Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 14, 2016

Misusing German history to scare up votes for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Fascism,Germany,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

Hermann Müller

Herman Müller: German SP head of state in 1928 and forerunner to the Clintons and Barack Obama

Over the last week or so, I have read two articles that offer a highly distorted version of events leading up to Hitler’s seizure of power that are put forward in order to help elect Hillary Clinton.

In “Can the Green Party Make a Course Correction?”, Ted Glick equates Jill Stein’s determination to run against both Clinton and Trump in every state with the German Communist Party’s “Third Period” turn. Referring to Jill Stein’s reference to Trump and Clinton on “Democracy Now” as being “equally terrible”, Glick linked her to the German CP’s refusal to unite with the Social Democrats against Hitler:

Jill’s words are an eerie echo of huge mistakes made by the German Communist Party in the 1930’s. Here is how Wikipedia describes what happened:

“The Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933. During the Weimar Republic period, the KPD usually polled between 10 and 15 percent of the vote and was represented in the Reichstag and in state parliaments. The party directed most of its attacks on the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which it considered its main opponent. Banned in Nazi Germany one day after Adolf Hitler emerged triumphant in the German elections in 1933, the KPD maintained an underground organization but suffered heavy losses.”

In Harold Meyerson’s “Bernie, Hillary, and the Ghost of Ernst Thalmann”, the same historical analogy is used to get out the vote for Clinton but this time directed more at disaffected Sanderistas than Green Party activists who Meyerson likely views as beyond hope:

In the last years of the Weimar Republic, the real menace to Germany, Thälmann argued, wasn’t the Nazis but the Communists’ center-left, and more successful, rival for the backing of German workers: the Social Democrats. The SDs, he said, were actually “social fascists,” never mind that they were a deeply democratic party without so much as a tinge of fascism in their theory and practice. But as the Communists’ rival for the support of the German working class, the SDs became the chief target of the Communists’ campaigns.

Thälmannism, then, is the inability (be it duplicitous, willful, fanatical, or just plain stupid) to distinguish between, on the one hand, a rival political tendency that has made the compromises inherent to governance and, on the other hand, fascism. And dispelling that inability is precisely what Bernie Sanders will be doing between now and November.

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Yet a minority of Sanders’s supporters fail to grasp the threat that a Trump presidency poses to the nation—to immigrants, to minorities, to workers, and even to the left and to themselves. I doubt more than a handful will actually vote for Trump, but Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson will win some of the Sanders diehards’ votes (though for voters, moving from Medicare-for-All Sanders to Medicare-for-None Johnson requires either extraordinary ideological footwork or simple brain death). In states where the race between Clinton and Trump is close, however, a Sanders diehard’s vote for Stein or Johnson, or a refusal to vote at all, is in effect a vote for Trump.

Both Glick and Meyerson have long-standing ties to the left. Glick has been a member of the Green Party for 16 years and before that worked with a small group promoting an “inside-out” electoral strategy. In many ways, that is much worse than being strictly “inside” the Democratic Party because the brownie points Glick has accumulated over the years as some kind of “outsider” gives him the leverage he needs to subvert the genuine radicalism of a third party on the left. In 2004 Glick was part of a group of “Demogreens” who engineered the nomination of David Cobb as Green Party presidential candidate instead of Ralph Nader, who they feared would siphon votes away from John Kerry. Basically this is the same strategy Glick is pursuing today with Jill Stein being demonized as the equivalent of the berserk Stalinists of the “Third Period”.

Meyerson was active in the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in the 1970s, a group better known as DSOC that would later on fuse with other groups to become the DSA. He is currently the vice-chair of the National Political Committee of the DSA and a contributor to liberal magazines both online and print.

Like Glick, Meyerson saw Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2004 as inimical to the interests of the Democratic Party although formulated in terms of defeating the horrible Republicans. Just as Glick argued in his article, Meyerson took Nader to task for not recognizing the differences between the two parties in “The American Prospect”, a liberal magazine he publishes. Referring to Nader’s appearance on “Meet the Press”, Meyerson took issue with his claim that the system was rigged:

He did, of course, assert that there were no very serious differences between the two parties, though host Tim Russert got him to concede that there were distinctions on such ephemera as judicial nominations, tax cuts, and environmental enforcement. The American government, Nader reiterated, was still a two-party duopoly.

So what does all this have to do with the rise of Adolph Hitler? The answer is nothing at all. Hitler is invoked as a kind of bogeyman to frighten liberals. He serves the same purpose as a warning from your parents when you were six years old. If you don’t brush your teeth, the bogeyman will get you. Now it is if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, der Führer Donald Trump will get you.

Unpacking and refuting such nonsense is dirty work but someone has to do it. To start with, it is necessary to put the German Socialists under the microscope to understand the historical context. If the German CP’s ultra-left position was a disaster, how else would you describe the social democracy’s failure to resist the Nazis? While there is no point in making an exact equation between the Democrats and the German social democracy (we should only be so lucky), it would have been incumbent on Meyerson and Glick to review its strategy especially since they are the American version of Weimar Republic reformists today.

Like the Democratic Party, the German Socialists cut deals with the opposition rightwing parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same kind of sell-out policies that characterized Tony Blair and Bernard Hollande’s nominally working-class governments.

To give just one example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the free meals be abandoned in order to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller was unable to persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations (and a new go-round with Mrs. Clinton), you are exactly right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The ineffectiveness of the Müller government led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Needless to say, this led to only a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Within the two years of Brüning and von Hindenburg rule, what was the role of the German SP? It should have been obvious that Nazi rule would have been a disaster for the German working class. Unlike the Salon.com clickbait articles about Trump the fascist, this was a genuine mass movement that had been at war with trade unionists and the left for the better part of a decade. Stormtroopers broke up meetings, attacked striking trade unionists and generally made it clear that if their party took over, the left would be annihilated. Indecisiveness in the face of such a mortal threat would be just as much of a failure as the “Third Period” but that is exactly what happened with the SP as Leon Trotsky pointed out in “What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat”, written in January 1932 on the eve of Hitler’s assumption of power.

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the Social Democracy, Das Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come into power against the police and the Reichswehr. Now, according to the Constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the Constitution remains at the head of the government. Brüning’s regime must be supported until the presidential elections, so that a constitutional president may then be elected through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thus Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years. The above is, as given, the literal content of the article. A mass party, leading millions (toward socialism!) holds that the question as to which class will come to power in present-day Germany, which is shaken to its very foundations, depends not on the fighting strength of the German proletariat, not on the shock troops of fascism, not even on the personnel of the Reichswehr, but on whether the pure spirit of the Weimar Constitution (along with the required quantity of camphor and naphthalene) shall be installed in the presidential palace. But suppose the spirit of Weimar, in a certain situation, recognizes together with Bethmann-Hollweg, that “necessity knows no law”; what then? Or suppose the perishable substance of the spirit of Weimar falls asunder at the most untoward moment, despite the camphor and naphthalene, what then? And what if … but there is no end to such questions.

Now of course we are in a period hardly resembling the final days of the Weimar Republic. The good news is that a fascist takeover is highly unlikely since parliamentary democracy is more than adequate to keep the working class under control. The bad news, on the other hand, is that the left is so inconsequential and the trade unions so weak that there is no need for fascism.

But who knows? Another decade or so of declining wages and cop killings of Black people might precipitate the rise of a left party that has learned to avoid the reformist stupidity of the German SP and the suicidal ultra-leftism of the Stalinists. It is highly likely that people like Harold Meyerson and Ted Glick will be as hostile to it as they are to Jill Stein’s campaign today. Despite their foolishness, we should soldier on to final victory. The fate of humanity rests on it.

 

June 27, 2016

Guess what, neo-Nazi group attacked in Sacramento is pro-Assad and pro-Putin

Filed under: Fascism,right-left convergence,Russia,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

It is old news by now that virtually every neo-Nazi or ultraright outfit in Europe is solidly behind Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, from Golden Dawn to Marine Le Pen’s National Front. As you are also probably aware, the Brexit campaign was pushed heavily by Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, a rabidly anti-immigrant group that advocates working with Bashar al-Assad.

The first sign of a similar development in the USA was obviously the Donald Trump campaign that is first cousin to the UKIP. Trump stated that the Brexit vote was a great thing and hoped that its goals could be replicated in the USA. As it happens, the neo-Nazi group that was attacked in Sacramento yesterday by anti-fascists falls squarely within the global Red-Brown alliance. You almost have to wonder whether a pro-Assad group like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) might be tempted to come to their aid the next time the neo-Nazi group is threatened.

The neo-Nazis are constituted as the Traditional Worker Party and led by a character named Matthew Heimbach who first came to attention as the Donald Trump supporter who roughed up a Black female protester at his rally in Louisville in early March. That’s him in the red baseball cap.

Before he launched the Traditional Worker Party, Heimbach operated as the top man of the Traditionalist Youth Network. From early on, he backed Assad because he saw him as a pillar of resistance to Muslims who were falsely accused of threatening the Christians in Syria. In 2013 Heimbach organized a protest in Michigan that sounds very much like the sort of thing that would be embraced by the Baathist left as an exercise in Red-Brown politics.

CORUNNA, MI — An organization accused of having ties to the white supremacist movement is planning a protest in support of embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad during a Sept. 11 event in Corunna.

The event, organized by the Traditionalist Youth Network, was initially billed as a “Koran BBQ,” a protest geared toward showing “Islamic immigrants and citizens alike that they are not welcome here in Michigan” that included burning copies the Quran and images of the Prophet Muhammad, but changed direction after President Barack Obama asked Congress for authorization to use military force in Syria.

Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network, said the event was changed to focus on Syria to protest what he claims is the Obama administration’s offer of support to al-Qaida and Islamist militants working with rebels to topple Assad’s regime.

Heimbach said the protest will be “anti-jihadist,” which he says is an appropriate message on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Protestors are expected to meet in McCurdy park around 5:30 p.m.

With respect to Putin, you can listen to Matthew Heimbach interviewing Dr Matthew ‘Raphael’ Johnson, a self-described Christian Orthodox Medievalist, on his Ayran Radio show about the huge breakthrough for neo-Nazi groups by the Kremlin’s strong leadership against the West.

Finally, some snapshots from Matthew Heimbach’s Faith-Family-Folk Twitter account (https://twitter.com/MatthewHeimbach):

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.39.46 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.39.31 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.39.13 AM

 

April 7, 2016

Salvage Magazine on the nascent potential embryonic incipient threat of Trumpist fascism

Filed under: Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 4:23 pm

Salvage Magazine is one of a number of Marxist journals that have sprouted up in recent years joining Jacobin, N+1, and Endnotes. I am sympathetic to all of these publications even though I reserve the right to criticize them as the need arises. This is one of those occasions prompted by Salvage’s editorial on the Donald Trump campaign, which unfortunately exaggerates its fascist potential. I have been struck by the tendency of British Marxists, such as Salvage’s editors and some FB friends, to line up on this question with American liberals at places like Salon.com that has been pushing the Trump as fascist line as if it were Germany in 1931.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 9.27.36 AM

The editorial is titled “Lèse-Evilism: On the US Election Season”, a pun on lesser evilism that is a bit lost on me since I don’t read French. I took a stab with Google translation and it seems to mean “injured evilism” for what that’s worth. Leaving aside the politics, there is a certain archness in Salvage’s prose that puts me off a bit. For example, this is badly overwritten, reminding me a bit of a Social Text article:

Of course it’s sensible to start from an assumption of the rationality, Machiavellian rigour and strength of our enemies, and their power to push forward their (sometimes conflictual) agenda(s). But Trump is not part of grand Republican strategy. Nor is he precisely a pathology of it. He is an unintended consequence, no ex-nihilo Event but the culmination of a trend. He is an excr/essence thereof – essence and excressence in superposition.

