Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 17, 2017

Donald Trump, National Bolshevism and the radical deficit

Filed under: Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 4:28 pm

Three years ago I wrote an article titled “National Bolshevism rides again” that called attention to Golden Dawn’s support for Russia against Euromaidan that sounded exactly like the sort of thing written by Mike Whitney: “Ukraine is Washington’s pretext for a conflict with Russia. The threat of conflict is evident from the flood of propaganda in the Zionist media. Putin is demonized daily as Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi were earlier, while known Zionist newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times, present daily ‘evidence’ Russian troops are ready to invade Ukraine. The only things missing are the weapons of mass destruction in order to have a complete repeat.”

Little did I suspect that within three years, an American version of Golden Dawn would be saying the same thing. On May 13th, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer led a small demonstration protesting the removal of a statue honoring Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Among the chants heard from the mouths of these fascists (I use the word advisedly) was “Blood and soil” and “Russia is our friend”.

If “Russia is our friend”, it is understandable why Stephen F. Cohen would tell Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly’s replacement at Fox News, that the “Assault on Trump is [the] greatest threat to our country”. Like Cohen, Spencer considers the liberal onslaught on Trump to be the main danger to the USA. In a comment on Trump’s divulging classified information to the Russians, Spencer used words that could have come out of Cohen’s mouth: “This is only a scandal in the minds of those who haven’t heard that the Cold War is over.”

Spencer is a fairly crafty operator, looking to speak out of both sides of his mouth. In addition to paying reverence to Robert E. Lee, he also has good things to say about Karl Marx, on May Day no less:

I am not the only person who has been noticing this development. Sukant Chandan, who unlike me is a major supporter of Bashar al-Assad, began to speak out largely because of the support of the ultraright for Brexit. The nativism that defines UKIP, the Trump administration and other ultraright parties that have been coming together in an informal global movement taking inspiration from the Kremlin is certainly going to antagonize an Indian immigrant in England where a dark skin is an open invitation to a beating. On Facebook, Chandan wrote:

Here I argue in 2mins that there are many who advocated on Press TV and RT etc years that Trump would be ‘better’ than Hilary, that these people invited the man who bombed Syria and Afghanistan, humiliated Russia, went to the brink of war with Korea and China, that these people should either apologise publicly and conduct some serious self critique (I made a wrong analysis on Obama, have apologised for that many times and critically self analysed a lot publicly for years), or they should be chased out of our circles and all platforms should be taken away from them. They advocated for the guy who bombed two of our homelands and threatened total war against China and Korea. These people are mainly those organised around far-right/alt-right/fascist circles and those collaborating with them around things like: Centre for Syncretic Studies (and all individuals and organisations involved, which is easily found), Katehon, New Resistance, The Duran, Saker, Fort Russ, 21st Century Wire, Sputnik, and others. These are forces who are directly in alliance with blatant neo-Nazi and western far right and openly fascist forces. The rise of fascist oriented forces and leaders like Trump are *not* friends of ours but fascist imperialist enemies of our peoples.

Of the websites called out by Chandan, I am familiar with The Duran, Saker, the aptly named Fort Russ, 21st Century Wire and Sputnik. But who were the others?

As its name implies, the rather academic sounding Centre for Syncretic Studies attempts to bring together (syncretize) “various ideologies which originate from across the entire spectrum” and overlaps ideologically and personnel-wise with Katehon. Katehon is likely the same word as Katechon, a term found in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 that refers to the apocalypse.

Essentially, both think-tanks are devoted to the thinking of Aleksandr Dugin, a latter-day National Bolshevik. Katehon was founded by Konstantin Malofeev, who is the CEO of Marshall Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Malofeev is a devout Russian Orthodox believer and has also been accused of defrauding the state-owned bank VTB of $200 million. I suppose in this day and age, the two things go together. You can find a typical Katehon article by Dugin titled “Russian Geopolitician: Trump Is Real America” whose title speaks for itself. Speaking for Spencer and countless other rightwing scumbags, Dugin wrote:

Thus, there is Donald Trump, who is tough, rough, says what he thinks, rude, emotional and, apparently, candid. The fact that he is a billionaire doesn’t matter. He is different. He is an extremely successful ordinary American. He is crude America, without gloss and the globalist elite. He is sometimes disgusting and violent, but he is what he is. It is true America.

I should add that the words globalism and globalist have become signifiers for the alt-right. The next time you hear someone using them, run the opposite direction as fast as your feet can carry you.

Moving right along, we come to New Resistance that is based in the USA as opposed to the two Russian-based groups discussed above. The New Resistance appears to be some sort of left group whose views are expressed at Open Revolt!, a blog with little impact according to Alexa that ranks it at 1,897,874 globally. (For comparison’s sake, my blog is ranked 383,286.)

The most recent post to Open Revolt is from February 22nd and titled “New Resistance on Alex Jones, Alexander Dugin and Infowars” that ties it to Dugin ideologically:

Alex Jones gets more than 50 million views at Infowars a week. Last night I watched his feature with Alexandr Dugin and I was expecting to be very critical of it. For once, I was pleasantly surprised. Alex Jones couldn’t have been more respectful and fair, treating Comrade Dugin with the respect he has earned and deserves. He also made a point of showing screenshots of Katehon.com and running the Katehon web address in text beneath Dugin’s name. Many of you probably know Katehon is a Traditionalist and anti-globalist project and some of the major people involved with the site are also part of New Resistance.

That’s a huge breakthrough moment.

Thanks to Alex Jones potentially tens of millions of American eyes are being opened to Alexander Dugin and to the Fourth Political Theory in an honest way. That’s totally jaw dropping.

Notwithstanding the shout-out to Dugin, Open Revolt does not seem nearly as bad as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute. In fact, the New Resistance manifesto sounds as good as the one Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in 1848:

We believe that the capitalist system we have today needs to be replaced by something that truly fosters a civilized, sustainable & just society, where economics is subordinated to the social good. NEW RESISTANCE, therefore, supports the following policies:

1) the abolition of wage slavery and landlordism;

2) the distribution of land (either a certain acreage or as apartment square feet) to all citizens and making it non-transferable, thus avoiding accumulation into the hands of a privileged few;

3) some sort of guaranteed annual income & humane social safety net;

4) free universal health care (medicine and related fields should be a calling, NOT a business);

5) economic enterprises larger or more complex than a small family business or farm should be self-managed by workers, via workers’ councils.

Of course, you have to read the fine print:

Like the Black, American Indian and Chicano nationalists, NEW RESISTANCE is a movement geared towards National Liberation. Our people, as we define them, are the “white” American working classes, in which we include the urban proletariat, the rural poor, those unemployed or under-employed (“precarious labor”), as well as displaced members of the middle class. We use the term “white” reluctantly to denote the vast pool of Americans of European descent and those who adopt the cultural mores of “white America”.

This is just a soft sell version of what David Duke has been peddling for decades.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 3.05.03 PM

James Porazzo

New Resistance was founded by James Porazzo, a Boston man who was formerly involved with the American Front, a skinhead group that worked closely with Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance and that eventually came to espouse The Third Position, which “syncretizes” racial separatism and socialism. Like Richard Spencer, Porazzo figured out that socialism was not a scare word any more and might even help him recruit new members.

Indeed, Porazzo seems like a natural ally to all those people in the “anti-imperialist” camp. He links to a Bashar al-Assad interview and crossposts Eva Gollinger’s tribute to Hugo Chavez. Interviewed at the Center for Syncretic Studies, Porazzo can barely be distinguished from James Petras (maybe that’s the problem):

Capitalism or institutionalized looting, selfishness and greed are a kind of religion for the pigs that govern the United States. The Democratic and Republican parties are united in this, just showing different shades of the same disease.  Most of the right-wing opposition here, including the reactionary extreme right, are infected by this disease. It can be seen from the fact that hardly wait to cast aspersions onto any other organization with a revolutionary social program, such as as ours.

For us, the absolute enemy is the cult of the golden calf.  We are open to discuss common goals with all genuine anti-capitalists. The struggle against capitalism must always be a priority.

The rebirth of National Bolshevism is something to contend with. The original version first came to my attention writing about the Comintern and the German revolution of the early 20s. Ruth Fischer, an ultraleft and half-Jewish member of the German CP back then, gave a speech that included these words that sound even worse than anything Porazzo might come up with:

Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class, even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts…But…how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klockner?…Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the “folkish” side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.

Porazzo has paid close attention to the attempts of the Red-Brown synthesis in the 1920s that has now been given new life by Aleksandr Dugin. Not only has he crossposted Dugin’s articles, he has paid tribute to some obscure figures such as Ernst Niekisch. Starting off as a Communist during Weimar, Niekisch eventually broke with Marxism and developed the official National Bolshevik theory that combined elements of German nationalism and admiration for Josef Stalin, perhaps not that much of a contradiction. He was read by the Nazi “left”, including Gregor Strasser and Ernst Rohm.

