Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 21, 2017

Donald Trump’s team of con men drafts a peace plan for Ukraine

Filed under: Trump,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

Felix Sater, a key player in a Ukrainian peace plan, once spent time in prison for attacking a commodities broker with a broken margarita glass

For most people on the left, there was unquestionably a preference for Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the 2016 election especially with respect to Russia and more particularly taking its side against Ukraine. Just as was the case with Syria, anybody that Obama or Clinton supported even if only rhetorically was the enemy of the left. This meant that Ukraine became as much of a symbol of evil as the “jihadists” in Syria. Granted that Trump is about as articulate as a garden rake, his reply to George Stephanopolous of ABC News on the Russian takeover of Crimea must have warmed the cockle of the hearts of people like Stephen F. Cohen:

I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that also. Now, that was under, just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess and that’s under the Obama administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess, Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that. And we’ll do better. And yet, we’ll have better relationship with Russia. And having a good relationship, maybe. And having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Now, admittedly it is pretty hard for me to get inside the head of people like Cohen, Mike Whitney and Boris Kagarlitsky but I wonder what they make of the report in yesterday’s NY Times about a “peace plan” Trump’s cohorts have put together. The amateur hour group of diplomats include Michael D. Cohen, who is Trump’s personal lawyer; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Trump look for deals in Russia; and Andrii V. Artemenko, a Ukrainian legislator who is part of a political opposition movement that is taking its cue from Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Artemenko claims that he has evidence of corruption in President Petro O. Poroshenko’s administration, something that does not strain credulity. And it might even confirm that old saw “it takes a thief to catch a thief” since Artemenko spent time behind bars in a Kiev jail in the early 2000s for an embezzlement conviction. He maintains that he was framed for political reasons. Who knows?

Artemenko is obviously aspiring to be the new Yanukovych, the former president who fled to Russia as the Euromaidan protests made him dispensable, even to his own Party of Regions. At a gathering of his party on March 29, 2014 delegates voted to expel Yanukovych and senior members of his government, including prime minister Mykola Azarov, the head of the Ministry of Revenues Oleksandr Klymenko, deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov, minister of the Department of Energy Eduard Stavytskyy, and the head of the Donetsk Oblast Administration Andriy Shyshatskyy. To my knowledge, Victoria Nuland was not in touch with the delegates who voted to boot these people from their pro-Kremlin party.

If ex-con Artemenko seems a bit dicey, he is small potatoes compared to Felix H. Sater, who seems to have stepped out of a “Sopranos” episode. He acted as a middle-man, conveying Artemenko’s peace plan to Trump. It should be mentioned that the plan is not quite what you’d expect from a tool of the Kremlin, at least on the face of it. It calls for the withdrawal of all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine and leasing Crimea to the Russians for 50 to 100 years, as if it were real estate. Since Russia claims that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine, it is not clear what the first plank is meant to accomplish.

Sater, a Russian Jew who came to the USA as a political refugee, was involved with Trump in real estate deals for the better part of a decade. His ties to Trump were first reported by the NY Times in a December 17, 2007 article.

Before Sater got involved with real estate, he was a stockbroker. In 1991, he was celebrating at El Rio Grande, a midtown NYC restaurant, with a friend who had passed the stockbroker’s exam that day. He was also feeling good about the $3,000 commissions he made at work earlier. A bit lubricated from one too many cocktails, Sater got into a beef with a commodities broker at the bar that quickly escalated. According to NY Times, “he grabbed a large margarita glass, smashed it on the bar and plunged the stem into the right side of the broker’s face. The man suffered nerve damage and required 110 stitches to close the laceration on his face.”

Sater went to prison for this assault and was banned from selling stock. That did not get in the way of him forming a stock brokerage with two partners not long after his release. It was basically a “pump and dump” firm that sold securities at inflated prices based on false information. In the mid-90s, there were so many of these criminal enterprises that you needed hired muscle from the Mafia to protect your turf as if you were a crack dealer. In 1995, Edward Garafola, a soldier in the Gambino crime family, tried to extort money from Sater, who hired Ernest Montevecchi, a soldier in the Genovese crime family, to lean on Garafola to back off.

In 1998, the law caught up with Sater. He was charged with money laundering and stock manipulation. Two years later, there was another indictment that named him as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a $40 million scam involving 19 stockbrokers and members of four Mafia families. He never went to prison for his crimes, apparently because he cooperated with investigators.

