Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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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January 10, 2020

Project 1619 and its detractors

Filed under: Counterpunch,slavery — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

Sean Wilentz, pal of Bill and Hillary Clinton, in a united front with World Socialist Web Site

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 10, 2020

Last August, the New York Times Sunday Magazine devoted an entire issue to Project 1619, an attempt to root today’s racism in the institution of slavery dating back to the seventeenth century. In 1619, British colonists in Point Comfort, Virginia bought twenty African slaves from Portuguese traders who had landed there, fresh from a body-snatching expedition. Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote the introduction to ten articles in the magazine that focused on different aspects of Black oppression, such as Traymaine Lee’s on the wealth gap between black and white Americans.

Four months later, five prominent historians of the Civil War signed a letter demanding that the newspaper correct “errors” and “distortions” in Project 1619. Rumor has it that Princeton professor Sean Wilentz wrote the letter and lined up four others to co-sign: Victoria Bynum, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, and Gordon S. Wood. I would only add that Bynum wrote a book that chronicled the armed resistance to wealthy slave-owners by poor white southerners and served as a consultant for the inspiring movie “The Free State of Jones”.

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January 4, 2020

Watching the Watchmen

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 2:19 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 3, 2020

On October 25, 2019, I supported Martin Scorsese’s put-down of Marvel Comics super-hero films in a CounterPunch article. The article appeared just five days after HBO began streaming “Watchmen.” I knew little about Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel that inspired the series, but decided to begin watching the watchmen. Written in 1985, it shared Scorsese’s dim view of super-heroes. In a 2017 interview, Moore’s vitriol surpassed Scorsese’s:

I think the impact of super-heroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying. While these characters were originally perfectly suited to stimulating the imaginations of their twelve or thirteen year-old audience, today’s franchised übermenschen, aimed at a supposedly adult audience, seem to be serving some kind of different function, and fulfilling different needs…In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as the first American super-hero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.

There are six degrees of separation between Moore and me. Twelve years ago, I worked with Harvey Pekar on a comic book about my comic life as a Trotskyist. Harvey always insisted on calling what he did “comic books” rather than the somewhat pretentious “graphic novel.” Like Moore, he wanted to break with super-hero mythology but on a different basis. Moore’s “Watchmen” made these figures loathsome while Pekar sought to ignore them altogether. Instead, he rooted his comic books in what he called the “quotidian” life of ordinary workers.

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December 27, 2019

Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 27, 2019

In the recently published “Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care,” Giorgos Kallis tackles weighty and expansive topics in merely 156 pages. One cannot help but wonder if his brevity (the soul of wit, after all) was in keeping with the book’s theme—how humanity can live an abundant life within material limits.

Kallis is a research professor at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), who has made both theoretical and practical contributions to environmentalism. In addition to writing articles in defense of “degrowth,” he worked for the European Parliament’s Science and Technological Options Assessment Unit for the preparation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

“Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong” is a critique of Malthusianism, as put forward in the 1798 “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” It also refutes the “neo-Malthusian” writings of Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome. Since the Club of Rome issued a report titled “The Limits to Growth” in 1972, one has to wonder why a degrowth advocate would be its critic. The answer is that Malthus and neo-Malthusianism are entirely different animals.

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December 20, 2019

Ovid: a Netflix for the Left

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:44 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 20, 2019

After reading the reviews below, you’d likely agree that Ovid is an invaluable resource for the left. Launched on March 22, it aggregates films from eight different cutting edge film distributors, including some whose documentaries and narrative films I have reviewed over the years: First Run, Bullfrog, and Icarus. These are the kinds of films that show up in art houses like the Cinema Village in NY or the Laemmle in Los Angeles but generally for a week or less. They may show up on Amazon or iTunes, but you will never get a head’s up as you would if you were an Ovid subscriber. The main benefit of subscribing for $6.99 per month (a real pittance) is the convenience of having an intelligently organized website that categorizes films geared to its intended audience. While Netflix groups film by genres such as horror or crime, Ovid groups them, for example, by “Don’t Mourn, Organize.” In that category, you can find “No Gods, No Masters: A History of Anarchism,” “Eugene V. Debs: American Socialist,” and the 1967 groundbreaking documentary “Far From Vietnam.” In addition to such radical documentaries, you will find avant-garde narrative films from Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, and Marcel Ophüls. So, don’t hesitate. Ovid is the Netflix the left has always needed, supporting evidence from the reviews beneath…

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December 13, 2019

If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 5:56 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 13, 2019

In just over 6,500 words, Time Magazine  makes the case for Greta Thunberg being 2019’s Person of the Year. For much of the left, this confirms that she is a corporate tool. Founded in 1923 by Henry Luce, Time was the flagship of the Luce empire. Print newsmagazines have gone into a steep decline with the advent of the Internet. Despite a steep decline in circulation, Time remains the second-largest weekly after People.

