Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 21, 2021

Cuba, Hip-Hop, and American Imperialism

Filed under: Counterpunch,cuba — louisproyect @ 2:24 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 21, 2021

Cuban Freedom Fighter Denis Solis: “Donald Trump 2020! That’s my president.”

When Charles Post and other independent Marxists teamed up with ex-ISOers to launch Spectre Journal, it struck me as a welcome left alternative to Jacobin. Although I am a subscriber and have urged others to subscribe, I am deeply troubled by a recent article by Sam Farber that exploits the San Isidro controversy as part of his decades-long crusade against the Cuban government.

On November 9, 2020, Cuban rapper Denis Solis was arrested for “contempt” in the San Isidro neighborhood where artists and musicians had begun using social media to protest attacks on their right to free expression. The New York Times article on the arrest links to a Facebook video made by Solis while a cop was in his apartment. Lacking subtitles, it is not easy to make sense of the confrontation. I can assure you that Solis calls the cop a maricon, the Spanish equivalent of “faggot”. I also invite you to pay special attention to what Solis says at 3:10 into the video, namely his support for Donald Trump. Even the Times found this impossible to ignore:

In a country hammered by U.S. sanctions, the politics of some in the group have raised eyebrows. Mr. Solís is a die-hard Trump supporter: In the video he posted of his arrest, he screamed: “Donald Trump 2020! That’s my president.”

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January 8, 2021

Marighella

Filed under: Brazil,Counterpunch,Film,Guerrilla warfare — louisproyect @ 4:58 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 8, 2021

“Marighella” hearkens back to the best political films of the 1960s like Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers” and Costa-Gravas’s “State of Siege”. Set in 1968, it tells the story of Carlos Marighella’s desperate struggle against the military dictatorship in Brazil. Founder and leader of Ação Libertadora Nacional (ALN), Marighella was just one of many revolutionaries in Latin America who broke with the Communist Party to launch either an urban or rural guerrilla group hoping to emulate the July 26th Movement in Cuba. Unlike “The Battle of Algiers,” this story does not have a happy ending. The film concludes with the Brazilian cops firing dozens of rounds into Marighella’s body as he sits in the driver’s seat of a parked VW Beetle. Like Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” it is a tragedy about the failure of the revolutionary left in Latin America to help realize Che’s call for “Two, Three, Many Vietnams.” There were many embryonic Vietnams but they all aborted. Unlike Cuba or Vietnam, there was never a social base adequate to the revolutionary goals. To the credit of director Wagner Moura, this is the overarching theme of this film that will be of supreme interest to CounterPunch readers.

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January 1, 2021

MLK/FBI; One Night in Miami

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch,Film,Malcolm X — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 1, 2021

Two new films directed by African-Americans are essential guides to the Black struggle in the USA during the 1960s. Sam Pollard’s documentary “MLK/FBI” covers J. Edgar Hoover’s racist attempt to “neutralize” Martin Luther King Jr. while Regina King’s narrative film “One Night in Miami” imagines the conversations that took place between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, NFL legend Jim Brown and soul singer Sam Cooke at the Hampton Hotel in Miami on the evening of February 25, 1964. That was the night that Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston and became world heavyweight champion and who announced to the world the next day that he was now to be called Muhammad Ali.

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December 25, 2020

Welcome to Chechnya

Filed under: Chechnya,Counterpunch,homophobia,television — louisproyect @ 5:25 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 25, 2020

Chechnya’s strongman ruler Razman Kadyrov appears to be even more determined to repress gays than Stalin. He doesn’t bother with the niceties of the courtroom, even if based on prejudicial laws. Instead, he has encouraged mob rule in which gay men are entrapped by either cops or vigilantes who have the power to torture anybody caught up in their net.

With his barbaric mixed martial arts background, made even worse by Islamist homophobia, Kadyrov brazens his way through interviews, making Donald Trump look Gandhian by comparison. During an interview with Bryant Gumbel in July 2017, Kadyrov said, “We don’t have such people here. We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada. Praise be to God. Take them far away from us. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Currently showing on HBO Max, “Welcome to Chechnya” allows you to hear from the people suffering from a brutal crackdown that began in early 2017. The documentary states it started with a drug raid, rather than a Stonewall-type assault. One of the arrested men had a cell phone with messages to his male lovers as well as gay porn. The cops then used the phone to begin a massive campaign that sounds quite a bit like the witch-hunts of the 1950s that targeted both Reds and gays. To get lenient treatment, you had to name names. If you refused to incriminate fellow gays, you’d end up spending months in prison being tortured.

