Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 25, 2018

Requiem for a mountain lion

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,indigenous — louisproyect @ 12:57 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, May 25, 2018

Last Saturday, an emaciated mountain lion (50 pounds underweight) killed a mountain biker on the foothills of the Cascade Range near North Bend, Washington, a small town not far from Seattle. The city’s name is an anglicization of Chief Si’ahl, a Suquamish leader best known for what was likely an apocryphal speech addressed to the territory’s governor Isaac Stevens that warned about the threats to mother nature and native peoples posed by capitalist development. It was occasioned by the 1855 Treaty of Port Elliot that Stevens forced on them at the point of a gun:

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Day and night cannot dwell together. The red man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as the changing mists on the mountain side flee before the blazing morning sun.

American history is replete with stories of Indian removal and species extinction. After all, they go hand in hand. Perhaps the first occurrence was in upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains, an area I am intimately familiar with. I grew up in Sullivan County, the home of the Borscht Belt in the southern Catskills. While I loved the countryside growing up, there were hardly any Catskill mountains to speak of. We were blessed by the presence of the Shawangunk Mountains that I could see from our living room window. After graduating high school, I entered Bard College and eventually lived in a dorm that overlooked the Catskill Mountains proper just across the Hudson River.

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Diana Johnstone versus CounterPunch

Filed under: Counterpunch,Red-Brown alliance — louisproyect @ 12:10 am

Diana Johnstone

Following her Consortium News attack on Tony McKenna, Diana Johnstone now directs her polemical pea-shooter at CounterPunch (CP) and once again on Consortium News. Since she has written about a hundred articles for CP over the years, I wondered what might have ticked her off.

I subsequently learned from CP co-editor Joshua Frank that after he and Jeff St. Clair decided to publish an article that took exception to her kind words on behalf of Marine Le Pen’s brand of nativism, she saw them as the enemy. Among other things, the article stated:

Johnstone’s torrent of unsupported claims takes a dark turn when she focuses her attention against immigration. In effect, she calls for the left to reconsider its pro-immigrant stance, because “a left whose principal cause is open borders will become increasingly unpopular.” This is a nationalist argument, suggesting that political opportunism is of more importance than the lives of refugees and immigrants.

What could make Johnstone think that her opposition to immigration will resonate with the left? It reeks of the xenophobia that we are dealing with in the USA and that most people have taken a firm stand against, whatever their differences on other questions.

She says that in the current fund-drive, CP has teamed up with Russia-bashers like Rachel Maddow, Max Boot, et al because their slogan for the fund-drive is “We Have All the Right Enemies”, which supposedly means that they are on the Kremlin’s shit-list. But there is no indication that the “right enemies” is a reference to Russia. Go to https://store.counterpunch.org/ and try to find something to that effect. And, while you are there, make a donation to the best magazine on the left.

In her blinkered vision, Jeff St. Clair wasn’t like Rachel Maddow and Max Boot back in the day. He was just as much of a Putin-booster as Diana Johnstone, even though Jeff wrote of the most vicious take-downs of Putin you’ll find anywhere. She refers to an attack on CP that was written by a German blogger that tried to demonstrate that published articles were stacked in favor of the rightwing and white supremacists. Jeff St. Clair answered the blogger effectively but perhaps Johnstone was miffed that he did not come out and say that he was in favor of the red-brown alliance she has been advocating for years.

At the time, I was amused to see that Franklin Lamb was included in the German blogger’s group of rightists in light of the fact that for the past year or so he has written some of the most hard-hitting critiques of the Assad dictatorship found anywhere. Lamb’s ability to change his views based on new information should be lauded. It is too bad that writers like Johnstone remain evidence-averse.

According to the German blogger, the bad guys wrote 674 articles while those penned by the good guys only numbered 245, with me accounting for 59 of them. At the time, I scoffed at the blogger’s bogus statistics:

This is really quite pathetic, a classic example of “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. If you really want to characterize CounterPunch, it would be necessary to conduct an analysis of all of the articles that appear there, not just a sampling. How do I and the other “left/progressives” (god, what an awful term) exhaust the inventory of all those on the left who write for CounterPunch? All you need to do is look at a typical weekend edition, like the one that came out today, to get a handle on what it stands for. There are 40 articles and not a single one has even the slightest whiff of rightwing politics. Speaking of which, one has to wonder what criteria Hendricks used to categorize some of the people as rightwingers. She includes Franklin Lamb and Paul Larudee. Unless I am missing something, they have never written anything I would associate with the Republican Party. For that matter, mostly what they do is circulate pro-Baathist propaganda after the fashion of Tony Greenstein.

