Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 23, 2019

For Sama

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Opening on Friday at the Quad in New York and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles, “For Sama” is a documentary filmed and directed by Waad al-Kateab, the young mother of Sama, a baby girl born during the siege of East Aleppo. Waad was married to Hamza al-Kateab, the head doctor at the only still-functioning hospital–the other 8 had been bombed into oblivion by Syrian helicopters and Russian jets. With his medical credentials, it would have been easy for Hamza to pick up and move to another country where he could have enjoyed a comfortable life with his family. Instead, Waad and Hamza remained because even under the darkest days of the siege, they continued to believe in the original goals of the Syrian revolution, namely to live a life without fear of being jailed, tortured or killed. Like millions of others, they were determined to overthrow  corrupt, mafia-like family dynasty. The film is titled “For Sama” because as Waad says in the final minute of the film, it was worth enduring all their suffering in the hopes that her children and those of other Syrians could realize their dream.

Despite the crushing of the resistance in East Aleppo and the regime’s apparent reconquest of most of Syria, the dictatorship has an uncertain future. In an important article for the New York Review of Books titled “Between Regime and Rebels: A Survey of Syria’s Alawi Sect”, Elizabeth Tsurkov reveals how even the most reliable base of the dictatorship has gotten so little out of this hollow victory:

Although Alawis are overrepresented in the ruling elite, this does not translate into any alleviation of their generally deprived circumstances. Those with ties to the ruling family, whether through tribal or business dealings, are rich, while most Alawis live in underdeveloped villages. Unlike the Sunni underclass, which largely resided in rebel-held territory, Alawis—who cannot afford to emigrate, enroll in university to defer their service, or bribe their way out of military service (or into noncombat posts)—reside entirely in regime-held territory, where the draft is imposed and enforced through routine raids and at checkpoints. “Many Alawites would love to be exempt from military service,” said Kheder, the university student,“but they cannot afford it so they go [and serve].

“The rural areas lost so much,” he added. “Every family hangs the pictures of their martyr with neon lights around the photo. You could count at least ten to fifteen martyrs in every neighborhood of every village.”

Using what appears to be rudimentary film-making tools (a hand-held Sony semiprofessional camera), Waad has made one of the finest documentaries about this generation’s Spanish Civil War. If there is any place on earth that resembles Guernica, it is East Aleppo that was the victim of the same kind of asymmetric warfare Franco unleashed on the Spanish democracy. For anybody who still has lingering doubts about the kind of brutality to which the dictatorship resorted, her footage of aerial bombardment will leave you cringing.

Since her place was with her husband, the sight of the dying and the dead being brought to his emergency ward will also leave you feeling overwhelmed. Most of the victims appear to be children rather than militia members. When a helicopter drops a barrel bomb that spews ball bearings and steel fragments in a 360 degree pattern, it is almost inevitable that children playing in the street will end up as a casualty.

Despite all the suffering, there is a feeling of solidarity and hope that pervades the film as Hamza, Waad and their friends and comrades celebrate weddings, birthdays and other get-togethers that demonstrate their stubborn belief in keeping liberated East Aleppo together.

Waad and Hamza buy a house with a garden in the backyard. When a missile lands next door, the plants he has begun to grow are casualties as well. Seeing the glass as half-full, a necessity for life in Aleppo, he brushes aside the debris and waters the surviving plants. Like their baby daughter, the plants are a symbol of fertility and a better future.

Despite the bleak situation facing Syrians inside and outside the country, “For Sama” is a wake-up call to the solidarity movement that the struggle continues. The film is a closing of the curtain on the last act of the revolution but given the failure of the regime to provide a decent life to its people, even those that supposedly are his main base of support, it is inevitable that a new revolution will arise phoenix-like out of the ashes.

In the press notes, Waad makes her statement:

This is not just a film for me –it’s my life. I started capturing my personal story without any plan, just filming the protests in Syria on my mobile phone, like so many other activists. I could never have imagined where my journey would take me through those years. The mix of emotions we experienced – happiness, loss, love – and the horrific crimes committed by the Assad regime against ordinary innocent people, was unimaginable… even as we lived through it.

From the beginning, I found myself drawn to capture stories of life and humanity, rather than focus on the death and destruction which filled the news. And as a woman in a conservative part of Aleppo, I was able to access the experiences of women and children in the city, traditionally off limits to men. That allowed me to show the unseen reality of life for ordinary Syrians, trying to live normal lives amid our struggle for freedom.

At the same time, I continued living my own life. I married and had a child. I found myself trying to balance so many different roles: Waad the mother, Waad the activist, Waad the citizen journalist and Waad the Director. All those people both embodied and led the story. Now I feel those different aspects of my life are what gives the film its strength.

I want people to understand that, while this is my story and shows what happened to me and my family, our experience is not unusual. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians experienced the same thing and are still doing so today. The dictator who committed these crimes is still in power, still killing innocent people. Our struggle for justice is as relevant today as it was when the revolution first began.

July 21, 2019

Reflections on the Samuel Farber/Todd Chretien exchange

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Samuel Farber

Todd Chretien

On June 30, Samuel Farber wrote an article for Jacobin titled “What Revolutionary Socialism Means to Me” that was probably the first one I ever agreed with even if it predictably gave short shrift to Che Guevara as an “insurrectionist”.

In a section titled “The Democratic Party”, Farber defends independent class action—a principle shared by those from my generation who were trained either in James P. Cannon or Hal Draper’s politics. Farber was a member of Draper’s group and I was in Cannon’s. If I had an access to a time-machine, I’d probably travel back to 1967 and sign up with the Draperites. He cites Lance Selfa, an ex-ISOer who might have more trouble adapting to the new-found “democratic socialism” of other exer’s in light of what he has written, according to Farber:

As Lance Selfa shows in his book The Democrats: A Critical History, important sectors of capital contributed similar, if not higher, sums to the Democratic than to the Republican Party in the 2008 elections. Contributions to the Democratic Party included 45 percent of all the funds contributed to the election by agribusiness, 68 percent of all the election contributions from the communications and electronics sectors, 52 percent from defense, 55 percent from finance, insurance, and real estate, 54 percent from health, 74 percent from lawyers and lobbyists, and 55 percent from miscellaneous businesses.

After recapitulating key arguments why you should not support DP candidates (“lesser evilism”, lack of accountability, etc.), Farber turns to the Jacobin/DSA that has been irresistible to a number of ex-ISO’ers looking for a place where swimming upstream doesn’t go with the territory. In a section titled “The Dirty Break”, he refers to articles by Seth Ackerman and  by Eric Blanc’s that make the case for socialists running on the Democratic Party line in primaries. This ultra-sophisticated tactic is dubbed a “dirty break” as opposed to the “clean break” with the two-party system that moldy figs like me advocate. Farber is having none of that:

The main problem with this tactic is that it might end up unintentionally misleading voters who might feel manipulated unless they are explicitly informed that the “dirty break” candidates do not support, and in fact oppose, the Democratic Party as presently constituted. And the candidates pledge, in advance, that if elected they will not join the Democratic caucus and instead create a separate caucus. And that if they lose, they will not support a mainstream Democratic Party winner (a big problem with Bernie Sanders’s strategy of supporting mainstream Democrats who win the presidential and other primaries.) This approach would also have the virtue of preventing the cementing of illusions about the Democratic Party.