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December 12, 2020

Mank

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:52 am

CounterPunch, December 11, 2020

In the first twenty minutes or so of David Fincher’s overrated Netflix film “Mank,” we see Gary Oldman lying in bed with his leg in a full cast slugging down one whiskey after another. Mank is the nickname of Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” widely regarded as the greatest American film ever made. It is 1940 and Orson Welles has tasked him with cranking out a script in sixty days while he recovers from a serious automobile accident in a country retreat. There are two women trying to keep him productive, a thankless task given his alcoholism. One is a German nurse who barely escaped the Nazi death camps. The other is a British secretary who is both taking dictation from Mank and nagging him to stay sober and focus on his work.

Played by Gary Oldman in a scenery-chewing performance that impressed most critics, Mank is always coming up with some arch, overly clever dialog that has about as much relationship to the way that people speak as I do with running in a marathon. When the secretary learns that Mank was a frequent guest of William Randolph Hearst, she asks him what his mistress Marion Davies was like. He replies: “Why is it when you scratch a prim, starchy schoolgirl, you get a swooning motion picture fan who has forgotten all she learned about the Battle of Hastings.” The secretary, of course, is the starchy schoolgirl and his reference to the Battle of Hastings was a put-down since he assumed she knew nothing about it. She immediately shows him up by identifying the day it took place, which is the kind of drama you can expect from this film.

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December 3, 2020

A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 4, 2020

In the aftermath of the New York Times’s Project 1619 that appeared in the August 2019 Sunday Magazine section, there have been howls of protest over Nikole Hannah-Jones’s claim that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” Those howls have come from both the right and the left, with Donald J. Trump and Sean Wilentz being prime examples.

Anybody with an open mind who reads Sharon Rudahl’s superlative A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American will conclude that Hannah-Jones’s statement is truthful. The degree to which racists both in and outside of government tried to “cancel” this African-American icon is shocking. Like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson was an assassination victim. In his case, the murder weapon wasn’t a bullet but decades of harassment and even a possible drug attempt to make him lose his mind. It was an example of a death by a thousand cuts.

Although it is “merely” a comic book, the term that Harvey Pekar preferred to describe his own and similar works, it draws from a wealth of other books, including Martin Duberman’s highly regarded 1988 biography. However, the relationship between his life’s details and the popular form the book assumes is seamless. It is stunning to see how the minutiae of a man’s life can capture your attention. Of course, with someone like Paul Robeson, the inherent drama can overcome even the most pedestrian rendering. Suffice it to say that Rudahl has written one of the best radical comic books I have ever read.

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November 27, 2020

Mangrove

Filed under: Black nationalism,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:57 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 27, 2020

With striking parallels to the story Aaron Sorkin told—very problematically—in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Steve McQueen’s “Mangrove” brings to life a much more obscure historical struggle against judicial injustice. This is the first in a series of five films McQueen made for the BBC about Black life in England. The Mangrove was a restaurant Trinidad immigrant Frank Crichlow opened in Notting Hill in west London in 1968, home to many other Caribbean immigrants who took advantage of coming from a former colony to start a new life. With no other aspirations except to serve up curry dishes and a congenial social gathering for fellow Blacks, Crichlow soon found the British cops bent on destroying his business and making life miserable for people of color. McQueen dedicated the film to George Floyd in open recognition of the black struggle internationally.

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November 11, 2020

DOC NYC Film Festival 2020

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:12 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 11, 2020

Launched 11 years ago, DOC NYC  is the preeminent documentary film festival in the USA, and perhaps the world. Hosted by the IFC Center in NY, it will last between November 11th and 19th. Like every other festival taking place in the city since the pandemic began, it is a Virtual Festival, with individual films available as VOD for $12. After reading my brief takes on seven of the films I had a chance to preview, you might even be enticed to get a festival-wide ticket for $199.

1. Acasa, My Home

Set in a network of lakes and islands not far from Bucharest, Romania, the documentary features a 9-member Roma family headed by Gica Enache who abandoned city life after the fashion of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”, except without the typically puritanical streak of the New England Yankee.

The best way to describe the Enache’s household is as a mixture of beasts and humanity that would make a Borat film look realistic by comparison. All 9 of the Enaches live in what must be labeled as a shack, while a variety of pigs, pigeons, chickens, dogs, and cats wander in and out.

Despite the lack of urban amenities, the family seems happy with an Edenic life. They get by on the fish that are plentiful in the water close to their home. Those that they do not eat, Vali, the eldest son, peddles from door to door in the city. When the film begins, we see Vali swimming with a beatific glow on his face in one of the lakes, as his younger brothers row a boat close by. When he catches a goose and begins to toy with it, his younger brothers admonish him to let the bird free. Respect for mother nature runs deep in a family that depends on her for their survival.