I would have written: “Trump’s candidacy is a challenge to the Republican Party establishment” and left it at that. But that’s a mere peccadillo compared to the article’s main problem, which is to talk about Donald Trump and fascism with little regard to American realities.

Salvage puts its cards on the table: “Our position is that rather than Trump being just another bombastic right-winger or some strange anomaly of this moment, Trumpism is (potentially) nascent fascism. And that both theorising and organising should proceed on that basis.”

To start off, I am not sure if there’s much difference between “potentially” and “nascent” except as a belt-and-suspenders hedging device. “So what are you banging on about with this Trump fascism stuff?” “Well, we said it was only potentially nascent…”

The Salvage editors take exception to what ISO member Jennifer Roesch told Jacobin readers in December 2015: “For these establishment figures, charges of fascism are a cynical ploy to distance their own rhetoric and policies from Trump’s open displays of racism and bigotry. … [I]f our side succumbs to panic about Trump, we miss the greater dangers we face.” Dylan Riley, a UC Berkeley sociologist and author of “The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe: Italy, Spain, and Romania 1870-1945” agreed with Roesch: “[W]e should reject absolutely the hysterical lesser-evilism implicit in calling him ‘fascist’ … because it plays into the logic of supporting whomever emerges from the Democratic Party primary”.

So what is Salvage’s response to Roesch and Riley? It is: “But this is a logical fallacy: right-liberalism calls Trump a fascist; we are against right-liberalism; ergo Trump is not a fascist.” Actually, the debate should not pivot around “hysterical lesser-evilism” but the historical antecedents for fascism and whether we are in a period that has anything to do with the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Salazar. There is an attempt to engage with that question that is honest enough to admit that it is breaking with Marxist attempts to understand the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 30s:

Too many on the Left are driven by their opposition to this blackmail [of lesser-evilism] to rely on the comforts of outdated theoretical givens on this question, usually as post-facto justification. Especially in the chaotic political context of today, the procrustean bed of ‘classical Marxist’ categories by reference to which the existence or otherwise of some ideal-type ‘classical Fascism’ can be ascertained is decreasingly useful, if indeed it ever was.

Outdated theoretical givens? Procrustean beds of “classical Marxist” categories based on ideal types? Gosh, who wouldn’t want to avoid such tendencies especially given how nasty a procrustean bed was. Know what that was, folks? Procrustes was a figure from Greek mythology who used to cut off the feet of people who were too tall for the beds he kept for his unfortunate guests.

To answer those who insist on Trump being measured against a “Trotskyist check-list”, Salvage says that the standard of comparison for the 20s and 30s should be the KKK rather than the Nazi party. Now this would be an interesting discussion if the Salvage editors were willing to host it. It gets rather complicated in fact. In the 1930s FDR, the Bernie Sanders of his day, was in a bloc with the politicians in the South whose social base was identical to that of the KKK. Was FDR therefore worse than Donald Trump? A social fascist, so to speak? Inquiring minds would love to know.

What it all boils down to is this:

Though there is no official Trumpian black-shirt movement, it seems too sanguine and formalist not to consider the role of Trump-encouraged violence against the left at rallies, and the armed militias which are explicitly supporting him, such as ‘the Oath Keepers’, as potentially nascent forms of such organised violence. In this context, we should not be at all surprised by the announcement in mid-March 2016 of the formation of ‘The Lion’s Guard’ – the name itself redolent of inter-war kitsch – a militia ‘to provide security protection to innocent people who are subject to harassment and assault by Far-left agitators’ at Trump’s rallies. At the time of writing, the group is debating ‘uniform suggestions’.

This sort of febrile fear-mongering is hardly worth commenting on. Once again resorting to the hedging strategy of calling the Oath Keepers a “nascent” fascist group, there is no attempt to put this rightwing group into context. Unlike Golden Dawn or any other European fascist movement, they have yet to violently attack a single African-American. In fact, Morris Dees, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an alarmist outfit of long standing, told Salon that he does not even consider them to be racist.

In terms of the Lion’s Guard, that was disbanded days after it was announced. In fact, it never amounted to anything except a Twitter account. On Twitter, I could have formed an account called The Communist Workers Militia but that does not mean it has any substance. It sounds scary but on the Internet nobody can tell if you are a dog, after all.

Salvage believes that unlike what happened in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, Trumpism could triumph without ruling class support and then rule with their “accommodation”. People like Lindsey Graham might badmouth Trump on CNN or Fox News but once Trump is settled into the White House, he will go along to get along.

I wonder if the Salvage comrades have ever taken five minutes to think of what it would mean to have something roughly equivalent to Nazi Germany with Donald Trump as the American Führer.

These are the sorts of changes we can expect to see:

  • The constitution would be suspended and the USA would be ruled by a single party called The Iron Fist or something along those lines. Centrist Republicans and virtually the entire Democratic Party would be arrested and put into concentration camps along with every “civil society” figure that defended democratic rights. George Soros would be picked up in the middle of the night and hauled off to Rikers Island where he would be put into a cell and beaten mercilessly until he made a confession on TV that Donald Trump was essential to preserve the vital bodily essence of the country as General Jack D. Ripper said in “Doctor Strangelove”.
  • A new government agency would have to be created in order to “purify” the educational system and the information available to the population. All the leftists would be removed from Columbia University, NYU et al and send to prison or killed including Eric Foner and Gayatri Spivak. The media would have to be revamped totally. The NY Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, et al would be taken over by Trump loyalists who would now write articles that extol the maximum leader’s every policy decision. Amazon.com would be put under the control of a government official who would go through the database and delete every “dangerous” book starting with Noam Chomsky and drilling down to those that are even a bit questionable like The Hunger Games novels or Allen Ginsberg’s poetry books.
  • The military would be brought into line with new fascist realities. Those Generals who have made statements about refusing to carry out illegal orders under a Trump presidency would be rounded up and either imprisoned or killed. They would be replaced by those who were obedient to the maximum leader and willing to carry out his instructions that NATO be liquidated. (Of course, there are any number of CounterPunch authors who might cheer over this.)
  • The cops and army would invade Latino neighborhoods and round up people without proper papers and send them back to where they came from. Ooops. I forgot. That is current policy under Obama.

March 19, 2016

Is Kathryn Bigelow our Leni Riefenstahl?

Filed under: Fascism,Film,racism — louisproyect @ 2:37 pm

Leni Riefenstahl

Kathryn Bigelow

As a member of New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) for over a decade I was not surprised to see Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” named best movie of 2012 since the group had picked “Hurt Locker” as the best for 2009. Among the 36 members there were only two who had problems with this choice–Prairie Miller, a WBAI Arts Magazine host, and me.

Perhaps feeling a bit of peer pressure, I emailed my colleagues: “I actually had no problem voting for this movie in one category or another. Katherine Bigelow is our Leni Riefenstahl, after all.” (I did not bother to explain that my vote might have been for cinematography or film score, but certainly not for screenplay, direction, or best picture.) After Prairie told me that she was surprised by my comment, I began to grapple with the question of reactionary filmmaking, all the more so after reading a passage in Glenn Greenwald’s brilliant take-down of the film:

Ultimately, I really want to know whether the critics who defend this film on the grounds of “art” really believe the principles they are espousing. I raised the Leni Reifenstahl [sic] debate in my first piece not to compare Zero Dark Thirty to Triumph of the Will – or to compare Bigelow to the German director – but because this is the debate that has long been at the heart of the controversy over her career.

Do the defenders of this film believe Riefenstahl has also gotten a bad rap on the ground that she was making art, and political objections (ie, her films glorified Nazism) thus have no place in discussions of her films? I’ve actually always been ambivalent about that debate because, unlike Zero Dark Thirty, Riefenstahl’s films only depicted real events and did not rely on fabrications.

But I always perceived myself in the minority on that question due to that ambivalence. It always seemed to me there was a consensus in the west that Riefenstahl was culpable and her defense of “I was just an artist” unacceptable.

Do defenders of Zero Dark Thirty view Riefenstahl critics as overly ideological heathens who demand that art adhere to their ideology? If the KKK next year produces a superbly executed film devoted to touting the virtues of white supremacy, would it be wrong to object if it wins the Best Picture Oscar on the ground that it promotes repellent ideas?

Before addressing comparisons between Bigelow and Riefenstahl, it would be useful to consider the KKK question. I am willing to bet that Greenwald had D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” in mind since that pretty much describes how it is viewed nowadays: an apologia for the night riders. In a Counterpunch article devoted to the Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick “Untold History” series on Showtime, I mentioned that “Birth of a Nation” was shown in the White House in much the same way as the Obama-friendly films like “Lincoln” or “Zero Dark Thirty” might be shown today:

Wilson even screened D. W. Griffith’s pioneering though notoriously racist film Birth of a Nation at the White House in 1915 for cabinet members and their families. In the film, a heroic Ku Klux Klan gallops in just in time to save white southerners, especially helpless women, from the clutches of brutish, lascivious freedmen and their corrupt white allies—a perverse view of history that was then being promulgated in less extreme terms by William Dunning and his students at Columbia University. Upon viewing the film, Wilson commented, “It is like writing history with Lightning and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

In grappling with the problem of reactionary but breakthrough filmmaking, I checked the Wikipedia entry on D.W. Griffith and to my surprise discovered that Charlie Chaplin described him as “The Teacher of Us All”. Lev Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein, two of the greats of Soviet cinema, also revered him.  Orson Welles said “I have never really hated Hollywood except for its treatment of D. W. Griffith. No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man.”

But the biggest surprise of all was James Agee’s take on the man who arguably made the most racist film in American history. Agee was the Nation Magazine’s film critic in the 40s and 50s and a powerful voice for the downtrodden. His name is also honored by a group of leftwing film critics that was launched by Prairie Miller, the James Agee Film Society (I suggested Agee’s name as the title of our group.) In a review for the September 4, 1948 edition of the Nation Magazine, Agee wrote:

HE ACHIEVED what no other known man has ever achieved. To watch his work is like being witness to the beginning of melody, or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel; the emergence, coordination, and first eloquence of language; the birth of an art: and to realize that this is all the work of one man. We will never realize how good he really was until we have the chance to see his work as often as it deserves to be seen, to examine and enjoy it in detail as exact as his achievement. But even relying, as we mainly have to, on years-old memories, a good deal becomes clear. One crude but unquestionable indication of his greatness was his power to create permanent images. All through his work there are images which are as impossible to forget, once you have seen them, as some of the grandest and simplest passages in music or poetry…

“The Birth of a Nation” is equal with Brady’s photographs, Lincoln’s speeches, Whitman’s war poems; for all its imperfections and absurdities it is equal, in fact, to the best work that has been done in this country. And among moving pictures it is alone, not necessarily as “the greatest”—whatever that means—but as the one great epic, tragic film. (Today, “The Birth of a Nation” is boycotted or shown piecemeal; too many more or less well-meaning people still accuse Griffith of having made it an anti-Negro movie. At best, this is nonsense, and at worst, it is vicious nonsense. Even if it were an anti-Negro movie, a work of such quality should be shown, and shown whole. But the accusation is unjust. Griffith went to almost preposterous lengths to be fair to the Negroes as he understood them, and he understood them as a good type of Southerner does.

There are two things that struck me when I read these shocking words. The first was James Agee’s focus on the image. If film is primarily about moving pictures, it should not come as any big surprise that someone like Agee would be fixated on the visual aspects of the film.