Todd Chretien is one of the ex-ISOers who has abandoned the independent class action perspective of both Farber and Selfa. Along with Paul Le Blanc, Chretien has become an enthusiastic Sandernista. In a July 6 Jacobin article titled “Revolutionary Socialists in the Democratic-Socialist Movement”, he tries to answer Farber.

He starts off by making a point heard from many ISO’ers just before they dissolved themselves. They were behind the curve: “But the reality is that the proponents of democratic socialism have grown proportionally stronger over the last few years because they have answered some key questions correctly; revolutionary socialists, meanwhile, have hesitated.” I don’t know about that. The DSA has grown because it was a magnet to tens of thousands of young people who voted for Bernie Sanders and who were much more ready to join a group that had an amorphous understanding of “socialism” rather than to hook up with a group that required a much bigger commitment and support for an ideology that was rooted in Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, et al and all those other musty figures from the past who have never been on Chapo Trap House. That’s a bridge too far for an 24-year old kid forced to work in a Starbucks because his or her art history degree proved to be a waste of $100,000.

In response to Farber’s warning about the susceptibility of leftist DP elected officials to become corrupt or to shift to the right, Chretien offers up a non-sequitur:

But does knowing that Cyril Ramaphosa went from union leader to billionaire, or that the European left has hit an impasse, or that the Lenin-Kautsky debate deserves serious study answer the question of whether or not to vote for Sanders? Or whether or not to support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib?

Probably not. In fact, the more relevant question is whether there is a class criterion that defines the Democratic Party. Keep in mind that until 1934, socialists always opposed the two capitalist parties as a matter of principle. After the Popular Front, all that changed. FDR was the Bernie Sanders of his day. The patrician politician convinced everybody on the left except the Trotskyists and Norman Thomas to get on board his bandwagon even though he rejected the idea of socialism. Perhaps that’s of little consequence given Sanders’s insistence that he wants to be the FDR of 2020. What does it matter if the word “socialism” is an empty signifier? As long as you are for government assistance, that’s good enough for democratic socialists. To give some oomph to the New Deal rebirth, all we need is to restore Communism in Russia and China. That would scare the bejeezus out of the Koch brothers and Jeff Bezos and get them to fund a Green New Deal, wouldn’t it?

In a mea culpa, Chretien writes:

In 2016, I believed that Sanders would be brought to heal [sic] by the DNC. Instead, he helped fuel the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America and, remarkably, played a role in giving teachers and others the confidence to strike. And recently AOC tweeted in support of one of the first political strikes in modern US history at Wayfair in solidarity with immigrant families caged in concentration camps.

Well, I’m glad that AOC tweeted in solidarity with immigrant families but has Todd forgotten what Sanders said about open borders? At a campaign even in April, someone criticized his open borders stance, to which he replied: “What we need is comprehensive immigration reform. If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it. So that is not my position.”

Yeah, that’s not his problem. Fuck him and the horse he rode in on. If he had one percent of Eugene V. Debs’s radicalism, Sanders would have said something like this: “There already is open borders for American investors and American subversion. Hondurans are taking their lives in their hands to cross the border into the USA. Chiquita Banana stole land from the Honduran farmers and when they resisted, the Marines invaded Honduras 7 times between 1903 and 1924. If Honduras would be allowed to close its borders to Chiquita Banana and the Marines, then I’d understand closing our own. Until that happens, I’m for open borders.”

Chretien makes light of the kind of criticisms that would likely appear in the Spartacist newspaper rather than from a serious socialist, or even a half-serious gadfly like me:

AOC, Bernie, Chicago’s recently elected six socialist city council members, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and others are at this point confounding the revolutionary socialist expectation that they will fall prey to what Karl Marx referred to as “parliamentary cretinism” in short order.

In fact, they have functioned honorably. So did many Democrats over the years who had radical credentials, from Vito Marcantonio to Bella Abzug. This is not the issue. It is instead whether progressive politicians have anything to do with making a revolution in the USA. The implication of DSA-backed candidates “fighting the good fight” is that more is needed. More AOC; more Ilhan Omar… Okay, if that’s the goal, go right ahead but at least respect the right of others on the left to stick to Marxist principles. What Marx wrote in 1850 still makes sense to a lot of us:

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.

 

July 20, 2019

Joe Hansen on the Apollo moon landing

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

With all the hooplah on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I decided to track down what Joe Hansen wrote about it. This was when The Militant was a pretty good newspaper. Nowadays, they don’t even have the brains to reprint it. Half the members probably need Aricept at this point.

Most of what I learned in the SWP came from what Joe wrote and what Peter Camejo said. To this day, they remain my major influences. Joe died in January 1979, just two months after I quit. I wonder what he would have done to block the cultificaton of the SWP. He was a soft-spoken but deeply defiant figure, a trait necessary for membership in a Trotskyist party that had to withstand assaults from both the capitalist state and Stalinist groups. Too bad the rank-and-file could not draw upon such resources when it came to standing up to the party leadership as it began going off the rails.

July 19, 2019

“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians”

Filed under: Fascism,Film,genocide,Romania — louisproyect @ 5:37 pm

Unless you are an aficionado of foreign films, it is likely that you are not aware that Romania has become one of the leading centers of avant-garde cinema. Like France in the late 50s and early 60s, a nouvelle vague movement in Romania appears to have come out of nowhere. Among the best known Romanian directors is Cristi Puiu, whose 2005 “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” set the standard for the country’s great leap forward. Like every other Romanian film I have seen since 2005, Radu Jude’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” is both politically and artistically stunning. Using techniques that were pioneered by Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s, Jude has confronted Romania’s blind spot, namely the widespread refusal of its citizens to acknowledge its military’s responsibility for murdering over 100,000 Jews in 1941 when it was allied with Nazi Germany. Known as the Odessa Massacre (Odessa was within Romania’s borders at the time), it was seen by some historians as the beginning of the holocaust.

Despite the gravity of the subject, Jude decided to make a black comedy and even more remarkably succeeded beyond anybody’s expectations—including mine. In my review of “Vice” in today’s CounterPunch, I dismissed Adam McKay’s film as a jokey biopic of Dick Cheney that undercut the film’s aim of showing that the architect of the invasion of Iraq was some kind of monster. I regarded the film as an unintentional repeat of Mel Brook’s “Springtime for Hitler”.

The film’s title comes from a speech by Ion Antonescu, the prime minister of Romania in 1941, who defended the bloodbath in a 1946 war crimes tribunal as a necessary defense against the Jews. After becoming obsessed with the Odessa massacre, a young and attractive theater director named Mariana (Iona Iacob) has assembled a large cast of amateurs to help reenact the event in the central plaza of a small town. Like the Civil War battle reenactments in the USA, her goal is authenticity even at the risk of offending those who watch it. Authenticity does not just entail using uniforms and guns from a local military museum. It entails a simulation of Jews being herded into a wooden building that is then set on fire.

