Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 21, 2020

Soros

Filed under: Film,Soros — louisproyect @ 7:40 pm

Opening yesterday as Virtual Cinema, “Soros” is a flabby, toothless documentary that I can still recommend as a clinical study of the self-deception of one of the most powerful political philanthropists of the past half-century. I use the term political to distinguish him from the average billionaire philanthropist like Bill Gates who has little direct interest in toppling governments that don’t conform to his ideological predispositions.

Directed by Jesse Dylan, it comes across as a puff piece made to order for commemorating George Soros’s noble deeds. Nobody could be better suited to this task than Bob Dylan’s son Jesse, who did video production work for George Soros’s Open Society at one point. You can get an idea of where he is coming from by his earlier work, including a music video titled “Yes We Can,” inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign for President.

The film is most useful as an overview of George Soros’s life and career that by necessity must account for the hatred toward him from anti-Semites and fascists across the planet. As a speculator, a Jew and a political powerhouse, he naturally conforms to the stereotypes found throughout right-wing social media. To allow the right to make its case against Soros, Dylan calls upon Tucker Carlson whose complaint is that nobody should be allowed to interfere in other country’s affairs through the leverage billions of dollars afford him. Against Carlson’s rather hypocritical indictment, the scale tips in the favor of at least a dozen Open Society staff members and other NGO heavyweights who pour out their hearts on behalf of the ninety-year old potentate. Missing entirely is a single voice from the left that could flesh out the grievances briefly alluded to in the film.

For example, Viktor Orban is trotted out as a typical crypto-fascist, anti-Semitic figure who expelled Soros’s Central European University from Budapest. There is a brief mention of Soros’s sponsorship of Orban during the time Soros was cultivating a network of intellectuals and disillusioned ex-Communists as part of an effort to restore private property in the country of his birth. However, there is no explanation of why so many Hungarians turned against its benefactor. One of Soros’s fans seemed perplexed by the failure of a nation that despised Communism to appreciate someone who was key to its overthrow.

To understand the emergence of the rightwing boomerang against Soros, you have understand how he helped spawn the fascist tendencies himself doing what he does best: making money. The Hungarians probably had no idea what they were getting into when they gave Soros carte blanche to restructure their society. In 2010, Soros’s firm was fined $2.5 million for illegal trades in Hungary’s largest bank, the OTP. Through short sales, Soros made a fortune even if Hungarians got the shitty end of the stick. On April 2, 2009, the NY Times reported:

In a small walk-up apartment on the outskirts of Budapest, George Ivanyi, a founder of the Association of Bank Loan Victims, does his best to cope with an unceasing flow of Hungarians who have come to seek advice because they can no longer pay their mortgages after the forint’s collapse. Volunteer law students sip Red Bull while they counsel couples, and amid the buzz of activity a perpetually ringing phone goes unanswered.

“I feel the desperation of the people,” Mr. Ivanyi said. “The banks are responsible – but so is the government. They should not have approved these loans.”

One woman, he recounts, was so overwhelmed when the monthly mortgage bill on her Japanese yen-denominated loan from OTP suddenly soared 50 percent that she ingested a dose of rat poison and narrowly escaped death.

I first became interested in Soros around the time I began opposing how Western banks were attempting to break apart Yugoslavia. At the time, liberals everywhere were demonizing Milosevic, who I never put on the same level as Assad. Whatever his flaws, and they certainly were ample, he—unlike Donald Trump—never refused to resign after he lost an election in 2000.

Soros was trying to transform Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Russia into “Open Societies”, a fancy word for constitutional democracies that could save humanity from the evils of Nazism and Communism. Inspired by Karl Popper’s 1945 “The Open Society and Its Enemies”, Soros dedicated himself to overthrowing Communism since, after all, B-29s had already taken out Nazism.

After narrowly escaping the Judeocide, George Soros was encouraged by his father to enroll in the London School of Economics after emigrating to London in 1945. Failing the admission exams, he was not dissuaded. He snuck into LSE lectures over a two year period and absorbed the ideas of a school that was founded by the Fabian Society and had close ties to the Labour Party in its early days.

However, by the time Soros got there, the LSE had evolved to the right, largely under the influence of Friedrich Hayek who held roost there. Frankfurt School refugees were never considered for the faculty and headed straight to the USA where they were more welcome. Under Hayek’s stewardship, the LSE had become similar to the U. of Chicago economics department and an ideological foe of the Cambridge school that was committed to Keynesian orthodoxy. Karl Popper’s seminars were the main influence on Soros. Karl Popper was a close friend of Hayek and an ideological soulmate. Both men were traumatized by the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary upheavals of their youth and were predisposed to blame fascism and socialism equally. In a letter to Hayek in 1944, Popper stated, “I think I have learnt more from you than from any other living thinker, except perhaps Alfred Tarski.” (Tarski was a logician and mathematician.)

