Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 1, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and the dialectics of nature

Filed under: climate,Counterpunch,disaster,Ecology — louisproyect @ 1:25 pm

Between 1872 and 1882, Frederick Engels worked on a book titled “The Dialectics of Nature” that sought to apply Marxist dialectics to the natural world. Although it was never completed and is filled with dated ideas about science, it is a work that has earned the respect of some of the most important scientists on the left such as Stephen Jay Gould who praised its best known chapter that was issued separately as a pamphlet—The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Long before people such as Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson were laying the groundwork for the eco-socialism of today, Engels anticipated the kind of contradictions that have led to three disastrous hurricanes: Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey. Engels wrote:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries.

If you understand that the prairies surrounding Houston, the wetlands to the south of New Orleans and the brush that grew across the coastline around greater New York were closely related to the forests of the earliest class societies that Engels refers to, you will realize that “each victory” will bring us closer to the ultimate defeat of civilization itself. Just consider the words that follow those above:

When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.

Furious torrents. Are there any words better matched to the pictures of Houston seen on television every night?

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August 23, 2017

A “New Dawn” for Fascism: the Rise of the Anti-Establishment Capitalists  

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

(I got to know Michael Barker, the author of this article, when we were both focused on exposing “humanitarian interventions” in Yugoslavia. At the time, much of what I wrote dovetailed with the sort of article found on DissidentVoice, Information Clearing House, et al.

I veered sharply from this outlook after Putin invaded Chechnya and lost track of Michael Barker, who I had a great deal of respect and even affection for at the time. After earning a PhD, he decided to turn his back on academia since he saw it as a corrupt arm of the capitalist system despite liberal pretensions.

Out of the blue, he has written an article that is both politically powerful and deeply researched. This is one of the most important articles you will read in CounterPunch in this or any other year.)

A “New Dawn” for Fascism: the Rise of the Anti-Establishment Capitalists  

Photo by Mark Dixon | CC BY 2.0

The world rests on a precipice. On the one hand is institutionalized exploitation and imperialist violence. The well-being of humanity continues to be severely hampered by the priorities of a small unstable capitalist class, who would prefer that the rest of us – those who must engage in a daily struggle to purchase the essentials for living (like food and a roof over our heads) – remain unorganized as a cohesive class. And on the other hand, there are those who believe that the fundamental class division between the rulers and the workers is both intolerable and unsustainable, and so seek to participate in and organize mass movements for social change that will bring an end to the domination of one class of people over another.

In the face of the continued resistance of ordinary people, in recent decades global elites have unfortunately forced through a number of regressive counter-reforms upon society, which have served to undermine the ability of our class to collectively fight back. These losses have as much to do with the failures of leadership shown by organizations of the working-class as they do with any concerted planning on behalf of elites. Yet in lieu of the current existence of mass democratic working-class organizations in most of the world, problematic and conspiratorial, but ostensibly anti-establishment, ideas have been able to sometimes temporarily supplant class-based analyses about how and why social change happens. This essay therefore seeks to problematize some of these wrong-minded ideas with a special reference to revolutionary uprisings in Russia and the Ukraine.

To the eternal consternation of those elites who would prefer to deny us our basic class solidarity, and critically, knowledge of our class’ victories, revolutions are a mainstay of humanity’s emancipatory history.  Indeed, popular mass-based uprisings occur all the time, and can take place where they are least expected – as demonstrated by the two successful revolutions that took place one hundred years ago in the poor and materially deprived country that was Russia. But despite the unanticipated nature of the two Russian revolutions of 1917, the democratic and socialist advances made in Russia did much to boost working-class confidence worldwide; think for example of the momentous Seattle General Strike of 1919, or moreover, how close a mass working-class movement came to subsequently organising a successful revolution in Germany.

Nevertheless making a revolution is the not the solution for all ills, as one prominent historian of the Russian revolution put it: “To overthrow the old power is one thing; to take the power in one’s own bands is another.” And ultimately for revolutions to truly serve the needs of the working-class they must succeed in wresting power from the ruling class. Hence although it is true that over the past century many revolutions have taken place, the majority of these uprisings have only succeeded in transferring power from one segment of the ruling elite to another. The ruling-class “may win the power in a revolution not because it is revolutionary,” but because it “has in its possession property, education, the press, a network of strategic positions”. By way of contrast: “Deprived in the nature of things of all social advantages,” an insurrectionary movement of the working-class “can count only on its numbers, its solidarity,” and the degree to which it is organised and ready to assume power during a revolutionary struggle.

The fact that many previous revolutions have failed to deliver democratic control of our lives – with power all too often falling back into the hands of the super-rich – does not mean that such failures were somehow pre-ordained. And it certainly does not imply political collusion between revolutionary leaders and the forces of reaction. But this does not stop the sections of the ruling class from leaping on these failures in order to suit their own nefarious ends. Indeed, now that many people are looking for alternatives to the current corrupt political establishment, a resurgent coalition of neo-fascists and other assorted critics of Western imperialism are striving to take full advantage of the ongoing global economic crisis. They do this by identifying themselves as the genuine critics of the global ruling-class and by misidentifying socialists and revolutionaries as the real enemy of the working-class. In such opportunist and reactionary narratives of social change, genuine revolutionary leaders and popular uprisings are portrayed as unwitting tools of the ruling class elites. So now, as ever, we should be conscious of what are enemies are doing in plain sight, as the stakes have never been higher.

Working-Class Power in the Russian Revolution

When democratically organized bodies of the working-class are unable to provide a fighting leadership within any given popular uprising, leadership still exists, but it falls elsewhere, that is, outside of the democratic control of ordinary workers. This is precisely what happened during the initial February revolution in Russia 1917. This initial Revolution did act to oust the despotic Tsar, but only to allow another unrepresentative and undemocratic elite to take over the reins of the country. But with the new Provisional Government that came to power being unwilling to cede power to the majority of Russians, the subsequent October Revolution succeeded where the former failed in enabling a mass movement of the working-class to assume power. Revolutionary working-class leadership was provided by the democratic forces of the Bolshevik Party, a force which in later years was tragically misled and debased by Stalin and his admirers.

The ruling-class, wherever they may lie, have never been disinterested with the outcomes of revolutionary struggles. In February 1917, elites across the world welcomed the new trusted rulers of Russia. This can be contrasted with their subsequent dismay in October, when international elites felt compelled to mobilize their armies to back the displaced Russian ruling class in their long and bloody civil war against socialism. It was this protracted crisis and the failure of similar revolutions to spread elsewhere that helped pave the way for Stalin’s eventual seizure of power. Moreover, it was Stalin’s undemocratic reign as the leader of the Communist Party that served to mislead the global forces of the working-class and ultimately undermine people’s faith in the power of socialist ideas to change society for the better. This is not to say that socialists and workers did not continue to fight for a genuine workers democracy and the removal of Stalinist toxin that dominated communist politics. Here some of the most notable individuals in organising against the Stalinist counter-revolution were those forces organized around Leon Trotsky — one of the principal leaders of the October Revolution.

Although at present no large and influential revolutionary party is based in Russia, germinal forms of such organizations do exist and their members, like other independent trade unionists, continue to suffer repression at the hands of Putin’s capitalist state. Putin’s elite, just like other ruling cliques elsewhere, like to portray those seeking revolutionary change as dangerous enemies of the people, whose democratic activities must be ruthlessly crushed. Following the template of the 1917 Revolution elites and their supporters do their best to smear socialist activists as dupes or willing agents of foreign imperial powers. This was the strategy deployed against the members of the Bolshevik Party both prior to and after the October Revolution, and fittingly enough it is the same ridiculous lie that is told about the leaders of the revolution to this day.

Wall Street’s Bolshevik Conspiracy?

