Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 27, 2020

Life and Death in the Epicenter

Filed under: coronavirus,Counterpunch,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 3:08 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 27, 2020

When it comes to warding off COVID-19, I’ve been ahead of the curve. Last October, after a bout with acute bronchitis that lasted most of the month, I resolved never to go through such an ordeal again. I started using hand sanitizer and avoided touching my face. Like my glaucoma, it is a geriatric illness. When I checked the New York Times archives for tips on dealing with bronchitis, I was shocked to discover how many well-known and powerful geezers came down with it: Konrad Adenauer, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Paul Robeson. None died from bronchitis, but around half were hospitalized, a routine treatment for powerful heads of state (except for Robeson.)

While bronchitis is not life-threatening, COVID-19 certainly is. As a septuagenarian, I am vulnerable. On top of that, the illness indicated that my immune system was compromised, just as you’d expect. Getting through this pandemic is a matter of life and death for me, especially since I live in New York City, the epicenter.

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March 20, 2020

Considerations of the post-Sanders era

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 7:05 pm

 

Steve Fraser assess Bernie Sanders; I assess his assessment

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 20, 2020

Just the other day, I was looking through the articles Kevin Coogan had written over the years. Kevin, a long-time commenter on my blog, died unexpectedly on February 27th and I was curious to review his take-downs of Lyndon LaRouche’s cult. A bit younger than me, Kevin was a former member and hoped to warn others about making the same mistake he made. I had the same missionary zeal when it came to the Socialist Workers Party. We both shared Ishmael’s need to repeat the verse from Job at the very end of Moby Dick: “and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

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March 6, 2020

The Romanian New Wave

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

The 2006 film that signaled the birth of the Romanian New Wave

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 6, 2020

Although I was only one of the few film critics who did not find Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” worthy of an Academy Award for best film of 2020, I was happy to see a foreign-language film get such an award for the first time. As a fan of two of his earlier films (The Host, Mother), I do count him as one of South Korea’s top directors. As should be obvious from my surveys of South Korean film for CounterPunch, I consider the country to be on the leading edge of filmmaking today, alongside Iran, China and Romania. Ironically, these four nations that have long histories of repression are far more richly endowed cinematically. Perhaps, it is not such an irony in light of our greatest composers having served as court musicians under clerics and monarchs.

Until now, there has only been a single review of a Romanian film on CounterPunch, and it was not mine. It was by the redoubtable Kim Nicolini, who in 2008 described “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” as “the movie that I’ve been waiting to see for months, and it did not disappoint.”

Here’s the good news. “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”, which describes the desperate search by a young woman to find someone in 1980s Romania to perform an illegal abortion, is part of a traveling film festival titled “Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema.” Scheduling information is here. The festival includes thirty films, including a number originating before what film scholars have dubbed the Romanian New Wave or New Romanian Cinema.

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February 28, 2020

The Bureau

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 3:39 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 28, 2020

A while back, I noticed a brief reference in the N.Y. Times to a French spy thriller titled “The Bureau” that sounded intriguing. The Times reviewer described it as “a workplace drama with an arthouse aesthetic, set at an unusually exciting office: the D.G.S.E. (France’s equivalent of the C.I.A.).” It added that you might want to pass on it if you’re looking for James Bond-style chase scenes or can’t stand being confused.

Now that I have begun Season Two of “The Bureau” on Amazon via a $7.99 per month Sundance Channel subscription, I can report that this is on the same level as the 1965 film version of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” Like John le Carré, the creative team behind “The Bureau” are far more interested in the psychological aspects of the spy trade that involve wholesale deception. Like the actors who portray the characters in “The Bureau,” spies must lie for a living. Or, to use a less judgmental term, pretend.

Unlike the typical spy movie that features men and women with extraordinary powers, those in “The Bureau” are all too human. You never see them in a spectacular knife fight like Matt Damon in his very first Jason Bourne role. Instead, they are mostly sitting at desks staring at computer monitors as I did in my 44-year programming career. Instead of debugging Cobol programs, however, they are typically monitoring the movements of their targets through G.P.S.

