Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 22, 2020

What Stanford University and Fox News Have in Common

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:33 pm
Dr. John Ioannidis is director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center. He is also one of the highest profile skeptics of COVID-19’s deadliness

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 22, 2020

On April 21, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, one of Donald Trump’s most vociferous supporters, spoke to Stanford University physician-professor John Ioannidis about COVID-19. She prefaced the interview with reference to the pandemic as a nothing-burger:

And new antibodies testing on the West and East Coast shows that the true infection rate may be 55 times higher than previously thought by the, quote, “experts.” Meaning, the true fatality of the virus is somewhere below that of seasonal influenza.

As an architect of the testing, he concurred. He said that all of the “evidence points to an infection that is very common, that typically is very mild.”

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May 15, 2020

Syria: From National Independence to Proxy War

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

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 15, 2020

Ever since the civil war began in Syria in early 2011, the left has largely ignored the social and economic circumstances that led to a conflict costing over a half-million deaths and the migration—internal and external—of half the population. The tendency was to see Syria as a piece on a global chessboard with “the axis of resistance” fending off attacks from the West. There was lip-service to the idea that Syrians had legitimate grievances against the government early on, but by the end of 2011, the “anti-imperialist” consensus was that the rebels were jihadists interested more in fighting unbelievers than inequality.

To my knowledge, the first attempt at an analysis of the internal class contradictions appeared in 2015. Long-time Syria scholar Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl edited a collection titled “Syria from Reform to Revolt: Volume 1: Political Economy and International Relations”. (A second volume never appeared.) I found this book invaluable in writing an article titled “The Economic Roots of the Syrian Revolution”. My goal was to demonstrate that a rural agrarian crisis provided the fuel for an uprising. An article by Myrian Ababsa provided statistics that revealed the depths of misery that led to the revolt. In 2009, 42 percent of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia owing to a shortage of dairy products, vegetables, and fruit. Malnutrition among pregnant women and children under five doubled between 2007 and 2009. That was the cause of the conflict, not Saudi desire to impose shariah law on the country.

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May 10, 2020

A conversation on film with Eric Draitser and Shalon van Tine

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

Eric Draitser

Shalon van Tine

Louis Proyect

On May 8th, Eric Draitser posted a new podcast to CounterPunch that was based on an interview with me and Shalon van Tine, a PhD student who has written for Cosmonaut, Red Wedge and Left Voice, three of my favorite magazines.

Like me, Shalon is a polymath who has written both on film and lots of other things. Her website has links to articles on Soviet Propaganda Film and the Russian Revolution as well as on Janis Joplin.

The interview was structured around a discussion of five films that each of us loved. Since we are all house-bound because of the pandemic, we picked films that were not only great but that can be seen for free on the Internet, with maybe one or two exceptions.

Her picks:

Strike (Eisenstein, 1925)
Salt of the Earth (Biberman, 1954)
La Chinoise (Godard, 1967)
El Norte (Nava, 1983)
Sorry to Bother You (Riley, 2018)

Mine:

Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954)
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925)
Crimson Gold (Panahi/Kiarostami, 2003)
Ceddo (Sembene, 1977)
Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)

Although Shalon is much younger than me (as is Eric and just about everybody else), I was really impressed with her commitment to art films with a political edge. As part of the renaissance of Marxist thought, it is inevitable that young people look back at Eisenstein’s films to see how they reflected workers power. It was no accident that we both chose two of his masterpieces.

Eric did a great job as an interviewer, a function of his own passion for the same kinds of films. He created a FB group called Stage Left: Movie Talk for Radicals, where you can find other leftist cineastes in conversation.

May 8, 2020

The Planet of the Humans

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 1:47 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 8, 2020

Ever since Mother Jones owner Adam Hochschild fired Michael Moore for refusing to publish Paul Berman’s attack on the Sandinistas in 1986, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for him. But when he got down on his knees on the Bill Maher Show in 2008 to beg Ralph Nader not to run for President, a lot of that affection disappeared. For the past dozen years, I had grown weary of his conventional Hollywood liberalism that smacked of Rob Reiner and all the other millionaires who always ended up pleading for a vote for the lesser evil.

You could have knocked me over with a feather after I discovered that Moore had executive produced a film titled “Planet of the Humans” that broke with the liberal establishment. Like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest, all the voices of establishment liberalism, from The Nation to Rolling Stone, swarmed around his head. The editors of the pink-tinted Jacobin must have suffered whiplash when news of the film broke. Only last November, Meagan Day’s adulatory piece titled “Michael Moore Was Right” appeared. Like Trotsky losing favor in the mid-20s, Michael Moore became an unperson after “Planet of the Humans”.

Jacobin unleashed their ecomodernist hitman Leigh Phillips, who penned a piece titled “Planet of the Anti-Humanists” that predictably condemned the film as “Malthusian.” He even raised the possibility that Moore and director Jeff Gibbs were “anti-civilization,” as if they were plotting to recreate the world of Alley Oop and The Flintstones.

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May 1, 2020

Socially Engaged Cinema in a Time of Social Distancing

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:07 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 1, 2020

When New York movie theaters closed down on March 15th, so did invitations to the press screenings needed for my reviews. Unlike other film critics, I don’t cover Hollywood films. My beat consists of documentaries, foreign-language and American independent films that get screened in places like the Film Forum and Cinema Village in New York, the Laemmle in Los Angeles, et al.