To get an idea of Jude’s willingness to break with commercial filmmaking’s strictures, he has a scene that lasts for a good five minutes that is about as “uncinematic” as can be imagined. In a Facetime conversation with a male friend in Austria, who was working there because of the poor local economy, they start off making small talk, including Mariana’s invitation to show him her “cunt”. From there, the conversation begins to switch over to her new project that he has some doubts about—it seems like everybody in Romania except her questions the need for such a reenactment. To help him understand her motivation, she reads him an extended passage from Isaac Babel’s “The Odessa Tales” that is set in the final days of the Russian Empire. The passage is a graphic description of the misery of Jewish peasants and the utter contempt a Russian officer has for them.

In another break with commercial filmmaking, Jude has Mariana squaring off with a town official who is okay with the reenactment, just not the Jews being exterminated since it might upset the children. This evolves into a long debate about the morality of war in which the official resorts to “Whataboutism”, the casuistry associated with the Assadist left in which the killing of Syrians is counterbalanced by the Western slaughter of Vietnamese, et al. Since every country has blood on its hands, why make Romanians feel guilty?

In the press notes for this film, that has the inside track for my nomination of best foreign language film of 2019, the director made this statement:

Thinking about our dark history makes one look back with the horrified gaze of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, whose “face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” opens today at the IFC Center in NY and at the Laemmle next Friday in Los Angeles.

I should also mention that I reviewed Jude’s “Aferim!” in 2015, another outstanding film that I described as follows:

“Aferim” is a vernacular term meaning something like “Bravo” that is heard from its characters throughout the film. It is obviously related to the Turkish word “aferin” that is part of the term “aferin sana” that means “good for you” and that my wife often says to me after I tell her I have been published in some high-toned journal.

It is used with irony in Jude’s film since everything is marked by degradation of the most appalling nature. It is the story of a father and son who are seen riding across a desolate plain on horseback in their search for a runaway slave. The father, named Constandin (Teodor Corban), is a constable and his son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) an unpaid assistant. The story evokes a John Ford western except in this instance the posse is wicked and the runaway slave, a Roma named Carfin Pandolean (Toma Cuzin), is their better. In fact, the higher up you are on the social ladder in feudal Wallachia, the closer you are to savagery.

“Aferim!” can be rented on iTunes for $4.99. It is also available for free on Amazon if you take out a trial subscription to the Sundance cable channel. In either case, it is a memorable film and an excellent introduction to Romanian film.

 

Vice; The Loudest Voice

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,television — louisproyect @ 3:02 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 19, 2019

Two of the more infamous Republican Party operatives have become the subjects of biopics within the past year. In “Vice”, a 2018 film now available on Amazon streaming, Adam McKay portrayed Dick Cheney as a cynical opportunist who was both responsible for the “war on terror” and the extension of executive power that enabled the Bush White House to suspend habeas corpus. Currently running on Showtime, “The Loudest Voice” examines the life of Roger Ailes as a modern-day equivalent of Citizen Kane if Orson Welles had portrayed his fictionalized version of William Randolph Hearst as a monster straight out of his mother’s womb.

The two subjects have quite a bit in common. To start with, they were both products of an America that Norman Rockwell once painted but no longer exists. Growing up in Casper, Wyoming, Cheney enjoyed life in “The Oil City” that was ranked eighth overall in Forbes magazine’s list of “the best small cities to raise a family.” Ailes hailed from Warren, Ohio, a mid-sized city like Casper, that like the rest of the pre-Rust Belt region relied on manufacturing to provide the solid middle-class existence portrayed in Rockwell paintings. His father was a foreman in Packard Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors. Just like Michael Moore, whose father worked for GM in Flint, Ailes idealized the Warren of his youth, seeing it as a place where motherhood, apple pie and the flag reigned supreme. Like Steve Bannon, Ailes’s right-populism revolved around the notion of making a new world of Warrens possible by keeping out immigrants and toughening up trade policies long before Donald Trump became President.

Continue reading

July 16, 2019

The article on Buttigieg that the New Republic published and then unpublished

Filed under: Gay — louisproyect @ 12:33 pm
This article was taken down from the New Republic website with this editor’s note:
Dale Peck’s post “My Mayor Pete Problem” has been removed from the site, in response to criticism of the piece’s inappropriate and invasive content. We regret its publication.
I found nothing objectionable about it and neither will you, I’m sure. For a useful analysis of what happened, I recommend this Jezebel article titled “Define ‘Homophobic’ useful.

My Mayor Pete Problem

He’s smart. He’s nice. And he just might be the devil.

One of the worst things I ever did happened in 1992. I was leaving the bar called The Bar (RIP) on Second Avenue and 4th Street to go to a party called Tattooed Love Child at another bar, Fez, located in the basement of Time Cafe (RIP x 2). TLC was held on Wednesdays (Thursdays?), and I often went to The Bar after work for a few hours so I wouldn’t have to go all the way home first. So it was probably 10-ish, and I know it was late winter/early spring because I was carrying a copy of the completed manuscript of my first novel Martin and John, which I’d just turned in to my publisher that very day. Which makes me 24 and old enough to know better. Or who knows, maybe this was exactly the age to learn this kind of lesson.

What happened was: I was halfway down 4th Street when I heard someone yelling. I turned to see a large fellow running after me. At first I wondered if I was getting gay-bashed. But even though this guy didn’t set off my gaydar he still didn’t seem particularly menacing. When he got closer I clocked the pleated khakis (this was the era of the ACT UP clone—Doc Martens, Levi’s tight or baggy, and activist T-shirts—which look I had embraced fully) and rust-colored Brillo hair. I love me a good ginger, but you gotta know how to style it, especially if it runs frizzy. And so anyway, this guy, whose name was Garfield but said I could call him Gar, told me he’d been in The Bar but had been too shy to talk to me and decided to try his luck on the street. As politely as I could, I told him I wasn’t interested. He asked me how I could know I wasn’t interested when I didn’t know him, which was an invitation for me to tell him that not only did he look like a potato, he dressed, talked, and ran like a potato. Alas, I chose not to indulge his masochistic invitation.

He asked where I was going and I told him. He asked if he could go with me and I told him he could go to Fez if he wanted but he shouldn’t think he was going with me. He came. I quickly learned that he’d mastered the art of speaking in questions, which put me in the awkward position of answering him or ignoring him, which made me feel rude even though I’d told him I wasn’t interested. When he found out I was a writer he got excited and said I must love the New Yorker! I told him I hated the New Yorker. He asked how I could hate the New Yorker and I told him that besides the fact that the New Yorker published shitty fiction (plusça change, plus c’est la même chose), and the only gay fiction it published was assimilationist and boring, there was also the fact that an editor there (Dan Menaker, if we’re naming names) had rejected a story of mine by suggesting in his correspondence with my agent (by which I mean that he wasn’t embarrassed to write this down, let alone worried about repercussions) that psychological problems were preventing me from creating effective fiction. (By the way, fuck you, Dan.) None of which made any sense to Gar. The New Yorker was important so I must love it. I just didn’t know I loved it yet. Or something like that. At some point in this exchange I remember saying something along the lines of Look, I’m just going to apologize now, because it’s pretty clear that sooner or later I’m going to say something really offensive to you and your feelings are going to be hurt. I don’t want to do that, but you’re clearly not getting the fact that you and I don’t look at the world the same way, and you keep thinking that if you hang around long enough we’re going to find common ground, when all you’re really doing is making our differences that much clearer. He laughed at this, one of those confused/nervous/defensive laughs, and if I’d been more mature I would have been more blunt and told him to get lost. But I too was a little deluded. I thought he had to get the hint eventually. But although I understood pretty much everything else about him, I failed to reckon fully with his lack of self-respect.

