Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 18, 2019

Left, Gay, and Green

Filed under: Catskills,Gay,Kevin Coogan — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

From my comic book memoir:


Just over five years ago an article I had scanned from the July 20, 1947 PM newspaper titled “Utopia in the Catskills” appeared in CounterPunch. PM was a leftist newspaper that published between 1940 and 1948 and as such found Woodridge, my little village in the Catskills, as noteworthy as some on the left find Rojava. Reporter Croswell Bowen was impressed with the co-op movement that for all I know was more advanced than Rojava:

Actually, Woodridge is unique among the neighboring communities, because it possesses five highly successful consumer co-operatives, owned and operated by their members. Three of the five comprise one large intercounty co-operative association. All five are loosely connected with national co-operative groups which furnish over a billion dollars in services and goods to more than 2,500,000 member-owners throughout the United States each year. In practice, the Woodridge co-ops follow along the lines of the Rochdale pioneers.

Among those photographed in the article was one Lou Young, who was chairman of the board of the Inter-County Farmers Co-operative Association and is shown feeding some white roosters. His son Allen was six years old at the time and would soon begin doing chores on the family poultry farm in Glen Wild, a village even tinier than mine. Among his tasks was gathering egg yolks and whites into a gallon jar that would be sold to a local baker in Woodridge, renowned for their challah (the bread Jews ate on Friday nights) as was my father for the kosher dill pickles he made and sold at his fruit store.

When Allen was 12 years old, he accidentally dropped a gallon jar of egg contents in the back of his father’s pick-up truck and felt guilty over the loss of income. In his stunning new biography Left, Gay and Green: a Writer’s Life, Allen vividly recalls his father’s reaction:

It was surely my fault that the jar fell and broke, but I have no recollection of my father getting angry with me. Perhaps, despite all of our family’s financial problems (and the monetary loss associated with the gallon of eggs), be saw the humor in that odd gooey cascade of yellow yolks and shiny albumen (the technical word for egg whites).

I suspect his father’s generosity of spirit might have had something to do with his membership in the Communist Party. Whatever its political failings, the party attracted people who put other people before profits.

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January 14, 2019

Kautsky? No thanks

Filed under: Kautsky,Kevin Coogan — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Karl Kautsky

Jo­hann Most has found a kindred spir­it in Kaut­sky, on whom he had frowned so grimly; even En­gels takes a much more tol­er­ant view of this joker since the lat­ter gave proof of his con­sid­er­able drink­ing abil­ity. When the charm­er — the little joker, I mean — first came to see me, the first ques­tion that rose to my lips was: Are you like your moth­er? “Not in the least!” he ex­claimed, and si­lently I con­grat­u­lated his moth­er. He’s a me­diocrity, nar­row in his out­look, over-wise (only 26 years old), and a know-it-all, al­though hard-work­ing after a fash­ion, much con­cerned with stat­ist­ics out of which, however, he makes little sense. By nature he’s a mem­ber of the phil­istine tribe. For the rest, a de­cent fel­low in his own way; I un­load him onto amigo En­gels as much as I can.

–A letter from Karl Marx to his daughter Jenny, dated August 1881

Largely the result of a confluence between Lars Lih’s writings and the social democratic (or democratic socialist) renaissance triggered by the rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, Karl Kautsky is becoming kind of trendy nowadays.

In a Jacobin article titled “Reclaiming the Best of Karl Kautsky”, James Muldoon, a lecturer at the University of Exeter in England, rescued Kautsky’s 1919 “Guidelines for a Socialist Action Programme” from the obscurity it probably deserved and offered it up as a guideline for the sort of “socialism from below” that crops up frequently in Jacobin:

One hundred years ago, socialists strived to democratize politics, the economy, and society. The democratic socialists of today have nothing to fear from embracing this history and proposing a transformative program of overcoming capitalism. Acknowledging this history not only continues to create a positive perception of socialism as compatible with democracy, it also evokes a meaningful alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

Kautsky is seen as a sensible alternative to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on one hand and the Spartacists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on the other. (It should be mentioned that Bhaskar Sunkara is a Kautsky fan himself.)

Kautsky diverged from both the SPD and the Spartacists. He believed that universal suffrage and parliamentary institutions should form the basis of the new republic. But he did not see any compelling justification for restricting suffrage to paid factory workers, which would disenfranchise large elements of the lower classes including many women, peasants, and the unemployed.

The implication here is that Liebknecht and Luxemburg were for disenfranchising women, peasants and the unemployed, right? Those dastardly extremists, tch-tch. However, if you look at the Kautsky article recommended by Muldoon, there is no reference to the Spartacists opposing universal suffrage. It is certainly doubtful that Rosa Luxemburg would have restricted suffrage to the working-class since one of her main complaints about the Bolsheviks was that they were doing exactly that.

So, by process of elimination, you must conclude that it was Lenin who was the butt of Kautsky’s criticism. It turns out that it wasn’t so much over who gets to vote or not but whether Soviet democracy expressed the kind of “democratic socialism” that Muldoon and Kautsky believe in. The difference was over whether the Bolsheviks were wrong to champion the Soviets which were a class-based institution rather than the constituent assembly favored by Kautsky and the Mensheviks. In his 1918 polemic against the Bolsheviks titled “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Kautsky sounded a Muldoonish note:

Even in a country so highly developed economically as Germany, where the proletariat is so numerous, the establishment of a Soviet Republic would disfranchise great masses of the people. In 1907, the number of men, with their families, belonging to occupations which comprised the three great groups of agriculture, industry and trade, that is, wage-earners and salaried persons, amounted to something over 35,000,000, as against 17,000,000 belonging to other sections. A party could therefore very well have the majority of wage-earners behind it and yet form a minority of the population.