Today the main proponents of the fabrication that the Bolsheviks were merely tools of Western imperialists are right-wing conspiracy theorists, many of whom like to refer to themselves as either libertarians or apolitical. One of the most famous texts expounding this timeless deceit is Anthony C. Sutton’s Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution (1974), a book whose “research” has now been given a new breath of life by Professor Richard Spence’s more sophisticated but equally conspiratorial book Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925 (2017). But despite being an apparent specialist in modern espionage and the occult, Spence, like many more run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorists, has an unhealthy propensity for treating declassfited files released by ill-informed intelligence agencies at face-value. Spence however is no marginal scholar as in 2010 he worked as a research fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and has been interviewed the Russian television channel NTV as a so-called specialist on “Trotsky’s American Connections” for an upcoming documentary on the Russian Revolution. In addition he remains a regular contributor to the popular pro-Putin conspiracy magazine, New Dawn.

For those who simply don’t have the time to keep up with the latest extraterrestrial elite machinations and the New World Order’s genocidal plots, you should know that New Dawn is a big-hitter in the field, with bimonthly issues over-brimming with ‘adverts’ for alternative medicine boosted by all manner of quasi-fascist nonsense.[1] The latest issue of this bloated magazine leads with the article “Putin takes on the U.S. Deep State” (July/August), with the author of this piece being former InfoWars editor, Patrick Henningsen. Most notably the only politician listed on New Dawn’s roll-call of endorsers for their verbose tosh is the neo-fascist, Alexandre Dugin, who they correctly identify as the “leader of International Eurasian Movement.” As Dugin’s endorsement explains: “New Dawn magazine is one of the best sources of realistic information on the state of things in our world as it nears its inevitable and predicted end.”

Here the connection between the delusions promoted by New Dawnand the mystifying work of people like Professor Spence is the utility of their ideas to the powerful, more specifically in helping to undermine the legitimacy of revolutionary socialism. Certainly the liberal (globalist) elites that New Dawn and their writers obsess about do engage in anti-democratic activities. But New Dawn’s paranoid ramblings about the actions of these allegedly all-powerful elites is far removed from the sober Marxist class-analysis that is necessary to understand how such elites profit from capitalism (and sometimes from fascism). But what else would you expect from a magazine that includes well-known fascists like Dr Kerry Bolton upon its roster of regular writers. Focusing on Bolton for a moment, he cites as authorities for his own pro-Putin conspiracies the work of Antony C. Sutton and Richard Spence, and asserts that Stalin was correct in his belief that both Trotsky and his followers “were agents of foreign capital and foreign powers” seeking to promote capitalism!?

Bolton points to the fact that a handful of leading Trotskyist intellectuals went on to work hand-in-hand with the CIA as further proof that Marxists were always working for Wall Street. What Bolton fails to mention is that these intellectuals all renounced their belief in Marxism in order to become well paid and respected conservatives. Moreover in the early days of their new-found careers as turncoats these former Marxists simply joined forces with the longstanding conservative leadership of the AFL-CIO, who right from the early days of the Russian Revolution had been open in their opposition to Bolshevism and to union democracy more generally. Bolton is therefore only correct when he says that neoconservative activists eventually went on to help create the US Government’s interventionist and imperialist National Endowment for Democracy (NED), but only in the early 1980s. Bringing his conspiracy up-to-date, elsewhere Bolton draws a direct connect between “international capital” and individuals like George Soros and groups like the NED, with regards their continuing role in “fomenting revolutions”. As he goes on to explain for an article published with the neo-fascist/Traditionalist publisher Counter-Currents (an outlet which  popularizes the nazi mysticism of “Hitler’s Priestess” Savitri Devi):

“The primary factor that was behind the bankers’ support for the Bolsheviks whether from London, New York, Stockholm, or Berlin, was to open up the underdeveloped resources of Russia to the world market, just as in our own day George Soros, the money speculator, funds the so-called ‘color revolutions’ to bring about ‘regime change’ that facilitates the opening up of resources to global exploitation. Hence there can no longer be any doubt that international capital a plays a major role in fomenting revolutions…”

Putin’s Ukraine

In the November 2014 issue of New Dawn the magazine featured another article authored by Bolton titled “The great conspiracy against Russia: what is really behind the campaign against Putin?” His purile rant began with considerable gusto:

“When the war-drums start beating in Washington against a state or statesman, one is entitled to wonder what transgression might have been made against the ‘New World Order’. Over the past few decades we have seen one nation after another succumb to either financial blandishments, or when those fail, long-planned, well-funded ‘spontaneous’ colour revolutions, and as a last resort bombs. The states of the ex-Soviet bloc largely succumbed to ‘colour revolutions’ orchestrated by the Soros network, aligned with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID and a host of other funds and NGOs.”

Following close to Putin’s now-official propaganda line, Bolton fumes against the imperialist interventions of the NED undertaken in the Ukraine and their allegedly manufacturing of endless popular uprisings. But in reality it should be obvious that the sizable financial support provided to civil society groups by US elites does not allow them to manufacture revolutionary discontent out of thin air; it only allows them to promote their own capitalist interests in their ongoing attempts to forestall genuinely radical, dare I say, revolutionary socialist change. Yes, the US will do everything in their power to encourage new capitalist governments that are more likely to prioritize friendly relations with them, but so too would Russia.

So in the Ukraine, as elsewhere, Putin intervenes as an imperialist power-broker to promote his own countries’ capitalist foreign policy objectives, while the US does the same. Neither, however, have the best interest of the working-class at heart, and so both governments and their contributions to the “East-West tug-of-war” deserve our criticism. This is not, however, how other political commentators see matters, and perhaps in part because of the lack of an influential working class political alternative (which still needs working on), some misguided people end up following the crude logic that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Bolton breaks from such motivations only because he chooses to support Putin because it serves his own personal agenda – even though, it should be said, Putin himself is no fascist.

Regime Change Inc. and the New World Order

A further intriguing example of similar reactionary thinking vis-a-visthe dynamics of social change is provided in the work of F. William Engdahl, who in 2004 republished his 1992 book A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order with the left-wing publisher Pluto Press. Prior to Pluto’s not so inspired decision to publish this book, Engdahl had spent decades working as an editor for Lyndon LaRouche’s conspiracy network (at least until 1997), and his book merely recycled many LaRouchite narratives including that the 1960s counterculture New Age movement was a manufactured CIA-backed “project.” To be more specific, according to Engdahl the creation of the hippie movement had been overseen by the “Anglo-American liberal establishment” which was then used in conjunction with another “weapon” of the elite, the creation of a “manipulated ‘race war’”.  As part of this fictional elite-orchestrated process of social change Engdahl went on to add more details to his heady conspiracy, noting that: “The May 1968 student riots in France, were the result of the vested London and New York financial interests in the one G-10 nation which continued to defy their mandate.” In a brief comment he then explained his idiotic belief that…

“modern Anglo-American liberalism bore a curious similarity to the Leninist concept of a ‘vanguard party,’ which imposed a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the name of some future ideal of society. Both models were based on deception of the broader populace.”

Since publishing his first book Engdahl has continued his prolific publishing record by writing for New Age neo-fascist magazines like New Dawn. Building upon his credentials as an oil historian he now publicises his conversion to the latest right-wing conspiracy craze that asserts that oil is actually limitless and not actually a fossil fuel (in this Engdahl consciously drew upon Stalinist research carried out by Russian and Ukrainian scientists in the 1950s). Engdahl’s ability to read conspiracies into any subject are truly second to none: a couple of years ago he chose to misinterpret medical research that actually highlighted progress in the struggle to fight cancer in order to write an article asserting that scientific evidence proved that chemotherapy, not cancer, is the real killer!