So: we got to Fez, where I ran into my friend Patrick (Cox, I think, but it’s been a minute), who looked at me like, What are you doing with this weirdo? I wouldn’t let Gar buy me a drink and I did my best to exclude him from my conversation with Patrick but he still wouldn’t take a hint. He must have hung around for a good hour. My answers to his questions grew more and more peremptory. Bear in mind I wasn’t disagreeing with him or dismissing his opinions just to get rid of him: we really had absolutely nothing in common. But we both read the New Yorker and we were both gay and we both wore clothes to cover our nakedness so clearly we were birds of a feather. Finally he said he had to leave. He asked for my number. I remember Patrick laughing in his face, but maybe that’s just because I wanted to laugh in his face. I was like, Are you serious? And he was like, We have so much in common, we should get to know each other better! When I was fifteen years old a pedophile used that line on me in the Chicago bus station, and if I’m being honest I had more in common with the pedo, who was about 50, black, and urban, while I was a white teenager from rural Kansas, than I did with dear old Gar. I told him I wasn’t going to give him my phone number or accept his. He seemed genuinely shocked and hurt, which of course made me feel like shit, which of course made me mad, because why should I feel like shit when I’d spent all night trying to rebuff him? He asked what he would have to do to get me to go out with him. Without thinking, I said, Take a good look at yourself and your world, reject everything in it, and then get back to me. It was the kind of soul-killing line people are always delivering in movies but never comes off in real life, mostly because even the most oblivious, self-hating person usually has enough wherewithal to cut someone off before they’re fully read for filth. I believe I have indicated that Gar did not possess this level of self-awareness. His face went shapeless and blank as though the bones of his skull had melted. For one second I thought I saw a hint of anger, which might’ve been the first thing he’d done all night that I could identify with. Then he scurried away.

Now, I’ve said shitty things to people before and since, but this one’s always stuck with me, partly because, though I’m a peevish fellow, it’s rare that I speak with genuine cruelty, and when I do it’s because I’ve chosen to. This just came out of me. But mostly I remember it because I knew I’d seriously wounded this guy, which, however annoying and clueless he was, was never my intention. I was and still am a very ’90s kind of gay, which is to say that I believe in the brotherhood of homos and the strength of our community, that however different we are we’re all bound together by the nature of our desire and the experience of living in a homophobic world. When one of your brothers fucks up, you school him. Sure, you might get a little Larry Kramer about it, but you don’t go all Arya-and-the-Night-King on his ass.

I’m telling you this because it’s what popped into my head when I tried to pin down my distaste for Pete Buttigieg. Mary Pete and I are just not the same kind of gay. (For those of you wondering about “Mary Pete”: a couple of months ago I asked Facebook what the gay equivalent of Uncle Tom was, and this was the answer at which we collectively arrived.) But Mary Pete and I aren’t different in the same way that Gar and I were different. Gar and I had nothing in common. Mary Pete and I have a lot in common, but at a certain point we came to a fork in the road and I took the one less traveled and he took the one that was freshly paved and bordered by flowers and white picket fences and every house had a hybrid in the driveway and some solar panels on the ceiling, but discrete ones, nothing garish, nothing that would interfere with the traditional look of the neighborhood or the resale value of your home.

By which I mean: Mary Pete is a neoliberal and a Jeffersonian meritocrat, which is to say he’s just another unrepentant or at least unexamined beneficiary of white male privilege who believes (just as Jay Inslee believes he’s done more for women’s reproductive rights than Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar) that he can make life better for all those people who are not like him, not because he knows anything about their lives but because he’s smart and nice and well-meaning, and when smart nice well-meaning people run things everything works out for the best. That’s just, you know, logical. It’s like, science. Like Kirsten Gillibrand, he believes in “healthy capitalism,” which is a bit like saying you believe in “healthy cancer”: Yeah, you can (usually) treat it, but wouldn’t you rather be cured?

Most of what I dislike about Mary Pete was expressed in this Current Affairsarticle, which does a good job of using his own words (mostly from, ugh,Shortest Way Home, his memoir pretending to manifesto) to damn him. Shortest Way Home conjures a young Harvard student who thinks the word “edgy” is sufficient to describe both proto-Dumpster fascist Lyndon LaRouche and Noam Chomsky. His description of Harvard Square takes in those actors who belong to the school; the homeless people who live there are invisible to him, or, even worse, not worth mentioning. He seems perfectly content to dismiss left-wing student activists as “social justice warriors” despite the fact that this phrase is paradigmatic in right-wing discourse. He speaks fondly of his time at McKinsey, a company regularly described as one of the most evil corporations in the world. He joined the military long after 9/11 could sort-of-but-not-really be invoked to justify the U.S. propensity to go to other countries and kill lots of people. By 2007 it was no longer possible to pretend that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were anything other than failed, murderous exercises in empire-building and/or revenge, but despite the fact that these were the only places he was likely to serve he signed up anyway. And though he loves to talk about the notes he left his family in case he didn’t come back, by all accounts his chances of seeing combat were as low as they could be—but boy, he sure got a lot of cute pictures in uniform out of it!

Every move is simultaneously cynical and morally oblivious. They’re the steps one takes not to learn about the world but to become a marketable political candidate (hmmm, what’s a good counter to the whole sleeps-with-men thing? I know: military service!) (side benefit: you’re surrounded by hot guys!) and if as a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar you decide not to be a captain of industry, then clearly the White House is where you belong. I mean, sure, he wants to make the world a better place. But the operative word in that sentence, just as it was with Bill Clinton, is “he,” not “world,” and “better,” for Mary Pete, is just the neoliberal variation of “make America great again,” which is to say that in Buttigieg’s version of American history the progressive ideals in the First, Thirteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments, in the Civil Rights Act and Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, are the only authentically American ideas, whereas slavery and Jim Crow and border security and defense of marriage campaigns and heartbeat laws are nothing but aberrations, glitches in the code rather than yin to liberalism’s yang, warp to its weft, a set of ivory chess pieces lined up across from a set of ebony chess pieces and equally powerful.

Like Obama, Buttigieg seems always to be saying that the United States is the only place where someone like him could’ve succeeded, and that he wants everyone to enjoy the same peculiarly American successes that he’s had. But unlike Obama (whose naïveté was at least partly a pose), Buttigieg’s biography belies the idea that his success was either hard won or particularly unlikely. He’s lived the life of a comfortably middle-class white male, but he acts as if it’s his natural gifts (by which he means his intelligence and his ability to speak seven languages and play the piano, although they’re actually his whiteness and maleness and financial security) that have raised him above from the rabble. It’s right there in his “Medicare for all . . . who want it” song and dance. To Mary Pete this is simple egalitarianism and freedom of choice. If you want Medicare, you should be able to have it. And if you want private insurance you should be able to have that. It seems never to occur to him to ask why one would want to pay three or four or ten times more for health care than you have to. Could it possibly be because private insurance will get you better results than Medicare? And could private health care possibly provide better service than Medicare not because of marketplace competition but because as long as there’s a profit motive in health care medical corporations will always seek to maximize profits, and thus favor those “customers” who can pay the most? Embedded in this oblivion are both the liberal delusion that people are naturally good and the neoliberal sophistry that the market, like the tide, will raise everyone up with it.