But defending the film against NAACP protests is obviously a lot more questionable. What it suggests to me is that racism was so deeply embedded in American society that even a nominally progressive journal like The Nation would be insensitive to the film’s racism. Of course, there is a precedent for this in the magazine’s history as I pointed out to Ricky Kreitner, an intern there, who had written a very good article on Spielberg’s latest movie and the historical background. It turns out that despite its abolitionist reputation, the magazine had little use for Thaddeus Stevens. Consulting the magazine’s archives, Kreitner discovered an obituary on Stevens that described his demand for slave plantations to be confiscated and the land given to ex-slaves as a sign of a “mental defect”.

I wrote Kreitner that this was not the half of it. In an article I wrote for Swans in 2008 on The Early Days of the Nation Magazine, I pointed out that the editor E.L. Godkin wrote an editorial in 1874 that was very much in the spirit of “Birth of a Nation”:

As the 1870s began, Godkin openly broke with the Radicals, assailed carpetbaggers, and called for the restoration of white power in the South. In an 1874 editorial he advised The Nation’s readers that he found the average intelligence of blacks “so low that they are slightly above the level of animals.” He longed for the return of southern conservatives to power in 1877 eagerly, writing Harvard professor Charles Eliot Norton and fellow adversary of democratic rule that “I do not see . . . . the negro is ever to be worked into a system of government for which you and I would have much respect.”

Given the self-righteousness of American liberalism, it might be expected that a film that glorified the KKK would pass muster at one of its citadels. However, the critical consensus on Leni Riefenstahl would tend more to the negative since the Nazis were an Official Enemy Number One unlike the Klan, a group that Harry Truman once considered joining (again we are grateful to Stone and Kuznick for pointing this out.)

Suffice it to say that Riefenstahl is usually celebrated in much the same way as Agee celebrated D.W. Griffith, for her mastery of the image rather than for her odious politics. But then again, there was a time and place when those politics seemed not particularly offensive. This is a review of her documentary on the 1936 Olympics from the March 30, 1940 New York Times. Apparently the paper had not yet figured out that the film that opened just 5 blocks from my apartment in the Yorkville neighborhood in Manhattan (a bastion of German-American support for the Nazis at the time) was inimical to all the values we hold dear.

At 86th St. Garden Theatre

After a run of three weeks the first part of “Olympia, Festival of the Nations,” the German celluloid record, directed by Leni Riefenstahl, of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, has made way for the latter half at the Eighty-sixth Street Garden Theatre. While it gets off to a rather slow start, Part II speeds up when the exciting military riding competition hits the screen and continues at a lively pace through the field hockey, polo, soccer and cycling events and the Marathon race to the thrilling finale of the decathelon, where Glen Morris, the American, won the title of the greatest all-around athlete in the world. The photography is always effective and sometimes brilliant. There is an adequate account of the doings spoken in English. H. T. S.

The Wikipedia article on “Olympia, Festival of the Nations” takes note of the technical breakthroughs that wowed the N.Y. Times: “She was one of the first filmmakers to use tracking shots in a documentary, placing a camera on rails to follow the athletes’ movement, and she is noted for the slow motion shots included in the film. Riefenstahl’s work on Olympia has been cited as a major influence in modern sports photography.”

But it added that its pro-Hitler agenda was crystal-clear. This mattered not a whit to Avery Brundage who called the film the greatest ever made about the Olympics or to Walt Disney who gave her the red carpet treatment when she visited Hollywood on a tour. (Then again, few would ever associate Brundage or Disney with liberal causes.)

While I have no doubt that her work was marked by major innovations, I tend to agree with Robert Sklar’s assessment in an April 1994 Cineaste article titled—appropriately enough—“The Devil’s Director”:

It seems incredible the length to which some of Riefenstahl’s defenders–particularly among film scholars in the United States–have gone to endorse her self-proclaimed status as a great artist, regrettably ignorant of politics in her tireless quest for esthetic perfection. The answer perhaps lies in a laudable desire to protect creative persons from political persecution, however unsavory their work. A case might be made for Riefenstahl in spite of herself, rather than the case that has been made, which buys into her every self-aggrandizing claim.

Riefenstahl’s defenders reach a point of absurdity when they compare her with Sergei Eiseinstein. It’s somewhat disingenuous to link the two names as great film artists who were also propagandists for murderous regimes, when Riefenstahl denies that her works are propaganda at all. Eisenstein and other Soviet filmmakers require reassessment over the same issues of political responsibility to which Riefenstahl should be held. But that similarity does not qualify her films to be mentioned in the same sentence with The Battleship Potemkin among the masterpieces of film history.

Words like ‘best,’ ‘great,’ and ‘art’ ought to be resisted when discussing Leni Riefenstahl, just to avoid the cant and obfuscation which have become synonymous with her name. Give her the credit (and blame) that she deserves: she was a pioneer of what might be called mass cinematography, a producer and planner of film spectacles that required dozens of cameras, feats of coordination and logistics, and complex organization of footage for editing. Her films are mixtures of the remarkable–such as the diving scenes in Olympia, which involved splicing reverse action footage into the sequence to heighten the uncanny effect–and the commonplace.

Will Kathryn Bigelow ever be held in such esteem as D.W. Griffith or Leni Riefenstahl, leaving aside political considerations? Does “Zero Dark Thirty” deserve to be described as a breakthrough at least in narrative, technical, or visual terms? In other words, the sort of criteria that matter at places like the NYU or UCLA film schools?

I have my doubts.

While I may the only person who has made the connection, I find “Zero Dark Thirty” to be highly derivative of another terrorist-manhunt-of-the-century-movie. To paraphrase Christopher Marlowe, that was in another century and besides the terrorist is dead. I am speaking here of Carlos the Jackal who was the Osama bin Laden of his day.

One of the minor characters in “Zero Dark Thirty” is a spook named Larry whose technical expertise and detective work helps the CIA track the cell phone signals that lead to Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who just happened to play Carlos the Jackal (a Venezuelan by birth) in the 2010 television series “Carlos” that was released in a theatrical version a year later, is cast as Larry. When I recognized Edgar Ramirez, a light bulb went on over my head. Of course, this is the same kind of “get the terrorist fiend” movie but from a different POV. Carlos appears in every scene in the 2010 television movie while bin Laden appears in none in Bigelow’s (assuming that his corpse does not count.)

Carlos the Jackal is a man on a mission. As directed by Olivier Assayas, who counts Guy DeBord as his major intellectual influence, “Carlos” is a film that makes absolutely no effort to probe the psychological depths of an urban guerrilla. He is motivated strictly by his ideology and a willingness to use force in the interests of pursuing his political goals. Both in life and as a character in a movie, he is a compelling figure even if he remains unknowable.

Essentially Boal and Bigelow have replaced the terrorist bogeyman with his pursuers who now occupy center-stage but remain as unknowable as Carlos in the final analysis. The first half hour of the film is devoted to CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke) physically and verbally abusing his captives, while Maya, the lead character played by Jessica Chastain, looks on impassively. That, my friends, is exactly what you see in “Carlos” for most of its 330 minutes except that the abuse is meant to alienate a movie audience that has been hard-wired to loathe and fear “terrorists”. When the same kind of abuse is applied to our enemies who are tied up and gagged like Carlos’s captives, then it becomes high-class entertainment–the equivalent of an Eli Roth movie geared to the liberal carriage trade, the kind of people who take a rave review in the New Yorker magazine at face value. If there is one thing Hollywood has learned over the years, it is that torturing people sells popcorn even if it is frequently useless in garnering critical intelligence.

 

March 5, 2016

Portrait of a Syria Solidarity Activist

Filed under: Fascism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:34 pm

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February 25, 2016

Does Donald Trump pose a fascist threat?

Filed under: Fascism — louisproyect @ 4:29 pm

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Juan Cole’s article titled “How the US went Fascist: Mass media Makes excuses for Trump Voters” reminded me that I wanted to say something about all this. It is not the first time I’ve run into a massive amount of warnings about a new Hitler or Mussolini running for President on the Republican Party ticket. Of course, with so many memes identifying Trump with Il Duce on the basis of his scowls and demagoguery, the temptation to make such an identification is irresistible especially if you are unfamiliar with historical materialism.

For Cole, the analogies with fascist Italy are obvious:

This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced. People expressed hope that something good would come of it. Mussolini would wring the laziness out of Italy and make the trains run on time.

Of course, what’s missing here is the threat to Italian capitalism that spurred the ruling class to throw its weight behind Mussolini—a revolutionary working class that supported anarchist, socialist and Communist parties. The Biennio Rosso, or “two red years” that lasted from 1919 to 1920, was marked by mass strikes and factory occupations. The Socialist Party of Italy had 250,000 members and the anarchists could count on up to 300,000 activists. From the Wikipedia article on the Biennio Rosso, we learn:

In Turin and Milan, factory councils – which the leading Italian Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci considered to be the Italian equivalent of Russia’s soviets – were formed and many factory occupations took place under the leadership of revolutionary socialists and anarcho-syndicalists. The agitations also extended to the agricultural areas of the Padan plain and were accompanied by peasant strikes, rural unrests and armed conflicts between left-wing and right-wing militias.

Industrial action and rural unrest increased significantly: there were 1,663 industrial strikes in 1919, compared to 810 in 1913. More than one million industrial workers were involved in 1919, three times the 1913 figure. The trend continued in 1920, which saw 1,881 industrial strikes. Rural strikes also increased substantially, from 97 in 1913 to 189 by 1920, with over a million peasants taking action. On July 20-21, 1919, a general strike was called in solidarity with the Russian Revolution.

Comrades, I don’t know how to put this exactly but similarities between Italy in 1919 and the USA in 2016 are less than zero. What insurgencies are a Trump-style fascism supposed to overcome? Black Lives Matter? The Chicago Teachers Union? Kshama Sawant? The good news is that fascism is not on the agenda because the movements of the working class and other oppressed sectors are so weak. Meanwhile the bad news is that the movements of the working class and other oppressed sectors are so weak.

I wrote about the Pat Buchanan campaign in 2000, when exactly the same fears existed. Just change the name from Buchanan to Trump and it holds up pretty well:

Sally Ryan posted an article from the Militant newspaper the other day. It states that Buchanan is a fascist:

“Buchanan is not primarily out to win votes, nor was he four years ago. He has set out to build a cadre of those committed to his program and willing to act in the streets to carry it out. He dubs his supporters the ‘Buchanan Brigades’….

“Commenting on the tone of a recent speech Buchanan gave to the New Hampshire legislature, Republican state representative Julie Brown, said, ‘It’s just mean – like a little Mussolini.’….

“While he is not about to get the Republican nomination, Buchanan is serious in his campaign. The week before his Louisiana win, he came in first in a straw poll of Alaska Republicans and placed third in polls in New Hampshire, where the first primary election will be held. He is building a base regardless of how the vote totals continue to fall. And he poses the only real alternative that can be put forward within the capitalist system to the like-sounding Clinton and Dole – a fascist alternative.”

These quotations tend to speak for a rather wide-spread analysis of Buchanan that a majority of the left supports, including my comrades on this list.

I want to offer a counter-analysis:

1) We are in a period of quiescence, not class confrontation.

Comrades, this is the good news and the bad news. It is good news because there is no threat of a fascist movement coming to power. It is bad news because it reflects how depoliticized the US working-class remains.

