Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 24, 2019

A Douma chemical attack false flag scenario does not make sense at all. Here is why.

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

via A Douma chemical attack false flag scenario does not make sense at all. Here is why.

June 21, 2019


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

Opening today at the IFC Center in N.Y. is a German zombie film titled “Endzeit”, which means ever after. However, it has little in common with George Romero and much more with European art films of the kind that show up at the IFC rather than the Cineplexes. It is based on the graphic novel by Olivia Vieweg of the same title that is much more about female bonding in a post-apocalyptic Germany that has been reduced to two cities behind fences. In Weimar, those infected are killed on sight while in Jena, they are working on a cure.

We meet Vivi in the first few minutes of “Endzeit” as she is being treated in a psychiatric hospital for what appears to be post-traumatic stress. When the zombies stormed down her street in Weimar looking for prey, she could not manage to cajole her kid sister out of a backyard swimming pool in time to be saved and thus remains haunted by this memory.

Vivi is conscripted to work on repairing fences on the outskirts of Weimar where she runs into Eva, a tall and assertive woman also from Weimar who is supervising the crew. When a conscript is bitten on the arm by a zombie that has penetrated the fence, Eva does not hesitate in chopping off the woman’s arm so as to save her from being zombified. Until the infection reaches the brain, you remain human in this version of zombie hell. When the foreman overseeing Eva and the rest of the crew discovers that the conscript is still alive, she orders Eva to shoot her since those are the draconian rules they live by–literally. As a hardened Weimar enforcer, Eva is up to the task but decides afterward that will be her last execution.

Horror-stricken by what she has seen, Vivi decides to seek refuge in the relatively more humane Jena. Next morning, she stows away on an automated driverless train used to bring food in to the fence repairing detachment. To her surprise, Vivi discovers that Eva has Eva is a stowaway on the same train, no longer willing to enforce the Weimar rules. En route to Jena, the train comes to a halt for mechanical reasons apparently. The two women enter the Black Forest with the intention of making it to Jena on foot. Both are haunted by memories, Vivi by her failure to shepherd her sister to safety and Eva for all the people she has killed as an enforcer for what remains of civilized society.

For the remainder of the film, there are few encounters with zombies of the kind that you are familiar with from either George Romero’s films or from “The Walking Dead”. Instead, you see two survivors trying to make the best of a grim situation while finding moments of solace in nature and each other.

If “Endzeit” appears at first to be a two-character story, you will soon discover that the third character is nature itself. The woods, the rivers, and the sky are always in the foreground as we begin to understand that the post-apocalyptic world they occupy has in many ways become that way in the same way that the creation myth of Adam and Eve unfolded. Instead of eating the forbidden apple, mankind has challenged nature to the point that it is finally extracting its revenge. Needless to say, this is a film that relates very much to the current moment even if it more about the lives of two women than about possible salvation. Given the ineluctable forces that are gathering now to create a post-apocalyptic condition sans zombies, the film has a certain resonance.

The film was directed by Carolina Hellsgärd, a Swede, based on a script by Olivia Vieweg, the German author of the graphic novel. The director of photography is Eva Striker, an American. It was produced by Ingelore König, a German. A film with so many insights into female bonding was no doubt a product of such a uniquely female work, about which producer König had this to say:

What makes ENDZEIT special? In our industry in Germany, it is primarily men who have a say when it comes to genre films. And yet, I know enough women who are also interested. But a bit differently: we also need a really emotional story and have the expectation that it should be about something that is important to people. Violence and action for their own sake are often just tedious.

We especially want to get women excited about a road movie through a dystopian world. It’s about a friendship that gets off to an unusual start and ends up even more unusually. It’s about finding your own vision of life in a broken world, a vision apart from fenced-in cities and the insane belief that walls can save us. The film tells a story of nature’s survival despite human greed. These are topics that are of particular relevance to younger people — and, of course, to lovers of the zombie genre, too.

The Douma Gas Attack: What’s the Evidence It was a False Flag?

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm


On April 7, 2018, a chlorine chemical attack reportedly left 43 people dead in Douma, a city of over 100,000 people in the Ghouta region to the east of Damascus. I use the word reportedly since Assad and Putin both denied a day later that anybody had died. Propaganda networks for the two leaders called the grizzly video evidence for such an attack as a carefully staged performance akin to how some conspiracy theorists describe the Apollo moon landing. Among the outlets arguing for a “false flag” incident was One America News Network, an ardently pro-Trump cable news station that was granted a permanent seat in the White House’s news briefing room and whose White House Correspondent, Trey Yingst, was one of the top five most called upon reporters covering the Trump Administration. Not to be outdone, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson opined: “All the geniuses tell us that Assad killed those children, but do they really know that? Of course they don’t really know that. They’re making it up. They have no real idea what happened.”

Continue reading

June 20, 2019

When the NY Times understood what the term concentration camp meant

Filed under: Fascism,repression — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

June 19, 2019

No, Seth Ackerman, Norman Thomas did not think the New Deal was “socialist”

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,New Deal — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

After Bernie Sanders equated the New Deal with “democratic socialism”, the Jacobin intellectuals have been pirouetting like Nureyev trying to make this sound consistent with their neo-Kautskyism. I imagine that even Eric Blanc must have squirmed when Sanders made it crystal-clear that he had no interest other than in capitalist reform.

There have been a steady stream of articles trying to smooth the ruffled feathers of any DSA member over this speech that was designed to reassure DP voters that Sanders’s “socialism” had nothing to do with overthrowing capitalism or any other goals that threatened private property.

The latest in this series is a Jacobin article by Seth Ackerman titled “Why Bernie Talks About the New Deal” that portrays various socialists endorsing the idea that the New Deal was socialist. Unsurprisingly, he cites Eric Hobsbawm who despite his groundbreaking history books was a fairly conventional CP member. Also, unsurprisingly, he does not quote any Trotskyist, least of all James P. Cannon who spent 16 months in prison for violating the Smith Act–ie., opposing FDR’s imperialist ambitions for entering WWII.

But this caught my eye:

It wasn’t only red-baiting opponents of socialism who saw the resemblance. So did many socialists — including Norman Thomas, the longtime leader of the Socialist Party of America. In the words of his biographer, Thomas “viewed Roosevelt’s program for reform of the economic system as far more reflective of the Socialist Party platform than of his own [Democratic] party’s platform,” in particular its embrace of a shorter workweek, public works, abolition of sweatshops, a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions. Though always highly critical of Roosevelt — who never embraced “our essential socialism” — Thomas acknowledged that FDR built a rudimentary welfare state by adopting “ideas and proposals formerly called ‘socialist’ and voiced in our platforms beginning with Debs in 1900.”

