Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 15, 2018

London Times articles about Assadist university professors

Filed under: Academia,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:42 pm

(Since these articles are behind a paywall, I am posting them in full here since they would be of interest to my readers.)

London Times, April 14, 2018
Professors ‘shut down debate’ over Assad’s chemical attacks
by Georgie Keate

When Idrees Ahmad read the letter of complaint against him, he was baffled to see it written on University of Sheffield headed paper.

The authors were members of a recently formed organisation called the Syria, Propaganda and Media (SPM) group, whose stated aim was to “facilitate research with respect to the 2011-present war in Syria”.

They objected to Dr Ahmad, a lecturer in digital journalism at Stirling University, criticising an article written by Tim Hayward, an Edinburgh professor of political theory and one of their key members. Professor Hayward had argued on his blog that “independent investigators” such as Vanessa Beeley, a pro-Assad journalist in Syria, should be given a “fair hearing”.

Among Ms Beeley’s beliefs are that the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group in Syria, are terrorists and that President Assad has not carried out chemical attacks.

Some members of SPM have regularly promoted such views, an investigation has found, including Professor Hayward, who has used hashtags such as #syriahoax on Twitter to disseminate claims that Assad had not carried out a chemical attack that the White Helmets had filmed.

After reading Professor Hayward’s article, Dr Ahmad used Twitter to call it “illiterate Islamaphobic drivel”, describing him as “an eccentric best known for his disgraceful conspiracy theories aimed at exonerating Syria’s murderous regime”.

His comments provoked Piers Robinson, another key SPM member and a professor of politics, society and political journalism at Sheffield, to write to Sterling accusing Dr Ahmad of bringing the university into disrepute. Other signatories include Paul McKeigue, professor of genetic epidemiology and statistics genetics at Edinburgh, and Professor Hayward.

Last night Professor Hayward strongly denied claims that he was seeking to shut down academic debate, saying: “The last thing I would ever attempt to do is shut down public debate. I have never intimidated anyone.” He said he agreed to the letter after Dr Ahmad “started intimidating a group which included some younger academics”. Regarding his use of the hashtag, he said: “I understood a hashtag to indicate a topic rather than a creed.” Dr Ahmad and other academics accuse SPM, a British-based group, of spreading online disinformation promoting views shared by Assad and Russia while failing to use verifiable evidence to back up their arguments.

Much of their concern is based on SPM’s apparent reliance on blogs and activists, such as Ms Beeley, who purport to report the truth from the ground in Syria.

Data analysis carried out on behalf of the White Helmets shows that Ms Beeley’s claims that chemical attacks in Syria were staged have been repeated and promoted by Russian networks to spread disinformation about the group. Indeed, her tweets on the White Helmets make her one of the most influential online figures circulating content about the group, according to two data analyst outfits, Graphika and Hoaxy.

Graphika found that Twitter bots linked to Russia had promoted anti-White Helmet tweets to as many as 56 million people worldwide. Members of SPM, which include ten British academics at universities such as Edinburgh, Sheffield, Bath and SOAS University of London, have retweeted such content numerous times.

Dr Ahmad accuses activists such as Ms Beeley of having used footage of the group to twist their actions. One example was when footage of the White Helmets taking part in the “mannequin challenge” – an online trend in which people filmed themselves frozen in action – was said to be evidence that they “staged” attacks.

Yesterday, Professor Hayward retweeted a post from Ms Beeley which claimed that the “White Helmets and terrorist factions staged false flag events and ‘kidnapped, drugged’ children to use as props in events”.

Scott Lucas, a professor of international politics at Birmingham University who often opposes the views of SPM members online, said their contribution to Russian and pro-Assad propaganda was dangerous for debate. “Where this gets serious is that not only are this group pushing the [same line as the Russians] but they are also trying to intimidate academics,” he said.

“It’s fine to have your own opinion …

but evidence for their views is weakly sourced and often disinformation.” Professor Lucas said their approach was “so dangerous. If you devalue facts and the basics of an investigation, you create a morass of uncertainty. Clearly we can all disagree about the war in Syria, but to deny an event like a chemical attack even occurred, by claiming they were ‘staged’, is to fall into an Orwellian world.”

Dr Ahmad said the group was failing in its “intellectual and moral commitment” to stay well informed with credible material. “Their output does not include evidence that deals with material that has been processed legitimately, either from peer review or an article going through an editorial process.”

Professor Hayward, in response to criticisms that he was aiding a Russian campaign to put out propaganda, said: “I do not accept that I am spreading any ‘disinformation’. If you read my blogs you will see that they are largely about insisting on the importance of asking questions. However, if you do find anything at all I have written that you think is disinformation, please do alert me. I am always ready – and eager – to be corrected, if I ever misunderstand anything or make any mistake. The very last thing I would wish to do is spread disinformation so I really would be grateful if you could point to anything that appears to be doing so.”

Neither he nor Professor Robinson nor Professor McKeigue commented on the letter.

Professor Robinson said of Ms Beeley’s work: “She produces information that is worthy of consideration and certainly her work on the White Helmets, along with work produced by others, raises extremely important questions for academics to research, the public to know about, and is rightly worthy of consideration.” He said the charge of spreading misinformation was incorrect. “There is ample information in the public domain which does raise serious questions regarding the chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the White Helmets. This information is available and verifiable and provides reasonable grounds to raise such questions.” Additional reporting by Krystina Shveda and Sam Blanchard Leading article, page 25

Talking heads

Piers Robinson

Professor of politics, society and political journalism at Sheffield University. His biography states he “has been cited in publications such as The Responsibility to Protect, published by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS)”, and has lectured on the topic at the “Nato Defence College in Rome, at Oxford (UK senior military commanders) and by the Stop the War Coalition”. Research interests include focusing on “organised persuasive communication and contemporary propaganda”.

Tim Hayward

Professor of environmental political theory and director of the Just World Institute, a body set up to “foster interdisciplinary research into the global challenges facing the international order, with particular attention to issues of ethics and justice”. He has written four books on human rights, ecological values and political theory, published between 1995 and 2017.

Tara McCormack

Lecturer in international relations. She taught European and comparative politics and international relations at the universities of Westminster and Brunel before Leicester University. She has contributed to the BBC, LBC, Sky, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Spiked-online and others.

Adam Larson

According to a blog post, Mr Larson is an “independent investigator in Spokane, Washington”. “He studied history at Eastern Washington University,” the biography states. “He has since 2011, on a volunteer basis, studied events in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine following western-backed regime-change operations, often under the screen name Caustic Logic. Using open sources, with an emphasis on video analysis, Mr Larson and research associates have often deconstructed or disproved alleged ‘regime’ crimes from shooting protesters to sectarian massacres.”

Vanessa Beeley

The daughter of the British diplomat and historian Sir Harold Beeley is a self-styled “investigative journalist”. She described meeting Assad in October 2017 as part of a “US peace delegation” her “proudest moment”. Her Twitter page reads: “The pursuit of peace … can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”

Conspiracy theorists hold court on social media

Tweets posted by members of the Syria, Propaganda and Media group

Undermining the White Helmets

Tim Hayward: White Helmets’ mission: “To save one headscarf is to save all?” #SyriaHoax – April 11 2017

Tara McCormack:

It is also an established fact that a) the White Helmets are basically Al Q (they provide most of the reporting from Jihadi-held areas) and b) that hospitals are used as bases by these groups. – February 5 2018 Tara McCormack: Yep White Helmets, Free Syrian Police all paid for by US and UK (as BBC Panorama piece showed) and run by Jihadis. Good grief even the BBC is showing this.- December 20 2017

Sami Ramadani:

Like all imperialist wars on defiant nations, the war on #Syria has been based on lies and fabrications. The White Helmets are the soft face of genocidal terrorism. – January 7 2018 Louis Allday: After all the revelations, for Amnesty to still boost the White Helmets is obscene, if not a surprise. – October 6 2017 Assad is innocent Tim Hayward: All the talk of proof that Assad did it and none at all produced!

– June 30 2017 Piers Robinson: Deconstructing the war propaganda … Alleged Sarin Gas Attack by President Assad is Fake News.

– April 12 2017 Louis Allday: I believe Ghouta was a false-flag incident with planted sarin and gassed hostages. Saraqeb, same. Same sarin in KS and many other clues. – August 5 2017 The West is a lying aggressor Tim Hayward: Critical questions about CNN complicity in misleading “chemical weapons” reporting – from @VanessaBeeley on the ground with them in Ghouta.

– April 8 2018 Tim Hayward: #SyriaHoax is an episode in a long running strategy of serious bullshit. “Human Rights” groups promote unjust war. – April 7 2017 Adam Larson: #Douma alleged CW attack: Info and maybe the bodies, provided by an Islamist terrorist affiliate, proponent of holding and using “infidel” hostages. – April 13 2018 Adam Larson: The lack of subtlety in their staging reeks of desperation … And yet, who is it that’s desperate in the area these days? – April 8 2018 Sami Ramadani: One basic fact never gets reported by mainstream media on #Syria: The terrorist gangs are in possession of chlorine gas & other chemical weapons. They have threatened using them & posted films of using them on rabbits – April 9 2018 Sami Ramadani: Is the bloody conflict in #Syria civil-war among Syrians or is it a US-led proxy war to destroy Syria? – June 20 2016 Louis Allday: Amnesty have been openly war-mongering on Syria. – January 16 2018 Louis Allday: Disgusting, warmongering nonsense that perpetuates the myth of a virtuous and benevolent West. Typical Guardian. – April 10 2018 Vanessa Beeley has described her meeting with President Assad last October as her “proudest moment”


London Times, April 14, 2018
Apologists for Assad hold senior positions in British universities
by Georgie Keate ; Dominic Kennedy

Senior British academics are spreading pro-Assad disinformation and conspiracy theories promoted by Russia, The Times can reveal.

They are founders of a self-styled Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (SPM) and hold posts at universities including Edinburgh, Sheffield and Leicester.

Members of the group, which includes four professors, have been spreading the slur, repeated by the Russian ambassador to Britain yesterday, that the White Helmets civilian volunteer force has fabricated video evidence of attacks by President Assad, who is backed by the Kremlin.