There is no fascist movement in the United States of any size or significance. It is time to stop talking about the militias of Montana. Let us speak instead of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. Has there been any growth of fascism? Of course not. In New York, my home town, there is no equivalent of the German- American bund, the fascists of the 1930s who had a base on New York’s upper east side, my neighborhood.

There are no attacks on socialist or trade union meetings. There are not even attacks on movements of allies of the working-class. The women’s movement, the black movement, the Central American movement organize peacefully and without interference for the simple reason that there are no violent gangs to subdue them.

The reason there are no violent gangs of fascists is the same as it was in the 1950s. We are not in a period of general social crisis. There are no frenzied elements of the petty-bourgeoisie or the lumpen proletariat being drawn into motion by demagogic and charismatic leaders like Mussolini or Hitler. There are no Silver Shirts that the labor or socialist movement needs protection from.

There is another key difference from the 1930s that we must consider. Capital and labor battled over the rights of labor within the prevailing factory system. Capitalism has transformed that factory system. Workers who remain in basic industry are not fighting for union representation. They simply want to keep their jobs. Those who remain employed will not tend to enter into confrontations with capital as long as wages and benefits retain a modicum of acceptability. That is the main reason industrial workers tend to be quiescent and will remain so for some time to come.

In the 1930s, workers occupied huge factories and battled the bosses over the right to a union. The bosses wanted to keep these factories open and strikes tended to take on a militant character in these showdowns. Strike actions tended to draw the working-class together and make it easier for socialists to get a hearing. This was because strikes were much more like mass actions and gave workers a sense of their power. The logical next step, according to the socialists, was trade union activity on a political level and, ultimately, rule by the workers themselves.

The brunt of the attack today has been downsizing and runaway capital. This means that working people have a fear of being unemployed more than anything else. This fear grips the nation. When a worker loses a job today, he or she tends to look for personal solutions: a move to another city, signing up for computer programming classes, etc. Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” vividly illustrated this type of personal approach Every unemployed auto worker in this film was trying to figure out a way to solve their problems on their own.

In the face of the atomization of the US working class, it is no surprise that many workers seem to vote for Buchanan. He offers them a variant on the personal solution. A worker may say to himself or herself, “Ah, this Buchanan’s a racist bigot, but he’s the only one who seems to care about what’s happening to me. I’ll take a gamble and give him my vote.” Voting is not politics. It is the opposite of politics. It is the capitalist system’s mechanism for preventing political action.

2) Buchanan is a bourgeois politician.

Pat Buchanan represents the thinking of an element of the US ruling class, and views the problems of the United States from within that perspective. Buchanan’s nationalism relates very closely to the nationalism of Ross Perot, another ruling class politician.

A consensus exists among the ruling class that US capital must take a global route. The capitalist state must eliminate trade barriers and capital must flow to where there is greatest possibility for profit. Buchanan articulates the resentments of a section of the bourgeoisie that wants to resist this consensus. It would be an interesting project to discover where Buchanan gets his money. This would be a more useful of one’s time than comparing his speeches to Father Coughlin or Benito Mussolini’s.

There are no parties in the United States in the European sense. In Europe, where there is a parliamentary system, people speak for clearly defined programs and are responsible to clearly defined constituencies. In the United States, politics revolves around “winner take all” campaigns. This tends to put a spotlight on presidential elections and magnify the statements of candidates all out of proportion.

Today we have minute textual analysis of what Buchanan is saying. His words take on a heightened, almost ultra-real quality. Since he is in a horse race, the press tends to worry over each and every inflammatory statement he makes. This tends to give his campaign a more threatening quality than is supported by the current state of class relations in the United States.

3) The way to fight Buchanan is by developing a class alternative.

The left needs a candidate who is as effective as Buchanan in drawing class lines.

The left has not been able to present an alternative to Buchanan. It has been making the same kinds of mistakes that hampered the German left in the 1920s: ultraleft sectarianism and opportunism. Our “Marxist-Leninist” groups, all 119 of them, offer themselves individually as the answer to Pat Buchanan. Meanwhile, social democrats and left-liberals at the Nation magazine and elsewhere are preparing all the reasons one can think of to vote for the “lesser evil”.

What the left needs to do is coalesce around a class-based, militant program. The left has not yet written this program, despite many assurances to the contrary we can hear on this list every day. It will have to be in the language of the American people, not in Marxist- Leninist jargon. Some people know how speak effectively to working people. I include Michael Moore the film-maker. I also include people like our own Doug Henwood, and Alex Cockburn and his co-editor Ken Silverstein who put out a newsletter called “Counterpunch”.

Most of all, the model we need is like Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Party of the turn of the century, minus the right-wing. Study the speeches of Debs and you get an idea of the kind of language we need to speak. Our mission today remains the same as it was in turn of the century Russia: to build a socialist party where none exists.

 

January 21, 2016

Disinformation Clearing House

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

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So their fundraiser is a disaster. With all the bad news from every corner of the globe, finally some good news.

This week an article appeared on this website by one Robert Bridge titled “US Elites Are Trying to Destroy Europe with Immigrants that has this astonishing comment:

According to a German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, by mid-21st century millions of migrants from Africa and Asia (950 million of them are already willing to relocate to the EU) will drag Europe back into the Dark Ages. So isn’t this exactly what Barack Obama, a man with African roots, should be willing to achieve through his foreign policy?

This Robert Bridge lives in Russia and writes for RT.com and Infowars. No big surprise there. When you see the reference to Obama having “African roots”, you need to remember that RT.com has been airing a lot of racist junk about Obama. Irina Rodnina, an MP from Vladimir Putin’s party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater photoshopped a picture of Obama with a banana on Twitter. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, Bridge’s article has drawn comments such as these from “Subluna” just like a pile of steaming shit draws flies. Love the reference to Khazar Jews, an obscure anti-Semitic trope if I’ve ever heard one:

“While on the surface it may seem that the refugee crisis has taken Western leaders by surprise, in fact it is all part of their plan for global domination, which was outlined in a paper by the now-defunct group of US neoconservatives known as The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).”

IT IS ALL PART OF THE JEWISH PLAN FOR GLOBAL DOMINATION! That is what I’ve been saying over and over again.

Now who are these US neoconservatives? The overall majority are the KHAZAR JEWS with dual nationality, US – Israeli.

Recently George Souros, the Jewish billionaire said that: “Europe Union should take “at least a million” refugees every year…” https://www.rt.com/op-edge/320747-soros-european-…

Have a look at Jewish Barbara Spectre in this 1 minute video where she calls for Jews to have a leading role in transforming Europe into a multicultural society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFE0qAiofMQ

The European Flag/Logo was the work of Jewish Paul Lévi, the 12 yellow stars on a blue background represent the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Count R. N. Courdenhove-Kalergi is seen by many as the father of the modern European Union. His father was a close friend of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.

Otto von Habsburg was Coudenhove-Kalergi’s successor as president of the Pan European Union. He is a honorary professor of the University of Jerusalem, and recipient of the ‘International Humanitarian Award’, of the ‘Anti Defamation-League’ (ADL) of the Jewish B’nai B’rith Masonery Lodge.

The Jewish owned media promote the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ by Samuel Huntington, who got the idea from Bernard Lewis, a Jewish scholar. Have the Christian West fight Islam, while the Jews conquer the world and make the Goyim their slaves.

Benjamin Freedman: “Act I was World War I. Act II was World War II. Act III is going to be World War III.

“The Jews of the world, the Zionists and their co-religionists everywhere, are determined that they are going to AGAIN use the United States to help them permanently retain Palestine as their foothold for their world government.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8OmxI2AYV8

Transcript: http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/israel/freedma…

The Feast of Tabernacles is the period when Israel triumphs over the other people of the world. That is why during this feast we seize the loulab and carry it as a trophy to show that we have conquered all other peoples, known as “populace”… Zohar, Toldoth Noah 63b

January 20, 2016

Ricardo Duchesne: the Marxist-Hegelian who became a White Nationalist

Filed under: Fascism,immigration,racism,transition debate — louisproyect @ 6:05 pm

Ricardo Duchesne

Yesterday as I began reading the penultimate chapter of Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule”, one which deals with the “great divergence” between the West and Asia, I was surprised to see a history professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada named Ricardo Duchesne mentioned as a believer in the “miracle” of the West. Like the more straightforward believers of Western superiority covered by Jim Blaut in “Eight Eurocentrist Historians”, Duchesne attributes its domination of the rest of the world to its “higher intellectual and artistic creativity”.

The last time Duchesne came to my attention was in September 2003 when I commented on a critique of the Brenner thesis that he had written for Rethinking Marxism.

Duchesne’s article is not only worth tracking down as a very effective rebuttal to Brenner and Wood but as a rarity in the academic world: a witty and highly readable essay that entertains while it educates. For veterans of PEN-L, it might come as some surprise to discover that he has written such an article for in the past he was one of the most vociferous opponents of James M. Blaut, both on that list and other lists where the origins of capitalism was a hot topic. For example in January 1998, he wrote the following on PEN-L:

“Now consider the dilemma Blaut finds himself: why did Europe came to dominate the rest of the World? Answer: geographical proximity of Europe to the Americas(!) gave it access to its metals and labor leading to the industrial revolution. Obviously the notion that European capitalism developed as a result of the exploitation of the Third World has been so roundly refuted I need not elaborate this here. Just a handy, if incomplete, stats: At most 2% of Europe’s GNP at the end of 18th century took the form of profits derived from commerce with Americas, Asia, Africa! (I think source is K.O’Brien).”

However, Duchesne now believes:

“The major drawback of Wood’s Origins is its Eurocentric presumption that explaining the transition to capitalism is simply a matter of looking for those ‘unique’ traits that set Europe or England apart from the rest of the world. Marxists can no longer rest comfortably with the story that England and Europe emerged from the Middle Ages with an internally generated advantage over the rest of Asia.”

As it turns out, his dissertation was on the “transition debate”. Written in 1994, it claimed that it would apply a “Hegelian” procedure to resolve a debate that reached an impasse in his view. His dissertation adviser was Robert Albritton, a Marxist scholar generally associated with the anti-Brenner camp. He also thanks David McNally, who we assume was on his dissertation committee, as being “helpful” despite their differences over deconstruction. Since I had just heard McNally paying loving tribute to Ellen Meiksins Wood yesterday, a person who never met a deconstructionist she wouldn’t have had for breakfast, I wondered what that was about.

Out of curiosity, I downloaded Duchesne’s dissertation that is titled “All contraries confounded: Historical materialism and the transition-to-capitalism debate” and turned to the conclusion. It certainly confirms his approaching the “transition debate” from a Hegelian standpoint, as this gibberish from his final paragraph would confirm:

Throughout this movement, however, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of our initial object of knowledge, our explanadum. Our explanadum must be the point of departure for the construction of our concrete whole: it sets the site of over-determination. It is the point from which we will derive a totality which is pertinent to our object of study, as opposed to an indifferent totality in which everything is related to everything else. It is also crucial that we remember our starting point in order to avoid the conclusion that this process of concretization is a reconstruction of history or society as such. Marx’s method of political economy comprehends one area of what Hegel called objective spirit, namely, socio-economic life. Our totality will be a part of a larger and still more complex whole – a totality which will always remain incomplete.

Having followed Duchesne’s interventions around the Brenner thesis on two different mailing lists in the early 2000s, the Hegelian influence is obvious to me seen in retrospect. I state that as someone who studied Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind” in 1966 at the New School when I was dodging the draft. Key to Hegel is the dialectic, which poses one set of ideas against another in an ongoing struggle that finally resolves itself in the Prussian state that Hegel bowed down to. Whenever Hegel’s name came up on Marxmail, Jim Blaut raised a stink since he considered Hegel an arch-reactionary and urged us to steer clear of him. Whether Duchesne was a Marxist at the time was open to question but there is little doubt what he turned into today, a vicious racist who has the same worshipful attitude toward the Canadian state of his dreams—one that is devoted to Western values and the White Race–that Hegel had toward the Prussian state.