I have no idea how much influence Porazzo has but Richard Spencer certainly has plenty. The fact that Spencer has lately been toasting Karl Marx might indicate that this is the direction the alt-right will be taking. Unlike the original National Bolshevism, there is not much support for a rebirth that is a carbon-copy of the original. Why? Because there is no longer a USSR. Vladimir Putin has said that Lenin was the worst thing that happened to Russia, so there’s not much of a “left” to the Kremlin nowadays. Mainly, Putin represents a left to people like Stephen F. Cohen, Robert Parry, James Petras and Diana Johnstone because he is despised by liberal politicians and journalists just as indicated in the Dugin picture at the top of the article. I doubt that any of these people, especially Petras and Johnstone, give a hoot about Spencer and Porazzo’s admiration for Assad and Putin. All that matters to them is salvaging the USA-Russia détente. This is a intellectual and political deficit of biblical proportions.

There’s a dirty little secret I’d like to share with you. Many on the left who are repulsed by people like Richard Spencer and James Porazzo are equally repulsed by the liberal onslaught against Trump for motives lodged in their subconscious. Since they share Spencer and Porazzo’s views on Syria and Ukraine, there is a natural tendency to see Trump as an obstacle to a “neocon” war against the “axis of resistance” even if they are barely aware of it.

What accounts for this? I would describe it as a retreat from class. Twenty years ago, Marxists were up in arms over how postmodernism was subordinating class criteria as part of a new methodology that linked Marx to the Enlightenment. “Identity Politics”, especially in the academy, became a substitute. To a large extent, the rise of postmodernism was related to changes in the capitalist economy such as the growth of multinationals, financialization, post-Fordism, etc. Leaving aside the merits of this analysis, it can be said that classical Marxism was bound to undergo a decline in the aftermath of the collapse of official Communism and the rapid expansion of the capitalist economy in the 1980s and 90s.

So is the current brand of “anti-imperialism”, with its lockstep adherence to the Kremlin’s talking points, also a reaction to changes in world capitalism? Undoubtedly, the stagnation that set in toward the late 90s and that only deepened after the 2007 meltdown have contributed to a sense of futility over capitalist growth. For many whose radicalism is paper-thin (i.e., most Noam Chomsky readers), the unit of analysis has become the nation-state rather than class. Why bother to interrogate class relations in Syria when the CIA has been sending rebels light weapons, after all? (The emphasis on light, of course.)

Into this stagnant ideological pool, it becomes possible for an American version of Golden Dawn to take root. Does this mean that fascism is on the agenda? I don’t think so. The main role of groups led by Spencer or Porazzo is to act as shock troops that are meant to embolden backward members of the working class and the petty-bourgeoisie to take their own actions in a thousand different ways, from insulting a woman wearing a hijab or a Black person walking in a white neighborhood. In other words, they will be trying to create the same climate of fear that exists in Europe even though they are not ready to begin attacking the picket lines of strikers on the rare occasions they materialize.

As was the case in the early Weimar Republic, the alt-right will be held in reserve. They can do damage now but not constitute an immediate threat to the American ruling class that much prefers bourgeois democracy, especially since it relies on the less expensive and less risky ideological hegemony rather than the truncheon.

May 3, 2017

Neofascism in the White House?

Filed under: Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm

Leftist analysis of the Trump presidency has ranged from those like Boris Kagarlitsky who believe that “Trump took to consistently fulfill everything that the Left in the US and Western Europe was talking about for a quarter century” to those who have seen him as the second coming of Adolf Hitler. Since Trump is such a mercurial figure, one day threatening to go to war with North Korea and the next saying that he’d like to meet with Kim Jong Un who he described as a “smart cookie”, developing a theory about “Trumpism” is like hitting a moving target.

I’ll give credit to John Bellamy Foster for trying to hit that target in “Neofascism in the White House”, a 15,000 word article that should be required reading since John Bellamy Foster is an important Marxist intellectual worth considering even when he is wrong. For Foster, the term neofascism is meant to convey the difference with Nazism or any of the other fascisms of the 1920s and 30s. Primarily, neofascism is marked by an absence of paramilitary violence in the streets, black shirts, brown shirts or Nazi Stormtroopers. The new fascism is what Bertram Gross called “Friendly Fascism” in a 1980 book. (Foster cites him approvingly).

Gross was a CUNY professor who held a number of government posts, including executive secretary of Truman’s Council of Economic Advisers. He had first advanced the notion of “friendly fascism” in a 1971 NY Times op-ed piece that sounded pretty much like the “new left” theories that were current back then largely under the influence of Herbert Marcuse:

Finally, direct repression would operate through, around, under and over the old constitutional procedures. The guiding principle—to be developed by an expanded Rand Corporation—would be to get a pound of terror from an ounce of schrecklichkeit [frightfulness]. This economizing would be facilitated by extensive use of indirect controls: welfare state benefits made conditional upon good behavior; credentialized meritocracy; accelerated consumerism; and market manipulation. Equally important would be extensive co‐optation to buy off the most intelligent leaders of dissident groups.

This polished and flexible form of public repression would need no charismatic dictator. It would require no one‐party rule, no mass fascist party, no glorification of the State, no dissolution of legislatures, no denial of reason. It would probably come slowly as a cancerous growth within and around the White House, the Pentagon, and the broader political establishment.

Accelerated consumerism? Extensive co-optation? Market manipulation? I don’t know quite how to put this but this “fascism” is not very neo. In fact, it describes the United States before Hitler was born.

Foster examines Hitler’s gleichschaltung, a term which meant “bringing into line” or—more concretely—the Nazification of the German state. This involved an assault on bourgeois democracy, from purging the universities and other dissident institutions such as the press and publishing houses to finally granting Hitler absolute power.

Will we see a Trumpist gleichschaltung? Foster admits that we will not see a repeat of the 1930s but warns about the “effective dissolution of the liberal-democratic order” and its replacement by the “alt-right”. However, this does not square with the unfolding events. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has replaced Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief adviser and his national security aide Sebastian Gorka is rumored to be fired soon over his alt-right connections. (Apparently, Foster must have written his article before the slid was greased for Bannon and Gorka, since he described them as prime movers in the Trump administration with no reference to their recent fall from grace.)

As each week passes by, the Trump administration is adopting the coloration of the Reagan administration with its decidedly non-populist “trickle down” economic policies and its heavily militarized foreign policy rather than anything ever proposed by the alt-right. This seems like Republican Party business as usual rather than anything “neofascist”.

Foster does not seem to connect Trump’s ideology—such as it is—with core Republican values, especially those of the Tea Party that now plays a dominant role. If Steve Bannon is Trump’s Joseph Goebbels, we must accept that some of his precepts are key to the White House’s neofascist program: the restoration of the “Judeo-Christian West” as the spiritual framework for a restored capitalism and the promotion of extreme ethno-nationalism targeting non-white immigrants. I am not sure if Foster watches much Fox-TV or listens to people like Michael Savage or Steve Deace on the radio, but this has been part of the core beliefs of the Republican Party for decades now. Ideologically, the only difference is opposition to “globalism” and a commitment to rebuilding the American economy through infrastructure projects like Hitler’s autobahn (or FDR’s public works projects for that matter.) But like much of Trump’s promises, these are empty. Jared Kushner came this close to concluding a deal that would have investors closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party pouring billions into his flagship property in New York. If that isn’t globalism, I don’t know what is. You can be sure that Trump’s “populism” was designed to win votes, not change society in the way that Tom Watson hoped.

Foster is rightfully concerned about Trump’s attempted ban on immigration from Muslim countries and his tongue-lashing of judges who overturned his order. We can be sure that Trump will fill vacancies in the Federal judiciary that reflect his own nativist agenda but that would have been true if his chief rival Ted Cruz had been elected President. This is how bourgeois democracy works, after all. Judges are appointed by the party in power. If Hillary Clinton had been elected President, she would have appointed people that continued Obama administration policies. By 2014 President Obama had deported over 2 million people – more in six years than all people deported between 1892 to 1997. Considering the onerous vetting restrictions imposed by Obama on immigrants from Syria, Somalia et al, there’s not much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans except the rhetoric.

As someone who rightfully earned the reputation as one of the most respected environmental scholars, you can understand why Foster would sound the alarm over Trump’s assault on climate change accords, his appointment of a man to lead the EPA who has a record of fighting its rulings, and opening up public land to energy exploration. But this is Republican Party policy. If Trump had a heart attack tomorrow, could we expect Mike Pence to retreat on any of these measures? Is it possible that neofascism is not Trump/Bannon but the Koch brothers, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ann Coulter and all the other creeps that have been pushing us back to the 1890s?

Considering the role of fascism as the last resort of the bourgeoisie against proletarian revolution, it is puzzling that Foster devotes only 6 sentences to the trade unions. While he is correct in pointing out that a “right to work” law is in the works, he neglects to mention that Trump has been lining up support from the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. Rich Trumka was not only pleased with Trump’s push for pipelines and stepped up drilling; he also saw eye to eye on immigration: “Will we partner with him to try to rewrite the immigration rules of the country? Absolutely because those will help workers, it will decrease the imbalance between corporate America and workers.”