By focusing on question of majority rule, Kautsky skirts the real difference with Lenin—namely the wisdom of carrying out a socialist revolution in a country that lacked the material basis for one. In his polemic, Kautsky views the seizure of power as premature:

In fine, the uninterrupted progress of production is essential for the prosperity of all. The destruction of capitalism is not Socialism. Where capitalist production cannot be transformed at once into Socialist production, it must go on as before, otherwise the process of production will be interrupted, and that hardship for the masses will ensue which the modern proletariat so much fears in the shape of general unemployment.

You get the same line of reasoning with Kautsky’s 1919 article that is the apple of Muldoon’s eyes. In a country convulsed by proletarian resistance, he offers these bromides:

The German republic should become a democratic republic. Yet it should be even more than that. It should become a socialist republic – a commonwealth in which there is no longer any place for the exploitation of man by man.

However, the question of production itself is an even more urgent one than that of the mode of production. The war has forcibly interrupted production. Our most urgent task is to revive it again, to get it up and running. That is the precondition of any attempt to socialise production.

Production requires labour and the means of production. The state authority’s next task is to procure from abroad any food that is lacking, in order to make the worker fit for work. The state authority should also supply industry with raw materials. Wherever it is not possible to supply sufficient raw materials to all the factories in a branch of industry, then above all it is the technically superior factories that should be supplied. For this, the state should use existing laws that allowed factories to be closed during the war.

You get the picture, right? Kautsky’s basic message is don’t rock the boat with all that socialist revolution stuff. No wonder it would appeal to people smitten with Bernie Sanders, who is all for his home state serving as a base for F-35s, a $1.5 trillion boondoggle, or Jeremy Corbyn, whose chief economic adviser John McDonnell warns against nationalizing industry, something that would hearken back to 1945—god forbid.

The theoretical basis for this kind of reformism is the Marxism of the Second International that understood history as a succession of stages. Kautsky, like Plekhanov, opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power because Russia had not developed a full-fledged capitalist economy. Maybe Kautsky had not read Marx’s letters to the Russian populists who were troubled by Plekhanov’s stagism. His letters advised them that the peasant communes could provide the basis for a revolutionary state inspiring revolutions in the West.

This kind of stagism has a new lease on life partially because there are people with scholarly credentials like Lars Lih trying to rewrite the history of the Russian Revolution. In a September 2018 article in “Studies in East European Thought”, he makes the case that Kautsky’s 1909 “The Road to Power” was a major influence on the Bolsheviks. While it is true that Lenin was favorably disposed to Kautsky up until 1917, there were others far more familiar with German politics who might have helped him read Kautsky more critically.

Of course, I am referring to Rosa Luxemburg who saw him close up enough to see all his ideological warts. In 1906, she wrote one of her major contributions to Marxist strategic thinking—“The Mass Strike”, a work that tries to generalize from the experience of the 1905 revolution in Russia, a dress rehearsal for 1917. As editor of “Die Neue Zeit”, Kautsky had big problems with her submitted article since there was “not one word…about a republic”. He was preoccupied as usual with the need for bourgeois democracy, not all that ultra-left business about working-class insurgency: “Universal, equal direct suffrage for all adults, without distinction of sex, is the immediate goal which ensures us the enthusiastic agreement of the broadest strata at the present moment.” He wrote much more in the rejection letter to Luxemburg that she tears apart in “Theory & Practice: A polemic against Comrade Kautsky’s theory of the Mass Strike”. I rather enjoyed her pithy take on his parliamentary cretinism:

Comrade Kautsky is a more qualified Marxian scholar than I: he should know better, what pointed adjective Marx would have applied to this “dodge” and this sort of republicanism “within the limits of the police-permitted and logically impermissible.”

Thus Comrade Kautsky is in error when he says I “bewail myself” of being “badly handled” by the editors of the Neue Zeit. I find only that Comrade Kautsky has handled himself badly.

Despite Kautsky’s insistence on the need for bourgeois democracy in “The Road to Power”, he betrayed his own principles a year after it was written by refusing to lead a campaign against a struggle for voting rights in Prussia in 1910. Writing for the Marxist Left Review in Australia, Darren Rosso contrasted the approaches taken by Kautsky and Luxemburg:

This became clear when the Prussian suffrage struggle broke out in 1910. Kautsky rejected the call for a democratic republic – cutting the knot that had tied the democratic struggle and social revolution. He repudiated Luxemburg’s call to lead an offensive mass struggle for a republic, because he wanted to “keep the gunpowder dry” for the 1912 Reichstag elections. With the mass strike as a concrete tactic, Luxemburg fought to abolish the semi-absolutist regime, after which “the revolution would be propelled beyond this first turning point towards the conquest of power by the proletariat. Her slogan of a republic…tied together all the great struggles of the day with a final aim”, in a process of permanent revolution in German conditions.

This stubborn attachment to distinct stages of history that unfold as predictably as a pupa turning into a butterfly has to be understood to some extent as a function of the influence that Charles Darwin had on Kautsky as well as many other “stagist” theoreticians. For a fascinating account of his attempt to synthesize Marx and Darwin, I recommend the chapter on Kautsky in Richard Weikart’s “Socialist Darwinism” that begins:

Few contributed as much to the dissemination of Darwinism and evolutionary theory in socialist circles as Kautsky, the leading theorist of the German Social Democratic Party in the pre-World War I period. When Kautsky founded Die neue Zeit in 1883, he intended it not only as a theoretical journal promoting Mandan socialism, but also as a vehicle to disseminate Darwinism. He asked Engels to contribute an article on Darwin to appear in the first issue, since “I cannot think of a better introductory article for a popular monthly magazine than one about Darwin. The name alone is already a program.” Kautsky also invited the Darwinian botanist Arnold Dodel to submit scientific articles to his forthcoming journal, explaining, “We want to devote special attention to natural science and specifically to Darwinism and in each number, if possible, carry a scientific article.”

