like strict non-violence,” a member of Philly Socialists who asked to remain anonymous told Rewire.News. “I was really proud because when it came time to do that [tactic], everyone did it and no one broke. Everyone stuck to the tactic.”

This is exactly the type of activism we need today, one that is based on militancy but at the same time non-violence, although my tendency would be to use the word mass action rather than non-violence. During the Vietnam War, mass actions never sought confrontations with the cops although they were organized to be defended against both police repression or ultraright attacks.

I have no idea whether Philly Socialists is bigger or smaller than the DSA in Philadelphia but there is one thing I am sure of. They never would have gone overboard supporting the “radical” lawyer Larry Krasner for District Attorney.

Jacobin, the voice of the DSA, was thrilled with Krasner’s election as should be obvious from this article posted last November crowing over Larry Krasner’s victory.

But as any revolutionary could have told you, once in office Krasner would make sure to toe the line. As part of his “transition team”, he named former Philadelphia District Attorney and State Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille, a Republican who denied Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals repeatedly. His animus directed against the “cop killer” was so obvious that in 2016 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Castille violated Mumia’s rights when he reinstated an execution order against him as a Supreme Court justice after the order had been vacated and after he’d already argued for his execution while prosecuting the case as district attorney. Instead, he should have recused himself from the case, especially since it is considered unorthodox for a judge to rule on a case he has previously prosecuted.

For an alternative take on Krasner/Castille, I recommend The Philly Partisan, the online journal of Philly Socialists. Titled “Thoughts On Larry Krasner’s Appointment of Ron Castille to His Transition Team for the District Attorney’s Office” and written by Kempis “Ghani” Songster (co-founder of the Redemption Project, Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute of Graterford), it should be all you need to read to convince to contribute generously to their fund-drive:

When a close friend of mine told me that a family member of his on the outside told him over the phone that Larry Krasner included Ron Castille in his Transition Team, I didn’t believe it. Then my friend said that, in fact, the report said Castille was Krasner’s first pick. I questioned the accuracy of the report he got from his family, i.e., his son, so hard that he started to question whether his son had read the report correctly. I mean, he started to doubt his own son and whether he himself heard his son right. That’s how hard I was defending Krasner. In my mind, there was no way someone who ran on an unprecedented, unapologetic, uncompromising “End Mass Incarceration” platform would seek and rely on one of the “purveyors of mass incarceration” to advise him on how to transition to what he promised, and what we hoped, would be a new culture in Philadelphia’s DA’s office.

Then I read the article myself in the Dec. 1 issue of the Daily News with my own eyes. I wasn’t totally surprised, which is sad, because I had seen this kind of thing before. Barack Obama campaigned aggressively on the lofty idea of Change, then when he was elected president he filled his cabinet with some of the unsavory characters who caused the problems he campaigned against. When I read the article about Krasner’s transition team, I was more like, “Deja vu. Here we go again. Politics as usual.” But, I wasn’t thinking that Krasner was flipping his campaign script and double-crossing the people who believed in him, voted for him, and put in super-hard yards to get him elected, as has been done by countless elected officials to their voters, time and time again. I was more like, “Noooo, Larry, you don’t have to do this. It’s unnecessary. You have a mandate!”

With respect to the rationale about “a symbolic transition team,” what does/would such a team with Ron Castille on it symbolize? What do We want, and what would We have, the transition team for Philly’s new DA symbolize or be “symbolic” of? What does Ron Castille symbolize? Is he a good symbol? One main campaign promise of Krasner’s was to change the culture of the DA’s office. Ron Castille does not represent/symbolize Change. Contrarily, he was one of the purveyors of the culture that Krasner promised to change and that the people elected him to change.

Castille was DA of Philadelphia from 1986-1990. He was the DA when his ADA Jack McMahon made the training video for and in front of young rookie prosecutors, schooling them on tactics for using peremptory strikes to exclude people of color from the jury in order to racially stack a jury prone to convict a defendant of color. That videotape was included in Castille’s office library for rookie prosecutors to check out and use as a training tool.

Castille was Chief Justice of the PA Supreme Court that ruled Miller v. Alabama/Jackson v. Hobbs “not retroactive” to JDBI [juvenile death by incarceration/life without parole] cases on collateral review. Castille wrote the opinion — Commonwealth v. Cunningham. He wanted to maintain DBI sentences for condemned children such as me who raised their JDBI issue on collateral. If Krasner includes Castille on the transition team, then he might as well include Lynne Abraham, too; and also Seth Williams, if he wasn’t in prison right now. Krasner’s election into the DA’s office should show that the people who put him there have won that particular institutional contest. But winning the symbolic contest is indispensable to an absolute victory in the institutional contest. Not only does the inclusion of a “symbol” such as Ron Castille in the “symbolic transition team” send mixed messages and confuse the people, but it symbolizes that we have not truly won the symbolic contest. That is, we have not won control of the narrative, the reshaping of the culture, and the meaning of all this.

If all Krasner did was appoint Castille in order to deflect charges that he was too radical (no, we can’t have that), it might be tolerable. But unfortunately, that was a prelude to a decision that makes DSA and any other “democratic socialist” think long and hard about their orientation to the Democratic Party. One of his assistant DA’s found that there was no bias in Castille’s rulings on Mumia despite the opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. So the trail of broken Democratic promises continues.

 

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.