Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 12, 2013

Bill de Blasio and William Mulrow

Filed under: New York,Occupy Wall Street,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/12/nyregion/wooing-hometown-industry-de-blasio-meets-wary-wall-st.html

Mr. de Blasio is not a complete stranger to the financial world. His wife, Chirlane McCray, briefly worked under Mr. Schlein at Citigroup, and after the financial crisis Mr. de Blasio opposed limits on bank bonuses.

He seeks counsel from Orin S. Kramer, a hedge fund manager and a top donor to President Obama, who introduced him at the Viacom lunch. Another ally is William Mulrow, who is a senior managing director at Blackstone and a former candidate for state comptroller (and who once donned dingy clothes to impersonate an Occupy Wall Street protester at a private bankers’ dinner).

* * * *

NY Times January 20, 2012, 9:52 pm

A Raucous Hazing at a Wall St. Fraternity

By KEVIN ROOSE

The chandelier-filled ballroom was teeming with 200 men in tuxedos — and a smattering of women — whose daily decisions can collectively make or break the global financial markets. Most were picking over a lavish dinner that included rack of lamb and crème brûlée. Others were preparing to sing bawdy show tunes.

Kappa Beta Phi, an exclusive Wall Street fraternity whose members include big-name bankers, hedge fund billionaires and private equity titans, met at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday night for its 80th annual black-tie dinner and induction ceremony.

As always, the event was held in strict secrecy, with members being told that “what happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.”

A reporter, however, was able to walk in unquestioned and observe the proceedings.

Neither a rough year in the financial markets nor the animus of the Occupy Wall Street movement was enough to dampen spirits at this year’s dinner, which was attended by members like Alan C. Greenberg, known as Ace, the former chairman of Bear Stearns; Robert H. Benmosche, the chairman of the American International Group; Meredith Whitney of the Whitney Advisory Group; and Martin Lipton, founding partner of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The Occupy movement was fodder for several after-dinner skits. In one, a documentary filmed during the protests, James Lebenthal, a bond specialist, joked with a protester whose face was appeared to be tattooed.

“Go home, wash that off your face, and get back to work,” Mr. Lebenthal told the protester.

Reached through his daughter on Friday, Mr. Lebenthal declined to comment.

In another skit, William Mulrow , a senior managing director at the Blackstone Group, put on raggedy clothes to play the part of an Occupy protester. Emil W. Henry Jr., a managing partner at Tiger Infrastructure Partners and a fellow new Kappa, joined him dressed as a wealthy baron.

“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Mr. Henry said, voice full of mock indignation.

“You callow, insensitive Republican!” Mr. Mulrow said. “Don’t you know we need to create jobs?”

A Blackstone spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Mulrow’s behalf. Mr. Henry was not immediately available for comment.

Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:13 pm

From Rand Paul speech to Family Research Council:

In Syria, there’s an ancient Christian city called Maalula, where they still speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. They’ve been Christians since the time of Christ. They’re a small final outpost in the Middle East for Christians. The town was recently overrun by Islamic rebels. The Islamic rebels swarmed into the town, and they demanded that everyone convert to Islam, or die. Sarkis el Zakhm stood up and he answered them, and he said, I’m a Christian, and if you want to kill me because I am, do so. These were Sarkis’ last words. Sister Carmel of Damascus said of Sarkis, “His death is true martyrdom, a death in “odium fidei,” or a death in the hatred of faith. Make no mistake. This is about your religion.

Elsewhere in Syria, Islamic rebels have filmed beheadings of their captives. They’ve filmed themselves eating the heart of their enemy. Two Christian bishops have been kidnapped, and one priest was recently killed. These rebels are allies of the Islamic rebels that President Obama is now arming. We are now arming Islamic rebels who are allied with al-Qaida that attacked us on 9/11. Does that make any sense at all?

full: http://www.thecloakroomblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/1012FRC-Paul.pdf

World Socialist Website:

In a recent testimony to the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom, said Syrian Christians “face a distinct peril so dire that their ability to survive in Syria is being seriously doubted by church leaders and independent secular observers, alike.”

According Shea, “Christians have been reportedly displaced by the regime in Tal Nasri, Um Sharshoh, and the old city of Homs. They have been reportedly displaced by the Free Syrian Army in Mesmye, Daraa, Ghassaniy, Idlib, Quseir and Rable in Homs.”

Jean Clement Jeanbart, the Archbishop of Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church, referred to the fears of the 2.5 million-strong Christian minority in Syria about the Islamist mercenaries.

full: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/09/06/maal-s06.html

http://www.hudson.org/shea

Director, Center for Religious Freedom
Senior Fellow
Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters
Biographical Highlights

An international human-rights lawyer for over thirty years, Nina Shea joined Hudson Institute as a Senior Fellow in November 2006, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller accused of “hijacking” military unit in Iraq
More on the “newspaper of record” and WMD lies
By Bill Vann
27 June 2003

Miller’s connection to these elements stems from her ties to an interlocking network of right-wing and pro-Zionist think tanks that includes the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East Forum.

full: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/06/mill-j27.html


Nina Shea, a longtime supporter of interventionist U.S. policies dating back to the Contra wars in Nicaragua, is vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRF). CIRF is a quasi-governmental body with roots in the U.S. Evangelical movement that, according to one scholar, aims to “‘remoralize’ American foreign policy” and “overturn the established—that is, liberal—order” (quoted in Stephen Kent, Marburg Journal of Religion, January 2001). The commission was formerly headed by Elliott Abrams, a convicted (and pardoned) Reagan administration official who is a special assistant to President George W. Bush on Mideast affairs. Shea also directs the Center for Religious Freedom, a research outfit long associated with the neoconservative-led Freedom House that was established in the mid-1980s under the original name of the Puebla Institute.