Or take his response at the Democratic debate to the murder of Eric Logan by the South Bend police: “I’m not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back.” Here is a mayor—a man—whose first allegiance isn’t to the victim or the victim’s family or the other people at risk because of a racist police force, but, at the very best, to the system, and maybe to nothing more than his own political future as a centrist Democrat. “I accept responsibility,” he told us, in the same way that the white teenaged boy who gets caught stealing a car or drunk-raping a girl says “I accept responsibility” and fully expects to let off without punishment, because boys will be boys, after all, and isn’t feeling bad punishment enough? Free education? Why, that’s unfair to the working class! They’ll end up paying for the education of all those millions and millions of billionaires’ children! What are we, czarist Russia?

You keep looking for a politics rooted in justice or history or, at the very least, empathy, but everywhere you find nothing besides a kind of idealistic pragmatism, if that’s a thing: a belief that if we only talk about nice things, only nice things will happen. If we only acknowledge our strengths, our faults will fade away. If we trust smart people to do smart things, nothing dumb will happen. Hey, José loved it when Pete answered him in Spanish, right? Education has brought us closer together!

All this makes Mary Pete different from every other left-leaning neoliberal in exactly zero ways. Because let’s face it. The only thing that distinguishes the mayor of South Bend from all those other well-educated reasonably intelligent white dudes who wanna be president is what he does with his dick (and possibly his ass, although I get a definite top-by-default vibe from him, which is to say that I bet he thinks about getting fucked but he’s too uptight to do it). So let’s dish the dish, homos. You know and I know that Mary Pete is a gay teenager. He’s a fifteen-year-old boy in a Chicago bus station wondering if it’s a good idea to go home with a fifty-year-old man so that he’ll finally understand what he is. He’s been out for, what, all of four years, and if I understand the narrative, he married the first guy he dated. And we all know what happens when gay people don’t get a real adolescence because they spent theirs in the closet: they go through it after they come out. And because they’re adults with their own incomes and no parents to rein them in they do it on steroids (often literally). If Shortest Way Home (I mean really, can you think of a more treacly title?) makes one thing clear, Mary Pete was never a teenager. But you can’t run away from that forever. Either it comes out or it eats you up inside. It can be fun, it can be messy, it can be tragic, it can be progenitive, transformative, ecstatic, or banal, but the last thing I want in the White House is a gay man staring down 40 who suddenly realizes he didn’t get to have all the fun his straight peers did when they were teenagers. I’m not saying I don’t want him to shave his chest or do Molly or try being the lucky Pierre (the timing’s trickier than it looks, but it can be fun when you work it out). These are rites of passage for a lot of gay men, and it fuels many aspects of gay culture. But like I said, I don’t want it in the White House. I want a man whose mind is on his job, not what could have been—or what he thinks he can still get away with.

So yeah. Unlike my experience with Gar, I actually want to tell Mary Pete to take a good hard look at his world, at his experiences and his view of the public good as somehow synonymous with his own success, and I want him to reject it. I want to do this not because I have any particular desire to hurt his feelings, but because I made a similar journey, or at least started out from a similar place, and I was lucky enough to realize (thank you, feminism; thank you, ACT UP) that the only place that path leads is a gay parody of heteronormative bourgeois domesticity: the “historic” home, the “tasteful” decor (no more than one nude photograph of a muscular torso per room; statuary only if they’re fair copies of Greek or Roman originals), the two- or four- or six-pack depending on how often you can get to the gym and how much you hate yourself, the theatre (always spelled with an -re) subscription, the opera subscription, the ballet subscription, the book club, the AKC-certified toy dog with at least one charming neurosis and/or dietary tic, the winter vacation to someplace “tropical,” the summer vacation to someplace “cultural,” the specialty kitchen appliances—you just have to get a sous vide machine, it changed our life! Sorry, boys, that’s not a life, it’s something you buy from a catalog. It’s a stage set you build so you can convince everyone else (or maybe just yourself) that you’re as normal as they are. Call me a hick from the sticks, but I don’t want someone who fills out his life like he fills out an AP exam serving as the country’s moral compass. And no, I wouldn’t kick him out of bed.

July 15, 2019

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:32 pm

via Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

July 13, 2019

Stanley Aronowitz: the father of the “dirty break”?

Filed under: DSA,electoral strategy,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

Stanley Aronowitz

Just a few days ago, I got a copy of “The Lesser Evil”, a Pathfinder book that has the debate between Peter Camejo and Michael Harrington that unfortunately never got posted online, mostly because of the tight control the SWP has over its “intellectual property”. While browsing through the book, I noticed that there was also a debate between cult leader Jack Barnes and Stanley Aronowitz from 1965 over the same questions.

I was startled to see how close Aronowitz’s tactical support for running in Democratic Party primaries was to the Jacobin and DSA articles of today. Aronowitz, unlike Harrington, was a serious Marxist thinker who was 32 at the time, not that far in age from Bhaskar Sunkara, Eric Blanc and all the other Jacobin/DSA theorists who favor a “dirty break”. Indeed, after reading Aronowitz’s answers to questions from the floor at a conference held on October 30, 1965, you almost feel that nothing much has changed.

Simply put, the dirty break was a term coined by Eric Blanc for socialists running in Democratic Party primaries as opposed to the “clean break” that people like me advocate, ie., running independently of the two capitalist parties. Blanc’s Jacobin article on the dirty break is here.

Aronowitz was speaking on behalf of the Committee for Independent Political Action, a group that he helped to found with Jimmy Weinstein, the publisher of “In These Times” that has been the informal voice of the DSA, long before Jacobin. The two men were closely linked to SDS and saw CIPA as a sister project of the New Left’s rapidly growing student-based movement. It is no exaggeration to state that SDS was the DSA of its day, its growth fueled by the Vietnam antiwar movement. If you study SDS history, you’ll learn that it backed LBJ for President in 1964, raising the slogan “Part of the Way with LBJ”. When LBJ began escalating the war, the New Left rejected the Democratic Party but never really theorized the question of independent political action. Its most notable achievement was building the Peace and Freedom Party that achieved ballot status in California and attracted widespread grass roots support. It succumbed, however, to sectarian disruption in latter years that it was ill-prepared to fend off. Below you can read a transcript of the Q&A with Aronowitz with my commentary in italics as well.

QUESTION: I want to ask a question about the concrete tactics that Stanley proposed. I understand that Stanley is one of the signers of a statement or proposal for a local New York political organization in one of the congressional districts. I was talking to Jimmy Weinstein the other night, who is also a signer, I believe, and he said that you intended to take part in the Democratic primary as a functional operation. I just wondered if you would comment on that and explain why you want to do that.