Engdahl it seems is a man with a special mission, and in recent years he has served on the advisory boards of two neo-fascist journals that were published in Italy (Geopolitica which was edited by a leading member of Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement, and Eurasia, Rivista di Studi Geopolitici which was published and edited by Italian Nazi-Maoist Claudio Mutti)Engdahl is also a regular contributor (like Dr Bolton) to the articles and videos produced by the neo-fascist Russian think tank Katehon – a group funded by billionaire philanthropist Konstantin Malofeev (see later) whose work is overseen by the close Dugin-ally and homegrown Ukrainan esoteric fascist, Leonid Savin. In line with this political orientation, Engdahl additionally writes and acts as an advisor for Veterans Today, an organization that, in the name of opposing warmongering, does yeoman’s service to popularizing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.[2]

Engdahl’s railing against the globalist conspiracy was fully evident in his 2009 book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Herein Engdahl focuses on the historic activities of liberal philanthropy and the NED in creating what he calls synthetic movements for ‘non-violent change.’ This book was well-received in certain Russian military circles, and was cited approvingly by fellow Katehon contributor Andrew Korybko in his 2015 book Hybrid Wars: The IndirecAdaptive Approach To Regime Changewhich Korybko was able publish while he was a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. Korybko is also privileged enough to be able to espouse his views to a global audience through his work as a journalist for Sputnik International. However, although people like Engdahl and Korybko do great work at popularizing disempowering theories, arguably the most effective proponent of the conspiracy surrounding the activities of the NED in Eurasia was undertaken by Putin’s former chief PR strategist, Gleb Pavlovsky.

Gleb Pavlovsky’s unique role in helping develop a reactive strategy to foreign “democracy” promoters like the NED has been referred to as “Putin’s Preventive Counter-Revolution” by Robert Horvath. He argues that his strategy was born of the regimes anxiety in the wake of the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia, which marked “the first of the new wave of democratic revolutions in the post-Soviet space”. Pavlovsky is subsequently credited with having been the “mastermind of the Putin regime’s response” to these NED/Soros-backed democratic interventions. Moreover, Horvath adds a personal aside to this tale, observing that because Pavlovsky had served as “an advisor to the [Viktor] Yanukovych camp in the Ukrainian presidential election [in 2004], he had experienced the ‘Orange Revolution’ as a personal defeat.” Hence Pavlovsky’s went on to play a critical role in encouraging Putin to respond with a more thoroughgoing embrace of a conspiratorial interpretation of social uprisings.

No doubt taking hope from such conspiracies, Putin, during the 2007 Russian election, delivered his “most venomous tirade against the enemy within” for “counting ‘upon the support of foreign foundations and governments and not the support of their own people’. The following week these foreign enemies were then the focus of Arkadii Mamontov’s powerful conspiracy documentary Barkhat.ru (velvet.ru), which, as Horvath explained, “vilified leading opposition activists involved in the Other Russia coalition.” In this documentary F. William Engdahl found his voice yet again as the sole foreign expert to legitimate this open display of state propaganda. Echoing the aforementioned conspiracies surrounding the foreign funding of the Bolshevik Revolution, Mamontov maligned the anti-Putin political activism undertaken by the libertarian Russian-Croatian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, explaining to his viewers that Kasparov had “returned from America, like his colleague Trotsky once did”.

Bigotry in the Service of Tsardom

Perhaps styling himself after Fox News’ own once-powerful conspirator, Bill O’Reilly, Mamontov never misses a chance to launch vicious tirades against western liberalism. Mamontov thus puts his weekly sermons on the major national TV channel, Rossiya 1, to full use in the service of Putin’s anti-liberal brand of authoritarianism. In many ways the content of these Orwellian hate shows might be seen as an attempt to emulate Stalin’s famous show trials, allowing Mamontov and his conspirators to publicly try and convict all those guilty of tainting Russian patriotism. Just as Stalin persecuted Trotsky’s supporters as fascists (the enemy within), to Mamontov all critics of Putin (whether liberal or socialist) are fascist as far as he is concerned. That said, it is the alleged perversion and decadence of the West that features as Mamontov’s number one target, with one of his most vile contributions to date being his 2015 documentary Sodom, which is nothing other than a relentless attack on homosexuality. Keen to utilize ‘independent’ western critics to attack America’s latest so-called export, Sodom features the notorious anti-gay Christian activist Scott Lively, who in addition to being the author of bile-filled book The Pink Swastika, famously advised the Ugandan government on their notorious anti-homosexual legislation. Lively later went on to closely replicate Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill by working with Brian Brown to help the Russia state draft their own hateful Anti-Gay Laws. Notably, only last year Brian Brown went on to be elected president of the World Congress on Families – an international far-right coalition which has been correctly described as “one of the major driving forces behind the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism.” Joining arms with American funders, conservative Russian elites also played a central role in founding the World Congress on Families; and one billionaire who is to the fore of currently funding the Congresses activities is the loyal Putin-supporter, Konstantin Malofeev.

Much like the amazing Octopus-like reach of the Koch Brothers in America, Malofeev, as a devout extremist philanthropist, not only acts the president of his own neo-fascist think tank, Katehon, but has also founded his own his own Russian Orthodox TV channel with none other than Dugin sitting at its editorial helm. Another of Malofofeev’s explicitly elitist pet ambitions is to ensure that a new patriotic cadre is ready to rule Russia when (as he hopes) the Eurasian movement comes to complete domination of the state apparatus. To undertake this task Malofofeev created St Basil the Great School, which as he explained “in an interview with the Guardian, is meant to function as ‘an Orthodox Eton’, which will prepare the new elite for a future Russian monarchy.”

The fond memories that Russian oligarchs maintain for the alleged glory days of the pre-1917 reign of the Tsar are reactionary in the extreme, which, when combined with the mainstream media’s demonization of revolutionary social movements, has troubling consequences for the potential future growth of working-class struggle. Indeed the level of misunderstanding of Russia’s most significant political historical event is perplexing to anyone who has studied Russian history. One such liberal Bolshevik expert is Professor Alexander Rabinowitch, who, reflecting upon his recent visits to Russia explained how he

“…was struck by the absolutely crazy questions I was being asked: Was there a February Revolution? Is it true that everything was great in Russia in February, and it was the Generals or the Masons or the intelligentsia that caused the Revolution? And this to some extent is being encouraged, the idea that the Empire – that Imperial Russia was strong and that is where Russia’s future lies – I think that is being encouraged by the [Putin] regime, which really cannot just ignore the Revolution, and so it is helping fund serious scholarly conferences [which Rabinowitch attends], but at a popular level that’s not what is happening, and crazy things are being published and crazy things are being said, and these lead to crazy questions…. I certainly get that as I read about popular thought in newspapers.”

Again one popularizer of such nonsense is F. William Engdahl who wrote in 2015 in the journal of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences that:

“Contrary to the mythology that passes for history at western universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton or Harvard, Russia in the years leading to outbreak of World War I was on the path to become a towering prosperous economic nation, something especially not welcome in London.”

This gobbledygook leads Engdahl to his latest conspiratorial revelation: “Wall Street and the City of London financed Leon Trotsky, Lenin, and the Bolshevik Revolution essentially as they did Boris Yeltsin after 1990, to open up Russia for looting and balkanization by favored western companies.”

Propagating Conspiracies and New Eurasianism

Contemplating the nature of the Russian media’s relentless misrepresentation of the colored revolutions as simply “organized and paid for by the Americans,” one mainstream commentator writing for The Atlantic earlier this year observed: “Now, we see the same kinds of theories pop up in state media portrayals of the Revolutions of 1917.” But strictly speaking this is not really a new development as evidenced by the putrid outpouring of the likes of Engdahl and Spence. But such false flag right-wing propaganda is not limited to journalists and academics, as Putin’s former key advisor, Gleb Pavlovsky, as mentioned earlier, also played a critical role in spreading such misinformation within Russian society. Pavlovsky was aided in this task through his role as the host of a news show (between 2005 and 2008) that was aired on RTV  – a Russian television channel that has been owned by natural gas giant Gazprom since 2001.

