Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 7, 2019

Leto

Filed under: Film,Kevin Coogan,music,Russia — louisproyect @ 11:30 pm

Opening today at Film Noir Cinema, a new theater in Brooklyn, and at the Laemmle in L.A. on June 21, “Leto” (summer) is a Russian film about the burgeoning rock and roll scene there in the early 80s that is simply rapturous. It is based on two of the period’s top musicians who are seen in their early struggling period: Viktor Tsoi and Mike Naumenko. A good half of the film is devoted to performances based on their music and will remind you of why rock and roll will never die. Despite living in the Brezhnev era, Viktor and Mike find ways to express themselves, even when it involves feinting and ducking the repressive tendencies of the bureaucrats overseeing rock and roll concerts. Instead of banning the music, much of the effort is directed toward making it more consistent with Soviet values. However, if your favorite musicians are Lou Reed, the Sex Pistols and Blondie, there’s bound to be challenges to the peaceful co-existence between artist and officialdom.

The film is directed by Kiril Serebrennikov, whose apartment and studio were raided by Russian cops in 2017 to find evidence of embezzlement. Since Serebrennikov had criticized the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and spoken out in support of Russia’s LGBT community, many understood this as veiled political repression and spoke in his defense.

I am not familiar with Serebrennikov’s earlier work but based on the evidence of “Leto”, I would regard him as one of the major filmmakers in today’s Russia. Although “Leto” is mostly in black-and-white, color is introduced for maximum impact in key scenes. It is impossible to determine who his influences are but “Leto” reminds me of Richard Lester’s “Hard Days Night”, except focused on obscure and struggling musicians rather than superstars. What “Leto” and “Hard Day’s Night” have in common is a seamless transition between musical performance and narrative drama that are mutually reinforcing.

Serebrennikov also introduces surrealistic touches that will remind you of Lester. For example, in one of my favorite scenes, Viktor and Mike’s wife Natasha are taking a bus to bring a cup of coffee to where Mike works (rock and roll has not yet begun to pay the rent) and midway there people on the bus, stolid and elderly Soviet men and women, begin to sing Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”—a bit off-key but totally rock and roll.

The plot revolves around the triangle that involved Natasha sleeping with Viktor but only after Mike had given his blessing. Suffice it to say that Mike, who loved Viktor’s music, was never moved to break off relations. The image we get of the rock musician milieu of the early 80s in Russia is one that is marked by solidarity and affection. Given the state of Russia today, you might conclude that there was a subtle message in Serebrennikov’s film, namely that such musicians were the heart and soul of the country and an obvious inspiration for Pussy Riot and other counter-culture figures of the left who were as disgusted with Russian society as Lou Reed was with the USA.

“Leto” is based on the memories of Natalia Naumenko, Mike Naumenko’s wife. Mike, who died in 1991 at the age of 36 from alcohol abuse, was the leader of Zoopark, a band that performed songs that were often translations or interpretations of the western rock songs of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed or T. Rex according to Wikipedia. Viktor Tsoi, a Korean who grew up in Kazakhstan, led a band named Kino. Referring once again to the essential Wikipedia. I discovered that despite his fame, he led a modest life, even keeping his old job in the boiler room of an apartment building after achieving huge success. His songs, like Naumenko’s, were political. Wikipedia states:

1987 was a breakthrough year for Kino. The release of their 6th album Blood Type (Gruppa Krovi) triggered what was then called “Kinomania”. The open political climate under glasnost allowed Tsoi to make Blood Type, his most political album, yet it also allowed him to record a sound of music that no one before him had been able to play. Most of the tracks on the album were directed at the youth of the Soviet Union, telling them to take control and make changes within the nation; some of the songs addressed the social problems crippling the nation. The sound and lyrics of the album made Tsoi a hero among Soviet youth and Kino the most popular rock band ever. In the diverse Soviet republics, fans translated his originally Russian lyrics into their native languages as well.

Like Naumenko, Tsoi died at an early age. In 1990, at the age of 28, he fell asleep at the wheel and died in a crash. As a sign of his transcendent appeal, even officialdom paid its respects in a Komsomolskaya Pravda obit.

Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock

“Leto” is a great film and likely to be my pick for best foreign-language film of 2019. Do not miss it.