Although broadly focused on issues of human rights, Shea’s work has primarily focused on religion, in particular on the persecution of Christians, a theme she has repeatedly used to push for U.S. intervention. In a 2001 article for the Washington Monthly , Joshua Green relates how in the mid-1990s Shea teamed up with Michael Horowitz, a former Reagan administration official, in an effort “to put the issue of Christian persecution on the map.” Green reported: “Horowitz, a Jewish neoconservative and a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, detailed the plight of persecuted Christians in Africa and the Middle East. He concluded by calling for intervention. ‘For American Jews, who owe our very lives to the open door of the blessed land,’ he wrote, ‘silence should not be an option in the face of persecutions eerily parallel to those committed by Adolf Hitler.'” According to Green, a favorite Horowitz “sound bite” at the time was that “Christians are the Jews of the 21st century.”

In 1996, Shea and Horowitz organized a conference titled the “Global Persecution of Christians.” While earlier efforts to mobilize public opinion and elected officials around the issue had fallen flat, according to Green this conference was a watershed event, helping to bridge the divide between a number of U.S. political and religious groups. “To the surprise of many,” wrote Green, “the issue of persecuted Christians captured the concern of evangelical Protestants. For churches like Grace Bible Church, which became active in the Christian solidarity movement five years ago, it complemented their own efforts to evangelize overseas … As it spread among evangelicals, the movement also came to include conservative Jews and Catholics, Southern Baptists, and some of the more open-minded liberal activists like Rabbi David Saperstein, of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. But the issue seemed particularly appealing to evangelicals for whom Reagan conservatism was primarily a moral—rather than an economic—political movement. It was the involvement of this group, whose foot soldiers had turned abortion and school choice into national political issues, that helped popularize the issue of Christian persecution.”

full: http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Shea_Nina

October 11, 2013

God Loves Uganda; Cooper & Hemingway: the True Gen

Filed under: Africa,Film — louisproyect @ 9:32 pm

I’m as willing as any other socialist to declare myself okay with religion, especially when it comes to liberation theology. Also, I do understand that when Marx likened religion to opium, he did not expect his followers to declare war on it like the DEA war on drugs. He said in the 1843 “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”: “To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” Yet after watching “God Loves Uganda”, the documentary that opens today at the Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas in New York today (nationwide screening information is here), I was reminded why I became an atheist if not a god-hater. “God Loves Uganda” is a scathing exposé of the evangelical missionaries who make the priests who accompanied Cortés and Pizarro look benign by comparison.

The documentary is focused on a mega-church that operates out of Kansas City, the city of my birth, called International House of Prayer (IHOP). Like the pancake empire, this is an outfit that views Ugandans as their “market”. You see the missionaries being trained at church headquarters as if they were expected to open franchises rather than save souls. Like many of the evangelical hustlers, IHOP operates a vast electronics empire dispensing its sermons across television stations worldwide as well as the Internet. The head bible-thumper shown in the film is one Lou Engel, a bald, middle-aged father of seven who has the muscular neck and growling delivery of a professional wrestler. Engel organizes the missions to Uganda but it is up to younger acolytes to actually go over and do the dirty work. We meet Jesse and Rachelle Digges, a husband-and-wife who pepper nearly every sentence with “Jesus” or the “Lord’s work”. The smiling couple is thin as models and pretty as a picture but radiate an aura of pure toxicity worse than a puff adder’s.

In 1985 Uganda became targeted by a number of these vampire denominations, IHOP being one of the more egregious. Using their pocketbooks, they opened clinics and orphanages (an obvious need given the devastating wars that were visited on the nation) all over the country. Like such outfits from time immemorial, you had to put up with the sermon to get served. Before New York’s Bowery turned into a pricey and trendy neighborhood, missions catered to the alcoholics. You went there for a bowl of soup and put up with a sermon about going to heaven.

In Uganda, the bargain was a lot tougher. In addition to the sermons, you had put up with a sexual-political agenda that was murderous. Uganda was one of the countries in Africa hit hardest by AIDS. George W. Bush worked hand in glove with the evangelicals to make abstinence the tool of choice for preventing AIDS. Condoms were seen as the devil’s work. The net result has been a continued and costly epidemic.

Just as sickening has been a campaign of homophobia that has been endorsed by both the Church of Uganda and the government. The film shows David Kato, a father of the nation’s gay rights movement, speaking out against legislation that would make homosexual behavior punishable by death. For his efforts, he received a death sentence but one carried out by a vigilante who has never been identified.

Against the truly poisonous missionaries and their flunkies inside Uganda, a number of whom have grown wealthy from pay-offs by their American sponsors, there are a couple of men who deserve Nobel Prizes. One is Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an elderly man who studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He turned to religion after a poisonous snake killed his wife. Late in life he has to deal with a new set of vipers, who have made it impossible for him to carry out his clerical duties and who would probably not stop short of martyring him given the opportunity.

A younger Anglican priest named Kapya Kaoma is also featured in the film, although in Boston rather than Uganda. His courageous stand for the LGBT community in Uganda has made it impossible for him to remain in the country.

There is always the question of what makes a documentary entertaining. For those trying to figure out whether a Saturday night is better spent by watching a powerful film on the colonial conditions of a supposedly postcolonial Uganda or a baseball game on television, I can only tell you that it is very important for Americans to get up to speed on a terrible injustice being meted out to a long-suffering people. I don’t know about you but this description from the press notes is a pretty good description of what awaits you. Entertaining may not be the right word, but compelling surely is.

Perhaps the damage that enforced “traditional” sex roles does to innocent human beings made me ill-disposed to anything with even a fleeting resemblance. It took me a while to warm up to “Cooper & Hemingway: The True Gen” that also opens today at the Quad in New York (and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on December 3rd). The machismo of these two American icons hit me in the face like a clenched fist at first.

The documentary is a parallel biography of the two men who became best friends. Born in 1898 and 1901 respectively, Hemingway and Cooper were both products of an age in which Theodore Roosevelt was a prototypical male. With his insatiable appetite for big-game hunting and a willingness to risk all sorts of danger, Roosevelt was an obvious model for Hemingway who was into hunting and bullfights. Although too young to fight in WWI, Hemingway signed up as an ambulance driver. After being badly wounded, he told anybody who would listen that the words patriotism and sacrifice were no longer part of his vocabulary.