With respect to the links in the passage quoted above, I’d avoid relying on the word of his biographer, who might have had his own agenda, or going through the trouble of determining whether Thomas “acknowledged” anything of the sort (the link is to a book that is not online.)

It would be much better to read Norman Thomas’s speech titled “Is the New Deal Socialism” that gets to the heart of the matter. Ironically, it was reproduced in a Chicago DSA publication. I wonder what they think of this New Deal = socialism jive.

Is the New Deal Socialism?

An Answer to Al Smith and the American Liberty League

By Norman Thomas

(This pamphlet is taken from a speech delivered by Norman Thomas over the Columbia Broadcasting System on February 2, 1936.)

The air rings, the newspapers are filled with the politics of bedlam. There are still around 10,000,000 unemployed in the United States. Re-employment lags behind the increase of production, and the increase of money wages in industry lags behind both. The burden of debt piles higher and higher. The world, and America with it, drifts toward new war of inconceivable horror — war from which we shall not be delivered by spending out of our poverty more than a billion dollars a year on naval and military preparations without so much as squarely facing the issue: what are we protecting and how shall we protect it?

In this situation the leaders of our two major political parties have begun speaking, or rather shouting. And what do they say? First President Roosevelt makes a fighting speech to Congress and the nation defending the record he has made, but proposing no new program. Scarcely has he finished his speech when the AAA decision of the Supreme Court and the enactment of the bonus legislation by Congress compel him to seek new laws and new taxes.

Then Mr. Roosevelt’s one-time dearest political friend and sponsor, Alfred E. Smith, rushes to the fray. This erstwhile man of the people chooses a dinner of the Liberty League at which to proclaim the religion of Constitution worship, favorable incidental mention of the Holy Bible, Washington as the nation’s capital and Stars and Stripes forever.

It was attended, the newspapers tell us, by twelve duPonts — twelve apostles, not of liberty but of big business and the profits of war and preparation for war. Indeed, the record of Mr. Smith’s new friends shows that that organization is as much entitled to the name Liberty League as was the disease commonly known as German measles to be called liberty measles in the hysteria of war.

Mr. Smith was promptly answered in a speech read, if not written, by Senator Robinson, who is the close political and personal friend of the utility magnate, Harvey Crouch, and the protector of the plantation system which in his own State is now answering the demands of the exploited share-croppers by wholesale evictions and organized terror. On this subject Senator Robinson and other defenders of the New Deal preserve a profound silence.

Then the Governor of Georgia jumped into the fray along with an oil baron and Huey Long’s share-the-wealth clergyman to exploit race and sectional prejudice in the name of States’ rights. These are all Democrats.

Meanwhile the Republicans who defeated Alfred E. Smith in 1928 rise to applaud him. Ex-President Hoover, rejuvenated by the skillful services of a new ghost writer, denounces Mr. Roosevelt’s administration and proposes a plan of farm relief quite similar to Roosevelt’s substitute for AAA.

Between him and the States’ Rights Senator Borah, who still believes that the country can be saved by the simple device of trying to smash monopoly, there is a deep a gulf fixed as there is in the Democratic party. Alf Landon floats somewhere in between that gulf.

Yet basically beneath all the alarms and confusion these worthy warriors, happy and unhappy, are acting upon a common assumption — an assumption which is dangerously false. All of them are assuming the durability of the profit system, the security of a capitalist nationalist system in which our highest loyalties are to the principle of private profit and to the political power of an absolute jingoistic nationalist State. They assume that prosperity is coming back again to stay for a while.

Impartial in Smith – Roosevelt FrayMr. Roosevelt aand his followers assume that prosperity is coming back because of the New Deal. Al Smith and the rest of Roosevelt’s assorted critics assume that it is in spite of the New Deal and perhaps because of the Supreme Court. Mr. Hoover plaintively protests that the catastrophic depression of January – February, 1933, was due merely to the shudders of the body politic anticipating the economic horrors of the New Deal.

As a Socialist, I view the Smith – Roosevelt controversy with complete impartiality. I am little concerned to point out the inconsistencies in Al Smith’s record, or to remind him that in 1924 and 1928, when I happened to be the Socialist candidate for high office against him, more than one of his close political friends came to me to urge me as a Socialist not to attack him too severely since he really stood for so many of the things that Socialists and other progressive workers wanted.

But I am concerned to point out how false is the charge that Roosevelt and the New Deal represent socialism. What is at state is not prestige or sentimental devotion to a particular name. What is at state is a clear understanding of the issues on which the peace and prosperity of generations — perhaps centuries — depend. A nation which misunderstands socialism as completely as Al Smith misunderstands it is a nation which weakens its defense against the coming of war and fascism.

But, some of you will say, isn’t it true, as Alfred E. Smith and a host of others before him have charged, that Roosevelt carried out most of the demands of the Socialist platform?

This charge is by no means peculiar to Mr. Smith. I am told that a Republican speaker alleged that Norman Thomas rather than Franklin D. Roosevelt has been President of the United States. I deny the allegation and defy the allegator, and I suspect I have Mr. Roosevelt’s support in this denial. Matthew Woll, leader of the forces of reaction in the American Federation of Labor, is among the latest to make the same sort of charge.

Roosevelt Not Socialist

Emphatically, Mr. Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher. What is true is that when Mr. Roosevelt took office he had to act vigorously.

We had demanded Federal relief for unemployment. Hence any attempts Mr. Roosevelt made at Federal relief could perhaps be called by his enemies an imitation of the Socialists platform. It was an extraordinarily poor imitation. We demanded Federal unemployment insurance. Hence any attempt to get Federal security legislation could be regarded as an imitation of the Socialist platform. It was an amazingly bad imitation.

Indeed, at various times Mr. Roosevelt has taken particular and rather unnecessary pains to explain that he was not a Socialist, that he was trying to support the profit system, which by the way, he defined incorrectly. In his last message to Congress his attack was not upon the profit system but on the sins of big business.

His slogan was not the Socialist cry: “Workers of the world, workers with hand and brain, in town and country, unite!” His cry was: “Workers and small stockholders unite, clean up Wall Street.” That cry is at least as old as Andrew Jackson.

What Mr. Roosevelt and his brain trust and practical political advisers did to such of the Socialist immediate demands as he copied at all merely illustrates the principle that if you want a child brought up right you had better leave the child with his parents and not farm him out to strangers.


