Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 12, 2019

DeGrowth, the Green New Deal and This Island Earth

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 12, 2019

Back in the early 1970s, the Socialist Workers Party was well on its way to becoming the largest group on the left in the USA. To a large part, Peter Camejo’s speeches were responsible for this. He was not only good at explaining why you should become a socialist but doing so in an entertaining manner. One of the jokes that never failed to get a laugh was his description of an abundant life under socialism. Money wouldn’t be necessary. You’d go to a state-owned grocery store and be able to walk out with a shopping cart overflowing with filet mignons. This would not prompt an arrest but a referral to a psychiatrist because who in the world would do such a thing.

Although Peter would eventually adopt an ecosocialist outlook that would have made such a joke obsolete, he was reflecting a certain kind of techno-optimism that characterized our movement. Its prophet Leon Trotsky wrote an article in 1926 titled “Radio, Science, Technique and Society” that exclaimed: “The atom contains within itself a mighty hidden energy, and the greatest task of physics consists in pumping out this energy, pulling out the cork so that this hidden energy may burst forth in a fountain. Then the possibility will be opened up of replacing coal and oil by atomic energy, which will also become the basic motive power.”

Continue reading

April 4, 2019

Notes on the Dissolution of the ISO

Filed under: Counterpunch,ISO — louisproyect @ 12:53 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 4, 2019

During 2013 and 2014, a rift opened up in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) over the results of a rape investigation that some members found to be little more than a cover-up. The Socialist Workers Party in England, which had played a major role in the formation of the ISO, was also convulsed over a sexual attack and cover-up around the same time. Both groups suffered defections but the British fared much worse, with perhaps half the membership jumping ship. In the USA, the ISO had fewer losses but the cover-up resurfaced again this year when a letter to their 2019 convention precipitated a new investigation into the events of six years ago. This time, the members voted to remove those who had covered up for the perpetrator in the name of “due process” and begin a soul-searching self-examination that led to a startling conclusion. The ISO, which is the largest group in the USA that defines itself as “Leninist”, has just voted to dissolve itself. To get a handle on this turn of events, I urge you to see the items posted to their website.

In both the case of the ISO and the SWP, the sexual attack triggered a discussion over whether the “Leninism” that both groups swore by might have led to a cover-up. SWP leader Alex Callinicos, who only referred euphemistically to a “difficult disciplinary case” in a February 2013 article titled “Is Leninism Finished”, argued that it was their model of democratic centralism that allowed the SWP “to concentrate our forces on key objectives, and thereby to build so effectively the various united fronts we have supported.” Instead, the combination of a cover-up and fetishized Bolshevik norms have cost the SWP both members and influence as it staggers along just like the American SWP that has a much more advanced case of political dementia.

Richard Seymour, who was one of the best known and best respected SWP members, would have none of Callinicos’s hooey. In an reply titled “Is Zinovievism Finished”, Richard wrote:

The model operated currently by the SWP is not that of the Bolshevik revolution. It is a version of the Zinovievite model adopted during the period of “Bolshevisation” in the mid-1920s and then honed by ever smaller and more marginal groups. When Alex implies that somehow we have developed a ‘distilled’ version of Bolshevik democratic centralism he is not holding to the tradition of October: it is asking us to choose the model that has led to three of the most serious crises in the SWP’s history in quick succession over the model that actually did lead the October revolution.

I had my own reply to Callinicos in an article titled “Leninism is finished: a reply to Alex Callinicos” that made essentially the same points as Richard Seymour except with some added observations on how such an organizational method leads to intellectual and political monolithism:

Discipline has meant enforcing ideological conformity. For example, it would be virtually impossible for SWP members in Britain to take a position on Cuba identical to the American SWP’s and vice versa. As it turns out, this is a moot point since most members become indoctrinated through lectures and classes after joining the groups and tend to toe the line, often responding to peer pressure and the faith that their party leaders must know what is right.