Does this mean that the American working class is becoming part of this neofascist danger? Foster alluded to Hitler drawing “on a minority of the working class, disproportionately represented by more privileged blue-collar workers.” The problem is that a fascist movement, either “old school” or neo, is not really needed in the USA. Workers are not revolutionary. They are not even liberal in the sense of supporting affirmative action, gay rights, or other issues that were supposedly the cause of Hillary Clinton’s defeat. They tend to be for benefits like Medicare, Social Security and unemployment insurance but there is little indication that the Republicans intend to gut these programs, mainly because there is no need for that presently. If unemployment went up to 30 percent as was the case in the Weimar Republic and Trump slashed unemployment benefits in half, maybe then you’d find truck drivers or construction workers discussing Chris Hedges’s latest column. But American capitalism has a lot more wiggle room, even with competition from China.

Foster calls attention to Trump’s war on the media, the last battle being his baiting of John Dickerson on “Face the Nation”, a show he called “Deface the Nation” to the interviewer’s face. There might be a war being fought by Trump but there are very few victories so far. The NY Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and ten thousand websites continue to pillory the White House with no letting up. If you want to see how a press can be muted, you need to study Turkey, Russia or China where reporters and bloggers are routinely harassed, arrested or even killed. Trump will not silence the media by calling it “fake”. He will only succeed by sending the cops into their offices and hauling the staff off to jail where they will be tortured or killed. That is how fascism operates, not by calling names. Nixon was just as openly hostile to the press as Trump but that did not shut them up. (Then again, Nixon was supposed to be Adolf Hitler for much of the left in the 1970s.)

As someone who has been on the left since 1967, I have become somewhat inured to warnings about Nixon, Reagan, George Bush father and son, and now Trump posing a fascist threat. Unless you understand fascism, either old or neo, as dictatorship, you are not making much sense. Fascism does not operate by “indirect controls” as Bertram Gross put it. It operates through the truncheon, the kangaroo court, the suspension of constitutional rights and the total control over society by a single party whose Bonapartist ruler has absolute power.

There is zero possibility of Trump gaining such power over the next four years since there is no need for it. Even though Trump is a clumsy and self-defeating chief executive, he has control over Congress and likely the Supreme Court before long. The Democrats might defy him on key legislation but will likely go along with a “compromise” just the way they did when Ronald Reagan had meetings with Tip O’Neill over key legislation. It will be the same old shit for the next four years.

Timothy Snyder, an expert on totalitarian societies at least by academic standards, was interviewed by Salon on May first in an article warning that Trump “will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracy”. As most of you know, Salon has the same laser-like focus on Trump as MSNBC. Why? Because it is commercially advantageous.

The interview was prompted by Snyder’s new book titled “On Tyranny” that warns of the possibility of Trump using the next big terrorist attack as a Reichstag fire type incident to stage a coup. To be consistent, Snyder would have to say that if such a coup took place, the Connecticut state troopers and the FBI would come to Yale University and arrest him for subversive activities. Additionally, as is happening in Turkey today, every liberal or radical professor would have to be fired if they aren’t arrested and replaced by other professors who were loyal to the dictatorship’s gleichschaltung. Are there enough adjuncts available to fill their shoes, even if in the unlikely event that they could be relied upon to prepare classes based on the writings of Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos? Can you imagine that you were a doctor, lawyer or investment adviser spending $50,000 per year to send your kid to school where they would come out with a diploma that was worth about as much as the paper it was written on? They wanted their kid to be taught by Timothy Snyder, an academic superstar like Paul Krugman, not somebody with a degree from Oral Roberts University. And for what? Because someone set off a bomb in Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game or used an AK-47 on crowds watching the fireworks on July 4th? I don’t think so.

My recommendation for people believing such a thing as fascism or a coup happening in the USA over the next four years is to have a drink of cold water and read Corey Robin’s article in yesterday’s Guardian titled “Think Trump is an authoritarian? Look at his actions, not his words”. It is really quite astute:

Trump, in other words, has failed to fill 85% of the positions in the executive branch that he needs to fill in order to run the government to his specifications. It’s a strange kind of authoritarian who fails, as the first order of business, to seize control of the state apparatus: not because there’s been pushback from the Senate but because, in most instances, he hasn’t even tried.

Ah, Trump’s liberal and left critics will respond, but that failure to fill key positions is all part of the White House’s master plan. Back in February, Steve Bannon, Trump’s top strategist whose star lately has fallen, claimed that the administration’s goal was “the deconstruction of the administrative state”. As Bannon made clear, that was just a fancy way of describing the longstanding Republican goal of gutting rules and regulations the business class hates. What better way to do that than simply not staffing the agencies that are tasked with enforcing those rules and regulations?

There are two problems with this theory. First, Trump has failed to fill positions in departments and agencies he actually wishes to empower and expand. He’s only filled one out of 53 positions in the Pentagon, two out of 14 in the Department of Homeland Security, one out of seven positions in the intelligence agencies, one of out 28 positions in the treasury department, and almost none of the key positions in the justice department having to do with terrorism, drug crime prosecution and the like.

Second, many of those positions are not empty. Until Trump appoints someone to fill them, they will remain mostly occupied by holdovers from the Obama administration – who will continue to enforce the thousands of rules and regulations Obama passed and Trump hates.

Though Trump has had limited success overturning some of Obama’s rules through an obscure piece of legislation, the real work of deregulation and undoing Obama-era rules will require a much heavier lift that Trump is not yet in a position to execute.

Despite the fact that Trump, whose party is in control of all the elected branches of the federal government, has lost virtually every legislative battle he’s waged, and backed down from virtually every bluff he’s made, the faith in Trump’s power – not in his probity or purposes but in his ability to dominate the political scene – dies hard. And nowhere harder, it seems, than on the left.

 

April 8, 2017

Neo-Nazi leader hails Bashar al-Assad

Filed under: Fascism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:48 am

February 3, 2017

How Columbia students protested Nazis on campus in 1936

Filed under: Academia,Fascism — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume LX, Number 9, 6 October 1936

250 Students Parade In Torchlight March To Reinstate Burke
Teachers Union Passes Resolution Backing Campus Fight
Wechsler, Will Speak
Demonstrators Walk With Red Flares

Two hundred and fifty paraders demonstrated on the Columbia Campus last night in an attempt to reinstate Robert Burke, ousted Junior Class President. The demonstrators, who marched by the light of 300 Roman torches, paraded about the Campus, held three orderly mass meetings and finally broke up after more than two hours of shouting their feelings in the Burke case. The first mass meeting, which started at 7:45, was addressed by James A. Wechsler, editor of the Student Advocate and former editor of The Spectator, Albert Witt, member of the Student Council at the Heights center of New York University, and Burke. In a resolution made public last night, the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union condemned the action of Dean Herbert E. Hawkes in expelling Burke from Columbia College. Declaring that Dean Hawkes’ action was “clearly a violation of the right of students to assemble and to express their convictions on matters of social significance” the Teachers Union urged that the administration reinstate Burke.

Union Urges Burke Return

The resolution passed by the union follows in part: “Whereas, the objectives of the students’ demonstration were in accord with a resolution previously passed by the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union, in which the Union declared opposition to Columbia’s participation in the Heidelberg ceremonies because of the ruthless suppression of academic freedom in Heidelberg University and throughout Germany; “Therefore, we, the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union urge that the administration immediately reinstate Mr. Burke as a student of Columbia College and by such action affirm the right of student and faculty to free expression of opinion and recognize in practice the right of academic freedom which has long been a tradition on our Campus.” Burke, in appealing for a unified action stated: “The time has come to speak up, The Administration is clamping down! Either the student body will get together and fight as an integrated whole or we will be whipped.” Wechsler Asks Support Calling upon the assembled paraders to conduct an orderly meeting, Wechsler declared that “any disorders come from Dean Hawkes’ pets who get their line from his ‘ office.” Wechsler, scoring the whispering campaign now current on the Campus, urged the “hundreds who are not prepared to quit or run out or accept the flimsy apologetic excuses of the administration” to lend the full strength of their support to Burke.

After Witt spoke, the paraders marched through the Van Am Quadrangle, past South Hall and Furnald and out into Broadway. Shouting invitations to Barnard dormitory residents to join them, the demonstrators marched up Broadway to 120 th Street where they turned east and continued to Morningside Drive. Here the group, preceded by three of the twenty policemen who were on hand to ensure an orderly demonstration, turned South and marched toward the home of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler. Ceasing their shouts at 117 th Street the paraders filed past the President’s home in absolute silence, raising their hand in imitation of the Nazi salute as they passed the entrance. At 116 th Street, the demonstration returned to the Campus. Entering- upon the Van Quad again, the marchers, still shouting their demands to reinstate Burke and chanting that “Butler Wants Hitler But We Want Burke.” The group responded to the cry of “Water” from numerous dormitory windows with louder chants and demands. Leaving the Library steps, the marchers proceded to form a group at the Sun Dial. Here they were again addressed by Burke and Wechsler.