Could it have been possible that Kautsky veered into Social Darwinism at some point? It is hard to shake that suspicion after reading his 1914 “Are the Jews a Race”, a year that according to Weikart came long after he had abandoned a strict application of evolutionary theory to world history.

In chapter five, Kautsky deals with the “Physical Characteristics of the Jewish Race”. He assures his readers that unlike pure races, the Jews did not have a universal marker despite the common perception that a “hooked nose” is dominant. He dismisses such stereotypes with hard evidence: “We have already quoted Luschan’s observation that the Jewish nose is particularly frequent in the Alpine valleys that are cut off from all outside influences, that it is an earmark of the homo alpinus, the Alpine man. While but thirteen or fourteen per cent, of the Jews have a Jewish nose – as a rule – the conservative Catholic population of Ancient Bavaria  shows thirty-one per cent of Jewish noses.” (I have always viewed mine as a cross between an anteater’s and a dill pickle.)

In the next chapter, he moves on to the “Mental Qualities of the Jewish Race”. After establishing that the Jews were a mixed race, he hones in on their cosmopolitanism:

It is very questionable whether natural selection, in the form of the survival of the fittest, has had much influence on evolution. But there is no doubt that it has had an immense influence on the shaping and maintaining of species by means of the elimination of those unfit for the given environment.

In addition to this unconscious adaption, there is also a conscious adaptation. We have already pointed out that the Jew is far more inclined to consult a physician, and to observe the physician’s orders conscientiously, than is the non-Jew, and also, that the Jew – at least in the ghetto – is far less addicted to alcohol. This difference between Jew and non-Jew is at bottom again merely a difference between city-dweller and country-dweller.

Owing to the conditions of his life the latter is far superior to the city-dweller in strength; he is rarely ill. In the fullness of his strengths he despises disease. Owing to his love of displaying his vigour, and to his fear of appearing to be a weakling, he considers it a disgrace to be sick; besides, he is often too ignorant to have confidence in a physician.

I’m not with Kautsky on this physician stuff. I’m much more like the country-dweller, especially when it comes to making appointments with the urologist. I can’t stand those probes.

This hogwash was not the worst of it. Like most Social Darwinists, Kautsky was into eugenics. Kautsky had a particular affinity for Wilhelm Schallmayer who was considered a founder of the eugenics movement in Germany—and a socialist to boot. According to Wikipedia, his key work, “Concerning the Imminent Physical Degeneration of Civilized Humanity” concluded that modern medicine impeded natural selection by aiding the survival and reproduction of those who are “defectively constituted” or “generally weak.” Also, the increase in mental disorders was due to the unfit among us not being able to adapt to the fast-pace of modern industrial civilization. Finally, he fretted that degeneration often led to insanity, which imposed a high economic cost for maintaining lunatic asylums.

Weikart discusses Kautsky’s review of this masterpiece:

By reviewing Schallmayer’s early book, Ueber die drohende korperliche Entartung der Kulturmenschheit (1891, On the Threatening Physical Degeneration of Civilized Humanity), Kautsky became one of the earliest to introduce eugenical thinking into the socialist press. Kautsky agreed with Schailmayer that modern society was promoting degeneration and that medicine and hygiene were contributing to this by facilitating the propagation of weaker and inferior individuals. The bourgeois Darwinists’ solution of reintroducing the struggle for existence is absurd and hypocritical,. according to Kautsky, since all the accomplishments of modern culture work to enervate the struggle for existence. Do they really want to return to primitive society and forfeit their own pride and glory? Kautsky regarded rational social planning as the most beneficial replacement for natural selection. Degeneration could be obviated by removing deleterious environmental influences and promoting healthy conditions of life.

Kautsky? No thanks.

January 11, 2019

Gauging the power of Ukraine’s neo-Nazis

Filed under: Fascism,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:55 pm

Over the past few months I have noticed a steady stream of FB posts that make the case that Ukraine is the motherlode of neo-Nazism globally. Some of it comes from obvious sources like RT.com but you can also find such reports in ostensibly more authoritative sources like Newsweek, which published an article titled “Ukraine Makes Birthday of Nazi Collaborator a National Holiday and Bans Book Critical of Anti-Semitic Leader”.

Another well-publicized report maintains that the USA is arming and training the notorious Azov Battalion. The Grayzone boys, as might have been expected, jumped on this in a Max Blumenthal article titled “The US is Arming and Assisting Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, While Congress Debates Prohibition”. It begins: “Known as a bastion of neo-Nazism, Ukraine’s Azov Battalion has received teams of American military advisors and high powered US-made weapons.” Interestingly enough, Blumenthal cites a source that in other instances would have been described as an untrustworthy:

Finally, this January, the transfer of the lethal weapons to Azov was confirmed by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL). Aric Toler, a DFRL researcher, asserted that “the US Embassy did absolutely help facilitate this transfer, and I’m not sure if they were aware that Azov would be the first to train with them.”

This is the same think-tank, which after forming a partnership with Facebook, was characterized by Blumenthal as “the merger of the national security state and Silicon Valley.”

In any case, everybody would describe the Azov Battalion, Svoboda and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) as fascist. The same with Bandera’s role as Nazi collaborator who murdered Jews.