Continue reading

March 29, 2019

Me and the Maoists

Filed under: Counterpunch,Maoism — louisproyect @ 1:03 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 29, 2019

As I was reading through You Say You Want a Revolution: SDS, PL, and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance for a review in last week’s CounterPunch, I kept emailing co-author John Levin about my connections to a number of the 23 mini-memoir contributors to this essential volume. It got to the point when John asked me jocularly if I was a member of the Progressive Labor Party rather than the Socialist Workers Party.

Well, not exactly, but my fifty-two-year career on the left has brought me into contact with Maoists (and eventually ex-Maoists) on numerous occasions. As such, I thought it would be worth CounterPunch readers’ time to join me in a trip down memory lane to learn about our generation’s mostly misspent youth and subsequent attempts over the long haul to build a stronger left.

In late 1966, when I was a graduate student in philosophy at the New School and radicalizing as a result of the war in Vietnam and seeing poverty with my own eyes as a welfare caseworker in Harlem, I began to consider joining a revolutionary organization. As it happened, the Socialist Workers Party made the most sense to me since it was spearheading the mass antiwar demonstrations. I had been involved in long discussions with and moving closer politically to an SWP member and fellow philosophy student named Arthur Maglin even though I was initially put off by his description of himself as a Marxist-Leninist. For me, that was as outlandish as someone calling himself a Seventh Day Adventist. Although the SWP had the inside track, I was also open to the Progressive Labor Party since Victor Marrow, a Bard College classmate and fellow New School philosophy student, was a sympathizer. When Victor told me that I’d get a lot out of a talk on socialist revolution at PL leader Jake Rosen’s apartment, I said why not. Back then, the only thing that sounded outlandish to me besides Seventh Day Adventism was liberal acceptance of the status quo.

Continue reading

March 22, 2019

You Say You Want a Revolution: SDS, PL, and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance

Filed under: Counterpunch,Maoism,SDS — louisproyect @ 2:04 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 22, 2019

On a number of different levels, John Levin and Earl Silbar’s “You Say You Want a Revolution: SDS, PL, and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance” is a must-read book. To start with, it represents an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle known as SDS. For many, SDS meant either the New Left of the Port Huron Statement or the organization that imploded in 1970, leaving behind the wreckage strewn behind it, including the Weathermen and the various Maoist sects such as Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party that came out of RYM and RYM2. Missing until now from this puzzle was arguably SDS’s most disciplined and serious component, the Worker-Student Alliance (WSA) that was well-represented in the landmark student strikes at San Francisco State and Harvard University.

In addition, it is a close look at the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a group that was the backbone of the WSA as well as the group that had the official blessing of Beijing in the 1960s until the party leadership broke with China over its “revisionism”.

While being essential for professional historians and those simply trying to understand what was happening on the left 50 years ago, it is also a breathtakingly dramatic story of how people from my generation burned their bridges in order to become revolutionaries. As someone who has read and written about a number of Trotskyist memoirs, none of them comes close to the story-telling power of the 23 people included in this 362-page collection that you will find impossible to put down.

Continue reading

March 15, 2019

Ben is Back; Beautiful Boy

Filed under: Counterpunch,drugs,Film — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 15, 2019

Given the enormity of the drug crisis in the USA, particularly centered on opioid overdoses that are the largest cause of death of people under the age of 50, it was inevitable that Hollywood would begin to produce “problem” movies such as “Ben is Back” and “Beautiful Boy”. It also just as inevitable that such films would be based on the suffering of well-to-do families and suffused with clichés.

“Ben is Back” stars Julia Roberts as Holly Burns, the matriarch of a generally happy family eagerly awaiting Christmas day, the happiest time of the year, especially if you live in the suburbs and have lots of money to lavish on presents. Pulling into her driveway with a carload of gifts to place under the Christmas tree, she sees the ghost of Christmas past, namely her college-aged son Ben (Lucas Hedges) who has cut short his stay in a drug rehabilitation facility to return home from the holidays.

The entire family treats Ben as if he was the scariest ghost showing up in Scrooge’s bedroom. He is there not to remind them of their lifetime of sins but the pain he has visited on them in the past as an opioid addict. Hoping to enjoy a happy time with the family, he is put on the defensive by his mom’s insistence that he take a drug test in the upstairs bathroom right off the bat. As he pees into a bottle, she stands behind him with her arms folded to make sure he is not turning in a fake sample.

