Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 9, 2021

Exterminate All the Brutes

Filed under: colonialism,Counterpunch,genocide,television,white supremacy — louisproyect @ 3:53 pm

“Where art is a weapon, it is only so when it is art”

–Albert Maltz, one of the Hollywood Ten

Last night, HBO launched “Exterminate All the Brutes”, a four-part docudrama by Raoul Peck that is both art and weapon. As a director of the great narrative film “The Young Karl Marx” and the equally great James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”, Peck includes staged performances by professional actors to highlight the cruelties visited on native peoples in the Americas and in Africa. In the first episode, we see a scripted reenactment of a massacre American soldiers carried out against Seminoles and their escaped slave allies in 1836 who dared resist ethnic cleansing.

We also see a savage attack on the Congolese people in 1892, during King Leopold’s reign. In this reenactment, a Catholic mission founded by the Swedish priest Edward Sjoblom witnesses a white rubber plantation owner storming into the modest church, gun in hand, and forcing a Black parishioner from his pew. As everyone gathers outside the church, the colonist fires a bullet into the man’s head and then forces a young parishioner to cut off his hand to be proof to the authorities that law and order was being upheld, just as white settlers often took Indian scalps in the USA.

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March 22, 2021

A Short History of the Syrian Conflict

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:08 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 22, 2021

When the Arab Spring came to the Middle East ten years ago, most on the left welcomed the protests, except in Libya and Syria largely out of geopolitical concerns. If the world was made up of opposing camps, you had to support Washington’s enemies even if their secret police were torturers and their governments little more than family dynasties. Libya was far more up-front about being the wholly-owned property of the Gaddafi clan but didn’t Syria have elections? Most notably, you can find references to Bashar al-Assad being re-elected to President in 2014 with close to 90 percent of the vote, a seeming anomaly given the depth of the civil war.

It turns out that he did even better in 2007, when he got 97.29 of the vote, a total redolent of Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman’s studies of demonstration elections. But you had to avoid making such a charge since you didn’t want Assad to be mistaken with José Napoleón Duarte’s victory in El Salvador in 1984. He got 54 percent of the vote but—who knows—maybe Assad deserved such overwhelming support. Yes, it’s true that it wasn’t exactly an election but a referendum on whether he should take over for his father after Hafez’s death that year. With word of posters being plastered on Damascus’s walls and songs blaring from cars and loudspeakers “We love you”, who could deny his popularity? Of course, anybody caught writing graffiti on the walls denouncing such a rigged election might end up hanging upside down in a police station and beaten for hours. That would the norm in 2011, when Syrians lost their fear.

Between 2007 and 2011, not much attention was paid to Syria. For many, the charms of the country were irresistible. Visits to Damascus and Aleppo were a perfect alternative to the usual resort spots. What could be more fun than strolling through the bazaars in search of cheap rugs? Even after the country had been torn apart by civil war, you could always count on Vanessa Beeley and Max Blumenthal to report back on the glories of the nightlife and their favorite hotels.

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March 12, 2021

Socially Relevant Film Festival 2021

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Vietnam,war — louisproyect @ 9:40 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 12, 2021

Starting next Monday and ending on Sunday March 21st, the Socially Relevant Film Festival will present dozens of films through a virtual theater. Like last year, the pandemic has had an impact not only on this festival but all theaters in New York that cater to leading edge independent work. The big commercial theaters like AMC have opened under conditions of social distancing but the best leading-edge houses like Film Forum are streaming only. On the plus side, people everywhere will be able to see SR Festival films for $7 each, with a festival ticket available for $75. If you need any motivation to see one or all the films and have also found yourself appreciating films I recommended on CounterPunch, let me repeat my testimonial to the SR Film Festival in 2015. I would only add the words “unending economic crisis and pandemic”:

I had an epiphany: “socially relevant” films have a higher storytelling quotient than Hollywood’s for the simple reason that they are focused on the lives of ordinary people whose hopes and plight we can identify with. With a commercial film industry increasingly insulated from the vicissitudes of an unending economic crisis, it is only “socially relevant” films that demand our attention and even provide entertainment after a fashion. When the subjects of the film are involved in a cliffhanging predicament, we care about the outcome as opposed to the Hollywood film where the heroes confront Mafia gangsters, CIA rogues or zombies as if in a video game.

The four documentaries s under review below constitute just a tiny minority of the festival offerings. As is universally the case, I found all of them compelling. Except for the last, they deal with issues close to my heart and I suspect that they will be close to yours as well.

The Boys Who Said NO! (Monday, March 15, 4:00 PM)

Directed by Judith Ehrlich, who made the superlative “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” in 2009, the film is a history of the anti-draft movement that began in 1964 and lasted until 1972. While focused on the civil disobedience wing of the antiwar movement, it also serves as a terrific overview of the war and a reminder of why people my age were willing to go to prison for up to five years for burning a draft card or joining a “subversive” organization and risk careers because of a COINTELPRO. Hoover’s FBI provocations even caught me in its web.

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March 10, 2021

A Short History of Uighur Resistance

Filed under: China,colonialism,Counterpunch,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 6:35 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 9, 2021

Abdulla Rozibaqiev, a Uighur Bolshevik

In a by now familiar pattern, Grayzone has taken up the cause of a powerful and oppressive state against a weaker enemy using a geopolitical litmus test. Since the USA has invaded and occupied dozens of Third World countries for over two hundred years, there’s no point in taking the side of any oppressed nationality or ethnic group since willy-nilly they are acting on behalf of Wall Street, the CIA, NATO, George Soros, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Why bother looking at the deeper historical roots of a conflict when all you need to do is dredge up some evidence that the State Department has paid off some dissidents. Long before Max Blumenthal and his cohorts launched Grayzone, Michel Chossudovsky had perfected this methodology at Global Research. When young people filled Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand the overthrow of Mubarak, Tony Cartalucci took Mubarak’s side in a Global Research article because the National Endowment for Democracy had funneled some cash to his opponents. I am surprised that Chossudovsky did not sue Grayzone for the theft of intellectual property.

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February 26, 2021

A Cineaste’s Picks for the Best Films of 2020

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 26, 2021

This film made $0 in North America and $27,136 worldwide. It is my pick for best narrative film of 2021

The pandemic has turned the yearly ritual of film awards ceremonies a molehill out of the mountain they once were. With major Hollywood studios shelving multi-million dollar prestige movies, except for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” that was largely dismissed as a flop, it has been left to less costly and nominally “indie” films such as “Nomadland” and “Minari” to fill the gap. Both had full-page ads in the N.Y. Times usually reserved for films made by Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, et al, with fawning articles over their stars Frances McDormand and Steven Yeun. Instead of A-listers like Scarlett Johansson or Brad Pitt chatting it up with late-night TV show hosts, we see McDormand and Yeun on the guest sofa.

Having seen these films and others in the same vein (“The White Tiger”, “First Cow”, “The Nest”), my reaction has been lukewarm at best. At our yearly New York Film Critics Online virtual awards meeting, not a single one of these overrated works got my vote. Alongside my arch-contrarian colleague Armond White, my votes went for the far more obscure but groundbreaking films that would have never been the beneficiary of a full-page ad in the N.Y. Times. While Armond tilts rightward, my preference is for films that challenge political or dramatic conventions. My picks below reflect my tastes as well as my critical judgement. If you have found my reviews useful in the past, then I would urge you to check them out. All are available as VOD on Amazon Prime and all the other usual sites.

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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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