The bigger question, however, is how much political influence such neo-Nazis have in Ukraine. There is some statistics that can help us understand the degree to which Ukrainian nationalism overlaps with Bandera-style neo-Nazism.

In fact, a poll was conducted among the Ukrainian population about their attitude toward the various armed forces and political leaders who fought over their country during WWII. Those affiliated with the USSR received support by 69 percent of all those between the ages of 18-29, while Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) garnered only 14 percent. As for political leaders, the UPA’s commander Roman Shukhevych was rated one percent lower than Joseph Stalin. Considering the fact that Stalin had been responsible for the death of millions of their countrymen in the early 1930s, that should give you a good idea of how much support there was for Bandera’s politics in 2012. For a full presentation of the statistics culled by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, go here.

Meanwhile, let’s review the kind of votes neo-Nazi candidates get in Ukraine. In the 2014 Rada elections, Svoboda won 6 seats. That meant out of 450 deputies, its percentage was .013. By contrast, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) just won 97 seats in the Bundestag, which made it the third largest party. With the Bundestag consisting of 598 seats, this means that AfD now represents sixteen percent of elected parliamentarians.

As for the Pravy Sektor, it managed to elect only a single member to the Rada in 2014 but he ran as an independent. This probably reflects the crisis that has beset the party in the post-Euromaidan period. In November 2015, its best-known figure Dmytro Yarosh quit the party, taking 20 percent of the membership with him.

Given the tendency by people such as Blumenthal, Stephen F. Cohen, and just about everybody writing for Consortium News to make an amalgam between the ruling party in Ukraine and groups like Pravy Sektor, you are dealing with propaganda, not responsible journalism. On August 3, 2015, the Financial Times published an article titled “Ukrainian far-right force puts Kiev in its sights”. It is this perspective that is sorely missing in Grayzone type articles:

Dmytro Yarosh, Right Sector’s leader, called last week for a nationwide no-confidence referendum in President Petro Poroshenko . He was addressing a rally in Kiev of up to 5,000 Right Sector activists, angry over what they say is the government’s slow progress in fighting corruption and excessive concessions to Moscow as it attempts to reach a settlement over eastern Ukraine. “We are an organised revolutionary force that is opening the new phase of the Ukrainian revolution,” Mr Yarosh told the rally.

Earlier this month, two people were left dead in a shootout between off-duty Right Sector fighters and police near Ukraine’s previously peaceful western border – 1,500km away from the eastern conflict. The group claimed it was acting to destroy an illicit cross-border cigarette trade. Some observers suggest Right Sector was trying to take it over.

This leaves us with the worst of the lot, the Azov Battalion that has just spawned a political party with the innocuous title of National Corps. It organized a parade honoring Stephen Bandera on January 1 and is generally regarded as the most dangerous of the three far-right groups. Led by Andriy Biletsky, it could hardly be further from the political agenda of the ruling party that people like Stephen F. Cohen castigate for being a tool of the EU and NATO. In fact, Andriy Biletsky and the professor emeritus are not far apart when it comes to Western imperialism as Anna Nemtsova reported in the Daily Beast:

The commander of the Azov Battalion, the former founder of ultra-nationalist movement “Social-National Assembly” Andriy Biletsky, also known as “White Leader,” personally took the oath from members of the militia for “faithful service to the Ukrainian people.”

Biletsky’s party, the National Corps, is against Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO. He says he thinks the EU wouldn’t let Ukraine join, and that he is “not a fan of NATO.” Among other things, both demand Western European democratic standards for membership.

Given the minuscule votes for these neo-Nazi groups, it is virtually ruled out that they could ever replace the pro-EU and pro-NATO government in Kyiv as has been the case in a number of other Eastern European countries, especially Hungary. This does not mean that they don’t pose a threat. They have increasingly functioned as shock troops attacking the Ukrainian left and various social movements. With a sympathy for the ultraright in the police and the top ranks of the military, they are analogous to groups like those that showed up for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Nobody would expect such groups to ever win elections but they are capable of being used as a battering ram against the left. This is true of every country in Europe as well. There is a symbiotic relationship between right-populist parties following the letter of the law and the semi-clandestine bands that will resort to murder to achieve its goals.

The lynchpin of this far-right constellation of forces in Ukraine is the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov who has close ties to Andriy Biletsky. Avakov is a member of the People’s Party that is in a coalition with President Poroshenko’s party called Solidarity. If he fired Avakov, he would lose his slim majority in the Rada and Ukraine would be forced to call new elections.

Right now, Poroshenko is extremely unpopular. It is difficult to say which political force could replace him except to rule out the possibility of anybody resembling Viktor Orban becoming president. In a complex situation filled with contradictions, there is no mass right-populist movement in the wings even though there is a sizable neo-Nazi movement that could become a much more serious threat is such a movement took shape.

If you are at all concerned about Ukraine’s future and want to keep on top of developments there, I recommend bookmarking https://ukrainesolidaritycampaign.org/ that is based in England. It is there that you will find a class analysis of the country as well as some promising developments in an overall grim situation. This one stands out:

January 9, 2019

The Integrity Initiative controversy (yawn)

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

On November fifth, a group identifying itself as Anonymous began releasing internal documents it hacked from the Integrity Initiative, a British group that describes itself as follows:

We are a network of people and organizations from across Europe dedicated to revealing and combating propaganda and disinformation. Our broader aim is also to educate on how to spot disinformation and verify sources. This kind of work attracts the extremely hostile and aggressive attention of disinformation actors, like the Kremlin and its various proxies, so we hope you understand that our members mostly prefer to remain anonymous.