SPM’s advisers include an American who has challenged the US version of 9/11 as a conspiracy theory and an Australian who suggested that the CIA was behind last weekend’s chemical attack in Syria.

The White Helmets have attracted Russia’s ire for documenting the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April last year, which killed 83 people, a third of them children. Last September a UN unit found that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Syrian forces dropped a bomb dispersing sarin” on Khan Sheikhoun.

Yesterday an SPM member, Tim Hayward, professor of environmental political theory at the University of Edinburgh, retweeted a claim about an attack on eastern Ghouta that the “White Helmets and terrorist factions staged false flag events and ‘kidnapped, drugged’ children to use as props”. He added: “Witness statements from civilians and officials in Ghouta raise very disturbing questions.”

Professor Hayward has published a blog article by his colleague Paul McKeigue, a professor of genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics, which claimed that there was almost “zero likelihood” that Assad carried out chemical attacks. He used “probability calculus” to assess the evidence.

Professor Hayward has used the hashtag #Syriahoax when discussing chemical attacks in the country. The hashtag went viral after being used by alt-right figures in the US, including Mike Cernovich, a main proponent of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which alleged that Hillary Clinton supporters were involved with a child-abuse ring. The hashtag was said to have been promoted by a Russian cyberoperation. The professor also linked to a video that appeared to show chemical attack victims that, it was suggested, was staged. A rescuer removed a headscarf from an apparent victim. Professor Hayward wrote: “White Helmets’ mission: ‘To save one headscarf is to save all’ #SyriaHoax”. After being contacted by The Times, he deleted the tweet.

The American academic Mark Crispin Miller, who was said to have called the US government’s account of the 9/11 attacks a “conspiracy theory”, is on the SPM’s advisory board. Another board member is David Blackall, an Australian academic who tweeted “CIA stages gas attack pretext for Syria escalation” with a link to a blog article. Professor Hayward has written for the alternative news website 21st Century Wire, whose associate editor is Vanessa Beeley, daughter of the late British diplomat Sir Harold Beeley. She claims that the White Helmets are al-Qaeda-affiliated and, as “terrorists”, are a “legit target” for Assad’s forces.

Another member of the group, Piers Robinson, professor of politics, society and political journalism at the University of Sheffield, posted a clip in which Ms Beeley repeated the argument that the group should be a target with the note “interesting interview”.

Another SPM academic, Tara McCormack, a lecturer in international relations at Leicester University, has tweeted that it is “an established fact that a) the White Helmets are basically Al [Qaeda]”. Dr McCormack has also argued that the death of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic while being prosecuted for war crimes in the Hague “brought an end to the farce” of his trial.

The first briefing note published by SPM, titled “Doubts about ‘Novichoks’ “, questioned whether Russia’s secret nerve agent programme ever existed. Britain has blamed Moscow for the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury last month.

Professor Robinson, a member of SPM, told The Times: “Everything I say and write I can defend as based on good faith research and due consideration of available evidence. Vanessa Beeley produces information that is worthy of consideration and certainly her work on the White Helmets, along with work produced by others, raises extremely important questions for academics to research [and] the public to know about.”

The University of Sheffield declined to comment, saying that it needed more time to consider the matters raised.

Professor Hayward said, regarding his use of #Syriahoax: “I understood a hashtag to indicate a topic rather than a creed. I do not accept that I am spreading any ‘disinformation’. ” The University of Edinburgh said: “We recognise and uphold the fundamental importance of freedom of expression, and seek to foster a culture that enables it to take place within a framework of mutual respect.”

Adam Larson, an independent researcher with SPM, last night denied that it would promote disinformation. Such content would be “strategically designed to mislead” and wrong, he said.

Leading article, page 25 Talking heads Piers Robinson Professor of politics, society and political journalism at Sheffield University. His biography states he “has been cited in publications such as The Responsibility to Protect, published by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS)”, and has lectured on the topic at the “Nato Defence College in Rome, at Oxford (UK senior military commanders) and by the Stop the War Coalition”. Research interests include focusing on “organised persuasive communication and contemporary propaganda”.

Tim Hayward Professor of environmental political theory and director of the Just World Institute, a body set up to “foster interdisciplinary research into the global challenges facing the international order, with particular attention to issues of ethics and justice”. He has written four books on human rights, ecological values and political theory, published between 1995 and 2017.

Tara McCormack Lecturer in international relations. She taught European and comparative politics and international relations at the universities of Westminster and Brunel before Leicester University. She has contributed to the BBC, LBC, Sky, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Spiked-online and others.

Adam Larson According to a blog post, Mr Larson is an “independent investigator in Spokane, Washington”. “He studied history at Eastern Washington University,” the biography states. “He has since 2011, on a volunteer basis, studied events in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine following western-backed regime-change operations, often under the screen name Caustic Logic. Using open sources, with an emphasis on video analysis, Mr Larson and research associates have often deconstructed or disproved alleged ‘regime’ crimes from shooting protesters to sectarian massacres.”

Vanessa Beeley The daughter of the British diplomat and historian Sir Harold Beeley is a self-styled “investigative journalist”. She described meeting Assad in October 2017 as part of a “US peace delegation” her “proudest moment”. Her Twitter page reads: “The pursuit of peace … can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”

Conspiracy theorists hold court on social media Tweets posted by members of the Syria, Propaganda and Media group Undermining the White Helmets Tim Hayward: White Helmets’ mission: “To save one headscarf is to save all?” #SyriaHoax – April 11 2017 Tara McCormack: It is also an established fact that a) the White Helmets are basically Al Q (they provide most of the reporting from Jihadi-held areas) and b) that hospitals are used as bases by these groups. – February 5 2018 Tara McCormack: Yep White Helmets, Free Syrian Police all paid for by US and UK (as BBC Panorama piece showed) and run by Jihadis. Good grief even the BBC is showing this.

– December 20 2017 Sami Ramadani: Like all imperialist wars on defiant nations, the war on #Syria has been based on lies and fabrications. The White Helmets are the soft face of genocidal terrorism. – January 7 2018 Louis Allday: After all the revelations, for Amnesty to still boost the White Helmets is obscene, if not a surprise. – October 6 2017 Assad is innocent Tim Hayward: All the talk of proof that Assad did it and none at all produced!

– June 30 2017 Piers Robinson: Deconstructing the war propaganda … Alleged Sarin Gas Attack by President Assad is Fake News.

– April 12 2017 Louis Allday: I believe Ghouta was a false-flag incident with planted sarin and gassed hostages. Saraqeb, same. Same sarin in KS and many other clues. – August 5 2017 The West is a lying aggressor Tim Hayward: Critical questions about CNN complicity in misleading “chemical weapons” reporting – from @VanessaBeeley on the ground with them in Ghouta.

– April 8 2018 Tim Hayward: #SyriaHoax is an episode in a long running strategy of serious bullshit. “Human Rights” groups promote unjust war. – April 7 2017 Adam Larson: #Douma alleged CW attack: Info and maybe the bodies, provided by an Islamist terrorist affiliate, proponent of holding and using “infidel” hostages. – April 13 2018 Adam Larson: The lack of subtlety in their staging reeks of desperation … And yet, who is it that’s desperate in the area these days? – April 8 2018 Sami Ramadani: One basic fact never gets reported by mainstream media on #Syria: The terrorist gangs are in possession of chlorine gas & other chemical weapons. They have threatened using them & posted films of using them on rabbits – April 9 2018 Sami Ramadani: Is the bloody conflict in #Syria civil-war among Syrians or is it a US-led proxy war to destroy Syria? – June 20 2016 Louis Allday: Amnesty have been openly war-mongering on Syria. – January 16 2018 Louis Allday: Disgusting, warmongering nonsense that perpetuates the myth of a virtuous and benevolent West. Typical Guardian. – April 10 2018

 

March 19, 2018

The political economy of a bridge collapse

Filed under: Academia,capitalist pig,corruption,disaster — louisproyect @ 8:11 pm

Like many urban-based universities, Miami’s Florida International University had a tendency to expand. With more than 50,000 enrolled undergraduate students—many of whom are Cuban-American—it is the fourth largest in the USA. In recent years, expansion took place geographically as well. After more than 4,000 students found housing on the other side of an 7-lane highway to the north of the main campus, the school decided to build a bridge across it. Since the highway was a major artery in Miami, the school decided to use Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) that avoided the detours that would have blocked the flow of the city’s commercial lifeblood. In ABC, the first step is to build the bridge on a remote construction site and then transport it to the destination where it will be installed in a day or two at most.

Here is the breathless come-on to investors about the benefits the bridge will bring:

Here is the celebratory inauguration of the installed bridge on March 10th:

And here is its collapse on March 15th that left 6 people in the cars beneath the 950 tons of concrete dead:

As it happens, FIU was not only enthusiastic about this particular application of Accelerated Bridge Construction but also about ABC in general, so much so that it created a department devoted to the technology (https://abc-utc.fiu.edu/) in 2010 missioned to “reduce the societal costs of bridge construction by reducing the duration of work zones, focusing special attention on preservation, service life, construction costs, education of the profession, and development of a next-generation workforce fully equipped with ABC knowledge.”

Two days before it collapsed, the lead engineer with the Figg Bridge Group, one of the two principal construction companies on the project left a voice mail indicating that he saw a crack in the bridge with an employee of the Florida Department of Transportation, who was out of the office  and did not hear the voice mail until after the bridge had collapsed. It is not clear that anything would have been done had he been in the office since the voice mail did not sound a particularly urgent note.

While the Florida Department of Transportation was out of the loop, FIU itself was not. At a meeting at 9am on March 15th between Figg employees, including the lead engineer, and school administrators, they were told that “that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge.” A couple of hours later the bridge would come crashing down.

This was not the first time Figg had supervised the construction of a collapsing bridge. In 2012, there was an accident that fortunately did not involve motorists or pedestrians beneath even though four workers suffered minor injuries. The company paid a miniscule fine and moved on.

