Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 6, 2019

Crimes of the Criminal Justice System

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch,crime,Film,prison — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 6, 2019

Your first reaction to the concurrence of three online films about the racist abuses of the American criminal justice system might be to attribute this to pure happenstance. However, given the objective reality of the increasing legal, moral and political rot of the police, the courts and the prison system, it was inevitable that filmmakers of conscience would feel impelled to respond to the crisis. In other words, we should not speak of happenstance but ineluctability.

Made for Netflix, Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” is a docudrama about the Central Park Five, a group of African-American teens who spent up to twelve years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Running on HBO, “Who Killed Garrett Phillips?” is a documentary about a Jamaican soccer coach accused of the murder of the 12-year old son of his ex-girlfriend in Potsdam, New York. Like the cops in DuVernay’s film, their investigation is filled with irregularities intended to help convict a Black man. Finally, there is “Free Meek” on Amazon Prime, another documentary, this time about a successful rapper from Philadelphia who is hounded by an African-American female judge determined to keep him on probation for the rest of his life for a crime he supposedly committed when he was 19-years old. Like the Central Park Five, his main crime in the eyes of the cops was being Black. As is so often the case with such victims, having Black cops, judges or prison guards does not make much difference to people of color being cast down into the system of hell they maintain.

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August 30, 2019

The Hitler-Stalin pact, Reconsidered

Filed under: Counterpunch,Poland,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 3:11 pm

Stalin and Ribbentrop shaking hands after the signing of the pact on August 23, 1939

On August 26th, an article titled “The Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939: Myth and Reality” appeared on CounterPunch. It made many useful points about the right of the USSR to conclude a non-aggression pact with any capitalist nation in light of the invasion that nearly destroyed it in the early 1920s. While Cold War scholarship, including its most recent incarnation in a book like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, tries to draw parallels between Stalin and Hitler as totalitarian monsters, it was in the interest of humanity to preserve what was progressive about Soviet society despite the clique that ruled from the top.

In an article titled “The USSR in War”, written just after the Hitler-Stalin pact was concluded, Leon Trotsky laid out the differences between the two rulers succinctly: “Right now Hitler is the ally and friend of Stalin; but should Hitler, with the aid of Stalin, come out victorious on the Western Front, he would on the morrow turn his guns against the USSR. Finally Chamberlain, too, in similar circumstances would act no differently from Hitler.”

Unfortunately, Pauwels’s article is an expression of the neo-Stalinist apology for the Soviet Union’s external policy and does not take into account the negative aspects of Stalin’s policy in Europe that helped Hitler and ruined the Communist movement. Also, it shows all the shortcomings of a purely geopolitical analysis of the contradictions of the international policy of capitalist-imperialist and Stalinist countries.

By Louis Proyect and Pawel Szelegieniec

(Paweł Szelegieniec is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. His research interests focus on Marxist political economy and history of workers’ and Communist movement.)

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August 23, 2019

Time Thieves

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 23, 2019

As I have pointed out in previous reviews, Icarus, the New York film distributor, is far and away the most important source of anti-capitalist documentaries. In keeping with their commitment to class struggle cinema, “Time Thieves”, their latest, hones in on the ways in which the capitalist system makes us slaves to the clock.

When I worked at a Boston bank in the early 70s, I kept Marx’s words pinned to my cubicle wall:

The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it.

–Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

At the start of “Time Thieves”, we see people of all ages at leisure enjoying themselves. After a minute or so, we see another cross-section of humanity trudging off to work or to school as narrator Sarah Davidson comments: “Under capitalism, time has become a resource with a huge economic value. And those profiting from it want as much of our time as possible. They even steal it from us.”

Director Cosima Dannoritzer begins by showing the chaos that ensues when a new restaurant billed as completely staff-less opens up. Patrons save money by preparing the meals themselves, going one step further than the automats that enjoyed a heyday in the 30s through the 50s. In the kitchen, it is a miracle that those conned into trying this out did not lose a finger or suffer third-degree burns. I say conned because we soon learn that a restaurant workers union staged the whole thing to illustrate the importance of having trained professionals doing the work.

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August 16, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 16, 2019

After being sorely disappointed by Quentin Tarantino’s last two films— “The Hateful Eight” and “Django Unchained” —I decided to wait for a studio screener of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in November. This is when I customarily get freebies from studio publicists hoping to influence my vote in NYFCO’s awards meeting in early December. But when I discovered that the film had antagonized some people on the left, I decided to get a senior’s ticket to see for myself what was going on.

Tarantino has the distinction of being the only filmmaker whose entire corpus I have seen. Since he has made only 8 films in the past 27 years, that’s a relatively easy task. Unlike Woody Allen, who churns films out like they were made on an assembly line, Tarantino takes his time. As for time itself, you can say that it erodes the talents of even the greatest artists. In the case of Hollywood legends like Woody and Quentin, the erosion process combines with their control of every aspect of film production to degrade the quality of the product. Who would dare say anything about the Emperor’s New Clothes?