So we are dealing with Anonymous vs Anonymous apparently. It sort of reminds me of this:

Trying to make sense of the raw documents is a chore and a half but basically they reveal an organized attempt to influence reporters to write anti-Russian propaganda. For example, a selected group of Spanish reporters were urged to expose a military officer as being soft on Putin. The go-to guys, Grayzone’s Katzenjammer Kids Mohamed Elmaazi and Max Blumenthal, told of a campaign to block Army Colonel Pedro Baños from being appointed to Director of Spain’s National Security Department on the “bogus grounds” that he was pro-Kremlin.

Reading this, you would think that it was tantamount to Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers writing a report that described Elizabeth Warren as a “socialist” even though she has openly denied that, instead claiming she was in favor of markets.

What about the good Colonel? El Pais, a newspaper that was part of the Integrity Initiative’s plot, published an article that made a series of interesting observations, starting with his tweet that referred to Putin enjoying a 74% popularity rating, something that inspired this remark: “Wouldn’t we love to have a political leader half as popular right here in the European Union!!!”

Other tweets stated: “The media war, and between the US and Russia, is so intense that it is increasingly difficult to know what’s really going on in the Syria war;” “I agree that Europe cannot draw away from Russia, but must rather be its natural complement;” “Sometimes I find it hard not to believe in conspiracy theories;” and: “As a military official from a country that is part of NATO, I cannot give an opinion. But I do believe that Europe has lost an opportunity with Russia.”

I mean, really, is the charge of being -pro Putin bogus? I suppose that in Grayzone’s eyes it is since the Colonel’s words were so undeniably true. Max Blumenthal would probably go far as to say that the officer was a NATO tool since he wrote that it was “increasingly difficult to know what’s really going on in the Syria war.” Surely, he must have been reading Idrees Ahmad or some other pro-imperialist al-Qaeda operative if he could have written these words since the entire world, at least those that seek peace and national sovereignty, understand that Assad was defending a secular, diverse and economically progressive country from American-backed mercenaries in the same way Fidel Castro defended Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

The essential method of Grayzone and all the other propaganda outlets that have taken up the Integrity Initiative documents (Mint News, Moon of Alabama, RT, Sputnik, et al) is to discount the material on the Integrity Initiative website and the articles published under their prodding, such as the El Pais item, as “fake news” because it is led by British neocons with close ties to the military. Not only does Pedro Baños get a clean bill of health, so do we hear that the Skripal Novichok poisoning was a “false flag” operation.

Why? Because in 2015 it issued a policy paper calling for expelling “every RF [Russian Federation] intelligence officer and air/defense/naval attache from as many countries as possible”. And guess what? In 2018, the same year the Skripals were poisoned, it issued another policy paper with similar goals. Given the obvious Cold War mindset of the Institute, you might have expected such papers to come out not only on a yearly basis but twice a month.

Of course, the only way to make sense of the Skripal affair is to examine the evidence as Bellingcat has done. Here, by contrast, is Max Blumenthal’s version of what happened:

One can gather how much impact Grayzone has versus Bellingcat. According to Alexa, Grayzone is ranked 452,193 globally while Bellingcat is 65,661. Maybe Max should do standup like Jimmy Dore instead of posing as a serious journalist.

Meanwhile, in an effort to show that they are gumshoes equal to Sam Spade, they discovered that the Institute for Statecraft, another neocon outfit funded by the Conservative government in England and parent to the Integrity Initiative, has a different address than the one listed in a Scottish registry of nonprofits. Going to the Scottish address listed there, Mohamed Elmaazi discovered that it was a building in complete disrepair. But the hacked documents revealed the real address, which was in the basement of a “spectacular neo-gothic mansion” in London. When Elmaazi wrangled his way into the building like Michael Moore busting a polluter’s corporate headquarters, they showed him to the door pretty quickly, which led Grayzone to comment: “Elmaazi’s swift ejection from the premises confirmed the lengths that this shadowy organization continues to go to to avoid public scrutiny.”

Really? You don’t have to be quick on the uptake to figure out that this was a military intelligence asset. Just look at their website under “Fellows” and you will see how little attention they pay to concealing their purpose. Martin Edmonds is Senior Associate Fellow for Civil-military Relations. Amalyah Hart is Fellow for Hybrid Warfare in the Indo-Pacific Region. This is a strategic planning think-tank obviously serving as an adjunct to the British military, filled with the kind of academics that get degrees from the British equivalent of Georgetown University, Princeton, et al.

One might say that Mr. Elmaazi shock as its nefarious goings-on was akin to Captain Renault’s surprise that gambling was going on at Rick’s place.

What do Trump’s ‘withdrawal’ from Syria and the Gulf’s rapprochement with Assad have in common?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:46 pm

via What do Trump’s ‘withdrawal’ from Syria and the Gulf’s rapprochement with Assad have in common?

January 8, 2019

First Iranian Film Festival at the IFC Center in NYC

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 2:44 pm


Ever since 2014, I have made the case for Iranian films on CounterPunch (see links to the articles below).

At the risk of sounding like one of those reviewers addicted to superlatives for Hollywood films that appear in full-page ads in the NY Times, let me say that the five films I have seen in advance of the Iranian Film Festival that opens next week at the IFC Center in New York on January 10th beat the pants off of Roma, Widows, The Favourite, The Green Book or any other films that have the inside track for Academy Awards.

They incorporate the elements that have draw attention to Iranian films worldwide for the past forty years, including a swan song for Abbas Kiarostami, a director/screenwriter that Martin Scorsese describes as having “the highest level of artistry in the cinema.” It is a supreme irony that a state with a well-deserved reputation for censorship is capable of serving as an incubator for great art but then again the greatest music ever written catered to the tastes of both church and nobility.