Corporate networking events like the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum also play an important role in laundering the latest conspiracy theories amongst the Russian power elite. Last year, for example, Engdahl was featured on an all-star panel sponsored by energy giant Rusal that was titled “The Russian Economic Growth Agenda.” Speaking alongside Engdahl on this prestigious line-up was one of Putin’s primary economic advisors, Sergey Glaziev, who also sits on the advisory board of the right-wing think tank, Katehon. Glaziev likewise maintains his own close connections to Engdahl’s former boss, Lyndon LaRouche, whose shadowy conspiracy network published the English translation of Glaziev’s book in 1999 as Genocide: Russia and the New World Order.

These ominous links between LaRouche’s reactionary conspiracy network and Russian elites have been well-documented elsewhere, but needless to say LaRouchites often feature as “experts” on Russian television, particularly on Russia Today. LaRouche and his co-conspirators are even counted as close allies of one of Dugin’s key ideological supporters, Natalya Vitrenko, who is the leader of the misnamed Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. Following in Stalin’s footsteps Vitrenko, with no hint of irony, regularly refers to her democratic opponents as fascists, just as LaRouche himself does. (Note: LaRouche has good form in supporting authoritarian leaders; a good example being the ideological aid his network bestowed upon the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines during the peoples revolution of 1986.)

But while LaRouche with his endless supply of “alternative facts” has certainly provided further fuel for the explosion of conspiracy theories in Russia, the proselytizing of other homegrown intellectuals should be considered more important. This is especially the case with the reactionary neo-Eurasian ideas that have taken root within Putin’s increasingly authoritarian regime; a dark influence that reared its head during Putin’s annual address to the federal assembly in December 2012 when the president reminded his disciples of the contemporary relevance of the ideas of the late Lev Gumilyov’s (1912-1992). Gumilyov was a vehemently anti-Marxist theorist of the fledgling Eurasian movement who, amongst his other bizarre beliefs, was incensed that the Bolshevik Revolution had embodied “alien” western and Jewish values. It was Gumilyov’s intellectual legacy that has been rehashed and updated by both Dugin (who describes Gumilyov as his most important Russian mentor) and by a once-prominent professor at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Philosophy, Aleksandr Panarin (1940–2003).  Although Dugin is best-known as the intellectual guru for the Eurasian movement, Panarin’s primary contribution to this developing paradigm was to insert the esoteric and fascist ideas of the philosophical leader of the French New Right, Alain de Benoist.

Postmodern Confusion in France and Beyond

The French New Right as it turns out first began their rise to influence around the activism of Alain de Benoist in the wake of the revolutionary uprising of May 1968, with their new collective organizational form being the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (GRECE). Realizing that old-style fascism was discredited amongst the broader public, GRECE sought to promote themselves as anti-elitist but neither Left nor Right (neither socialism or capitalism), and they quickly went about popularizing their conspiratorial mishmash of fascist and occult ideas.

A useful book that provides details about the origins and influences exerted by GRECE and their global followers is Tamir Bar-On’s Where Have All The Fascists Gone? (2007), in which the author emphasizes that 1978 stood out as a “breakthrough year for GRECE in terms of receiving larger access to the mainstream public.” This was because a “number of important GRECE figures, including Alain de Benoist, began to write regular articles that year in the right-wing Le Figaro Magazine.” This however was no accidental flash-in-the-pan, as the editor of the popular Le Figaro Magazine, Louis Pauwels, had previously “written in the revolutionary right’s Cahiers universitairesin the 1960s.” Moreover, although overlooked by Bar-On, in 1960 Pauwels had coauthored the irrationalist, Romantic treatise known as Les matin des magiciens, which later made its 1964 debut in America as Morning of the Magicians. And given the long-standing cross-overbetween neo-fascist and occult/new age theories it is very pertinent that Pauwels book had been credited with “the distinction of launching a revival of interest in the occult in the 1960s and 1970s…” Clearly other objective historical conditions also played a major role in driving people away from class-based analyses of society, but the historical role played by ultra-right-wing occultists like Pauwels should not be overlooked. After all it is by examining the lives of people like Pauwels and his co-thinkers that we might begin to understand why both mystical and neo-fascist ideas have been able to make something of a resurgence among the public in recent decades.

Here the theories of the French New Right actually overlap somewhat with the debilitating postmodern ideas that were popularised by French intellectuals in the wake the 1968 revolution in France — not just their commitment to provide an alternative to Marxism. This worrying phenomenon was highlighted in the 2004 book New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe which was written by the right-wing postmodernist Michael O’Meara, an individual who presently works alongside fellow neo-fascists Kerry Bolton and Leonid Savin at the Athens-based Academy of Social and Political Research. Of relevance here, O’Meara’s personal biography sheds further light on the relationship on the intellectual upheavals in some parts of the so-called Left, as in 1999, writing under his former pen-name, Michael Torigian, O’Meara published a left-wing book titled Every Factory a Fortress: The French Labor Movement in the Age of Ford and Hitler. But then just a few months later O’Meara clarified his recent embrace of Alain de Benoist’s right-wing ideas in an article published in the controversial journal, Telos, which was titled “The philosophical foundations of the French New Right.”

Here it is important to acknowledge that the broader ideological slide from left-wing hostility to Marxism to right-wing hostility to Marxism was, in its own unique way, pioneered by Telos in the post 1968 period. Established in May 1968 by disillusioned left-wing academics, Telos set out on a search for an alternative to Marxism in order (ostensibly) to help emancipate the working-class. The new ideas Telos then unearthed arguably did a great service in enabling the development of post-Marxist ‘left-wing’ alternatives, most famously postmodernism. In the early 1990s Telos’ ever-expanding search for new theories eventually led their editors into an unfortunate embrace of the French New Right. As Boris Frankel’s observed in his prescient article “Confronting neo-liberal regimes: the post-Marxist embrace of populism and realpolitik” (New Left Review,  December 1997), it is vital that the “upsurge of right-wing populist movements in OECD countries” and “Telos’ theoretical cultivation of ‘postmodern populism’” should not be overlooked in coming to terms with history. On this I couldn’t agree more.

Final Thoughts/Hopes

The hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution is now upon us, and one of the most remarkable events in human history should provide inspiration and hope to billions of people. At present the world and its inhabitants stand at a critical juncture. Capitalism is once again demonstrating its inability to provide for the needs of the majority of people, and as every day passes, our inhumane system is driving even more people into poverty. Socialist alternatives to capitalism are not only possible but they are now supremely attainable: technological advances must be harnessed, not to oppress and surveil us, but to free us all from the daily grind of working life.

The eventual deformation of the Russian Revolution should be considered one of history’s major tragedies, and the Revolution’s gross distortion under the anti-democratic influence of Stalin and his apparatchiks must never be repeated. This is why Leon Trotsky and his supporters dedicated their lives to exposing all the dangerous betrayals of the working-class that took place under the misleadership of the Stalinist Communist Party, while also committing themselves to the ongoing struggle for a socialist future where ordinary people have full democratic control over workplaces and their lives. For undertaking such a struggle for justice, socialists and particularly Trotskyists have been relentlessly demonized by all capitalist institutions, by Stalin’s heirs, and by conspiracy theorists and their neo-fascists friends.

The Russian Revolution was a genuine democratic uprising of the working-class against their rulers which is precisely why it has always been so maligned by its ideological enemies. The Revolution was most certainly not orchestrated by Wall Street elites – in the same way that other popular revolutions that continue to shake the world are not the pet projects of Wall Street. Nevertheless it is true that when revolutions are deprived of a democratic leadership that is willing and ready to overthrow capitalism and bring about a socialist transformation of society, such revolutions will most likely only succeed in exchanging one set of undemocratic elites with another. This may give some form of respite to ordinary people, especially when they manage to replace capitalist dictatorships with capitalist democracies, but at the end of the day under the continued domination of capitalist misrule profits will always trump human need.

