Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 21, 2019

Putin, Trump, the Christian Right, Austrian fascists, and the schizoid left

He paved the way for Max Blumenthal and Roger Waters

I came across articles this week that demonstrate how both Christian evangelists in the USA and the alt-right Freedom Party in Austria have been building ties to the Kremlin. An Open Democracy article titled “Revealed: Trump-linked US Christian ‘fundamentalists’ pour millions of ‘dark money’ into Europe, boosting the far right” was written by Claire Provost on March 27, 2019. It demonstrates how US Christian right ‘fundamentalists’ linked to the Trump administration and Steve Bannon are key players that have poured at least $50 million of ‘dark money’ into Europe.

Meanwhile, the same kind of affinities have been shared by the Kremlin and the same alt-right parties, including Austria’s Freedom Party that has been undone by a sting carried out by unidentified parties which showed the party’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache meeting with a woman in Ibiza who represented herself as the niece of a Russian oligarch. The party’s first leader was Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi functionary and SS member. It became the first far right party since the end of WWII to become part of a government when Jörg Haider entered a coalition with the conservative People’s Party in 2000.

In exchange for supporting Russian interests, Strache would be expected to receive secret and illegal donations from the oligarch to the tune of millions of Euros. In the same week that I noticed any number of articles on my FB timeline calling attention to the valiant role of the USSR in defeating Nazism, I wondered how many people posting links to them were aware that the Freedom Party is trying to recreate the Third Reich. An Atlantic Monthly article on the scandal reported:

A state senator for the Freedom Party, reporters revealed, once belonged to a fraternity that openly glorified the Third Reich. (“At that point, the Jew Ben Gurion came into their midst,” go the lyrics for one of the fraternity’s songs, “and said: ‘Step on the gas, ye old Teutons, we’ll manage the seventh million.’”)

People on the left who try to debunk the notion that Trump is pro-Russia will always bring up matters such as how the Ukrainians are receiving heavy weapons from the Pentagon or how sanctions have been maintained and even beefed up. They take Trump at his word when he says that he is the most anti-Russian president the country has ever seen.

However, they don’t bother to address the question of how the Kremlin colludes—dare I use the word?with Christian evangelicals. To a large extent, this simply reflects the tendency of some on the left with a particularly Manichean brand of geopolitics to act as if the Cold War had never ended. During the Cold War, the Christian right was a mainstay of the anti-Communist crusade. Billy Graham, For example, in the summer of 1954, spoke to 25,000 West Germans gathered in Düsseldorf’s Rheinstadium about how Berlin was “a battleground, a continent for conquest”. During the Vietnam War, Graham agreed with Nixon that bombing the dikes in the North would be necessary even if it cost the lives of a million Vietnamese.

But his son Franklin had a different take on Russia. In March 2014, Decision Magazine, a publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, featured a cover article on Vladimir Putin. Inside, a Franklin Graham op-ed praised Putin’s signing a law barring the dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to children. He wrote: “It’s obvious that President Obama and his administration are pushing the gay-lesbian agenda in America today and have sold themselves completely to that which is contrary to God’s teaching,” Graham wrote. In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

Mother Jones took note of the ties between Russia and the Christian right just around the time that Decision Magazine article appeared. The World Congress of Families decided to hold its annual meeting in Russia that year. The WCF is one of the most powerful voices of the Christian right. Showing its continuing ties to the European far right, it held its annual conference this year in Verona, Italy where Matteo Salvini, the fascist Interior Minister of Italy, spoke on the need “to defend the family that consists of a mother and a father”. Other participants included Dimitri Smirnov, a Russian Orthodox priest who says abortion is  “scarier than the Holocaust” and Forza Nuova, an Italian neofascist party.

Does the sting of the Freedom Party leader in Ibiza mean that he was like some poor soul in the USA who was entrapped to take part in some illegal act, like bombing a synagogue? While I am opposed to stings of this sort as a matter of principle, there is little doubt that Putin is for the rightwing coalition government in Austria until the scandal forced the withdrawal of Strache and other party members.