May 24, 2019

Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground

Filed under: Film,Kevin Coogan — louisproyect @ 5:09 pm

Opening at the IFC in New York today and at the Laemmle in LA on June 14, “Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground” is a documentary about a woman who was a key player in the early 1960s experimental film scene who went on to become a friend and companion to cultural icons like Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan. Interesting as a personality in her own right, Rubin is also a symbol of the exhaustion of some members of the cultural and political avant-garde who retreated into mysticism. At the age of 18, Rubin was the protégé of Jonas Mekas, the godfather of underground films. At the time of her death in 1980 at the age of 35, she was the mother of 5 children and a Hasidic housewife living in France.

Born the same year as me, Rubin (as well as me) was drawn to the emerging counter-culture like a moth to a flame. In 1963, she went to work for Mekas at The Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York, which was dedicated to the distribution of films by people like Stan Brakhage who that very year came up to Bard College to introduce some of his films that—to be honest—left me perplexed. Mekas, who died in January of this year, is one of the main talking heads in a documentary that is a rich trove of footage from the wild and woolly days of the early 60s. At one point, he states that the responsibility of a filmmaker is to inform and to make poetry with films made by Barbara Rubin emphasizing the poetry.

She is best known for a film titled “Christmas on Earth” that can be downloaded here. (https://trakt.tv/movies/christmas-on-earth-1963). It features masked and painted actors engaging in both gay and straight sex. It is very much in the same spirit as Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures” that was stopped in midstream by the cops in a raid on Bleecker Street Cinema in 1964. Just before the war in Vietnam generated a political radicalization, people like Rubin and me were oriented to the senior citizens of the beat generation. Rubin was madly in love with Ginsberg and hoped one day to bear his children. As a gay man, he had other ideas.

Like many others, she became an activist after the war deepened but not an organizer. In the legendary protest at the Pentagon in 1967, she joined Shirley Clark, an underground filmmaker of major importance, and Fugs band member Tuli Kupferberg in civil disobedience that led to a week in jail.

As the sixties wore on, the possibilities for making a living as an underground artist faded and Rubin’s health declined, a function of both being poor and a heavy drug user. Looking for an exit path from what was becoming a dead end, she drifted toward the Kabbalah, an ancient Jewish text that promised the kind of release from worldly temptations found in Eastern religion. Among those who would attach themselves to this kind of mysticism besides Rubin include Madonna and Rosanne Barr.

Unlike them, Rubin was ready to drop all connections to the secular world. She became an acolyte of a Hasidic rabbi in Far Rockaway and embraced the patriarchal lifestyle of his sect. Stymied by the sexism of the counter-culture, she ironically felt comfortable in a world where men thanked god each day that they were not born a woman.

Among the other commentators on her life and career is J. Hoberman who blogged about her in the New York Review of Books:

Rubin’s accomplishments can all be seen as way stations in a search for transcendence. Was she a saint who finally found redemption? Or, in secular terms, did this incandescent woman, unschooled and hyperactive, find a protective community and self-medicate her way to some sort of serenity? In the face of such questions, Rubin remains remarkably elusive. Although her image appears throughout Smith’s movie, she never looks quite the same. It’s as though Rubin, forever going through changes, was too quick for the camera.

Finding a protective community, of course, is what drives so many people today to embrace socialism—however they define it. I invite young people who only know about the sixties from history books to check out this film, which will help to fill in the blanks.

April 20, 2019

Chatting up the LaRouchites

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,LaRouche — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm

On my way back home yesterday, I spotted a LaRouchite table at the same place near my high-rise on the Upper East Side that they usually occupy. I hadn’t seen them in over a year and stopped by to ask them if I could take their picture. Go ahead, they said. I had more ambitious plans, however. I wanted to do a video based on an encounter with them, something that had never occurred to me before even though I used to like to stop and give them a hard time for a minute or two before heading up to my apartment.

This time I wanted to put them at ease so I could allow them to deliver their usual spiel, something many of my readers have never seen given their relative obscurity as opposed to thirty years or so when Lyndon LaRouche was on TV all the time. I told them that I was in Columbia SDS in the sixties and used to go to his lectures—a total lie. I also told them that I read “Dialectical Economics: An Introduction to Marxist Political Economy”, which was only a white lie since in my ongoing series about LaRouche, I found it useful to browse through it to get to the bottom of the theories that morphed into his later fascist ideology.