Some of it was good reformism, but there is nothing Socialist about trying to regulate or reform Wall Street. Socialism wants to abolish the system of which Wall Street is an appropriate expression. There is nothing Socialist about trying to break up great holding companies. We Socialists would prefer to acquire holding companies in order to socialize the utilities now subject to them.

There is no socialism at all about taking over all the banks which fell in Uncle Sam’s lap, putting them on their feet again, and turning them back to the bankers to see if they can bring them once more to ruin. There was no socialism at all about putting in a Coordinator to see if he could make the bankrupt railroad systems profitable so they would be more expensive for the government to acquire as sooner or later the government, even a Republican party government, under capitalism must.

Mr. Roosevelt torpedoed the London Economic Conference; he went blindly rushing in to a big army and navy program; he maintained, as he still maintains, an Ambassador to Cuba who, as the agent of American financial interests, supports the brutal reaction in Cuba. While professing friendship for China, he blithely supported a silver purchase policy of no meaning for America except the enrichment of silver mine owners which nearly ruined the Chinese Government in the face of Japanese imperialism. These things which Al Smith or Alf Landon might also have done are anything but Socialist.

Mr. Smith presumably feels that the President’s Security Bill, so-called, was socialism. Let us see. We Socialists have long advocated unemployment insurance or unemployment indemnity by which honest men who cannot find work are indemnified by a society so brutal or so stupid that it denies them the opportunity to work. This insurance or indemnification should be on a prearranged basis which will take account of the size of the family. It should be Federal because only the national government can act uniformly, consistently and effectively.

What did Mr. Roosevelt give us? In the name of security, he gave us a bill where in order to get security the unemployed workers will first have to get a job, then lose a job. He will have to be surge that he gets the job and loses the job in a State which has an unemployment insurance law.

He will then have to be sure that the State which has the law will have the funds and the zeal to get the money to fulfill the terms of the law. This will largely depend upon whether it proves to be practical and constitutional for the Federal Government to collect a sufficient tax on payrolls so that 90 percent of it when rebated to employers to turn over to the State officers will be sufficient to give some kind of security to those who are unemployed!

The whole proceeding is so complicated, the danger of forty-eight competing State laws — competing, by the way, for minimum, not for maximum benefits– is so dangerous that the President’s bill can justly be called an in-Security bill.

“Billions of Words”

If Mr. Smith means that the programs of public works either under PWA or WPA is Socialist, again he is mistaken. We do not tolerate the standards of pay set on much WPA work — $19 a month, for instance, in some States in the South. We do insist not upon talk but upon action to re-house the third of America which lives in houses unfit for human habitation, which is possible given the present state of the mechanic arts in a nation of builders.

The administration, having spent billions of words, not dollars, on housing with little result, is now turning the job over to private mortgage companies. Would not Al Smith or Alf Landon do the same?

But even if Mr. Roosevelt and the New Deal had far more closely approximated Socialist immediate demands in their legislation, they would not have been Socialists, not unless Mr. Smith is willing to argue that every reform, every attempt to curb rampant and arrogant capitalism, every attempt to do for the farmers something like what the tariff has done for business interests, is socialism.

Not only is it not socialism, but in large degree this State capitalism, this use of bread and circuses to keep the people quiet, is so much a necessary development of a dying social order that neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Hoover in office in 1937 could substantially change the present picture or bring back the days of Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland or Calvin Coolidge.

What Roosevelt has given us, and what Republicans cannot and will not substantially change, is not the socialism of the cooperative commonwealth. It is a State capitalism which the Fascist demagogues of Europe have used when they came to power. The thing, Mr. Smith, that you ought to fear is not that the party of Jefferson and Jackson is marching in step with Socialists toward a Socialist goal; it is that, unwittingly, it may be marching in step with Fascists toward a Fascist goal.

I do not mean that Mr. Roosevelt himself is a Fascist or likely to become a Fascist. I credit him with as liberal intentions as capitalism and his Democratic colleagues of the South permit. I call attention to the solemn fact that in spite of his circumspect liberalism, repression, the denial of civil liberty, a Fascist kind of military law, stark terrorism have been increasing under Democratic Governors for the most part — in Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and, of course, in California, where Mr. Roosevelt did not even come to the aid of an ex-Socialists, Upton Sinclair, against the candidate of the reactionaries.

I repeat that what Mr. Roosevelt has given us is State capitalism: that is to say, a system under which the State steps in to regulate and in many cases to own, not for the purpose of establishing production for use but rather for the purpose of maintaining in so far as may be possible the profit system with its immense rewards of private ownership and its grossly unfair division of the national income.

Today Mr. Roosevelt does not want fascism; Mr. Hoover does not want fascism; not even Mr. Smith and his friends of the Liberty League want fascism. The last-named gentlemen want an impossible thing: the return to the unchecked private monopoly power of the Coolidge epoch.

Must Abolish the Profit System

All the gentlemen whom I have named want somehow to keep the profit system. Socialism means to abolish that system. Those who want to keep it will soon find that out of war or out of the fresh economic collapse inevitable when business prosperity is so spotty, so temporary, so insecure as it is today, will come the confusion to which capitalism’s final answer must be the Fascist dictator.

In America that dictator will probably not call himself Fascist. He, like Mr. Roosevelt in his address to Congress, will thank God that we are not like other nations. But privately he will rejoice in the weakness of our opposition to tyranny. Under the forms of democracy we have not preserved liberty. It has not taken black shirts to make us docile.

Given the crisis of war or economic collapse we, unless we awake, will accept dictatorship by violence to perpetuate a while longer the class division of income. We shall acknowledge the religion of the totalitarian state and become hypnotized by the emotional appeal of a blind jingoistic nationalism. Against this Fascist peril and its Siamese twin, the menace of war, there is no protection in the New Deal, no protection in the Republican party, less than no protection in the Liberty League.

Who of them all is waging a real battle even for such civil liberties and such democratic rights as obstensibly are possible in a bourgeois democracy? When Al Smith appeals to the Constitution is he thinking of the liberties of the Bill of Rights or is he thinking of the protection the Constitution has given to property?

As a Socialist, I was no lover of the NRA or AAA. NRA, at least temporarily, did give the workers some encouragement to organize, but at bottom it was an elaborate scheme for the stabilization of capitalism under associations of industries which could regulate production in order to maintain profit. AAA was perhaps some relative help to many classes of farmers. It was no help at all to the most exploited agricultural workers and share-croppers, but rather the opposite. And it was, as indeed it had to be under capitalism, primarily a scheme for subsidizing scarcity.