Continue reading

March 8, 2019

Socially Relevant Film Festival 2019

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 8, 2019

Beginning next Friday on March 15th and lasting until March 21st, the SR Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York will be offering a welcome respite from the violent, comic-book, escapist, and misogynist films appearing in your local cineplex. I have been covering the festival each year since it began in 2015 and am happy to report that this year’s offerings remain at the high level founder Nora Armani has maintained over the past four years.

SR’s mission statement states that it “focuses on socially relevant film content, and human interest stories that raise awareness to social problems and offer positive solutions through the powerful medium of cinema. SR believes that through raised awareness, expanded knowledge about diverse cultures, and the human condition as a whole, it is possible to create a better world free of violence, hate, and crime.”

Continue reading

March 1, 2019

China, Saudi Arabia and the Fate of the Uyghurs

Filed under: China,Counterpunch,Saudi Arabia,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 3:18 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 1, 2019

Beginning with the 9/11 attacks, much of the left decided that Saudi Arabia was the chief engineer of a Wahhabi plot to impose its reactionary, feudal, and patriarchal values on the rest of the world. Supposedly, the USA was being punished for its licentious and ungodly ways even if it was one of Saudi Arabia’s chief supporters in the Middle East, alongside Israel. While 9/11 Trutherism is hardly worth taking seriously, another line of investigation has implicated the Saudi state as providing the logistical support that made the attack possible while the USA looked the other way. The truthers claim that the FBI and CIA ignored the threat because they were in cahoots with al-Qaeda. What could American imperialism have possibly gained by such an attack? The answer is an excuse to invade Iraq, a ridiculous idea. But is it any more ridiculous to believe that Wahhabism, the official religion of Saudi Arabia, explains the attack or Saudi foreign policy in general?

If you are looking for grounds for this, the 9/11 Commission Report  is a good place to start. It does not blame the Saudi state but its evil spawn al-Qaeda. The report stated:

In the 1980s, awash in sudden oil wealth, Saudi Arabia competed with Shia Iran to promote its Sunni fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism. The Saudi government, always conscious of its duties as the custodian of Islam’s holiest places, joined with wealthy Arabs from the Kingdom and other states bordering the Persian Gulf in donating money to build mosques and religious schools that could preach and teach their interpretation of Islamic doctrine.

For those who viewed Saudi Arabia as so devoted to ascetic values that it would be willing to mount a devastating attack on the WTC, a symbol of the financial system it was closely tied to, and the Pentagon, its chief military benefactor, there were some counter-indicators best left under the rug. For someone like Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, the former Saudi ambassador in Washington, who was supposedly the quartermaster supplying the jihadi hijackers, those values were not to be taken too seriously as Christopher Dickey reported in The Daily Beast: “When the prince was the ambassador he was the toast of Washington, and plenty of toasts there were. Bandar bin Sultan smoked fine cigars and drank finer Cognac.”

Continue reading

February 22, 2019

Netflix series on the Sinaloa drug cartels

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,drugs,Mexico,television — louisproyect @ 2:55 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 22, 2019

Not only was Ernest Mandel the leading Marxist economist of his time, he was also a big fan of crime stories. In his 1984 Delightful Murder: a Social History of the Crime Story, he made an essential point about organized crime from a Marxist perspective as well as showing a remarkable grasp of popular culture:

Organized crime, rather than being peripheral to bourgeois society, springs increasingly from the same socio-economic motive forces that govern capital accumulation general: private property, competition and generalized commodity production (generalized money economy). The Swedish pop group Abba summed up the situation eloquently in their song: ‘Money, money, money — It’s a rich man’s world.’ (Their own fate is a vivid illustration of this law: with the huge income generated by their records they promptly created an investment trust and contributed on a large scale to the election funds of the bourgeois party coalition.) But a rich man’s world is also a rich gangster’s world particularly since the top gangsters have grown richer and richer in relative terms, and are certainly qualitatively richer than even richest police, or the overwhelming mass of politicians. (Nixon himself was conscious of the disparity.)