Of course there are many real reasons why people become disillusioned with the tiring fight for a fairer society, and it doesn’t help when the working-class are repeatedly let down or betrayed by the promises of their so-called political leaders. And all the while we should be aware that all sorts of fascists and right-wing populists are presently ready and waiting to take advantage of popular discontent if we fail to organize our class effectively on a global scale. Learning from this, socialists must therefore continue to lead by example and fight for every reform we can possibly wring from the ruling-class, while simultaneously making the case for why it will be necessary to ditch capitalism once and for all if we are to secure any lasting gains for our class. A socialist revolution is possible, as the centenary of the events in 1917 should remind us, now we just need to organize to make it happen.

Notes 

[1] For details on the connections between fascists and the new age movement see, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (2002), p.292. I have written about this in my series of articles that critically scrutinized the reactionary spiritual conspiracies woven by David Icke; see part III “Ruling-Class Aliens” (Swans Commentary, July 28, 2014) for Icke’s use of anti-Semite conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russian Revolution.

[2] To read more about how LaRouche and Engdahl’s conspiracies have been popularized on mainstream TV, see Michael Wolraich’s Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (2010). In recent years Engdahl’s books have been published by the so-called “Progress Press” which excitedly republished LaRouche’s “underground classic” Dope Inc.: Britain’s Opium War against the United States. Furthermore, Engdahl’s 2009 book Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century directly draws up the conspiracies of Antony C. Sutton, refers to the “remarkable work of the 19th and early 20thCentury German writer, Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West” (a book popular in fascist circles), and uncritically cites the “research” of famed fascist anti-Semite Eustace Mullins. At present Engdahl is counted as a regular contributor to the online journal “New Eastern Outlook” which is published by the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Other well-known conspiracy theorists who write for this publication include Tony Cartalucci and Andre Vltchek.

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Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017).

August 18, 2017

The Fetishization of Violence: Reflections on Charlottesville, WWII and Activism

Filed under: anarchism,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 12:44 pm

The Fetishization of Violence: Reflections on Charlottesville, WWII and Activism

“The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is fundamentally a lie – the truth lies outside, in what we do.”

― Slavoj Žižek

A Most Violent Nation

In the United States of America, violence remains one of our greatest pastimes. From slaughtering Native Americans and enslaving, torturing and killing African Americans, to conquering Filipinos and incinerating the Vietnamese, the history of the U.S. reads like a horror story. Without question, this is a nation built and maintained by violence.

Today, Americans shoot and kill each other and themselves at unprecedented levels, and disproportionately when compared to our industrialized counterparts. Uncle Sam, as Chris Hedges routinely mentions, speaks in the “language of violence.” When children grow up watching their presidents and civic leaders threaten to use violence, it should come as no surprise when those same children resort to violence to solve their problems.

Growing up, I was immersed in violence, both personally and socially. My father’s friends spent their time on the streets. They understood how violence works in the real world. They also understood the utility of violence. But they paid the price for their devotion to violence. Many of them turned into alcoholics. Some died from drugs. Others are in jail. Their families and victims pay the ultimate price.

I was born in 1984. I grew up on COPS, Rambo and Navy Seals. I played with toy guns, and eventually, real ones. I grew up shooting. I grew up with cops and military veterans visiting our childhood homes. They spoke in the language of violence. They drank, and smoked, and cursed. They were angry. They remain angry.

Violence, when employed correctly, is extremely effective. That’s why it’s so tempting to use violence as a means to an end. People who argue that violence solves nothing have never encountered much violence. Unfortunately, violence is horrifically powerful and quite useful in many contexts. That said, the long-term social, ecological and cultural consequences of violent behavior are equally destructive.

From the perspective of a nation-state, violence can solve short-term issues, but it cannot solve complex long-term challenges such as climate change, institutional racism, militarism, etc. Right now, U.S. Empire is quickly learning the limitations of protracted violence. The U.S. Empire is collapsing under its own weight, as the historian Alfred McCoy routinely notes.

Any empire, republic, political movement or individual who bases their movement on violence will ultimately succumb to extreme violence. The more the state apparatus lashes out in violent ways, and the more rightwing extremists engage in terrorism, the more likely the Left will respond with violence (a point we’ll return to later in the essay). The cycle of violence must end, and soon.

Breaking from 400 years of colonial history and violence will not be easy, but it can be done. There is no law or rule that says we must continue down this violent and destructive path. However, much like a life-long alcoholic, it will take great efforts to change the mindset and culture that encourages people to think and behave violently. More importantly, we must dismantle the economic, cultural, social and psychological institutions and mechanisms that create the conditions for violence.

The Charlottesville—Military Connection

James Alex Fields Jr., the rightwing terrorist who drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather D. Heyer and injuring another 20 people, is an Army veteran. According to media reports, Fields was a loner and a confused teenager who became interested in WWII and Nazis during his high school years. Since the attack, pictures have surfaced showing Fields participating in Vanguard America rallies.

While Fields represents the sort of misguided and irrational terrorists he likely despises, the more interesting character in this tragedy is Dylan Ulysses Hopper, the CEO of Vanguard America, and one of the primary organizers for rightwing groups who descended on Charlottesville.

Hopper, a former Marine Corps sergeant, officially became a white supremacist in 2012, around the same time he became a Marine Corps recruiter in Ohio. Quickly, Hopper ascended the ranks of Vanguard America, using his recruitment skills and military training to boost the ranks of the white supremacist organization. Hopper, a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, represents a growing trend in the U.S. military. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, citing an FBI study:

White supremacist leaders are making a concerted effort to recruit active-duty soldiers and recent combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new FBI report. The unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, titled ‘White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11,’ bolsters the findings of a 2006 Intelligence Report exposé that revealed that alarming numbers of racist extremists were taking advantage of lowered wartime recruiting standards to enlist in the armed services.

‘Military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement as a result of recruitment campaigns by extremist groups and self-recruitment by veterans sympathetic to white supremacist causes,’ the FBI report states. ‘Extremist leaders seek to recruit members with military experience in order to exploit their discipline, knowledge of firearms, explosives and tactical skills as well as [in the case of active duty soldiers] their access to weapons and intelligence.’

Of course, none of this should come as a great surprise. An institution that’s built on racism, genocide, xenophobia, dehumanization, extreme violence and toxic masculinity should be expected to create such monsters. From the Hells Angels to the Oklahoma City bombing, white supremacists have always found comfort within the ranks of the U.S. military.

During my time in the Marine Corps, it was routine to hear my fellow jarheads refer to black marines as ‘dark green,’ or worse, ‘niggers.’ Iraqis and Afghans were referred to as ‘Hajis,’ ‘towel heads’ or ‘sand-niggers.’ Female marines were called ‘WM’s,’ which stands for ‘Walking Mattresses.’ Hispanic marines were labeled ‘wetbacks’ or ‘spics.’ And Asian marines were routinely called ‘gooks’ or ‘rice patties.’

This sort of behavior and regressive ideology is prevalent in many institutions that are dominated by white men, including sports teams, fire departments and police departments. Remember Officer Jason Lai of the San Francisco Police Department? He was the cop who got busted sending texts to fellow officers that read, “I hate that beaner but the Nig is worse!” “Indian ppl are disgusting!” And, “Burn down Walgreens and kill the bums!”

Officer Lai, of Asian American descent, fully identified with and espoused the sort of rightwing-reactionary views of his white supremacist colleagues in the SFPD. And to think, we’re talking about San Francisco, not Miami, Birmingham, St. Louis or Chicago. One can only assume that the majority of Lai’s fellow police officers in the SFPD hold similar views. One can only imagine what police officers in various departments across the U.S. think about people of color, the poor, Muslims or protesters.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t have to guess as we have more than enough evidence to prove that these sort of racist and violent outbursts are not isolated incidents. Ongoing and past tragedies, from Charlottesville to Oklahoma City, are nauseatingly predictable. Institutions such as the military inherently feeds the white supremacy that plagues American society and culture.