Finally, I was struck by how much the interviewee’s emphasis on high culture and restoring humanity’s faith in itself, combined with their technocratic obsessions, dovetails so neatly with Spiked Online. LaRouche and his cohorts emerged out of a certain distorted version of Marxism as I pointed out in the first installment (https://louisproyect.org/2017/07/31/this-is-what-american-fascism-looks-like-the-lyndon-larouche-story-part-one/) in my series on LaRouche. Will Barnes wrote an analysis of “Dialectical Economics: An Introduction to Marxist Political Economy” that I highly recommend (https://libcom.org/library/capitalism-productivism-lyn-marcus-dialectical-economics), especially since it took the book seriously on its own terms. Although I would never mistake LaRouche’s politics with those of some of the young people writing on ecology for Jacobin, I only hope that they would read Barnes’s article just to make sure they don’t go too far with their nonsense.

April 8, 2019

Left Voice impressions

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

On Saturday night I descended from my mancave on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to make the trek out to Bushwick in Brooklyn to attend the launch of issue 4 of Left Voice magazine at a place called the Starr Bar, whose website states that “We Celebrate and Support Movements for Social Justice”. With Manhattan being stripped of anything resembling a left counter-culture, this one-hour trip on the subway was necessary.

I had found out about the event from my old friend James Hoff, who will be joining the editorial board of the magazine. James is a CUNY professor who is unlike most tenure-track professors. Whether or not his pro-adjunct activism can jeopardize his bid for tenure next year is a secondary consideration. Solidarity evidently trumps career, bless his heart. In my view (and his, obviously), the fight for a living wage in academia is one of the most important facing the labor movement today. Like the auto industry in the 1990s, a two-tier pay structure was adopted by the bosses and the union bureaucrats who were willing to keep entry-level workers underpaid as long as the older base of the UAW could be mollified. If there is anything the capitalist class has learned over the past 300 years, it is how to keep the exploited divided. Fortunately, there are some people on the left who understand the need for a united working class in order to defend its own interests and in the long run create a society in which workers rule.

Left Voice has been on my radar for a couple of years at least. A supporter of the magazine has been posting links to articles on Marxmail, most of which end up on Facebook as well. Like Jacobin and CounterPunch, it has both a website and a print edition. Issue 4 can be purchased here. It has the theme of “Beyond Resistance: a Left that Fights to Win” that the speakers at the event reinforced through their experiences in the labor movement. This was a spirited meeting with about 75 people in attendance, with only a handful over 50. (In the interests of transparency, this includes me.) It is clear that the website is intended to gather together supporters around the magazine who can then help launch a new organization. While I have no idea whether the ISO’s excellent analyses of American and international politics will continue after their newspaper has stopped publishing, I have no doubt that Left Voice will be around for the foreseeable future.

I just plunked down $6 for a digital subscription today and encourage my readers to follow suit since the articles take the same tack I have been banging away at for the longest time and especially since Jacobin has gone full-tilt neo-Kautskyite. Articles like “Revolution or Attrition: Reading Kautsky Between the Lines”, “From Debs to the DSA? Rescuing America’s Revolutionary Tradition”, “A Green New Deal Can’t Save Us. A Planned Economy Can” and “A Socialist Case Against Bernie 2020” couldn’t be more timely given the Jacobin/DSA megaphone. (The last two are not behind a paywall and can give you a good idea of what the magazine is about.)

To get a clear idea of the difference between Jacobin and Left Voice, you can see how they deal with City University of New York issues. Two of the speakers at the event were CUNY adjuncts who spoke about the 7K or Strike Struggle that James Hoff is active in. Once you get on a tenure track like James, it is tempting to keep a low profile. CUNY is a very liberal institution but that kind of liberalism doesn’t mesh easily with working class militancy.

The adjunct struggle is close to my heart since my wife started out as an adjunct before she got on a tenure track at Lehman College, where she faced an uphill struggle. If she had been denied tenure, she would have been plunged back into the adjunct world with dire consequences for us economically. In 2017, I reported on the CUNY adjunct struggle that was the subject of an HM panel discussion. To my surprise, the ISO had lined up with a caucus in the PSC (the professor’s business union) that tried to strike a middle ground between CUNY Struggle (the adjunct’s caucus) and the administration.