ARONOWITZ: First, it is not a proposal for a party, it is a proposal for a political committee. It’s called the Committee for Independent Political Action, and it exists. The idea of the committee is, as Barnes so correctly said, to build a movement around a program and not to build a movement around a constituency. That is, not to say we want to win people in this community, therefore we are going to have a program. In this sense it differs from the Communist Party, but not from the Socialist Party from 1900 to 1920, because they had a program: it was called socialism. [Aronowitz fails to mention the frequent denunciations of the Republican and Democratic Party parties by Eugene V. Debs. Today, you get countless tributes paid to Debs from Sandernistas, including Sanders himself, but they all sidestep what Debs said: “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.”]

Our program is what we consider to be the central reason that we are an independent and radical political movement. The program is that the cold war and its Vietnams are what set the tone and pace for all other questions in this country, that the racism that is inherent in our society and in our foreign policy not only limits what kind of domestic issues we can have, what kind of domestic struggles we can carry on—because you can’t get any money for anything, including a poverty program—but it also determines the fact that there can be no political democracy in this country as long as the inheritors of the corporate system are in control of our policies. And that is stated openly and publicly.

Now the reason we raise the idea of possibly running in the Democratic primary—and we are not wedded to the idea—is because we regard the form as being a practical question, just as politicians from radical political organizations work in the antiwar movement, even in liberal movements sometimes. All you need is 1,000 signatures and you can enter the Democratic primary. Now in New York City, where most people participate in electoral politics through the primary and not through the general election, we see that it might be possible to run in the primary and then go on and run in the general election.

This is analogous to the view that the Freedom Democratic Party took in Mississippi. That is, the political question in Mississippi was not whether you ran in the Democratic primary, whether you called yourself Democratic or not, but what your program was. Whether you were opposed to the racists in Mississippi or not. [The Freedom Democratic Party got royally screwed at the 1964 Convention when New Deal stalwarts LBJ and Hubert Humphrey refused to seat them. To beat Goldwater, the Democrats saw the Dixiecrat delegations being seated as crucial to their “electability”. It is this tradition that Joe Biden is keeping up.]

The thing that we want to prevent is setting a sterile limit on the number of arenas that we can participate in. To a large degree, the Republican and Democratic parties in this country represent the same class. And yet they are arenas in which all kinds of opposition can take place, because they are not parties that nominate at the convention. Before Carmine DeSapio made the Democratic primary an open primary, there was no question that third party politics was the only way in which independent politics could be played in this country. Now we are saying that we need an independent political movement that will evolve into a third party. We will attack the Democratic Party, we will attack the Johnson administration, but we will at the same time not shut the door to what we consider to be a meaningful forum. [Very dialectical.] We think that there is a possibility of entering a primary in order to educate people. It’s like revolutionaries entering elections because they want to educate people; they don’t necessarily believe they are going to win in the elections, or that elections are the way in which people can gain power, but they believe that there is a possibility that there will be people who will listen through such a forum.

We are not calling ourselves the Reform Democratic Party Club, we are not going to run for party leadership within the Democratic Party; we are going to run, whether the reformers run or not. We have another problem which determines that: We want to put reform Democrats who are radicals programmatically on the spot. We want to tell them: You run in the Democratic Party because you thought that the Democratic Party, and its reform movement, which is a liberal coalition, was the only place where you could function. We will not invite into our political association activists who do not agree with our program. Here is a place where you can get active, here is a place where you fight out your program, not within an internal, narrow, sectarian group of Reform Democrats, where you lose every time, but within your own political association. If we can, we hope that we will utilize this educational forum to talk to radicals within the reform movement to pull them out, or at least to exercise them in their own consciousness about what they are doing. The process by which people are moved is not in terms of setting up, in an abstract sense, a political campaign or a political party, but in terms of the real struggles that people have participated in.

ARONOWITZ (responding to Barnes on the same question above): I would like to correct a couple of ideas that you have about it. We deliberately proceeded on the basis that we had to have a real ideological basis for activists to come in. Not civil rights, not peace, not minimum issues, but we had to have a statement. When you sign “I’m interested in joining CIPA” here, you get back this statement which, I think, pretty much explains where we are at.

It begins: “Most Americans have been cut off and excluded from the process of making the basic decisions that affect their lives. Partisan politics in the United States operates to sustain and extend the immediate and long-range interests of a relative handful of giant corporations and their institutional supporters, but the material and strategic interests and commitments of these corporations and their leaders, and the social values that flow from these interests, differ essentially from those of the poor, the workers, and most middle class Americans. In the determination of both domestic and foreign policy concern with the protection and extension of private property and profits takes priority over the personal and social needs of ordinary people. Domination of American politics by giant corporations has brought the United States to international crisis and to the organization of our lives around the ideological, political and material necessities of the cold war.”

That’s what we mean by independent politics. What we mean is that the political questions that we raise are not the kind of questions that could ever be raised in the reform movement of the Democratic Party or within the Johnson wing of the Democratic Party, by Buckley, by Bayard Rustin, or others, because we have made a political judgment about American politics which relates to the whole question of who controls.

[In fact, those questions were being raised loudly by DP candidates within a year or so as the “peace candidates” became the counterpart of the “democratic socialist” candidates of today. At least one Jacobin author sees the direct connection. Read “Bernie and the Search for New Politics” by Adam Hilton and you will see the connection. Referring to the McGovern-inspired “New Politics” movement inside the Democratic Party, Hilton writes: “By thinking institutionally and conceiving the Democratic Party as a terrain of struggle, it is evident that engagement with that party (or actors inside it) will sometimes be a valuable strategic move, depending on the particular political moment.”] 

Now the reason we regard the whole question of the Democratic Party, in New York City—not in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or any other place necessarily—as a tactical question is because of the history of political struggles in New York City. The reform movement of the Democratic Party is not an arena in which we can really develop a radical politics. And so we cut people off from that. There were many people who were involved in the California Democratic clubs who learned a lesson out of their experience—real sensuous, concrete experiences. [Sensuous? You mean like silk pajamas?] And so they went into organizations like the VDC [Vietnam Day Committee]. And we built a radicalism. Tom Hayden, Todd Gitlin, Paul Potter, Paul Booth—every last one of the organizers of SDS, which is the real key organization of the antiwar movement, began in liberal study groups of the National Student Association.

The real problem is not whether Tom and the other people in SDS have rejected or accepted the Democratic Party as an arena of political action. We know they are radicals. And the reason we know they are radicals is because SDS organized the best goddamned march on the Vietnam issue, which is the crux of the whole question of politics in this country today, and nobody else organized it. [In fact, the SWP was critical in getting that demonstration off the ground. The SDS leadership was wilting under the pressure of the League for Industrial Democracy and the Trots helped stiffen their back.] And what made them organize it was the fact that they had gone through a process of political experience. Not a process of liberalism reinforced by liberalism, which is the old SP-CP pattern. Not that kind of situation, but where they began to recognize where control was.

When Paul Potter got up at the SDS march and said it is the corporations that are the enemy, and we have to name the enemy in this country, that was the most important, primary precondition for politics, that was the content, that was the principle, that was the dividing line. The dividing line is not where you choose your forum—the Democratic Party is a temporary, transient kind of tactical situation because it is a place which has permitted participation of different positions.