The reference to Greenstein was prompted by his own attack on CP that along with Jews Sans Frontieres made the case for it being anti-Semitic. Trust me. If I ever saw evidence on CP of the kind of Jew-baiting that goes on at Russia-Insider, where Johnstone’s article was crossposted, I would stop writing for CP. On January 15th, Russia-Insider’s editor wrote that “hostility to Putin’s Russia is largely a Jewish phenomenon.” Despite this David Duke-type rhetoric, Consortium News accepts tax-deductible donations for Russia-Insider as a fiscal sponsor. Go figure.

Make no mistake about it. Johnstone had high hopes for CP being much more like Consortium News, Russia-Insider, The Saker, The Duran, 21st Century Wire, Global Research or any of the fifty other websites that pass along RT.com talking points to the conspiracy-minded pinheads who lap this stuff up.

She was particularly upset that CP ripped alt-right fan Caitlin Johnstone a new asshole (no, the two are not related except ideologically.) After Green Party misleader David Cobb advocated following Caitlin Johnstone’s advice to bloc with people like Mike Cernovich, CP co-editor Joshua Frank blasted Cobb and Caitlin Johnstone:

Back to the disgusting Mike Cernovich, who hates gender equality and believes that white men are oppressed by big bad feminism. He’s tweeted that, “Not being a slut is the only proven way to avoid AIDS. If you love black women, slut shame them.” Fuck him. He doesn’t give a shit about women, class issues, climate change or the ugly side of capitalism.  Cernovich even told Andrew Marantz of the The New Yorker, “I believe in strong borders, including keeping out Islamic terrorists. If people think that’s inherently racist, fine—but I’m an American nationalist, not a white nationalist.”

Diana Johnstone didn’t think that this sort of thing should get in the way of a “single-issue antiwar movement” like the one we had in the 1960s. Of course, back then this meant uniting pacifists, CP’ers and Trotskyist on the need to get out of Vietnam. Nobody in their right mind would have asked someone like Cernovich to speak at an antiwar rally. What Johnstone means by “antiwar” is much different than what we were involved with back then. Instead, she wants everybody to get behind Assad’s war on the Syrian population marching along with her, Caitlin Johnstone and Mike Cernovich.

One of the other CP critiques of Caitlin Johnstone was written by Yoal Litvin, who served in the Israeli military before relocating to the USA. If that is a litmus test, what do we make of long-time CP contributor Uri Avnery who during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War fought on the southern front in the Givati Brigade as a squad commander, and later in the Samson’s Foxes commando unit (and also wrote its anthem)? Maybe Litvin and Avnery, like Lamb, changed their views. Too bad that, unlike them, Johnstone’s thinking is so calcified.

Reading Johnstone, you’d think that Alexander Reid Ross sets the tone for CP. She can’t stand that he wrote an article that denounced the red-brown alliances that she and Caitlin Johnstone advocate. To show how off-base Ross is, she points out that an article he wrote for the Southern Poverty Law Center making such points was subsequently deleted. She does not mention, however, that it was only deleted after Max Blumenthal threatened legal action. Back in the 60s, the left understood that it should settle its differences through debate and not through the bourgeois courts. Maybe Johnstone forgot about this or maybe she never viewed this as a principle. That’s another difference between us.

It is worth noting that Ross has written 11 articles for CP but only a single one was in the vein that Johnstone objected to. Meanwhile she has written 100 articles all saying just about the same kinds of things, namely that Putin is a great guy, that Marine Le Pen is part of the left and that Assad is leading a war on terror. There was a time before her brain became so calcified that Johnstone could write some interesting stuff, even if it was wrong. I can’t stand Seymour Hersh’s politics but I would never dream of ignoring something he wrote. As for Johnstone, I tuned her out about a decade ago unless it was something as egregiously wrong-headed as this that deserved a reply.

The last couple of paragraphs sound like the sort of thing that Stephen F. Cohen tells ultrarightist John Batchelor every time he makes an appearance on his WABC radio show:

Vladimir Putin is clearly in the Westernizing tradition. Not an ignorant buffoon like Yeltsin, ready to give away the shop to get a pat on the back from Bill. But rather someone who, as an intelligence agent (yes, KGB people learn a lot) lived in the West, spoke fluent German, and wanted Russia to have a dignified place in Europe – which was the dream of Gorbachev.

But this aspiration has been rudely rebuffed by the United States. Russians who yearned to be part of Europe have been disappointed, humiliated, and finally, angered. All their efforts at friendship have been met with increasingly outlandish portrayals of Russia as “the enemy”.

What the hell does this pop psychology have to do with radical politics? It almost makes you think that Johnstone was getting paid by the Kremlin to write such drivel. If so, they better ask for their money back since it has about as much impact as a wet noodle.