This was not primarily the fault of the AAA. It was the fault of the capitalist system which Roosevelt and Smith alike accept; that system which makes private profit its god, which uses planning, in so far as it uses planning at all, to stabilize and maintain the profits of private owners, not the well being of the masses. In the last analysis the profit system inevitably depends upon relative scarcity. Without this relative scarcity there is no profit and there is no planning for abundance which accepts the kingship of private profit.

When the world went in for great machinery operated by power it went in for specialization and integration of work. It doomed the old order of pioneers. The one chance of using machinery for life, not death, is that we should plan to use it for the common good. There is no planned production for use rather than for the private profit of an owning class which does not involve social ownership. This is the gospel of socialism.

Abundance Possible

We can have abundance. In 1929, according to the Brookings Institute — and that, remember, was our most prosperous year — a decent use of our capacity to produce would have enabled us to raise the income of 16,400,000 families with less than $2,000 a year to that modest level without even cutting any at the top.

Instead, without any interference from workers, without any pressure from agitators, the capitalist system so dear to Al Smith and his Liberty League friends went into a nose-spin. The earned income dropped from $83,000,000,000 to something like $38,000,000,000 in 1932, and the temporary recovery, of which the New Deal administration boasts, has probably not yet raised that income to the $50,000,000,000 level. It has, moreover, burdened us with an intolerable load of debt.

What we must have is a society where we can use our natural resources and machinery so that the children of the share-croppers who raise cotton will no longer lack the cotton necessary for underclothes. What we must have is a society which can use our resources and our mechanical skill so that the children of builders will not live in shacks and slums.

It is not that Socialists want less private property. We want more private property in the good things of life. We do not mean to take the carpenter’s kit away from the carpenter or Fritz Kreisler’s violin away from Fritz Kreisler, or the home or the farm in which any man lives and works away from him.

We do intend to end private landlordism, and to take the great natural resources — oil, copper, coal, iron; the great public utilities, power, transportation; the banking system, the distributive agencies like the dairy trust, the basic monopolies and essential manufacturing enterprises — out of the hands of private owners, most of them absentee owners, for whose profits workers with hand and brain are alike exploited. And we intend to put these things into the hands of society.

Tax Private Wealth

We intend to make this change to social ownership in orderly fashion. In the meantime we can avert fresh economic collapse by the road of crazy inflation or cruel deflation only by an orderly process of taxing wealth in private hands, by a graduated tax, approaching expropriation of unearned millions, in order to wipe out debt and to help in the socialization of industry.

We do not mean to turn socialized industries over to political bureaucrats, to Socialist Jim Farleys, so to speak. The adjective doesn’t redeem the noun. For instance, we intend that a socialized steel industry shall be managed under a directorate representing the workers, including, of course, the technicians in that industry, and the consumers.

We can do it without conscription and without rationing our people. We ought not to pay the price Russia has paid because we are far more industrially advanced than was Russia and should learn from Russia’s mistakes as well as her successes.

Goal Is True DemocracyOur goal, Mr. Smith, is true democracy. It is we who lead in the fight for liberty and justice which you in recent years have sadly ignored. It is we who seek to make freedom and democracy constitutional by advocating a Workers Rights Amendment in the interest of farmers, workers and consumers, giving to Congress power to adopt all needful social and economic legislation, but leaving to the courts their present power to help protect civil and religious liberty.

Our present judicial power of legislation is as undemocratic as it is in the long run dangerous to peace. Remember the Dred Scott decision! Congress rather than the States must act because these issues are national. The religion of the Constitution with the Supreme Court as the high priests and the Liberty League as its preacher will never satisfy human hunger for freedom, peace and plenty.

The Constitution was made for man and not man for the Constitution. We Socialists seek now its orderly amendment. We seek now genuine social security, real unemployment insurance. We seek now a policy which will make it a little harder for American business interests to involve us in war as a result of a mad chase after the profits of war.

These, gentlemen who quarrel over the way to save capitalism, are the things of our immediate desire. But deepest of all is our desire for a federation of cooperative Commonwealths. Some of you may like this far less than you like the New Deal, but will you not agree that it is not the New Deal?

You said, Mr. Smith, in a peroration worthy of your old enemy, William Randolph Hearst, that there can be only one victory, of the Constitution.

And this is our reply: There is only one victory worth the seeking by the heirs of the American Revolution. It is the victory of a fellowship of free men, using government as their servant, to harness our marvelous machinery for abundance, not poverty; peace, not war; freedom, not exploitation.

This is the victory in which alone is practicable deliverance from the house of our bondage. This is the victory to which we dedicate ourselves.


June 18, 2019

Fact-checking Max Blumenthal

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 10:33 pm

From page 156 of “The Management of Savagery”:

In September 2012, the Times of London reported that “a Libyan ship carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began has docked in Turkey and most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines.” The shipment, which included SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, was likely a part of a wider CIA operation to arm Syria’s rebels.

Reading this would give you the impression that the CIA was funneling SAM-7 missiles to Syrian rebels. It is entirely possible that there were SAM-7 missiles on the ship but contrary to Blumenthal’s account, the CIA would have made sure that none of them would get past the border into Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported just one month after the London Times article cited above:

U.S. officials say they are most worried about Russian-designed Manpads provided to Libya making their way to Syria. The U.S. intensified efforts to track and collect man-portable missiles after the 2011 fall of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

To keep control of the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project U.S. officials watched from afar.

The U.S. has limited its support of the rebels to communications equipment, logistics and intelligence. But U.S. officials have coordinated with the trio of countries sending arms and munitions to the rebels. The Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern border as the weapons began to flow to the rebels in two to three shipments every week.

In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.

Max Blumenthal and Howard Stern

Filed under: humor — louisproyect @ 1:25 pm

(I am reading Max Blumenthal’s “The Management of Savagery” mostly to hone in on the chapters about Syria but was obliged to begin with page one to understand his overall argument, which is not that much different from books and articles on “Islamofascism” written by people like Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens and  Kenan Makiya in the early 2000s. He argues that 9/11 was carried out in order to give the USA an excuse to make war on the Muslims, thus giving the neocons in Bush’s administration all the ammunition they needed to put the USA on a war footing. What surprises me is that he devotes a good page and a half to what Howard Stern was saying on 9/11/2001 in order to show how media figures were goaded into a hysterical war fever. Max obviously knows nothing about Stern since his business is based on saying shocking things. He became infamous–and profitable–in 1982 when he was on the air in Washington, DC when an Air Florida airliner crashed into a bridge over the Potomac. He led listeners to believe that he called the airline and asked for prices to the 14th Street bridge, the site of the crash, and if it would be a “regular stop. What would have been really shocking was if Howard Stern had maintained the same kind of lugubrious tone that other radio stations expressed that morning. Max not only didn’t “get” Syria, he didn’t “get” Howard Stern.)