Under ordinary circumstances, people like Artemenko and Sater would never be taken seriously by an American president but we are now operating under extraordinary circumstances. When Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and his one-time campaign manager give these two whack jobs the kosher stamp of approval, this tells you that we are not in Kansas anymore. It is likely that Trump lent them his ear since he has had ties to organized crime for most of his career.

Wayne Barrett, the long-time Village Voice investigative journalist who died this year from a lung ailment, exposed Trump’s mafia ties in a 1991 bio titled “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention”. For a recap of Barrett’s findings, I recommend an article written by fellow Trump biographer David Cay Johnston that appeared in the Politico on May 22, 2016 under the title “Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob?” Johnston writes:

FBI agents subpoenaed Trump in 1980 to ask about his dealing with John Cody, a Teamsters official described by law enforcement as a very close associate of the Gambino crime family. The FBI believed that Cody previously had obtained free apartments from other developers. FBI agents suspected that Cody, who controlled the flow of concrete trucks, might get a free Trump Tower apartment. Trump denied it. But a female friend of Cody’s, a woman with no job who attributed her lavish lifestyle to the kindness of friends, bought three Trump Tower apartments right beneath the triplex where Donald lived with his wife Ivana. Cody stayed there on occasion and invested $500,000 in the units. Trump, Barrett reported, helped the woman get a $3 million mortgage without filling out a loan application or showing financials.

In the summer of 1982 Cody, then under indictment, ordered a citywide strike—but the concrete work continued at Trump Tower. After Cody was convicted of racketeering, imprisoned and lost control of the union, Trump sued the woman for $250,000 for alteration work. She countersued for $20 million and in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could “be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation” into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars. Trump said at the time and since then that he hardly knew those involved and there was nothing improper his dealings with Cody or the woman.

This is par for the course. The real estate industry and the mob are joined at the hip in New York. My building was created under the Mitchell-Lama law that was intended to create affordable housing for middle-class people in exchange for tax breaks for the developer, which in my case was the DeMatteis company. The NY Times reported on December 26, 1991:

New York City has revoked a $1.2 million contract with a major construction company that officials say concealed and altered reports about possible ties to organized-crime figures.

The contract was awarded in July to the Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Company of Elmont, L.I., to supervise the building of a $67 million jail annex on Rikers Island. But in a decision made public this week, the city said the company had withheld “troubling” information about its business associations and had submitted an altered copy of a report concerning its possible ties to reputed organized-crime figures.

Now this is the way that business is done in New York. But did anybody anticipate that the White House would be following the rules of the NY real estate game after January 20th? Donald Trump is using his political office to make money. People who have convinced themselves that he is ideologically driven to create a fascist state that will mold people according to some master race schema are deluded. Trump has about as much ideological conviction as the Home Shopping Network.

Even Putin, who is as big a crook as Trump, feels that this “peace plan” does not pass the smell test. Immediately after the NY Times reported on it, he dismissed it as absurd. As I said before, he denies that there are Russian troops in Ukraine. He also insists that Crimea is now part of Russia. Even as articles continue to be churned out on why the Deep State seeks to oust Trump because of his friendliness to Russia, there is scant recognition that the peace plan for Ukraine might signal a policy much more like Clinton’s than people like Stephen F. Cohen might have anticipated. Keep in mind what Nikki Haley, Trump’s Ambassador to the UN, said about the conflict:

The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention. Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.

Eastern Ukraine, of course, is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine. The basic principle of this United Nations is that states should live side by side in peace.

Showing more clarity than leftist supporters like Stephen F. Cohen, Putin ordered state media to back off from their fawning coverage of Trump. This is probably a reaction to Haley’s comments at the UN as well as concerns about FBI investigations into the contacts that Trump’s advisers had with Russia during and after the 2016 campaign. The peace plan crafted by Artemenko and sponsored by Sater was designed to end the sanctions against Russia. Given the fecklessness of their efforts, which are consistent with the overall ineptitude of the Trump White House, it appears that the sanctions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Russia is in dire straits now economically, just as is the USA. Their problems are related to falling oil prices while ours are more complex. Although economist Nick Eberstadt is a neoconservative, his article for the echt-neocon Commentary Magazine titled “Our Miserable 21st Century” gives you a sense of how bad things are:

Between late 2000 and late 2007, per capita GDP growth averaged less than 1.5 percent per annum. That compares with the nation’s long-term postwar 1948–2000 per capita growth rate of almost 2.3 percent, which in turn can be compared to the “snap back” tempo of 1.1 percent per annum since per capita GDP bottomed out in 2009. Between 2000 and 2016, per capita growth in America has averaged less than 1 percent a year. To state it plainly: With postwar, pre-21st-century rates for the years 2000–2016, per capita GDP in America would be more than 20 percent higher than it is today.