Required by state law to undergo an independent review of the project, Figg selected the Louis Berger Group, an engineering firm that lacked pre-qualification credentials from the Florida Department of Transportation. A November 5th 2010 NY Times article by James Risen, however, suggested that this firm was especially pre-qualified to scam the people that hired it:

A New Jersey-based construction and engineering company has been hit with the largest fines ever imposed on a contractor working in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, after a whistle-blower revealed that the company had been overbilling the government.

The company, the Louis Berger Group, based in Morristown, N.J., will pay $18.7 million in criminal penalties and $50.6 million in civil penalties for overbilling the United States Agency for International Development for work in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. As part of the civil agreement, the company will pay $14.2 million of the civil penalty in the next 30 days and the balance over the next four years.

Figg’s partner on the project was Munilla Construction Management, a firm whose vice-president Pedro Munilla is a former attorney who was disbarred in 2001 for violating trust accounts, which conceivably might have meant conning his clients in the same way the Louis Berger Group conned tax-payers (not to say that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was not a con job to begin with.)

Pedro Munilla is a typical construction company wheeler-and-dealer. Last year he met with a a Chinese investor looking for U.S. acquisitions. Guess who was advising the investor: Paul Manafort. It’s a small world when corruption is involved. Munilla runs the firm with his four brothers who as might be expected were enthusiastic about Donald Trump.  Representing the brothers, Pedro Munilla had a meeting last June with Vice President Mike Pence to review the administration’s Cuba policies. The five brothers have ponied up more than $100,000 to the anti-Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, whose chief Mauricio Claver-Carone blogs at Huffington Post for what that’s worth.

The Munillas have also contributed heavily to Republican Party politicians both in Florida and in Congress. This kind of influence-peddling must have opened doors for a a lucrative $63.5 million contract from the Defense Department in 2016 to build a school on the U.S.-controlled Guantánamo Naval Base in eastern Cuba.

Locally, their payoffs to politicians has been worth it as well. In 2012 Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro voted to award a $25 million contract to Munilla for a test track for Metrorail cars while renting office space from the firm’s owners, county records show. Four of the brothers contributed the maximum campaign donation of $500 each to Barreiro, who was won his commission seat for a fifth time.

All of the brothers are FIU graduates so everything came together from a military-industrial-academic complex standpoint.

The Miami Herald, which has provided outstanding reporting on the bridge collapse, ran down the Munilla brothers’ record, which is as shoddy as Pedro Munilla’s legal career:

MCM construction sites, meanwhile, have been inspected eight times by the federal government since 2013 and fined on four occasions for violations worth more than $50,000. The company has also faced a slew of standard negligence and personal liability cases — typical in the industry. A contractual dispute with a subcontractor that walked off the job resulted in a $143,000 judgment against MCM; the subcontractor cited safety issues with the project, a $13.5 million bridge reconstructing project on Red Road.

Court documents from the lawsuit show that Southeastern Engineering Contractors left the job, citing structural problems and “arguable collapse” at the worksite because of the “failure of temporary sheet piles on the south bend of the site.” Attempts to reach attorneys representing both sides in that case were unsuccessful, as were efforts to reach principal Pedro Munilla by cellphone.

This entire incident manages to touch all bases of the rotting capitalist system in the USA, both economically and politically.

To start with, what kind of university establishes a department with a single focus on Accelerated Bridge Construction? Isn’t a university supposed to provide general engineering courses that prepare a student for a career? The department chair is Atorod Azizinamini, who was honored by the Obama White House as a Champion of Change in 2015. Given the need to construct new bridges across the USA using a time-saving technology, including the replacement of the Tappan Zee bridge recently, you can understand why the big bourgeoisie would be thrilled by his innovation even if it just killed six people “accidentally”. After all, that’s the price of progress. Btw, remind me to not use the NY State Thruway the next time I go up to the Catskills since it crosses the Tappan Zee.

It also illustrates how influence-peddling can undermine the economic fabric of capitalist society itself even if benefits a particular corporation. Hasn’t this been the Achilles Heel of capitalism all along? Despite the libertarian, free market precepts shared by Republicans and Democrats alike (except for an outlier like Bernie Sanders), everybody knows that politicians are bought and sold. In a review of the Democrats who voted for a relaxation of the Dodd-Frank rules, it turned out that According to the Financial Times, the 12 Democrats behind the Crapo bill (aptly named after Mike Crapo, the Republican Senator who introduced it) receive a substantial percentage of their campaign donations from banks with just under $50 billion in assets—those, in other words, who will benefit from this deregulation.

Finally, it demonstrates that profits come before people. When shady construction companies collaborate with a university that serves as a vocational school for the technology they are utilizing and ignore obvious signs that peoples’ lives are endangered, that’s about as clear a sign as you will get about the decadence of this crumbling system.

Update from a Florida comrade:

From a union worker, explaining how “right to work” results in incompetent workmanship; in the recent tragic case in Florida, it got people killed:

For 30 plus years. I worked as a Concrete Form Carpenter. The media keeps saying they were doing a stress test when the bridge went down . The bridge deck was a cable stay deck instead of using Rebar, they used cables. So after the concrete is poured the cables are pulled tight. So these Idiots waited till the concrete was rock hard. When they pulled the cables they busted through the bottom deck. So down she goes.

The cables should been tightened before the rock turned hard but when the concrete was wet right after it was poured. I have worked in Florida, the companies hire anyone to work construction . The super down to the laborer. Unskilled people doing skilled labor. This is a right to work state.

Union Busting. Florida is a right to work state. No training. Crane Operators are not required have proof of any experience. It is a mess here. That is why I moved back to NY.

I have done bridge decks in the past. In Connecticut and New York state. I have never heard of a stress test. The media should inform them selves before issuing statements like that. They fucked up the cables should have been tightened before the concrete set up. When it is wet, a subcontractor should have been on site right after the pour and pulled the cables.

Before every concrete pour, the concrete is tested for water content and temp is taken. And core samples are taken to a lab. Were they are put in a press to test for strength. These idiots should have known better but here in Florida it is a right to work state. No Unions so the work force is unskilled. The contractors will hire anyone with a pulse.

I was trained by The United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Florida is a right to work state. No Unions, zero trained workforce. Idiots running these job sites all to save a dollar.

March 5, 2018

Millionaire leftist Bard professors removed from Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet

Filed under: Academia,bard college,economics,Greece — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Dimitris Papadimitriou

Rania Antonopoulos

Husband and wife Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos are big-time post-Keynesian economists at Bard College who just resigned from Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet. It seems that Antonopoulos was receiving a 1000 euro per month housing subsidy for her rental apartment in the swanky Kolonaki neighborhood in Athens even though the couple were multimillionaires. Apparently this did not sit well with ordinary working people suffering through a terrible austerity.

The right-wing press in Greece dug up the dirt on the couple and used it to scandalize Syriza since it is perceived as not serving the bourgeoisie adequately. Think of Fox News going after Obama and you’ll get what has been taking place. Neos Kosmos, a newspaper based in Melbourne, Australian with no discernible ties to the right-wing as far as I can tell, supplied the economic data on the two economists:

According to their tax records, the couple declare an annual income of more than half a million dollars, while their assets and property portfolios are valued in the millions. The Greek media report that the couple owns a luxury villa of 300 sq.m. plus 180 sq.m. supplementary space, 80 sq.m. swimming pool on the island of Syros; a 110-square-meter apartment in New York; a 31.6 sqm apartment in Glyfada, Athens; assets in stocks and bank deposits worth of more than 3,000,000 euros.

The last time I saw such opulence married to “socialist” pretensions was back in 2007 when Jared Kushner’s newspaper—the NY Observer—reported that Trotskyist chieftain Jack Barnes had just sold his West Village condo for a cool $1.87 million.

Interestingly enough, despite her wealth, Antonopoulos went out of her way to file for the housing subsidy as she indicated in a statement to the press:

According to Law 4366/2015 which entitles non-parliamentary members of the government to receive a residence subsidy, since they do not own a home in Athens, I have requested and received a significant amount as a rent subsidy. This provision of the legislator has been enjoyed since 1994 by all non-Athens deputies without any other income conditions.

Many months after its institutionalization I was informed that as a non-parliamentary member of the government I am entitled to a subsidy, and indeed by my colleagues. So I filed an application and since then I have received a total of 23,000 euros for two years.

What a little piggy. She and her husband have a joint income of $520,000 per year and still she applies for a housing subsidy as if she were a single mom working at Walmarts with 3 kids to support. Even after she got caught with her grubby fingers in the till, she  refused at first to resign as the Greek Reporter indicated on February 26th.

Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos came to Greece with ambitious plans to rescue the country from the hole that German bankers had dug. He ran the Jerome Levy Institute at Bard, a think-tank devoted to post-Keynesian wisdom, and was a Hyman Minsky scholar. Minsky is a big favorite with “progressive” economists, especially after the 2007 mortgage-backed securities meltdown. He writes all about the instability that plagues the capitalist system through chronic boom and bust cycles.

For Minskyian theory to work, it has to focus almost exclusively on the financial sector, which of course economists like Paul Krugman tended to do. Ooh, those dirty, rotten banks. However, it misses out on the real problem facing American capitalism, namely the declining rate of profit that is a function of the system’s need to replace people with machinery—and hence reduce the amount of surplus value that can be wrung from their muscles. Anwar Shaikh, who happened to have been on the staff of Jerome Levy Institute at one point, just came out with a massive study of this process. Papadimitriou’s dissertation at the New School was about the measurement of the rate of surplus value in Greece. I guess studying it helped him to extract it later on in life.

Needless to say, bourgeois economists, like the inner cadre at Jerome Levy Institute, step gingerly around the question of capitalism itself since they are far too wedded to the system on a material basis and understand as well that Keynesianism still has plenty of purchase in elite circles. Who wants to hear from an annoying Marxist, especially when his or her ideas clash with owning mansions, yachts, and million-dollar paintings. In other words, like all of the people serving on the Bard College Board of Trustees.