The Myth of World War II & The Power of Propaganda

In light of recent events, online activists and others have taken to posting pictures of troops storming the beaches of Normandy as a way to tie current anti-Fascist struggles to the defeat of Italian Fascism and German Nazism during World War II. The problem with this sort of reactionary protest is that it feeds the ongoing myths surrounding WWII: namely, the notion that the U.S. got involved in the war to defeat Fascism and Nazism.

The U.S. Empire, like all previous empires, does not engage in wars because it’s the right or moral thing to do. The U.S. Empire has interests. And its interests are not our interests. If within the scope of U.S. imperial interests something positive takes place, such as the defeat of Nazism, it’s a mere coincidence, not a calculated objective. The primary objective of nation-states are not moral crusades (though moral crusades under the guise of enlightened Christianity were commonly used to dominate people around the globe), the primary objective of nation-states is to consolidate and wield power.

Without doubt, the momentary defeat of Nazism and Fascism should be hailed, but not in the way in which it’s currently being lauded. Remember, the Communists defeated Fascism, not the Americans. Some estimates suggest that the Soviet Union lost close to 27 million people during WWII. The Communists bore the brunt of Fascism and Nazism. Yet, Americans revel in the myth that our 500,000+ deaths were the deciding factor in the war effort. Let’s also remember the hundreds of thousands of anarchists, communists, socialists, Jews, Gypsies and others who valiantly fought against Fascism.

Today, the myths surrounding WWII continue to haunt the American psyche, crippling our ability to critically examine U.S. history, ideology and nationalism. Most Americans have concluded that our war against Japan was just, and our efforts against the Germans and Italians righteous. Yet, as the late-great historian Howard Zinn notes in his classic work, A People’s History of the United States:

When Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, the U.S. declared an embargo on munitions but let American businesses send oil to Italy in huge quantities, which was essential to Italy’s carrying on the war. When a Fascist rebellion took place in Spain in 1936 against the elected socialist-liberal government, the Roosevelt administration sponsored a neutrality act that had the effect of shutting off help to the Spanish government while Hitler and Mussolini gave critical aid to Franco. Offner says:

“… the United States went beyond even the legal requirements of its neutrality legislation. Had aid been forthcoming from the United States and from England and France, considering that Hitler’s position on aid to France was not firm at least until November 1936, the Spanish Republicans could well have triumphed. Instead, Germany gained every advantage from the Spanish civil war.”

Was this simply poor judgment, an unfortunate error? Or was it the logical policy of a government whose main interest was not stopping Fascism but advancing the imperial interests of the United States? For those interests, in the thirties, an anti-Soviet policy seemed best. Later, when Japan and Germany threatened U.S. world interests, a pro-Soviet, anti-Nazi policy became preferable. Roosevelt was as much concerned to end the oppression of Jews as Lincoln was to end slavery during the Civil War; their priority in policy (whatever their personal compassion for victims of persecution) was not minority rights, but national power.

It was not Hitler’s attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy’s attack on Ethiopia, Hitler’s invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland-none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan’s bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt’s outraged call for war-Japan’s attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nan king, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it.

So long as Japan remained a well-behaved member of that imperial club of Great Powers who-in keeping with the Open Door Policy- were sharing the exploitation of China, the United States did not object. It had exchanged notes with Japan in 1917 saying ‘the Government of the United States recognizes that Japan has special interests in China.’ In 1928, according to Akira Iriye (After Imperialism), American consuls in China supported the coming of Japanese troops. It was when Japan threatened potential U.S. markets by its attempted takeover of China, but especially as it moved toward the tin, rubber, and oil of Southeast Asia, that the United States became alarmed and took those measures which led to the Japanese attack: a total embargo on scrap iron, a total embargo on oil in the summer of 1941.

Leaving aside the justification for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, it’s important to remember that prior to WWII, the U.S. had an atrocious track-record of defending struggles for freedom and democracy.

Ask the Libyans (1801-1805), Haitians (1791-1804. 1888, 1891, 1914, 1915-1934), Cubans (1814-1825, 1906-1909, 1912, 1917-1922, 1933) Filipinos (1899-1913), Mexicans (1806-1810, 1842, 1846-1848, 1859, 1866, 1873-1896), Puerto Ricans (1814-1825), Chinese (1843, 1854, 1855, 1866, 1894-1895, 1899, 1900, 1911-1941), Russians (1918-1920), Nicaraguans (1853-1857, 1867, 1894-1899, 1910-1925), Panamanians (1856, 1865, 1885, 1912-1925), Algerians (1815), Hawaiians (1870, 1874, 1889-1893),  or Guatemalans (1920) — just to name a few occasions when the U.S. military was used to protect U.S. interests and repress struggles for freedom and democracy.

Instead of glorifying state-sanctioned violence, activists in the U.S. would be wise to highlight the real heroes of WWII, people such as Gunnar Eilifsen, those who participated in the Warsaw Uprising, Irena Sandler, Lepa Radic, and countless unnamed others who defending their families and communities from Nazism and Fascism. They weren’t drafted. And they weren’t backed by the most powerful military empire in the world. They were true resistance fighters, and we should remember their sacrifices.

Meanwhile, we should do our best to challenge U.S. nationalism, historical myths and the fetishization of violence, which has reared its ugly head in light of recent white supremacist attacks on leftwing protesters. In the end, WWII was the single-greatest tragedy in the history of the human species. And that’s exactly how it should be remembered.

Antifa, Redneck Revolt, Black Bloc and The Left

Recently, I posted an article written by Louis Proyect entitled, “Antifa and the Perils of Adventurism,” on social media and received some limited backlash, but also some interesting reflections. Unfortunately, it’s clear that many people in the U.S., including seasoned activists and organizers, are having a very difficult time processing recent events in a way that’s not overly emotional or irrational in nature.

One person wrote, “Bottom line: Either you’re with Antifa or you’re with the Fascists!” This lack of nuance is symbolic of a Left that doesn’t look in the mirror, a Left that refuses to ask serious questions about its movements, organizations and members, and a Left that lacks discipline, vision and strategy. Remember, vision should dictate strategy, which in turn dictates tactics. Today, many leftists in the U.S. have the equation backward: they focus on tactics first, fail to discuss strategy, and a lack a long-term vision.

Existing anti-Fascist groups such as Antifa and the more militant organization Redneck Revolt, have filled a vacuum at protests, but their tactics are sloppy and their strategy and vision is non-existent. The overwhelming majority of Antifa activists are white, male, middle-class and disconnected from the ongoing day-to-day efforts of organizers and activists. To be fair, some do all of the above, but that’s a rare breed.

Proyect’s point about ‘adventurism’ is well understood: I’ve encountered many ‘adventurists’ over the years, especially during the Occupy Wall Street protests. I also experienced similar phenomena at antiwar protests during the Bush Era. In Charlottesville, the evidence is clear that leftwing protesters weren’t prepared for the Right’s violence, nor were they prepared to provide security for their marches.

As I watched video clips of Fields’ grey Dodge Charger ramming into a crowd of protesters, killing one, I immediately thought to myself: “Why was no one watching their six?” — military terminology for, “Who’s covering the perimeter and our backs?” Undoubtedly, it’s easy to make such critiques from the sidelines, but I’ve been in similar situations, notably in Iraq.

If leftwing activists are serious about security, especially at protests, they would enlist the help of antiwar veterans who have the knowledge and skills to provide the sort of security that’s required at such events. We know how to set up perimeter security. We know how to conduct vehicle check-points. And we know how to stand post. We know how to march in unison, follow direct orders and give direct orders. We know how to patrol city streets, and we know how to operate in teams of 4o (platoon), 12 (squad team) and 4 (fireteam).

Each person has a specific task. Each person’s task operates in tandem with other members’ tasks and skills. Everyone is trained in these skills and tasks for months and years at a time. The training process never ends. Indeed, even in the most disciplined and strict units, grave mistakes were made. People were killed during training exercises. And plenty of folks were injured.