Pam Anderson’s Jet

The catastrophic and catalyzing events of September 11, 2001, unfolded live on one of New York City’s top morning talk shows. At 9:01, Howard Stern delivered a brief update about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, gashing open the face of the tower and sending plumes of smoke into the sky. I don’t even know how you begin to fight that fire,” he commented. Then, without missing a beat, the legendary shock jock returned to an inane yarn about his date with former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson at a seedy Midtown bar called Scores.

“I felt her butt,” Stern bragged to his randy co-hosts. A highly involved discussion ensued about his failure to “bang Pam Anderson.” “I wasn’t gonna sit there and work it all night,” Stern explained moments before the second plane hit. Then, as soon as Tower 2 caught fire, he quipped, “I’m telling you, it was Pam Anderson’s jet.”

Minutes later, Stern’s producers began piping in audio from the local CBS affiliate, setting a traumatizing aural atmosphere that recalled Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” Stern apparently realized the flames were the product of a terror attack, probably by Muslim extremists. Confronted with a national calamity, he and his shrieking sidekick Robin Quivers immediately shifted gears.

“We’ve gotta go bomb everything over there,” Quivers insisted.

“We’ve gotta bomb the hell out of them!” Stern added. “You know who it is. I can’t say but I know who it is. This is more upsetting than me not getting Pam Anderson!”

As the smoke engulfed lower Manhattan, Stern descended into a series of genocidal tirades.

“We’ve gotta drop an atomic bomb,” he proclaimed. “There has got to be a war,” Quivers demanded. “But a devastating war, where people die. Burn their eyes out!”

Thirty minutes later, as the news of mass civilian casualties poured in, Stern had transformed into a cartoon villain: “Now is the time to not even ask questions. To drop a few atomic bombs. Do a few chemical warfare hits! Let their people suffer until they understand!”

“Because we haven’t been bothering anybody,” Quivers interjected. “They started screaming about colonialism. We stopped.”

Moments later, Stern repeated his call for nuclear annihilation. “Blow them all to sky high!” he said. “Atom bombs! Just do it so they’re flattened out and turned into a paved road and we’ll take the oil for ourselves.”

This was not right-wing radio, but one of the consistently most highly rated morning shows in the country. Stern’s exterminationist diatribes demonstrated how deeply the neoconservative mindset had been inculcated into mainstream American culture, how it had been simmering just below the surface of the bawdy blather that normally dominated the drive-time airwaves and was waiting to explode upon what PNAC described as “some catastrophic and catalyzing event.” The sleaze-laden shock jock who compared himself to Dan Rather as the attacks unfolded had given voice to large sectors of a shell-shocked public, earning in praise for channeling the outrage that average New Yorkers felt on that clear blue day.


June 17, 2019

Aaron Bastani and the empty promise of utopian futurism

Filed under: utopian thought — louisproyect @ 6:34 pm

Most of my readers probably had the same reaction to Aaron Bastani’s NY Times op-ed piece last week titled “The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism” that I had. Like the countless articles in the bourgeois press hyping the DSA and Jacobin, this was just another attempt to defend a toothless version of Marxism.

Bastani’s op-ed was tied to the release of his Verso book of the same title that is a compendium of futurist wet-dreams about how mining asteroids, gene editing, synthetic meat and other technological fixes can create “automated luxury”. Bastani sees himself as a prophet of an information technology based economy that will be the third “disruption” that was preceded by two other “disruptions”: the agricultural revolution that pushed aside hunting and gathering societies and the industrial revolution that laid the groundwork for the material basis for communism. Essentially, Bastani’s book is a mixture of the Communist Manifesto’s breathless embrace of capitalist productivity and all the contemporary Wired Magazine type articles about information technology-based advances that will make communism feasible. Since I haven’t read the book, you might wonder how I can sum it up in this fashion. The answer is that I watched the YouTube interview with the author above and it was all I need to know. I should add that it was one of the longest hour and twenty-four minutes I have sat through in many a moon.

My reaction to Bastani was about the same I had to Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski’s “People’s Republic of Walmart: How the World’s Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism”, another Verso book that made an amalgam between leading-edge informatics and a classless society. Unlike Phillips (I am not sure about Rozworski), Bastani is not an ecomodernist touting atomic energy, GMO and the like. For example, Bastani believes that meat consumption is a waste of land and water whereas Phillips is a Green Revolution groupie. Bastani favors synthetic meat and milk using laboratory techniques that apparently have produced goods close to the real thing. Who knows? Maybe nuclear power could be an answer to our energy needs under communism. But you will search in vain for anything in books by Bastani or Phillips about  overcoming capitalist rule. They are futurists, not now-ists.

There is something deeply utopian about such futurist projects. Rather than constructing utopian socialist settlements like Robert Owen, Phillips and Bastani hearken back to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward: 2000-1887”, a utopian novel written in 1888 that has the same starry-eyed vision of a classless society of the future based on technological breakthroughs. Oddly enough, Bellamy was fixated on department stores just like Phillips and Rozworski. Like Rip Van Winkle, the novel’s main character falls asleep but for a much longer time. 113 years to be exact. Like Woody Allen in “Sleeper”, he is astonished by all the changes that have taken place but favorably so. His guide is a young woman named Edith who clues him on all the new-fangled ways of doing things:

I suppose so,” said Edith, “but of course we have never known any other way. But, Mr. West, you must not fail to ask father to take you to the central warehouse some day, where they receive the orders from the different sample houses all over the city and parcel out and send the goods to their destinations. He took me there not long ago, and it was a wonderful sight. The system is certainly perfect; for example, over yonder in that sort of cage is the dispatching clerk. The orders, as they are taken by the different departments in the store, are sent by transmitters to him. His assistants sort them and enclose each class in a carrier-box by itself. The dispatching clerk has a dozen pneumatic transmitters before him answering to the general classes of goods, each communicating with the corresponding department at the warehouse. He drops the box of orders into the tube it calls for, and in a few moments later it drops on the proper desk in the warehouse, together with all the orders of the same sort from the other sample stores. The orders are read off, recorded, and sent to be filled, like lightning. The filling I thought the most interesting part. Bales of cloth are placed on spindles and turned by machinery, and the cutter, who also has a machine, works right through one bale after another till exhausted, when another man takes his place; and it is the same with those who fill the orders in any other staple. The packages are then delivered by larger tubes to the city districts, and thence distributed to the houses. You may understand how quickly it is all done when I tell you that my order will probably be at home sooner than I could have carried it from here.”