Wechsler again attacked the supporters of Burke who were afraid to come out in the open and lend him their aid. Burke thanked the crowd for its support and attacked Albert I. Edelman ‘3B Law, and Thomas Bandler ’37 who recently wrote letters to the editor of The Spectator condemning its action in supporting Burke and requesting that the entire incident be forgotten. In a resolution which was passed by the almost unanimous consent of the assembled crowd, Dean Hawkes and the administration were called upon to reinstate Burke. The full text of the resolution follows. “Resolved that this body believes the expulsion of Robert Burke to be a breach of academic freedom on the Columbia Campus.”

© 2012 Spectator Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Powered by Veridian

January 31, 2017

Don’t take your guns to town

Filed under: Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 6:35 pm

After writing a CounterPunch article last Friday on the black bloc and Richard Spencer getting suckered punched, I thought I had said everything that needed to be said about counterproductive ultraleft tactics but an article by Eric Ruder in the ISO newspaper convinced me otherwise.

Titled “How we made Montana Nazis back down”, Ruder explains how the left organized against a January 17th march in honor of James Earl Ray, the racist who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., that was to be held in Whitefish, Montana where Richard Spencer lives part-time and that was a project of Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the openly neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

The neo-Nazis called off their march for a variety of reasons but primarily because they realized that there was massive opposition in rural Montana and particularly within the town of Whitefish itself that despite its “red state” aura had been mobilizing against such groups for a long time.

I urge you to read Ruder’s entire article but want to call attention to something I found pretty disturbing:

Montana is an open-carry state. Consequently, when antifascist forces started talking about armed direct action, it created a real sense of panic. As I repeatedly explained to them in long-distance midnight calls, these antifascists had not laid any groundwork in introducing, much less, explaining themselves or their tactics. I could easily envision a confrontation between armed Nazis on one side and armed non-local anarchists on the other. Obviously, that would have been an unbelievable disaster in every respect.

The last time there was a confrontation between armed leftists and armed ultrarightists in the USA, the results were an “unbelievable disaster”. I am very glad that Eric and the ISO were on the spot to defend a mass action perspective and persuade the anarchist comrades to avoid such tactics.

In fact, it was not anarchists that came out on the losing end of a past confrontation. The victims were self-described Marxists of the Communist Workers Party—a Maoist sect that was founded in 1973 as the Asian Study Group by Jerry Tung, a former member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). When I was a member of CISPES in the early 80s, I worked alongside an African-American CWPer named Ron Ashford who frankly admitted that they had made a terrible mistake by bring guns to an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.

Another Maoist group named the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective that I know nothing about wrote an analysis of what went wrong that I urge you to read on the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line  (ie. Maoist) section of the Marxism Internet Archives.

On November 3, 1979 members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the name of the group at the time, had gathered near a predominantly Black housing project for a “Death to the Klan” rally. At 11:20 a caravan of cars and trucks filled with Klan members came driving by slowly. As the vehicles passed by, CWP members began beating them with sticks obviously spoiling for a fight. The Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson article described what happened next:

Meanwhile the Klansmen and Nazis pile out of their cars; some of them wave handguns in the air and then begin shooting into the milling crowd of demonstrators. Other Klansmen get rifles and shotguns from the van and the trunk of a car and begin firing into the crowd. A few WVO members have small handguns. While the onlookers, press and some WVO members have taken cover by this time, a number of WVO members make no attempt to take cover even though they are heavily outgunned. The Klan is able to fire repeatedly into this group of WVO members with high powered rifles and shotguns at distances of several yards or less.

Four CWP members died that day, and another a few days later. Others were wounded. Meanwhile, the police arrested two CWP’ers for inciting to riot and interfering with the police.

The CWP chose tactics just as inappropriate to the struggle in the period leading up to this disaster. On July 8th, the Klan, which was trying to build up a following in this part of North Carolina after the fashion of the alt-right in Whitefish, was showing the pro-KKK film “Birth of a Nation” in China Grove, a town not far from Greensboro. The Maoists launched a surprise attack on the screening and sent the Klan scattering. Afterwards, the CWP’ers returned triumphantly to their cars, got their guns, and marched up and down the streets of the small town.

Bob Avakian’s RCP cult-sect was operating in the area as well, competing with Tung’s group for who could come up with more adventurist tactics. When four of their members showed up to confront 50 or more KKK’ers at a library exhibit about the Klan in nearby Winston-Salem, the cops narrowly prevented another massacre. The people who went on to form the Cabral/Robeson collective had been in the RCP at the time. The library confrontation made them decide to leave the group after witnessing “the utter degeneration of the RCP into a band of ultra-left idiots”, something that led them to decide that “the struggle we had been waging to correct its line from the inside for almost a year was hopeless.”

In March, 1979 the CWP began building a “Death to the Klan” conference in Greensboro by passing out this leaflet. Get their proclamation about being opposed to both non-violence and racism, as if the two were equally evil? Sheer madness:

We are against Non-Violence and Racism and for Armed Self-Defense. We should beat the hell out of the Klan wherever we find them! These Dogs have no right to exist! The Klan has no support among the people, only hatred and disgust. In China Grove, the People, helped by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, drove the scum Klansmen into a building and burned their Confederate Flag before their eyes.

Summing up the Greensboro massacre, the Cabral/Robeson Collective wrote words that should be uppermost in the mind of anybody foolish enough to consider emulating the November 3rd disaster:

November 3rd and the sequence of events leading up to it was an exercise in “left” adventurist suicide. Entranced by their fantasies of themselves as revolutionary heroes, the WVO engaged in a wild escapade that was just as successful in achieving their own murders as if they had set out with that purpose in mind. In fact, many people in the Black community as well as the press have raised the possibility that the WVO leadership did have in mind achieving the murder of some of their members either in order to gain publicity or because some of the leaders were police agents.

While I am the last person to urge following Lenin’s party in a dogmatic fashion, it is useful to consider how they dealt with the Black Hundreds, which arguably was the very first fascist organization of the 20th century. This Czarist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and clerical party was very much in the mold of Italian and German fascism even if it made no effort to adopt “national socialist” rhetoric. They had a militia called the Yellow Shirts that anticipated the Brown and Black shirts of Italy and Germany.

It should be noted, by the way, that the Black Hundreds were vehemently anti-Ukrainian and were just as prone to breaking up meetings of Ukrainian cultural associations as in organizing pogroms against the Jews. It is no coincidence that a newly formed Black Hundreds group exists in Eastern Ukraine, holding rallies that denounce Jews and call for the reestablishment of the Czarist Empire.

Is there any indication that the Russian Social Democracy, either the Bolshevik or Menshevik factions, ever formed militias to take on the Yellow Shirts in the way that the CWP took on the KKK? I invite you to check the Marxist Internet Archives, where you will find nearly zero evidence of that. The Russian Social Democracy fought the Black Hundreds politically in the same way that the good people of Whitefish, Montana took on the alt-right except when the objective conditions had ripened to the point of open revolutionary struggle. In 1905, which was a dress rehearsal for 1917, the socialists of Borisoglebsk circulated a leaflet that stated it was: “starting a subscription for the organisation of armed self-defence, and invites all those whose sympathies do not lie with the government and the Black Hundreds to help in the organisation of self-defence groups with money and arms.”

Of course, those who are operating under the illusion that 2017 USA is similar to Russia in 1905 might try the same approach. However, if you can’t tell the difference between the first month and the ninth month of a pregnancy, you are likely to end up with an abortion.

Speaking of yellow, black and brown shirts, we had a group in the USA during the 1930s that was called the Silver Shirts in homage to the fascist groups that preceded it.

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 the Trotskyist-led Local 544 of the Teamsters union 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.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the defense guard members had left their guns at home.

December 30, 2016

Alone in Berlin; Sophie Scholl–the Final Days

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism,Film — louisproyect @ 5:40 pm

Alone, Resisting the Nazis

Seven years ago, when I heard that Hans Fallada’s novel “Alone in Berlin” had been translated into English, I immediately borrowed a copy from the Columbia library and began reading about the elderly couple who had secretly distributed anti-Nazi postcards in public places after their only son had been killed in combat during the German invasion of France in 1940. As the novel was 544 pages and had to compete with other reading tasks that had higher priority at the time, I was forced to put it aside after 60 or so pages.

After seeing a press screener for the film based on the novel that opens at the IFC Center in New York City on January 13th, I plan to take the book out again and give it my highest priority. That’s what a powerful film will do—inspire you to read the original, in this case a work based on a true story.