For both the USA and Russia, a quick fix would be to eliminate its military starting with nuclear weapons. Costa Rica disbanded its military in 1948 and the country has been better off for that, with worries about counter-revolutionary coups being put to rest as well as helping to afford a welfare state some compare to Sweden’s.

The USA spends 600 billion dollars per year on the military while Russia spends a tenth of that. Since Russia’s population is less than half of ours, that would still represent a considerable savings. Instead what we can expect is a ratcheting up of military expenditures as Trump brandishes the sword against China, Iran and maybe even Russia. The world is confronted by what Haile Selassie described as war and rumors of war, words that Bob Marley put to music.

On “Sixty Minutes” last Sunday there was a segment on North Korea’s “threat” to the USA with a top American officer on duty in South Korea, an African-American no less, reassuring his African-American 60 Minutes interviewer that if Kim Jong-un used nuclear weapons, his country would be “wiped off the map”.

In the Junius Pamphlet written one year after the outbreak of WWI, Rosa Luxemburg said:

Friedrich Engels once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes.

These words are as relevant today as they were just over a century ago.

February 2, 2017

Donald Trump’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast

Filed under: religion,Trump — louisproyect @ 5:41 pm

(From Steven Salaita on FB)

Here’s a transcript of Donald Trump’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast:

Thank you, thank you everybody, thank you. It’s great to do my first prayer breakfast. We’ve got seven more to go, at least seven more. Who knows. I’m winning so much they may have to change the Constitution. Next time we’re gonna win even bigger. My people have done the calculations, we’ve looked at the polls, we expect 107, 108 percent of the vote. And we’re just getting started. But the reason we’re here is because of Jesus.

[APPLAUSE]

I mean, Jesus is great. Some say the greatest. Moses is pretty great, too. Parted the sea. Did it without the EPA, too. I’ll close it down soon, the EPA. Moses would have hated it. Abraham, he was tough. He didn’t cut that kid in half, Isaac I think, or was it Isaiah. Doesn’t matter. I’d do it to Eric or Junior, but Abraham chickened out, blamed it on God. Isaac and Isaiah didn’t grow up to be as successful as Eric and Junior, either, but that’s okay, they didn’t have a strong father figure, like the blacks, who love me more than they love Jesus, by the way. They really love me, okay. And how about Ezekiel. What a name, Ezekiel. Led the NFL in rushing this year. Then there’s Gabriel, who’s totally underrated. I mean, he performed IVF on Mary. Great prophet, that one. Solomon, Joseph, Adam, good prophets. Mohammad, not so much.

[APPLAUSE]

And what a book, the Bible. It’s the second bestseller of all time, a few million copies behind Art of the Deal. People love that book. In Mexico, everybody reads it in sixth grade. They read it in Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, that other country over there. It’s like their Bible. But anyway the other Bible. Wonderful book. Amazing book. I really like the story about Sodom and Gomorrah. God destroyed those sinful places. My friend Rudy did the same thing in Times Square, put in a TGI Fridays, a very successful restaurant. I’m gonna do him one better, though, build the best resort in Israel. Dead Sea water will come out of the faucets. Wonderful for exfoliation. You’ll get the best exfoliation there. Tons of old stones laying around the country, too, almost like they used to be part of houses. We’ll use those to make the place look like old Israel, from the fifties and sixties. And we’ll dress Arabs up as camels and let the kids ride them. It’s gonna be spectacular. They’ll write a new Bible story about it one day.

[APPLAUSE]

As everybody knows, I’m a religious man. Pray twenty, thirty times a day. Huge prayers. I even pray for all the losers in the media. Maybe God will convince them to stop with the fake news, am I right? I haven’t been able to do it. But miracles are important, that’s why I have beautiful buildings all over the world, miraculous properties. Maybe we’ll see a miracle. God owes me a few. More than a few, but I’ll settle for two or three. I’ve been negotiating with God all my life. That’s really what prayer is. And I pray to win.