It is likely that Bellamy got his ideas from utopian or semi-utopian experiments of his age. Wikipedia reports that the novel’s hero “is taken to a store which (with its descriptions of cutting out the middleman to cut down on waste in a similar way to the consumers’ cooperatives of his own day based on the Rochdale Principles of 1844) somewhat resembles a modern warehouse club like BJ’s, Costco, or Sam’s Club.” Or Phillips/Rozworski’s Wal-Mart for that matter. Interestingly enough, my little village in the Borscht Belt that PM newspaper described as a ‘Utopia in the Catskills” back in 1947 was founded on Rochdale Principles. It was about as close as you got to Rojava in the USA at the time, and about as connected to the task of socialist revolution for that matter. The Catskill Jews, like the Syrian Kurds, had an egalitarian spirit but little understanding of how that might be generalized in a brutal capitalist society. That has always been the Achilles Heel of utopianism, I should add.

The more I dig into this Marxist futurism stuff, the more it seems like an avoidance of the far more dicey challenges we face as revolutionary activists and thinkers. It doesn’t take much more than a knowledge of information technology, biology and chemistry to write a book about Future World. But what good is that when you are faced with wrenching issues such as Brexit and Corbynism? Despite all the assurances Bastani gives us about a feasible automated luxury communism of the future, his political orientation today is simply one of supporting Jeremy Corbyn. While I would likely do so myself if I were in England, I would also be trying to help create a revolutionary organization that avoids SWP type sectarianism. To move toward communism, it is essential to create a working-class vanguard party that is rooted in the lived experience of Americans, British, French or workers wherever they live. Writing books about mining asteroids strikes me as an empty exercise that might make money for the author but have little impact on society. (Bastani’s book is rated #11 in Communism & Socialism, according to Amazon.)

Other leftists have weighed in with the same kind of futuristic scenarios. Paul Mason, a well-known British journalist who was in a Trotskyist sect when young, came out with a book titled “PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future” in 2015, one that largely escaped my attention. According to Wikipedia, Mason “builds on Marx’s Fragment on Machines, supporting the labour theory of value over the marginal utility theory, and drawing particularly on Jeremy Rifkin’s The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Peter Drucker’s Post-Capitalist Society.” I don’t want to accuse Bastani of plagiarism but this is exactly the same sort of thing you can hear from him in the YouTube video above. He shares Mason’s fondness for Peter Drucker and Jeremy Rifkin, quite a bit. An acquired taste, I guess.

Google Books has a capsule description of Rifkin’s book that is virtually identical to the arguments made in Bastani’s interview, where you can hear the term “marginal cost” at least 25 times:

Rifkin uncovers a paradox at the heart of capitalism that has propelled it to greatness but is now taking it to its death—the inherent entrepreneurial dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.

Now, a formidable new technology infrastructure—the Internet of things (IoT)—is emerging with the potential of pushing large segments of economic life to near zero marginal cost in the years ahead. Rifkin describes how the Communication Internet is converging with a nascent Energy Internet and Logistics Internet to create a new technology platform that connects everything and everyone. Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers can connect to the network and use Big Data, analytics, and algorithms to accelerate efficiency, dramatically increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just like they now do with information goods.

I probably couldn’t persuade Bastani to lay off an intellectual lightweight like Rifkin if I tried. According to Wikipedia, Rifkin has taught at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania since 1995, where he “instructs CEOs and senior management on transitioning their business operations into sustainable economies.” Who knows? With Bastani having the clout to get an op-ed in the NY Times, maybe he’ll end up giving the same kind of advice to CEO’s down the road.

Then, there is Peter Frase, a Jacobin editor who came out with a Jacobin book in 2016 titled “Four Futures: Life After Capitalism”, a book that Bastani hailed in his interview—surprise, surprise. (It looks like Verso and Jacobin have cornered the futurist market.) Frase was into crystal-ball gazing five years before the book was published. In 2011, he wrote an article for Jacobin titled “Four Futures” that sounds a lot like Rifkin’s. Frase views automation as freeing us from labor for the first time in history:

What possible society could be so productive that humans are entirely liberated from having to perform some kind of involuntary and unfulfilling labor? Yet the promise of widespread automation is that it could enact just such a liberation, or at least approach it—if, that is, we find a way to deal with the need to generate power and secure resources.

Like Bastani, Frase is gung-ho on 3D printers:

But recent technological advances suggest the possibility of returning to a less centralized structure, without drastically lowering material standards of living: the proliferation of 3-D printers and small scale ‘fabrication laboratories’ is making it increasingly possible to reduce the scale of at least some manufacturing without completely sacrificing productivity. Thus, insofar as some human labor is still required in production in our imagined communist future, it could take the form of small collectives rather than capitalist or state run firms.

He also riffs on Star Trek, computer games and other free-floating popular culture signifiers. The article is worth reading because it will give you an idea of how these futuristic themes have become so endemic in a leftist milieu that operates in two radically disjointed spheres: “democratic socialist” electoralism of the here-and-now and science fiction-like excursions into the future.

I have a completely different idea on how the political awakening of American or British workers will take place. It will not be the result of a book like “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” being passed from worker to worker at an auto plant in Tennessee or in a meatpacking house in Nebraska. Most workers are conservative, atomized and family-oriented. Their life revolves around the children and their pastimes like watching sports on TV, bowling, going to church, hunting, fishing and the like.

In the same way, I was conservative back in 1965. Not in the sense of being a William F. Buckley fan (although that was true when I was in high school, mostly to annoy other students who worshipped JFK.) I hardly expected in my senior year of Bard to be facing the draft a year later. That was an intrusion into my quotidian existence that consisted of smoking pot, listening to records, reading fiction and trying to find a girlfriend. The idea of going into the army to kill or be killed was such an attack on my personal safe space that I was forced to try to understand why this intrusion was happening. This meant reading the NY Times carefully on Vietnam (an unproductive exercise in 1966) and listening to what my classmates at the New School were saying, including a member of the SWP.

The same thing will happen in the USA as the contradictions of capitalism continue to mount. At some point there will be an assault on Social Security and/or Medicare that will force the conservative and atomized American working class to investigate the source of their pain. The last thing on their mind will be mining asteroids or eating synthetic hamburgers. Instead, it will be how to remove the knife that has been plunged into their back. You saw something like this happening in France with the gas tax fomenting the Yellow Vest movement that appears to have petered out.