This month, while Hollywood lies dormant and the entertainment press troubles itself over its impending doom, there are a number of films that came my way that CounterPunch readers should find interesting. While I have referred to them in the past as VOD, the film distributors, who are connected to the art theaters, have come up with a new term to describe the films under consideration below. They are part of the Virtual Cinema world, a term I guess that is meant to evoke virtual reality.

Whatever you call it, it is an opportunity to see leading edge cinema unlike most of the escapist fare featured on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, et al. Indeed, they are far more relevant to the current pandemic crisis insofar as they imagine that another world is possible.

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Films covered in review:

April 24, 2020

Smithfield and our troubled future

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19,farming — louisproyect @ 12:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 24, 2020

On April 15th, Smithfield closed down its pork factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after 640 employees became sick from COVID-19. They constitute 44 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state, making it the epicenter of the pandemic locally.

Joseph W. Luter founded the company in 1936. Like most industrial meat-producing companies, Smithfield became infamous for CAFO, the initials for concentrated animal feeding operation. Poultry farms were the first to convert operations to CAFO in the 1950s, followed by beef and pork in the ensuing decades. Smithfield’s flagship operation was Tar Heel, North Carolina, which processed 32,000 pigs a day. Given the highly concentrated nature of this mode of production, disposing of waste products is a chore for management. Pig excrement tends to follow the path of least resistance, however. It flows directly into the rivers and lakes of the states that house CAFO-type operations.

In 2019, Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina. In Duplin County, CAFOs produce twice as much pig urine and feces as all the toilets in New York City. Most of it ends up in hog “lagoons”, the open-air pits clustered in the area hardest hit by Hurricane Florence. It caused overflows that carried E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium, and other harmful bacteria into North Carolina waters. Even when there are no hurricanes, there is still extensive water pollution since the lagoons seep into groundwater that then pollutes rivers and lakes.

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April 17, 2020

Assad or We Burn the Country

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 17, 2020

Sam Dagher’s “Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed” is the definitive chronicle of a tragic war that has left the country in the state described by Tacitus: “where they make a desert, they call it peace.” As for the title, it originates from the graffiti that Assad’s militias painted on walls everywhere. “Assad or We Burn the Country.”

Left in shambles by a senseless war, about 83 percent of Syrians live under the poverty line. A half-million people died in the fighting. That would be equivalent to more than seven million people in the USA. Meanwhile, more than six million Syrians were internally displaced, with another round five million going into exile. This was the necessary price, it seems, for preserving a family dynasty that began in 1971.

Sam Dagher was among the three most capable reporters covering the war. Two others succumbed far too early in their careers. N.Y. Times reporter Anthony Shadid died in 2012 at the age of 43, a result of an asthma attack brought on by walking behind horses. His asthma attack was in turn the result of putting himself into the care of smugglers who customarily used horses to enter and leave the country. If only Shadid had agreed to write the same kind of puff-pieces others have written about al-Assad, none of this would have been necessary. Then, there is Marie Colvin, who was a victim of one of Assad’s barrel bombs in Homs in 2012. Her mistake was being embedded with the rebels rather than al-Assad’s military. After a day in the field, you could always return to a four-star hotel in Damascus for cocktails.

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April 10, 2020

The SWP and Social Distancing: a Study in Abnormal Political Psychology

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19,cults,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 3:42 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 10, 2020

In the photo below, dated March 15, 2020, you will see a group of mostly senior citizens defying the call for social distancing. Who could they be? Rightwing Christian evangelists? Libertarians standing up for liberty?

Nope. Instead, you are looking at members of the Socialist Workers Party at a memorial meeting for one of their members who died last month. The Militant newspaper reported that more than sixty people were in attendance. That’s probably about half the membership, and 1,900 less than when I was a member back in the 1970s. What happened to all these people, including me? Most either drifted away or became victims of a purge in the early 1980s when they fought to preserve the party’s Trotskyist heritage. Over the past decade, the dropout rate accelerated mostly as a result of the party adopting increasingly peculiar positions. Of the remaining 100 or so, their activism mostly consists of going door to door like Jehovah’s Witnesses peddling the books and newspapers of what most would view as a cult.

Was there some sort of death-wish at work in this March 16th memorial meeting? If you are a typical member, there might be some relief in such an outcome. Many have jobs at Walmart despite college degrees and professional past. That in itself does not earn them brownie points with the long-time cult leadership that lives in Manhattan high-rises even more pricey than my own. Under social pressure, members must send in “blood money” to sustain the SWP. Such donations come from the paltry bonuses they receive at Walmart and other low-paying venues. Maybe, in the back of their minds, an end-run on a ventilator would be welcomed as euthanasia.

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April 3, 2020

COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 3, 2020

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

On March 25th, N.Y. Times op-ed columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote about “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask.” The subtitle certainly went against the grain of what you’d read from a page dominated by Thomas Friedman: “A very American story about capitalism consuming our national preparedness and resiliency.”

Manjoo identified just one of many failures of the Trump administration to be prepared for the epidemic. Alex Azar, the HHS Secretary had testified that there were only about 40 million masks in our domestic stockpiles, around 1 percent of what would be required. Like much else, mask manufacturing had migrated to China in the same way as all other textile industries had long ago.

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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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