[APPLAUSE]

I know you have churches to go to, flocks and stuff, great flocks, terrific flocks. Like my man over here, Jerry Falwell Junior. People know his father, but let me tell you, the son is like that other son we admire so much. Wave to the crowd, Eric. Good boy. Jerry is gonna advise me about college. He’s at Liberty. It’s not as highly rated as Wharton, where I went, by the way, but he really knows what he’s doing. Our universities are gonna be the best in the world. Not just in sports, either. We’re gonna have fantastic universities, very special campuses. Right now they’re terrible. They’re a joke, folks. Filled with communists, women, diversity. We need better universities. It’s terrible, this diversity. We’re gonna make them great again. No more classes that teach useless things like writing and public speaking.

[APPLAUSE]

Thank you, everybody. It’s been great. You’re all special to me. God is special to me. Jesus. Very special, Jesus. My son in law doesn’t like him, but we’re working on that. Believe me, we’re working on that. Thank you, God, for being great, and for the food. Amen.

July 23, 2016

Donald Trump, the American Vladimir Putin

Filed under: Trump — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Yesterday I was rather taken aback to see the near brawl that took place on the set of “The Young Turks” between the host Cenk Uygur and two supporters of the Trump campaign, Roger Stone and Alex Jones. Uygur’s show, which is webcast only, was in Cleveland covering the Republican convention when Stone and Jones literally hijacked the broadcast and began baiting him about supporting Saudi Arabia, calling one of Uygur’s assistants a “little jihad”. This really got Uygur enraged, who jumped out of his seat and screamed, “We are against Saudi Arabia, you dumbass.” Getting in Stone’s face, he looked on the verge of punching out Stone’s clock. All in all, it had the ambience of those afternoon TV shows like the Jerry Springer Show that were popular about 20 years ago, when, for example, the two men who a woman was having sex with on alternate days, had to be separated by crew members to avoid a fist fight. The Springer shows were pretty much staged but I have no doubt that Uygur was ready to kick some ass.

The provenance of Jones and Stone is interesting. Alex Jones has a radio show called “Infowars” that shares about 90 percent of the talking points of Mike Whitney, Eric Draitser, Pepe Escobar and Andre Vltchek—in other words, the far reaches of the Baathist amen corner. Despite his affinity with them, it is doubtful that CounterPunch would ever publish Jones because he is an out-and-out rightwinger. Unlike Paul Craig Roberts, who does appear regularly on CounterPunch, Jones is qualitatively more toxic. If anything would shut the door on him, it is his heavy promotion of 9/11 conspiracy theories of the kind that Alexander Cockburn despised. This is not to speak of his pro-cop broadcasts, including one that just appeared–“The Case for Blue Lives Matter”.

Roger Stone is as colorful a character as Jones. He got involved with Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President in 1972 when he was a student at George Washington University. One of his “dirty tricks” was donating money to Nixon’s presidential primaries rival in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance, the Trotskyist youth group I joined in 1967. He then took the receipt and released it to the ultraright Manchester Union-Leader to scandalize Nixon’s rival. So devoted was Stone to Nixon’s way of doing business that he had his face tattooed on the back of his neck.

Stone was a lobbyist for Trump for many years, promoting his casino businesses. This is probably how the connection was made to Paul Manafort, who is now Trump’s chief adviser. Stone and Manfort hooked up with Charlie Black to form the consulting firm of Black, Manafort and Stone in 1985. Black is as creepy as Stone, having founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in 1975.

Stone became Donald Trump’s first chief adviser and served until August 8, 2015. Trump fired him for unspecified reasons, only tweeting “I terminated Roger Stone last night because he no longer serves a useful function for my campaign. I really don’t want publicity seekers who want to be on magazines or who are out for themselves. This campaign is not about them. It’s about victory and making America great again.”

Stone remained loyal to Trump even after being fired. There were probably no deep policy differences between the two scumbags since his partner Paul Manafort took over for him. One imagines that Trump decided Stone was a liability because of his big mouth. It was not so much that he disagreed with what he said, only that he was just a bit too obvious on Twitter as the liberal MediaMatters reported:

Donald Trump ally Roger Stone, who was recently banned from CNN for crude attacks on its staff, has tweeted sexist and racist attacks against other members of the media, according to a Media Matters review.