Cooper was also an outdoorsman but mostly as a function of working on his father’s ranch, where he became an expert horseman. When he ended up in Hollywood, he got a job as a stunt man in silent pictures. When he saw men like Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson “acting”, Cooper decided that he could do that himself. That is essentially how he became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

For reasons that are not fully explained, Hemingway became fixated on Cooper and worked on making a date with him. I should add that the film does not speak in such terms since it assumes that the “bromance” was purely based on admiration for each other’s work as a writer and an actor. While the film interviews a number of Hemingway scholars, none even begins to entertain the possibility that there was a homoerotic dimension. It is too bad that they did not broach this question with Nancy R. Comley, who was one of the co-author of “Hemingway’s Genders: Rereading the Hemingway Text” along with Robert Scholes. In a 1994 discussion of the book in the NY Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote:

Here, in an exploration of transsexuality far more overt in the original manuscript than in the sanitized Scribner’s version — which, the authors say, “does its author a serious disservice” — Hemingway “has positioned his surrogate, David Bourne, in an intolerable double bind: the source of his creativity lies in what for him is the forbidden territory of the feminine.”

The film is a kind of joint project of the Hemingway and Cooper clans, with Patrick Hemingway—the sole surviving son—and Cooper’s daughter Maria serving as consultants and interviewees. Maria is married to Byron Janis, the acclaimed concert pianist, who wrote the film score.

The most interesting parts of the documentary dealt with two important Cooper films. The first was an adaptation of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, in which the political conservative Gary Cooper played a member of the anti-fascist resistance in the Spanish Civil War. It turns out that Hemingway had Cooper in mind when he developed the character Robert Jordan, long before the film was made.

The other was “High Noon” that was very much contested territory of the Cold War and the witch-hunt. Cooper had been a friendly witness in a HUAC investigation of Communists in Hollywood in 1947 but had not named names. This angered Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s wife, a lot more than it did him. Gellhorn was a famous war correspondent and very much part of the cultural front of the New Deal.

According to the film Cooper’s opposed the attempts to get Carl Foreman fired as screenwriter on “High Noon” when he was identified as a former CP’er, threatening to quit unless Foreman remained part of the team. Since Cooper’s daughter was a consultant, I am not surprised that she decided to leave out some uncomfortable details as found on the TCM website:

During production on High Noon, the House Un-American Activities Committee was creating quite a stir in Hollywood. Thousands of actors, writers, directors, and others in the film industry lost their jobs due to real or imagined affiliations – past or present – with the Communist Party. Screenwriter Carl Foreman was subpoenaed before HUAC during the making of High Noon to answer questions about his own past affiliations with the Party. As was his right, Foreman pleaded the Fifth Amendment. But after he returned to the set of High Noon, Foreman knew his days in Hollywood were numbered. Hedda Hopper and John Wayne both launched public attacks on him in the trades, trying to force him out of the industry. Even Foreman’s most loyal supporters like Fred Zinnemann were threatened because of their association with him. Just like in the film, Gary Cooper seemed to be the last man standing in supporting Carl Foreman. But once threats ensued from MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer and the powerful independent producer Walter Wanger, even Cooper had to relent, fearing an end to his acting career. When the actor called Foreman with the news, the writer sympathized. “I know. Nobody can hold up against this…not even you.”

Cooper’s character in “High Noon” never backed down but the actor turned out to be made of less sturdy material. But then again that’s what you’d expect from someone who makes a career out of pretending to be someone they are not.

Why the Ruling Class Feared Camp Kinderland

Filed under: anti-Communism,Counterpunch,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 12:31 pm

https://vimeo.com/53359154

Counterpunch Weekend Edition October 11-13, 2013
Learning the Spirit of Rebellion at Commie Camp
by LOUIS PROYECT

This is a follow-up to the July 1947 PM article about my hometown titled “Utopia in the Catskills” that appeared on the September 30 CounterPunch. Like the PM article, the documentary “Commie Camp“ that showed at the Tribeca Theater in New York last June celebrates the leftist subculture of resort areas within geographical and financial reach of working class Jews in the 30s and 40s—in this instance the children’s summer camps favored typically by those working in the garment district.

Among the powerful trade unions that existed in that period, none had a more openly Communist leadership than the furrier’s union. I have vivid memories of visiting relatives in Flatbush who worked in this trade in the mid-50s when I was 10 years old or so. I innocently tuned in “Amos and Andy” on their television (we did not yet have one of our own at home) and was instructed by the man of the house, a furrier, to turn it off since it was racist. It was the first time in my life that anybody had ever acknowledged that racism existed, let alone spoke against it.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/11/why-the-ruling-class-feared-camp-kinderland/

October 10, 2013

When the puppet talks back to the puppeteer

Filed under: conservatism,economics,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 8:26 pm

The puppet becomes the master in a classic Twilight Zone episode

Today’s NY Times raises some interesting questions about the connections or lack thereof between the big bourgeoisie (pardon me for a little Marxist jargon) and the Tea Party faction of the House of Representatives that has thrown the government into a crisis. Despite the reputation of the Tea Party for being free market fundamentalists, the masters of the marketplace find them rather inconvenient:

As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain.

Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.

Such an effort would thrust Washington’s traditionally cautious and pragmatic business lobby into open warfare with the Tea Party faction, which has grown in influence since the 2010 election and won a series of skirmishes with the Republican establishment in the last two years.

“We are looking at ways to counter the rise of an ideological brand of conservatism that, for lack of a better word, is more anti-establishment than it has been in the past,” said David French, the top lobbyist at the National Retail Federation. “We have come to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines is not good enough.”

I probably listen to a lot more AM rightwing talk radio shows than the average socialist. Recently I discovered that there’s now a Fox radio station in NY at 970 on the dial that competes with WABC, the home of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. At 10pm there’s a Christian fundamentalist named Steve Deace who broadcasts for Fox radio out of Des Moines, Iowa. His motto is “Fear God. Tell the Truth. Make Money.” I can barely listen to him (or any of these characters) for more than 10 minutes but it helps me take the pulse of the ultraright.