Henry Luce was one of the most powerful Republican Party supporters in the 20th century, the Rupert Murdoch of his day. Luce was a member of the China Lobby that sought the overthrow of Mao Zedong. He also urged JFK to invade Cuba. Unless he did, Luce planned to imitate William Randolph Hearst and push for war, even if involved the big lie. These odious policies and others fell within the rubric of the “American Century,” a concept Luce articulated in Life magazine, another part of his empire. Through such magazines, he shared the dominant view of the American ruling class during its “globalization” phase. He had close social ties to men like John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, and his brother, director of the CIA, who worked overtime to overthrow any government that dared to defy Washington’s will.

So, why should the left celebrate Greta Thunberg being named person of the year given this background?

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December 6, 2019

Michael Bloomberg and me

Filed under: computers,Counterpunch,New York,real estate — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 6, 2019

In 1975, I took a job as a Cobol programmer at Salomon Brothers in New York, mainly on the buzz generated by a N.Y. Times profile of its star block trader Michael Bloomberg. The November 9th article noted that “The single‐minded dedication of Mr. Bloomberg’s pressure‐cooker life goes hand in glove with the aggressive business style which has made Salomon Brothers one of the largest and most profitable firms on Wall Street.”

While at Salomon, I often stopped by Socialist Workers Party national headquarters after work to take part in systems design meetings with two other party members. We were automating The Militant and Pathfinder Press as part of an ambitious expansion program by the Trotskyist movement. The SWP had purchased an IBM System 32 minicomputer to generate mailing labels for The Militant and to keep track of Pathfinder’s financial records. Modernization also included the purchase of a web press located on the ground floor of a five-story building on West Street that we foolishly thought of as our Smolny Institute. (A web press had nothing to do with the Internet. It was just a high-powered technology for printing on continuous rolls of paper.)

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November 29, 2019

The Irishman

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,Film,trade unions — louisproyect @ 3:51 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 29, 2019

Two days ago, I received a DVD for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” that lets me off the hook. I will be nominating it for best film of 2019, with it even edging out some of the foreign language films I prefer. (The overhyped Korean film “Parasite” does not make the grade.) The title refers to Frank Sheeran, an Irish-American Teamster official with mob connections who confessed to killing Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro plays Sheeran and Al Pacino plays Hoffa. Rounding out the major roles is Joe Pesci, who retired from acting in 1999. Scorsese and De Niro persuaded him to play Russ Bufalino, the mob boss whose brother Bill was the lead attorney for the Teamster’s union. These characters and just about every other featured in the film were historical figures. As is generally the case with Scorsese’s flicks about real people such as Jake LaMotta, Howard Hughes, et al., you’ll find few major fictional characters.

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November 22, 2019

Douma, Chlorine Gas and Occam’s Razor

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:47 pm

Jonathan Steele makes the case for Bashar al-Assad’s innocence

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 22, 2019

Regrettably, I must again answer a CounterPunch article that portrays the Douma chlorine gas attack as a false flag. It relies on the testimony of “Alex”, another OPCW whistleblower who agrees with Ian Henderson. (For his safety, the Courage Foundation felt it necessary to conceal his last name. Since nobody has assassinated a single Assad supporter in the West, let alone beat one up in the past eight years, this measure seems specious.) Unlike Henderson, Alex was a member of the official Fact-Finding team and therefore spoke with more authority. In a November 15th CounterPunch article titled “The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors”. , Jonathan Steele promotes Alex after the fashion of Jonathan Cooke and Ian Henderson only five months ago.

Jonathan Steele was the former chief foreign correspondent for the Guardian. He had an opinion piece in The Guardian dated September 21, 2018 titled “If ending Syria’s war means accepting Assad and Russia have won, so be it.” It refers to Russian planes dropping leaflets urging Idlib rebels to surrender. One supposes that if they ignore the leaflets, the bombs that Russian jets are dropping on Idlib hospitals might do the trick. Indeed, it was the chlorine gas attack of April 7. 2018 that convinced Douma’s rebels and their supporters to pack their bags and relocate to Idlib, a Gaza like enclave for Syria’s outcasts.

I first became aware of Steele’s politics back in 2012 when he cited a Doha poll expressing support for Assad, once again in an opinion piece for the Guardian. The poll revealed that 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war. If you took a few minutes to analyze the polling methodology, you’d learn that only ninety-eight Syrians living inside the country took part in the survey. To participate in the poll, they had to be on the Internet. In other words, if you were a farmer or a baker from the countryside with nothing more advanced than a flip phone, your opinion did not count.

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