As the film closes, you will see a dedication to the couple that it was based on: Otto and Elise Hampel, a working-class couple (he was a factory worker; she cleaned apartments) that composed postcards calling for the overthrow of Hitler and left them in public places around Berlin. They were eventually caught, tried, and beheaded in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison in April 1943. The title of Fallada’s novel was meant to convey the determination of the couple to act against Hitler, even if they were “alone” in doing so. As Fallada’s character Otto Quangel tells his wife Anna once they begin their fearless but desperate campaign, the death of their son—their only reason for living—has left them free to act in an unfree society. More existential than political, their choice was the only one that presented itself to Germans of conscience in 1940, when support for Hitler was at its height.

Made in France but using English actors, the film benefits from a first-rate screenplay co-written by director Vincent Perez and the husband and wife team Achim and Borries von Borries (Achim wrote the very fine screenplay for “Goodbye, Lenin!”, a film that had the nerve to find good things to say about Communist East Germany). Perez, of Spanish descent but who grew up in Spain, started off as an actor and given his being cast in the lead role of Ashe Corven in the dark thriller “The Crow: City of Angels”, you might wonder what drew him to this project. The press notes explain why:

For Perez, Fallada’s book had great, personal significance. On his father’s side, Perez’s family is from Spain. His grandfather fought for the Republicans against Franco’s Fascist regime during the Spanish Civil War and was executed for it while his family on his mother’s side is German and fled Nazi Germany. “My mother was born in 1939 but they, like many millions, joined the Exodus, walking for five years, then coming back after the war,” he explains. “When you have German blood it raises so many questions I needed to find the answers to, and through that book I found some amazing things. Reading Fallada forced me to build up a family history.”

Read full article

December 26, 2016

Ben Norton completes his Stalinist turn

Filed under: conservatism,Fascism,Spain,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

Ben Norton

When someone posted a link to Ben Norton’s attack on George Orwell, my first reaction was to shrug it off. Ever since the lad got fired from Salon for what some speculate as violating their rules against writing for other publications, he has lost his bully pulpit for spreading Assadist lies. (Who really knows if he was canned for writing an article for Intercept? I doubt it was incompetence since Salon’s bar is set rather low in that regard.) Although I have my own problems with Orwell, I was more interested in Norton’s rather crude and reactionary take on Trotskyism that amounts to a defense of Stalin’s betrayal of the Spanish revolution. It has been quite some time since I have had to bother with writing about the Spanish Civil War. To kill two birds with one stone, I hope to demonstrate how Norton has capitulated to Stalinism as well as to make some points about how Franco achieved his victory. Considering the fact that Bashar al-Assad is today’s Generalissimo Franco, it is not surprising that Norton can get Spain so wrong.

Norton writes:

Apologists insist Orwell simply “sold out” later in life and became a cranky conservative, yet the story is more complex. Orwell had a consistent political thread throughout his life. This explains how he could go from fighting alongside a Spanish Trostkyist militia in a multi-tendency war against fascism to demonizing the Soviet Union as The Real Enemy — before returning home to imperial Britain, where he became a social democratic traitor who castigated capitalism while collaborating with the capitalist state against revolutionaries trying to create socialism.

If you take the trouble to clink the link for “a social democratic traitor”, you’ll discover an article written by Norton in 2014 that has not a word about betrayal. In fact, it is the sort of Dr. Jekyll politics he adhered to as a member of the ISO until he turned into Mr. Hyde at Salon. The article, titled “George Orwell, the Socialist” makes useful points, among them:

Schools prefer propagating binary ideological thinking: “Orwell was opposed to Soviet ‘totalitarianism,’ therefore he was not a ‘socialist,’ therefore he was a capitalist, therefore he supported the capitalist West,” the unspoken logic habitually goes. Orwell’s opposition to capitalism is almost never presented, nor is his advocacy of (democratic) socialism.

It is not only schools that prefer propagating binary ideological thinking. It is also the neo-Stalinist left that has rallied around Bashar al-Assad, including Norton, Max Blumenthal, Rania Khalek, Yoshie Furuhashi, the Socialist Action sect, John Rees et al. By reducing the war in Syria to a geopolitical chess game in which the USA is responsible for everything that has gone wrong, they let Putin and Assad off the hook.

Most of Norton’s article refers to “Animal Farm”, a work that was widely viewed as Cold War propaganda but that was primarily about the Stalinist counter-revolution seen in metaphorical terms. There are some on the left who view it this way, including John Newsinger who defended Orwell’s politics in a 1994 book. Norton characterizes the Orwell who wrote a “snitch” letter to British censors as “the first in a long line of Trots-turned-neocons”, including Christopher Hitchens, yet there is little evidence that either Orwell or even Hitchens had much in common ideologically with men like Paul Wolfowitz or Robert Kagan who were ferociously neoliberal.

For the most part, it was ex-Communists rather than ex-Trotskyists who helped to shape Cold War ideology, such as the six men whose “confessions” can be found in “The God that Failed”: Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright. By comparison, Orwell never wrote anything like this in his later years unless you believe that “1984” and “Animal Farm” were ringing endorsements of Washington and London. In “1984”, the world was divided into hostile camps with London just as culpable of totalitarian control as Moscow. With respect to “Animal Farm”, let’s not forget that the farmers invaded their former realm in exactly the same manner as the 21 invading armies sought to destroy Soviet power.

I have my own problems with Orwell, especially his snitching, but he has much to offer the left. Just read “Homage to Catalonia”, a work far more useful than the Daily Worker articles from 1936 that Norton is channeling. I can say the same thing about Alexander Cockburn, who Norton cites in his article as an authority on this tarnished hero of “the non-Communist left”. I have learned a lot from Cockburn just I have learned a lot from Orwell. I can forgive Orwell for his snitching just as I can forgive Cockburn for allowing CounterPunch to turn into a haven for Islamophobes like Mike Whitney, Andre Vltchek and Pepe Escobar.

As for Hitchens, despite Cockburn’s deep animus for him, the two had something in common with each other when it came to “jihadists”. The difference between them on Iraq in 2003 and Syria after 2011 is paper-thin, after all. Both of these journalists were all too ready to back outside intervention when it came to defeating “al Qaeda” even if it was being administered by a MIG rather than an F-16. In 1980, Cockburn wrote a Village Voice column that stated: “I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it’s Afghanistan. Nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets. and unspeakably cruel too.”

Nobody’s perfect, not even Ben Norton whose musings on Syria—and worse his ghoulish tweets—are informed by the same Orientalism as Cockburn’s Voice article. I can say this, however. If Norton lived for a thousand years, he never would be capable of writing a single sentence that would rank with Orwell or Cockburn.

There are three paragraphs in Norton’s article that really stick out like a sore thumb, combining his more recent turn toward the Assad/Putin/Iran reactionary bloc with more traditional Stalinist ideology:

Sure, the USSR did a lot of objectionable things, but it was also the only large country in the entire world that supported the Spanish Republicans in their fight against fascism (excluding a bit of extra support from Mexico). The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

Orwell’s politics are social chauvinist in the rawest sense. It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

Let’s start with the rather stupid observation: “The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.”

I have no idea whether Norton understood what happened in Spain when he was a properly educated ISO member and now rejects it or simply was too intellectually challenged to ever understand the material available to him from state capitalist sources. Or maybe he was just too shallow to ever bother reading something like Tony Cliff’s “Trotsky: The darker the night the brighter the star”.

As it happens, Norton’s business about defeating the fascist counterrevolution before making the revolution is virtually word for word the same as Spanish Popular Front Prime Minister Largo Caballero’s “First we must win the war and afterwards we can talk of revolution.”

Largo Caballero, who was supported by both the Communists and anarchists, sought to restore bourgeois normalcy in Spain as the first step in defeating Franco. This meant first and foremost eradicating all forms of “dual power” in Spain that were substantial.

Workers and peasant committees had to give way to the rule of the central government as Cliff reports:

IN THE WEEKS after 19 July 1936 struggle continued between proletarian power – in the form of factory and militia committees on the one hand, and the Republican government on the other. The latter won.

One further step to consolidating the power of the bourgeois state was taken on 27 October – a decree disarming the workers.

Steps were also taken to restore the bourgeois police.

In the first months after July 19, police duties were almost entirely in the hands of the workers’ patrols in Catalonia and the ‘militias of the rearguard’ in Madrid and Valencia … The most extraordinary step in reviving the bourgeois police was the mushroom growth of the hitherto small customs force, the Carabineros, under Finance Minister Negrín, into a heavily armed pretorian guard of 40,000.

On 28 February [1937] the Carabineros were forbidden to belong to a political party or a trade union or to attend their mass meetings. The same decree was extended to the Civil and Assault Guards thereafter. That meant quarantining the police against the working class …

By April the militias were finally pushed out of all police duties in Madrid and Valencia.

A comparison Franz Borkenau made of an impression of life in Spain between a first visit in August 1936 and a second in January-February 1937 is very instructive:

The troops were entirely different from the militia I had known in August. There was a clear distinction between officers and men, the former wearing better uniforms and stripes. The pre-revolutionary police force, asaltos and Guardia Civil (now ‘Guardia Nacional Republicana’), were very much in evidence … neither guardia nor asaltos made the least attempt to appear proletarian.