The first indication that Duchesne had thrown in his lot with the Eurocentrists was a 2005 article taking issue with Kenneth Pomeranz, the author of “The Great Divergence”, a book that held that China was superior to Britain in many respects in the 18th century, and that if not for British access to New World plunder and the availability of coal in the early stages of the industrial revolution it would have remained subordinate to China. Duchesne’s article remained within the parameters of scholarly norms, even though one might wonder whether it harbored a willingness to break ranks with the anti-Eurocentrists that the capricious scholar had tenuous ties to.

But it was the next article that appeared that year that amounted to a “coming out”. Titled “Defending the rise of Western Culture against its Multicultural critics”, it was the sort of article that you would expect to read in The New Criterion or The Weekly Standard. From that point on, everything that Duchesne has written is in the same vein with a brazen disregard for scholarly impartiality. It culminated in a 528-page book titled “The Uniqueness of Western Civilization” that was published in 2011. It has a chapter titled “The Restlessness of the Western Spirit from a Hegelian Perspective” that is a reminder that Blaut knew what he was talking about. It is followed by one titled “The Aristocratic Egalitarianism of Indo-Europeans and the Primordial Origins of Western Civilization”. I am sure that you know that Aryan is another word for Indo-Europeans.

But nothing would prepare you for Duchesne’s personal blog that is a blatant defense of White Nationalism of the sort that is tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates and other groups that follow the KKK, neo-Nazis, et al.

The blog is titled Council of European Canadians and describes its goals as follows:

We believe that existing strategies for immigration reform have not been successful and must be abandoned. We believe that assimilation (of non-Europeans in the current state of mass immigration) would be fatal to our European heritage, and that if we aim to enhance European Canada we must rely upon the current mechanisms afforded by multiculturalism while it lasts. Multiculturalism recognizes the right of ethnic groups to preserve and enhance their identity and cultural heritage.

We are against an establishment that is determined to destroy European Canada through fanatical immigration, imposition of a diversity curriculum, affirmative action in favor of non-Europeans, and promotion of white guilt. The domination of the cultural Marxists is so deeply seated, so entrenched inside the psychology of Canadians that we cannot engage only in ordinary party politics.

It has racist articles by Duchesne and crosspostings from other fascist-minded filth such as Tim Murray, the author of “Ban Muslim Immigration? Trump Is Right” and “Students for Western Civilization”, a group at York University that was formed by “White/European students to challenge those arguments about the inherent illegitimacy of our civilisation’s existence.”

Over the past couple of years, Duchesne has become a public figure in Canada for his racist views. On May 26 2014, he wrote a blog post titled “Chinese Head Tax, White Apologies, and “Inclusive Redress” that assailed Vancouver City Councilor Raymond Louie for urging that discriminatory laws and policies imposed on Chinese immigrants in the city between 1886 and 1947 be investigated. For Duchesne, this was a “cultural Marxist” assault on the city’s White values. (I should mention that his use of this term is consistent with the way it was used by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.)

Kerry Jang, another Chinese-Canadian councilperson, complained to the administration at Duchesne’s college that predictably defended his academic freedom. Meanwhile, some of his peers wrote a letter to the Toronto Star disassociating themselves from Duchesne:

The principle of academic freedom has long been established in Canada and continues to be a cornerstone of the Canadian university system. As such, Dr. Ricardo Duchesne has a right to use that freedom as a member of the Sociology Unit in the Department of Social Science, University of New Brunswick, Saint John.

However, academic freedom entails neither a right to be listened to, nor a right to an audience. We, the undersigned, also exercise our academic freedom and state categorically that we reject Dr. Duchesne’s expressed views on “Western civilization” and consider them void of academic merit. His views are his alone and are not shared by the ten signatories below from the Department of Sociology, UNB Fredericton.

Professors Gary Bowden, Dan Crouse, Tia Dafnos, Nick Hardy, Catherine Holtmann, Jacqueline Low, Nancy Nason-Clark, Paul Peters, Lucia Tramonte and Maria Costanza Torri, Department of Sociology, UNB, Fredericton

I don’t know enough about Duchesne personally to speculate on how he could have ended up as White Nationalist except to say that he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Apparently the colonial condition was insufficient to keep his head screwed on right. In contrast, Jim Blaut had a very close connection to the island that sustained him until his death. He was married to America Sorrentini-Blaut, whom he met when he was teaching at the University of Puerto Rico. She was a central leader of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, a group that he strongly identified with and no doubt that influenced his decision to take up the question of Eurocentrism. Long after riffraff like Ricardo Duchesne are six feet under, serious scholars will be reading Blaut to get ideas on how to understand the phenomenon that Mahatma Gandhi once described in the following terms when asked what he thought of Western Civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”

 

December 14, 2015

Radical takes on World War Two

Filed under: Fascism,imperialism/globalization,Syria,war — louisproyect @ 9:12 pm

For baby boomers the decision to join a Trotskyist group in the 1960s entailed coming to terms with WWII especially if you were a Jew. Unlike the Maoists (the CP was generally not an option in those wild times), the Trotskyists viewed the war as a continuation of the inter-imperialist disaster of 1914. As someone who became persuaded by Trotsky’s ideas, putting the war into historical context was made easier by the analysis of Ernest Mandel, a Jew and a member of the Belgian resistance during WWII so committed to class politics that he distributed anti-fascist leaflets to German troops whom he regarded as “workers in uniform”.

His 1976 essay “Trotskyists and the Resistance in World War Two” drew distinctions between the allies versus axis conflict and those that involved struggles for self-determination or the right of the USSR to defend itself from counter-revolution by any means necessary.

Ernest Mandel and the authors represented in Donny Gluckstein’s collection Fighting on All Fronts: Popular Resistance in the Second World War are part of a broader current that rose to prominence during the 1960s out of their “revisionist” take on the supposedly Good War. This includes Howard Zinn, whose chapter on WWII in a People’s History of the United States is titled “A People’s War?” and a number of New Leftist historians like Gabriel Kolko and Gar Alperovitz. To a large extent, Lyndon Johnson’s simultaneous embrace of New Deal domestic policies and the genocidal war in Vietnam forced leftist historians to come to terms with FDR’s historical legacy. The war that many of our fathers fought in, including my own who received a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge, had to evaluated in the light of Marx’s “ruthless criticism of the existing order_, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be.”

Donny Gluckstein is the son of Yigael Gluckstein, better known as Tony Cliff—the founder of the British SWP. He is a lecturer at Edinbergh College and a member of the SWP. He is also the author of A People’s History of the Second World War, a book that comes highly recommended based on the evidence of the new collection. I learned about Fighting on All Fronts from Tom O’Lincoln who contributed the article “Australia: A war of racism, imperialism and resistance”. I have known O’Lincoln for nearly twenty years as a cyber-comrade and have deep respect for his scholarship. He is a member of Socialist Alternative in Australia, a group that shares the SWP’s general theoretical approach but that is not part of its worldwide tendency. With Tom’s recommendation, I looked forward to reading Fighting on All Fronts since WWII “revisionism” is very close to my heart. Suffice it to say that I was not disappointed.

The book is divided into two parts: War in the West and War in the East. While every article is praiseworthy both in terms of the scholarship and the commitment to a class analysis so sorely missing nowadays, I would like to focus on one article from each part to serve as an introduction to a volume that excels from beginning to end.

Janey Stone’s “Jewish Resistance in Eastern Europe” is a stunning treatment of a topic that is of special interest to me as a Jew and a radical. Stone is a Jew whose mother lost most of her family in the Holocaust and who describes herself as an anti-Zionist. It delves into questions that go to the very heart of Jewish identity and survival. As she unravels the conflicting strands of Zionism, collaboration and working-class resistance, Stone tells a story that is simultaneously inspiring and dispiriting.

The brunt of her article is to challenge the idea that Jews went passively to their death in concentration camps, a view reinforced by both mainstream scholarship and popular culture, with “Schindler’s List” depicting Jews as lambs going to the slaughter and needing a Christian savior.

While nobody would apply the term savior to Jan Karski, a Pole and a Christian, his efforts on behalf of Jews would have made an interesting screenplay but arguably one that Hollywood would have dropped like a hot potato given its take on Roosevelt. Stone explains that after Karski prepared a report on the death camps in Eastern Europe that he discovered after penetrating the Warsaw Ghetto disguised as a Ukrainian soldier, he went to FDR to alert him to the impending human disaster. Karski was disappointed to discover that the president was more interested in the status of Polish horses than that of the nation’s Jews.

Ultimately it would be up to the Jews themselves to organize their defense with the Jewish Labor Bund providing most of the leadership. Stone describes the confrontation between Polish fascists who had been terrorizing Jewish shopkeepers and Jewish activists in 1938 that resulted in ambulances being summoned to carry off the battered thugs who had been lured into an ambush.

Stone tackles the stereotypical view of Poles as anti-Semites with copious evidence to the contrary, especially among the working class that was by and large committed to socialist politics. Furthermore, even in the peasantry, which was by no means as progressive as the workers, there was much more anti-Semitism among the wealthy farmers than those toward the bottom. When peasants organized a ten-day general strike in 1937, the Jews offered support. A Bundist youth leader reported: “During the strike you could see bearded Chassidim [religious Jews] on the picket lines along with peasants.”

Given the widespread attention to Hannah Arendt’s contention in Eichmann in Jerusalem that the Judenrat (Jewish council) was complicit in the extermination of millions of Jews, Stone’s nuanced treatment of this question is essential reading. Citing Lenni Brenner, whose research into this period is essential, Stone points out that Zionists were selected by the Nazis to staff the Judenrat more than all other political groups combined. The remainder came from the traditional Jewish religious establishment.

Some Judenrat figures were barely distinguishable from the Nazis, including Mordechai Rumkowski from the Lodz Ghetto who ran it as a slave labor camp. However, in most cases the collaborationists simply failed to support the Bundist underground and opposed all forms of struggle.

Despite such treachery, struggles did break out. Bundists were on the front lines but so were Labor Zionists. The Zionist officialdom might have made common cause with the Nazis but the more radical youth groups such as Hashomer Hatzair were willing to fight. However, not every Jew was strong enough to engage in combat. For many, the determination to survive was paramount. Setting up soup kitchens or creating art to raise peoples’ spirits was their way of joining the resistance. Even humor was used as a weapon. A joke made the rounds in this bleak world: A Jewish teacher asks his pupil, “Tell me, Moshe, what would you like to be if you were Hitler’s son?” An orphan was the reply.

Although Jews were most often left to their own devices to fight against the Nazi genocide, there were allies. As stated above, the Poles often acted in solidarity despite the fact that they risked certain death if discovered. Stone singles out Zegota, the Council to Aid Jews that was founded in 1944.

Zegota’s headquarters was the home of a Polish Socialist (Eugenia Wasowska) who had worked closely with the Bund. The organisation held “office hours” twice each week at which time couriers went in and out. Despite the enormous number of people who knew its location, the headquarters were never raided by the Germans. One “branch office” was a fruit and vegetable kiosk operated by Ewa Brzuska, an old woman known to everybody as “Babcia” (Granny). Babcia hid papers and money under the sauerkraut and pickle barrels and always had sacks of potatoes ready to hide Jewish children.