Deace is fond of using the word “ruling class”, a term that he obviously knows was coined by the revolutionary movement. He uses it primarily to refer to the Republican Party establishment such as in this Politico article:

Not since Reagan has a nonestablishment presidential candidate had the comprehensive worldview and charisma capable of coalescing enough of the conservative/libertarian base to defeat the Republican ruling class in a national primary.

For Deace, the views of Hannity and Limbaugh are within “ruling class” parameters. On Town Hall, he blasted Bill O’Reilly as well:

From reporting inaccuracies on gun control, to no longer defending marriage, O’Reilly is now scoring goals for the other team. Similar sellouts and flip-flops aren’t news when they come from politicians. But given how O’Reilly has branded himself as the man with the moral high ground inside the “no spin zone,” it definitely has the potential to damage him much more. Nobody, right or left, likes a hypocrite. O’Reilly is now “evolving” so fast it would even give presidential candidates from Massachusetts ideological whiplash.

Clearly, the Tea Party right is on some kind of collision path with the establishment Right even though they share a common agenda against the left, working people, gays, and anybody who does not believe that Adam and Eve commingled with the Brontosaurus.

Before presenting my own views on what is going on here, I’d like to refer you to some noteworthy attempts by the left to explain the roots and dynamics of the Tea Party.

Doug Henwood was interviewed by Salon.com’s Josh Eidelson who asked: “You’ll hear some conservatives argue that the Tea Party represents a different politics, less “pro-business” than the GOP we knew – instead, consistently committed to “limited government” in ways that can be counter to business interests. To what extent is that just spin, or a real divide?” Doug replied:

It’s a kind of regional and inter-class battle. I think, to use the Marxist language, [the Tea Partyers] represent an enraged provincial petit bourgeois that feel that they are seeing society change in ways that they don’t like. They look at things like Obamacare and see that as a way of subsidizing a minority electoral bloc that will push the government in ways that they don’t like. These are the small-town worthies, like the local car dealers — people who are millionaires, but not billionaires. They are big wheels in their local communities, but not on a national level. And then you have ideological right-wingers like the Koch brothers who use these folks very effectively.

I would also refer you to Tim Horras, a founder of the Philly Socialists, who wrote a piece titled “Slouching Towards Shutdown: Left Reflections on the Tea Party, Then & Now” for the North Star website. Like Doug, Tim views the Tea Party as autonomous from what Deace calls “the ruling class”:

[T]he Tea Party was not an astroturf operation, but rather a legitimate social movement with a large mass base of support, 2) the mainstream Republican Party agenda was actually very different from the Tea Party agenda, 3) the capitalist class wouldn’t necessarily be in control of the Tea Party, like the sorcerer conjuring up forces they are incapable of controlling, 4) economic recovery was not going to happen, therefore extremism would continue to rise, and, (not mentioned in the passage quoted above), 5) key political conflicts would be centered around debt and default.

While some analysts like Michael Lind regard the Tea Party movement as an expression of Southern White racism, there are signs that it has powerful roots in the North as well. For example, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker went on the offensive against organized labor with backing from the Koch brothers and Ohio is the site of some of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in the country. Thirty years ago both Wisconsin and Ohio were considered strongholds of liberal Democratic power. What has happened?

I strongly agree with Doug’s assessment of it being the expression of an enraged petty-bourgeoisie but would differ on whether it is “provincial” (Doug cites Michael Lind favorably in the interview.) The big question, however, is what would make them so enraged? Does a millionaire car dealer in Mississippi really feel that Obamacare is an existential threat? I am not raising this question in a polemical fashion but only to demonstrate that I am not really sure.

The one thing I am relatively sure about is that the Tea Party flourishes in an environment where the Democratic Party lacks any kind of populist zeal. Obama is the perfect symbol of the kind of Eastern elitism that becomes a red flag in the face of the typical Tea Party activist. His connections to Wall Street, his Ivy League law degree, and primarily his condescending attitude to dwellers in “small towns in Pennsylvania and… small towns in the Midwest” who bitterly cling to guns or religion because of job loss, make him an easy target. Basically, Obama has generated the kind of blind hatred found in George Wallace’s 1968 campaign. Wallace ran as the candidate of the American Independent Party, a forerunner of the Tea Party in many ways. Wallace went around saying, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrat and Republican parties,” a virtual echo of Steve Deace’s complaint.

Middle class fury erupts on a fairly regular basis like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park but most of all in periods of economic crisis. Perhaps the first examination of this phenomenon was Karl Marx’s “18th Brumaire” that tried to explain how Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew, could rule on behalf of the big bourgeoisie while assaulting it both verbally and through actions inimical to its interests. Marx wrote:

As the executive authority which has made itself independent, Bonaparte feels it to be his task to safeguard “bourgeois order.” But the strength of this bourgeois order lies in the middle class. He poses, therefore, as the representative of the middle class and issues decrees in this sense. Nevertheless, he is somebody solely because he has broken the power of that middle class, and keeps on breaking it daily.

You will, of course, note how Marx is focused on the contradictions of Bonaparte’s rule. A government committed to the “bourgeois order” carries out policies that violate the wishes of the very class on whose behalf it rules, drawing upon the power of a middle-class that has become alienated by the very order that makes it insecure. This is the same pattern that existed in fascist Italy, Germany and Spain but to a degree never seen before.

Throughout its existence as a class, the bourgeoisie has often relied on the middle class to impose its will even if there are appearances that a “new order” has prevailed. Marx’s article was the origin of the term Bonapartism, a useful way of looking at political figures who appear to rule above and beyond the major social classes while cultivating the impression that it rests on the will of the “people”. Juan Peron was an example of left-Bonapartism while DeGaulle was an example of right-Bonapartism.