After Tarantino left The Weinstein Company in the aftermath of #MeToo’s spotlight on Harvey Weinstein and joined the Sony Corporation, he was guaranteed full control over “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. That’s too bad because someone might have vetoed the film’s co-star Brad Pitt playing a stunt man whose claim to fame (or infamy) was killing his wife and then being found not guilty in OJ Simpson style. Why was he cleared, you ask? You won’t find the answer in Tarantino’s film. Maybe he lost the pages of his script answering this question one morning on the way to the studio and forgot all about it.

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August 9, 2019

How real is the eco-fascist threat?

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Fascism — louisproyect @ 10:46 pm

Eco-fascist literature?

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 9, 2019

In a manifesto that was posted to 8Chan just before he carried out his murderous attack on Walmart shoppers in El Paso, Patrick Crusius expressed “Green” values that are widespread on the left:

The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources. This has been a problem for decades. For example, this phenomenon is brilliantly portrayed in the decades old classic “The Lorax”.

Dr. Seuss wrote “The Lorax” in 1971 as a protest against corporate despoliation of the environment. The contrast between a racist mass murderer and a gentle children’s book could not be starker. It is no wonder that there have been multiple attempts to come to terms with his eco-fascism.

This is not the first amalgam of Green and Brown values from a neo-Nazi terrorist. On March 15, 2019, an Australian named Brenton Tarrant killed 50 Muslims in a New Zealand mosque justifying his attack on the “replacement” theory that motivated Patrick Crusius. Crusius paid tribute to Tarrant in the first paragraph of his manifesto.

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August 2, 2019

Piranhas; Gomorrah

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,Film,mafia — louisproyect @ 3:45 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 2, 2019

Opening today at the Howard Gilman Theater in Lincoln Center, “Piranhas” is a coming-of-age film about 15-year-old wannabe gangsters living on the mean streets of Naples. It is based on a fact-based novel by Robert Saviano titled “La Paranza dei Bambini” that means “The Children’s Gang”, a much better title for a very good film.

Saviano also wrote another fact-based novel titled “Gomorrah”, which the 2008 film of the same name was based on. If Alexander Stile’s “Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic” is the key text for understanding the Sicilian mafia, Saviano’s novels play the same role for the Camorra, the Naples-based mafia that is arguably more embedded in the Italian corporate state than its rivals and more destructive. Unlike the Sicilians, the Neapolitans do not have a hierarchical structure in which a top don controls the clans beneath him. More horizontal than vertical, the gangs in the Campania region of southern Italy are notorious for the bloody feuds that drive the narratives of films based on Saviano’s novels. This review will take up the two aforementioned films as well as “Gomorrah”, the two-season Italian TV series on Netflix that is based on Saviano’s novel with alternating directors, including Claudio Giovannesi who directed “Pirhanas”.

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July 26, 2019

Ecological limits and the working class

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:01 pm

In the interest of the working class?

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 26, 2019

In the latest issue of Catalyst Magazine that is published by Bhaskar Sunkara, there is an article titled “Ecological Politics for the Working Class” by Syracuse University professor Matt Huber, which argues for the need to abandon the “middle class” orientation of the ecologists whose worldview was shaped by the 1960s radicalization. (I guess that includes me.)

These people with their affinity for the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil or the struggle for clean water in Flint, Michigan are neglecting the mainstream proletariat that sounds like Donald Trump voters:

It was working-class loggers who opposed the protection of the spotted owl or the restoration of salmon runs in the Columbia River. As Richard White recounts, the bumper sticker “Are you an Environmentalist or do you Work for a Living?” became popular among rural working-class communities.

To woo such people into a revolutionary movement, the emphasis should be on winning urban and suburban workers to the Green New Deal that is a lynchpin of Sunkara’s developing journalistic empire rather than “the struggles of poor rural populations (peasants, indigenous peoples, etc.) over land, resources, and environmental degradation within a Marxist political-economic framework.” Since most people are wage workers who have been dispossessed of land through “primitive accumulation” over the past four centuries at least, why waste time with the “marginal” population in Brazil, for example? For every Yanomami, there are likely 100,000 wage workers. That’s the argument, anyhow.

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July 19, 2019

Vice; The Loudest Voice

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

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 19, 2019

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

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

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July 12, 2019

Long Gone Wild; Sea of Shadows

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

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 12, 2019

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

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

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

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July 5, 2019

Bisbee ’17

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 4:06 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 5, 2019

For those who missed the chance to see “Bisbee ‘17” last year because you lived in places where it was not being shown or because, like me, you simply let it slip by, there is very good news. This documentary about an IWW-led strike of copper miners in the company town of Bisbee, Arizona was recently added to Amazon, iTunes, and other VOD services. It is a story very relevant to the period we are living in today. When workers went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions in July 1917, a posse organized by the bosses at Phelps-Dodge and the local authorities rounded up the strikers and deported them to Hermanas, New Mexico in railroad cattle cars, just like Jews being sent to Auschwitz. Once the 1,300 miners arrived in New Mexico, they were housed in tents originally intended for use by Mexican refugees, who took refuge in the USA in order to avoid the Mexican army’s scorched earth tactics against Pancho Villa. As should be obvious, not much has changed since 1917.

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