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February 21, 2020

Encountering Malcolm X

Filed under: Black nationalism,Counterpunch,Kevin Coogan,socialism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 3:12 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 21, 2020

Watching the six-part documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X?” on Netflix stirred up powerful memories of how important he was to my political evolution. While the documentary is focused on exploring the Nation of Islam’s (NOI) role in his murder, it also sheds light on Malcolm’s post-NOI political odyssey. By creating a rival movement to the pseudo-Islamist sect, he risked a fatal encounter with four assassins on this date fifty-five years ago at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.

Just six weeks before his death, I heard Malcolm X speak at the Palm Gardens in New York. I went with my girlfriend Dian, who was on midterm break from Bard College, just like me. I remember taking a seat about ten rows from the podium and being perplexed by the five or so leaflets on the chair that advertised rallies or meetings geared to radicals. Although I was much more of an existentialist liberal a la Camus in 1965, I was eager to hear Malcolm speak. Little did I know at the time that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a sect I would join two years later, organized the meeting. The Trotskyists placed leaflets on the chairs to draw people closer to the party, an approach that the Internet would supersede just as Facebook would supersede the mimeograph machine.

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February 14, 2020

Marx, Lincoln and Project 1619

Filed under: Civil War,Counterpunch,Project 1619,slavery — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

Victoria Woodhull: Spiritualist and leader of the first socialist international in the United States

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 14, 2020

It must have enraged the historians who signed Sean Wilentz’s open letter to the New York Times and their World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) allies to see Abraham Lincoln knocked off his pedestal. How insolent for Nikole Hannah-Jones to write in her introductory essay for Project 1619 that “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity.” Lincoln was not only an iconic figure for the average American. Karl Marx admired him as well for his war on slavery. Since the primary goal of the critics of Project 1619 was to prioritize class over “identity”, naturally Karl Marx was just the authority to help make their case against the bourgeois New York Times intent on dividing the working-class.

Since the WSWS sets itself up as a Marxist gate-keeper par excellence, we can assume that the historians also had the Karl Marx-Abraham Lincoln in mind when they hooked up with the Trotskyist sect. James McPherson is probably the closest to WSWS ideologically, having granted them interviews over the years. When they asked him if he read Karl Marx’s writings on the Civil War, the historian replied, “Well, I think they have a lot of very good insight into what was going on in the American Civil War. Marx certainly saw the abolition of slavery as a kind of bourgeois revolution that paved the way for the proletarian revolution that he hoped would come in another generation or so. It was a crucial step on the way to the eventual proletarian revolution, as Marx perceived it.”

In this article, I will look critically at what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about these questions. Although I have been a Marxist for 52 years, I have little patience with those who put him (or Lenin and Trotsky) on a pedestal. I believe that Nikole Hannah-Jones had good reasons to question his sanctity. More to the point, I will argue that Marx and Engels lacked the political foresight to see how black Americans would be short-changed after the Civil War. Keeping in mind that the first socialist international was located in the United States, we must examine its relationship to the newly emancipated black population. Based on my reading of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s “The Yankee International,” my conclusion is that it fell short.

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February 7, 2020

The Revolutionary Cinema of Patricio Guzman

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 5:25 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 7, 2020

On February 12th, the IFC in New York will begin showing “The Cordillera of Dreams”, the latest film from Patricio Guzman. The 78-year-old Chilean is one of Latin America’s most celebrated leftwing directors, whose three-part “The Battle of Chile” became an iconic film alongside Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas’s 1968 tripartite “Hour of the Furnaces” that dealt with the revolutionary movement in Argentina. For sixties radicals like me, these films were required viewing. Timed to the release of Guzman’s latest, Ovid—the Netflix of the left—has added five Guzman films to their nonpareil inventory. After some words on “The Cordillera Of Dreams”, I will cover some of the new Ovid offerings.

Cordillera is the Spanish word for mountain range, such as the Andes that Guzman uses as a symbol of Chilean hopes and disappointment. Constituting 80 percent of Chile’s landmass, it is the primary source of the country’s copper-mining wealth and its cultural legacy. For most Chileans, it is just something seen in landscape paintings, including a mural in the Santiago subway.