A further vivid description of life in Barcelona at the end of April 1937 comes from the pen of George Orwell:

Now things were returning to normal. The smart restaurants and hotels were full of rich people wolfing expensive meals, while for the working-class population food prices had jumped enormously without any corresponding rise in wages. Apart from the expensiveness of everything, there were recurrent shortages of this and that, which, of course, always hit the poor rather than the rich. The restaurants and hotels seemed to have little difficulty in getting whatever they wanted, but in the working-class quarters the queues for bread, olive oil, and other necessaries were hundreds of yards long. Previously in Barcelona I had been struck by the absence of beggars; now there were quantities of them. Outside the delicatessen shops at the top of the Ramblas gangs of bare-footed children were always waiting to swarm round anyone who came out and clamour for scraps of food. The ‘revolutionary’ forms of speech were dropping out of use. Strangers seldom addressed you as  and camarada nowadays; it was usually señor and UstedBuenos días was beginning to replace salud. The waiters were back in their boiled shirts and the shop workers were cringing in their familiar manner … In a furtive indirect way the practice of tipping was coming back … cabaret shows and high-class brothels, many of which had been closed by the workers’ patrols, had promptly reopened.

I strongly recommend reading Cliff’s entire chapter on Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution to get the whole story on how Franco achieved victory over a self-destructive Spanish Republic leadership as well as reviewing the Marxism Internet Archive’s very fine resource page  on the Spanish Civil War that include articles by Leon Trotsky and Felix Morrow whose “Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain” can be read in its entirety there as well.

I am struck by Orwell’s description of how things were returning to normal. “The smart restaurants and hotels were full of rich people wolfing expensive meals, while for the working-class population food prices had jumped enormously without any corresponding rise in wages.”

Isn’t this exactly how some reporters describe life in Damascus except for those like Vanessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett for whom the working-class does not exist? As outright supporters of Syria’s Franco, this is understandable but what is more difficult to understand is how people like Norton, who at least demonstrates an affinity for the Popular Front’s desire for bourgeois democratic normalcy, would end up as a kind of fascist apologist.

What accounts for someone educated in Marxist politics (speaking charitably) such as Norton ending up adopting the anti-Marxist sentiments of Largo Caballero, whose opposition to socialist revolution was primarily responsible for Franco’s victory?

I would say that the left is dealing with neo-Stalinist tendencies today that share many of the same impulses as those demonstrated by the original. Norton writes:

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

This business about living comfortable lives in imperialist countries is pure demagogy as if Norton, who apparently comes from wealth himself, ever had to duck barrel bombs in hipster Brooklyn. With respect to “ideological purity”, this is a very telling complaint. What Norton is trying to say is that Marxism does not serve his goals. When class politics interfere with a career in journalism, why remain committed to them? The journals that he aspires to write for have little use for the sort of class rigor found in Leon Trotsky, whose ideas would only appeal to those who have made up their mind that socialism is the only alternative to barbarism, not the renewed Democratic Party called for in countless Salon, Huffington Post, Alternet, CommonDreams and Nation Magazine articles

Norton finally connects the dots between his Assadism and Popular Front Stalinism in the third paragraph cited above, issuing questionable statements such as this:

It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

One assumes that he is referring to the ISO here since it is the only group on the left of any significance that has opposed both Assad and the late Fidel Castro. But what evidence is there that the ISO admires Orwell? The only reference to Orwell in the entire ISO website is this: “As George Orwell said in Why I Write, good prose is like a window pane. He meant good writing doesn’t draw attention to itself, but to the ideas, facts and events that the writing is about.”

I believe that this makes perfect sense, even if the man who wrote the words was capable of exercising poor judgement in “naming names”. I only wish that Norton would have stumbled across this during the time he spent in the ISO since he is so flawed when it comes to drawing attention to ideas, facts and events in his sad attempt at professional journalism.

December 20, 2016

The amulet on David Icke’s sweater

Filed under: Fascism,immigration,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.

Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism”, (June, 1933)

This month there were meetings in San Francisco and Oakland featuring “journalist” Eva Bartlett and Veterans for Peace leader Gerry Condon about their trip to government-controlled parts of Aleppo with a “brief intro” by Jeff Mackler of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). UNAC had joined ANSWER and the International Action Center (IAC) in co-sponsoring this Baathist love-fest.

Mackler is also the leader of Socialist Action, a tiny Trotskyist sect that aspires to reconstruct James P. Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party. He is also one of the people who convinced me to join the SWP’s youth group in 1967. Like Workers World Party (WWP) that runs the IAC and the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL) that runs ANSWER, Mackler’s group operates on a Manichean understanding of world politics. Divided between the “evil” West and the “good” anti-imperialist realm, there is little room for contradiction. In 1938 Leon Trotsky wrote an article “Learn to Think” that addressed the Jeff Macklers of his day. This sums it up:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

I wonder what Mackler would have said in his introductory remarks about Eva Bartlett, who along with Vanessa Beeley and Rick Sterling serve on the steering committee of the misnamed Syria Solidarity Movement and constitute the openly Assadist wing of the left. While most on the left view Assad as a lesser evil to the “jihadists”, Bartlett and her cohorts are a virtual fan club.

As should be obvious at this point in history, people like Bartlett—nominally on the left—share their pro-Assad agenda with open supporters of fascism such as David Duke and Aleksander Dugin, the Russian ideologue who has close ties to the Kremlin.

I have been aware of Bartlett’s rancid propagandizing for some time now but was curious to follow up on a lead that showed up on my FB timeline about Bartlett having the gall to make appearances on the David Icke show. Who and what was David Icke?

I suppose that he might be described as Britain’s Alex Jones but that would only be scratching the surface. He has a website titled “David Icke: exposing the Dreamworld” that would naturally pose the question about what exactly the “dreamworld” is. In 2010 Icke wrote a book titled “Human Race Get Off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More” that according to Wikipedia advances the proposition that “the Earth and collective human mind are manipulated from the Moon, a spacecraft and inter-dimensional portal controlled by the reptilians.”

reptilians

These reptilians spawned something called the Babylonian Brotherhood, practically interchangeable with the Illuminati, that were a mixture of ET’s and humans, sort of like the creatures who used to bedevil Mulder and Scully on the X-Files except that Icke believed that they were real. In an interview with The Scotsman in January 30, 2006 titled “The Royal Family are bloodsucking alien lizards”, he made it clear that he wasn’t referring to Queen Elizabeth and company in metaphorical terms:

Mr Icke, 53, claims the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are shape-shifters who drink human blood to look like us.

And the father-of-three says a race of half-human, half-alien creatures has infiltrated all the world’s key power positions.

He claims the US president, George W Bush, and his father, the former president, George Bush, are both giant lizards who change into humans.

Mr Icke, a professional speaker who has published 16 books, believes that the alien hybrids were behind the “murders” of Princess Diana and John F Kennedy, as well as the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

He claims the only reason that the public cannot see this is because we are obsessed by popular culture, such as EastEnders and Coronation Street, and Page Three girls.

On his website, Icke has an interview with one William Mills Tompkins who is described as “one of the most important witnesses to come forward revealing details about the Secret Space Program and human interactions with ETs. He details the German alliances with Reptilians and Dracos, the infiltration of NASA by these beings as well as the positive contribution by the Nordics to our secret space program over decades since at least the 1920s and perhaps earlier.”

Around a decade ago I was contacted by someone from either RT.com or Iran’s Press TV (can’t remember which) about making an appearance. I said no thanks and left it at that. As shitty as my reputation was on the left, I still held myself above Russian and Iranian propaganda outlets. I can sort of understand why Bartlett would be making frequent appearances there but why David Icke?

If Icke was just some wacko writing books that sounded like the plot of a science fiction novel written under the combined influence of LSD and rheumatic fever, you might think that the connection with Bartlett did not have that much political significance. But as it turns out, Icke is as tuned in to the Baathist fascist death cult as he is in to Reptilians from outer space. His website is studded with crossposted articles from Assad’s propaganda machine, including the usual “false flag” material that pervades this netherworld like shit stains in the crotch of one’s underwear.

Bartlett’s appearances on Icke’s website originate on something called “The Richie Allen Show”, an Infowars-like radio streaming show that has featured David Duke in a debate with the host about racial identity. I am not sure how much of a debate that could have been given the nativist cesspool Icke has constructed.

In 1994, Icke came out with a book titled “The Robots’ Rebellion” that endorsed the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, an anti-Semitic book that inspired pogroms in Czarist Russia. More recently, he has joined with the European nativist movements such as UKIP and France’s National Front in viewing immigration as a threat to white European identity. He appeared on Infowars in 2014 to share his hostility toward refugees from war and poverty with Jones, who has provided a platform for Donald Trump on occasion.

In 1991, Icke was in the habit of wearing turquois clothing because it was the color of “purity”. At the time he saw himself as a latter-day Jesus Christ and was fond of making predictions about the end of the world that failed to materialize.