Stone is a notorious “dirty trickster” who recently co-authored The Clintons’ War on Women. The 2015 book is dedicated to — and cites research from — a Holocaust denier who blames a “Jewish plot” for the 9/11 attacks. Stone’s history includes forming an anti-Hillary Clinton group named “C.U.N.T.” during the 2008 election.

Stone worked for Trump’s presidential campaign last year and is now organizing against Clinton’s campaign again. He is a frequent presence in the media because of his long ties to Trump; their friendship and professional relationship goes back decades.

As Media Matters previously documented, Stone has written disgusting tweets against people who work for CNN and Fox News. He’s called employees at those networks an “arrogant know-it-all negro,” a “stupid negro,” a “fat negro,” a “Mandingo,” and “quota hires.” He told Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer — who was paralyzed in a diving accident when he was in medical school — to “stand the fuck up,” and said Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has a “nice set of cans.”

No wonder Uygur was ready to punch him in the mouth.

For many on the left, people like Jones, Manafort and Stone have one redeeming feature. They are pro-Assad and pro-Putin. If you go to Infowars, you can find an article that appeared originally on RT.com that accused the USA of supporting al-Qaeda in Syria. One of Jones’s frequent guests is “The Syrian Girl”, a diehard supporter of the dictatorship. In terms of Russia, Jones’s views hardly differ from what you can read in The Nation or on the World Socialist Website such as his broadcast of “PUTIN WARNS OF WORLD WAR 3: Society hurdles dangerously closer to global warfare” on July 2nd.

So the question of how someone like that can become a comrade of Manafort and Stone, whose love for Reagan passeth all understanding, is worth considering. Is it possible that the ultraright has broken decisively with the Cold War-bred neo-conservatism of the Republican Party and adopted the coloration of European movements like UKIP in England, the National Front in France and Jobbik in Hungary? Apparently so.

This week two articles appeared that took note of this.

Two days ago Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for Atlantic titled “It’s Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin”. Goldberg, an arch-Zionist and ardent supporter of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, is quite upset over Trump’s disdain for NATO obligations and indifference to Putin’s intervention in Ukraine.

And just yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed piece titled “Donald Trump, the Siberian Candidate” that raised the same concerns but was additionally troubled by Trump’s admiration for Putin, particularly his “leadership” abilities. He, by the way, is not the only rightwinger who goes weak in the knees when he sees a bare-chested Vladimir Putin. Rudolph Giuliani, who vilified Black Lives Matter in a speech at the Republican convention, views Putin as the kind of strong leader the USA needs.

It seems that Rush Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin on his website, accompanied with this observation:

Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up?  That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

If the ultraright was identified by “one percent” type ideology in the past, it has swung over apparently to demagogic populist appeals that arguably position it to the left of the Democratic Party—at least on economic questions.

In his speech to the Republican Party convention, Trump said the following:

I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals.

I am going to bring our jobs back to Ohio and to America – and I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequences.

My opponent, on the other hand, has supported virtually every trade agreement that has been destroying our middle class. She supported NAFTA, and she supported China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization – another one of her husband’s colossal mistakes.

My opponent, on the other hand, wants to put the great miners and steel workers of our country out of work – that will never happen when I am President. With these new economic policies, trillions of dollars will start flowing into our country.

This new wealth will improve the quality of life for all Americans – We will build the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, and the railways of tomorrow. This, in turn, will create millions more jobs.

It is quite startling to see such words coming out of the mouth of a man who has relied on the advice of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, who have a long history of backing the most retrograde economic policies of Nixon, Reagan, and George Bush, father and son.

It is entirely possible that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States since the pain people have been suffering is so acute. The contrast between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the debates will be striking, with her backing NAFTA and other such trade agreements and Trump attacking them as if he were Bernie Sanders or Ralph Nader.

It is important to remember that Trump is a skilled demagogue whose long-time tenure on “The Apprentice” made him a celebrity whose success was envied by the unfortunate souls who paid good money to take classes at Trump University.

On January 5, 2016 Trump took part in an off-the-record interview with the NY Times where he revealed that his views on immigration were strictly intended to get votes and that he should not be held to them. If that is good news, there is also the bad news that his anti-NAFTA tirades have the same intention, promises that will not be kept.

Back in the 60s, when the radical movement was far more powerful than it is today, leftists honed in on the question of the Permanent Government. It analyzed institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and so on. A large part of the interest in how the state operated beyond the control of ordinary citizens flowed from LBJ’s broken promises about keeping us out of Vietnam and Richard Nixon’s continuation of that war despite his nominal opposition. In more recent years, the Marxist core of such analysis dissipated to be replaced by conspiracy-mongering of the Infowars variety.