If the ISO had tried to straddle the class divide, the same thing could not be said about Jacobin that landed foursquare in the PSC bureaucracy’s lap. One of the two adjuncts who spoke at the event mentioned how Barbara Bowen, the president of the PSC, had been interviewed by Jacobin at the same time Left Voice was providing a platform for CUNY Struggle. On March 23rd, James Hoff penned an article on 7K or Strike that is exemplary labor reporting:

As PSC President Barbara Bowen said in a recent Jacobin interview: “Whether the PSC will need to take [a strike authorization vote] again depends on the assessment made by the bargaining team and the union’s leadership bodies. If the union reaches a point in the current campaign where a strike authorization could be necessary, we will have an open discussion and a vote in our largest leadership body, the Delegate Assembly.” In other words, don’t worry: the leadership will tell the members when they’re ready for a strike. This top-down approach has been one of the key weaknesses of labor unions since their inception.  Indeed, creating a strict line between “leadership” (tasked with making all of the decisions) and the “rank and file” (whom are supposed to patiently wait to be mobilized when told) is one of the primary ways that union bureaucrats maintain power and control expectations and thus one of the main ways that unions have been absorbed into the very systems of exploitation they were designed to struggle against.

Because Left Voice stands with the rank and file union members and not the union bureaucracy, we are reprinting the response to the leadership’s letter below. If you would like to read the original letter, you may find a copy on the PSC’s website.

The class divide between Jacobin and Left Voice could not be more obvious.

As I was writing this article, my PDF of issue 4 just arrived in my mailbox. The graphics are as snazzy as Jacobin’s and the articles are quintessentially anti-Jacobin—not in the sense of the landed gentry but much more in the spirit of the sans culottes. I hungrily turned to the article on Kautsky because I remain so riled up by Eric Blanc’s idiotic defense of neo-Kautskyism in Jacobin. This will give you a flavor of the kind of analysis you can read in Left Voice (reminder, it is behind a paywall):

What was Luxemburg’s answer to Kautsky’s claim that there was no need to push for a general strike because the situation was not revolutionary? That his response was abstract, because one cannot consider whether the revolutionary elements of the situation are advancing without considering the action of the Social Democracy it- self. And she was right. The elections finally came in 1912, and the Social Democratic Party did spectacularly well. It received the most votes, more than twice as many as the second-placed party, and it gained 110 seats (fewer than the number it would have gained if the distribution had been proportional). But shortly afterward, World War I broke out, and the enormous strength that the Social Democratic Party had gained in Parliament was of no use, because the party had shifted its center of gravity away from class struggle.

Left Voice is a journal and nascent left group that is part of a Trotskyist international based in Argentina. I had originally intended to offer some thoughts on the problematics of such an organizational form in this post but decided not to include it in this post because it requires both more research and some careful consideration of its dynamics. I will say this, this current is on the ascendancy unlike Trotskyism in the USA as the utter collapse of the SWP would indicate as well as the dissolution of the semi-Trotskyist ISO. In a couple of days I will be posting a follow-up that will reflect my careful (hopefully) assessment of the Left Voice’s international network.

 

March 28, 2019

The ISO has become unstuck in time

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:33 pm

By Todd Chretien

via The ISO has become unstuck in time

March 22, 2019

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

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

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 22, 2019

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

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

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

Continue reading

March 18, 2019

Making kosher half-sour dill pickles

Filed under: food,Jewish question,Kevin Coogan,Turkey — louisproyect @ 10:25 pm

In the 50s and 60s, my father had a fruit store in Woodridge, NY that was famous for the kosher half-sour dill pickles made in the back of the store. By the time I was 14 years old, I began making them using his time-honored recipe. It consisted of the standard spices that he bought wholesale, garlic, dill and vinegar. You put about 25 pounds of Kirby cucumbers into a huge barrel, mixed in the other ingredients, put the lid of a peach basket on top of all this, and topped it off with a heavy stone to keep everything compacted together with the pickling ingredients. People used to come from miles around to buy his pickles.

The kind of barrel I used, about four feet tall.

In recent years, I have gotten into the habit of buying what my Turkish relatives call turşu, which is pronounced turshu. There was a great store that sold turşu on 85th and First but like so many small businesses became a casualty of extortionist rental leases.