May 18, 2018

First Reformed

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

For most film buffs, the movie “Taxi Driver” and the name Martin Scorsese are inextricably linked. But for me, the essence of a film is the screenplay. It all goes back to Aristotle who in defining tragedy in “Poetics” placed plot and character at the top of the six necessary ingredients (the other four are diction, thought, spectacle, and melody). Martin Scorsese did not write the screenplay for “Taxi Driver”. It was written by Paul Schrader, who also wrote “Raging Bull”. If there is anything that defines these masterpieces, it is the brilliant storytelling (plot) and character development of the screenplay (think Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta). Scorsese deserves credit for helping Robert De Niro fully realize two memorable characters and creating the spellbinding background against which they stand (think of spectacle as cinematography and melody as film score) but without Schrader’s screenplay, it would have been all for naught.

In addition to being a screenwriter, Schrader was also a director—sometimes with mixed results. I am pleased to report that his latest film that opens nationwide today is not only his greatest achievement but one of the great American films of the decade. “First Reformed” tells the story of Toller (Ethan Hawke), the grief-stricken pastor of the eponymous upstate N.Y. Protestant church who delivers sermons to less than ten people on an average Sunday. The drawing card for the church is not spirituality, but its status as a landmark building that draws tourists, including some that can be persuaded to buy a coffee cup, baseball cap or t-shirt from the church’s tiny souvenir shop.

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May 11, 2018

Capitalism: a Horror Movie

Filed under: Counterpunch,economics,Film — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

As part of its special series celebrating the 200thbirthday of Karl Marx between May 18-22, the Anthology Film Archives will be screening “Capitalism”, a 320-minute, six-part documentary that is both supremely intelligent and briskly entertaining, on May 20th at 3:45. Directed by Ilan Ziv, the founder of Icarus Films, it is like no other film I have ever seen about the horror we face in our daily lives that is much more frightening than slasher movies like Halloween or Friday the Thirteenth. After all, the idea of nuclear holocaust or global warming—just two of the threats we face from an economic system gone mad—are not something a plucky hero or heroine in a John Carpenter movie can stave off.

The film operates on two levels. It is both a history of how this system came into existence as well as a profile of the men who have put themselves at its service ideologically (Hayek) and those who either fought against its worst abuses (Keynes) or hoped to abolish it altogether (Marx).

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May 4, 2018

Nicaraguan contradictions

Filed under: Counterpunch,nicaragua — louisproyect @ 5:13 pm

Juan and Eva Perón

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo

COUNTERPUNCH, May 4, 2018

So what had happened in Nicaragua since Daniel Ortega became the president once again in 2007 and was reelected two more times? I really hadn’t paid much attention to the country other than to call attention to what was obviously an environmentally unsound project to build a new canal underwritten by a Chinese investor.

After reading more than a hundred pages of mostly scholarly material from behind the JSTOR paywall, I have come to the conclusion that Ortega can be described in Marxist terms as a left Bonapartist or what is commonly known in Latin America as a caudillo. He abandoned the FSLN’s original program that promised once in power to “plan the national economy, putting an end to the anarchy characteristic of the capitalist system of production.” Instead, he embraced capitalist measures, even to the point of enlisting the support of COSEP, the powerful instrument of Nicaragua’s bourgeoisie. However, unlike Violetta Chamorro, whose neoliberal policies tore apart the country in much the same way that Pinochet’s did in Chile, he adopted what Ortega’s economic adviser Bayardo Arce called a “market economy with a preferential option for the poor”.

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April 27, 2018

Racism and Eugenics, American-Style

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

As the Trump administration’s openly racist policies become ever more pronounced, two timely documentaries serve as an anti-toxin. Available exclusively from its distributor Bullfrog Films, “A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream” takes on the bogus science that underpins Trump’s complaint about too many people from “shithole countries” like Haiti and not enough from Norway. In September 2016, the Independent reported that Donald Trump’s biographer Michael D’Antonio accused him of subscribing to the “racehorse theory” of genetics taught to him by his Fred Trump, who was arrested at a KKK riot in 1927. D’Antonio wrote that “They believe that there are superior people and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get a superior offspring.”

Under Trump, police terror continues unabated with the most recent occurrence being the killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento in his grandmother’s backyard. The cops thought that the cell phone he was holding in his hand was a gun just like the wallet that Amadou Diallo removed from his pocket to identify himself to trigger-happy cops who poured bullets into him. In reality, the fear of a cell phone and a wallet was lubricated by a racism that has been the high-octane fuel behind all these incidents. For most activists, it was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that propelled Black Lives Matter into a mass movement. Although I am probably like most CounterPunch readers in keeping up with Michael Brown’s death and the aftermath, I was stunned by the investigative reporting manifested in “Stranger Fruit” that can be rented on Youtube, Amazon and iTunes. It will also have a broadcast premiere in June on Starz.