For many on the left, politics has become personality-driven as if our vote in November will have any major impact on what the ruling class decides to do about wars, the economy, killer cops, global warming or any of the other major problems facing us. In the final analysis, the state is the executive committee of the ruling class and will remains so as long as capitalism exists.

Jack Rasmus, an economics professor at St. Mary’s College in California and a frequent contributor to leftist magazines and websites, made very good sense in an article titled “Trump, Trade, and Working-Class Discontent” that appeared on Telesur.

He is pandering to those with a legitimate and serious real concern who have been deeply harmed by U.S. trade policies. Trump is in that great U.S. presidential candidate tradition, promising voters what they want to hear and then, if elected, doing whatever the economic elites want them to do. U.S. presidential candidates, of either wing—Republican and Democrat—of the Corporate Party of America, are habitual liars and cannot be trusted.

We had our pseudo-populist from the “left,” Barack Obama, elected eight years ago promising to reform free trade treaties. And he became the biggest free trade advocate in U.S. economic history. In Trump, we have our Obama analog, a pseudo-populist this time from the “right,” promising the same. And who then will do the same. To paraphrase an ancient saying, U.S. voters now considering voting for Trump based on his anti-trade views would do well to “Beware Billionaires Bearing Gifts.”

If you need any evidence on how Trump is not going to take on the billionaires who are making our lives miserable, there is an article that appeared in yesterday’s NY Times that is aptly titled “G.O.P.’s Moneyed Class Finds Its Place in New Trump World”. It states:

Roughly 500 wealthy Republicans poured close to $16 million into the Republican National Committee’s convention account leading up to this week, according to disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission through last Friday. The biggest donors, giving more than $100,000 each, are also a veritable roll call of the stop-Trump movement, among them the billionaire investor Paul E. Singer and Marlene Ricketts, who bankrolled early efforts to deny Mr. Trump the nomination.

Mr. Singer did not attend, though his political advisers made the rounds in Cleveland, as did representatives for other megadonors who remain opposed to Mr. Trump. And there were growing signs that at least some of the party’s biggest givers were warming to him: Co-hosts of Monday’s super PAC reception at the Ritz-Carlton included Harold Hamm, a billionaire oil tycoon and former energy adviser to Mitt Romney, and Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota television station owner and prominent donor.

Among the guests was Foster Friess, the Wyoming-based mutual fund investor and super PAC donor, who expressed optimism at his party’s prospects. “I think it could be a landslide,” Mr. Friess said in an interview. “Donald Trump has the ability to reach all the plumbers and carpenters and factory workers who usually vote Democratic.”

Interesting to see that Friess is enthused about Trump’s ability to reach plumbers, carpenters and factory workers when he has given millions of dollars for the election campaigns of Scott Walker, John Kasich and Rick Perry—three politicians who epitomize the determination of the bourgeoisie to turn the clock back to 1880 or so when there were no trade unions and big business drowned strikes in blood. This is the reality of American politics. Pay less attention to what politicians say and more to what they do. If Trump is elected, we have to mobilize to stop him in his tracks. The same thing goes for Hillary Clinton. As the economic situation continues to favor the billionaires they represent, we will have the opportunity to get across a radical message in a way that we haven’t since the 1930s. Let’s not waste that opportunity on ill-conceived maneuvering in the two-party system that needs to be abolished with the capitalist system it stands upon.

UPDATE: Excellent report on Alex Jones and the Trump campaign: https://newrepublic.com/article/135370/trumps-coronation-alex-jones-king

 

April 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it all boils down to is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 6, 2016

Who is the Italian pol Trump most resembles? (Hint–it is not Mussolini)

Filed under: Trump — louisproyect @ 9:47 pm

Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump

Although it is tempting to compare Trump to Mussolini given the similarity of their facial mugging, shoulder-shrugging, and histrionic hand gestures—not to speak of the obscurantist and deeply reactionary ideology—I find it much more useful to see him as aspiring version of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Like Berlusconi, Trump is another master of televised demagogy. And also like Berlusconi, he exploits the backwardness of the average boob tube addict who tends to think in the sort of crude terms we associate with reality TV programs like Trump’s “The Apprentice”. Finally, despite the toxic quality of Trump’s speeches and off the cuff comments, they are about as much of a threat to bourgeois democracy as there was in Italy in the nearly ten years of Berlusconi’s misrule for the simple reason that the ruling classes of both countries would much prefer to maintain through the illusion of freedom rather than the risky use of truncheons and dictatorship.