We then started buying kosher dill pickles from Fairway, even though they didn’t sell the entire range of turşu products, which in addition to pickles can include mixed vegetables. Since Fairway is owned by Blackstone, a company I really hate for personal reasons, I decided to look into making them myself. It turned out to be a roaring success.

If you have access to a Whole Food store, you can buy Kirby cucumbers there. Then, you order the Ball spicing mix  from Amazon (or buy it from Whole Food or your local supermarket, even though I think you’ll have to end up ordering it online since it is not an everyday product.)

Kirby cucumbers

If you are making two quarts of pickles, as the Ball instructions indicate, make sure to use 2 ½ pounds of pickles rather than the 3 ½ it calls for since that would require a third quart jar. But still use the same amount of pickling ingredients. Don’t bother buying fancy gourmet vinegar. Heinz works just fine. This is what you’ll end up with after a week in the fridge. Trust me, they taste great. I say that as a bona fide expert on kosher pickles learned as an apprentice to my master pickle-maker Jack Proyect.

The next step is to make turşu with the other ingredients, a mixture of cauliflower, long green peppers, carrots and cabbage. Goes great with barbunya pilaki and kuru fasulye.

February 14, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche (1922-2019): a political assessment

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,LaRouche,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:08 am

Lyndon LaRouche

On July 31, 2017, I posted the first of a series of five articles on Lyndon LaRouche that I recommend to my readers for an analysis of his movement’s place in American history. Unlike most people on the left, I do not regard Trump as a fascist. LaRouche, on the other hand, was a fascist and quite a dangerous one, especially in the 1970s and 80s when he networked with the KKK, had strategy meetings with the CIA, promoted Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and used violence against the left. In this earlier period, the man, who was psychologically unbalanced to say the least, did dream of becoming an American führer. When it became clear to him that this was an unattainable goal, he changed gears and became a hustler, bilking old and often rather dotty Reagan supporters out of millions of dollars. This led to his arrest in 1986 and being sentenced to 15 years for mail fraud two years later.

When he came out of prison, his fascist beliefs were maintained but toward a different end. Instead of positioning himself as someone destined to lead the United States into a new world order as was routinely stated in his television informercials, the role of his movement became one of influencing men at the top especially in those countries seen as a counterweight to the decadent Anglo-American empire.

Specifically, LaRouche and his lieutenants became propagandists for the Chinese and Russian governments, seeing them in terms familiar to those who keep track of websites like Consortium News. Since he had obviously become too frail to serve as a spokesman for his movement, his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche stepped into the breach. In 2017, she was one of the keynote speakers at a Nov. 29 conference in Zhuhai, Guangdong on International Communication and Chinese Companies Going Global.

Roger Stone schmoozing with Lyndon LaRouche 

Even in his dotage, LaRouche was still capable of giving an interview to Roger Stone in November 2016 that was a remarkable meeting of the minds but probably not much more so than Stone and Randy Credico. Stone, like much of the Trump gang, shares LaRouche’s passion for Vladimir Putin. If Trump was willing to break American laws to line up a real estate deal in Moscow, LaRouche’s ambitions were far more modest. Like Helga, he only sought to promote Russian interests worldwide as an alternative to the West.

Not long after his release from prison, he and his acolytes began promoting Putin as an old-school “development” oriented strongman of the kind that the USA sorely needed. If LaRouche’s shot at playing that role had misfired, he was happy to serve as John the Baptist to the Second Coming of Alexander Hamilton, his favorite founding father (as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s). This was destined to be a tripartite Messiah: Trump, Putin and Xi JinPing.

In June 2016, LaRouche proclaimed that the future of mankind will be determined by Putin’s creative interventions over the coming period. That’s even going further than Oliver Stone. The article that made this claim sounded like it could have been written by Pepe Escobar, Mike Whitney or Diana Johnstone. It was positively breathless over these developments:

  • Xi Jinping has just completed a brilliant strategic intervention into the Eastern and Central European region with visits to Serbia and Poland, bringing win-win development policies along the New Silk Road where Obama is attempting to provoke nuclear war;
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is holding a Summit in Tashkent to expand the strategic and economic cooperation between Russia, China and the four Central Asian nations;
  • Indian President Modi will meet with President Xi on the sidelines of the SCO;
  • India and Pakistan will begin the process of joining the SCO at the Summit, while Iran is expected to join soon. Other nations of Southwest and Southeast Asia are SCO partners and may also join;
  • Putin will attend the SCO Summit, then proceed to Beijing for a state visit to China, to advance the two nations’ collaboration in development, space exploration, cultural exchange, and more. Plans for the Eastern Economic Forum, scheduled to take place in Vladivostok on Sept. 2-3, will be discussed. The Forum brings business and government representatives together to discuss the economic development of Russia’s Far East and the Asia-Pacific region.