The best known Zegota activist is Irene Sendler, head of the children’s division. A social worker and a socialist, she grew up with close links to the Jewish community and could speak Yiddish. Sendler had protested against anti-Semitism in the 1930s: she deliberately sat with Jews in segregated university lecture halls and nearly got expelled. Irene Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, providing them with false documents and sheltering them in individual and group children’s homes outside the ghetto.

Turning to William Crane’s article “Burma: Through two imperialisms to independence”, we are reminded that for many people living in the British Empire, Japan could appear as the lesser evil especially in a place like Burma where George Orwell worked as a cop. In his essay “Shooting an Elephant”, he reflected on the surly natives.

In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

As was the case with India’s Congress Party, resistance to colonialism in Burma was fairly tame with native elites seeking an end to the sort of discrimination that was revealed in Orwell’s complaints. Its vanguard was the Young Man’s Buddhist Association that was founded in 1906 by a British-educated Burmese lawyer.

Eventually the movement grew more militant even if its leadership remained in the hands of the elites who referred to themselves as Thakins, the word for masters. In a new movement that emerged in the 1930s called We Burmans Association, the Thakins drew upon working class support to extract concessions from the British. Like many colonial elites living under British rule, the Burmese nationalists were seduced to some extent by fascist ideology. If “democracy” meant living under the British boot, it was no surprise that rival imperialisms might have a certain appeal.

But another rival to British capitalist democracy had even greater appeal, namely the USSR. In 1939 the first Communist cell was created in Burma under the leadership of an Indian named Narendra Dutt. Despite being a member of this cell, a man named Aung San decided in mid-1940 that an alliance with Japanese imperialism would be more useful for the cause of Burmese independence. He worked closely with Keiji Suzuki, a colonel in the Imperial army who had come to Burma disguised as a businessman and charged with the responsibility of lining up support from nationalists like Aung San, who was the father of Burma’s new president—a reformer who has shown little interest in attacking the deep state that has been in existence for many decades.

Along with other Thakins, Aun San constituted themselves as the Thirty Comrades who became the core of Burma’s wartime armed forces. They received training by the Japanese military in occupied China and began recruiting the men who would join with the Japanese in 1942 in a general assault on British rule. If your yardstick for judging political movements is based on how they lined up in WWII, you will certainly have condemned Aung San on an a priori basis. But as Trotsky pointed out in a 1938 essay titled “Learn to Think”, there are times when workers will find it advantageous to make temporary deals with fascist imperialism rather than its democratic rivals. The only caveat, of course, is that such deals are strictly pragmatic and strictly temporary.

Unfortunately in the case of Burma, the deal was more like a double-deal when the Japanese began their occupation. Aung San and his comrades had exchanged one colonial oppressor for another.

One of the most glaring examples of Japanese disregard for Burmese rights was the construction of a “Death Railway” that became the subject of Pierre Boulle’s novel “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” and the 1957 film directed by David Lean based on Boulle’s novel. You are probably aware that Alec Guinness played the British prisoner of war who in supervising the work crew made up of POW’s lost sight of its use to the Japanese war effort. He saw the bridge much more in terms of Britain’s “civilizing” role in places like India where railways and telegraphs supposedly outweighed colonial exploitation, even in the eyes of Karl Marx early in his career.

What the film leaves out was the costs of its construction on native lives. For that you need to read William Crane’s article:

The conditions for the native labourers in Burma were equivalent if not worse as they were unprotected by even the semblance of concern for the welfare of POWs. The railway upon its completion had consumed as many as 100,000 lives. But we need to draw no special conclusions about the Japanese psyche from the “Death Railway” or any of their other horrific crimes. For the Japanese were trying to catch up with the “civilised” empires of Britain and France, and in the course of this ended up competing with the death tolls they had accumulated over a much longer period of time during the few years of the war. The railway, like the Shoah in Eastern Europe, was the outcome of this process, the realisation of a dream that “projected Japanese dreams of industrial fortitude, economic robustness, and Asian domination”.

Like Donny Gluckstein’s collection, James Heartfield’s Unpatriotic History of World War Two belongs on the same bookshelf along with Zinn, Kolko and Alperovitz. Written in 2012, it is a close to a 500 page debunking of the Good War mythology that is filled with deep insights into how really bad it was. If the Gluckstein collection focuses more on the progressive movements that coincided with a savage bloodletting, Heartfield’s book concentrates much more on the latter. It would be difficult for anybody to read his book and be taken in by the Greatest Generation balderdash that continues to dominate the mainstream narratives of an inter-imperialist rivalry whose damage to humanity and nature alike remains unparalleled.

As many of you realize, I have been sharply critical of Spiked Online, a website that is the latest permutation of a one-time current on the British left known as the Revolutionary Communist Party that emerged as a split from the group that would become Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party. While I generally found the contrarianism of the RCP problematic, particularly around environmental issues, I must admit that any influence it had on James Heartfield’s willingness to spend years of research to write this book that sticks its finger in the eye of the Good War nonsense is to be commended. With so much of the left ready to see the Russian adventure in Syria as a repeat of the war of liberation led by the Red Army against Nazi barbarism, it is of considerable importance to have a book like the Unpatriotic History in our arsenal.

One of the prime dispensers of WWII patriotic gore is the website Socialist Unity that counts John Wight as one of its primary contributors. At one time I considered it a useful resource for regroupment efforts such as the one that took place when RESPECT was a major player on the British left. But when it became obvious that its more fundamental purpose was to breathe life into the Great War mythology and Labour Party reformism, I realized that one’s attitude toward Winston Churchill remained a litmus test for the left. When Socialist Unity began posting “greatest generation” type nonsense about Churchill, I tried to remind Wight et al that the famine in Bengal was really not that great. Suffice it to say that the take on the famine at Socialist Unity amounted to a kind of genocide denial.

The chief value of Heartfield’s book is its copious documentation on how people such as Roosevelt, Churchill, and even Stalin were no better than the Japanese and Germans around a number of questions, particularly their treatment of working people who were cannon fodder and virtual slaves in wartime production when the elementary right to strike was viewed as treasonous.

Chapter Six of Unpatriotic History is titled “Imperialist War” and makes for essential reading. Like every other chapter, it is filled with revealing data and quotations from the warmakers that hoists them on their own petard. Heartfield cites Leo Amery, The Secretary of State for India:

After all, smashing Hitler is only a means to the essential end of preserving the British Empire and all it stands for in the world. It will be no consolation to suggest that Hitler should be replaced by Stalin, Chiang Kai-Shek or even an American President if we cease to exercise our power and influence in the world.

While promoted as a benign free trade policy, Roosevelt’s Open Door Policy was a bid to replace Britain as the world’s number one empire as Leo Amery clearly understood. After signing the Atlantic Charter, FDR articulated the kind of paternalism usually associated with his fifth cousin Theodore:

there seems no reason why the principle of trusteeship in private affairs should not be extended to the international field. Trusteeship is based on the principle of unselfish service. For a time at least there are many minor children among the peoples of the world who need trustees in their relations with other nations and peoples.

But the grand prize for overall depravity goes to Winston Churchill based on this account that clearly would have offended his fans at Socialist Unity:

At a Cabinet meeting on 10 November 1943, Prime Minister Churchill said Indians had brought famine on themselves because they were ‘breeding like rabbits’ and so would have to pay the price of their own improvidence. Churchill’s prejudices were backed up by his chief scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann, Lord Cherwell, in a letter the following day: ‘This shortage of food is likely to be endemic in a country where the population is always increased until only bare subsistence is possible.’ Cherwell carried on to turn the truth on its head, moaning as if it was Britain that was subsidising India, not the other way around:

After the war India can spend her huge hoards of sterling on buying food and thus increase the population still more, but so long as the war lasts her high birth rate may impose a heavy strain on this country [i.e. Britain] which does not view with Asiatic detachment the pressure of a growing population on limited supplies of food.

Let me conclude with some parting thoughts on the spate of World War Two nostalgia that has followed in the wake of Russian entry into the war on the Syrian people. On September 28th, Vladimir Putin made a speech at the UN proposing a coalition against ISIS similar to the one that united the USA, Britain and the USSR in World War Two.

What we actually propose is to be guided by common values and common interests rather than by ambitions. Relying on international law, we must join efforts to address the problems that all of us are facing, and create a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism. Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind.

John Wight was obviously one person carried away by this rhetoric to the point of swooning. Showing that he would not be taken in by any weak-kneed aversion to the necessary tasks of a war on fascism, he informed his readers at Huffington Post and CounterPunch that firebombing Dresden and barrel-bombing open-air markets in Syria were not game-changers:

Barrel bombs are an atrociously indiscriminate weapon, for sure, and their use rightly comes under the category of war crime. However just as the war crime of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything else but ugly, which is why the sooner it is brought to a conclusion in Syria the better.

This specious blast of hot air is so filled with bad faith and faulty logic that it would take a year to elaborate on all of its sinister implications. So let me take a minute to nail them down.

To begin with, the war between Germany and the USA was a war between empires. As Leo Amery stated above, “smashing Hitler is only a means to the essential end of preserving the British Empire and all it stands for in the world.” The democracy enjoyed by Britain was made possible only by its super-exploitation of India, Kenya, Burmese, Egypt, China, et al. This was obvious to anyone who has read Lenin even if it was lost on an aspiring Colonel Blimp like John Wight.

But the most important insight that can be gleaned by Wight’s invocation of the Good War is its affinity with a figure whose ghost walks across the parapet of the Assadist left, namely Christopher Hitchens. His footprints can be seen in all of the Islamophobic articles that appear on a daily basis from people like Wight, Mike Whitney and Pepe Escobar who recently referred to the anti-Assad fighters as “mongrels”, the kind of epithet that usually rolls off the tongues of Israeli politicians.

In 2008 Hitchens wrote an article titled “WW2, a War Worth Fighting” that essentially sums up the outlook of laptop bombardiers like John Wight and everybody else extolling the air war on Syrian rebels from the safety of their offices in the USA or Great Britain–especially the last sentence that jibes with Wight’s ghoulish musings on Dresden.

Is there any one shared principle or assumption on which our political consensus rests, any value judgment on which we are all essentially agreed? Apart from abstractions such as a general belief in democracy, one would probably get the widest measure of agreement for the proposition that the second world war was a “good war” and one well worth fighting. And if we possess one indelible image of political immorality and cowardice, it is surely the dismal tap-tap-tap of Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella as he turned from signing the Czechs away to Adolf Hitler at Munich. He hoped by this humiliation to avert war, but he was fated to bring his countrymen war on top of humiliation. To the conventional wisdom add the titanic figure of Winston Churchill as the emblem of oratorical defiance and the Horatius who, until American power could be mobilized and deployed, alone barred the bridge to the forces of unalloyed evil. When those forces lay finally defeated, their ghastly handiwork was uncovered to a world that mistakenly thought it had already “supped full of horrors.” The stark evidence of the Final Solution has ever since been enough to dispel most doubts about, say, the wisdom or morality of carpet-bombing German cities.

December 8, 2015

Is Donald Trump a fascist?

Filed under: Fascism — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

Nearly 20 years ago the Marxism list was discussing the candidacy of Pat Buchanan, who was viewed with the same kind of alarm that greets Donald Trump today and greeted George Wallace in 1968. As someone trained in the Trotskyist movement and who learned to be skeptical of leftist claims that these men or even someone as centrist as Richard Nixon could be a “fascist”, I tend to agree with fellow ex-SWP member Charles Post, who while being quite wet on the Brenner thesis, wrote with some clarity for Jacobin on this matter:

This radicalization of the middle classes — what Trotsky once referred to as “human dust” — bears some resemblance to the classic fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Genuine fascist elements (white supremacist groups with organized street fighting groups) have been attracted to the Tea Party and Trump.