Russia has naturally denied any ties to Strache’s party but at least one journalist noticed disturbing contacts not only between Putin and these fascists but with Trump as well. In a December 20, 2016 Progress Pond article titled “Trump, Austrian Neo-Nazis, and Putin”, Martin Longman reported that Strache came to New York just after Trump’s election to meet with Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor who subsequently stepped down after he was charged with unauthorized communications with Russian officials. Oh, did I mention that he sat at the same table with Max Blumenthal and Vladimir Putin for the RT.com 10th anniversary banquet in 2015?

A day before the Progress Pond article was published, the NY Times described the fallout from the Strache-Flynn meeting. A cooperation agreement outlined plans for regular meetings to hammer out economic, business and political projects. It was signed by Sergei Zheleznyak, a member of Putin’s United Russia Party. In welcoming the fascists to his party headquarters, Zheleznyak cited Europe’s “migration crisis” as a field for cooperation. I can’t say I am surprised that this is a field of cooperation since the European fascist movement prioritizes nativism as well as homophobia and anti-abortion laws just as does the Trump administration.

In the 1950s, schizophrenia was often mislabeled as an illness entailing a “split personality”. In fact, the word “schizo” is Greek for split. It was confused with dissociative identity disorder that was dramatized in the 1957 film “Three Faces of Eve” that was based on a true story of a woman manifesting 3 different personalities. In 2016, M. Night Shyamalan upped the ante with “Split”, a film whose main character had 23 different personalities.

Perhaps the first popular culture expression of this phenomenon was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde”, in which the transformation to the evil Mr. Hyde was triggered by chemicals produced in a laboratory rather than in the brain.

It occurs to me that the Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde duality is rampant on the left today with many people saying all sorts of good things about the Palestinians but evil things about the Syrians because of their embrace of Manichean geopolitics that sees support for every Kremlin initiative as incumbent on “anti-imperialists”. Max Blumenthal is a prime example although one has to wonder if his being paid in rubles rather than ideology or chemical imbalances explains his evil writings on Syria. You get the same thing with Roger Waters and Susan Sarandon who would likely martyr themselves on behalf of the Palestinians when their “good” half takes over but when the “evil” half kicks in, they have no trouble defaming the half-million or so martyred Syrians as jihadists who deserved what they got.

Today, the left is mobilized around the threat to abortion rights in places like Alabama, Georgia and Ohio that is being pushed by the Christian right. It is this very Christian right that Steve Bannon is aligned with as it hopes to transform Europe into something resembling Alabama on a continent-wide basis. Dennis Bernstein can write an article for Consortium News about the ongoing struggle for abortion rights in 2016 and then turn around in 2018 conduct a softball interview with the late Robert Parry, who founded Consortium News, about The Rush to a New Cold War, which repeats the same talking points you hear continuously there, on Grayzone, WSWS.org, The Nation and elsewhere. Parry tells Bernstein:

The Russians have taken a very different perspective, which is that the United States is encroaching on its borders and threatening them in a strategic manner. They also look at what happened in Ukraine very differently. They see a U.S.-backed coup d’etat in February 2014 that ousted an elected president and put in a regime that is very supportive of free market, neoliberal policies, but also includes very strong right-wing elements, including neo-Nazis and far-right nationalists. A crisis was created and tensions continue to spiral out of control.

A search for “Freedom Party” and Austria on Consortium News returned zero hits.

Perhaps the only explanation for this part of the left’s split personality is its failure to understand world politics from a class perspective. If your unit of analysis is the nation-state and if you somehow think that the Cold War, that had at its roots a conflict between two different modes of production that were as irreconcilable as capitalism and feudalism, has never ended, you can easily end up waking up in the morning writing benign articles or Tweets about the need for solidarity with the Palestinians and closer to midnight writing crap about how Syrians gassed their own families with chlorine as a “false flag”, with blood dripping from your fangs. Is there any hope for such people reintegrating their personalities by reading Marxists? If so, I’d recommend that they start with Leon Trotsky’s 1938 “Learn to Think”:

Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.