Bard College and its president-for-life Leon Botstein embody a culture in which people like Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos can flourish. Back in 1995, I came into contact with a union organizer from Local 100 of the Restaurant Workers Union named Brook Bitterman who was trying to apply pressure on Jerome Levy to come to terms with the workers Bitterman represented at Smith and Wollensky, one of Levy’s businesses. I gave Bitterman a copy of the Bard College alumni directory that he used for a direct mail campaign to get the mostly pinko graduates to demand justice for the workers as enunciated in a letter the union sent to Dimitris Papadimitriou:

Dear Dr. Papadimitriou

We are writing to express our concern about what we perceive to be a striking contradiction between the goals and work of the Jerome Levy Institute of Economics and the private business affairs of its founder and chief supporter, Leon Levy, who also serves as a Trustee of Bard College.

Over the past several years, the Jerome Levy Institute – Bard College’s first post-graduate institution – has become a respected outlet for academics and policy analysts concerned with growing income inequality and crisis-prone financial markets. As a union of low wage, mostly immigrant and minority restaurant workers, Local 100 is very familiar with the growing inequality in the American labor market. Many of our members and their families have also seen firsthand how financial market developments, such as the leveraged buyout frenzy of the 1980s, can have a profoundly negative impact on the quality of their lives.

Continue reading

Not long after this campaign began, I received a letter from the president of the Board of Governors of the Bard Alumni Association taking great umbrage at Local 100’s campaign. It stated: “Many of our trustees, overseers, advisory board members, donors, alumni/ae, faculty, administrators, parents of students and students, have business relationships — some of which may be deemed by you or others as ‘controversial’ — unrelated to their relationship with the College. It would hardly be appropriate for us to inject ourselves into those relationships. Such is the case with the alleged relationship between Leon Levy and Smith & Wollensky.”

Yeah, who the hell would want a Bard College alumnus like me poking around in the private affairs of Leon Levy or Rania Antonopoulos? Maybe that’s the reason I’ve been removed from the Bard College alumni database and no longer receive communications from the school, either in the mail or electronically.

January 20, 2018

“The Rise of the Leninist Right”? A commentary on a Berkeley professor’s nonsense

Filed under: Academia,conservatism — louisproyect @ 6:07 pm

Cihan Tuğal

Global Dialog is the magazine of the International Sociological Association, a professional society founded by UNESCO in 1949 that appears to be a safe space for Marxists, given that Immanuel Wallerstein and Michael Burawoy have served as presidents. Burawoy is currently the editor of Global Dialog that appears for all practical purposes to be a Marxist journal, with the latest issue devoted in part to an examination of Trumpism.

One of the articles was titled “The Rise of the Leninist Right”, a rather odd formulation. It was written by Cihan Tuğal, a Berkeley professor who has written some useful articles on Turkey in the NLR. This article, however, was not that useful. It was downright ridiculous.

Tuğal argues that “American right-wing populism is Leninism under democratic conditions.” Proof of that supposedly lies in Steve Bannon saying “I’m a Leninist. Lenin […] wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” The source of this quote is an article by the rightwing asshole Ronald Radosh who claims that Bannon told him this at a cocktail party they were at in 2013. Three years later, Radosh emailed Bannon to confirm that this was what he said and the lout told him that he could not recall it.

In some ways, this is all besides the point because it fails to use the term “Leninist” scientifically. Leninism is not being against the “establishment”. It is a tendency associated with the Bolshevik Party in Czarist Russia committed to socialist revolution. Steve Bannon has about as much to do with Leninism as Adolf Hitler had to do with socialism, no matter what he called his party. You’d think that someone belonging to a high-falutin’ academic association would know better. Maybe not.

Additionally, this rise of a “Leninist” right can be explained by the failure of the left to craft a “populist” message to Trump voters (presumably):

The left can no longer convincingly speak in a populist tone. It doesn’t know how. In any case, most of its ideologues don’t want to. In order to understand the meagerness of populist overtones within the American left, we need to look at the pre-history of our era’s anti-populism.

I trace this devolution, paradoxically, to what seemed on paper to be the most democratic revolt of the 20th century: 1968 (as it was experienced in the West). Alongside its anti-capitalism, 1968 was a revolt against the statist and bureaucratic excesses of Stalinism, social democracy, and the New Deal. Although justified in many regards, the anti-bureaucratic mood of that moment ultimately led many to draw wrong lessons from the downfall of statism and the victory of (neo)liberalism. 1968 was a necessary mistake. The right recovered from it. The left did not.

The two major inheritors of 1968 in the West – the liberal-left and autonomist/anarchist movements – developed an incurable suspicion not only of organization, ideology, and leadership, but also of speaking in the name of majorities, “the people.” All such talk (and politics) came to be branded “totalizing” and totalitarian (by the far left) or “irresponsible” and useless (by the liberal left). Except in Southern Europe (where left populism returned to the scene, but without class, ideological, and organizational anchors) and Latin America, the right occupied the emergent gap.

Defeated on paper, the libertarian spirit of 1968 fueled neoliberalism’s anti-statism. But the more poisonous result was the subsequent split of leftists, between post-modernist nihilism and left-liberalism.

In 1997, Tuğal graduated from Bosphorus University in Istanbul, just 3 years after my wife did. This means that he was probably born 8 years after the events that took place in 1968. I try to put myself in his shoes. Would I have written so self-assuredly about events in 1937, 8 years before I was born? Certainly not. I have trouble enough making sense out of what took place in 1968 and I was deeply immersed in it.

To get to the point, the good sociology professor does not have a clue about what why the right emerged in the post-1960s period. To start with, the autonomist/anarchist left was not a “major inheritor” of 1968. Instead, it was the “Leninist” left that drew all the wrong lessons from the nature of the period and how to reach the people. Yes, the left made mistakes but it nothing to do with “anti-statism”. Instead, the thousands of revolutionaries who formed “vanguard parties” in the 70s and 80s operated in a self-imposed subculture in which the iconography of the Russian or Chinese revolutions was fetishized. The hammer and sickle adorned the newspapers of the period and a language was developed that smacked of an in-group mentality characteristic of sects at best and cults at the most extreme. Been there, done that.

I have tried to explain in dozens of articles about how the groups that emerged out of Trotskyism became an obstacle to the growth of the left. It artificially imposed a glass ceiling on our influence. Max Elbaum had a similar analysis about the Maoist left in “Revolution in the Air”. If the 25,000 or so self-described revolutionary socialists in 1975 or so had come together in a non-sectarian framework and adopted a program similar to the one that Lenin advocated for the Russian left, we’d perhaps have an organization of 100,000 today. To give you an idea of what the Bolsheviks advocated, just consider the draft program that Lenin proposed to his comrades:

1) an eight-hour working day; 2) prohibition of night-work and prohibition of the employment of children under 14 years of age; 3) uninterrupted rest periods, for every worker, of no less than 36 hours a week; 4) extension of factory legislation and the Factory Inspectorate to all branches of industry and agriculture, to government factories, to artisan establishments, and to handicraftsmen working at home; election, by the workers, of assistant inspectors having the same rights as the inspectors; 5) establishment of factory and rural courts for all branches of industry and agriculture, with judges elected from the employers and the workers in equal numbers; etc.

For us, a program might have taken up questions of socialized medicine, free higher education, a minimum wage of $15, an overhaul of the electoral system that made it easier for a radical party to get on the ballot and that put an end to big money control of the elections, etc. None of this is particularly “radical” and even sounds like the kind of issues that Bernie Sanders stands for. However, unless they are raised by a working-class party, they will never take on the sharp edge that is as necessary to move forward politically as a machete is for clearing a path through the jungle. For radicals, the key to social change is in the streets, not in the voting booth. A nation-wide party with a voice to express such demands could have put the ruling class on the defensive. Our failure to build such a party can be explained by the ideological hegemony of “Leninism” 50  years ago. We have no excuse today.

Besides his failure to understand the extreme left’s problems in the post-60s period, Tuğal raises a bunch of the by-now familiar complaints about “identity politics” that are associated with left-liberalism, the other culprit that supposedly helped the ultra-right’s rapid growth. He writes:

Over three decades, inclusion increased in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation — but the table itself shrank. So yes, Black and Latino men and women, even Muslims, got prominent positions at institutions they could previously hardly dream of; but the Black and Latino prison population in the US increased, as did the number of Muslims bombed, embargoed and starved by the United States.

Left-liberalism spoke to (more ordinary) minorities through targeted welfare programs; but since Democratic leaders shied away from taking from the big sharks, it could only do this by further victimizing the whites pushed away from a shrinking table. Downgraded whites came to be perceived as a bunch of racists, “a basket of deplorables”; people we can no longer talk to (a reality produced by the project itself).

This might sound familiar if you’ve read Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed. It is a well-trodden analysis that turns affirmative action into some kind of con game to placate Blacks, Latinos, and women so that they don’t go after the “big sharks”. Michaels and Reed have been banging away at this for decades but during the 2016 elections and continuing through Trump’s inauguration, it became omnipresent as figures such as Mark Lilla and Mark Penn scolded fellow Democrats for adapting to Black Lives Matter, etc.

As for left-liberalism speaking to minorities through “targeted welfare programs”, I would say that the only thing that has been targeted is the minorities themselves. Let’s never forget that it was Bill Clinton who eviscerated the welfare system, not Nixon or Reagan.

As for being able to speak to Trump voters, it would be a big mistake to think that most of them could be won over to the “populist” message that Tuğal endorses. The evidence continues to mount that his hard-core followers were not factory workers but those excited by the idea of sticking it to Muslims, gays, Blacks, Latinos, immigrants and above all those factory workers who supposedly flocked to Trump. My friend Tony McKenna presented convincing evidence that these truly deplorable people tended to be shopkeepers, upper-level managers, self-employed professionals—the classic petty-bourgeois elements that have been a base for the ultra-right for the past 100 years or so. He wrote:

A similar statistic came out of a March 2016 NBC survey which showed that “only a third of Trump supporters had household incomes at or below the national median of about $50,000. Another third made $50,000 to $100,000, and another third made $100,000 or more, and that was true even when we limited the analysis to only non-Hispanic whites.” If one assumes that working class jobs tend to fall at the lower end of the economic spectrum, then one has to conclude that the vast majority of Trump supporters in the run-up to the 2016 election were simply not of the working class.

You’d think that a sociologist at a prestigious university like Berkeley would have a better grasp of the data, wouldn’t you?