The historical dynamics are unmistakable. Capitalism has entered an irreversible crisis that has to this point generated reactionary populist tendencies. As long as the bourgeoisie is careful not to go too far, the situation will not favor the growth of revolutionary parties. However, there will come a time when people become so desperate about the misery that is being forced on them that they will feel the need of challenging the system in the same way workers did when Debs was a presidential candidate. When this period develops, there will be a profound struggle on the left about reform versus revolution. You see the beginnings of this debate being foreshadowed in the exchanges on “neo-Kautskyism”, the sterile formula so popular among the Jacobin cadre. Like the 1960s, the next radicalization will be a fertile seedbed for the kind of revolutionary organizing we need to be successful in the final struggle for socialism. In the here and now, the most important thing is to adhere to uncompromising class principles and avoid utopian thinking like the plague.

June 14, 2019

Bernie Sanders and the New Deal

Filed under: DSA,Jacobin,New Deal,reformism — louisproyect @ 8:13 pm

As might be expected, the Jacobin/DSA tendency is beside itself over Bernie Sanders’s speech that by now follows a familiar script. Just compare these excerpts from 3 different speeches following the same pattern:

(1) What’s the fundamental challenge of our day? It is to end economic violence. Most poor people are not lazy. They’re not black. They’re not brown. They’re mostly white, and female and young. Most poor people are not on welfare.

I know they work. I’m a witness. They catch the early bus. They work every day. They raise other people’s children. They work every day. They clean the streets. They work every day. They change the beds you slept in in these hotels last night and can’t get a union contract. They work every day.

(2) More to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father I met who was losing his job and choking back tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college.

(3) Are you truly free if you are unable to go to a doctor when you are sick, or face financial bankruptcy when you leave the hospital?

Are you truly free if you cannot afford the prescription drug you need to stay alive?

Are you truly free when you spend half of your limited income on housing, and are forced to borrow money from a payday lender at 200% interest rates.

What these 3 speech excerpts have in common is that they were made by Democratic Party politicians who captured the imagination of the left. The first came from Jesse Jackson’s speech to the 1988 Democratic Convention, the second was from Barack Obama’s to the 2004 Democratic Convention, and the last was Bernie Sanders’s June 12, 2019 speech at George Washington University. All three politicians have been identified with FDR. Salon magazine described Jackson’s campaigns as combining “New Deal-esque economic programs with a pro-social justice domestic agenda and a foreign policy that emphasized fighting for peace and human rights.” Appearing on the Letterman show in the first year of his presidency, Obama dismissed his critics who called him a socialist: “What’s happened is that whenever a president tries to bring about significant changes, particularly during times of economic unease, then there is a certain segment of the population that gets very riled up. FDR was called a socialist and a communist.” As for Sanders, unlike Obama, he embraces both the term socialist and New Deal programs, which for all practical purposes he sees as interchangeable. Finally, like Obama, he dismisses the red-baiting attacks on his socialism:

In this regard, President Harry Truman was right when he said that: “Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years…Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

Ironically, in effect Sanders confirms what Truman said but not the way that Truman intended. Truman was trying to say that the John Birch Society, Joe McCarthy, et al were calling such reforms “socialist” when they were really just liberal reforms. For Sanders, it is exactly these measures that mean socialism to him rather than what they mean to Marxists. Naturally, it is ABCs for people like me, who have been defending socialism for 52 years, that Social Security is a good thing (I get my check on the fourth Wednesday each month), even if it is not particularly socialist. Indeed, the first country in the world to adopt old-age insurance was Germany under Otto von Bismarck in 1889. It wasn’t even his idea. It was first proposed by the fucking Emperor William of Germany 8 years earlier who sounded like he was giving a speech to a Democratic Party convention: “…those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state.”

If socialism is the same thing as the New Deal, what do you need Marxism for? Why not just emulate the CPUSA that became the left wing of the Democratic Party in the 1930s, following FDR in lock-step? The CP even defended this opportunism by formulating it as the first step in overthrowing capitalism in the USA. After all, if the Republicans took over the White House, the next step would be concentration camps not the future socialist society everybody believed in. Naturally, when FDR did establish concentration camps for Japanese-Americans, the CP gave its approval.

Essentially, Jacobin/DSA has dusted off the Earl Browder game plan and reintroduced it for the 21st century. The irony is that the Socialist Party of Browder’s day refused to support FDR. When Norman Thomas was asked how he felt about the New Deal carrying out the SP’s program, Thomas replied that it was carried out—on a stretcher.

Jacobin/DSA is giddy with excitement over Sanders’s speech, with each spokesman competing over who could write the biggest encomium to the Vermont Senator. Paul Heidman, an ex-ISOer, wrote a Jacobin article stating that “Sanders took aim at one of the central dogmas of contemporary capitalism: that it enhances freedom.” Maybe so, but the speech was cautious to step around the 800-pound gorilla in the living room, namely whether Sanders advocated an end to the very system that limited freedom. As long as there is private ownership of the means of production, how can true freedom exist when the owner has the right to move a factory to Mexico, fire half of his workers, or refuse to give them a pay hike? Sanders is opposed to unfettered or “out of control” capitalism but not capitalism itself.

Not to be outdone, Branko Marcetic was so thrilled to death that he equated socialism with the New Deal even if it annoyed people like me:

Though no doubt infuriating some on the Left, Sanders — who’s weathered decades of this kind of thing — wisely situated his vision of socialism in the long tradition of US progressivism and, crucially, the New Deal liberalism forged by Franklin Roosevelt that dominated American politics until somewhere around the late 1970s.

Interesting that Marcetic sees the presidencies of Harry Truman and LBJ as a continuation of New Deal liberalism. I can’t say I have a problem with that in light of Truman carrying out FDR’s mandate to use atom bombs on the Japanese. Or LBJ using B-52s against peasant villages. FDR went to war to defend American imperialism, not make the world safe for democracy. I guess as long as all these warmongers made sure to keep the welfare state benefits of American workers secure, that was “socialist” enough for the CPUSA and its bastard offspring, the Jacobin/DSA.

As the king of all “democratic socialists”, the Puff Diddy of the left Bhaskar Sunkara had the final word in The Guardian, the liberal British newspaper. In a rapturous piece titled “Bernie Sanders just made a brilliant defense of democratic socialism”, he presented Sanders as an PG-Rated version of the hard-core, R-Rated socialism of Eugene V. Debs:

Sanders still has a portrait of Debs in his Washington DC office, and in the 1980s he curated an album of the legendary socialist orator’s speeches. But yesterday’s address was a reminder that even though he still embodies much of the old socialist spirit, he has found ways to soften its edges and make it more accessible to ordinary Americans.

Well, of course. How are you going to get invited to MSNBC if you are saying “hardened” things like this?

