Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 16, 2020

China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse.

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 16, 2020

On August 19, 2019, I unfurled my degrowth banner in a CounterPunch article titled “Ecological Limits and the Working Class” and followed it up with a review of leading degrowth theorist Giorgos Kallis’s “Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care” just six months later. Having read dozens of articles on degrowth over the past two years, I have concluded that the most persuasive argument on its behalf is Richard Smith’s China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse. Although there are only a few pages that reference the term specifically, the entire 286 pages will leave you convinced that unless China (and the rest of the world) begin to respect ecological limits, civilization will succumb to a new Dark Ages.

The references to growth and degrowth occur in chapter seven, cryptically titled “Grabbing the Emergency Brake,” a reference to the epigraph to chapter six. The words are from Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project: “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.” With the title of Smith’s book referring to China’s “engine,” one might say that the emergency brake and degrowth are practically synonymous.

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October 9, 2020

Fascism, Trumpism, and the left

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 2:32 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 9, 2020

Ever since the 1964 election, liberals and many radicals have referred to the Republican presidential candidate as a fascist threat. When Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination, Democratic California Gov. Pat Brown said, “The stench of fascism is in the air.” Those worries continued through the Nixon years, abated somewhat under Bush ’41, then waxed again under Bush ’43. Today, they loom larger than ever, with Donald Trump’s outside chance of being re-elected in November.

Invoking the 1932 election in Germany, some leftists urge a vote for Joe Biden to keep Trump from consolidating the fascist regime he began constructing in 2016. While not mentioning the word fascism, a letter  signed by Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West and 52 other notable leftists insists that we vote for Biden, especially in swing states. Chomsky probably spoke for the entire group when he told The Intercept:

“Failure to vote for Biden in this election in a swing state amounts to voting for Trump. Takes one vote away from the opposition, same as adding one vote to Trump. So, if you decide you want to vote for the destruction of organized human life on Earth. . . then do it openly. . . . But that’s the meaning of ‘Never Biden’”.

Even before Trump’s 2016 victory, Chomsky fixated on the threat fascism posed. When Chris Hedges interviewed him in 2010, he compared the U.S.A. to Weimar Germany: “It is very similar to late Weimar Germany. The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

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October 2, 2020

Donald Trump, the Culture Wars and the Left

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 2, 2020

Despite being the most subliterate President in American history, Trump has managed to interject himself into recent culture wars that are the bailiwick of tenured professors and highfalutin media pundits. Since Trump confused the word council for counsel, he needs all the help he can get. While Stephen Miller or some other erudite malefactor wrote the speeches, you can at least give him credit for being able to read them. As for their purpose, they are in keeping with his white supremacist agenda.

On the Fourth of July, Trump made a speech at Mount Rushmore that resonated with the Harper’s Open Letter that appeared only three days later:

One of their political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.

He has since followed up with attacks on the N.Y. Times Project 1619 and critical race theory. The odds of him having read a single article in the magazine section that launched Project 1619 or some peer-reviewed journal article on critical race theory are about the same as me winning the N.Y. Marathon. His failure to have ever read a single word, however, did not prevent him from attacking them in a speech given at the National Archives Museum on September 17th.

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September 25, 2020

The Sinking Middle Class

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 9:15 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 25, 2020

On September 22ndPolitico reported on how rank-and-file union members were snubbing Biden for Trump. Perhaps inadvertently, the second sentence reveals what kind of trade unionist this means: “To rank-and-file members in some unions, especially the building trades, it doesn’t matter. They’re still firmly in Donald Trump’s camp.” Historically, construction unions have operated as a white-only job trust and would be naturally part of Trump’s hard-core support. While Anthony DiMaggio debunked the myth of Trump’s “blue-collar” populism in CounterPunch, Democratic Party pundits insist that unless it connects with these types of workers, it will lose to demagogues like Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump.

Just hot off of OR Books press, David Roediger’s “The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History” digs deep into the origins of this line of thinking and concludes that it is time to put it to rest. Despite the book’s title, the subject is a demographic that academics and journalists describe interchangeably as the middle-class or the white working-class. Since Black people tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic Party politicians, Roediger’s chief concern is to interrogate how this obsession developed.

Roediger has been writing about race and class in the U.S.A. ever since his 1991 “The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class” that paired him with Theodore Allen and my good friend, the late Noel Ignatiev. For these three scholars, the task was to explain how the white working-class could identify with ruling-class values. Speaking for myself, I always attributed that to the phenomenon Karl Marx described in “The German Ideology.”

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.

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September 18, 2020

Review of John Bellamy Foster’s “The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:35 pm

Working my way through John Bellamy Foster’s magisterial “The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology,” it dawned on me that there was a gap in my knowledge. I knew that Marx and Engels were consumed with ecological problems, even though the word wasn’t in their vocabulary. To a large extent, my awareness came from reading another great Foster book, “Marx’s Ecology.” However, I couldn’t help shake the feeling that in between Marx/ Engels and Rachel Carson it was mostly a blur. The failure of the socialist states to support Green values reinforced that feeling. From Chernobyl to the shrinking of the Aral Sea, there was not much to distinguish capitalist and socialist society.

After finishing “The Return of Nature,” that blur gave way to clarity. Foster’s intellectual history shows a chain of thinkers connecting Marx/Engels to today’s greatest ecological thinkers, from Rachel Carson to Barry Commoner. To use a cliché, they stood on the shoulders of giants.

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September 11, 2020

Biden’s transition team: neoliberalism incarnate

Filed under: Biden,Counterpunch,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 1:04 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 11, 2020

On September 5th, Joe Biden added four new members to his transition team, which was not really a team. It consisted only of Ted Kaufman, the 81-year old Democratic senator from Delaware. Considering Kaufman’s reputation as a deficit hawk and his advanced age, Biden had to cover his left flank and give the appearance of diversity.