While France never became fascist in the 1930s, the threat certainly existed. Trotsky was determined to warn the left about such a possibility in “Whither France”, a work that I hold in the highest regard. I might not be a Trotskyist in terms of the party-building methodology but his analysis of the class struggle will remain valuable as long as there are classes. Trotsky described the ruling Radical Party in 1934 as temporizing in the face of capitalist crisis. Despite the party’s name, it had more in common with the Democratic Party in the USA. Its refusal to act decisively led the middle-class to lean toward the fascists who at least gave the impression that they meant business. Trotsky wrote:

The petty bourgeoisie, the ruined masses of city and country, begins to lose patience. It assumes an attitude more and more hostile towards its own upper stratum. It becomes convinced of the bankruptcy and the perfidy of its political leadership. The poor peasant, the artisan, the petty merchant become convinced that an abyss separates them from all these mayors, all these lawyers and political businessmen of the type of Herriot, Daladier, Chautemps and Co., [Radical Party leaders] who by their mode of life and their conceptions are big bourgeois. It is precisely this disillusionment of the petty bourgeoisie, its impatience, its despair, that Fascism exploits. Its agitators stigmatize and execrate the parliamentary democracy which supports careerists and grafters but gives nothing to the toilers. These demagogues shake their fists at the bankers, the big merchants and the capitalists.

I should make it clear, however, that the Tea Party is not a fascist threat. Fortunately (or unfortunately in another sense) there is no threat because there is no working class radicalism to speak of. Unlike the 1930s, the “Great Recession” has produced no mass leftwing movement in the USA. There are a number of reasons for this but suffice it to say that the existence of various safety nets make survival easier, even though those protections might be hollowed out or abolished in a period of even deeper crisis.

Tim Horras got it right. In his article he urged the need for militant mass action:

If the Left can successfully organize a genuine pole of attraction in the coming years, I remain convinced that poor and working class Americans will have the wherewithal to beat back the “rough beast” of reaction, press on towards social democracy, and finally arrive at a more fair and just society: the cooperative commonwealth.

We should never forget that during the Occupy Wall Street movement, there was hardly a peep about the Tea Party. When the left is on the offensive, the right tends to back down. For that matter, there is not much in the way of rallies by the Tea Party today. As a movement, it is manifested more by press conferences by politicians like Ted Cruz than those menacing gatherings that saw men toting semiautomatic weapons.

The conditions that created Occupy will be with us for the foreseeable future. There’s a tendency for some to view the current phase as one of post-crisis since reports about an uptick in employment and home sales occur daily in the newspapers, radio and television. At least one bourgeois economist warns about expecting prosperity around the corner, however. In an op-ed piece in the NY Times titled “When Wealth Disappears”, Stephen King warns about the horrors that await us. Unlike the novelist, this King’s fears are centered on economic stagnation rather than vampires or werewolves.

NY Times Op-Ed October 6, 2013
When Wealth Disappears
By STEPHEN D. KING

LONDON — AS bad as things in Washington are — the federal government shutdown since Tuesday, the slim but real potential for a debt default, a political system that seems increasingly ungovernable — they are going to get much worse, for the United States and other advanced economies, in the years ahead.

From the end of World War II to the brief interlude of prosperity after the cold war, politicians could console themselves with the thought that rapid economic growth would eventually rescue them from short-term fiscal transgressions. The miracle of rising living standards encouraged rich countries increasingly to live beyond their means, happy in the belief that healthy returns on their real estate and investment portfolios would let them pay off debts, educate their children and pay for their medical care and retirement. This was, it seemed, the postwar generations’ collective destiny.

But the numbers no longer add up. Even before the Great Recession, rich countries were seeing their tax revenues weaken, social expenditures rise, government debts accumulate and creditors fret thanks to lower economic growth rates.

We are reaching end times for Western affluence. Between 2000 and 2007, ahead of the Great Recession, the United States economy grew at a meager average of about 2.4 percent a year — a full percentage point below the 3.4 percent average of the 1980s and 1990s. From 2007 to 2012, annual growth amounted to just 0.8 percent. In Europe, as is well known, the situation is even worse. Both sides of the North Atlantic have already succumbed to a Japan-style “lost decade.”

Surely this is only an extended cyclical dip, some policy makers say. Champions of stimulus assert that another huge round of public spending or monetary easing — maybe even a commitment to higher inflation and government borrowing — will jump-start the engine. Proponents of austerity argue that only indiscriminate deficit reduction, accompanied by reforming entitlement programs and slashing regulations, will unleash the “animal spirits” necessary for a private-sector renaissance.

Both sides are wrong. It’s now abundantly clear that forecasters have been too optimistic, boldly projecting rates of growth that have failed to transpire.

The White House and Congress, unable to reach agreement in the face of a fiscal black hole, have turned over the economic repair job to the Federal Reserve, which has bought trillions of dollars in securities to keep interest rates low. That has propped up the stock market but left many working Americans no better off. Growth remains lackluster.

The end of the golden age cannot be explained by some technological reversal. From iPad apps to shale gas, technology continues to advance. The underlying reason for the stagnation is that a half-century of remarkable one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated.

First was the unleashing of global trade, after a period of protectionism and isolationism between the world wars, enabling manufacturing to take off across Western Europe, North America and East Asia. A boom that great is unlikely to be repeated in advanced economies.

Second, financial innovations that first appeared in the 1920s, notably consumer credit, spread in the postwar decades. Post-crisis, the pace of such borrowing is muted, and likely to stay that way.

Third, social safety nets became widespread, reducing the need for households to save for unforeseen emergencies. Those nets are fraying now, meaning that consumers will have to save more for ever longer periods of retirement.

Fourth, reduced discrimination flooded the labor market with the pent-up human capital of women. Women now make up a majority of the American labor force; that proportion can rise only a little bit more, if at all.

Finally, the quality of education improved: in 1950, only 15 percent of American men and 4 percent of American women between ages 20 and 24 were enrolled in college. The proportions for both sexes are now over 30 percent, but with graduates no longer guaranteed substantial wage increases, the costs of education may come to outweigh the benefits.

These five factors induced, if not complacency, an assumption that economies could expand forever.

Adam Smith discerned this back in 1776 in his “Wealth of Nations”: “It is in the progressive state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition, rather than when it has acquired its full complement of riches, that the condition of the labouring poor, of the great body of the people, seems to be the happiest and the most comfortable. It is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state.”