This interview shattered his reputation at the time, such as it was, and he retreated into private life. After some years, he resurfaced as the typical European fascist ideologue who is as bent on scapegoating immigrants as Hitler was of the Jews.

Some of you might know of Bill Weinberg who was the host of an interesting show on WBAI called Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade for 20 years. In 2011, he resigned from WBAI because he thought it was adapting to rightwing, conspiracist shows especially around 9/11 theories. Called on the carpet from station management for criticizing such shows on his own program, Weinberg promised to refrain. But he could not keep silent when the station began airing comments by Icke. The NY Times reported on Weinberg’s departure:

“The output of the lugubrious mini-industry which has sprung up around 9/11 conspiranoia has become increasingly toxic over the passing years,” Mr. Weinberg said on the air. “The most innocent of the DVDs and books are just poorly researched, merely exchanging the rigid dogma of the ‘official story’ for another rigid dogma, no more founded in empiricism or objectivity. But, not surprisingly, lots of creepy right-wing types have got on board, using 9/11 as the proverbial thin end of a wedge.”

This sort of toxic sludge can be found in a number of Assadist websites that combine 9/11 theories with unending and often ludicrous attempts to smear Syrian rebels as perpetrators of “false flag” incidents, including VoltaireNet, Off-Guardian and Global Research. That they overlap with outright fascist platforms such as Infowars and David Icke’s website should have provoked some soul-searching long ago. Unfortunately, these people sold their soul to the devil long ago and will likely continue to cheer on mass murder and ethnic cleansing for the foreseeable future.

Maybe there’s hope that at least one pro-Assad activist has their number. Sukant Chandan has been a forceful opponent of the Brexit-inspired nativism that has led to attacks on immigrants, singling out Dugin, Alex Jones, David Icke and “The Syrian Girl” by name:

Will be interesting to note how many people are following Dugin or taking his money in my networks. Please do indicate if this is the case. If you don’t appreciate what Dugin and his ideology is, then you are in danger for falling for this far right colonial shit as something ‘radical’.

This problem of far right ideologies parading as ‘radical’ is present all around us, it manifests in David Icke, Alex Jones, Mimi Laham [the Syrian Girl who has argued that Syrians are Aryan not Arab], and others: they all sound slightly different to each other but its the same framework of adopting and internalising European fascist thought.

Dugin is a far right Russian leader, he adopts the European imperialist fascist/far right ideology and transplants it onto Asia, especially Eurasia and postures this as some kind of defence and ‘radicalism’. I believe in a Eurasian anti-imperialist strategy, but not this, and I am wholly in counter opposition to this. His ideological approach is to argue that basically this ‘Eurasianists’ can ally with the people of the Middle East against basically the USA, and seeks to and does ally with the far right across europe.

This Dugin shit basically intends to force Eurasian peoples into a European white supremacist framework, and this is also an anti-African and anti-Asian ideology, as it just leaves out African and Asian people for the most, my hunch is cos it hates them unless they adopt this European far right framework of self identifying themselves politically and culturally.

I doubt that we are on the eve of anything like the fascist totalitarianism that descended upon Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the 1920s and 30s but there is little doubt that fascist ideology is spreading across the entire world. As Trotsky pointed out in his 1933 article, we are dealing with people who have inexhaustible reserves “of darkness, ignorance, and savagery”.

Today’s NY Times reported that the fascist Freedom Party in Austria that was founded in the 1950s by ex-Nazis and narrowly lost the recent election to a Green Party candidate has worked out a cooperation agreement with Putin and also met with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s designated national security adviser.

Putin assigned Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy to his party’s general secretary, to hammer out an agreement with the Austrian fascists who he welcomed at United Russia’s party headquarters. The NY Times stated that Mr. Zheleznyak specifically mentioned Europe’s “migration crisis” as a field for cooperation.

Keep your powder dry, comrades. We are in for a stormy ride.

October 14, 2016

Three documentaries of note

Filed under: drugs,Fascism,Film,Jewish question,prison — louisproyect @ 8:25 pm

If there is any justification at this point for continuing a Netflix membership, it is the opportunity to see Werner Herzog’s new documentary about volcanoes on October 28th, which will be opening the same day at the IFC Center in New York. Titled “Inside the Inferno” and produced by Netflix itself, it is echt Herzog and qualified on that basis alone for putting it on your must-see list.

The film is co-directed by Clive Oppenheimer who is one of the world’s leading volcanologists and a constant presence throughout the film as he visits villages near major active volcanoes around the world, including Vanuatu, a group of islands about 1000 miles east of northern Australia. Oppenheimer alternates with Herzog in interviewing village elders who maintain prescientific notions about spirits dwelling within the volcanoes. The co-directors have an uncanny ability to accept those beliefs in a respectful manner.

Speaking in terms of auteur theory, this documentary is obviously connected with Herzog’s major preoccupation—living at the edges of society and often in the face of some peril. If his “Grizzly Man” was an object lesson in getting too close to bears in the Alaskan wilderness, his latest is a reminder that scientists like Oppenheimer take as big a chance with their lives in their own pursuit.

In one of the more gripping scenes, we see the final moments of husband-and-wife volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft as an avalanche of lava comes pouring off Mount Unzen in Japan toward them on June 3, 1991. Herzog took considerable risks in making the film himself, at one point filming on the precipice of an active volcano that erupted as the cameras rolled, thankfully beneath life-threatening levels. As you would expect, the cinematography is breathtaking. If there is anything that evokes Inferno, it is the roiling crimson flames in the bowels of an active volcano.

The good Werner Herzog relates to volcanologists in more or less the same manner as he did to the computer scientists in “Lo and Behold” that pioneered the Internet. His interest is less in how volcanoes came to be in scientific terms but how they feel about what they are doing. With his raspy voice and quizzical tone, he is perfectly suited to playing the role of an interlocutor seeking deeper wisdom about the human condition.

As a perfect complement to its dazzling cinematography, “Into the Inferno” features a perfectly matched soundtrack consisting mostly of liturgical chorale music, including from the Russian Orthodoxy. When you hear “Dies Irae” as lava pours down the side of a mountain, the hair on your arms will stand up.

In a perfect Herzogian moment, the crew goes to North Korea where they film military cadets marching and singing on their way to Mount Paektu, an object of veneration by the family dynasty as a base for the revolution. When Herzog asks a North Korean volcanologist in his pricelessly raspy voice about the significance of the volcano, he replies in what can only be described as a quasi-religious tribute to the rulers of this sad but intriguing nation. You can’t escape feeling that there is not much difference between him and the chieftains in Vanuatu.

In the press notes, there’s an exchange with the 74-year old director who shows no sign of slowing down. It is about as revealing a look into his artistic psyche that can be imagined.

You recently said of yourself, “I’m a curious person. That’s the key to everything.” Given that you could have made a film about anything at this point in your career, why volcanoes?

There’s a long prehistory. In 1976, I made a film on La Soufrière, the volcano in the Caribbean that was about to explode. At that time I was not so interested in the volcano itself but in the attitude of one single poor farmer who had refused to be evacuated. Seventy-five thousand people were evacuated but he stayed behind. He was somehow defiant and had a different attitude toward death. And then the second part of the prehistory is the film I made ten years ago, Encounters at the End of the World. I was in Antarctica and up on Mount Erebus and that’s where I ran into Clive Oppenheimer, and we became friends and kept talking that we should do a film about volcanoes. And also what pushed it a little bit was his book Eruptions That Shook the World. So it was step by step into this film.

What was the most interesting thing about volcanoes that you learned as you were making Into the Inferno?

Scientifically, that the atmosphere that we are breathing was created by volcanoes. As far as I understand, the earth’s atmosphere was methane and it changed into what we are breathing today because of volcanic activity.

The most surprising thing about volcanoes?

That they’re more unpredictable than I would admit. We were in some danger in a volcano in Indonesia, which exploded only a few days after we were filming there, and seven farmers were killed pretty much where we had had our camera.

How did you feel when you heard that that had happened just a week after you’d been there?

What can I say? I just knew we were lucky. When you are working with the camera you believe you are safe, as if the camera is a perfect shield against all sorts of mishaps.

When I got the press release for “Trezoros”, the Ladino word for treasures, I hesitated about getting a screener since I tend to avoid holocaust type films:

Imagine a vibrant community of people getting along for centuries – Christians, Jews, others, – until the onset of WW II. Even under the Italians, the Greek Jews of Kastoria enjoyed a simple life. However, once the Italians left and the Nazi’s took over, Kastoria’s Jews became victim to the same fate as many of their fellow Jews in Eastern Europe. Of the 1000 Jews who were rounded up by the Nazi’s, only 26 returned and it marked the end of this community. Director Larry Russo’s family was impacted by this and his is one of many stories in this film.

Thank goodness I overcame my doubts that were largely influenced by the Spielbergian idiom that such films, either narrative or documentary, usually adopt because of their manipulative predictability.