The final section of Tuğal’s article, titled The American Right’s “21st-century Leninism”, is filled with confusion. He writes:

Starting with Andrew Breitbart himself, the founder of the “alt-right” media outlet, the right read the Frankfurt School; it made healthcare a big deal; and with the rise of Trump and Bannon, it promises jobs and infrastructure.

So Andrew Breitbart reading the Frankfurt School is meant to prove that the “Leninist” right was stealing the left’s thunder? Doesn’t Tuğal understand that Breitbart’s obsession with the Frankfurt School (or what he also called Cultural Marxism) was identical to that of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 young leftists in 2011? Breitbart.com is only interested in the Frankfurt School in the same way I am interested in what someone like Michel Chossudovsky or what LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review have to say. I am monitoring them. To get an idea of what Breitbart thinks of the Frankfurt School, get a load of this:

The [Frankfurt] Institute built up a cadre of cultural Marxists, including Max Horkheimer, Erick Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 the Frankfurt School migrated to the United States. There its members set about poisoning American culture, based in Columbia University. Theodor Adorno promoted degenerate atonal music to induce mental illness, including necrophilia, on a large scale. He and Horkheimer also penetrated Hollywood, recognising the film industry’s power to influence mass culture. The American schools system was a prime target for successful subversion.

I love that business about Adorno promoting atonal music to promote mental illness. What a bunch of howling jackals at the magazine our president reads.

Also, what does Tuğal mean when he says that Breitbart made healthcare “a big deal”. To me, a big deal means you are promoting it, not trying to eviscerate it. How could he could have written such nonsense?

Maybe before Tuğal goes off half-cocked in the future, he should try to understand Lenin in context. That would be much better than writing in such superficial fashion about “Leninism”. I understand that crawling to the top of the academic mountaintop takes a great deal of perseverance and talent but once you reach the pinnacle, it is best to avoid resting on your laurels—especially when it comes to pontificating about a subject that he is clearly in over his head about. You might come tumbling down the mountain.

April 1, 2017

George Soros and the Central European University

Filed under: Academia,Hungary — louisproyect @ 9:30 pm

On March 29th, the NY Times reported that the Central European University in Hungary will be shut down because of a new law passed by the ultraright government headed by Viktor Orban that requires CEU to operate a campus in the USA, something that is beyond its means according to the school’s president Michael Ignatieff. The CEU was founded in 1991 by financier George Soros who was born and raised in Hungary. He had a master plan to build up a network of schools globally that reflected his “Open Society” philosophy—a liberal anti-Communist worldview inspired by Karl Popper. Soros served as the chairman of the CEU board until 2007, when Bard College President Leon Botstein took his place. Bard College was part of Soros’s acquisitions. When the school was on the ropes financially in the late 70s, Botstein—who is a fundraiser par excellence—talked Soros into becoming a major funder and a partner in his own ambitions to make Bard the hub of a worldwide Open Society network.

You can get a feel for CEU’s orientation from the appointment of Michael Ignatieff to President in May, 2016. Ignatieff was one of the most prominent defenders of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq who recanted his support in 2007 that some found lacking in conviction. He remains one of the key backers of “humanitarian interventions” and issued a statement in 2013 supporting such a move in Syria. My own position is that the USA does not have the right to meddle in other country’s internal affairs as a matter of principle. In fact, by stationing the CIA on the borders of Syria to prevent MANPADs from reaching the rebels, it helped to keep Assad in power. If the USA had not intervened in such a criminal manner, the war would have probably ended in 2013.

Hungary is ruled by Viktor Orban of the Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Alliance) party that is first cousin to the Trump wing of the Republican Party, UKIP in England, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom and other anti-EU, nativist and Islamophobic outfits closely aligned to the Kremlin. Like Putin, Orban uses nationalistic rhetoric to bolster his case that NGO’s, universities and other institutions funded by the West are inimical to the “national interest”.

The irony is that Fidesz got started with Soros funding, just like the CEU. The story of Soros cultivating the support of Hungary’s elite, many of whom were in the Communist Party, is instructive. You can get an idea of how Soros viewed Hungary as his wholly owned subsidiary from a New Republic article written by Michael Lewis on January 10, 1994. Lewis is a well-known and highly respected financial reporter with little interest in exposing the super-rich. A Matt Taibbi he is not. That Soros comes across as such a scumbag should tell you how appalled Lewis was by his “masters of the universe” posture:

In 1984 Soros opened his first office, in Budapest, and began all manner of subversive activities for which he is temperamentally very well-equipped. “I started by trying to create small cracks in the monolithic structure which goes under the name of communism, in the belief that in a rigid structure even a small crack can have a devastating effect,” he wrote in Opening the Soviet System. “As the cracks grew so did my efforts until they came to take up most of my time and energy.” Says Liz Lorant, who worked with Soros from the start: “It was the excitement of what we got away with [that is irreplaceable]. We got away with murder. [For example] at that time Xerox machines were under lock and key. That was the way it was. In Romania you had to register a typewriter with the police. Well, we just flooded the whole damn country with Xerox machines so that the rules became meaningless.” In short, by the time the dust settled over the Berlin Wall—boom! bust!—Soros had accumulated a highly charged portfolio of gratitude. The Great White Gods of Eastern Europe—Havel, Michnik, Kis, Haraszti—were all in his debt. So were all sorts of lesser—known, highly motivated people wending their way to high political office.

The Hungarians probably had no idea what they were getting into when they gave Soros a spare set of keys. 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.

Soros is past master of demagogy. Like Donald Trump, he knows how to speak out of both sides of his mouth. He makes donations to environmental groups at the same time he invests in some of the filthiest extractive industries in the world. For example, the Guardian reported on August 19, 2015 that Soros is pumping money into coal companies such as Peabody and Arch Coal, which he bought at bargain basement prices. Maybe he knew something about Trump’s chances than other investors. He is also into fracking as the Huffington Post reported on November 3, 2014, making a huge bet on Argentina’s YPF SA, the state-owned oil company that has begun operations in the Neuquen basin, the second-largest shale gas deposit in Argentina and the fourth-largest in the world.

And all the while he is plundering Hungarian banks and despoiling Argentina’s waters, he uses every opportunity to sound like someone giving a plenary at the Left Forum in NY. In 2009, he writes an op-ed piece for the Financial Times titled “Capitalism Versus the Open Society”. He has the gumption to brag about one of his NGO’s getting “oil companies and mining companies to disclose the payments they make to various governments.” You can bet that Soros paid off somebody in Argentina to get first dibs on the Neuquen basin.

He writes:

Communism failed because of the agency problem. Karl Marx’s proposition—from everybody according to their ability and to everybody according to their needs—was a very attractive idea, but the communist rulers put their own interests ahead of the interests of the people.

The Open Society, which apparently operates on some ethereal plane above the marketplace, is under assault because the capitalist class has also put its own interests ahead of those of philosopher-kings like him. Of course, Soros cannot conceive of a solution that entails collective ownership of the means of production. That would rob citizens of their freedom to enjoy the bounties of their hard work and to pass them on to their children. In Soros’s case, that is his 30-year old son who is writing a dissertation on “Jewish Dionysus: Heine, Nietzsche and the Politics of Literature” at Berkeley. With such a heavy workload, no wonder he needs to unwind at the 20,000-square foot Water Mill estate that he bought with the 24 billion dollars fortune he has inherited from dad. Page Six, the NY Post gossip column, filled in its readers on all the fun they were missing:

It’s an August weekend at “Camp Soros,” a $72 million Water Mill estate, and the rosé is flowing. Models, NBA players and club kids kick it by a pool overflowing with rubber duckie floats. There’s a personal chef presiding over lobster bakes and a 20,000-square-foot mansion for games of drunken hide-and-seek (a favorite of fashion designer and sometime guest Timo Weiland).

The host with the most? Billionaire heir Alex Soros.

Alex Soros with supermodel date

Sometimes when I walk around NY’s Upper East Side and see the townhouses a few blocks from my apartment building that go for $10 million and up, I am reminded of class differences in the USA. No matter how liberal the people who live in them, the notion that their privileges would have to be surrendered for the good of society would strike them as a fate worse than death. And among them, those who are fervent Trump voters would likely be the first to blow up the world rather than live for one day under genuine socialism.

The irony is that despite his wretched Open Society pretensions, Soros did some good in founding the Central European University. One of its students is a Roma FB friend named Dan Cirjan who had this to say:

So my university, CEU, is in danger of closing its doors …

As a distant outcome of the US elections, the Hungarian government finally had the courage to do its job as an dubious authoritarian post-neoliberal concoction: there’s a law proposal which would render CEU’s activity illegal.

Now, tbh, there are a lot of things about CEU which I don’t like. And yet, amongst the few university environments I’ve been through, I never felt so much at home as in Budapest. This is the place where I first had some inklings of political consciousness and social understanding, something much more than distant liberal empathy; where I really felt bad that I hadn’t learned any non-Western language; where I read Rosa Luxemburg but also Albert Hirschman, A. Chandler. This is the place where I actually had the feeling of intellectual comradeship, as tough and demanding as it was kind; the place where I found out about the Polish socialist traditions, about radical feminism, about the Finnish Reds, about the Bulgarian Agrarian Revolution, about the Kiev Arsenal, about Attila József, Auktyon; the place where I found out that the intellectual world is not confined to London, Paris, NY, as in a strange academic replica of the fashion circuit, but it includes Belgrade, Istanbul, Algiers, Kharkiv …

Is it possible to oppose what George Soros stands for and simultaneously defend CEU’s right to exist in an increasingly repressive and barbaric Hungary? I would hope so. My advice is to go to the CEU support page and show your solidarity: https://www.ceu.edu/istandwithCEU/support-statements

 

February 7, 2017

Vanity of the bonfires

Filed under: Academia,anarchism,black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Encounters with David Graeber, George Ciccariello-Maher, and Shon Meckfessel on social media reminded me that the black bloc does have its fans in the academy. As might be expected, the three professors are anarchists. Over the past five years I have developed a deep respect for anarchism’s refusal to line up with the “anti-imperialist” pro-Assad mindset of so many Marxists and especially for the late Omar Aziz, who Leila al-Shami, the co-author of “Burning Country”, commemorated on Tahrir-ICN:

Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

Al-Shami followed these words that ones that relate more directly to the problems I have with the infantile ultraleftism that has cropped up since January 20th and expressed particularly by the viral Youtube clip of Richard Spencer getting punched and the misadventure in front of the Berkeley Student Union.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press …[Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the “hijacking” of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony.”