The connection between Trump and Berlusconi has been made by others but not always with complete alacrity. For example, Robert Kuttner saw Trump as another Berlusconi but also as another Hitler in Huffington Post. He accurately notes that both Trump and Berlusconi tried to bypass traditional political parties in their bid to appeal directly to the “people” using their own considerable fortunes but sees Trump’s business about making America great again as a page torn from Mein Kampf In actuality, every president since Reagan has used this kind of demagogy in the face of a declining economic situation even though Trump tends to do it without bothering to explain how. When he says “we will take their oil” or “we will send the Mexicans back”, it is more in line with empty threats we associate with shows like “Housewives of New Jersey” rather than Heritage Foundation White Papers.

Frank Bruni of the NY Times, who used to be the paper’s restaurant critic, was best at seeing the common origins of the men on horseback as well as informing his readers about others who saw the similarity like the NY Times’s Timothy Egan and Vanity Fair’s Evgenia Peretz:

Like Trump, Berlusconi built his fortune with real estate. He then bought media outlet after media outlet, infiltrating people’s hourly lives, imprinting himself on their very consciousness. A similar impulse animates Trump, who has emblazoned his name not just on skyscrapers and casinos but on mattresses, clothes, cologne.

They’re both after omnipresence, and they both understood early on how crucial television was to that. Berlusconi took ownership of Italy’s airwaves, which he used to broadcast game shows and news programs with women in various states of undress. Trump took partial control of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, and played the lord of all capitalism on “The Apprentice.”

While this by no means exhausts the Trump-Berlusconi corpus, an article by Berlusconi’s countrymen Carlo Invernizzi Accetti, Francesco Ronchi in the essential Le Monde diplomatique hits all the high notes:

Although Berlusconi’s political fortunes now appear to be on the wane, looking back at reasons for his erstwhile success might shed light on the current fascination with Donald Trump’s US presidential bid.

They share a flaunted machismo and political incorrectness. This is part of a well-calculated electoral strategy. What Berlusconi had already understood before Trump is that saying outrageous things gets you free media coverage and forces others to engage with what you are saying. So you get to set the terms of the political debate, while shifting its center of gravity in your favor. At the same time, Berlusconi and Trump’s political incorrectness targets a specific electoral group — predominantly blue-collar white males who feel threatened by globalization, multiculturalism and women’s rights. There is an element of revanchism in their discourse, which allows them to attract conservative votes while assuming an air of radicalism.

Berlusconi’s popularity in Italy was also due to his capacity to transform class antagonisms into cultural issues, capturing large swathes of the working-class vote. The fact that he was a billionaire never seemed to distance him from ordinary people. On the contrary, it tapped into their aspirations. Even more importantly, the fact that he had brought commercial television to Italy implied an association with popular culture that set him in opposition to the country’s traditionally left-leaning cultural elites. In the same way, Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric appeals to working-class voters who resent what they perceive as the patronizing attitude of ‘liberal elites’. This suggests the old class antagonism is now translated into a new cultural division which plays out in terms of political style rather than income.

Finally, Berlusconi’s electoral success depended on his alliance with the far-right League of the North, a xenophobic party whose message pivoted almost entirely around the association between immigration and crime. The foundation of this alliance was the convergence of interests between Berlusconi’s predominantly national business empire and the economic protectionism implied in the League of the North’s anti-immigrant stance. In the US, this alliance between business interests and anti-immigration rhetoric had not been as prominent, largely because big business saw itself as wedded to globalization. Trump, on the other hand, seems to have understood that it may be in the interest of small to medium business owners to take a stand against immigration, because it ensures that a large portion of incoming labor is illegal and therefore in a weaker bargaining position. De-linking immigration from economics and re-framing it as a question of crime and security is the best way of pulling this off.

Two films that can be seen on Amazon streaming are also useful in understanding the similarities. In reviewing “Videocracy”, a documentary about Berlusconi, I referred to Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” a narrative film that many people believe helps to explain Trump’s voter base. Indeed the fellow who wrote the screenplay for “Idiocracy” tweeted that he never expected it to become a documentary, obviously referring to Trump.