You see, I have no moral qualms about violence or militant resistance. In fact, in many contexts, it’s absolutely required for survival. Here, in the U.S., however, I worry that my leftwing friends are getting ahead of themselves. Should communities be able to defend themselves? Absolutely. But what does that actually look like in the real world?

I would like to break down our security dilemma into three sections:

Internal Security: Are the activists who seek to provide protection at rallies (Antifa, for instance) operating in affinity groups? If not, they should. And to be clear, there are many different forms of affinity groups. What mechanisms are they using for communication? Person-to-person is the best, but there are also supposedly secure electronic applications available. Are activists talking about their challenges and plans on social media, via email or on the web? If so, they’re breaking some of the fundamental rules of security culture. Existing leftwing organizations should be having difficult discussions about the sort of security culture they wish to see in their respective organizations. Over the past 11 years, I’ve seen very little to convince me that this sort of sophisticated organizing is taking place on a broad scale. On the other hand, leftwing activists must be careful not to over-exaggerate our security threat. I’ve seen plenty of folks fall prey to unjustified paranoia. And most of the time this happens because groups don’t have a proper security culture in place. If they did, it would be much easier to operate in a rational manner, and to easily determine who/what is a threat, and who/what is not.

Security for Events: Here, I would highly suggest that leftwing activists seek out military veterans who’ve been active in the peace and justice movement. Make sure they’re vetted. Talk to their friends. Talk to people they’ve worked with. Are they accountable to a community or organization? If not, don’t work with them. It’s that simple. Only the most seasoned activists should be allowed to work in a security capacity at events where Fascists and white supremacists are expected to show up, or in a counterdemonstration against such groups. Newer activists can be trained in the proper methods of security at smaller-scale events: local protests, speaking engagements, workshops, fundraisers, etc. Operating as a team requires strict discipline and adherence to a set of values and rules. Without strict rules, people cannot survive in a combat zone. The same is true for rallies that descend into chaos. All of this is contrary to the typical anarchist-leftwing view that any form of authority is bad and must be rejected. In certain circumstances, extreme authoritarianism is required. Combat zones and riots are two examples.

External/Ongoing Security: Here, I’m thinking of the police and various other governmental entities that wield great power and violence. Going head-to-head with the police is usually a losing strategy. Leftwing activists don’t have the numbers or collective coherence required to overwhelm them, and we don’t have the weapons to stop them. This is true both at single events, and on a day-to-day basis in our local and regional communities. Dismantling the structures that produce violence and fear should always be our primary goal. In the meantime, however, people still require security. Poor communities are scared of both the cops and street gangs. Women are scared of their male partners. Domestic violence is a huge issue. Are leftwing groups prepared to respond to incidents of domestic violence? How can we expect people, particularly those who are vulnerable, to not call the police under those circumstances? Are neighborhoods and communities organized enough to do regular patrols, not so much to keep an eye on their neighbors, but to thwart the influence and power of street gangs and the police? Defending ourselves against rightwing militias or political organizations requires the same level of discipline and organization. Right now, there is no evidence that leftwing groups are prepared to engage in this level of security. That must change if we’re serious about providing alternatives to the state.

On a side note, I should mention a few things about weapons. First, I don’t trust anyone with a gun. I grew up with guns. I own guns. And unlike 99.99% of the leftwing activists, I’ve used guns to kill people. As a child, we spent hours upon hours learning how to clean, safely handle, and shoot our weapons. In the Marine Corps, that training was taken to its most extreme. In short, your individual liberties and rights go out the window once you start carrying a weapon.

One of the reasons the military is such a hyper-disciplined and authoritarian entity is because that’s the only way to survive when operating in groups of hundreds and thousands, with everyone carrying their own weapon. There must be a chain of command. Orders must be followed. If not, expect negligent discharges and unwanted deaths. In case you’re wondering, weapons are no joke.

The fetishization of guns isn’t new. The U.S. was built on the fetishization of guns and violence. Hence, it comes as no surprise that a bunch of folks who can’t even hold regular meetings or conduct effective campaigns are all of the sudden interested in picking up weapons and pretending to be revolutionaries.

From my perspective, maybe less than 1% of the activists and organizers I’ve encountered over the years are prepared for ‘militant resistance.’ They’re prepared to punch Nazis in the face, which is fine, but they’re not prepared to actually do battle with those same Nazis. In Charlottesville, leftwing activists would’ve been killed without the protection of the state. The same was true two years ago when I found myself attending an anti-Fascist rally in Coburg, a small suburb outside the city of Melbourne.

Currently, we can’t ‘outfight’ the Fascists, but we can out-organize them. Going toe-to-toe with people who are more than happy to employ violence is a losing strategy for the American Left. We lack the numbers, training, discipline, vision, coherence and seriousness to properly wage militant battles.

If you want to know what a revolutionary struggle looks like in the real world, talk to a Zapatista. Learn about their day-to-day struggles. Then, and only then, tell me that they’re ready to wage a revolutionary struggle. As my friend Sean says, and he’s right, “If you’re not ready to rats, sleep on the ground, kill people and pick up your dead friends, don’t talk to me about revolution or militant struggle.” I agree.

Dismantling White Supremacy

White Supremacy isn’t a series of attitudes or opinions, it’s a structural-systemic-institutional problem. Indeed, most of the activists and writers on the Left treat racism as if it’s a personal fault. It’s not. It’s a structural issue. The difference between individual racism and structural racism is important.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, one could argue that individual racism is much lower. Yes, there are White Supremacists who feel comfortable espousing their reactionary views online, but nowhere near the number of whites who felt comfortable doing so several decades ago. Yet, structurally, with regard to the prison industrial complex, housing, wealth and education, we’ve made little gains, and in many cases, have taken several steps back.

As a result, leftwing activists are confused. They lash out at racists on an individual level, but have no serious plans to deal with racism on a structural level. Dismantling White Supremacy requires dismantling or significantly altering existing institutions, including the corporate media (TV, Radio, Internet, Hollywood), the prison-industrial-complex and criminal justice system (Courts, Jails, Private Prisons, Police), the U.S. Empire (Bases, Weapons Contractors, Private Security Firms), global capitalism (Private Banks, Property Rights, Corporations, Trade Agreements) and a series of relationships, mechanisms, and institutions that uphold White Supremacy.

The difference between calling out and/or confronting individual racists and addressing structural racism is the difference between Neoliberal Activism (hyper-individualism) and Leftwing Activism (hyper-collectivity). Neoliberal activists have no ties to a collective body of people. They only address racism on an individual/subjective level, and fail to engage in the sort of collective work that it takes to actually dismantle the systems that produce the sort of racism they find so abhorrent.

In the end, the only response to large-scale collective challenges are large-scale collective political projects. In our context, that means creating new economic, political and cultural institutions aimed at radically changing society. And radically change society we must, at least according to the living world. Today, the concept of a new society is no longer an ideological pipe-dream, it’s a basic requirement for planetary survival.

As organizers, educators, activists and artists, it is our primary duty in the context of Neoliberalism to constantly remind people that our challenges are collective in nature. It’s also our responsibility to think critically and constantly improve upon our existing programs, campaigns, and so forth. The Right is playing to win. Are we?

Vincent Emanuele is a writer and community organizer who lives and works in Michigan City, Indiana. He is the co-founder of P.A.R.C. (Politics, Art, Roots, Culture), and a member of the National Writers Union – UAW 1981, and Veterans for Peace. He can be reached at vincent.emanuele333@gmail.com

 

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Vincent Emanuele writes for teleSUR English and lives in Michigan City, Indiana. He can be reached at vincent.emanuele333@gmail.com

California Typewriter; The Shopkeeper

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 12:22 pm

Two documentaries have come my way that raise important questions about the digital revolution as well as providing much more entertainment than Dunkirk and Detroit put together, even if this might be a case of setting the bar too low.