The Democratic Party primary says that we have to get 350 signatures in an assembly district and 1,500 signatures in a congressional district to get on the ballot. It does not tell us what to say, how to say it, or how to mobilize. And it’s not really the center of our movement. The center of our movement is to organize and educate around this concept. But not to organize and educate depending upon the TV and the radio and the press to give us publicity. Instead, to educate on the basis of canvassing, house-by-house canvassing and community organizing around the rent strikes.

How many radicals who have good programs have been involved in the rent strikes? I have. I have been with eighteen tenants at different times down to Mayor Wagner’s office, and all we were able to do was to get rid of Mayor Wagner, by our activity of the boycott and the sit-ins in the rent strikes.

We have never been able to develop any kind of political position that has been meaningful to tenants, that has been meaningful to workers. Now I think that the problem is how you find those forums to talk to people, not to talk to them in the way of finding the minimum common denominator, that’s not the problem, but to find the forums where you will be listened to, where you will have a forum, and if that forum happens to be within the Democratic primary—and not in the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party means you run in a party election, we are not going to run in any party elections—this primary gives us one forum. Then we go on and we run in November independently. [Jimmy Weinstein did end up running as an independent but that was the last hurrah of CIPA, largely made irrelevant by the peace candidates of the Democratic Party on both a national and local basis.] By the way, Governor Rockefeller has given us a way of doing this beautifully. He says that we are now going to have a Democratic primary in June and a general election in November. That means that if we run in June we have one chance of getting before people a program, an educational program. We ain’t going to win, don’t kid yourself, and we are not going to invite reformers into the political movement either. But then we can go ahead and get our independent petitions for the general election signed. And this is not an unusual practice.

The point is that we are ready to discuss what tactic is proper at any one time. And if we determine as a result of a serious discussion that we should not go into the Democratic primary, we will not go into the Democratic primary, because we are not wedded to the coalition concept. And when we say in this statement that coalitions are secondary, we don’t mean the coalition question as raised by Rustin, we mean coalitions with the Socialist Workers Party and coalitions with the Communist Party—that is a secondary question to our common need to go out and build a radical constituency, a radical base for a program.

I’m prepared to vote for any radical socialist candidate that runs for office. And I think that those candidates should be run. What I’m trying to do is not to develop radical politics on the old bases which divide the left. I’m for a coalition of the left. A coalition which is based on a program. And if we can discuss the question of tactics we will discuss the question of tactics. But if you get hung up on the question of whether you are in the Democratic primary, and not the Democratic Party, then I think you effectively exclude your-self from the opportunity of developing a radical program that has any meaning.

QUESTION: This is a brief question to Mr. Aronowitz, which can be answered briefly. While you are telling people what the ruling class’s role is and all of the things that they are against, and while you are running a candidate in the nineteenth congressional district, who do you tell them to vote for in the main elections?

ARONOWITZ: We are not Democrats asking people to support the Democratic ticket. We are not going to enter into a coalition with Mayor Wagner or with Abraham Beame. We would not enter into a coalition with [Congressman William F.] Ryan unless we saw that he was prepared to accept our position. We are not looking for that kind of electoral coalition. What we hope to have happen, very frankly, is not that this community organizing thing will be confined to this.

What we expect, or we hope, is that other people will take it up. Look at the seventh congressional district in Berkeley, where Jeffrey Cohelan is the best liberal Democrat that you can find, outside of a guy like Phil Burton, if you take issues. I understand that the antiwar movement is preparing to run against Phil Burton. Well, that has been the direct inspiration of the kind of movement that we’ve started here. What we hope to emerge is a confluence of a lot of local movements that experiment, that don’t have any real solid answers.

I wish I had this surety that Jack Barnes has and that some people have about where the direction is. We have to experiment, we have to grope. The only thing we have is our ideology. With that, there is no compromise. Maybe it’s a difference in experience. But we’re clear, I think it’s fairly clear what we mean. We mean that if you accept the view that the priorities of this country are developed out of the cold war context, that we have to end that context, by ending neocolonialism and American imperialism, then you belong in this movement. Therefore we are not reform, because reform believes that you work in coalitions around electoral alliances that do not understand the central question.

Now there is another difference. And I’ll just make that very brief. The difference is the old concept of the united front that was developed by the CP and the SP in the thirties and a new concept of what a united front could be now. In this country the application by a number of radicals of the idea of united action was that we organize for Roosevelt, and Jack did a brilliant job on that. [I have no idea what Aronowitz is talking about here. In the 1930s, the CP started out as sectarian mad dogs and then did a 180 degree turn backing Roosevelt as part of the implementation of the Popular Front in the USA. The SP had nothing to do with the SP except in united actions to support strikers in Flint, for example. When Aronowitz refers to “united action” for Roosevelt, which certainly did not include the SP that ran Norman Thomas against him consistently, you can only conclude that he is referring to the Popular Front, although erroneously.] I think that the only way we can prevent thousands of students and thousands of other people from falling back into the trap of organizing for lesser evils is if we develop a political alternative that is meaningful to them. And we think that this kind of thing can be meaningful to them, not because of the primary but because most of our concepts arise out of experience.

QUESTION: Mr. Aronowitz, in the Democratic primaries only registered Democrats can vote. In the Republican primaries only registered Republicans vote. I understand that you are going to go into the primary in order to convince the registered Democrats that you are against the Democrats. Do you exclude going into the Republican primaries to convince the Republicans that you are against the Republicans? And do you think this is an effective way of boring from within these parties to organize an independent party?

ARONOWITZ: Well, we’re back to the old saw. We are not going into the Democratic Party, we are going into the Democratic primary. You don’t see the difference, but there is a difference, and the difference is evident to anybody who knows about the operations of the Democratic Party. [I am sure that Eric Blank knows the difference. This is the dirty break.]

For one thing the situation in New York City is the following, and we’ve done a little study. More than 90 percent of Negroes and Puerto Ricans and workers happen to be registered Democrats or registered Liberals; there is only 10 percent of that group in the population that happens to be registered Republican, and that’s one factor. We are not looking at what party we are going into, we are looking at where the constituency is.

The second thing is, that the real vote that takes place, and the way in which politics operates in this city is that the big battles, what most people worry about, in terms of where the politics is, have been within the Democratic primary in the nineteenth congressional district. I know the nineteenth congressional district; in this district, the Republican gets 28 percent or 29 or sometimes 30 percent of the vote. Therefore, where the people vote significantly, where they make choices, is not in the general election. They tend to make choices in the Democratic primary. That’s where the action is, that’s where all the pressure and all of the activity and all of the debate takes place, in the nineteenth congressional district. [All the activity and all the debate? Are you kidding? Voting is a passive act. You watch a TV commercial or get a phone call from your union or church telling you who to vote for on election day. (This is pre-Internet days, remember. He makes it sound like the St. Petersburg Soviet, for chrissake.]

What we are going to say, if we go into that primary, not that party, is that neither of these men has anything to say about the problems of the people of this district that is different from what the administration has been promulgating. What we are going to say is that our needs in this district can only be met if we accept a whole different idea.

The point is that we expect that when other movements around the country develop a serious national political movement, the whole idea of going into the Democratic primary will become unnecessary, because then we’ll have a national program and a national movement that is able to project a real national struggle. We are not in that position now. We are in a position of starting locally because we think that it is not possible to do it on a mass basis nationally. [By 1967, CIPA was history. The tsunami of antiwar activism swept it away. Something tells me that before long, Sandernism will also be swept away by working-class activism. All we will need at that point is a political instrument that can help maximize its impact.]