In a 2002 NLR article, Graeber made the case for what he called “The New Anarchists”:

The effort to destroy existing paradigms is usually quite self-conscious. Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with signs were either Gandhian non-violent civil disobedience or outright insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets, Black Blocs or Tute Bianche have all, in their own ways, been trying to map out a completely new territory in between.

Odd that within Graeber’s definition of the arsenal of tactics that can be used against the state, mass action of the sort that was mobilized to end the war in Vietnam gets reduced to “marching along with signs”. Menu alternatives are limited to three choices: civil disobedience, outright insurrection or anarchist affinity groups. It is the third that Graeber opts for, a “completely new territory” that is actually not very  new since it became pretty old when I was an activist in the late 60s.

David Graeber

On his death at the age of 90 in early January, John Berger’s 1968 article “The Nature of Mass Demonstrations” was circulated by Marxists. Written during the period when millions were “marching along with signs” everywhere against the war, Berger made some essential points about their value:

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

In 1968, SDS leaders grew frustrated by the seeming inability of mass actions to end the war in Vietnam so they chose another course of action, one in which the protests were much smaller but far more violent. This culminated in the infamous “Days of Rage” in October 1969 that an anarchist author connects directly to the black bloc tactic:

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

For Graeber, groups like the black bloc (yes, I know, it is only supposed to be a tactic but it is a loosely organized group that carries it out on a consistent basis) are a form of horizontalist direct democracy that are based on consensus rather than majority vote. Yeah, who needs a cumbersome and verticalist procedure such as voting that would only get in the way of a determined horizontalist bunch of people wearing bandannas over their faces intent on raising cain. If a black bloc spokesperson with a bullhorn had asked the 1500 or so Berkeley students in front of the Student Union protesting Milo Yiannopoulos to raise their hands if they favored busting windows and shooting skyrockets into the lobby of the building, they might have had the gumption to reject such tactics. We can’t abide such laggards getting in the way of bold actions, can we?

Essentially, the black bloc is as elitist and verticalist in its own way as the self-declared vanguard groups of the Leninist left that aspire to control mass organizations. Groups like the American SWP that I belonged to for 11 years used to caucus before a meeting to make sure that the membership followed a predetermined line before a critical vote even if in the course of discussion they decided that the SWP was wrong. Meanwhile, the black bloc does not bother with votes at all. This is a Hobson’s Choice, if there ever was one.

I had never paid much attention to George Ciccariello-Maher prior to his being the target of the alt-right over his “White genocide” tweet. All I knew about him was that he wrote about Venezuela and was something of an ultraleft based on his social media posts that were rather intellectually vacuous and often fixated on violent confrontations of one sort or another. Since academics tend to use social media as a form of “slumming”, I never paid much attention to them.

But after he began posting about the Berkeley adventure in a way that suggested his approval of the black bloc, I concluded that these were his politics. After unfriending him (and a bunch of other pro-black bloc types) with a post alluding to his support for the hijacking of the Berkeley protest, he lashed back at me as I expected. If anything, Ciccariello-Maher is nearly as hotheaded as me. What I didn’t get was his claim that it was only his FB friends that supported the black bloc and that my problem was with them.

That does not square with the arguments he made in 2011 against Chris Hedges, who had blasted the black bloc’s role in the Occupy movement and likened it to a cancerous tumor. Joining with Graeber, who had debated Hedges in an article titled “The Violent Peace-Police”, George wrote his own article making essentially the same arguments. Titled “Counterinsurgency and the Occupy Movement”, it goes the extra mile against Hedges:

Many, notably anarchist theorist David Graeber, have rightly attacked not only the misrepresentations in Hedges’ argument, but crucially its implications: by singling out and denouncing a sector of the movement, by dividing ‘good’ protesters from ‘bad,’ this purportedly nonviolent writer was in fact encouraging police violence himself (after all, surgical removal of a tumor is nothing if not violent). Less noted, however, is the degree to which Hedges’ discourse literally does the work of the police by contributing to actual policing strategies as they have developed in recent decades. By grasping the development of these strategies, we will be in a better position to avoid the pitfalls of the hysterical liberalism espoused by Hedges and others, and by understanding our enemies, we will be better prepared to confront them.

Unlike Graeber, Ciccariello-Maher is less concerned about whether black bloc tactics work or not. The brunt of his article is designed to conflate peaceful protesters and the black-clad vanguard. If you denounce them as a cancer, you are siding with the cops: “Much has been said about the violence-versus-nonviolence debate within and prior to Occupy, and it is true that we need to defend the violent as well as the nonviolent and accept not only a diversity of tactics but also a diversity of strategies for building the new world.” This diversity of tactics argument of course is associated with the NGO’s that tolerated the black bloc at each and every protest against the WTO. Like Graeber and Ciccariello-Maher, their emphasis was less on building a mass working-class based movement and more on making a “statement”.

George Ciccariello-Maher

That being said, the professor does appear to have a fetish for violence. In a Salon article titled “Riots Work”, he is ready to condemn mass protests against racial oppression that do not produce results according to some timetable. Like the Weathermen judging the antiwar movement as a milquetoast affair, Ciccariello-Maher seeks something much more dramatic:

Some insist that riots only provide a ready-made image to the media that emphasizes the “negative” over the “positive” (meaning the “violent” over the “peaceful”). But this view has little to say about whether so-called “peaceful” protests are effective in bringing attention to police murder, offering instead a moral imperative: the media should cover peaceful marches, the system should respond. But they don’t, and it doesn’t, and if so-called peaceful tactics don’t bring change, then they lose their status as a “positive” alternative, and even become complicit in continued systemic violence.

Well, I don’t know. It was peaceful protests, those people “marching along with signs”, in New York that were largely responsible for the stop and frisk laws being abolished. I was at one of them in 2012, the Silent March that was among the most impressive I have seen in the past decade.

Would a riot have ended the stop and frisk laws? I tend to doubt it, even if that risks being seen as pro-police in Ciccariello-Maher’s eyes. For him, there’s not much difference between a riot and the national liberation movement in Algeria that involved millions in a protracted war against the French imperialist army:

Frantz Fanon insisted that to break the smooth surface of white supremacy requires something more than peaceful protest. It requires the explosive self-assertion of the oppressed, through which the oppressed themselves can come to understand their own power.

If we were only so fortunate to see the Black liberation struggle in the USA beginning to take on the dimensions of the FLN. There was one attempt made by Malcolm X to build such a movement and he was killed for his efforts. For what it is worth, Malcolm tried to build a powerful organization instead of preaching about the need for disorganized riots.

Ciccariello-Maher has a new book out titled “Decolonizing Dialectics” that is based on the ideas of Fanon, a Latin American philosopher named Enrique Dussel, and Georges Sorel. I know Dussel only by name but wonder if he has overdosed on Georges Sorel. In an article titled “To Lose Oneself in the Absolute: Revolutionary Subjectivity in Sorel and Fanon” that likely formed the basis for the new book, he sees Sorel’s fetishization of violence in pretty much the same way as he sees Fanon—as a kind of mixture of existential revolt evoking Camus and his own peculiar interpretation of Marxism:

When united with proletarian violence, on the other hand, the myth becomes essentially a mechanism for the consolidation of revolutionary identity. In Sorel’s context, this takes the form of a working-class separatism embodied in and established through the proletarian general strike—the unity of liberatory violence with the absolutism of mythical identity—in which a strike against the bosses is transformed into a “Napoleonic” battle and “the practice of strikes engenders the notion of a catastrophic revolution”.

Sorel is problematic to say the least. After becoming dissatisfied with the CGT, France’s major trade union, in the same way that the Weathermen became impatient with peaceful protests, Sorel hooked up with an outfit called Action Française that was led by Charles Maurras. During WWII, AF supported the Vichy government and Maurras spent seven years in prison for his collaboration with the Nazis.

After he became a partisan of the Bolshevik revolution, the Italian fascist movement still revered Sorel no matter his heterodox Marxism. It seems that the feelings were mutual. In a 1921 letter to Benedetto Croce, an admirer of Mussolini who would eventually break with Il Duce, Sorel wrote: “The adventures of fascism are, perhaps, at present, the most original social phenomenon in Italy; they seem to me to surpass by far the combinations of the politicians.” In a letter to Jean Variot, a close ally of Sorel, he wrote:

It is possible, it is even probable that Benito Mussolini has read me. But, attention! Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin. . .. He is not a Socialist a la sauce bourgeoise; he has never believed in parliamentary socialism; he has an amazing insight into the nature of the Italian masses, and he has invented something not to be found in my books: the union of the national and the social-something I have studied  without ever developing the idea.

Well, that’s for damned sure. Mussolini never did believe in parliamentary socialism.

While I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through Ciccariello-Maher’s new book, something tells me that his distinctly odd infatuation with Georges Sorel is consistent with his immature posting of violent confrontations on social media. It is rather sad to see a tenured professor acting so foolishly.

Shon Meckfessel

Let me conclude with a look at Shon Meckfessel’s new book titled “Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used To Be” that is based on his doctoral dissertation and that reminds me a bit of Regis Debray’s “Revolution in the Revolution”. Where Debray fetishized rural guerrilla warfare, Meckfessel fetishizes the black bloc. At least Debray can be forgiven for basing his book on a success—the Cuban revolution. Meckfessel inexplicably elevates a movement that has achieved nothing except getting its adventures written up in the bourgeois press.

Although it is highly possible that there are some discrepancies between the new book and dissertation, I am taking the chance that they are relatively small and will refer to the dissertation in the following remarks.

Since chapter three is titled “The Eloquence of Targeted Property Destruction in the Occupy Movement” and chapter four is titled “The Eloquence of Police Clashes in the Occupy Movement”, there is little doubt that what you will be getting is a sophisticated defense of the indefensible.