“California Typewriter” is a beautiful homage to the antiquated machine that people my age used long before personal computers took over while “The Shopkeeper” is a nostalgic look at the recording industry in its prime and how streaming services like Spotify and Pandora threaten to pauperize performing artists to the point of making them as antiquated as a typewriter. The shopkeeper in question is Mark Hallman, the founder of the Congress House, the longest continually operating recording studio in Austin, Texas.

However, both films hold out the possibility of keeping such “relics” alive since as Camus once said, “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.”

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August 11, 2017

A Taxi Driver

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Korea — louisproyect @ 2:26 pm

Opening on August 11th at the AMC Empire 25 in NY and the same day nationally, “A Taxi Driver” is a South Korean film based on an important event in the country’s history. In 1980, during a rebellion in Gwangju against a recent military coup, a German reporter named Jürgen Hinzpeter came to South Korea to cover the rebellion but had no way to reach the city except by cab since all public transportation had been shut down by the military. Even a cab would have trouble getting through since all the major roads had been blockaded. It was up to a cab driver named Kim Sa-bok to drive the reporter into Gwangju, taking dirt roads to bypass the military guards. As a result of Hinzpeter’s film footage of the occupying military’s massacre of up to 600 people, the South Korean government was perceived worldwide as a bloody dictatorship.

This is not the first South Korean film to dramatize the Gwangju uprising. In 1999 I reviewed “Peppermint Candy”, a film I included in my list of the greatest 100 ever made. Yongho, The anti-hero of “Peppermint Candy”, is a businessman who has had a long history of malevolent behavior, including serving as part of the assault on Gwangju. From my review:

Peppermint candy is something that Yongho is especially fond of. His first love is Sunim, who works in a candy factory. When he is in the army in 1980, she sends him candy to remind him of home and her love. One night his company is rousted from bed in the middle of the night for some sort of mysterious engagement. The sergeant abuses the men, calling them “bitches,” as they struggle to get their gear together. When Yongho’s peppermints pour out of his knapsack, the sergeant punches and kicks him because candy is not allowed.

The soldiers are dispatched to Gwangju, where students and workers have been protesting for democracy. Yongho, a raw recruit, kills a young student who is not part of the protests. She has wandered into the confrontation, just trying to make her way home. Besides this young woman, every other woman he knows on more intimate terms is treated badly by Yongho who treats the opposite sex as objects to be fucked and then ignored.

 

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August 4, 2017

Machines

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,india — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, August 4, 2017

CounterPunch readers who follow my film reviews probably are aware that I avoid superlatives. That being the case, when I tell you that “Machines”, a documentary that opens on Wednesday August 9th at the Film Forum in New York, is the most powerful Marxist treatment of labor exploitation that I have seen in 25 years of reviewing film, you’d better believe me.

This is the first film ever made by Rahul Jain, a 25-year old Delhi-born director who originally considered titling the film “Machines Don’t Go On Strike”. Filmed almost entirely in a vast dungeon of a textile mill in Gujarat, it is hard not to see the workers as being an extension of the machines they operate. Marx described such factory life in Chapter 10 of V. 1 of Capital, titled “The Working Day”:

It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery.

This is exactly what you see in “Machines”, a process in which workers are slaves to the machine. It is what Charlie Chaplin depicted comically in “Modern Times” and Fritz Lang depicted more darkly in “Metropolis”. As long as capitalism exists, this is the fate of the working class. In the USA, many workers wax nostalgic for the $20-40 jobs that prevailed in the 60s but for the Gujarat textile workers, the hope is for an 8-hour day and a wage that enables them to send a bit home to their family, some living thousands of miles away. Most of them appear to be ex-farmers who have been crushed by debt and drought. In the decades before Marx was born, it was the Enclosure Acts that accomplished the same results. Peasants were robbed of their means of self-subsistence and forced into the textile mills of Birmingham and Manchester that William Blake referred to as dark and satanic.

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July 28, 2017

Sled Dogs

Filed under: animal rights,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:02 pm

On a free association basis, when you hear the words “dog abuse”, the first thing that comes to mind are pit bulls being trained to fight each other. Next would be Michael Vick’s conviction for both raising dogs for that purpose and killing those that were deemed inadequate to the task. “Sled Dogs”, which opens Friday, July 27th at the Cinema Village in New York and elsewhere later on, will leave you shocked at how the same sort of cruelty has been going on since 1964 in Alaska under the auspices of the Iditarod, a dog-sledding race that covers a thousand miles from its start in Seward in the south to the finish line in Nome in the northwest.

Not only are animals sickened onto death in this 1000 mile spectacle, they are culled from kennels devoted to training such dogs just as they were in Michael Vick’s kennel. If a dog in a sledding kennel was not equal to the task of pulling a sled, it would be terminated. Besides detailing the horrors associated with sled dog competition, “Sled Dogs” raises important questions about the relationship between humanity and animals. Are they simply property that an owner can dispose of at his discretion when they cannot fulfill his profit-making expectations?

The Canadian government ruled that they were indeed property in a landmark case that is examined in Fern Levitt’s powerful documentary.

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July 21, 2017

Taxi Searchers

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 2:40 pm

I had never made the connection between John Ford’s “The Searchers” and Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” but found myself saying “of course” after Stewart pointed out that both involve anti-heroes trying to “rescue” women who don’t really feel any such need. Another important insight found in Taxi Searchers is their proximity in time to two important reversals of imperial fortune. Ford’s film was made just two years after the French were defeated in Vietnam and Scorsese’s came out just a year after the Vietnamese kicked the imperialists out once again.

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July 20, 2017

Clancy Sigal (1926-2017)

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,literature,obituary — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm

I just learned on Facebook from Clancy Sigal’s wife Janice that he has died. Born in 1926, he was an important voice of the left and well known to CounterPunch readers for his many contributions over the years.

Although I never met Clancy in person and regret not having done so, I considered him a real friend like others I have met and communicated with through email and Facebook. It was Clancy who initiated contact with me 14 years ago over a cringe-worthy matter. I had written a hatchet job on a film titled “Frida” about the artist Frida Kahlo that must have gotten under the screenwriter’s skin:

When I write film reviews, I try to apply the dictum of my late father who used to say, “If you can’t say something good about a person, say nothing at all.” I made an exception last week for “The Quiet American”, which I regarded as a disappointment both in terms as an adaptation of Greene’s novel and the novel itself.

Now I turn to an all-out disaster, although like “The Quiet American” it received rather favorable reviews when it came out. “Frida” is a really stupid biopic based on the life of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist and feminist icon who was married to Diego Rivera, the famed muralist. Since it touches on modern art and includes Leon Trotsky as a character, two subjects close to my heart, it is necessary for me to address the profound injustice done to them and to the rather interesting personality of Kahlo herself, who is reduced in this film to a cursing, drinking and brawling eccentric whose motivations seem driven more by her sexual/reproductive organs than her brain.

The screenwriter was Clancy Sigal.

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July 14, 2017

Andrzej Wadja’s Search for Freedom

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Poland — louisproyect @ 12:26 pm

When Andrzej Wajda died last year at the age of 90 after having just completed “Afterimage”, he was one of the last of the great auteurs of the 60s and 70s, leaving only Jean-Luc Godard (now 86) the sole survivor. Demonstrating their appreciation of his role in this golden age of cinema, the European Film Academy presented Wajda with a lifetime achievement award, only the third director to be so honored after Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. His body of work would be a topic in itself worthy of consideration by CounterPunch readers but beyond his achievements as a filmmaker there is something else that recommends his films, namely their focus on one of the big political questions of our epoch–especially after a full century. What was the impact of the USSR on its own people and those like the Poles living under its control? Widely recognized as an anti-Communist director, he might be a polarizing figure to many who see the geopolitical divide as demanding alignment with the Kremlin—either pre or post-Communism. As such, his work demands attention, however you stand on this question insofar as his reputation and influence will persist long after his death. Was Wajda an enemy of communism or was his mission to create films that transcended narrow ideological considerations?

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