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April 13, 2018

Chemical Attacks, False Flags and the Fate of Syria

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:48 am

COUNTERPUNCH, April 13, 2018

Once again Eastern Ghouta is the epicenter of a confrontation between the White House and Bashar al-Assad. On April 7th, medics in Douma, the largest city in the agricultural belt surrounding Damascus, blamed him for authorizing the aerial bombardment of chlorine gas that cost the lives of at least 40 people and injuries to hundreds of others. While chlorine gas has been used in the past by Assad’s air force, it has not had the devastating impact it had this time.

Syria, Russia and Iran dismissed such reports as a “false flag” in which jihadists used fraudulent photos and videos to pressure American imperialism into taking their side in an all-out attack such as the one that took place against Iraq in 2003. For those of a conspiracist bent, this was a con job just like the Apollo Moon landing hoax when film simulations supposedly substituted for the real thing.

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April 4, 2018

German Film Festival April 6-12

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:41 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, April 34, 2018

Between April 6thand 12th, the Landmark Theater on W. 57thStreet in New York will be hosting a festival of recent German films of great interest to cinephiles based on the evidence of two press screeners I saw that have much in common besides being well-made. To start with, both have nonagenarian main characters played by two of Germany’s most renowned actors.

As a 90-year old Communist about to celebrate his birthday in opening night’s “In Times of Fading Light”, Bruno Ganz might be best known to most folks for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in “Downfall” but the 77-year old actor’s career encompasses a wide range of heralded roles ranging from art films made by Wim Wenders (The American Friend; Wings of Desire) to Hollywood films like “The Boys from Brazil”. “In Times of Fading Light” is set in 1989 as the Berlin Wall is about to come down. The fading light referred to in the title is Communism’s twilight.

Exactly the same age as Ganz, Jurgen Prochnow plays a 92-year old Wehrmacht veteran named Eduard Leander in “The Final Journey”, who led a regiment of Ukrainian Cossacks during WWII. The film’s title refers to his odyssey to find the woman he loved in a Luhansk village against the backdrop of a new war involving some of the same geopolitical cleavages. Like Ganz, Prochnow has a long and distinguished career and is best known for playing the German submarine commander in “Das Boot”. Deemed controversial at the time for showing German soldiers without the stereotypical mustache-twirling villainy seen in Hollywood films, “The Final Journey” could conceivably be accused of whitewashing Nazi war crimes—that is, unless you understand that his character paid dearly for them.

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March 30, 2018

Great Cowboy Strike: Bullets, Ballots, & Class Conflicts in the American West

Filed under: Counterpunch,workers — louisproyect @ 4:02 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, March 30, 2018

While not a school in the same exact way as the NHC, the historians grouped around the Labor and Working Class History Association(LAWCHA) website have set themselves to the task of promoting “public and scholarly awareness of labor and working-class history through research, writing, and organizing.” Among its members is Chad Pearson, whose “Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement” helps us understand the threat posed by Janus today even if the period covered in the book is over a century ago.

Pearson’s LAWCHA colleague Mark A. Lause, a civil war era historian just like the NHC’ers, has just come out with a new book titled “The Great Cowboy Strike: Bullets, Ballots, & Class Conflicts in the American West” that should be of keen interest to CounterPunch readers. Since American society is guided by notions of “rugged individualism” embodied in the old West, it is high time for that mythology to be put to rest. Reading Lause’s magisterial account will leave you with only one conclusion: Billy the Kid had more in common with Occupy Wall Street than he did with faux cowboys like Ronald Reagan chopping wood and George W. Bush clearing bush in their respective ranches. In fact, he was more likely to put a bullet in their counterparts way back then.

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March 23, 2018

The Workshop; A Bag of Marbles

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:08 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, March 23, 2018

Two French films open today in New York that are deeply engaged with the country’s malaise both present and past. Laurent Cantet’s “The Workshop”, which can be seen at the IFC Center, examines the troubled interaction between a successful novelist Olivia Dejazet and seven local students attending her writer’s workshop in La Ciotat, a southern town once dominated by the defunct ship-building industry and the militant Communist-led trade unions to which their workers belonged. Now, the only boats being built in La Ciotat are yachts for the super-rich who are resented by the economically depressed locals, including the students. “The Bag of Marbles” that opens at the Landmark on 57th Street is set in Vichy France and tells the story of two Jewish boys who are on the run from the Nazis. In preparing the boys for their trek across France into the Italian-controlled south of the country, their father trains them to deny their Jewishness. Over the kitchen table, he grills them as if he were a Gestapo interrogator. “Are you Jewish?”, he snarls at Joseph, the 10-year old who is more vulnerable than his 12-year old brother Maurice. When the boy says no, the father slaps him across the face and repeats the question. After 4 or 5 slaps, the father is satisfied that they are ready to send on their way.

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