There’s not much to distinguish Shon from Ciccariello-Maher as this passage from chapter three would indicate.  Although some might think that plagiarism was afoot, I think that both of the professors are simply reflecting the zeitgeist of the widespread ultraleft milieu that would naturally lead them to admire Fanon and Sorel uncritically:

If targeted property destruction works to assert comparisons within and across categories of violence in the hopes of destabilizing ideological chains of equivalence and triggering a revaluation, its affective reconfigurations in the discursive field of subjectivity are equally eloquent in its rhetorical strategy. In his classic “Reflections on Violence,” Georges Sorel put forward his notion of the General Strike as a myth which condensed all of the desired political values of proletarian struggle; violence, in his formation, “is assigned the important function of ‘constituting’ an actor.” (Seferiades & Johnston 6). Similarly, Fanon put forth the celebrated formulation in The Wretched of the Earth (1968) that decolonization requires a violence to be done to the colonizer’s body in order to disarticulate its sacred inviolability, and thus constitute the post-colonial subject through the act of violation. Contemporary practices of public noninjurious violence, such as targeted property destruction, can be seen to enact analogous discursive actions of subjectification while avoiding the dehumanizing effects of bodily harm, as can be heard in the words of Cindy, one observer of the Seattle May Day 2012 riots:

I think that property destruction has a good effect on those who carry it out… I think most people need to unlearn submission and show themselves that they have the 165 capacity to act for their own liberation. I think that when people burn cop cars, break bank windows, or blockade a road (thwarting the transfer of goods and or law enforcement) they are also demonstrating to themselves some of the magnitude of their ability to resist. (Cindy interview)

In the next chapter, Shon refers to the “eloquence” of fighting the cops with a reference to Judith Butler:

As with the uneasy boundary between the materiality and discursivity of bodies examined in Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter (1993), the materiality of individuals enacting oppressive behavior is not simple to divorce from the discursivity of their role.

I can’t exactly say that I understand this jargon but I do know this. Butler found nothing “eloquent” about the Berkeley Student Union misadventure. In an email cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education, she stated: “I deplore the violent tactics of yesterday and so do the overwhelming majority of students and faculty at UC Berkeley.”

I find something vaguely dispiriting about college professors in their 40s and 50s being drawn to such juvenile antics. In a strange way, they remind me of the neglected minor masterpiece “Little Children” that starred Patrick Wilson as a law student who is not sure that he is cut out for the profession. In what might be called a case of “arrested development”, he spends hours on end watching teens skateboarding at a nearby rink. They remind him of the youth he once enjoyed doing the same sort of thing. At the end of the film, they talk him into having a try on one of their skateboards that results in a nasty spill and a hospital stay. Let’s hope that the three professors’ infatuation with the “eloquence” of fighting the cops is only of a Walter Mitty sort. Cops are capable of extremely brutal behavior and the three professors all have good jobs and families and/or students who rely on them. My only other recommendation is that they read Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” that is a much better guide to revolutionary change than Georges Sorel.

February 4, 2017

Fordham SDS

Filed under: Academia,antiwar — louisproyect @ 5:58 pm

In 1983 I saw the documentary “Seeing Red” that mixed interviews of former members of the Communist Party talking about their experiences with exciting film footage and photographs of the class battles they took part in. Among the highlights was Bill Bailey reminiscing about the day in 1935 when he tore the Nazi flag off the Bremen, a luxury liner docked in New York.

Bill was 25 when he carried out this protest and 72 when he was interviewed for “Seeing Red”. Over the past few years, I have toyed with the idea of making a film like “Seeing Red” but based on the experiences of veterans of the Socialist Workers Party, many of whom are about the same age today as Bill Bailey was in 1983—including me.

For us, there was nothing quite like the experience of fighting in the Spanish Civil War as Bill Bailey did, or being part of militant trade union struggles like Dorothy Healy, but we were part of the most important radicalization in American history following the 1930s. And like the CP’ers, we had come to learn that the party could betray our best hopes. In their case, it was allowing themselves to be manipulated by Joseph Stalin—in our case being manipulated by a cult leader whose actions have reduced the party by 90 percent since I left in 1978.

While SDS never aspired to be a vanguard party, except toward its tumultuous final days when it was being torn apart by Maoist factions, it was arguably to the 1960s what the CPUSA was to the 1930s, the most authoritative voice of young rebels, especially those on campus.

With that in mind, I can recommend Bert Schultz’s “Fordham SDS” as coming close to the insights and the sheer pleasure of being a radical that were revealed in “Seeing Red”. Bert was a student at Fordham in the 1960s when an SDS chapter was formed and that soon aligned with the Worker Student Alliance faction of SDS. His interviewees are former members, some of whom became members of the Progressive Labor Party, the Maoist group that led the Worker Student Alliance. At least one of them sounds like she could still be a member, or at least a strong sympathizer.

The film, which lasts 37 minutes, is crowned by footage of a sit-in to protest the war in Vietnam that Bert took with a 16mm camera. Like the far better known Columbia occupation that took place a year earlier and that inspired the Fordham struggle, this was the strategy adopted by SDS nationally and arguably had as much of an impact on weakening the war drive as the mass demonstrations my party focused on.

Some other things make the film particularly interesting. Unlike Columbia, Fordham was a Catholic school with rigid social norms. Wearing a turtle-neck shirt was frowned on since it smacked of rebelliousness. Fordham was also a largely blue-collar commuter school that reflected the deepening proletarian orientation of the antiwar movement. When I was up in Boston in 1970, I saw the same dynamic at work when students at U. Mass Boston became activists. Many of them were like my girlfriend at the time, the daughter of an Irish Catholic trolley car engineer, who had attended a community college to become trained as a nurse.

Our hopes, as it was of the Progressive Labor Party and the Worker Student Alliance, was that the 1960s radicalization would penetrate the heart of the working class and that we would have a revolution in the USA, by 1985 at least. Little did Bert or I anticipate that by 2017 things would have come to what they are today.

Like Bert, I have high hopes for the future since Donald Trump is putting more people into motion than any leftist leaflet could have possibly done. Watching his documentary will give a good idea of how the left functioned nearly a half-century ago, warts and all. You are left with the feeling that SDS could have done things better just as I would have done if I made a film about the SWP. In any case, I strongly urge you to watch his film for $1.49 that would be a bargain at ten times the price, especially if you are in your twenties and about to become involved in what I anticipate to be major class battles that will be third act of resistance to American capitalism.

 

February 3, 2017

How Columbia students protested Nazis on campus in 1936

Filed under: Academia,Fascism — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume LX, Number 9, 6 October 1936

250 Students Parade In Torchlight March To Reinstate Burke
Teachers Union Passes Resolution Backing Campus Fight
Wechsler, Will Speak
Demonstrators Walk With Red Flares

Two hundred and fifty paraders demonstrated on the Columbia Campus last night in an attempt to reinstate Robert Burke, ousted Junior Class President. The demonstrators, who marched by the light of 300 Roman torches, paraded about the Campus, held three orderly mass meetings and finally broke up after more than two hours of shouting their feelings in the Burke case. The first mass meeting, which started at 7:45, was addressed by James A. Wechsler, editor of the Student Advocate and former editor of The Spectator, Albert Witt, member of the Student Council at the Heights center of New York University, and Burke. In a resolution made public last night, the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union condemned the action of Dean Herbert E. Hawkes in expelling Burke from Columbia College. Declaring that Dean Hawkes’ action was “clearly a violation of the right of students to assemble and to express their convictions on matters of social significance” the Teachers Union urged that the administration reinstate Burke.

Union Urges Burke Return

The resolution passed by the union follows in part: “Whereas, the objectives of the students’ demonstration were in accord with a resolution previously passed by the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union, in which the Union declared opposition to Columbia’s participation in the Heidelberg ceremonies because of the ruthless suppression of academic freedom in Heidelberg University and throughout Germany; “Therefore, we, the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union urge that the administration immediately reinstate Mr. Burke as a student of Columbia College and by such action affirm the right of student and faculty to free expression of opinion and recognize in practice the right of academic freedom which has long been a tradition on our Campus.” Burke, in appealing for a unified action stated: “The time has come to speak up, The Administration is clamping down! Either the student body will get together and fight as an integrated whole or we will be whipped.” Wechsler Asks Support Calling upon the assembled paraders to conduct an orderly meeting, Wechsler declared that “any disorders come from Dean Hawkes’ pets who get their line from his ‘ office.” Wechsler, scoring the whispering campaign now current on the Campus, urged the “hundreds who are not prepared to quit or run out or accept the flimsy apologetic excuses of the administration” to lend the full strength of their support to Burke.

After Witt spoke, the paraders marched through the Van Am Quadrangle, past South Hall and Furnald and out into Broadway. Shouting invitations to Barnard dormitory residents to join them, the demonstrators marched up Broadway to 120 th Street where they turned east and continued to Morningside Drive. Here the group, preceded by three of the twenty policemen who were on hand to ensure an orderly demonstration, turned South and marched toward the home of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler. Ceasing their shouts at 117 th Street the paraders filed past the President’s home in absolute silence, raising their hand in imitation of the Nazi salute as they passed the entrance. At 116 th Street, the demonstration returned to the Campus. Entering- upon the Van Quad again, the marchers, still shouting their demands to reinstate Burke and chanting that “Butler Wants Hitler But We Want Burke.” The group responded to the cry of “Water” from numerous dormitory windows with louder chants and demands. Leaving the Library steps, the marchers proceded to form a group at the Sun Dial. Here they were again addressed by Burke and Wechsler.

Wechsler again attacked the supporters of Burke who were afraid to come out in the open and lend him their aid. Burke thanked the crowd for its support and attacked Albert I. Edelman ‘3B Law, and Thomas Bandler ’37 who recently wrote letters to the editor of The Spectator condemning its action in supporting Burke and requesting that the entire incident be forgotten. In a resolution which was passed by the almost unanimous consent of the assembled crowd, Dean Hawkes and the administration were called upon to reinstate Burke. The full text of the resolution follows. “Resolved that this body believes the expulsion of Robert Burke to be a breach of academic freedom on the Columbia Campus.”