 

 

August 3, 2014

Christians United for Israel

Filed under: Christian fundamentalism,Islamophobia,Palestine — louisproyect @ 5:50 pm

Gary Bauer: friend of Israel

If you google “Israel support”, the second link that comes up points to Christians United for Israel (CUFI.org), a rightwing evangelical outfit that was founded by Gary Bauer, a long-time Republican Party operative who co-hosted a radio show with Tom Rose in 2006. Rose was the CEO of the Jerusalem Post, a newspaper that publishes articles openly promoting ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza.

This week CUFI ran a full-page ad in the New York Times. It might as well had come from the Likud party itself:

Screen shot 2014-08-03 at 1.47.15 PM

See ad in detail

The affinity between Israel and the most reactionary Christian fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party is not a new story. The board of directors of CUFI includes John C. Hagee who generated controversy in 2008 when he said in a sermon that Hitler was acting on God’s plan. The Judeocide was a necessary first step in the creation of the state of Israel, which in his eyes was a precondition for the Second Coming of Christ. Hagee has also said “anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselves — the result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and passed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive.” Nice.

Another board member is Jonathan P. Falwell, Jerry’s son who continues his dead dad’s legacy. Jerry Falwell, like Hagee, was preoccupied with the Second Coming and also like Hagee thought that Jews had a dual role, both as catalyst for redemption and as a roadblock. He said once “Who will the Antichrist be? I don’t know. Nobody else knows. Is he alive and here today? Probably. Because when he appears during the Tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course, he’ll be Jewish. Of course, he’ll pretend to be Christ. And if in fact the Lord is coming soon, and he’ll [the Antichrist] be an adult at the presentation of himself, he must be alive somewhere today.”

None of this gets interferes with the long-time bromance between Zionist muck-a-mucks and the Christian ultraright. Back in May 2003, there was a conference of the Interfaith Zionist Leadership Summit May 17-18 in Washington, D.C. Sponsoring groups included the National Unity Coalition for Israel, African American Women’s Clergy Association, Christian Coalition, Jewish Action Alliance, the Episcopal-Jewish Alliance, and the Jewish Political Education Foundation.

The National Unity Coalition for Israel is cut from the same cloth as CUFI. In 2002 it held a pro-Israel rally in Washington that included Ehud Olmert as a featured speaker who spoke alongside Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson. Robertson, like the other bible-thumping turds, is a hundred percent for Israel. It is Jews that he doesn’t care much for.

In March 2014, Robertson interviewed Daniel Lapin on his 700 Club TV show about his new book titled “Thou Shall Prosper”. Lapin is a rabbi who has come up with his own version of the “prosperity gospel” that is purveyed in megachurches everywhere. I got a taste of it once selling the Militant outside a Kansas City grocery store in 1978. As a woman strode past me on her way to do her shopping, she pointed to the parking lot and said “See that Buick? Jesus got me that.”

The website for Lapin’s book advises:

The book details the ten permanent principles that never change, the ten commandments of making money if you will, and explores the economic and philosophic vision of business that has been part of Jewish culture for centuries. By blending contemporary business stories and his own business experiences with the wisdom of the Torah, Talmud, and even examples from the Zohar, (the Jewish book of Kabalah or mysticism), Rabbi Daniel Lapin, your rabbi, explains the essence of each commandment and shows you how to use this knowledge to prosper financially.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin helps you understand such timeless truths as “Being in business for yourself”, avoiding the trap of ‘wage-slavery’, learning to become a leader, changing with the times, and particularly this: Everyone, and that includes you, is in business, unless you happen to be a tenured university professor or a Supreme Court judge.

This sort of rings a bell with me. Back in 1957, when I was 12 years old and forced to go to synagogue on High Holy Days, I used to stare at all the mink coats and diamond jewelry. My mom had neither. Back then Jews didn’t need Lapin’s advice; they had a booming economy.