Like a leitmotif in one of Wagner’s operas, Guzman returns to images of the mountains, captured beautifully by a drone. They serve as a backdrop for the nation’s search for identity in a period when neoliberalism governs all social relations. That identity remains with him despite not having lived in the country since the coup. In dozens of films since “The Battle of Chile”, he has struggled to keep alive the dreams that marked the pre-coup years when everything seemed possible. The cordillera of dreams is a way of saying that dreams are as permanent as the Andes.

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January 31, 2020

Considerations of 21st Century Socialism

Filed under: Counterpunch,socialism — louisproyect @ 2:47 pm

“A person begins to become free from thinking of the annoying fact that one needs to work to satisfy one’s animal needs.”

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 31, 2020

Fifty years ago, Peter Camejo ran for Senator from Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. He didn’t win but did manage to recruit many young people to socialism through a stump speech filled with jokes. One of them had to do with life under socialism. There would be such an abundance of goods that money would no longer be necessary. He’d say something like this: “You go to a grocery store and there is filet mignon. Nothing would prevent you from sticking a dozen under your jacket and sneaking out. But instead of being arrested for shoplifting, you’d be referred to a psychotherapist for doing something so crazy. All you can eat is one, right?”

Today, it would be difficult to make such a speech since we are far too aware of the costs to the planet from cattle ranching. Most socialists are speaking about the need to prevent the Amazon rainforest from being leveled to the ground. Do we accelerate global warming to supply beef to fast-food restaurants? If Peter were alive today, he’d be among the loudest voices against Bolsonaro.

In his 1970 campaign, Peter was trying to popularize the ideas found in Leon Trotsky’s 1934 article “If American Goes Communist.”  Trotsky’s words sound somewhat crass as if he were making a sales pitch to men in the admittedly backward but wealthy country: “The average man doesn’t like systems or generalities either. It is the task of your communist statesmen to make the system deliver the concrete goods that the average man desires: his food, cigars, amusements, his freedom to choose his own neckties, his own house and his own automobile. It will be easy to give him these comforts in Soviet America.”

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January 24, 2020

Isabel dos Santos and the African lumpen-bourgeoisie

Filed under: Africa,capitalist pig,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 10:57 pm

Isabel Dos Santos, 46, with her Congolese husband Sindika Dokolo, 47, in Cannes in May 2014

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 24, 2020

Thirty years ago, I was part of a Tecnica delegation that visited the African National Congress headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. We were there to discuss the feasibility of a technical aid project for the ANC and the frontline states with Thabo Mbeki, the future president of post-apartheid South Africa. Back then, the term frontline referred to a group of other sub-Saharan nations that were also fighting for liberation.

Chief among them was Angola that had defeated the Portuguese colonial army and gained independence in 1975. However, peace did not ensue. Three rival guerrilla armies began to fight for control over the newly liberated country. The international left identified with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Unfortunately, the MPLA had to contend with both the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Israel backed the FNLA, an alliance that most would view as unsavory. However, China also backed the FNLA, which only goes to show that Maoism had its own unsavory aspects. As for UNITA, it was wholly reliant on CIA support and guilty of the same kind of war crimes the Nicaraguan contras were carrying out.

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January 17, 2020

The best films of 2019

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 9:39 pm

What a genuinely radical movie looks like:

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 17, 2020

This is now the third “Best of” survey I have posted to CounterPunch. It might be subtitled “The anti-Oscar awards” since none of the films listed would have ever been nominated for an award in the Tinseltown-dominated ceremony.

As was the case in my 2017  and 2018 “Best of” round-ups, these are all films that were screened originally at art houses in New York or Los Angeles but can now be rented for less than $5 on Amazon Prime. Thanks to Jeff Bezos (and for little else), they enjoy a second life.

As a member of New York Film Critics Online, I receive well over fifty DVD’s at year-end for consideration of an award in our December voting. This allowed me to evaluate the kind of films that dominate the Academy Awards. Except for “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story”, I found them uniformly dreadful. Among the most disappointing were “Parasite”, “Joker” and “1917”  that each will likely walk off with a wheelbarrow full of Oscar statuettes.

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