Let’s be grateful that the batch of five films discussed below, which push the envelope of Iranian cultural norms, can still be made. To some extent this reflects a cultural thaw under Hassan Rouhani who is determined to open up the country’s economy to foreign investors, even if Donald Trump is just as determined to keep the doors closed. I was ecstatic to see that one of the five films was directed by Jafar Panahi who I consider one of the world’s greatest directors. Though under house arrest between 2010 until 2015, he was still defiant enough to make a film in 2011 on an iPhone inside his home titled “This is Not a Film” that was up to his usual high standards. He still cannot leave Iran, even if in film circles he is considered to be on a par with Kiarostami.

At the risk of indulging in hyperbole, I advise seeing as many of these films as possible at the IFC. They will remind you of not only how films can reach the level of fine art but provide insights into a country that is as important geopolitically as any on earth.

Continue reading



January 5, 2019

Busted for violating Facebook Community Standards a second time.

Filed under: Islamophobia,social media — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

Around 10am on December 31st, I received a notice from Facebook that I had violated their Community Standards and would lose my posting privileges for 3 days. Their algorithms identified something I wrote as hate speech directed toward Muslims, which is quite strange since I have written maybe 400 articles since 2011 attacking Islamophobia. Then again, based on Facebook’s computerized moderation, Jonathan Swift would have been banned permanently for writing “A Modest Proposal”. I was told that the next time I violate their standards, the sentence would be 7 days and the next violation after that would result in a life sentence. Banned from Facebook for life. What a let-down that would be. Only yesterday, I had a “friend” explain to me in 41 words how Fidel Castro was not a genuine socialist like him. Maybe I can purge my friends list at some point based on whether they have posted a cat video or not. Anybody who hasn’t gets the boot.

So how did I end up writing an Islamophobic comment? As you might have heard, I get friend requests every day from people I have nothing in common with: Christians, men and women with nothing in their timeline except selfies and birthday greetings, people into “spirituality”, etc. Of course, my troubles stemmed from getting a friend request from a leftist in India who somehow had not figured out that I had written hundreds of articles calling Bashar al-Assad a blood-soaked dictator. Thirty seconds of reviewing his timeline had smoke coming out of my ears. Photos of triumphant Baathist soldiers, accusations of the rebels being ISIS, links to Mint Press articles, “false flag” conspiracy crap, and vicious attacks on the Kashmir Muslims. I probably should have just deleted his friend request and moved on but since I have such a short fuse, I posted about 5 or 6 over the top Islamophobic comments written as way of holding up a mirror to this jerk.

Evidently, Facebook’s software is not capable of detecting irony. Instead of being threatened with job loss like George Ciccariello-Maher or James Livingston for their own outrageous posts on social media, I was called on the carpet by an electronic monitor.

This was not the first time this happened. On October 22nd, I lost posting privileges for 24 hours because the electronic monitor had detected that almost a year earlier I had written an article on my blog that featured a picture of Adolf Hitler. A real human being would have figured out that the picture was not put there by a neo-Nazi but someone trying to explain how he came to power and what had to be done to prevent the rise of another Hitler. A real human being might have also figured out that I was trolling an Islamophobe on December 31 but there’s a good chance that the people in Facebook’s Community Standards enforcement division that is probably as big as a large town in the USA probably would have been just as clueless as the software and Mark Zuckerberg himself.

The fact is that no software could ever track down the real hate speech on Facebook, which is incubated in places like 21st Century Wire, Grayzone, Consortium News, Global Research, Off-Guardian, et al. Lately I’ve gotten wind of an Eva Bartlett article that is making the rounds on social media. With RT.com likely being the original source, probably hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to an article titled “Organ theft, staged attacks: UN panel details White Helmets’ criminal activities, media yawns”. You see the words “UN Panel” and you might assume that this panel was convened by some official body of the UN. Nope. It was a panel organized by the Russian Mission to the UN and Bartlett. Using their clout, the Russians had the whole thing recorded and part of Bartlett’s typical lobbying for the Assad dictatorship. Like Blumenthal, Beeley and other scoundrels, you cannot help but believe that they are making money doing this work.

This junk starts on RT.com or Sputnik and then gets spread across the Internet by conscious and unconscious tools of the Kremlin. There is little doubt that when a lowlife like Max Blumenthal attended the RT bash in Moscow, he made connections there that were far more beneficial to his career than piddling jobs with Alternet. It gave him the leverage he needed to speak for the left on Tucker Carlson’s show.

All this Russiagate crap is besides the point. There is Russian interference in American politics but not through Facebook ads. Instead, it is tailored to the “anti-imperialist” left that has come to dominate American politics. Across the board, you see people like Oliver Stone, Stephen F. Cohen, Max Blumenthal sharing the talking points of Ann Coulter, David Duke, and Lyndon LaRouche’s cult. White helmets, sarin gas, the USA supporting ISIS in Syria, “false flags” in Ukraine, and all the other bowel movements the drainage pipes cannot process. It is Facebook and Twitter that is facilitating this Red-Brown alliance whether they understand it or not.

Like Pandora’s Box, social media cannot be closed. Its ills are part of the political terrain today, just like the positive contributions being made by the left. For every jerk like the guy who sent me a friend request, there are others who understand that the White Helmets are nothing but first responders trying to rescue people from the buildings that Putin and Assad bomb.

In my view, there will come a time when print publications and leaflets will begin to be the primary means of communication on the left for the simple reason that the state can easily crack down on us just like is done in Iran and China. But nothing can get in the way of a leaflet being handed out in a working-class neighborhood calling for a general strike, except maybe a cop’s revolver. That day will come, I’m sure. Be prepared, as they say in the Boy Scouts.