As painful as it is for many on the left to come to terms with, the true goal of LaRouche’s movement was not that different from many on the left who began identifying with the Kremlin, the Chinese Communist Party, and other BRICS players in the early 2000s. This counter-hegemonic bloc solidified in the period circumscribed by the Arab Spring and Euromaidan. Articles that appeared in his movement’s press were not about recreating a Third Reich globally but only rescuing the world from Anglo-American imperialism.

If your politics begins and ends with anti-imperialism, there’s something seductive about recent vintage LaRouchism. That’s the only explanation for good people like Ray McGovern and Nomi Prins allowing themselves to be interviewed by his underlings. I suppose that it is this sort of thing that melts their hearts:

During the past centuries, the British Empire, through fraud and aggression, acquired vast territories throughout the world and maintained its domination over other nations and peoples in the various regions by keeping them pitted and engaged in conflict one against another. On the other hand, the United States which, by taking advantage of the disorder and confusion in Europe, had established its supremacy over the American continents spread its tentacles to the Pacific and to East Asia following its war with Spain.

Whoa, that’s right on as we used to say in the 1960s. Guess who said it. None other than Prime Minister Tojo in a speech to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere on November 5th 1943.

For those interested in a blow-by-blow account of the rise of Lyndon LaRouche, I recommend my articles that relied heavily on Dennis King’s great reporting. The first of my articles appear here and Dennis’s “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism” can be read here.

We are in a strange political period. With people like Oliver Stone, Max Blumenthal and Stephen F. Cohen on the left doing everything they can to burnish the reputation of Vladimir Putin, perhaps Lyndon LaRouche might be regarded as someone who left his fascist beliefs behind him insofar as his ideas and those of the men and women who will take his place now  overlap so much with this wing of the left.

With people like Xi Jinping, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro, Orban, Trump, and Marine LePen, you are not quite in the same political universe as the 1930s. Indeed, for much of the left China is a city on the hill with its “ecological civilization”. Yes, it is bad to force a million Uyghurs into de facto concentration camps, but isn’t that compensated by its Green New Deal type reforms?

The LaRouche movement has been pretty much defanged, compared to what it was in the 1970s and 80s. Helga Zepp-LaRouche will continue to attend conferences in China and Russia while politically muddled sorts such as Nomi Prins and Ray McGovern will always accept an invitation to be interviewed. That’s not much different from Norman Finkelstein allowing himself to be named as a columnist on Ron Unz’s neo-Nazi website.

The real task is to educate the left about class politics. LaRouche’s appeal to SDS’ers at Columbia in 1968 was based on his peculiar interpretation of Karl Marx as a prophet of economic growth. In that respect, he was similar to Frank Furedi whose narrow “productivist” understanding of Marxism led him down the primrose path to Reason magazine type libertarianism.

Instead of being preoccupied about uniting the “anti-imperialist” powers like China, the left has to orient to class. Wage labor is rising up in China against the ruling party and the billionaires whose interests it defends. When Maoist students solidarize themselves with the workers, isn’t it time to find ways to connect with them rather than a government that invites Helga Zepp-LaRouche to speak at one of their conferences?

Class matters.

January 25, 2019

Radical America Komiks

Filed under: Counterpunch,humor,Kevin Coogan — louisproyect @ 3:42 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 25, 2019

By a happy coincidence, I received a review copy of “Radical America Komiks” from PM Press on the very day my review of Allen Young’s autobiography appeared on CounterPunch. Allen Young worked for Liberation News Service (LNS), a radical version of the Associated Press that forwarded articles to SDS chapters around the country, while Radical America was an official SDS publication launched by Paul Buhle meant to raise awareness on the left about the long history of anti-capitalist resistance in the USA. Unlike the old left, LNS and Radical America absorbed the counter-culture of the period. The one-off publication of Radical America Komiks in 1969 was arguably the most fully developed expression of this cross-fertilization and as such we are grateful to PM Press for publishing a replica of the ground-breaking comic book.