Introducing Lapin, Robertson offered this observation:

What is it about Jewish people that make them prosper financially? You almost never find Jews tinkering with their cars on the weekends or mowing their lawns. That’s what Daniel Lapin says and there’s a very good reason for that, and it lies within the business secrets of the Bible.

He later added that Jews were too busy “polishing diamonds, not fixing cars.” Lapin took that as a compliment.

Lapin was not a featured speaker at the Interfaith Zionist Leadership Summit conference but a couple of other of my co-religionists was there to engage in Muslim-bashing—the obvious purpose of the conference. As Against the Current magazine reported, they were just the sort of people who were obviously comfortable around Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson:

Thomas Neumann, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, argued that some people think the problem we face is “radical” Islam, but the problem is in fact Islam. Most Muslims are anti-American and anti-Israel; they are not a fringe who feel this way.

Charles Jacob, who promotes Zionism on college campuses through the Davis Project, offered the following pearls in a power point presentation to explain the difference between Israelis/Jews and “Arabs/Palestinians:

Israel teaches its kids songs of peace; Arab/Palestinian kids sing songs of hate. Sesame Street is about being a suicide bomber. Israelis make every effort to prevent civilian death; Arabs kill lots of civilizations. Israel is in anguish when civilians are hurt; Palestinians are dancing when atrocities happen. Israeli mothers don’t want kids to fight; Palestinian mothers celebrate fighting.

Jacob summed up his presentation saying, I grieve for Palestinian people who have leaders that succumbed to evil, and have fallen prey because of their “perceived sense of oppression.” They are filling their children with hate and death.

Helen Freedman, Americans for a Safe Israel, then declared that “Those who are with Israel are with God.” However, she argued that there is no room to negotiate with Arab peoples because they are “religiously” motivated. There will only be peace, Freedman argued, when Arabs love their children as much as they hate us. But, she said, Arabs are simply incapable of loving their children.

The problem for Israel is that it is increasingly reliant on the Republican right for unstinting support. Despite the slavish devotion of the Democratic Party to Israel, the average liberal voter is growing increasingly uneasy with Israel’s colonizing project. This was reflected in a confused article “Why Israel is losing the Obama coalition”, written for Haaretz by Peter Beinart, the author of “The Crisis of Zionism”. The subhead of the article was “As America grows less nationalistic, less hawkish, and less religious it will grow less sympathetic to an Israel defined by exactly those characteristics.” Exactly.

Beinart, like the late Tony Judt, was one of the first high-profile Jews to break from the Zionist consensus, so much so that the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival canceled his talk on the book in 2002. Beinart writes:

In Washington, Democratic politicians from Obama on down still overwhelmingly support Israeli actions. Earlier this month, the entire United States Senate —including socialists like Bernie Sanders and progressive firebrands like Elizabeth Warren—supported a resolution on Gaza so one-sided that it didn’t even acknowledge any Palestinians had died.

But if Sanders and Warren haven’t changed, the people who vote for them have. One can still find older commentators like Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman who defend Israel’s actions in Gaza while championing a liberal agenda inside the United States. Among younger pundits, by contrast, that combination has virtually disappeared. One of the last holdouts was New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, a highly regarded critic of Republican domestic policy who over the years has generally blamed Palestinians more than Israel for the ongoing conflict. Yet earlier this week, in a widely discussed column, Chait wrote that “it has dawned on me that I am one of the liberal Jews who…has grown less pro-Israel over the last decade.” Among younger Americans, including younger American Jews, “liberal except on Israel”—once a common political identity—barely exists.

You get pretty much the same analysis from NY Times op-ed writer Roger Cohen in today’s Review section:

Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation.

Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”

One can only wonder if Roger Cohen’s son-in-law was one of those people who voted for blackballing Peter Beinart in Atlanta two years ago. Like Dylan said, the times they are a changin’.