What makes “Trezoros” so exceptional is its ability to tell the story of how Jews and Christians lived in complete harmony in Kastoria, Greece in the years before fascism. Kastoria was a small city near the border with Albania that incorporated the ethos of the Ottoman Empire that left its stamp on Greece from the period of its rule from the mid-15th century to the formation of the modern Greek state in 1832. Despite its imperial grip on subject peoples, the Ottoman rulers were much less interested in imposing religious and cultural orthodoxy as was the case with the British or lesser European colonial powers. In practice this meant that Christians, Jews and Muslims could live together in harmony as Mark Mazower pointed out in his “Salonica, City of Ghosts”.

Kastoria was virtually a pint-sized version of Salonica. Christians and Jews got along famously as the elderly Greek Orthodox citizens and Jewish survivors attested to director Larry Russo, who is descended from a Jewish family in Kastoria. The Jews of Kastoria were mostly shopkeepers or in the fur business, in other words the same kind of occupations they held in most of Europe with one difference, however. The Kastorian Jews came as a result of the Spanish expulsion during the Inquisition when they streamed eastward toward nations that were far more tolerant, especially those ruled by the Ottomans. These so-called Sephardic Jews did not speak Yiddish. Their native tongue was Ladino, a language close to Spanish that was written in Hebrew letters.

In a stunning display of vintage photographs and home movies that Russo dug up, we are brought back to Kastoria in its halcyon days. It brings Greece of the early 20th century alive in a way that I could not have dreamed possible. For example, we not only learn that Kastoria relied on a town crier, who happened to be a long-bearded Jew, but see him on his daily rounds. Amazing.

The harmony of Kastoria was broken by the rise of fascism but ironically not under Italian rule. Interviewees give the Italian fascist troops credit for not victimizing Jews. However, after Mussolini was overthrown, the Nazis took control of Greece including Kastoria. As this was the period following the Wannsee Conference with its “Final Solution”, it did not take long for the thousand Jews of Kastoria to be rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Among the survivors, we hear from brother and sister Beni Elias and his sister Lena Russo who is the director’s aunt. They speak with great dignity and emotion, not once forgetting how much they loved Kastoria.

“Trezoros” opens today at the Cinema Village in New York and I recommend it highly.

Finally, there is “Incarcerating US”, a documentary about how the “war on drugs” has resulted in a massive expansion of the prison population. It is available from Bullfrog Films, a distributor of leading edge documentaries and narrative films that makes them available at reduced rates to activist and grassroots groups. It can also be seen on VOD for $9.99 from the film’s website.

“Incarcerating US” would have the same audience as Ava Duvernay’s highly regarded “The Thirteenth” that premiered recently on Netflix. While her film is focused on the racism and economic exploitation inherent in the prison-industrial system, this one takes aim at the mandatory minimum sentences that were the legacy of a vain attempt to make America “drug-free”. As Richard Van Wickler, the astonishingly enlightened Superintendent of the Cheshire County (NH) Department of Corrections, points out, the net effect of the crackdown is only to encourage more crime as was the case during Prohibition. Without a ban on alcohol, there would be no Al Capone. Without a ban on drugs, there would be no Mexican drug cartels nor heroin overdoses that have become an epidemic in the USA. And most of all, there would be no victims of 5-year and upwards mandatory minimum sentences such as Tracy Syphax, an African-American man whose story about imprisonment and eventual redemption speaks volumes about the insanity of our drug laws.

Directed by Regan Hines, whose extremely powerful film is his first, it benefits from a very astute cast of interviewees consisting of critics of the drug laws and their victims. Among the critics is Eric Sterling, who as a young lawyer helped to draft the mandatory minimum laws in the 1980s. So shocked was he by how they victimized casual users, he resolved to overturn the laws, one of the primary goals of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation that he founded in 1989. We also hear from Julie Stewart who founded Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) in 1991.

On the FAMM website, Stewart describes how she decided to become an activist. In 1990, she was public affairs director at the Cato Institute (a libertarian outfit that unlike most on the right is an opponent of the draconian drug laws) when her brother was arrested for growing marijuana in Washington State. The website states: “He pled guilty, and — though this was his first offense — was sentenced by a judge to five years in federal prison without parole. The judge criticized the punishment as too harsh, but said he had no choice because his hands were tied by the mandatory minimum sentencing laws Congress had passed.”

This essentially is what happened to my cousin Joel Proyect who spent close to five years in prison even though he never had been arrested ever before and even though he was the president of the Sullivan County Bar Association in August 1991, when the cops stormed the home he had built with his own hands in Parksville, NY. After he was sent to prison, I visited him on several occasions and used to keep up a steady correspondence. Here’s how the NY Times reported on his case nearly a year later:

NY Times, July 12, 1992
On Sunday; Tend a Garden, Pay the Price: A Legal Story
By MICHAEL WINERIP

SOUTH FALLSBURG, N.Y.— By all accounts, Joel Proyect is an enormously talented, humane man, a small-town lawyer who gave a great deal. He’s a recent vice president of the bar association, a legal guardian for children in family court.

He took court-assigned clients who could not afford lawyers. “One would think he is being paid thousands of dollars the way he represents indigent people,” said Tim Havas, a legal aid lawyer. When his neighbors, the Friedlanders, had a baby, Mr. Proyect plowed their driveway without being asked, so they could get home safely. He shoveled his pond so nearby kids could skate, though he doesn’t.

After he was divorced, Mr. Proyect, 50 years old, raised his two daughters until they went off to college. He banned TV and made the girls speak half an hour of French to him each day (he also speaks Spanish and Russian). He taught law at a local prison and community college.

It took nine years, but he built his magnificent wood and stone house himself, hammering every nail. He heats it with wood from his 30 acres, makes jam with blueberries from his bushes. He grew his own pot.

He’d smoked marijuana for 20 years. It was well known. “Everyone in the court system knew, judges, people at the bar association — they’d tease me,” he said. “I grew for myself and my girlfriend. If you came to my house I’d offer you beer or a joint, depending on your tastes.”

Last August, after scouting with helicopters, Federal agents raided Mr. Proyect. He thinks that the raid was initiated by a local police officer he’d had a run-in with in court.

You didn’t have to be Elliot Ness to catch Joel Proyect with pot. “They found some plants and I showed them where the rest were,” said Mr. Proyect. “I knew I was in trouble, but I didn’t think it was that serious.” Growing pot is a misdemeanor under state law. There’s no evidence he ever sold any of it. But he was charged under Federal law. His house and 30 acres were forfeited to the government. On May 29 he was sentenced to five years in prison.

No one, not even the prosecutor, will say this is fair. Judge Vincent Broderick of Federal District Court said his hands were tied by a 1988 mandatory sentencing law. He says he hopes he is reversed on appeal.

Law-enforcement agents don’t have the resources to catch most of the truly venal drug offenders. So what the Government has done is to invoke strict mandatory sentences to serve as a deterrent. The law says anyone growing more than 100 pot plants serves a minimum of five years. Agents, with Mr. Proyect’s aid, found 110.

No reporters attended the sentencing, but the judge’s anger is plain from the transcript: “I’m very unhappy about imposing this sentence. I frankly would not impose it if I saw any way that, consistent with my oath, I could impose a different sentence.”

“I’ve had people before me constantly during the last three years charged with distributing dangerous drugs on the streets,” he said, “that I’ve been able to sentence to far less than I’m sentencing Mr. Proyect to.” The judge, a former New York City Police Commissioner, called mandatory sentencing “a vice” and allowed Mr. Proyect to remain free, pending appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Second District. “I would be delighted,” the judge said, “to have my brothers on the 17th floor of the Manhattan courthouse find I was in error.”

Ronald DePetris, Mr. Proyect’s lawyer, said that in 25 years, “this is the most unjust sentence I’ve seen.” Kerry Lawrence, the prosecutor, said the law required it. But did the sentence fit the crime? “No comment,” he said.

Mr. Proyect is using his freedom to make money. His legal fees are $115,000. The other day he came out of a bail hearing for a client charged with armed bank robbery. “The prosecutor’s offering him a plea of four years,” said Mr. Proyect. “He’ll serve less time than I will.”

He drove home. The Government is scheduled to evict him in two weeks. He has the option to buy his house back from the United States for $170,000 and says if he got a short sentence and is allowed to practice when he comes out, he could raise the money.

He says he used to smoke five joints a day. Now he has that many drinks. Like many of his generation who inhaled, Mr. Proyect believes pot is a safer drug than alcohol and misses it. He is angry that in a conservative era, when government is supposed to stay out of people’s personal lives, his has been invaded, though he harmed no one. “If I knew I was coming back to this,” he said, standing on his deck, “it wouldn’t be so bad. Everything you see is mine. I own that hill. I own that hill. Isn’t it beautiful? I say it without conceit. I didn’t build it, God did that.”

This fall, the brothers on the 17th floor will decide if Joel Proyect deserves this.

 

October 13, 2016

Really popular leaders

Filed under: crime,disasters,Fascism — louisproyect @ 12:45 am

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Hat tip to John Oliver on this.

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