However, neither the Tea Party nor Trump can be described as fascists. Both seek to win power through electoral politics, not abolish elections and representative government. Nor will capitalists in the US, in the foreseeable future, opt for such a far-right option. If the Republican establishment can’t stop Trump, they’ll likely cross partisan lines and support a neoliberal politician like Hillary Clinton.

The specter of Trump not only frightens the Republican establishment, but most of the US left. As it has time and time again since the 1930s, the threat of the far right will serve as an excuse for union officialdom and the liberal civil rights, feminist, and LGBTQ establishment to mobilize for Democrats.

But this solution to the rise of Trump and the far right is no solution at all: embracing “lesser evilism” in 2016 would mean yet again forgoing the work of rebuilding the labor and social movements and instead subordinating our radical politics to the Democratic Party. The disastrous result would be that the only visible opposition to the capitalist class would come not from the Left, but from a billionaire businessman.

After the discussion on Buchanan erupted on the Marxism list, I began writing a series of posts trying to analyze fascism historically in order to come to terms with his candidacy. My take was very close to Post’s and not surprisingly the analysis below that is extracted from my articles can apply equally to Trump. Just substitute “Donald Trump” for “Pat Buchanan” in the excerpt below and the analysis will ring true.

——

Bonapartism, populism and fascism overlap to a striking degree. We see elements of fascism, populism and Bonapartism in the politics of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan rails against African-Americans and immigrants, both documented and undocumented. He also rails against Wall St. which is “selling out” the working man. Is he a fascist, however? Ross Perot employs a number of the same themes. Is he?

The problem in trying to answer these questions solely on the basis of someone’s speeches or writings is that it ignores historical and class dynamics. Bonaparte and Hitler emerged as a response to powerful proletrian revolutionary attacks on capital. What are the objective conditions in American society today? Hitler based their power on large-scale social movements that could put tens of thousands of people into the streets at a moment’s notice. These movements were not creatures of capitalist cabals. They had their own logic and their own warped integrity. Many were drawn to Hitler in the deluded hope that he would bring some kind of “all-German” socialism into existence. These followers were not Marxists, but they certainly hated the capitalist class. Are the people who attend Buchanan, Perot and Farrakhan rallies also in such a frenzied, revolutionary state of mind?

At what point are we in American society today?

I would argue that rather than being in a prerevolutionary situation, that rather we are in a period which has typified capitalism for the better part of a hundred and fifty years.We are in a period of capitalist “normalcy”. Capitalism is a system which is prone to economic crisis and war. The unemployment and “downsizing” going on today are typical of capitalism in its normal functioning. We have to stop thinking as if the period of prosperity following WWII as normal. It is not. It is an anomaly in the history of capitalism. When industrial workers found themselves in a position to buy houses, send children through college, etc., this was only because of a number of exceptional circumstances which will almost certainly never arise again.

We are in a period more like the late 1800’s or the early 1900’s. It is a period of both expansion and retrenchment. It is a period of terrible reaction which can give birth to the Ku Klux Klan and the skinheads and other neo-Nazis. It is also a period which can give birth to something like Eugene V. Debs socialist party.

The United States in the 1930s became a battleground between industrial workers and the capitalist class over whether workers would be able to form industrial unions. There had been craft unions for decades, but only industrial unions could fight for all of the workers in a given plant or industry. This fight had powerful revolutionary implications since the captains of heavy industry required a poorly paid, docile work-force in order to maximize profits in the shattered capitalist economy. There were demonstrations, sit-down strikes and even gun-fights led by the Communist Party and other left groups to establish this basic democratic right.

Within this political context, fascist groups began to emerge. They drew their inspiration from Mussolini’s fascists or Hitler’s brown- shirts. In a time of severe social crisis, groups of petty-bourgeois and lumpen elements begin to coalesce around demagogic leaders. They employ “radical” sounding rhetoric but in practice seek out working- class organizations to intimidate and destroy. One such fascist group was the Silver Shirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In chapter eleven of “Teamster Politics”, SWP leader Farrell Dobbs recounts “How the Silver Shirts Lost Their Shrine in Minneapolis”. It is the story of how Local 544 of the Teamsters union, led by Trotskyists, defended itself successfully from a fascist expedition into the city. Elements of the Twin Cities ruling-class, alarmed over the growth of industrial unionism in the city, called in Silver Shirt organizer Roy Zachary. Zachary hosted two closed door meetings on July 29 and August 2 of 1938. Teamster “moles” discovered that Zachary intended to launch a vigilante attack against Local 544 headquarters. They also discovered that Zachary planned to work with one F.L. Taylor to set up an “Associated Council of Independent Unions”, a union-busting operation. Taylor had ties to a vigilante outfit called the “Minnesota Minute Men”.

Local 544 took serious measures to defend itself. It formed a union defense guard in August 1938 open to any active union member. Many of the people who joined had military experience, including Ray Rainbolt the elected commander of the guard. Rank-and-filers were former sharpshooters, machine gunners and tank operators in the US Army. The guard also included one former German officer with WWI experience. While the guard itself did not purchase arms except for target practice, nearly every member had hunting rifles at home that they could use in the circumstance of a Silver Shirt attack.

Events reached a climax when Pelley came to speak at a rally in the wealthy section of Minneapolis.

Ray Rainbolt organized a large contingent of defense guard members to pay a visit to Calhoun Hall where Pelley was to make his appearance. The powerful sight of disciplined but determined unionists persuaded the audience to go home and Pelley to cancel his speech.

This was the type of conflict taking place in 1938. A capitalist class bent on taming workers; fascist groups with a documented violent, anti-labor record; industrial workers in motion: these were the primary actors in that period. It was characteristic of the type of class conflict that characterized the entire 1930s. It is useful to keep this in mind when we speak about McCarthyism.

WWII abolished a number of major contradictions in global capital while introducing others. The United States emerged as the world’s leading capitalist power and took control economically and politically of many of the former colonies of the exhausted European powers. Inter-imperialist rivalries and contradictions seemed to be a thing of the past. England was the U.S.’s junior partner. The defeated Axis powers, Germany and Japan, were under Washington’s thumb. France retained some independence. (To this day France continues to act as if it were an equal partner of the US, detonating nuclear weapons in the Pacific or talking back to NATO over policies in Bosnia.)

Meanwhile the USSR survived the war bloodied but unbowed. In a series of negotiations with the US and its allies, Stalin won the right to create “buffer” states to his West. A whole number of socialist countries then came into being. China and Yugoslavia had deep-going proletarian revolutions that, joined with the buffer states, would soon account for more than 1/4 of the world’s population.

World imperialism took an aggressive stance toward the socialist bloc before the smoke had cleared from the WWII battlegrounds. Churchill made his “cold war” speech and contradictions between the socialist states and world capitalism grew very sharp. Imperialism began using the same type of rhetoric and propaganda against the USSR that it had used against the Nazis. Newreels of the early fifties would depict a spreading red blot across the European continent. This time the symbol superimposed on the blot was a hammer-and-sickle instead of a swastika. The idea was the same: to line up the American people against the enemy overseas that was trying to gobble up the “free world”.

A witch-hunt in the United States, sometimes called McCarthyism, emerged in the United States from nearly the very moment the cold war started. The witch-hunt would serve to eradicate domestic opposition to the anti-Communist crusade overseas. The witch-hunters wanted to root up and eradicate all sympathy to the USSR. President Harry Truman, a Democrat and New Dealer, started the anticommunist crusade. He introduced the first witch-hunt legislation, a bill that prevented federal employees from belonging to “subversive” organizations. When Republican Dwight Eisenhower took office, he simply kept the witch-hunt going. The McCarthy movement per se emerges out of a reactionary climate created by successive White House administrations, Democrat and Republican alike.

I will argue that a similar dynamic has existed in US politics over the past twenty years. Instead of having a “cold war” against the socialist countries, we have had a “cold war” on the working-class and its allies. James Carter, a Democrat, set into motion the attack on working people and minorities, while successive Republican and Democratic administrations have continued to stoke the fire. Reaganism is Carterism raised to a higher level. All Buchanan represents is the emergence of a particularly reactionary tendency within this overall tendency toward the right.

Attacks on the working-class and minorities have nothing to do with “bad faith” on the part of people like William Clinton. We are dealing with a global restructuring of capital that will be as deep-going in its impact on class relations internationally as the cold war was in its time. The cold war facilitated the removal of the Soviet Union as a rival. Analogously, the class war on working people in the advanced capitalist countries that began in the Carter years facilitates capital’s next new expansion. Capitalism is a dynamic system. This dynamism includes not only war and “downsizing”, it also includes fabulous growth in places like the East Coast of China. To not see this is to not understand capitalism.

“The United States, the most powerful capitalist country in history, is a component part of the world capitalist system and is subject to the same general laws. It suffers from the same incurable diseases and is destined to share the same fate. The overwhelming preponderance of American imperialism does not exempt it from the decay of world capitalism, but, on the contrary, acts to involve it even more deeply, inextricably and hopelessly. US capitalism can no more escape from the revolutionary consequences of world capitalist decay than the older European capitalist powers. The blind alley in which world capitalism has arrived, and the US with it, excludes a new organic era of capitalist stabilization. The dominant world position of American imperialism now accentuates and aggravates the death agony of capitalism as a whole.”

This appears in an article in the April 5, 1954 Militant titled “First Principles in the Struggle Against Fascism”. It is of course based on a totally inaccurate misunderstanding of the state of global capital. Capitalism was not in a “blind alley” in 1954. The truth is that from approximately 1946 on capitalism went through the most sustained expansion in its entire history. To have spoken about the “death agony” of capitalism in 1954 was utter nonsense. This “catastrophism” could only serve to misorient the left since it did not put McCarthyism in proper context.

One of the great contributions made by Nicos Poulantzas in his “Fascism and the Third International” was his diagnosis of the problem of “catastrophism”. According to Poulantzas, the belief that capitalism has reached a “blind alley” first appeared in the Comintern of the early 1920’s. He blames this on a dogmatic approach to Lenin’s “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism” that existed in a communist movement that was all too eager to deify the dead revolutionist.

Lenin’s theory of imperialism owed much to Hilferding and Bukharin who believed that capitalism was moribund and incapable of generating new technical and industrial growth. Moreover, this capitalist system was in a perpetual crisis and wars were inevitable. The Comintern latched onto this interpretation and adapted it to the phenomenon of fascism. Fascism, in addition to war, was also a permanent feature of the decaying capitalist system. A system that had reached such an impasse was a system that was in a permanent catastrophic mode. The Comintern said that it was five minutes to midnight.

The SWP’s version of catastrophism did not allow it to see McCarthy’s true mission. This mission was not to destroy the unions and turn the United States into a totalitarian state. It was rather a mission to eliminate radical dissent against the stepped-up attack on the USSR, its allies and revolutionary movements in the third world. The witch- hunt targeted radicals in the unions, the schools, the State Department, the media and elsewhere. After the witch-hunt had eradicated all traces of radical opinion, the US military could fight its imperialist wars without interference from the left. This is exactly what took place during the Korean War. There were no visible signs of dissent except in the socialist press and in some liberal publications like I.F. Stone’s Newsletter. This clamp-down on dissent lasted until the Vietnam war when a newly developing radicalization turned the witch-hunt back for good.