A couple of months ago my wife reminded me that season four of Narcos and season three of El Chapo were up and running on Netflix. Although I hadn’t written anything about the El Chapo series, it seemed like a good opportunity to cover both since they dealt with the drug cartels in Mexico that were very timely given El Chapo’s trial. In addition, they are about the best entertainment available on Netflix. The two series are closely related since they deal with the Sinaloa cartel that El Chapo ruled over. In season four of Narcos, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is only a bit player. Primary attention is on Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna), the founder of the cartel for which El Chapo served as a sicario (hitman). Another important character is Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña), the DEA agent who was tortured and killed by Gallardo’s henchmen in 1985. His death became a cause célèbre that led to the first in a series of escalations of the drug war.

Continue reading

February 15, 2019

A Raymundo Gleyzer retrospective

Filed under: Argentina,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:14 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 15, 2019

Between Friday, February 22nd and the 28th, Anthology Film Archives will be presenting a retrospective of the films of Raymundo Gleyzer, a revolutionary born in 1941 and who died in a military prison in 1976 as one of thousands of desaparesidos. Like the myth of Sisyphus, the Latin American left seems to be perpetually condemned to being crushed by a boulder rolling back on it, just after it was pushed to the top of a mountain. For many young leftists, the sight one “pink tide” government after another being replaced by rightwing, pro-American forces is painful but this has been happening for generations.

In the early 70s, the stakes were much higher since the workers of Chile and Argentina were far more ready to seize power through a socialist revolution than has been the case more recently with temporizing governments like Lula’s. Gleyzer made films that were to the Argentine class struggle that Che Guevara’s AK-47 was to the guerrilla movements that were sweeping the continent. For putting the epochal struggle for the liberation of the South into a broader context, one that spans Simon Bolivar to today, Gleyzer’s films are essential. We should be grateful to the curators at Anthology Film Archives for scheduling this retrospective and urge my readers in the Greater New York area to make time to see his powerful body of work.

Continue reading

February 8, 2019

Eugene V. Debs: a Graphic Biography

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm

For reasons that might be obvious, there has been a resurgence of interest in Eugene V. Debs in recent years. With the USA returning to a new Gilded Age, there is naturally a tendency to see how earlier generations confronted plutocrats like John D. Rockefeller Jr. and the politicians he consorted with.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. lived in the penthouse of 740 Park Avenue, the city’s most expensive real estate. His 34-room apartment now belongs to Stephen Schwarzman, the head of Blackstone and a close friend and adviser to Donald Trump, who is notorious for the vulgar ostentation of his birthday parties. He celebrated his 70thin 2017 by throwing a party that cost 9 million dollars. It featured strolling camels and was capped off by Gwen Stefani singing “Happy Birthday” to the plutocrat whose asset-stripping operation of nursing homes in England led to the death of 19 patients suffering from dementia.

In 1914, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the strategist behind the Colorado National Guard and Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency assault on the Ludlow miners that left 21 people dead, including the wives and children of the miners. Although Woodrow Wilson appeared to disassociate himself from the murderous attack, he and the Presidents who preceded him were opposed to the right of workers to form trade unions. As I pointed out in a review of Chad Pearson’s “Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement”, a President’s “neutral” stance was just a ploy to allow the boss to have his way after the fashion of FDR’s “a plague on both your houses” during the Little Steel Strike.

Eugene V. Debs, who received six percent of the popular vote as a Socialist in 1912, was never neutral. In a September 4, 1915 article in the Appeal to Reason, the voice of the Socialist Party, he eulogized Louis Tikas, a Greek immigrant who led the Ludlow strikers and who was felled by three bullets during the massacre:

Louis Tikas made Ludlow holy as Jesus Christ made Calvary!

He was the loyal leader of the persecuted colony ; the trusted keeper of the tented village. He was loved by every man, woman and child, and feared only by the fanged wolves and hyenas that threatened to ravage the flock.

Strong as a giant yet gentle as a child; utterly fearless yet without bravado, this great and loving soul cast his lot with the exiled slaves of the pits and kept his vigil over the defenseless women and children of the village as a loving mother might over the fledglings of her brood.

Continue reading

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.