The decades before the French Revolution saw an extraordinary increase in living standards (alongside a huge increase in government debt). But in the late 1780s, bad weather led to failed harvests and much higher food prices. Rising expectations could no longer be met. We all know what happened next.

When the money runs out, a rising state, which Smith described as “cheerful,” gives way to a declining, “melancholy” one: promises can no longer be met, mistrust spreads and markets malfunction. Today, that’s particularly true for societies where income inequality is high and where the current generation has, in effect, borrowed from future ones.

In the face of stagnation, reform is essential. The euro zone is unlikely to survive without the creation of a legitimate fiscal and banking union to match the growing political union. But even if that happens, Southern Europe’s sky-high debts will be largely indigestible. Will Angela Merkel’s Germany accept a one-off debt restructuring that would impose losses on Northern European creditors and taxpayers but preserve the euro zone? The alternatives — disorderly defaults, higher inflation, a breakup of the common currency, the dismantling of the postwar political project — seem worse.

In the United States, which ostensibly has the right institutions (if not the political will) to deal with its economic problems, a potentially explosive fiscal situation could be resolved through scurrilous means, but only by threatening global financial and economic instability. Interest rates can be held lower than the inflation rate, as the Fed has done. Or the government could devalue the dollar, thereby hitting Asian and Arab creditors. Such “default by stealth,” however, might threaten a crisis of confidence in the dollar, wiping away the purchasing-power benefits Americans get from the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

Not knowing who, ultimately, will lose as a consequence of our past excesses helps explain America’s current strife. This is not an argument for immediate and painful austerity, which isn’t working in Europe. It is, instead, a plea for economic honesty, to recognize that promises made during good times can no longer be easily kept.

That means a higher retirement age, more immigration to increase the working-age population, less borrowing from abroad, less reliance on monetary policy that creates unsustainable financial bubbles, a new social compact that doesn’t cannibalize the young to feed the boomers, a tougher stance toward banks, a further opening of world trade and, over the medium term, a commitment to sustained deficit reduction.

In his “Future of an Illusion,” Sigmund Freud argued that the faithful clung to God’s existence in the absence of evidence because the alternative — an empty void — was so much worse. Modern beliefs about economic prospects are not so different. Policy makers simply pray for a strong recovery. They opt for the illusion because the reality is too bleak to bear. But as the current fiscal crisis demonstrates, facing the pain will not be easy. And the waking up from our collective illusions has barely begun.

Stephen D. King, chief economist at HSBC, is the author of “When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence.”

A Letter to Comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO)

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 3:33 pm

Dear Comrades:

We are a group of former ISO members from the Chicago district.

We left the organization over the past two to five years (at different points) but remain loyal to the ISO and the politics of International Socialism.

We estimate we have one hundred years combined experience in the ISO.

We have developed, or have on reflection developed, some serious concerns about organizational practice within the ISO and its approach to its membership and political perspectives.

Some of us were dealt with in a uncomradely and undemocratic manner upon raising political disagreements. Some of us were forced out of the organization.

Some of us were part of leadership teams that acted (at times) in an uncomradely and undemocratic manner towards comrades who raised dissenting viewpoints; such actions were not individual aberrations at the level of district or branch committees but were directed from the highest ranks of the ISO.

All of us began to ask questions about the underlying causes of these problems and, while we are not in agreement on everything, we have come to a few conclusions.

full: A Letter to Comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO)

A communication on Sol Yurick

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 3:29 pm

Dear Louis

Forgive this unsolicited approach, but after reading your piece on Sol on Counterpunch, I thought that you might be interested to know that my company are republishing his novels Fertig—which is out now, via rocket88books.com— and The Bag in a few months. We hope to make all of his out of print novels available in due course and if his agents approve our request to also put out Someone Just Like You, An Island Death, Richard A and Behold, Metatron. Naturally they wish to see how we do with Fertig and The Bag before agreeing.

I’d like to explain that this is a labour of love on my part, having been a fan since first discovering The Bag when in my early twenties in a thrift store (I was an anarchist squatter activist in London at the time, so it rang more than a few bells with me).Sol deserves to be remembered as far more than the author of a book that spawned a movie and video game, and both Fertig and The Bag are much bigger and more important American novels than The Warriors, I think.

I hesitate to ask, and hate to beg, but if there is any way that you could find the time and space to let people know about the republication of Fertig, we’d be hugely grateful. Any spreading of the word would help enomously.

Once again, apologies for intruding without introduction.

Yours with best wishes

Mal Peachey

Rocket88books.com

October 7, 2013

A postscript on my work with Harvey Pekar

Filed under: Pekar — louisproyect @ 8:13 pm

Probably the best thing that came out of being interviewed by Cleveland magazine for an article on Joyce Brabner was getting to know Tara Seibel, another human being unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a Brabner vendetta.

Work done by Harvey Pekar and Tara Seibel. Why is Joyce Brabner determined to suppress such fine art?

I first learned of Seibel’s problems through a NY Times article written soon after Harvey Pekar’s death on July 12, 2012 from an overdose of antidepressants. Dave Itzkoff reported that Seibel worked with a team of artists on the Pekar Project, an online version of his work that they collaborated on. When they began discussions about turning this into a book, Brabner stepped in to warn them that Seibel was to be excluded.  Why, you might ask. Here’s what Itzkoff said:

No one in their artistic circle believes the relationship between Mr. Pekar and Ms. Seibel crossed professional boundaries, but some could see how it strained Mr. Pekar’s marriage.

“A part of him was enjoying the attention he was getting from this very good-looking young woman,” said Mr. Parker, one of the Pekar Project artists. “And, naturally, Joyce, how could she enjoy that? You don’t have to be a psychologist to see that one’s not going to be good.”

In rereading Itzkoff’s article and in light of a phone conversation I had with Seibel, I am now convinced that my problem was never with Random House but with Joyce Brabner who simply did not want a book about me in print even if Harvey was proud of it. Itzkoff quoted Brabner: “I’m the one who decides about what gets published and what doesn’t in any venue.” In other words, I got Seibelized.