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November 6, 2020

Commercial Capitalism

Filed under: Counterpunch,transition debate — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm


COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 6, 2020

I’m not a professional historian, but I get to play one on the Internet.

One of the historical debates that I have been absorbed with since the mid-1990s is over capitalism’s origin. When James Blaut, an anthropology professor who died in 2000, showed up on the Marxism list around then, he had just published “The Colonizer’s Model of the World.” In this book and the next installment for a planned trilogy on Eurocentrism, he challenged the idea that capitalism originated in England and diffused to the rest of the world. The second book was titled “Eight Eurocentric Historians” and included a chapter on Robert Brenner, a professor emeritus at UCLA who gathered disciples under the banner of “Political Marxism.” In brief, Political Marxism, also known as the Brenner thesis, theorizes that capitalism began in the British countryside in the 15th century. For reasons too lengthy to detail here, lease farming on large estates set into motion a market-driven process that inevitably led to the industrial revolution and the British Empire.

As a corollary to the Brenner thesis, there is an argument that slavery and precapitalist colonialism had nothing to do with England’s “take off.” Furthermore, in the USA, as historians Charles Post and James Clegg argue, slavery was an obstacle to the growth of capitalism and had little impact on economic development in the north. Unlike the often arcane debate over whether lease farming was the prima facie basis for take off, the slavery debate had much more relevance to current days. The so-called New Historians of Capitalism, such as Edward Baptist and Sven Beckert, wrote books linking slavery to America’s capitalist success. For this transgression, the Trump administration linked their scholarship to Project 1619 and called for a curriculum purged of such anti-American propaganda.

Over the years, I have written sixty-two articles contributing to this debate, but assuredly nobody would mistake them for the work of a professional historian. On the other hand, since most of the exchanges occur in paywalled, peer-reviewed journals, my articles might be where many non-academics first learn about the issues.

This article will take up “A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism,” the latest book by Jairus Banaji, a professional historian who received the Isaac Deutscher prize in 2011 for “Theory as History.” Other critics of the Brenner thesis include Kerem Nisancioglu and Alexander Anievas, the authors of “How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism,” and Irfan Habib, the author of articles such as “The rise of capitalism in England: Reviewing the Brenner thesis.”

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October 23, 2020

The Return of the Chicago Seven

Filed under: Counterpunch,Vietnam — louisproyect @ 1:17 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 23, 2020

Looking back at the choices I made, I often rue the 11 years I wasted in the SWP. While other people from my generation like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were having fun, I was something of a worker bee. I remember one cold and drizzly night in September 1967, when I was with a team of comrades wheat-pasting posters on Broadway between 59th and 96th streets for the October demonstration in Washington. Just after we finished, the cops told us to take them all down. Our only reward was seeing a massive turnout that included Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Hoffman and Rubin trying to levitate the Pentagon. During the trial of the Chicago 7, Hoffman used his puckish sense of humor to make prosecutor Richard Schultz look foolish as he tried to make an amalgam between this stunt and the charge of fomenting a riot in August 1968. When Schultz asked Hoffman to explain why he urinated on the Pentagon that day, you could not help but laugh at the exchange.

After having seen Adam Sorkin’s Netflix docudrama and one that aired on HBO in 1987, I can’t remember which film recreated this exchange. What I can remember, however, is the significant political differences between the two, as well as my take on the Chicago protests and the ensuing trial at the time. The seven men on trial were committed to the politics of the spectacle, to put it in DeBordian terms. By the summer of 1968, Dellinger et al. had grown frustrated with the failure of the mass demonstrations to end the war. They believed that “resistance” was necessary as a tantrum by several thousand young people could force the warmakers into withdrawing from South Vietnam. On December 29, 1968, SWP leader Fred Halstead debated Jerry Rubin over “What Policy for the Antiwar Movement.” The Militant newspaper carried excerpts from Rubin’s speech:

The war in Vietnam will be stopped when the embarrassment of carrying on the war becomes greater than the embarrassment of admitting defeat. A lot of things embarrass America. A lot of things embarrass a country so dependent on image: Youth alienation, campus demonstrations and disruptions, peace candidates, underground railroads of draft dodgers to Canada, trips to banned countries, thousands of people giving their middle finger to the Pentagon over national television …

The long-haired beasts, smoking pot, evading the draft and stopping traffic during demonstrations is a hell of a more threat to the system than the so-called politico with leaflets of support for the Vietcong and the coming working-class revolution. Politics is how you live your life, not who you vote for or who you support . . .

Only seven months later, the Chicago Seven led actions based on these premises. Unsurprisingly, the war continued despite the embarrassment generated by the police riots and the kangaroo court that the two documentaries depicted.

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