 

 

January 8, 2010

Waiting for Armageddon

Filed under: Christian fundamentalism,Film — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

“Waiting for Armageddon” joins two other documentaries, “Jesus Camp” and “Unborn in the USA”, in lifting up the rock and showing the creepy, crawly things that have begun to play a larger and larger role in American politics since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Indeed, there are grounds for dating the fundamentalist turn back to Jimmy Carter who was the country’s first “born again” President. After all, he was the first as well to open up an attack on the working class and poor at the time of his “malaise” speech, considered by some to be the opening salvo in a thirty year war on the welfare state.

Directed by Kate Davis, Franco Sacchi and David Heilbroner, this movie allows its bible-thumping principals to hoist themselves on their own petards. By simply sticking a microphone in front of their mouths and a camera on their universally Caucasian faces, the directors are spared the job of commenting on the madness, by any definition an exercise in superfluity.

We first meet James and Laura Begg, a Connecticut couple who are convinced that the “rapture” might come at any day and are doing everything they can to prepare for it, which mostly means sticking your nose in the bible rather than stocking canned goods. Mr. Bagg is an aeronautics engineer and his wife a software developer at the same military aircraft company. Their belief that Jesus Christ will return to earth and lead an army of archangels against the minions of Satan near Mount Megiddo in Israel, which will result in the death of all except the saved (Bill Maher, watch out—me too, I guess) is totally at odds with their professional training based to one extent or another on the laws of physics. Listening to them reminded me of Trotsky’s observations on the rise of Nazism:

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of National Socialism.

In addition to people like the Baggs, who hold down day jobs, we meet a gaggle of full-time professional sky pilots going from conference to conference at places that look like a Ramada Inn to lecture the faithful looking for clues about the return of Jesus Christ and how to get set to be lifted into the air with the rest of the saved. Looking at the girth on some of these believers, you wonder if they will ever be able to get off the ground.

One of the best known believers in rapture is John Hagee who is seen preaching to his followers:

There is a war between Islamofascism and freedom. There is a war between the culture of death and those who love life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a war WE MUST WIN. The Bible says that you, ladies and gentlemen, are the light of the world. May God anoint each of you and there can be a spiritual awakening in this country. That Christ will be seen as the answer. For there is no other name given among men whereby we might be saved.

Key to winning this war is support for the state of Israel, which in the twisted theology of more than 50 million Americans who believe in this stuff is a precondition for the return of Christ. Rightwing fundamentalists have raised 75 million dollars on behalf of Israel and tour the country all the time in the same way that people like me used to go to Nicaragua. They have tour guides showing them all the key sites where Jesus will lead his troops against Satan, while our tour guides used to take us to coffee farms or clinics. In the past, there were some who used to label me and other Marxists as millenarian but in our defense I can say that our beliefs were rooted in world history rather than fantasy.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that the Revelations of St. John, which is the foundation for the Rapture movement, would be harmless if Christianity remained a powerless sect just as it was at the time of its birth. It is only when you combine such beliefs with the reality of Cruise missiles, F-16’s and hydrogen bombs that things get dicey. The same thing is true of Judaism as well. Nobody felt particularly bothered by the book of Exodus with its savage narrative of death and destruction of Egyptians as long as Jews lived powerlessly in the shtetl.

Drawing upon critics of what amounts to a Christian Zionist movement like Chip Berlet and Mel White, a gay clergyman who once wrote speeches for Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, we learn about its role in shoring up support for Zionist expansionism in the Middle East. Indeed, one might even make the case that this is much more of a factor than outfits like the American Jewish Congress since it uses the authority of the Christianity that is the religion of the nation’s most powerful policy-makers. Israel’s support from the evangelicals also represents the height of cynicism since it is well understood that people like Hagee believe that most Jews will not be on the winning side in the coming battle. One evangelical is cited as believing that only 144,000 Jews will be lifted up during Rapture. The rest will go to hell. Considering the personalities and psychology of the people featured in this movie, that’s fine by me.

Don’t miss “Waiting for Armageddon”, now playing at the Cinema Village in New York.

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