Like Francis Fukuyama, the author of “The End of History and the Last Man”, Popper exploited the victory of Western democracies over both fascism and Communism. They predicted a new age of political democracies where the right to assemble peacefully and vote in multi-party democracies would be sacrosanct. They didn’t think too much about the emergence of groups like Golden Dawn or other fascist parties in Europe since the economy was still expanding and jobs were relatively easy to come by. When one financial crisis after another in the past three decades began to depress the wages and welfare state benefits of both the USA and Western Europe, the liberal bourgeoisie had no answers. The 70+ million votes for Donald Trump should illustrate that.

Ironically, Jesse Dylan neglected to pay attention to Soros’s own worries about the failing economic system that he had done so much to create. In 1999, he wrote a book titled “The Crisis of Global Capitalism”, in which he wrote that what he calls “market fundamentalism” may be “a greater threat to open society than totalitarian government today.” Jeff Madrick, a liberal economist, interviewed Soros that year in the NY Review of Books. This exchange has an eerie resonance to our problems today:

JM: You call the current faith in free-market ideology “market fundamentalism.” That has overtones of religiosity, absolutism, coercion.

GS: Because we are disappointed with the policies of governments—and with plenty of justification—we tend to idealize the market as something that can take care of everything. And just as Marx claimed communism was based on a scientific theory of history, market fundamentalism relies on an allegedly scientific economic theory. Basically, I think it was Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who were the main movers in adopting a vulgarized version of laissez-faire economics, turning it into a kind of fundamentalist position.

Neither Soros nor Madrick have a clue as to why governments everywhere are gravitating toward “market fundamentalism”. It also makes you wonder what Soros would disparage this tendency since his guru Karl Popper was a Hayek acolyte, after all. Some say that it is a function of greed. In the good old days, the bourgeoisie was kinder and more generous toward the people it ruled, a combination of noblesse oblige and tactical wisdom. Who, after all, would want to antagonize workers to the point that they vote for Donald Trump. It is not greed, however, that is driving class inequality. It is rather the logic of capital that dictates runaway shops, deregulation, union-busting and all the other characteristics of the neoliberal economy. The capitalist class is riven with contradictions. It cannot provide well-playing jobs that put it at a disadvantage with its rivals. It might have been Trump’s major “accomplishment” to push through deregulation measures that have left Americans subject to toxic air, water and food. However, it was Ted Kennedy who was the architect of the deregulation of the airline industry that serves as model for all that followed.

Poor George Soros must have trouble sleeping overnight seeing the rise of fascist tendencies everywhere. After spending billions on building “open societies”, he sees them closing everywhere. Now, as the scapegoat of the alt-right, Soros is blamed for funding BLM and antifa. While he certainly has not funded antifa, there is evidence that he has given money to BLM. So have other deep-pocketed liberal foundations. Even though it is only apocryphal, it is still worth paraphrasing what Lenin said. “The foundations will give us the money we will use to buy the rope with which we will hang them.’

9 Comments »

  1. “It also makes you wonder what Soros would disparage this tendency since his guru Karl Popper was a Hayek acolyte, after all. ”

    Popper was certainly a close friend of Hayek, and he certainly owed Hayek his career at the LSE but Popper’s economic and political views did not coincide with Hayek’s. Popper was for most of his adult life a social democrat in his political outlook and unlike Hayek, he endorsed Keynesian economics and the welfare state. In his later years he did gravitate towards Thatcherism, probably helped by the fact that Thatcher often proclaimed her admiration for Popper, alongside Hayek and Milton Friedman.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — November 21, 2020 @ 8:41 pm

  2. Yeah, well. Popper was a founding member of the Mount Pelerin Society alongside Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. For a social democrat, that’s strange bedfellows.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 21, 2020 @ 9:38 pm

  3. I wonder how Soros views the effects of the declining rate of profit today–or the human cost of whatever desperate measures capitalism may invoke to slither around the next slump.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — November 21, 2020 @ 10:34 pm