© 2012 Spectator Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Powered by Veridian

December 27, 2016

Defend George Ciccariello-Maher

Filed under: Academia,repression,technology — louisproyect @ 4:32 pm

George Ciccariello-Maher

Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher is under attack right now from the alt-right for Tweets supposedly targeting whites.

Although I hold Slate.com in pretty low regard, they have an article today that is quite useful for background:

George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, provoked the wrath of the internet’s worst people on Christmas Eve when he tweeted, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In a follow-up tweet, he added, “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a very good thing indeed.” (The tweets are no longer available online, as Ciccariello-Maher has since made his Twitter account private.) In context, it seems clear that he was tweaking white supremacists for their repurposing of the term “white genocide,” which is disingenuously invoked nowadays to pretend that uncontroversial things like interracial dating are as threatening as the slaughter that took place in Haiti in 1804. But Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets were as good a reason for a witch hunt as any, and what better time to hunt witches than Christmas?

Breitbart, as usual, was the most openly racist about it; their writer Warner Todd Huston went out of his way to link Ciccariello-Maher to the largest university in Mexico, apparently as a disqualifying factor, and characterized his Twitter feed as “filled with hateful, obnoxious messages, anti-Americanism, slams of President Donald Trump, attacks on Jews, as well as pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-communist sloganeering.” The story quickly went as viral as dysentery, spattering its way all over the right-wing media—there are currently four separate stories about it on The Daily Caller alone—and the customary wave of obscenities, calls for Ciccariello-Maher’s firing, and death threats crashed into Drexel.

Read full article

There’s a petition defending George at Change.org that I have signed and I encourage all my readers to sign it as well. The fact that Breitbart.com is spearheading the McCarthyite attack on him should be reason enough to speak out. With Breitbart editor Steve Bannon serving as Donald Trump’s chief political adviser, there is little doubt that witch-hunts against the left are on the agenda.

While I am completely in solidarity with George, who is a Facebook friend, I do want to switch gears a bit here and say something about the problem with radicals using Twitter for political commentary.

As should be obvious from the Steven Salaita affair, tweets are made to order for rightwing attacks since they are easier to rip out of context than blog posts or any other medium that does not force you to express yourself in 140 characters. That Twitter is Donald Trump’s favorite way of reaching the public might give you pause. Just the other day Trump tweeted about nuclear weapons but in such a cryptic manner that 140,000 words have already been written to wring out their meaning.

Here’s the NY Times attempting to decipher Trump’s words: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

For them, they had one of three possibilities:

  • Modernize existing nuclear forces, in line with but upgrading President Obama’s plan
  • Expand qualitative nuclear capability by developing faster or more powerful delivery systems, like cruise missiles
  • Deploy existing weapons systems closer to adversaries, for example in Eastern Europe

Now it doesn’t matter much whether Trump is purposely sowing confusion to keep friends and enemies alike off-balance or simply too foggy-minded to express a clear opinion. After all, he is 70 and not much of a thinker even when he was 40 years younger. Plus, as the most powerful man in the world, he has liberties that most of us do not enjoy, especially a college professor who unlike most is not afraid to express himself in uncompromising terms.

There was another such college professor who was victimized for his tweets not so long ago. Steven Salaita was denied a job at the University of Illinois he had already been accepted for after the Israeli lobby singled some tweets out of context. For example, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” was simply a cry of anguish not an invitation to abduct anybody.

Others less known have also run into static as Inside Higher Education has reported. On November 21, there was an article about Rutgers University adjunct Kevin Allred, who had been placed on leave and barred from over this tweet: “Will the Second Amendment be as cool when I buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no …?” Rutgers ratted Allred out to the New York City cops who forced him to be evaluated by psychologists and then released him. Twitter also ordered him to remove the tweet.

On May 14, 2015, there was another article about Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University. Socawledge.com, a Breitbart-like website, had collected some of her tweets in an effort to at least scandalize her and worse. Like the Drexel administration, Boston University allowed the ultraright to dictate the terms of the controversy with its spokesman Colin Riley telling Fox News that the university “does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements.” One of the offensive statements was “Why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?” With so many racist incidents taking place on college campuses around the country, this does not seem like an unreasonable question.

The problem with all of the tweets cited above is that they are utterly lacking in context. When George Ciccariello-Maher made a cogent defense of his Swiftian tweet, it should have convinced anybody outside of alt-right ranks that he was making a satirical commentary about the notion that white people are facing an existential threat such as the Jews faced under Hitler. But that was not exactly obvious from the tweet. Speaking for myself, a Marxist for the past 50 years or so, I had no idea that “white genocide” was a term peculiar to the alt-right so what would a Drexel administrator know?

It boils down to this. The left has to abandon Twitter as a form of political commentary. I use it but very sparingly, most of the time as an automatic feed for my blog posts. By and large, very few academics have either the time—or more importantly—the inclination to write political analysis unless it is directly related to their job. They might write an article every year or so for Historical Materialism, New Left Review, Science & Society or some more specialized JSTOR type journal but would never dream of pumping out 2000 words on “white genocide” in a blog. There’s no pay for that nor room for it on your CV. Except for Juan Cole, Michael Roberts and the left-liberals at Crooked Timber, I can’t think of any other academic radical off the top of my head who blogs on a regular basis.

On September 2nd, 2015, Times Higher Education, a trade journal having no connection to the newspaper of record, published an article titled “The weird and wonderful world of academic Twitter” that was impressed with how “Twitter … acts as a virtual water cooler, a place where academics go to build community, have some fun, and let off steam.’ Let off steam, indeed.

The article singles out the Twitter account “Shit Academics Say” as a representative of academic tweeting at its best. This is typical:

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-11-18-12-am

What a waste of 10 years getting a PhD.

October 23, 2016

Marx and the Russian Revolution

Filed under: Academia,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-3-10-15-pm

Dear Professor Peter E. Gordon,

3 years ago in a New Republic review of Jonathan Sperber’s bio of Karl Marx you wrote:

It is sobering to recall that throughout his life Marx looked upon Imperial Russia as the most reactionary state in all of Europe. The outbreak of Bolshevik revolution a little more than three decades after his death would have struck him as a startling violation of his own historical principle that bourgeois society and industrialization must reach their fullest expression before the proletariat gains the class-consciousness that it requires to seize political control.

Today you reviewed another Marx biography in the NY Times, this time by Gareth Stedman Jones, that has a different take on Marx and the Russian Revolution:

After 1870, however, Marx relaxed these strictures, in part because the failure of the Paris Commune left him dismayed at the prospects for a Communist revolution in the West. This change of perspective brought a new openness to the possibility of revolution in Russia and the non-European world. In 1881, Marx answered a query from Vera Zasulich, a Russian noblewoman and revolutionary living in exile in Geneva. Pressed to explain his views on the Russian village commune, Marx agonized over his response — his letter went through no fewer than four drafts. Though still insisting that the isolation of the village commune was a weakness, he granted that the historical inevitability he had once discerned in the process of industrialization was “expressly limited to the countries of Western Europe”.

Perhaps in the period between the two reviews you had a chance to read Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marx and the Russian Revolution”. If so, I commend you.

I suppose we long-time Marxists who have risked arrest and worse for our beliefs can be grateful that the review was not written by someone like Ronald Radosh, now that the book review section is no longer edited by neocon Sam Tanenhaus.

But I find it hard to believe that Stedman Jones has “written the definitive biography of Marx for our time.” You do allow that “Stedman Jones is not always sympathetic to his subject.” Well, that goes without saying. He is on record as stating that Marx’s last important work was the German Ideology, which strikes me as preposterous. You certainly wouldn’t agree with that, I hope.

It is also a bit difficult to figure out whether you are speaking for yourself or Stedman Jones when you write: “In his early writings and well through the 1860s, Marx propounded a theory of history that extolled the heroic achievements of the bourgeoisie as the collective agent of global change.”

Where did you get the idea that Marx thought the bourgeoisie was “heroic”? In fact, he got off that tack just two years after the Communist Manifesto was written, arguably the only work where the term “heroic bourgeoisie” might be applied even if inaccurately. Perhaps you had in mind what Marx wrote in the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.” I suppose it is a bit easy to confuse the terms “heroic” and “revolutionary” but Marx was referring primarily to the overthrow of feudal social relations rather than, for example, French workers defending the Paris Commune.

Returning to the question of what Marx thought only two years after the Manifesto, I would refer you to the Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League. Although it was written in March 1850, it looks back at 1848 as a year of bourgeois vacillation if not open counter-revolution:

We told you already in 1848, brothers, that the German liberal bourgeoisie would soon come to power and would immediately turn its newly won power against the workers. You have seen how this forecast came true. It was indeed the bourgeoisie which took possession of the state authority in the wake of the March movement of 1848 and used this power to drive the workers, its allies in the struggle, back into their former oppressed position. Although the bourgeoisie could accomplish this only by entering into an alliance with the feudal party, which had been defeated in March, and eventually even had to surrender power once more to this feudal absolutist party, it has nevertheless secured favourable conditions for itself. (emphasis added)

Finally, returning to the Russian question, I am afraid your last paragraph lacks clarity:

Just a year before his death and gravely ill, Marx wrote with Engels a short preface to the Russian edition of the ‘Manifesto.’ It entertained the prospect that the common ownership system in the Russian village might serve as “the starting point for a communist development.” Three and a half decades later, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, and by the late 1920s the government commenced its brutal collectivization of agriculture. Like all intellectual legacies, Marx’s work remains open to new interpretation. But it seems clear that the man himself would never have accepted the inhumanity undertaken in his name.

One cannot be sure whether you are drawing an equation between Marx’s hopes for the rural communes and Stalin’s forced collectivization. If so, you are entirely mistaken. Marx saw a peasant-led revolution as merely the first step in a European wide revolution that would have a more proletarian character in the industrialized West while Stalin collectivized agriculture as part of “socialism in one country”, a project 180 degrees opposed to what Marx discussed with Vera Zasulich.

I hope this helps.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect, moderator of the Marxism list

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