I should add that the one phone call I had with Brabner reinforces this interpretation. In her hour-long, profanity-laced tirade, most of it was about me having no business contacting Random House about their plans for the memoir. But a good part of it was also her belittling my socialist credentials, lumping me in with Robert Avakian’s cult. She was the real revolutionary, not me. Based on the Avakian comparison, I concluded that she had never read the book I did with Harvey since every page contradicts her.

I can’t say that I am surprised that Cleveland magazine mangled what I told them even after a fact-checker followed up with a phone call shortly before the article appeared. The article states:

When Pekar died, he was under contract to write a graphic novel about New York-based blogger Proyect’s humorous tales of his summers growing up in New York’s Catskills. Pekar’s death halted the nearly finished project, which Random House was set to publish. Upset, Proyect made confrontational comments about Random House on his blog. Brabner responded by denying Proyect’s request for permission to shop the book around and run excerpts online.

Not exactly. I was upset because Random House refused to tell me if they had plans to publish it or not. At my wit’s end, I wrote an article pointing out that the Bertlesmann group in Germany, the parent company of Random House, used Jewish slave labor during WWII. It was probably this article that provoked Brabner to call me up. How dare I expose Harvey Pekar’s publisher as war criminals? I guess that was the same kind of question David Letterman had for Harvey when he made an appearance and focused on G.E.’s role as a weapons and nuclear reactor manufacturer. Why are you being such a pain in the ass, Harvey?

And most importantly, Brabner told me in the phone call not to bother Random House or the book would never be published. She led stupid me to believe that she would be handling everything and that I jeopardized the book’s future by annoying Harvey’s editor there. So I took her at her word and stopped sending email to his editors asking for a status report, and left everything in her capable hands. Little did I suspect that she probably told Random House to flush the memoir down the toilet. After a year elapsed, I discovered through the grapevine that they had abandoned plans to publish—probably on directions from her. When I emailed her for permission to serialize the book on my blog if and only if she had no plans to present to other publishers, she wrote back a nasty email basically telling me it was up to her what happened next and that I had to live with that. She warned me that if I divulged her email, that would be the end of the project. After four years of getting played for a sucker, that was it for me and I told her so.

Speaking of the Letterman show, Pekar decided to stop making appearances because he was tired of being a sideshow that Dave could make jokes about. Looking back in retrospect, I wonder if my work with Harvey fell into the same category. When he proposed the idea of doing a comic book, he said that the text had to be short since it was the pictures that people really dug. They were, as he put it, a bunch of idiots. Instead of a lot of political analysis, he was looking for some good jokes.

To accommodate him, I left out a lot of the political substance that was important to me such as how the SWP turned into a cult. Frankly, if I ever worked on another memoir that would be the main topic just as it was in Les Evans’s memoir. I believe it would be a lot more interesting and a lot more amusing than Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “When Skateboards will be Free”. I can guarantee you this, however. When I begin writing it, it will appear as a serial on my blog. If Joyce Brabner had given Random House the green light, the book would have sold 2000 copies and then went into the remainder bin especially with the two-bit publicity campaign they would have mounted. On a good day, my blog gets 2000 visits and over the past 8 years or so since I have been blogging, I have gotten over 4 million visits. I haven’t made a penny out of this but who cares? I’m a throwback to the 60s when making money was less important than making a statement.

Even though I knew that I would not have gotten a penny out of sales of the comic book, I now understand that I expected a kind of “intellectual capital” to be accrued, to use Bourdieu’s term. When Random House publishes a comic book about your life using your own words, that means something—I guess.

There’s a guy named Mike Feder who used to have a sort of confessional talk show on WBAI in the 1980s. He was always going on about the contacts he was making with publishers about turning his monologues into print. He explained why books become so important to people, especially if you don’t have children. It is a way for your identity to continue after you are dead, like your children carrying on your genes. It is a way of achieving immortality.

Now that I think about it, there was something about this ambition that went against my core values. There was a kind of inner appetite that gnawed at me. I was hoping to be a “celebrity” attached to Harvey Pekar’s coattails, as if his life as a comic book author, a trained monkey on the Letterman shows (as he put it), and a flunky job in a veteran’s hospital made him special. I always admired Harvey but there was something about his never-ending search for money and recognition that I always found a bit off-putting. They say that crack cocaine is the most addictive drug. I would rank celebrity first. A guest appearance on the Charlie Rose show goes straight from the vein into the brain.

Tara Seibel

The Cleveland magazine article is generally respectful of Brabner but provides some eye-opening details on her thuggish behavior toward Tara Seibel and a local sculptor named Justin Coulter.

After Pekar died, Brabner says, Seibel began incessantly calling her. Within months, Brabner called the Cleveland Heights law department, which told Seibel not to contact Brabner…Brabner has scrubbed Seibel’s work from an online showcase and a traveling exhibit of her husband’s works. She has warned a comics publisher not to publish Seibel’s collaborations with Pekar or there could be possible legal action.

Seibel feels Brabner’s efforts stem from jealousy over the hours Seibel spent with Pekar. Seibel says she believes Pekar’s memory continues through her work. “My legacy is being sprung out of his legacy,” she says.

The Cleveland cops? Legal action? This is some “leftie”.

Joyce was just as petty and vindictive toward Coulter.

She selected local sculptor Justin Coulter to create the memorial [for Harvey Pekar], but they clashed.

“I wouldn’t hear from Joyce for weeks or longer,” Coulter recalls. “Then all of a sudden I’d hear from her, demanding something the next day.”

At a certain point, a team of artists and Coulter’s mentors finished the project. Brabner says Coutler was supposed to finish it. Coulter disagrees, saying it was always meant to be a group project, and that he was hired to sculpt the bronze head and cartoon and did so.

During the memorial’s dedication last October, the library’s director called police to report a disturbance, and officers arrived and spoke to Coulter, a police call for service report shows. Coulter says when he arrived at the unveiling, he was surrounded by cops and escorted off the premises.