  4. Timorously I advance to correct you on a point completely irrelevant to the substance of this as usual very informative article. The U.S. B-29 (“Superfortress,” 4 engine) heavy bomber aircraft was only used in the Pacific War, from 1943-1945, and then over Korea (1950-1953). The heavy bombers that pulverized the Nazis from the air were the B-17, B-24 (heavys), and B-25 (medium), mainly for the U.S.; and the Lancaster (heavy) for the British. As you well know, the Russians were the main force to crush the Nazis on the ground, with their massive high-casualty infantry, legions of tanks (the Battle of Kursk, on the heels of Stalingrad, when the Russians went on their unstoppable offensive), multi-tube rocket artillery, Yak-9 fighter planes (the best propeller-driven fighter of WWII), and crazed revenge-filled drive west.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 22, 2020 @ 12:18 am

  5. Manuel–BTW–Everyone it seems has a candidate for Best Fighter of WWII. Most of the time the toss seems to be between some version of Spitfire and the Focke-Wulf 190, with an occasional look in for the P-51 Mustang. (Me; no dog in hunt,) Out of very idle curiosity–what made you choose the Yak-9? (Apologies for digression.)

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — November 22, 2020 @ 1:17 am

  6. “Yeah, well. Popper was a founding member of the Mount Pelerin Society alongside Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. For a social democrat, that’s strange bedfellows.”

    I think that as you well know, after the Second World War and the onset of the cold war, lots of social democrats were firmly anticommunist. Here in the US, we even had some social democrats like Sidney Hook running around promoting the purging of leftists from university faculties. In the case of the the Mount Pelerin Society, it was Hayek who picked the original members. And concerning the relationship of Hayek with Popper, Hayek had always been willing to overlook Popper’s social democratic leanings because he valued Popper’s critiques of Marxism. That was why he had went out of his way to help Popper get his The Open Society and Its Enemies published in the first place as well as helping Popper to get a teaching post at the LSE.

    There were at least a few other social democrats among the original members of the Mount Pelerin Society. There was the French physicist and economist, Maurice Allais, who emphasized the affinities between liberalism and socialism. He was the one attendee at the inaugural meeting to refuse to sign the statement of aims because of a disagreement over the extent of property rights. Nevertheless, he seems to have remained active in the organization afterwards.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — November 22, 2020 @ 1:39 am

  7. Jim, you appear to be right on Popper. My only quibble is that his social democratic aspirations were pretty hollow given the company he was keeping at the Mount Pelerin Society. Looking a little further into his qualifications, he seems to have never written anything about economics.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 22, 2020 @ 12:50 pm

  8. If you look up interviews with Popper, you will find that he endorsed Keynesian economics. Concerning the genesis of his political views, back in his native Austria he had been associated with the Social Democratic Party there, more specifically with that party’s anti-Marxist Bernsteinian wing, rather than its then dominant Austro-Marxist wing. It was within the context of the party’s intramural debates over Marxism that Popper first formulated his own critiques of Marxism. And if you are familiar with Eduard Bernstein’s writings promoting revisionism it is apparent that in many cases Popper was regurgitating Bernstein’s arguments. Like Bernstein, Popper cited the “failure” of the middle class to disappear, the growing prosperity of the working class, the success of reforms under capitalism, etc. All that sounded much more convincing back in the 1950’s and 1960’s than it does today. Funny, how all of those “falsified” Marxist predictions are becoming well confirmed today.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — November 22, 2020 @ 2:18 pm

  9. Popper can certainly be accused of keeping bad company with his association with the Mount Pelerin Society. Alas, back then, many social democrats were keeping all sorts of bad company, especially with the onset of the cold war. I mentioned Hook already, but similar observations can be made of other social democrats like Irving Howe or Michael Harrington. On the other hand, the one thing that you cannot accuse of Popper of and that’s having been a Zionist. He was very much against Zionism.

    “Of all the countries benefiting from European civilization, only South Africa and Israel have racial laws that distinguish between rights of different groups of citizens. The Jews were against Hitler’s racism, but theirs goes one step further. They determine Jewishness by mother alone. I opposed Zionism initially because I was against any form of nationalism, but I never expected the Zionists to become racists. It makes me feel ashamed in my origin: I feel responsible for the deeds of Israeli nationalists.”

    Karl Popper, in an interview Malachi Haim Hacohen had with him on 26 January 1984. Of course, this can be found in the by now famous book by Malachi Haim Hacohen: “Karl Popper, The Formative Years, 1902-1945 – Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna”. In the same interview Popper said: “Those Jews who criticize me for my tolerance of remaining inequalities under the Habsburgs should show me how many Arab university professors, army officers, and cabinet members the Jewish state has today”.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — November 22, 2020 @ 2:37 pm


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