July 12, 2019

Long Gone Wild; Sea of Shadows

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 9:38 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 12, 2019

Two new documentaries share by pure coincidence the threat to sea mammals posed by venal Chinese consumerism.

“Long Gone Wild”, which is available across all VOD platforms on July 16th, picks up where “Blackfish” left off. Made in 2013, “Blackfish” exposed the cruel exploitation of orcas at SeaWorld, where they were confined to unnatural, prison-like conditions and forced to perform circus-type tricks until the 12,500-pound Tilikum began to take vengeance on two of his trainers and a hapless trespasser. “Long Gone Wild” demonstrates that while SeaWorld made significant concessions to activists and scientists, it has continued to explore ways in which the killer whale can be commodified. Ironically, the nomenclature “killer whale” seems inappropriate since it is profit-seeking that is the real killer, especially as China has become the new SeaWorld colossus with Russia supplying most of the kidnapped creatures for big money.

“Sea of Shadows”, which opens at The Landmark at 57 West and Quad Cinema in New York today, concerns the vaquita, the smallest porpoise in existence. It is poised on the edge of extinction largely as collateral damage created once again by China. It turns out that the swimming bladder of the totoaba, a member of the drum family, is prized by Chinese for its medicinal properties and that can command $40,000 on the black market just like rhinoceros horns and other animal organs taken from animals at the top of the food chain. The fisherman of San Felipe, a seacoast village in Baja California, have begun using gillnets to snare the totoaba but the vaquitas are caught as well. Except for a small minority of fishermen in the village who disavow such wasteful practices, the rest are willing to break the law as part of cartel run by local gangsters and their Chinese middle-men.

Continue reading

The Sweet Requiem

Filed under: Film,Tibet — louisproyect @ 9:24 pm

Opening today at the IFC Center in New York is “The Sweet Requiem”, a narrative film co-directed by Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, who are Tibetan husband and wife living in the USA. Sonam wrote a screenplay that can be described as a cri de coeur of the Tibetan exile community. According to the press notes, the film was inspired by an incident in September 2006 on the 3.6 mile high Nangpa-La Pass between Tibet-Nepal border when Chinese border guards opened fire on a group of fleeing Tibetans, leaving dead a 17-year-old nun.

For Sonam and Sarin, it raised a number of questions: Who were these escapees and what was their journey like? Why, after nearly 50 years of Chinese occupation, were Tibetans still risking their lives to escape to India? And why were so many of them children?

This incident was dramatized as the story of Dolkar, who was part of a small group of Tibetans we see in the opening scenes of the film trudging through deep snow in the Himalayas. Out of nowhere, we hear a rifle shot and the man at the head of the group falling down, mortally wounded.

Among the survivors is Dolkar, who has lost her father during the same assault. She was a young child making the journey but now lives in New Delhi as a 26-year old enjoying urban life. She takes lessons in Bollywood dance techniques, hangs out with fellow exiles, and makes a modest living working in a threading salon. Notwithstanding her normal existence, she is constantly reminded of what she left behind. Recent videos of self-immolations in Tibet jar her into the feelings of loss and sadness that many Tibetan exiles feel, including the nanny who lives down the hall from me in my high-rise. The press notes reveal a staggering number of suicides by self-immolation, numbering 153 since 2009. By comparison, this would amount to 15,000 if Tibet had the same population as the USA.

The film is divided into Dolkar’s current life in New Delhi with frequent flashbacks to the trek across the Himalayas. Past and present are conjoined when Gompo, the leader of the band, shows up in New Delhi and is welcomed into the exile community as an activist. Only Dolkar recognizes him as the guide who abandoned the group years ago, thus leaving the others to their own devices. If he is tarnished by this selfish act, he is compromised even further when Dolkar discovers that he has been meeting with Tibetans working as Chinese spies on the exile community. Gompo has been an agent himself but hoped to make a clean break with his colonizers after becoming an exile. He learns that making personal choices in harmony with his political and religious beliefs does not come easy, especially when you belong to an oppressed nation of just over 3 million souls fighting for independence against an oppressor nation of 1.3 billion.

The film went to extraordinary lengths to recreate the trek that Dolkar and her fellow Tibetans took across the snow-covered mountains. Shot in the Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh at altitudes of over 15,000 feet (4500 meters) in sub-zero temperatures, two crew-members developed altitude sickness and were unable to continue.

Twelve years ago I reviewed a film called “The Angry Monk” that is a portrait of Gendun Choephel (1903-1951), a legendary figure in Tibet, who was opposed to both the religious elite and to forced Chinese assimilation. The documentary is an excellent introduction to Tibetan culture and politics that I recommend highly and that fortunately can be seen here: https://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/angry_monk “The Angry Monk” interviews a number of Tibet’s leading anti-colonial intellectuals like Jamyang Norbu who provided insights into the character of one of the most determined struggles of the past half-century. No matter the obsession of some in the West about Tibetan spirituality, the main dynamic is one of self-determination, a right that socialists supported in Lenin’s day and that is often forgotten when the topic of Tibet comes up on the left. Here is Norbu on what Tibetans are fighting for:

Q: How does the West see Tibet?

A: I think, primarily the West sees Tibet, to some extent, as a fantasy land, as a Shangri La. Of course, this is a kind of stereotype that has existed in the Western kind of perception for a very long time, even before the movie “Lost Horizon,” the movie was made. Initially, the perception came from ideas of medieval Europe that they had of … … (inaudible), the Christian king who lived behind the mountains of Gog and Magog, and who would come maybe to make the whole of Asia a Christian country.

Because maybe people in medieval times heard of Tibet and a lot of liturgical practices in Tibet, religious rites and ceremonies, resembled the Roman Catholic ones.

Q: Tibet is suddenly very chic in America. Why is that?

A: There’s a kind of New Age perception of Tibet, which is fed to some extent quite deliberately by propagandists for Tibet, many New Age type Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists. And, also subscribed gradually by Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama and a lot of prominent Lamas. The idea that this even materialist west will be saved by the spiritualism of the Tibetan Buddhists. It’s total nonsense.

Tibetans are in no position to save anyone, least of all themselves in the first place.

But, this is the kind of idea that’s being subscribed by a lot of New Age type people. This is the problem that Tibetans face, because their issues and the tragedy of Tibet has not being taken seriously. Primarily, it’s very fuzzy; it’s sort of a feel good issue, rather than a stark, ugly reality.

You have the Palestinian problem. Now, whether you like the Palestinians–and I’m sure a lot people in the West don’t like them—- but you give them the respect that their condition is real.

A lot of people love Tibetans in the West, tremendous sympathy, but it’s a very fuzzy kind of sympathy, because it never touches on the reality. It doesn’t touch on the reality that the Tibetan people are disappearing, they’re being wiped out.

You look at even supportive friends of Tibet like Galen …. Have you seen his calendars? It just says everything is wonderful. Tibet is wonderful. The culture is wonderful. The land is wonderful. It does not touch on the tragedy that people are actually being wiped off the face of the earth and their culture is being wiped out. That is not touched; it’s considered in bad taste.

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