Something tells me that Coulter was not the one who started the disturbance. You can bet that Brabner told him to get lost and he refused to leave.

The Harvey Pekar memorial

I will survive Joyce Brabner’s fatwa as will Justin Coulter and Tara Seibel. Tara is a very talented artist whose work with Harvey should have been encouraged by Brabner if she was really serious about his legacy. You can see her work at http://thealternativeproject.blogspot.com/, a sample of which graces this article.

With talent galore and an unconquerable sprit, I am sure that Tara has a very bright future.

The devil and Antonin Scalia

Filed under: Fascism,religion — louisproyect @ 1:29 pm

You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

No.
Oh, my.

Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!

Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

read full: http://nymag.com/news/features/antonin-scalia-2013-10/

—-

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

Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism?

October 5, 2013

A Touch of Sin

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

A scene from “A Touch of Sin”

For the longest time I have believed that the greatest filmmakers produce works that are both quintessential expressions of their national idiom and universal statements about the human condition. Satyajit Ray’s India, Akira Kurosawa’s Japan, and Ousmane Sembene’s Senegal spring to mind but so does the John Ford western.

With the arrival of Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin” at the Lincoln Plaza and IFC in New York yesterday, the third film I have seen by the Chinese director who has kept a sharp focus on social inequality throughout his career, it is reassuring  that a new golden age of cinema might be returning with Jia at the helm. His work is distinctly Chinese without the slightest concession to perceived “cross-over” marketing dictates, but universal in its compassion for working people. It is both puzzling and reassuring to see that this film could have been in made in censorious China today even if it benefits to a large degree from Japanese co-production. If China’s Communist Party has succumbed to the “one percent” values that are being protested everywhere in the world, it is noteworthy that a writer/director like Jia still adheres to the egalitarian ethos that motivated hundreds of millions of peasants and workers to rise up against a heartless and unjust order in the mid-20th century.

“A Touch of Sin” is a four-part narrative based on real-life outbursts of violence in China, all touched off by bitter class resentments.

  • A middle-aged coalminer returns to a village where he once worked in order to file a complaint against the Communist Party official who used his connections to become the owner of a privatized mine. The new boss comes to work in a Maserati while the villagers have never received a penny for the benefits they were promised when the mine became private property. When the miner approaches the boss in the midst of a welcoming procession as he steps off his private jet with his complaint, a bodyguard attacks him with a shovel after the boss leaves him in the lurch. The boss’s cronies begin mocking him as Mr. Golf after he leaves the hospital, finding the idea that his head was used as a golf ball a big joke. This and other offenses lead to the miner taking his revenge.
  • A young man who makes his living as an armed robber still adheres to traditional values, sending his grandmother money on a regular basis even if it is ill-gained.
  • A young woman has been forced by rural poverty to take a job as a receptionist at a sauna that serves as a front for a brothel. When a local thug insist that she give him a “massage”, she turns him away saying that she is only a receptionist. When he begins beating her, she defends her honor in the only manner left to her—through violence.
  • Another young man is working in one of China’s typical sweatshops. When a co-worker asks to borrow his smart phone to look something up, a conversation about how to use it leads to the borrower accidentally cutting his hand on a machine. The young man is told by his boss that it his responsibility to pay for the man’s lost wages during his two-week sick leave. His response is to leave the job and search ever more desperately for a way to survive in an economy where a lack of skills and connections turn you into a virtual slave.

Unlike China’s costume dramas that are geared to the international market replete with CGI trick shots of swordsmen floating through the air, “A Touch of Sin” is brutally realistic, shot on location in some of China’s most ugly industrial centers. Despite this, Jia, the consummate visual poet, turns every shot into something that will stick with you long after the film has ended. It is as if Antonioni decided to make films in places like Buffalo or Pittsburgh in the mid 1950s.

Despite the grim character of the tales, there is a dark comedy that pervades throughout. Like many of the class-conscious directors in China today, Jia loves to orchestrate dialog between family members or co-workers that bring out their saltiness and quick wit. If you are looking for dialog that advances what the critics call character development, you won’t find it in “A Touch of Sin”. In a way, there is no need for it. The miner does not have to explain what sets him on his homicidal path.

While watching “A Touch of Sin”, I made a mental note to say something about the naturalism that is found among all directors who belong to the “Sixth Generation”, a post-90s school of filmmaking in China that is strongly influenced by Italian neo-realism. The naturalism is not just an expression of life as it is really lived but also a throwback to the philosophy embodied in the novels of Emile Zola or Theodore Dreiser, even if the “Sixth Generation” has never read widely in this genre.

In the typical naturalist fiction, the main character is like a moth trapped in a spider’s web made up of capitalist society’s economic forces of coercion. The novel ends badly (not so much tragically since there was never a fall from on high) but inevitably just as is the case for millions of workers or poor farmers in China today with its miracle economy.

In the press notes, Jia describes his intention:

This film is about four deaths, four incidents which actually happened in China in recent years: three murders and one suicide. These incidents are well-known to people throughout China. They happened in Shanxi, Chongqing, Hubei and Guangdong – that is, from the north to the south, spanning much of the country.

I wanted to use these news reports to build a comprehensive portrait of life in contemporary China. China is still changing rapidly, in a way that makes the country look more prosperous than before. But many people face personal crises because of the uneven spread of wealth across the country and the vast disparities between the rich and the poor. Individual people can be stripped of their dignity at any time. Violence is increasing. It’s clear that resorting to violence is the quickest and most direct way that the weak can try to restore their lost dignity.

“A Touch of Sin” is opening throughout the United States over the next few months. Check http://www.atouchofsin.com/see.html to see if it is showing locally. I also recommend Jia Zhangke’s 2008 narrative film “Still Life” (https://louisproyect.org/2008/01/17/still-life/) and 2009 documentary “24 City” (https://louisproyect.org/2009/05/30/24-city/), both of which are class-conscious indictments of inequality in China. I have also heard that “The World”, a 2004 indictment of consumerism, is prime Jia Zhangke. All are available as DVD’s from Netflix.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.