Back in 1967, about a month or so after joining the quintessentially old-left Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, fellow New School Graduate philosophy Ph.D. student Arthur Maglin who had recruited me to the sect, was showing me around the bookstore at party headquarters near Union Square. He picked up a copy of Radical America and described it as great reading. Just a decade later, something like Radical America would never be found in an SWP bookstore and recommending it might have gotten you expelled. When I got on the Internet in 1991, it did not take long for me to establish a connection with Paul Buhle whose vision of left unity coincided with my own as a refugee from sectarianism. I only wish that I could have gotten into a time-machine and returned to 1967 to help write for Radical America. I once asked Peter Camejo if he could have turned back the clock, when he would have made the decision to quit the SWP—knowing what he then knew. Without skipping a beat, he replied the week after he joined.

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January 22, 2019

Thoughts on the Covington High School/American Indian confrontation

Filed under: indigenous,Kevin Coogan,racism — louisproyect @ 8:23 pm

After having written over 1,500 film reviews for Rotten Tomatoes for the past twenty years or so, I am probably better qualified than most people to make sense of the one hour and forty-five minute video recording made by a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites cult that can be seen below:

The recording was about the same length of the average film I review but one that was even less interesting than the Hollywood junk I am forced to watch at year end in advance of the annual NYFCO awards meeting. Made by Shar Yaqataz Banyamyan on a smart phone, it had no close-up footage of the American Indian confrontation with the Covington Catholic schoolboys except for the native drummers advancing on them and then being swallowed up. Most importantly, you don’t see the smirking Nick Sandmann whose future as a student and professional will be constrained by his arrogance. No Ivies for him.

Like Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”, there are a number of versions of what happened on the plaza beneath the Lincoln Monument on late Friday afternoon four days ago. The right has predictably taken up Nick Sandmann’s cause while the left has indicted him as a racist thug. Given the kind of abuse American Indians have put up with for the past three hundred years, Sandmann ranks as a minor first-offender but an offender nonetheless. I will try to explain his and his classmates’ behavior later on but want to start off with a word or two on the Black Hebrew Israelites who created a climate that made such a confrontation possible. If they had not been haranguing people that day, the Covington students and the Indians would have never crossed paths.

The Hebrew Israelites will be familiar to most New Yorkers, where they are based. Many years ago they used to preach (for the lack of a better word) near the corner of West 8th Street and Sixth Avenue where I am embarrassed to say I used to preach socialism with my SWP comrades. It is difficult to say whether passers-by were puzzled more by them or us.

Thanks to the indispensable Wikipedia, I have a better idea of who they are. The belief that African-Americans are the true descendants of the Biblical Hebrews has been around since the late 1800s when Frank Cherry and William Saunders Crowdy formed the first such congregations, unconnected to each other. Wikipedia doesn’t have any information on Cherry but Crowdy is a notable figure. He was born into slavery in 1847 and escaped from his masters in 1863 after an argument. Wasting no time, he joined the Colored 19th Regiment of the Union Army as a cook that year. After the war, he became a Buffalo Soldier, the term for Black cavalry members used to break American Indian resistance to the white settlers.

Crowdy’s Church of God and Saints of Christ is a fairly conventional institution with a mixture of Christian and Jewish customs. Members believe that Jesus was neither God nor the son of God, but rather a strict adherent to Judaism and a prophet sent by God. Leaders of the Church call themselves Rabbis, and so on.

The outfit that Shar Yaqataz Banyamyan belongs to is a horse of another color. The best introduction to them is a Village Voice article from March 2011 titled “Black Hebrew Israelites: New York’s Most Obnoxious Prophets”. Author Steven Thrasher recounts their infamous street theater:

On this corner, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, you could just pull up a chair with a bowl of popcorn and watch a show more entertaining than anything you’d ever see in a comedy club. The House of Israel, shouting within earshot of the tens of thousands of people who pass through this intersection on any given evening, makes for a sticky web. The endless stream of “so-called black” New Yorkers, “so-called Jews,” bewildered Japanese tourists, and born-again Christian teens who pass by are their flies.