In the view of the SWP, nothing basically had changed since the 1930’s. The target of McCarthyite “fascism” was the working-class and its unions. The Militant stated on January 18, 1954:

“If the workers’ organizations don’t have the answer, the fascists will utilize the rising discontent of the middle class, its disgust with the blundering labor leadership, and its frenzy at being ruined economically, to build a mass fascist movement with armed detachments and hurl them at the unions. While spouting a lot of radical-sounding demagogy they will deflect the anti-capitalist wrath of the middle class and deploy it against labor, and establish the iron- heel dictatorship of Big Capital on the smoking ruins of union halls.”

One wonders if the party leadership in 1954 actually knew any middle- class people, since party life consisted of a “faux proletarian” subculture with tenuous ties to American society. Certainly they could have found out about the middle-class on the newly emerging TV situation comedies like “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver”. Rather than expressing “rising discontent” or “frenzy”, the middle- class was taking advantage of dramatic increases in personal wealth. Rather than plotting attacks on union halls like the Silver Shirts did in 1938, they were moving to suburbia, buying televisions and station wagons, and taking vacations in Miami Beach or Europe. This was not only objectively possible for the average middle-class family, it was also becoming possible for the worker in basic industry. For the very same reason the working-class was not gravitating toward socialism, the middle-class was not gravitating toward fascism. This reason, of course, is that prosperity had become general.

The other day Ryan Daum posted news of the death of Pablo, a leader of the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s. European Trotskyism is generally much less dogmatic than its American and English cousins. While the party leadership in the United States hated Pablo with a passion, rank and filers often found themselves being persuaded by some ideas put forward by the Europeans.

One of these differences revolved around how to assess McCarthy. The party leadership viewed McCarthy as a fascist while a minority grouping led by Dennis Vern and Samuel Ryan based in Los Angeles challenged this view. Unfortunately I was not able to locate articles in which the minority defends its view. What I will try to do is reconstruct this view through remarks directed against them by Joseph Hansen, a party leader. This is a risky method, but the only one available to me.

Vern and Ryan criticize the Militant’s narrow focus on the McCarthyite threat. They say, “The net effect of this campaign is not to hurt McCarthy, or the bourgeois state, but to excuse the bourgeois state for the indisputable evidences of its bourgeois character, and thus hinder the proletariat in its understanding that the bourgeois- democratic state is an ‘executive committee’ of the capitalist class, and that only a workers state can offer an appropriate objective for the class struggle.”

I tend to discount statements like “only a workers state” since they function more as a mantra than anything else (“only socialism can end racism”; “only socialism can end sexism”– you get the picture.) However, there is something interesting being said here. By singling out McCarthy, didn’t the SWP “personalize” the problems the left was facing? A Democratic president initiated the witch-hunt, not a fascist minded politician. Both capitalist parties created the reactionary movement out of which McCarthy emerges. By the same token, doesn’t the narrow focus on Buchanan today tend to lift some of the pressure on William Clinton. After all, if our problem is Buchanan, then perhaps it makes sense to throw all of our weight behind Clinton.

Vern and Ryan also offer the interesting observation that McCarthy has been less anti-union than many bourgeois politicians to his left. The liberal politicians railed against McCarthy’s assault on civil liberties, but meanwhile endorsed all sorts of measures that would have weakened the power of the American trade union movement.

This was an interesting perception that has some implications I will attempt to elucidate. McCarthy did not target the labor movement as such because the post WWII social contract between labor and big business was essentially class-collaborationist. The union movement would keep its mouth shut about foreign interventions in exchange for higher wages, job security, etc. Social peace at home accompanied and eased the way of US capitalist expansionism overseas. The only obstacle to this social contract was the ideological left, those members of the union movement, the media, etc. They were all possible supporters of the Vietminh and other liberation movements. McCarthy wanted to purge the union movement of these elements, but not destroy the union movement itself. Turning our clock forward to 1996, does anybody think that Buchanan intends to break the power of the US working-class? Does big business need Buchanan when the Arkansas labor-hater is doing such a great job?

The SWP has had a tremendous attraction toward “catastrophism”. Turning the clock forward from 1954 to 1988, we discover resident genius Jack Barnes telling a gathering of the faithful that capitalism finally is in the eleventh hour. In a speech on “What the 1987 Stock Market Crash Foretold”, he says:

“Neither past sources of rapid capital accumulation nor other options can enable the imperialist ruling classes to restore the long-term accelerating accumulation of world capitalism and avert an international depression and general social crisis….

“The period in the history of capitalist development that we are living through today is heading toward intensified class battles on a national and international scale, including wars and revolutionary situations. In order to squeeze out more wealth from the labor of exploited producers….

“Before the exploiters can unleash a victorious reign of reaction [i.e., fascism], however, the workers will have the first chance. The mightiest class battles of human history will provide the workers and exploited farmers in the United States and many other countries the opportunity to place revolutionary situations on the order of the day.”

Someone should have thrown a glass of cold water in the face of this guru before he made this speech. He predicted depression, but the financial markets ignored him. The stock market recovered from the 1987 crash and has now shot up to over 5000 points. His statement that nothing could have averted an international depression shows that he much better qualified at plotting purges than plotting out the development of capital accumulation.

His statement that the “period in the history of capitalist development that we are living through” is heading toward wars and revolution takes the word “period” and strips it of all meaning. Nine years have passed and there is neither depression nor general social crisis. Is a decade sufficient to define a period? I think all of us can benefit from Jack Barnes’ catastrophism if we simply redefine what a period is. Let us define it as a hundred years, then predictions of our Nostradamus might begin to make sense. Unfortunately, the art of politics consists of knowing what to do next and predictions of such a sweeping nature are worthless.

Sally Ryan posted an article from the Militant newspaper the other day. It states that Buchanan is a fascist:

“Buchanan is not primarily out to win votes, nor was he four years ago. He has set out to build a cadre of those committed to his program and willing to act in the streets to carry it out. He dubs his supporters the ‘Buchanan Brigades’….

“Commenting on the tone of a recent speech Buchanan gave to the New Hampshire legislature, Republican state representative Julie Brown, said, ‘It’s just mean – like a little Mussolini.’….

“While he is not about to get the Republican nomination, Buchanan is serious in his campaign. The week before his Louisiana win, he came in first in a straw poll of Alaska Republicans and placed third in polls in New Hampshire, where the first primary election will be held. He is building a base regardless of how the vote totals continue to fall. And he poses the only real alternative that can be put forward within the capitalist system to the like-sounding Clinton and Dole – a fascist alternative.”

These quotations tend to speak for a rather wide-spread analysis of Buchanan that a majority of the left supports, including my comrades on this list.

I want to offer a counter-analysis:

1) We are in a period of quiescence, not class confrontation.

Comrades, this is the good news and the bad news. It is good news because there is no threat of a fascist movement coming to power. It is bad news because it reflects how depoliticized the US working-class remains.

There is no fascist movement in the United States of any size or significance. It is time to stop talking about the militias of Montana. Let us speak instead of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. Has there been any growth of fascism? Of course not. In New York, my home town, there is no equivalent of the German- American bund, the fascists of the 1930s who had a base on New York’s upper east side, my neighborhood.

There are no attacks on socialist or trade union meetings. There are not even attacks on movements of allies of the working-class. The women’s movement, the black movement, the Central American movement organize peacefully and without interference for the simple reason that there are no violent gangs to subdue them.

The reason there are no violent gangs of fascists is the same as it was in the 1950s. We are not in a period of general social crisis. There are no frenzied elements of the petty-bourgeoisie or the lumpen proletariat being drawn into motion by demagogic and charismatic leaders like Mussolini or Hitler. There are no Silver Shirts that the labor or socialist movement needs protection from.

There is another key difference from the 1930s that we must consider. Capital and labor battled over the rights of labor within the prevailing factory system. Capitalism has transformed that factory system. Workers who remain in basic industry are not fighting for union representation. They simply want to keep their jobs. Those who remain employed will not tend to enter into confrontations with capital as long as wages and benefits retain a modicum of acceptability. That is the main reason industrial workers tend to be quiescent and will remain so for some time to come.

In the 1930s, workers occupied huge factories and battled the bosses over the right to a union. The bosses wanted to keep these factories open and strikes tended to take on a militant character in these showdowns. Strike actions tended to draw the working-class together and make it easier for socialists to get a hearing. This was because strikes were much more like mass actions and gave workers a sense of their power. The logical next step, according to the socialists, was trade union activity on a political level and, ultimately, rule by the workers themselves.

The brunt of the attack today has been downsizing and runaway capital. This means that working people have a fear of being unemployed more than anything else. This fear grips the nation. When a worker loses a job today, he or she tends to look for personal solutions: a move to another city, signing up for computer programming classes, etc. Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” vividly illustrated this type of personal approach Every unemployed auto worker in this film was trying to figure out a way to solve their problems on their own.

In the face of the atomization of the US working class, it is no surprise that many workers seem to vote for Buchanan. He offers them a variant on the personal solution. A worker may say to himself or herself, “Ah, this Buchanan’s a racist bigot, but he’s the only one who seems to care about what’s happening to me. I’ll take a gamble and give him my vote.” Voting is not politics. It is the opposite of politics. It is the capitalist system’s mechanism for preventing political action.

2) Buchanan is a bourgeois politician.

Pat Buchanan represents the thinking of an element of the US ruling class, and views the problems of the United States from within that perspective. Buchanan’s nationalism relates very closely to the nationalism of Ross Perot, another ruling class politician.

A consensus exists among the ruling class that US capital must take a global route. The capitalist state must eliminate trade barriers and capital must flow to where there is greatest possibility for profit. Buchanan articulates the resentments of a section of the bourgeoisie that wants to resist this consensus. It would be an interesting project to discover where Buchanan gets his money. This would be a more useful of one’s time than comparing his speeches to Father Coughlin or Benito Mussolini’s.

There are no parties in the United States in the European sense. In Europe, where there is a parliamentary system, people speak for clearly defined programs and are responsible to clearly defined constituencies. In the United States, politics revolves around “winner take all” campaigns. This tends to put a spotlight on presidential elections and magnify the statements of candidates all out of proportion.

Today we have minute textual analysis of what Buchanan is saying. His words take on a heightened, almost ultra-real quality. Since he is in a horse race, the press tends to worry over each and every inflammatory statement he makes. This tends to give his campaign a more threatening quality than is supported by the current state of class relations in the United States.

3) The way to fight Buchanan is by developing a class alternative.

The left needs a candidate who is as effective as Buchanan in drawing class lines.

The left has not been able to present an alternative to Buchanan. It has been making the same kinds of mistakes that hampered the German left in the 1920s: ultraleft sectarianism and opportunism. Our “Marxist-Leninist” groups, all 119 of them, offer themselves individually as the answer to Pat Buchanan. Meanwhile, social democrats and left-liberals at the Nation magazine and elsewhere are preparing all the reasons one can think of to vote for the “lesser evil”.

What the left needs to do is coalesce around a class-based, militant program. The left has not yet written this program, despite many assurances to the contrary we can hear on this list every day. It will have to be in the language of the American people, not in Marxist- Leninist jargon. Some people know how speak effectively to working people. I include Michael Moore the film-maker. I also include people like our own Doug Henwood, and Alex Cockburn and his co-editor Ken Silverstein who put out a newsletter called “Counterpunch”.

Most of all, the model we need is like Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Party of the turn of the century, minus the right-wing. Study the speeches of Debs and you get an idea of the kind of language we need to speak. Our mission today remains the same as it was in turn of the century Russia: to build a socialist party where none exists.

 

 

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