In my review of “Videocracy”, I referred to exactly the same kinds of people who would love nothing better than to compete on Trump’s “The Apprentice”:

Watching “Videocracy”, you get the impression that the whole of Italy has been sent to Mike Judge’s future world. We meet a 26-year-old machinist named Rick Canelli who is practicing karate moves on the front lawn of the house he shares with his mother. After he is finished with his work-out, he tells us that unless you appear on television in Italy, you are nothing. Or more exactly, you are condemned to do work as a machinist or whatever capitalist society has assigned you to do as a function of class origins and education. Canelli dreams of being a contestant on what appears to be the Italian version of American Idol, on one of the three private stations owned by Berlusconi. (He also controls the public stations by virtue of being prime minister. All in all, he has 90 percent of the airwaves locked up.)

Canelli says that he will be the first person on TV ever to combine martial arts moves and singing like Ricky Martin. He says that he can be the next Jean Van Damme, but with singing. After we see him auditioning, it is clear that he can sing just about as well as Van Damme. Like most people who audition for such shows (including American Idol, now in its 9th execrable season), he has no idea of how bad he is. But nevertheless they try out because the reality of being a machinist or a nurse for the rest of their lives is unbearable. It is Berlusconi’s dubious distinction to have made what appears to be all of Italy hungering for the chance to be on television in the spirit of Andy Warhol’s 1968 observation that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” In Berlusconi’s Italy, that observation seems truer than ever.

While the film was a first-rate character study of Berlusconi and essential for understanding his American avatar (available on Amazon streaming), it did not begin to probe the depths of Italian society that allowed him to take power. For that, I refer you to long-time radical observers of the Italian political scene like historian Paul Ginsborg and journalist Alexander Stille who have both written biographies of Berlusconi.

In the May-June 2003 New Left Review article titled “The Patrimonial Ambitions of Silvio B”, Ginsborg explains how the sleazy politician/media mogul took advantage of the sexism that pervades Italian society:

Another strong connexion between Christian Democracy and the House of Liberties, all to the detriment of the Left, lies in the long-term patterns of gender voting. After the war the culture of the Church and that of Italian women overlapped in a very strong way. It was with some trepidation that both the French and the Italian Left had agreed to universal suffrage in the period 1945–47. Nearly sixty years later, women over the age of 55 and those who are practising Catholics still show a very marked preference for the centre-right. However, the pattern of women’s voting in the 2001 elections is not limited to this unsurprising fact. An extraordinary 44.8 per cent of housewives—in themselves a significant social category, given the low percentages of female occupation in Italy—voted not just for the centre-right but specifically for Forza Italia. Furthermore, the more television women watched, the more they showed a propensity to vote for Silvio Berlusconi. 42.3 per cent of those who watched more than three hours a day voted for Forza Italia, compared to 31.6 per cent of those who only watched between one or two hours daily. The connexions between housework and the advertising of commodities, between the consumption of goods and the formation of subjectivities, between female viewing and the packaged messages of the charismatic male political figure, are here to be found in striking form.

For his part, Stille supplies crucial information about the dirty role played by the Italian Socialist Party leader in enabling Berlusconi’s rise to power in a Nation Magazine article titled “Emperor of the Air” from November 29, 1999:

It should be mentioned that Berlusconi’s rise to power was made easier by the fecklessness of the Italian left, of which the Socialists are one of the main components.

A promising new left party called Rifondazione Comunista made the mistake of forming a coalition government with the Socialists and bourgeois parties headed by one Romano Prodi. This bourgeois politician, serving possibly as an inspiration for Barack Obama, then proceeded to use his leftist backing as a way to pass legislation that led to the deployment of Italian troops in Lebanon in 2006. The disillusionment of the left in this umpteenth attempt at a popular front led to Berlusconi’s election. Like the U.S., Italian politics appears mired in videocracy and lesser-evil Sisyphean frustrations.

As long as people like Trump and Reagan on one side and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on the other can continue to keep a befuddled and largely passive population largely under the control of a rigged electoral game, there is no reason for the ruling class to risk everything on a fascist bid even though undoubtedly there will be a need for that in the future as the economic continues its downward slide and the environmental crisis becomes more and more destructive. Who might serve as a new Hitler or Mussolini in those times is not worth considering at this point, all the more so since we have trouble enough breathing life into the mass movements that might ultimately cause the Koch brothers, Bill Gates et al to fund an American version of Golden Dawn.

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