January 4, 2019

Sanders, Warren and the DSA

Filed under: Counterpunch,DSA — louisproyect @ 3:43 pm

Michael Harrington: the DSA’s founding father


For the past few months, dating back at least to Bhaskar Sunkara’s October 23rd Guardian op-ed piece titled “Think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the same? They aren’t”, the “democratic socialist” wing of the Democratic Party has mounted an ideological offensive against the Senator from Massachusetts, laying the groundwork for Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign. Though likely almost as happy to get behind a Warren candidacy, it faults her for backing “Accountable Capitalism” rather than the Scandinavian-style socialism Sanders embraces. From the perspective of the Republican Party, and likely the Biden/Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, there’s not much difference between the two Senators. The “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism”, issued by Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in the same month as Sunkara’s op-ed, had this take on the two:

The Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who cited Marxism as the model for his country, described “the ruthless economic exploitation and political oppression of the peasants by the landlord class” (Cotterell 2011, chap. 6). Expressing similar concerns, current American senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have stated that “large corporations . . . exploit human misery and insecurity, and turn them into huge profits” and “giant corporations . . . exploit workers just to boost their own profits.”6

Can you guess which Senator’s quote was which? Take 5 minutes to decide but no cheating, please. Okay, the answer is that Sanders’s quote came first. But wouldn’t any DSA’er be nearly as happy to see Warren become President in light of her belief that “giant corporations . . . exploit workers just to boost their own profits”? It is worth noting that some on the left—including Boris Kagarlitsky and Diana Johnstone—took Trump’s populist rhetoric to heart, so maybe something more than words have to be taken into account.

Continue reading

January 3, 2019


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

Among the Hollywood “quality” films sent to me in November for consideration in our NYFCO awards meeting was “Crazy Rich Asians” that I could not endure for more than 15 minutes. If I had watched the whole thing, I probably would have written a review something like this:

If you go to a bachelorette party on an island and the other guests put a huge bloody fish head on your pillow, you are in a horror movie, not a rom-com. Maybe at this point in the history of capitalism there’s not much difference. Crazy Rich Asians looks more like a glossy tourist magazine produced for an international economics summit than a movie.

That’s from A.S. Hamrah, the film reviewer at N+1, a really great Marxist journal of politics and the arts. The graphics aren’t snazzy like Jacobin’s but it is ten times smarter. Hamrah should get a medal just for sitting through this garbage.

Starting not long after the NYFCO awards meeting, I got back to the kind of films I really enjoy. I doubt that I will see any this year that is more of a polar opposite to “Crazy Rich Asians” than “Communion”, a Polish cinéma vérité documentary about a family that is not only at the bottom of the economic ladder but burdened by serious problems that would challenge even a billionaire’s. Opening tomorrow at the IFC in New York and the Laemmle in Los Angeles, the lead subject is a 14-year old girl named Ola who is effectively the family head. With a 13-year old autistic brother Nikodem being prepped for his communion and an unemployed alcoholic father to look after, her perseverance and grace under fire is something to behold.

Nikodem’s autism is probably at the higher end of the spectrum since he is engaged with his sister and father but mostly on his own terms. They don’t treat him as ill but simply as someone prone to misbehavior. Happiest when he is taking a bath, he is chided by Ola for using up too much bubble bath. You first get the impression that he is not “normal” by the sight of his hands fluttering nonstop in the air, as if he were a flamenco dancer on methamphetamine. He also has a remarkable vocabulary for any 13-year old, let alone one with autism. When the words come tumbling out, they have a vaguely oracular quality. Early on, Ola is looking through his communion preparation notebook and chastising him for the inappropriate entries, one per page and accompanied by illustrations: “No Mongols allowed”, “Life is a Rat”, “He was born to be a Rat”, “When Jesus was born, the dinosaurs…”, “Most of the dinosaurs…”, “The End of Jesus”. As she tears each page out of the notebook, he squeals in complaint. You really have to wonder how he will make it through communion with notes like this. On top of that, when he is in a training session with a priest over how to understand sin, Nikodem disagrees with the notion that gluttony is a sin. How can eating as much as you want be a sin?

In addition to its intimate portraiture of an unlikely family, “Communion” is a sharp-eyed examination of the empty rituals of the Catholic Church in Poland. Ola keeps pressuring Nikodem to memorize his responses to the questions put to him in the communion ritual without worrying too much whether he understands them or not. I went through a similar exercise when I was his age, learning Hebrew to recite my bar mitzvah haftarah but had no clue what the words meant.

Rounding out the cast is Marek, a chain-smoking, beer-swigging wastrel whose wife has left him for obvious reasons (she makes a brief and touching appearance on the weekend of Nikodem’s communion.) Ironically, it was a chance encounter with him that led to the making of this remarkable film as director Anna Zamecka mentions in her Filmmaker interview:

I was working on a project about the European football championship of 2012; Poland was hosting the games that year. I was shooting at the central train station in Warsaw. There were a lot of foreign tourists coming to the city, and I was filming them attempting to communicate with a ticket cashier who only spoke Polish. She was having a lot of trouble understanding a customer and, as there was a very long line, people were starting to become impatient. This man approached the tourist and started asking him questions in German, then in English, then Spanish, Italian, Serbian, and other languages, wanting to know how he could help him. The guy was French so the two started having a long conversation in French, and Marek eventually helped him to buy his ticket. Unbeknownst to them, I was filming the whole time. I went home and watched the footage and was completely captivated by Marek.