Nobody would see his choices as going overboard. There’s only one new member who has the appearance of being progressive enough to get Bernie Sanders salivating: New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. She’s a Mexican-American that Daily Kos described as “the TYPE of VP candidate that could rally all of us together — progressives, mainstream Dems, working class, suburbanites, people of color, etc. — to take back our country.”

Joe Monahan, who blogs about New Mexico politics, was less impressed. In an article that had her hanging on her own petard, we learned of her disgust with Green New Deal type activists in the Democratic Party. “They’ve lost their minds. We’re the third-largest oil producer in the country. I’m going to get a benefit from that.” With fracking polluting the state’s water, a dubious benefit, Lujan blithely gave the green light to the oil and gas industry. The Santa Fe-New Mexican reported, “Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an energy conference Tuesday that her administration aims to work with oil and gas on key issues, a message that appeared to delight industry representatives.”  This must have recommended her to Biden, who said the following in a Pittsburgh speech, “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”

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September 4, 2020

Donald Trump, Russian interference, and Democratic Party ineptitude

Filed under: Counterpunch,Russiagate — louisproyect @ 3:42 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 4, 2020

In April of this year, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee issued a two-part report concluding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election campaign. While ruling out the kind of collusion that MSNBC has been touting for the past four years, volume two is of some interest since it coincides with the front-page news this week that Facebook and Twitter are warning of Russian interference once again.

Like in 2016, the report accuses the Internet Research Agency in Russia for manufacturing fake social media accounts that spread talking points to boost Donald Trump’s fortunes. Going even further, the Russians hired real Americans to write for a new website called PeaceData that had the appearance of a legitimate news organization.

Graphika, a company specialing in tracking and exposing Internet disinformation, issued a blockbuster report that must have factored in Facebook and Twitter’s decision to cancel PeaceData. After reviewing their evidence, I am not convinced that such a botched operation could threaten American “democracy.”

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August 28, 2020

Class-reductionism’s blind-spot: environmental racism

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch,Ecology,racism — louisproyect @ 2:06 pm

Screen Shot 2020-08-28 at 10.08.17 AM

Image by Wake Forest University with caption “The fight for environmental justice is a fight for your life.”

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 28, 2020

On August 14th, the N.Y. Times reported on the clash between Adolph Reed Jr. and the Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus in DSA over an event scheduled back in May by the LES and Philadelphia branches. The caucus advocates stepped up support for BLM protests while Reed views them as tools of corporate America. Naturally, when the event organizers scheduled a Zoom lecture for Reed, the caucus demanded a debate, surely expecting to be ignored. When Reed grew wary over the possibility that the upstarts might crash his talk, he canceled himself.

The Times article summarized the Reed position as shared by a class of historians, political scientists and intellectuals who argue against overstating race as a construct. Even if they accept the existence of racism in the U.S., they reject the need for an anti-racist movement. Instead, the goal is to create class unity around programs like Medicare for All since poor whites would benefit as well. When you “fixate” on race, you risk dividing a potentially powerful coalition and play into conservatives’ hands.

Of course, this vulgar Marxism seems even more outlandish than ever in the face of the massive resistance to the status quo now underway. After the George Floyd murder, anti-racist protests became the largest in American history. Without skipping a beat, the NBA has gone on strike to protest the cops who left Jacob Blake permanently paralyzed. To counterpose Medicare for All to these struggles is foolish, if not outright reactionary.

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August 21, 2020

Virtual Cinema Potpourri

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

Mindless but great entertainment reviewed below

AMC has announced that its theaters will be opening soon with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet”, a typical summer blockbuster. Social distancing will be followed with no more than 30 percent of the seats filled and the staff wearing masks. I suppose that Nolan will be a magnet for fans of his movies, an experience roughly equivalent to playing a video game while on methamphetamine. Every one that I have seen has left me cold, especially “Interstellar” that inspired this faux trailer.

I’ll probably get a studio freebie for “Tenet” in time for our yearly NYFCO awards meeting but I doubt it will be a hundredth as good as the films that have come my way as virtual cinema, a fancy name for VOD. Indeed, I have received more screeners this year than in recent memory. As it happens, the documentaries, the foreign-language films, and the off-beat indie films I cover never faced the same obstacles as the big studios. Film Forum, Laemmle, et al have simply gone virtual, all to the benefit of the filmmakers and their audiences for whose tastes I cater.

Although the films reviewed below vary in quality and interest, I am sure that CounterPunch readers will find something worth seeing. The price of a rental is generally lower than a physical theater ticket and should encourage to take a chance on some off-beat and even entertaining films, all of which open today.

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August 14, 2020

Marxmail 2.0

Filed under: Counterpunch,Marxmail — louisproyect @ 1:35 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, AUGUST 14, 2020

You may have noticed a reference to the Marxism mailing list in the tag-line at the bottom of my CounterPunch articles. I want to take this occasion to tell you about a recent crisis that nearly put this 22-year Marxism forum out of business and recount its history. Assuming that you are one of the kinds of people that Alexander Cockburn once described as a dwindling number of leftists “who learned their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules,” the mailing list might be right up your alley. Maoists and independents, of course, are also welcome. 9/11 Truthers, no thank you.

In a crowning irony, the Marxism list—better known as Marxmail—was hosted on a University of Utah server. So, you might ask how the Mormon church and Marxism could ever co-exist. Oddly enough, the economics department housing the server was one of the few in the country that was hospitable to Marxism. Hans Ehrbar, now a professor emeritus, invited us to take advantage of the department’s hospitality, so how could we resist?

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