For the first 30 minutes of Banyamyan’s video, you see his four co-religionists at the bottom of the Lincoln Monument, about 40 feet from the stairs and with their back to Lincoln’s statue. Another 40 feet or so in front of them are about 150 American Indians who have come to Washington as part of an Indigenous People’s March and Rally. It is likely that the event has ended since nobody is giving a speech. Instead, they are in a circle dance with drummers keeping rhythm. Their mood is relaxed.

The unnamed street preacher of the Hebrew Israelites kept up a steady stream of invective against them the entire time. He denounced them for worshipping buffaloes and totem poles. A couple of Indians walked over to argue but they probably would have been better off just ignoring them, especially since that would rob the cult of a sense of accomplishment. Their goal is not so much winning supporters but antagonizing people.

Meanwhile, there were maybe a dozen or so Covington students on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial who were paying no attention to the war of words between the cult and the handful of Indians.

That began to change forty minutes into the video when the Covington’s numbers had increased, marked visually by the MAGA hats about half of them were wearing. When the cult spotted the MAGA hats, they turned their backs on the Indians and refocused their verbal abuse on the students who they called children of incest led by pedophile priests. They denounced Trump as a “faggot” since he was seen on the Internet hanging out with Rudolph Giuliani in drag from a charity event in 2000:

By fifty minutes, the Covington students had risen to the bait and surrounded the Hebrew Israelites who taunted them as being chicken-shits, too afraid to take on five Black men protected by angels. I suspect that the students were less interested in having a fight with the men and were simply mystified by street theater that never would be seen on a sidewalk in their lily-white town.

What they seemed to be more interested in was recreating the “team spirit” of their high school gym, seeing the group of five insane Black men as a rival basketball team. One youth stripped down to his shorts and began jumping up and down bare-chested like a cheerleader. For all I know, that’s what he was. It didn’t take much to get the Covington students revved up and they all began jumping up and down, yelling chants that are not possible to decipher from the video although I might have heard “block that pass” at some point. It is important to understand, however, that there was a good distance between them and the Hebrew Israelites at this point, likely a result of an older man (likely a chaperone) urging them to retreat.

At one hour and twelve minutes into the video, you see Nathan Phillips leading a small group of Indians headed toward the teens drum in hand. Still high on adrenaline, the students surrounded them and continuing jumping up and down in rhythm to the drum. I doubt that no more than the average contempt for Indians motivated them at this point. It is likely that they were like most teens, just acting like assholes—especially the smirking Nick Sandmann. I have seen articles that compare the Covington youth to the “Unite the Right” protestors in Charlottesville when they strike me as have never having heard of Richard Spencer. The closest analogy to them would be the football crowds who do the “tomahawk” at an Atlanta Braves baseball game. There have been references to a basketball game in the Covington gym where a couple of students have painted themselves black. It is likely that this was not minstrel-type racism but only a reference to the school colors (everybody else around them is dressed in black.) That being said, it was a slap in the face to Black players on the opposing team in the same vein as blocking Nathan Phillips. The affront was inspired more by watching NFL games where painted faces are prevalent rather than Tucker Carlson.

These are racist jerks but no more so than probably 90 percent of Americans that Leon Trotsky once described in the following terms. Substitute the word “Indians” for “Negroes” and you’ll get the idea: “99.9 per cent of the American workers are chauvinists, in relation to the Negroes they are hangmen and they are so also toward the Chinese. It is necessary to teach the American beasts.”

In terms of their political views overall, they are like probably 90 percent of the white students in Catholic schools–pro-Trump and anti-abortion. That is why they came to Washington. They were at an anti-abortion rally and picked up MAGA hats from street vendors. That’s normal for the USA even if for the rest of the planet it is aberrant behavior. Everything is relative. What’s normal for the USA would strike a Swede as fascist (at least up until the point when Swedish fascists become the majority.)

After the Indians are surrounded by the Covington students and disappear from the camera’s view, there is of little interest in the video except one key element. All of this takes place a good distance from the Hebrew Israelites who chat among each other about the bad behavior of the students, something that has a hollow ring given the hour or so they spent stoking them up. With all due respect to Nathan Phillips, there is little evidence that his small and plucky group was acting to defuse the situation since the distance between the youth and the cult was considerable. My guess is that he was asserting their right to climb to the top of the stairs, which certainly was their right. The callow youth of this Catholic School saw their right in turn to block them as if they were a visiting high school basketball team. They will pay for their arrogance in years to come.

 

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