A couple of days later, I was filming in the station again, and I could hear his voice through my headphones. I tracked him down and shyly approached him to introduce myself and confess that I had filmed him the other day. I wanted to know how he knew so many languages. He told me that he was a self-taught linguist. In the ‘80s, he had been selling money to foreign tourists. In order to cheat them, he taught himself to communicate in as many languages as possible. [laughter]

With newspaper coverage about Poland today focused almost exclusively on the Trump-like authoritarianism of the President and the apparent (at least for the time being) willingness of the population to accept it, Anna Zamecka’s film is a reminder of the generous and intelligent spirit of its artists. As a student from the country’s prestigious Wajda school, she pays homage to the great man who it was named after.

January 1, 2019

Lev Tahor: the Jewish Taliban

Filed under: cults,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

Several days ago my tiny village in the Catskills got mentioned in a NY Times article titled “Jewish ‘Cult’ Tied to Brooklyn and Mexico Is Accused of Kidnapping 2 Children”. It seems that the children and their mother were part of a bizarre Taliban-like Hasidic cult based in Guatemala called Lev Tahor, which means “pure heart”. In October, she fled from the cult and relocated to Woodridge, New York, a village that was always predominantly Jewish but for the past decade or so at least has morphed into a Satmar Hasidic shtetl.

After my mom went into a nursing home over a decade ago, I went upstate to work on getting her house into shape for the real estate market. While working on the house, I used to go next door to chat with my Satmar neighbor, who had bought his house from my neighbor Frank Draganchuk, a Ukrainian-American who loved hunting as well as the animals he would shoot. He left salt licks behind his house just to admire the deer that he would hunt during season but far from his house.

After my house went on the market, it was snapped up almost immediately by another Satmar family. Within days of the sale, another neighbor who lived across the street, a garage mechanic and good old boy like Frank, phoned me to complain about the house being sold to a Satmar. A half-Jew himself, he might be perceived as an anti-Semite nonetheless. But another neighbor who lived down the street was not only a full-blooded Jew but the former president of the village synagogue where I was bar mitzvahed. He hated the Satmars with a passion. A WWII veteran like my father, his idea of Judaism was eating kosher and going to synagogue on Saturdays, not having your entire life revolve around rituals.

The Times describes Lev Tahor as anti-Zionist. As a split from the Satmar sect, this is one belief that they retained. The Satmars are staunchly opposed to Zionism, so much so that the Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum was denounced by Jewish officialdom for blaming the West Bank settlers as being responsible for the murders of three of their teens by colonizing Palestinian land. Refusing to accept the legitimacy of Israel based on their interpretation of Jewish teachings (a Jewish state can only come into existence upon the return of a Messiah), he stated that while “every heart bleeds for the teens, it is incumbent upon us to say that these parents are guilty”. The settlers “place the lives of the Jewish people at risk for the sake of Zionism”. The most extreme sub-sect of the Satmars is Neturei Karta that denounces Israel at pro-Palestinian rallies organized by the PSL.

Just two months after the mom and her children settled down into normal Satmar life in Woodridge, a Lev Tahor member named Aron Rosner, who is the brother of the group’s leader, came into the village, kidnapped the two kids, Yante Teller, 14, and her brother, Chaim Teller, 12. They were brought to Mexico where they would then be transported on the next plane back to Guatemala. The Interpol arrested the kidnappers in Mexico and are in the process of sending the children back to Woodridge.

The children’s mom was the daughter of Shlomo Helbrans, the cult’s founder. After his death, his son Nachman took over. He is regarded as more extreme than his father and was arrested with the other kidnappers in Mexico. As part of the astonishing history of this tiny sect of no more than 200 members, Shlomo drowned on July 7, 2017 while performing a ritual immersion in a Mexican river. If the idea of Hasidic Jews in Mexico or Guatemala seems strange to those of you reading this post, imagine how Guatemalan Indians regarded them.

After settling in San Juan la Laguna, about 90 miles from Guatemala City, a local indigenous council told them to leave or else they would be forcefully removed. The Indians had problems with them refusing to greet or have physical contact with the community. Actually, that’s the way most of Woodridge’s more secular-minded Jews felt about the Satmars.

Ironically, Shlomo Helbrans was born into an Israeli family that was as secular-minded as my own. It was only after he turned 13 that he became a zealot. As for me, when I turned 13, I cut all my ties to organized Judaism. Getting bar mitzvahed was like graduating high school. Once you were certified, why would you ever want to go back to places as alienating as a high school or a synagogue?

I first heard about Helbrans in 1994 when he was involved in a case similar to this one. He had been charged with helping a 13-year old boy run away from his mother while taking bar mitzvah lessons with him. Sentenced to two years in prison, he left for Israel two years after his release where he established his cult that Israelis call the “Jewish Taliban”. According to Wikipedia, its practices include lengthy prayer sessions, arranged marriages between teenagers, and black, head-to-toe coverings for females beginning at age three.

Despite its minuscule size, the group has been widely covered in the media. Perhaps there is more than the customary interest in a Jewish group that forces its female members to wear burqas.

Foreign Policy ran a story in the January/February 2016 issue titled “A Tale of the Pure at Heart” that is worth reading. But for the most revealing look inside this controversial cult, I recommend this Global News documentary:

Finally, I can say that the readiness of such people to live within a cult is no great mystery. Judaism, like all “sky religions”, tends to create a rich subsoil for formations based on a strict obedience to doctrine and blind worship of the leading group. While Trotskyism was not a “sky religion”, it certainly knew how to keep people in line, including me over an 11 year period. Like the mother of the two kidnapped children, I bailed. Fortunately for me, nobody tried to kidnap me and force me to go door to door selling books written by Jack Barnes. They probably understood that I had gone over to Satan, thank god.

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