The capitalist class is represented by the Republican, Democratic, Populist and Prohibition parties, all of which stand for private ownership of the means of production, and the triumph of any one of which will mean continued wage-slavery to the working class.

The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.

Eugene V. Debs speech as SP candidate, September 1, 1904

Like Marcetic, Sunkara slapped at the revolutionary mosquitos that were ruining his picnic: “Hardened socialists might scoff at Sanders’s summoning of Roosevelt as a proto-socialist.”

Well, yeah. Us Hardened, R-Rated socialists who still find the Communist Manifesto more inspiring than Michael Harrington’s “The Next Left: The History of a Future” would rather back someone like Howie Hawkins who does not mince words. Referring to Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez et al, Howie stated:

However, something is notably missing in these candidates’ descriptions of socialism. They are leaving out the distinguishing tenet of the traditional socialist program — the definition of socialism you will find in the dictionary — a democratic economic system based on social ownership of the major means of production.

Finally, on the question of a President Sanders carrying out anything remotely similar to the New Deal, you have to forget all the lessons you learned reading historical materialist classics like Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” or Karl Marx’s “18th Brumaire”. The New Deal was a reaction to concrete conditions 85 years ago that no longer exist.

To start with, FDR was anxious to rein in the worst excesses of the capitalist class in order to stave off a revolution. As the nobleman in “The Leopard” put it, “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.”

Despite Social Security and despite the make-work programs that paid a pittance, it was WWII that ended the Depression. As I explained in an article on whether WWII ended the Depression, more than half of the recovery took place between 1941 and 1942—in other words when war spending had geared up. Government purchase of goods and services ticked up by 54.7 percent in this one-year period and continued to increase as the actual war began.

The overarching economic framework for the postwar prosperity that allowed workers to buy homes and pay for their kids’ college education was the ongoing expansion of American industry that had no competition. Once Japan and Germany got in the game, industry grew wings and took flight to Mexico. Afterward, when China became capitalist, the wings grew stronger and factories flew even further away. Who knows? Maybe they’ll take Aaron Bastani’s advice and send the jobs to outer space.

That’s the reality we are operating in now. Workers need jobs that can keep a family in a relatively secure position. Sanders talks about recreating such an environment but the capitalist class will go where money can be made, not in accord with the needs of the majority. Do you expect production for human need to supersede the material interests of the most ruthless and determined ruling class in history? Bernie Sanders might mean well, bless his balding head, but the looming struggle between working people and the bosses will leave no room for the wishy-washy.

June 13, 2019

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes

Filed under: Film,Jazz — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

“Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes”, a documentary directed by Sophie Huber, opens tomorrow at the Metrograph in New York. If you are not a jazz fan, the name Blue Note might not mean very much to you but as analogy, it is to jazz as Sun Records is to early rock and roll or Chess Records was to the blues. Founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion, a Jew who had fled Nazi Germany and Max Margulis, another Jew who put up much of the seed money for the label, it was unlike the commercial labels like Columbia that were always looking for a way to get over on Black musicians. While it will be obvious that I found the film to be an essential contribution to the jazz documentary genre, it is unfortunate that it did not even mention Max Margulis, who reviewed music and wrote for left-wing periodicals, including the Daily Worker in the 1930s and 1940s, under the pen name Martin McCall.

The film gives the impression that Francis Wolff, a Jewish émigré from Nazi Germany, just like Lion, was a co-founder of Blue Note when in fact he was not. However, he soon assumed responsibility for co-managing the company and serving as its photographer. As Wolff was a commercial photographer in Germany, all of the cover photos that were done by him remain as iconic as the music on the vinyl, with this being an exemplar of the combined art forms.

For his complete portfolio, go here.

Lion and Wolff were jazz fans primarily and little interested in getting rich. They started off recording stride piano players like Meade Lux Lewis but on the advice of big band tenor player Ike Quebec turned to bebop in the early 50s. Among the musicians that Lion introduced to the jazz aficionado was Thelonious Monk. As happens through much of the film—and gloriously—we see footage of recording sessions with Monk who was not a commercial success at the outset. Eventually, he moved to Prestige Records but perhaps he would have remained in obscurity if Lion had not taken a chance on him.

The film is graced by interviews with two elderly figures who were key to the Blue Note story. First is long-time recording engineer Rudy van Gelder, who died 3 years ago at the age of 91. Van Gelder lived with his parents in a typical suburban home in New Jersey. A jazz fan like Lion, van Gelder persuaded his parents to allow their living room to be used as a recording studio for Blue Note in 1959, not even objecting to an adjoining room being turned into a control room. As Blue Note grew commercially, it eventually funded a professional studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey where 400 Blue Note records were made.

We also hear from Lou Donaldson, a 92-year old alto saxophonist who was one of Blue Note’s best known musicians. Donaldson has a great command of the Blue Note story and relates it with relish and great humor. Listening to him is a treasure for jazz fans and one of the film’s biggest selling points.

The heart of the documentary is devoted to reviewing the body of work that most people associate with the label, namely hard bop. In the late 1950s, many jazz musicians began to dig deeper into the blues and soul heritage of Black America and synthesize it with bebop that was focused more on harmonic innovation. Musicians like Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan, John Coltrane and Hank Mobley all expressed this latent Black nationalist tendency. Within a few years, as the civil rights movement failed to fulfill the Freedom Now aspirations of the early 60s, jazz became much more consciously political and musicians like Archie Shepp set the tone for the New Thing with songs like “New Africa” on the 1969 album “Kwanza”.

The final fifteen minutes of the film is an attempt to connect the hard bop style with hip-hop that seems like a stretch to me, despite the fact that some hip-hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest sampled Blue Note musicians from the 50s and 60s. Historically, hard bop ran its course over forty years ago and jazz as an art form struggles to keep an audience. I have been attending “Highlights in Jazz” concerts organized by Jack Kleinsinger at the Borough of Manhattan Community College this spring that reflect Kleinsinger’s love of classic jazz. The audience consists mostly of elderly white people like me and probably reflects the market for straight-ahead jazz nowadays.

Blue Note no longer exists. It has mutated into something called Blue Note/ArtistShare that is based on crowdsourcing, something the documentary does not even mention. Most of the artists have little to do with jazz.

Probably the best outlet for the kind of music Blue Note made popular is WBGO, a jazz station in Newark that is the best in the country. It mixes hard bop with both older and newer sounds, all selected with impeccable taste. For my readers who are not familiar with jazz, I invite you to listen to the station here. Couple that with a trip down to the Metrograph, a movie theater devoted to great film art in the same way that WBGO is devoted to great music, and you can’t go wrong.


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